Episode 468: We're Checking It Twice
The Flying Cloud departed from Melbourne late on the morning of the
9th. It was an awkward time to lift ship, with the sea breeze filling in to
complicate the evolution, but this gave them a tailwind for the first leg of
the flight. It also allowed them to cross the Great Artesian Basin at
night, avoiding the scorching heat of an Australian summer that would have
forced them to vent hydrogen to stay below their pressure height.
Nightfall found them cruising above the Simpson Desert, 150 miles southeast
of Alice Springs. This was no ordinary wasteland. Part of the great
desolation known variously as the Outback, Beyond the Black Stump, Back of
Beyond, or Never Never, it was a void that made other wastes
lush by comparison. Now, night had
transformed it into a place of beauty. The full moon was rising to
starboard like some promise of peace. Below the ship, long lines of dunes
wound away to the north, muting the harshness of the landscape until it
seemed almost forgiving.
MacKiernan gazed down from a window of the mess hall, reflecting on the
paradox this landscape presented. How was it that the most perilous places
were often the most beautiful? Did this extend to other aspects of life as
His meditations were interrupted by a voice behind him.
"I thought I might
find you here."
He turned to see Miss Perkins entering the compartment. Like the desert,
her features seemed softened by the moonlight. Her expression was slightly
too wistful to be a smile.
"Alice," he said.
There was an awkward pause while he fumbled for a reply. Michaelson had
almost certainly placed his secretary aboard as a spy. The senior captain
was also almost certainly aware of their feelings for each other and
counted on these to work in his favor.
She saw his expression and nodded. "I know," she told him regretfully.
"And you know I know, I know you know I know, and we could go on like this
"Tuigim," he sighed. "Let's speak of something else. What do
you think we'll find in Darwin?"
She seemed relived by the change of subject. "The Japanese will almost
certainly have taken delivery of vacuum tubes by now," she replied. "They
seem to hold the lead in the race to recreate the Ujelang Device. They
were quicker than the Germans to recognize the importance of the refining
"They also seem to have gained some understanding of how to accomplish
it," MacKiernan observed. "If Professor Koshino's report is correct, all
they need to begin full-scale production is more copies of his apparatus.
I wonder how the White Russians managed to build the original Device.
There was nothing in either of their laboratories to suggest they knew of
the professor or his discovery."
"I imagine this Karlov fellow devised something similar," said Miss
Perkins. "He might have incorporated it into their equipment, but
kept its secret for himself."
MacKiernan nodded. "That might explain his subsequent interest in other
artifacts that are alleged to influence chance, such as the
"The Warfields seem to share his interest," Miss Perkins observed.
"Perhaps they learned of Professor Koshino's work and passed this
information to the Japanese."
"That is most certainly possible," said MacKiernan. "I'd give a lot to
know their agenda. I also wonder about their connection with our
respective superiors. We know that the baroness was once Captain
Everett's fiancé. Did Michaelson have some association with
them as well?"
She hesitated, as if wondering what to say, then spread her hands
helplessly. "I don't know, Fergus," she confessed. "His manner
suggests that they share some history, but he hides his secrets too
They arrived to find Darwin covered with clouds. Everett made a wide
circle about the air station, to verify that the German nationalists' new
airship wasn't lying in wait -- it wouldn't do to get caught at the mast --
then ordered MacKiernan to begin their descent. This went smoothly,
and a short time later, Everett and Jenkins were making their way
down Mitchell Street to speak with the freight forwarder who'd handled the
shipment of vacuum tubes. The rain was relentless -- the kind of weather
that gave birth to the expression `going troppo' -- but members of the
Royal Navy Airship Service were expected to ignore such inconveniences,
and they reached their destination without incident.
The shipper proved to be John Decker, who Jenkins had dealt with the year
before. They found him reclining in his chair, wooden leg propped up on
his desk, reading a novel by someone named P. G. Wodehouse. He smiled
"G'day! 'Ow ya goin'?" he announced cheerfully.
"Quite well, thank you," Jenkins replied. "We understand that you handled
a shipment of vacuum tubes from Melbourne. We were wondering if you could
tell us its destination."
The shipper seemed regretful that he couldn't provide an answer.
"I'm afraid I don't know," he told them. "The information was in a
letter to be forwarded to whoever undertook the delivery. I only know it
was some port in Indochina. You're the second person to ask this week.
Two young sheilas from the railroad office were here about it yesterday.
They left a message for one of your captains -- some bloke named Everett.
Would either of you happen to know the chappy?"
"That would be me," said Everett said apprehensively.
The shipper rummaged through a drawer to produce a message. Everett read
this, then passed it to his aide.
Dear Captain Everett,
Emily and I have located the shipment of vacuum tubes you inquired about.
According to Mister Decker, it left two weeks ago aboard a freighter
named the Tranquility. If only they'd been around to carry us back to
Darwin! Thank you ever so much for giving us that tour of your ship
last June. Emily and I remember this every time we pass the air
"She demonstrates considerable mastery of hidden meanings," Jenkins
"Quite," said Everett. "She must have worried the message might
be intercepted. The first three sentences call our attention to the vacuum
tube shipment, suggest this is of interest to our adversaries, and imply
that she met the vessel carrying it and prevailed upon the captain to carry
her back to Darwin. She concludes by calling our attention to the events of
last June and suggesting they're connected with something she saw at the
"According to the station's log, the only vessel to call during the past
few days was a Wolesley class, the R-387, which departed the day before
we...," the signalman's eyes widened as he considered the possibilities,
Everett nodded. "That will have been the Warfields' prize, here under a
false registration. She was one of the American copies of a Wolesely,
built under license by Goodyear. To the casual eye, she'd have been
indistinguishable from her British equivalent."
"Do you think Miss Wilcox and Miss Blaine took it upon themselves to
investigate?" Jenkins asked in alarm.
Everett sighed. "Is there any doubt? Mister Decker, have either of the two
young ladies been seen since yesterday?"
"Not that I know of," said the shipper. "Why do you ask?"
Next week: Weighty Matters...
Comments about Episode 468? Start a new topic on the