Episode 450: To Strive, To Seek, To Find... Somewhere...
Clouds rushed past the windows, reducing the world outside to a formless
swirl of grey. Land, sea, and sky were all hidden from view. Had this
been a mountainside, travelers would have been groping for shelter as
they prayed for the storm to pass. Had it been an aeroplane, its crew
would have been tense with fear, struggling to keep the wings level with
the unseen horizon, waiting for the inevitable moment when they lost
control and their machine plunged into the ground. Fortunately, this
was an airship -- a far more civilized environment.
Everett set down his dividers and glanced toward the head of the bridge.
"Heading and altitude?" he asked.
"350 at 55 knots," Loris replied from the helm.
"3200, climbing at 300," said Wallace from the elevatorman's station.
Outside, the light was growing brighter. Traces of blue began to shine
through the mist. Then they were skimming the top of the cloud deck like
some sleek diesel-powered galleon sailing across a sea of white. To the
west, a few scattered peaks rose above the clouds like islands.
Everett nodded in satisfaction. "That would be the Atherton Tableland," he
said. "We'll maintain this rate of climb until we reach 5000', then turn
left to 290."
"Where will we be heading, sir?" Iverson asked from the chart table, where
he'd been trying to follow the captain's navigation.
"We'll cross the foot of the Cape York Peninsula and make the coast south of
the Mitchell River," said Everett. "From there we'll proceed north to Cape
Keerweer, then turn west toward Darwin for resupply."
Iverson's brow furrowed. This course seemed unnecessarily complicated.
He'd been expecting them to head directly to the Dutch East Indies. "What
are our intentions?" he asked in puzzlement.
Everett smiled to himself. He could understand the lieutenant's
bewilderment. Politics was an older man's game. "Michaelson ordered us to
investigate the White Russian's secret laboratory on Oa Ki, but provided no
real timeline for the investigation," he explained. "This suggests he has
no real interest in the place, and has sent us chasing after some red
herring so he can use us as a stalking horse again." He paused for a
moment, hoping no one had noticed this awkward combination of metaphors.
"We'll take advantage of the situation to conduct some investigations of
our own, in case we need something to show for our efforts."
"It could have been worse," Sarah observed. "He could have sent us chasing
after a red horse so he could use us as a stalking herring."
"Right," Iverson said hastily. "I take it we'll be looking for something
on the coast?"
Everett nodded. "Indeed we will," he told them. "I'll leave you to guess
what this might be."
After their watch was over, Iverson walked Sarah back to her cabin.
This might not have been necessary -- the island girl was more than capable
of defending herself against any of the threats that didn't exist aboard
one of His Majesty's Airships -- but it gave them a chance to compare notes
on the day's events. Most of the crew were asleep by now, and the vessel
was quiet except for the well-mannered drone of the engines. Above them,
the Number Eleven gas cell loomed in the shadows.
"It seems Michaelson is up to his old tricks again," Iverson said sourly.
"I wonder what he's up to this time."
"Why is he so hostile to the Captain?" asked Sarah. "Theirs seems to be a
long-standing feud. Is there anything in their backgrounds that could
"Not that I know of," Iverson admitted. "I had occasion to look up
Michaelson's service record last fall. The early part wasn't particularly
detailed -- the Royal Navy doesn't take much interest in the affairs of
lowly lieutenants and commanders -- but his later career seemed quite
ordinary. He transferred to the Airship Service shortly after the War and
made captain a few weeks before Everett did. Since then, he's held a
succession of shore commands prior to the one at Cairns. The two don't seem
to have crossed paths at all during that time."
The island girl thought this over. "Perhaps their feud has something to do
with the Warfields," she suggested. "We know that the Baroness was once the
Captain's fiancé. Could Michaelson have some connection with the
Warfields as well?"
Iverson frowned. This possibility had never occurred to him. "I imagine
Jenkins would know, but he'd never tell," he observed.
"No," chuckled Sarah, "I don't imagine he would. But please keep an eye on
the Captain, John. He seems so alone sometimes. And he never married after
Lady Warfield left. I wonder if that hit him harder than he lets on."
Sunrise found the Flying Cloud cruising north on the Gulf of
Carpenteria side of the Cape York Peninsula. To port, squalls dotted the
horizon, but the rainy season hadn't begun in this part of Australia, and
these showed no inclination to merge into storms. To starboard, a few small
rivers, many of them dry for most of the year, threaded their way through
the savanna toward the coast.
The history of European colonization in this part of the world was not one
of unqualified success. The soil was remarkably infertile even by
Australia's unique standards, the few meager deposits of ore were exhausted
almost as soon as they were discovered, and the shoreline offered little in
the way of economic opportunities unless there should suddenly be some
world-wide demand for mangrove roots. For these reasons, it had been
largely neglected until 1864, when the Jardine brothers drove a herd of
cattle from Rockhamption to Somerset for reasons known only to themselves.
They had not been followed by a wave of settlers, and the largest village --
Kowanyama, on the shore of the grandly-named Magnificent Creek -- was little
more than a collection of thatched-roofed huts accompanied by an Anglican
When Iverson and Sarah came on watch, Everett was at the chart table.
Iverson wondered what he could possibly be using for landmarks off this
coastline where everything looked the same. Sarah showed a more practical
turn of mind.
"Good morning, Captain!" she said cheerfully. "I've guessed why you
brought us here. You want to inspect Helga's old freighter."
"You are correct," told her. "We didn't have leisure to do this properly
last year, and there's always a chance the Fat Man's people left some clues
behind when they took the vessel."
Iverson nodded. It had been slightly more than a year since they'd come
upon the wreck of the original Viking Girl. Since then, leisure
had been conspicuous by its absence. He was about to make some comment to
this effect when Davis' voice crackled over the intercom.
"Upper Lookout to Bridge, I have the wreck in sight, bearing 010, range
ten miles. You might want to take a look at it, sir."
They stepped to the window and raised their binoculars. After a moment,
Next week: Daring Damsels of Darwin...
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