Episode 550: New Orders
MacKiernan and his crew reached Thursday Island to find Michaelson's R-87
riding from the air station's single mast. Beyond this, the
Flying Cloud was sending down a hoist. The Irishman watched the
deployment through binoculars, then turned to Lieutenant Wilcox.
"That would be Captain Everett and Jenkins, replying to some summons from
Commodore Michaelson," he observed. "I imagine it will be our turn next.
Take us down to 500' and prepare for Transporter operations."
"Why did Commodore summon us back here, sir?" asked the lieutenant.
MacKiernan gestured at the island. It was every bit as far from the beaten
track as it had been on their previous visit. "Our adversaries are
unlikely to have any observers here," he said. "Michaelson may feel the
need for this extra security. This suggest that our lives may grow more
Wilcox seemed to brighten at the prospect. Michaelson shook his head
inwardly. He too had been young once.
An hour later, he and Miss Perkins were striding toward the end of the Navy
Wharf, where someone had dragged some barrels into a circle to form an
impromptu meeting venue. Everett and Jenkins were already seated, along
with Michaelson and a young signalman MacKietnan remembered Fenwick.
The Commodore glanced at the new arrivals with a scowl. "Ah, Commander
MacKiernan," he said dryly. "It's good of you to come. We've been waiting
Ignoring the implied criticism, MacKiernan offered Miss Perkins a seat,
then saluted his superior. "I trust my report arrived by wireless," he
replied crisply. "If necessary, your secretary can provide you with the
"It proved informative," said Michaelson, in what from him might almost
have constituted praise. "You may have realized, it provided clues
regarding the location of the German nationalist's secret base. I've
combined this with information already in our possession to restrict this
to a small region in the Dutch East Indies."
"I was hoping that might be the case, sir," MacKiernan said politely.
"Now all we need is the location of the Japanese nationalists' base."
Michaelson's smile was not the sort that boded well for anyone he
considered an enemy. "Miss Kim has provided us with this information,"
he said, gesturing toward the Korean, who stood beside Everett and
Jenkins looking down at her hands. "According to her, this is in
French Indochina, in the Muòng Thanh Valley, near a village
called Diem Ben Phu."
MacKiernan raised an eyebrow. "She is certain of this information?"
"So it would seem," said the Commodore. "Your mission will be simple.
You will take Miss Kim on board the R-128, travel to French Indochina,
confirm her report, and determine what the Japanese are up to."
Simple? thought MacKiernan. "Yes, sir," was what he said.
Michaelson was too good a player not to sense the hint of sarcasm. He
was also not one to be impressed. "Miss Perkins will accompany you to
provide assistance with the languages should you need it. You are
MacKiernan nodded and offered the secretary a hand to her feet. As they
turned to go, Michaelson faced Everett like a turret swinging to engage
a new target. "Captain Everett, I have a somewhat more challenging
assigment for you."
"What is the status of our consumables?" MacKiernan asked Wilcox after
they'd ridden the Transporter back up to the R-128.
The lieutenant knew to expect this question. "Sixty-seven percent
hydrogen, 3800 gallons fuel, and 29,000 lbs ballast."
MacKiernan pretended not to glance at the ballast board and considered the
figures. On the Flying Cloud, they would have meant it was almost
time seek resupply, but the Improved Armstrong Whitworth class was noted
for its efficiency. "That should serve," he announced. "Bring us left to
300 degrees, ring for three quarter power, and take us up to 3000'. We'll
stay on this side of the Owen Stanley range, round the west tip of New
Guinea, then set a course north."
"Left to 300 degrees, three quarter power, and ascend to 3000',"
acknowledged the lieutenant.
Engines rumbled to life, the horizon swung, and soon they airship was
climbing away from Thursday Island, heading west toward the Arafura
Sea. To the north, an island schooner was threading its way past the
myriad islands and shoals that dotted the Torres Strait. Ahead, a track
of light led to the setting sun.
Miss Perkins studied the scene, then moved to stand next to MacKiernan.
"What are our plans?" she asked, pitching her voice low so they
wouldn't be overheard.
The Irishman sighed. This question had been much on his mind. "Michaelson
has given us a bit of a poser," he observed. "The Japanese have hidden
themselves in an area about which we know almost nothing. We're unlikely
to profit by charging into the place blind. We may wish to stop for
resupply at some intermediate port where we know the Japanese to be
active, send out feelers, and see what we can discover. I'm still
deciding on a destination."
"What about our guest?" asked Miss Perkins "To what extent do you feel we
can trust her?"
Michaelson glanced back toward Miss Kim. They'd invited the Korean to
accompany them to the bridge as a gesture of good faith. Now she was
gazing to the north, as if thinking of her distant homeland. "That too is
something I'm trying to decide," he admitted. "She's helped us as often
as not over the past two years, and she has no reason to love the fellows
who've enslaved her country, but it's clear that she has her own agenda."
"Do you think this Korean resistance movement she speaks of could be
trying to acquire the Ujelang Device?"
The Irishman thought back on the history of his own country and its...
ambiguous... relationship with Britain. Would Hugh O'Neill, the United
Irishman, or the Fenians have hesitated to employ this terrible weapon
against the hated English? Perhaps. And perhaps not.
"I imagine so," he sighed. "It's difficult to see how she could hope to
accomplish this with the resources she has at hand, but we shall have to
remain wary for an attempt. But if ours is to be the simple task, I
cannot help but wonder what orders Michaelson has given the Captain."
Next week: A Visit To The Oracle...
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