R505: the Flying Cloud

Episode 12: Cairns Royal Air Station

Airship on the hauling out circle at Cairns

They returned to the island to recover Fleming's Lilienthal glider. The simple aircraft had proved surprisingly useful and Everett had a feeling it might prive useful again. By now they'd gained some experience handling the captured airship, and her adjustable-pitch propellers -- a surprising feature for a vessel of this class -- made it easy to maintain station while they brought it aboard.

"What shall we do about the wreckage, Captain?" asked MacKiernan, pointing at the bow section of their old ship, which still rose above the jungle where they'd set it down three days before.

"It's difficult to say," mused Everett. "If this was wartime, I suppose we'd take measures to prevent it from falling into enemy hands, but this situation is quite irregular." And indeed it was. They were aboard prize of unknown provenance that they'd taken during peacetime. This vessel had turned out to carrying smuggled arms. What the Admiralty Court would make of this affair, he had no idea.

After some thought, he decided to leave the wreck as it was, set a course to the southwest, and get clear of the island. As evening fell, he ordered the engines secured and the crew to go off watch. With no land in any direction for hundreds of miles, they could drift through the night while the men got some much needed sleep.

The control car was quiet after the others were gone -- a dim narrow compartment with nothing but instruments and starlight for company. Above him, the bulk of their ship loomed against the sky like a cloud. Everett checked the altimeter, then unwrapped their old log book to make an entry.

June 24, 1926, 2100 hrs. Lat, 23 42' Long 169 52'. His Majesty's Airship Flying Lady, R-212. Our search for survivors turned up nothing, so we are en route to the Royal Air Station at Cairns aboard the prize. With only eleven on board, counting our passengers, it has been a challenge to work the vessel, but the passengers have been of considerable help, and spirits remain high. We have found no clues as to who built this ship, and our prisoners claim to be mere hirelings, with no knowledge of the owners or what they were about. We have radioed the Admiralty to inform them of this situation.

Setting down his pen, he studied the battered tome. It had been through a lot: the attack, the crash, their trek through the jungle, the capture of this ship. Soon it would become evidence at his hearing. What would happen then?

Cairns, Australia, was a dingy jungle town on the base of the Cape York peninsula, some distance north of Brisbane. The southern part of the settlement was given over to warehouses that lined the estuary and the shores of the bay. To the north, a small residential district gave way to fields of sugarcane and rice. A rutted dirt road, impassible in the rainy season and not much better during the dry, ran along the beach to the marshy field that served as an air station.

A handling party was waiting when they arrived. Everett conned the ship through the approach, watching with approval as the ground crew picked up the handling lines and hooked the vessel up to the traveling mast. A short time later, they were trundling along the track to the hauling out circle, where the ground crew would connect the stern dolly and roll the ship to one of the giant sheds that lined the end of the field.

After he was satisfied all was in order, Everett gathered up his papers and made his aft. The station's commanding officer, a senior captain named Michaelson, was waiting for him at the foot of the accommodation ladder.

"Captain Everett," Michaelson asked sourly, "what the blazes is this all about? Where is your ship? And where did this... vessel... come from?"

"It's a long story."

"I rather imagine it is. Admiral Wentworth will be arriving from Sydney tomorrow aboard the Tower Hill. You can explain it all to him."

Everett had given his men leave -- this seemed only fair after all they'd been through. Now he and Iverson were escorting their two erstwhile passengers to town. Pierre examined the houses they passed with what Everett suspected were a jewel thief's professional sensibilities. Ahead, Iverson was pointing out the sights to Sarah. Everett wondered how the townsfolk would react if they werre aware of the New Caledonian girl's rather alarming origins.

It was good to be back on English territory, even if it was rather different from the well-tended village in the Midlands he called home. But parrots seemed a fair substitute for starlings, the jungle-covered hills were a satisfactory shade of green, and the sound of children singing in a nearby schoolyard brought a wave of nostalgia.

"How old is that tooloo in the rilyay?
The one with the waggley nose!
How old is that tooloo in the rilyay?
I wish that its time would get close!"

"Your lieutenant seems enamored of the young mademoiselle," said Pierre, indicating the couple ahead of them. "I hope he's prepared to accept zee consequences."

Everett had been wondering the same thing himself. "She seems like a remarkable young lady," he observed. "I don't mean to be untoward, but did you ever..."

"The thought most certainly crossed my mind," said Pierre. "As a Frenchman, I have a reputation to uphold. But she had a spear, and eet was very sharp. She also has a tendency to talk, at great length, at the most inappropriate moments. This ees the very antithesis of romance."

Everett nodded, recalling the girl he'd fled to join the Service, years ago. He'd often wondered what had become of her. He imagined she'd found her calling as a telephone operator, racetrack announcer, or auctioneer.

"Was Sarah's father really a cannibal who worshipped pagan gods?" he asked.

"I do not think so. I gather that he was an enthusiastic reader of Thomas Huxley's essays and a confirmed vegetarian. But hees wife was another matter. She was trained as a Presbyterian missionary, but she seems to have developed a novel interpretation of church teachings, particularly with regard to the Doctrine Of Transubstantiation. And the young mademoiselle appears to have taken after both of her parents."

"Interesting," said Everett, turning the implications over in his mind. "Well, young Iverson comes from a good family, so I suppose he'll make the best of it. If she doesn't make the best of him first."

"What will happen to us now?" Pierre asked.

"As our passengers, you're free to go," Everett replied. "You're outside French jurisdiction, and I imagine you'll have plenty of time to disguise yourself and assume a new identify before they learn of your escape. Assuming, of course, that you are not in disguise aready."

The Frenchman smiled.

"As for the girl," continued Everett. "The Admiralty can provide her with papers, and I can see to it that she receives proceeds from some of the cargo we impounded, so she won't lack for resources. I suppose the rest is up to her."

"What about you?"

Everett glanced at the Frenchman, surprised by the man's concern. "The Admiralty will hold a hearing tomorrow. If they approve of our actions, all will be well. Indeed, I would expect most of the men to receive commendations."

"And if they don't approve?"

"Oh, they'll execute us as pirates."

Next week: Admiralty Court...

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