Episode 444: Who Invited Them?
Abercrombie glanced over his shoulder and grinned. "D'ye want tae put some
money on that?" he said.
MacKiernan frowned, then strode across the room and glanced out the other
door to see what the Scotsman was looking at. To the south, an airship was
gliding toward the air station with her engines off. He recognized the
"Is that your ship?" Professor Jones asked from behind them.
"I believe so," MacKiernan replied glumly.
"Is it supposed to be flying into the ground like that?"
"Not exactly, no."
By now, everyone except Lieutenant-Commander Forsyth and Miss Kim had
gathered outside the laboratory to watch the impending crash. The vessel's
nose lifted slightly as she crossed the perimeter fence -- it seemed her
pilots were taking steps to reduce the impact. She slowed and began to
"Wilcox and Smade are handling her well," MacKiernan conceded.
"The laddies must hae lifted ship after we left," said Abercrombie. "What
could they be up to?"
"I doubt even Lieutenant Wilcox would do such a thing on his own authority,"
Miss Perkins said dryly. "Inspector Scott must have given the order."
MacKiernan nodded. It was difficult to imagine who else might be
responsible. In the room behind him, Forsythe and Miss Kim were still
engrossed in the argument they'd begin in the stockade.
"You didn't even look at me when they marched you off to solitary
confinement!" complained Miss Kim.
"How could I?" Forsythe protested. "They'd blindfolded me."
"You should have knowed I was there!"
Jones glanced at the two, shook his head, then looked back at the ship.
"What's this Scott guy trying to do?" he asked MacKiernan.
"We will hope he's bringing an armed party," said the Irishman.
"We're about tae find out," said Abercrombie.
The airship struck the ground with elephantine majesty. For a moment it
seemed the vessel might bounce back into the air, but someone must have
opened the maneuvering valves to vent hydrogen, for she slid to a stop with
a cacophony of snapping cables and crumpling girders. For a moment, all
was silent. Then a wild cry split the night.
"Och hen," said Abercrombie.
"Oh dear," said MacKiernan.
Miss Perkins sighed. "Why am I not surprised by this development?"
"600', dropping at 300," Smade announced from the elevatorman's station
"Bring the nose up to zero degrees," ordered Wilcox from the helm.
"Nose up to zero."
The R-46's glide slowed as she came to an even keel. Below the ship,
lights moved past -- a gatehouse followed by something that might have been
a marshaling yard. The crew had already pulled circuit breakers and closed
the fuel lines to eliminate everything that might cause a spark or flame.
Now they'd taken refuge near the bow and stern cones, away from the
"Open the maneuvering valves," said Wilcox as the airspeed dropped.
At the ballast station, Murdock reached up to pull the toggles. "Opening
the maneuvering valves."
"400', dropping at 150," said Smade.
Wilcox nodded. "That should serve. Let us secure matters here and adjourn
to a safer location before she hits."
Wilcox and Smade lashed the controls, then scrambled up the accommodation
ladder. Murdock followed with the Aldis lamp Scott insisted he find. They
dashed up the incline to the bow station, where Helga and her Swedes were
waiting, and took hold of a ring girder. An instant later, the control car
and keel struck the field with a screech of crumpling aluminum. The
lieutenants clung to their perch as the lower portion of their vessel
ground itself to destruction. Then all was still.
"What happens now?" Murdock asked tentatively.
"Now we having the fun!" cried Helga. "Odin!"
Bludge shook his head. As well he might. Their assault on the air station
had dissolved in confusion when the Swedes struck their force from behind.
Most of the dacoits had fled into the night, unnerved by the onslaught. The
remainder had formed a ragged skirmish line and were firing wildly at
anything they imagined might be a target.
"Who the devil are these new fellows?" asked Gilman.
"I wouldn't care to hazard a guess, but they seem inordinately disruptive,"
said Bludge. "Your men don't seem to be giving a good account for
"Quite," said Gilman sourly. "Next time we'll hire a different lot."
"We must take steps to ensure that there is a next time," chided the butler.
"Get these fellows organized, then we'll begin a retreat to the south."
"That will mean falling back onto our original adversaries' position!"
"So it will," said Bludge, "but Vikings, like politics, can make for strange
MacKiernan and Abercrombie led the way toward the mooring circle, followed
by Miss Perkins, Professor Jones, and the airmen they'd rescued from the
stockade. Forysthe and Miss Kim brought up the rear. By now, the fighting
seemed to have moved off to the south. Ahead, the wreck of the R-46
glimmered in the light of the setting moon like some elf hill out of
"Do you think anyone's still aboard?" Jones asked MacKiernan.
