R505: the Flying Cloud

Episode 41: Kupang

Royal Navy Air Service chart of Kupang

Everett had ordered the Flying Cloud back aloft after they recovered the longboat. Now they were maintaining station with engines at idle as the sun sank behind them. Somewhere below, the wreckage of the pirates' latest victim drifted in the waves.

"Those fellows have been rather busy," remarked Lieutenant Iverson.

"So it would seem," said MacKiernan. "Captain, do you have any idea where we should look next?"

"The other airship headed north to lead us away from the Duck's latest victims," noted Everett. "Perhaps they were trying to lead us away from the Duck as well."

"So we head south?"

"No," said Everett, "we will follow the airship north. They'll have reasoned that if we found the wreckage, we'll know they were trying to lead us away from something, so they'll head towards whatever they're trying to hide to throw us off the scent."

"No one can be that complicated," protested MacKiernan.

"You wanna put some money on it, Irishman?" said Abercrombie.

"Yer on, ya lunatic Scot."

"What about our orders?" Jenkins asked, before this exchange could get out of hand. "Will we have time?"

This was a good question. Their orders from Captain Michaelson, commander of the Royal Air Station in Cairns, had specified a rigid itinerary. They'd gotten away with their recent excursion because their ship was faster than the senior captain suspected, but they couldn't keep this up forever.

"We'll need to justify a diversion," said Everett. "Prepare to send a message to Cairns and Sydney."

"Which cipher, sir?"

Everett was under no illusions that the standard cipher was secure. Indeed, he made a point of using it when he wanted a message intercepted. This case was different. "Use a one time pad," he replied. "I believe we want to keep this particular communication secret. Send the following: `Discovered wreckage from pirate attack following encounter with suspicious airship approximately 200 miles WNW Darwin. Airship departed course N. Request permission abandon patrol and investigate'."

The signalman encrypted the message, powered up the transmitter, and worked the key. In a surprisingly short time, they received a reply in clear.

Message acknowledged. Proceed as proposed. Return 5 days Cairns. CIC Cairns, confirmed Sydney.

"That was fast," said MacKiernan. "Michaelson must have been awake late. Indigestion, I hope. Or perhaps a row with his missus."

"Perhaps," mused Everett. "I've begun to wonder about our senior captain. What ports lie to the north of us?"

The Exec studied their charts. "The biggest seem to be Waikabubak on Sumba and Kupang on West Timor."

"Waikabubak?" marvelled Lieutenant Iverson. "Is that really its name?"

Jenkins sighed as if he found this combination of syllables an affront. "I'm afraid so. According to the Almanac, it's the capital of the West Sumba Regency. The entry also notes that it's the second largest city on Sumba Island after..." he grimmaced, "...Waingapu."

"Do they say anything else?" asked Everett.

"No. For which I imagine we should be grateful."

"And the other port?"

"Kupang is the provincial capital of.... oh dear... East Nusa Tenggara. It was a major trading hub during the Portuguese colonial era, and it remains an important administrative center for the Dutch today, though I believe they've had some trouble with nationalists and communist groups in recent years. The colonial government maintains an air station there. And oh yes, it appears that Kupang was the final destination of William Bligh in 1789."

"The Captain Bligh?" asked Everett, raising an eyebrow.

"The very same."

"Kupang it is then. As officers and men of the Royal Navy, we have a tradition to maintain. And that air station will simplify our operations."

"Should we rename our vessel?" asked Jenkins. "The Flying Bounty, perhaps?

"I don't believe that will be necessary."

Once again, Iverson bumped into Helga on the way back to accommodation deck.

"Where we going?" she asked.

"Kupang. I understand it's a Dutch port in Indonesia."

"Ja!" she said cheerfully. "That exciting place! Maybe you and Helga find something to do there. Something exciting!"

What? thought Iverson. While he was fumbling for a reply, Sarah stepped through the hatchway ahead and noticed the Swede. Her face hardened in a glare. Helga gazed back at the island girl with a smug expression. Sensing something was amiss, Iverson hurried forward to intervene, but Sarah had already stepped back and slammed the hatch shut between them. When he glanced back, he saw that Helga was gone as well. He shook his head in bafflement. Nothing in his curriculum at the Naval College seemed to offer an explanation for their behavior.

The sun was rising with tropical swiftness when Kupang appeared on the coast ahead. It was a low-lying city, surrounded by vegetation an eye-grabbing shade of green. On its outskirts, the mansions of Dutch administrators spread along an exclusive stretch of beach. In the city itself, the residences of businessmen and houses of merchants lay cheek by jowl with the apartments of craftsmen and slums of hired laborers.

"A good landfall, Mister MacKiernan," said Everett as he stepped onto the bridge.

"Thank you, sir. I believe Jenkins has already arranged for a mooring."

"They've given us Mast Number One," said the signalman. "It's the usual way to honor a visiting man of war from a foreign Power."

"It's also exactly what I'd do if I wanted to keep a visitor under observation," Everett noted. "I expected as much. We'll have to move quickly, and make our investigations before they realize what we're about."

Mooring was routine. Kupang may have lacked the automated equipment of the Royal Air Station at Cairns, but the handling party made up for this in efficiency, and soon the Flying Cloud was swinging to a tall mast near the harbor. After the engines were shut down, Everett ordered shore watches and dismissed his bridge crew. Sarah glared at Iverson from her station at the ballast board, slammed down her clipboard, and stormed out of the control car in a huff. The lieutenant watched her go with a hurt expression, then followed.

"The lass looks troubled," said Abercrombie, after both of them were gone.

"It's Helga," said Everett.

The rigger looked taken aback. "You know about..."

"Of course," Everett replied sternly. "I've been doing my best to ignore her exploits, but do you think I'm not aware of what's going on aboard my own ship?"

"You could order a stop to this."

The captain sighed and studied the rising sun. "In my experience, this never helps. They'll have to work it out on their own."

Next week: Long Dispela Warafran...

StumbleUpon        submit to reddit Reedit