The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 343: It's Hardly A Secret Base Once Everyone Knows About It

Map to the secret base

Miss Perkins studied their visitor. The woman might have changed her hair, and makeup did much to disguise her features, but she was quite obviously the same person they'd known as Natasha and Nettie. The last time they'd seen her, she'd been traveling with the American gangsters, disguised as a moll, for reasons that remained a mystery. How had she found her way to this secret Finnish air station in the Kimberly region of Western Australia? For that matter, why was there a secret Finnish air station in the Kimberly region of Western Australia?

"Miss Perkins, Clarice, Emily," the woman announced. "What are you doing here?"

"I could ask the same of you," said Miss Perkins. "I also wonder what name you're going by this time."

The woman thought this over. It was far from clear who had the strongest bargaining position. Miss Perkins and her companions might be prisoners, but they also knew that their visitor wasn't who she was pretending to be -- a fact that might be of some interest to her supposed employers.

"These people know me as Natalie, but you might as well continue to call me Natasha," she told them. "Did Karlov send you?"

"No," said Miss Perkins, "we haven't seen him since Gililo. He vanished shortly after you left with Mister Fuller."

Natasha ignored the implied question. "How can I know you're telling the truth?" she asked.

Miss Perkins saw no need for kindness. "You can't," she replied, "but consider the alternative. Karlov is a master manipulator. So is Captain Michaelson. If they've joined forces against you, your cause is most certainly doomed."

The other woman's shoulders sagged. "You raise a good point," she admitted. "But I still need to know why you're here so I can determine how this will affect my position. It would be a gesture of good faith on your part."

Miss Perkins shrugged. It was the privilege if pawns to speculate about their place on the board. "I left Cairns to warn Captain Everett and his people that Michaelson proposed to sacrifice them in some game against the Admiral's office," she told the other woman. "I traveled to Darwin because this seemed like the best place to seek word of the Flying Cloud. There I came upon Clarice and Emily, who were setting out on an expedition to discover what George Channel and his cronies were up to. That led us to the railway depot on the coast north of here, where we were captured and brought to this station. Now I wonder if this might have been Michaelson's plan all along. The senior captain plays a deep game, and he would almost certainly have been curious about Channel's activities. He might have tricked me into searching for this place on my own so he could pretend ignorance of my actions."

Natasha paused to think this over -- a task that took some time. At last she nodded. "Who would he be trying to hide these from?"

"It could have been anyone," said Miss Perkins, "the Admiral, the Fat Man, the White Russians, the British Union. It might even be the mysterious Karlov. You seem to know something about the fellow. Whatever is he trying to accomplish?"

Natasha shook her head. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you. But he must be stopped! Remember what happened on Ujelang."

Miss Perkins hadn't witnessed the explosion that destroyed the island, but MacKiernan had given her a graphic description of the event. This suggested a rather striking disregard for consequences on the part of those responsible.

"What is the relationship between you?" she demanded. "At various times, you've claimed to be either his sister or his wife. You're obviously more than just casual acquaintances."

The other woman gave a bitter laugh. "You wouldn't believe that either. Please don't ask me to explain."

"Very well," Miss Perkins allowed. "But you arranged all this..." she gestured at the base around them, " lure him into trap, didn't you?"

"Yes," Natasha admitted sadly. "I used Fuller to contact the British Union, fed Lady Warfield and her allies this story of pre-human ruins in the Australian outback so they'd build a station in the middle of nowhere, then leaked information about this mythical `Silver Key' to attract his attention. I never meant for you to get caught in the net. I'll do what I can to help you escape."

"What good will that do?" asked Clarice. "We'll still be stranded in the middle of the Outback. We can hardly walk two hundred miles back to the coast.

Natasha smiled. "Not if you steal a train."

Clarice clapped her hands in delight. "That sounds like a ripper!"

"When do we start?" Emily demanded.

"And how do you propose we drive it?" Miss Perkins asked skeptically. "None of us knows how to operate a steam engine."

"No," Natasha admitted, "but one of the engineers owes me a favor."

Miss Perkins shook her head. "Why," she asked, "am I not surprised?"

Everett had timed the Flying Cloud's flight so they'd reach Broome at dawn. This might have prevented them from examining the coast along the way, but it meant they could moor in the morning, before the sea breeze arose to make operations difficult -- an important consideration in such an out-of-the-way station, where they had no idea how competent the handlers might be.

They arrived to find the R-67, City of Brisbane, riding from one of the masts, but their hopes of finding MacKiernan aboard were quickly dispelled. According to the airship's first officer, the Irishman and Captain Sanders had departed two days earlier on some mysterious mission. "They left on a pearler named the Clean Sweep. Your Lieutenant Commander MacKiernan wanted to go alone, but Captain said it was his duty to assist the Navy," he told them in the voice of one who felt he'd received the smaller slice of pie.

Armed with this information, Everett and Jenkins made their way to the harbor. This varied in shape over the course of the day due to the prodigious tides for which Broome was famous. Several local skippers had taken advantage of the ebb to beach their craft for unloading.

"The Clean Sweep?" one replied in answer to their questions. "That would be old Elton's boat. He set out two days ago to take a couple of airmen up the coast. Didn't say when he'd return, but I reckon he'll want to do some fishing on the way home."

Everett suppressed a sigh. "Do you have any idea where his passengers were headed?"

Their fisherman shrugged. "Probably that secret railway depot east of Derby, same as those three grouse sheilas from Darwin."

Everett and Jenkins exchanged glances. "Sir," said the signalman, "you don't think..."

"Is there any possible doubt?" Everett said stoically. He turned back to their informant. "These three young ladies you mentioned: would one happen to have been blond, another brunette, and the third a conservatively-dressed woman with somewhat stern mannerisms?"

"Dinki di," said the Aussie. "You know them?"

Next week: Some Messages Arrived While You Were Away...

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