"We might expect to find Scott," the Irishman said sourly. "He doesn't seem
the sort of fellow who'd sully himself by joining the fray."
At the tail of the column, Forsythe and Miss Kim were continuing their
"I looked for you as soon as they released me, but you were gone!"
"Why should I waited when you not caring?"
"But I do care!"
"Why should I believe you after way you ignoring me!"
MacKiernan glanced back, wondering if he should say something. At that
moment, four figures emerged from the shadow of the wrecked airship. Three
were lieutenants Wilcox, Smade, and Murdock -- as unelflike a set of figures
as it would be possible to imagine. The fourth moved with an assurance that
would have done credit to any figure from mythology.
MacKiernan had no trouble recognizing him. "Inspector Scott, I presume.
I trust you have an explanation for destroying one of His Majesty's
"You will find that it lies within my authorization," the inspector said
lightly. "Did you find your missing men from the R-212?"
MacKiernan raised his eyebrows in surprise. "You knew they were imprisoned
"It seemed likely," said Scott. "You may regard this as a fortunate
by-product of my mission."
"Which was?" Miss Perkins asked sharply.
The inspector glanced at her with disinterest. "Due diligence," he said
cryptically. "This included finding and putting an end to this place."
MacKiernan gestured toward the south, where the noise of battle had taken on
a different and more ominous tone. "This may be more than Helga and her
Vikings can accomplish on their own," he warned. "I've begun to hear
organized volleys. This suggests their opponents are joining forces to
launch a counterattack."
"I have provided for such an eventuality," said Scott. "This is the
morning of the 12th, is it not?"
"What does that have to do with anything?" asked MacKiernan.
Scott smiled and pointed to the south, where another airship had become
visible in the first light of dawn.
"I instructed Captain Everett to bring the Flying Cloud here, and
there he is, on schedule. Mister Murdock, do you have that signal lamp as I
instructed you to find?"
Nicholson and Saito frowned at Bludge and Sigmund. Sigmund returned their
glare. Bludge's expression was non-committal.
"You expect us to trust you?" Nicholson asked them.
"It's a matter of pragmatism rather than trust," Bludge observed. "We
must band together if we're to have any hope of fighting off these new
fellows. We can resolve our differences later."
"Ah so desu," said Saito. "English take right flank. Germans take
left. We hold this position until attackers exhausted, then advance to
"You're certain this will work?" Nicholson asked Saito. "We've had enough
surprises tonight. We can't afford another."
"Hai," said the Japanese. "We have greater numbers. It must
Beside them, Sigmund was glaring at the sky. "Was nun?" he
Bludge followed the German's gaze and sighed. "That would be Everett's
ship," he said. "I believe we've been outmaneuvered."
Dawn found the Flying Cloud cruising northeast along the valley of
the N'Mai River. The land below seemed deserted but the growing light was
revealing some odd things -- a column of parked trucks, a string of tethered
horses, what looked like two motorcycles concealed under a pile of brush,
and an entirely inexplicable set of railroad tracks.
"What a strange place," Sarah remarked from the ballast station. "Why would
Scott have ordered us here at such an hour?"
Everett gestured up the valley, where an air station was coming into view.
Flashes of gunfire were visible among the buildings. A familiar-looking
vessel seemed to have grounded in the mooring circle. As they watched, a
light began to blink from beside it.
"I imagine he wanted us to appear by surprise to intervene in the altercation
we can see ahead. That will be his signal. Let us take steps to oblige him."
Miss Kim stared down at Forsythe, who'd gone to his knee before her. He gazed
into her eyes and took her hand in a grip she could not break.
"Why should you believe me?" he cried. "Because I love you, Hyun-Jae! I've
loved you since the moment I first saw you! Will you marry me?"
A storm of emotions passed across her face. Then she gave a cry, drew him to
his feet, and flung herself into his arms.
"Of course, William!" she told him. "That why I came back for you!"
A moment passed, or perhaps it was lifetime. At last they became aware of
their surroundings. Forsythe glanced over his shoulder.
"I say," he remarked. "What is everyone else looking at?"
Next week: Cleaning Up After The Party...
Comments about Episode 444? Start a new topic on the