Episode 366: Vacation in North Australia
Captain Loika stood at the window of the control car, gazing at the ocean
below. This stretch of the Timor Sea was dotted with islands, ranging from
sizable land masses such as Savu or Rote down to anonymous flecks of coral
and rock. An old island freighter was threading its way between them.
Through binoculars, Loika could make out the name Tranquility. It
seemed appropriate for these surroundings.
Footsteps sounded behind him as Tsukanov descended the companionway. "Good
morning, Comrade Loika," the commissar announced. "Are we on schedule?"
"Da," said Loika, "we should reach this Australian town of yours by
mid-afternoon. "What's so special about it?"
"Nothing," Tsukanov replied cheerfully. "The place has no commercial value
whatsoever, so the capitalists won't be paying much attention to it. But it
does have an air station where we can resupply without attracting notice.
According to the Admiral's notes, it also has a communist cell. They should
be able to tell us what this Captain Everett was up to."
"What we know about the man?" Loika asked.
Political officers were expected to have such information at their
fingertips. "He was one of the civilian students who volunteered for
officer training at the onset of the War," said Tsukanov. "He served with
some distinction in the Dardanelles campaign, where he was wounded rescuing
one of his countrymen, and went on to command a destroyer in the North Sea.
After the Peace, he transferred to the Airship Service for reasons our
agents in the Admiralty were not able to determine. He was captain of the
R-212, Flying Lady, when the ship was lost under mysterious
circumstances last June. He has since assumed command of the R-505,
"There seems to be a pattern to these names," Loika remarked wryly.
"So it would seem," chuckled Tsukanov. "What do we know of his new vessel?"
Flight officers were expected to have such information at their fingertips,
but Loika's research had drawn a blank. "The ship is a mystery," he was
forced to admit. "She's not on our latest copy of the Navy List and she
isn't listed in Jane's. She might be some obsolete packet the Royal Navy
chartered as an auxiliary."
Tsukanov shrugged. "We'll see what our comrades in Australia can tell us."
Fenwick was still young enough to find airship travel exciting. Even a
Wollesely Class courier like their R-87 had a certain grandeur, and there was
something magical about sailing through the sky like a cloud as the landscape
swept past below.
Darwin was somewhat less engaging. It was an unremarkable village on the
shores of the Aurfura Sea that made Cairns -- hardly a significant population
center -- seem like a major metropolis. For some reason, they had a small air
station with two mooring masts. This was one more station and two more masts
than the signalman would have expected in such an unimportant location.
"What are our intentions, sir?" he asked Captain Michaelson as they rode the
lift down to the surface.
The senior captain's expression might have been a smile, but it was dangerous
to make assumptions where Michaelson was involved. "We will question the
chief of police here: a fellow named George Channel," he replied. "The man
fancies himself a conspirator. He was funneling funds to the Japanese for
their secret air station in Western Australia under the guise of building a
resort and skimming some off the top to line his own pockets. He also has a
long association with the British Union. Last year they persuaded the town
to buy two War-surplus tanks, ostensibly for defense against a Russian
"However did they manage that?" marveled Fenwick.
"The man has a certain skill as what our Colonial friends would call a
`huckster'," Michaelson observed, "but he has not been as discreet as he might
have supposed. I've been aware of his activities for quite some time. He'll
almost certainly have made some arrangement with the Soviet agents here. We
shall compel him to tell us what he knows about their activities."
"How shall we accomplish this, sir?" asked Fenwick.
This one was almost certainly a smile. "Elementary, Mister Fenwick," said
Michaelson. "We shall levy some accusation for which he's unprepared and see
what information he offers in denial."
Darwin's police station was a fortress-like structure dating back to a time
when the original inhabitants of Australia's Northern territory were in a
position to object to the European's appropriation of their land. The burly
thug who guarded the front door might have been a holdover from that age. He
moved to block their entrance, but Michaelson brushed past the man as if he
wasn't there. Fenwick made a mental note of this. It seemed like a useful
The interior of the building was something of a maze, but Michaelson had no
trouble leading the way. He must have studied the floor plan -- a precaution
Fenwick noted as well. How had the senior captain acquired these talents, he
wondered? They seemed unusual for a man in his position.
The airmen found George Channel in his office, paging through a glossy
magazine that seemed unlikely to involve police work. He frowned as the two
men entered and thrust it into a drawer. "Who are you and what is the
meaning of this?" he demanded.
Michaelson studied the man in the same way he might study an insect. "You
know quite well who we are," he replied. "I am Captain Michaelson, Commander
of the Royal Naval Air Station, Cairns, and this is my aide, Fenwick. We
would like to ask you a few questions."
"I don't have to answer," growled Channel. "You have no authority here."
"Under ordinary circumstances, this might be the case, unless certain...
financial matters were involved," warned Michaelson. "But this case concerns
Naval security. We have reason to believe there are Soviet sympathizers on
The police chief's expression was the very picture of astonishment. Fenwick
guessed he'd been prepared to defend his involvement with the spurious
resort. Michaelson's implied accusation seems to have caught him entirely
"You suggest they have agents in this station?" he said, in an attempt at
"The Worker's Movement has a long history in this area, dating back to
the Darwin Rebellion in 1916," Michaelson replied patiently, as if
explaining things to a child. "This would hardly be possible unless your
department was looking the other way."
"That's nonsense!" spluttered Channel. "We've been keeping a very close eye
on the fellows."
Michaelson studied his fingernails, then returned his gaze to the police
chief. "I see no sign of this," he remarked.
Channel yanked open a drawer, pulled out a thick file, and brandished it in
front of the airmen. "This is what we've uncovered."
Michaelson plucked the folder from the man's fingers, paged through it with
an expression of disinterest, and tossed it back on the desk.
"This is hardly convincing," he remarked. "Do you have any evidence to
"I'd say that was fairly productive," Michaelson remarked to his aide as they
emerged from the station sometime later. "We have several leads to explore,
a plausible reason to explore them, and Channel won't dare interfere lest he
seem to be aiding the communists."
"Where shall we begin, sir?" asked Fenwick.
"We don't want to seem too interested in the matter," said Michaelson.
"We'll head back to the R-87 first and... my my."
Fenwick followed his superior's gaze and halted in surprise. Ahead of them,
a sleek modern cruiser was descending toward the air station. Bright red
stars were visible on the vessel's fins.
"That," said Michaelson, "is an interesting development."
Next week: An Entirely Uneventful Flight...
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