The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 497: So Now They Expect Us To Find It For Them?

The L-147, again

"We've received a coded message from the Administrator of German New Guinea," Michaelson told his audience, "On January second, their naval intelligence office dispatched an airship, the L-147 under command of a Korvettenkapitan Ernst Mayer, to investigate the place we've been calling..." he nodded to the island girl in the acknowledgement, "...Sarah's Island. Yesterday morning, the vessel sent a hurried message to Rabaul reporting they were under attack by what appears to have been the mysterious cruiser. After that, their communications ceased. The Administrator has asked us to investigate."

"Why would he ask the British to search for a German vessel?" asked Sarah, presuming on her position as a civilian specialist to interrupt the senior captain's presentation.

Michaelson gave her an impatient glance. "The L-147 vanished on an intelligence mission into French territory," he explained, as if lecturing to a not-to-bright student. "Since Germany and France are still formally at war under the terms of the Armistice, the former could hardly acknowledge this mission to the latter, let alone ask for assistance."

"But why did they send their request to Cairns in particular?" Sarah persisted, undeterred by the senior captain's scorn. Bravo, thought Everett. He'd been wondering the same thing.

"It isn't necessary for you to know the details," Michaelson replied curtly. "Suffice to say that Whitehall and Berlin both agree that the Fat Man and his former allies represent a danger."

"Do we know where the vessel was at the time of her last transmission?" asked Everett.

Michaelson studied him, as if deciding what information, if any, he needed to reveal. "There is reason to believe they were about to make landfall," he replied. "We will send a mission to Sarah's Island to search for survivors. Time is of the essence, and the Flying Cloud's speed makes her the best candidate for the task. This means we'll have to send someone else to Aneityum. I will provide your Exec a suitable command. I trust he'll take better care of it than he took of the last one. Dismissed."

Everett gazed out the control car window, pretending to watch the Cairns Royal Air Station as it receded behind them. The ability to feign indifference to activity on the bridge was an important qualification for command rank.

"Climbing through 2500' at 400 feet per minute," Wallace reported from the elevator wheel.

Iverson managed to avoid glancing at his captain. "Start bringing the nose down," he replied. "We'll level off at 3000'"

The elevatorman eased the wheel forward with a deft touch of his fingers. Seconds ticked past as the altimeter needle crept upward, then slowed and came to a stop. "Leveling off at 3000'," he announced.

"Very good," said Iverson. "Captain, your orders?"

Everett nodded to himself. The lieutenant was coming along nicely. He might be up for a promotion hearing soon. "It will take us some time to reach Sarah's Island," he observed. "We'll wish to resupply first, to ensure we have sufficient resources to deal with whatever we might encounter there. If we call at New Caledonia, we can be certain our presence will be reported to the Governor, but the Kingston Air Station should also be adequate for our purposes. Plot the most economical course to Norfolk Island."

The lieutenant bent over the chart, measured a bearing, consulted the winds aloft forecast, and adjusted the scales of his flight computer. After a moment he jotted down a set of figures.

"I make it 57 knots on a heading of 125 degrees," he announced. "That should get us there on the morning of the 8th. From there, we should be able to reach Sarah's Island in seven hours."

Everett had already done the calculation in his head. This too was one of the qualifications for command rank. "That should serve," he said with a smile. "Make it so."

Iverson issued to necessary orders, then watched as the ship swung to her new course and put on way. When this evolution was complete, he turned to his captain. "What do you think we'll find, sir?" he asked.

"I've been wondering that myself," said Everett. "Michaelson may not have told us all he knows, but it's significant that he mentioned the Government rather than the Navy. This suggests the two may be working at cross purposes. At the moment, we can only speculate which side he's on or what their agenda might be. Let us hope that MacKiernan's mission is more straightforward."

MacKiernan, Abercrombie, and Miss Perkins stepped down from the back of the ancient ute with sighs of relief. The Lieutenant-Commander's rank might have allowed him to requisition transportation, but it was not sufficient to requisition any degree of comfort. Ahead, the bulk of Shed Number 11 loomed like a long white hill. This was the station's least desirable hanger, located next to the mudflats at the mouth of the Barron River. MacKiernan did not find this a good sign.

"I wonder what vessel Michaelson gave us," he remarked optimistically.

"I ken we'll find out soon," said Abercrombie, gesturing towards the doors, which were rolling aside. As they watched, a mobile mast trundled out towing an ancient Wolseley class airship behind it. MacKiernan's heart didn't exactly sink at the sight, but it could not have been said to leap.

"The R-83," he said, "I thought she'd been retired from service."

"Michaelson must have kept her in commission for training missions," said Abercrombie, in a voice that suggested these would have involved training in how to deal with mechanical failures.

"At least she's a more modern design than the last ship he gave us," MacKiernan observed philosophically. "Let's see who he's given us for crew."

They waited until the mast came to a halt, then made their way aboard. Wolleselys were not particularly large, and it didn't take them long to reach the control car. An airman announced their arrival.

"Captain on the bridge!"

"Oh dear," whispered Miss Perkins.

The watch officer glanced up in what seemed like alarm. "It's not my fault..." he began. "Oh, it's you, sir."

MacKiernan suppressed a sigh. How could he ever have expected anything different? "Mister Wilcox, it's good to a see you again. I trust that Lieutenant Smade, Chief Engineer Avery, and Chief Smade are also aboard."

"Yes, sir!" said the lieutenant. "Are we going to..." he paused, as if he'd been about to say `destroy this vessel too', "...lift ship soon?" "You are correct, Mister Wilcox. Please give me a summary of our status." And let us hope this isn't too disastrous, he added to himself.

Next week: Someone's Been Here Before Us...

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