R505: the Flying Cloud

Episode 50: No Job is Finished Until the Paperwork is Done

Ships sailing west

"That should do it", said Captain Everett, signing the last form with a flourish. "A BOT-36C/2 `Approval for the Use of Force During a Transaction', an ROV-289B `License for a Non-Commercial Change of Ownership', an RNR-6892 `Retroactive Letter of Marque', and an MMR-165 `Provisional Title Pending Incarceration of the Previous Owners'. These should award the ship to you as a prize. They'll have to be confirmed by the Admiralty Court, but I don't imagine there will be any problem."

"Good," said Helga. She tucked the documents away, then gazed down from the bridge at her new command. The Duck was steaming west through the Coral Sea, smoke from her stack streaming away to starboard. Around them, waves sparkled in the morning sun. The old freighter creaked and groaned as she rose to the swell, but didn't seem in any immediate danger of sinking. Everett had no doubt that Helga and her crew would restore the vessel to better condition when they had a chance.

"What we do with them?" asked the woman, gesturing toward the original crew, who sat on the deck with their arms bound. "Throw them to the sharks?"

"I believe it would be more appropriate to deliver them to the authorities to stand trial for piracy," Everett observed politely. As an officer in the Royal Naval Airship Service, he'd been taught to show respect for other cultures and traditions.

"Oh well, that almost as much fun!"

Everett stifled a grimace. Having been through such a trial himself, he suspected that the prisoners might prefer the sharks. "Have you found any sign of Wasserman?"

"Boys still search the ship, but it looks like he get away."

"A pity. I would have liked to learn the name of his employer."

The fat man had escaped aboard the zeppelin, leaving no clues as to his identity. From the man's bearing, Everett guessed the German had held some kind of command during the War, but so many officers -- on both sides of that terrible conflict -- had been left unemployed by Woodrow Wilson's Peace that this information was not particularly useful.

"Ahoy the bridge!" came a call from forward. "Airship, one point off the port bow."

"I believe that would be MacKiernan," said Everett.

Ahead of them, the Flying Cloud had cleared the horizon. Even at this range, her outline was distinctive -- an elegant streamlined form, like a smaller version of Barnes Wallis's classic R-100. The airship closed rapidly, sweeping toward them like some gleaming silver example of her namesake. Soon she was wheeling overhead while a signal lamp flashed from her control car. Everett recognized Jenkins's hand.

"If you would be so kind as to bring us into the wind," he told Helga, "I believe it is time for us to make our departure."

A short time later, the two vessels were heading southeast into a gentle breeze. In these smooth conditions, with skilled crews on both craft, it was an easy matter to match courses and speeds. The airship dipped lower, a hatch swung aside, and the Transporter began its first descent.

Helga accompanied Everett and his men to the deck. "You cute boy!" she told Iverson, giving him a slap in an unexpected location. "Too bad we never have fun!

"Don't worry," she said as Sarah began to protest. "Helga give word! And besides, we fighted together. Now you Helga's sword sister!" Reassured, the island girl replied with a smile.

Finally, the Swede turned to Captain Everett. For once, her face was solemn.

"Helga not say goodbye," she said. "We meet again someday, I think."

"I believe you're right," said Everett. "This tale is far from over."

"I trust that everything went well," said Jenkins when they were all back aboard.

"Tolerably," said Everett. "The leader of the nationalists may have gotten away, and the captain of the Duck may remain unaccounted for, but I believe we've scotched their plans for now."

"How will we explain this to Michaelson?" asked the signalman. "We were supposed to be on an overnight training cruise, not scouring New Caledonia for pirates."

"We'll report that the Flying Cloud encountered the Duck offshore," said Everett. "This is certainly the truth, and I see no need to burden the good captain with the knowledge that we were the ones responsible for bringing the vessel offshore."

"What if the Governor lodges a complaint?"

"It's in his interest to keep this matter secret. Otherwise he'd have to explain why he was entertaining enemy nationals on his island -- he can hardly have been doing this with the approval of his own government. I imagine he'll express horror at our report, thank us for apprehending Wasserman's crew, and profess ignorance that the L-137 had been taken by pirates." He shook his head thoughtfully. "Deceit makes strange bedfellows."

"The German who escaped: who do you think he was?"

"We'll ask Michaelson, of course. But we should be wary about trusting his answer. And I'm anxious to learn what our hidden transmitter has recorded during our absence."

Sarah and Iverson watched the Duck as she dwindled astern. Iverson imagined Helga standing on the prow, searching the seas for prey, like some Viking marauder of old.

"She has a deck gun now," observed Sarah.

Iverson paled. "I trust she'll use it with some restraint."

"Do you really believe that?" asked the girl.

Iverson thought back on all they'd seen of the woman's behavior. "Perhaps not," he admitted.

Sarah giggled. "You could have gone with her. Idyllic tropical atolls. Dusky island maidens. Strange ports, exotic sights, a bit of piracy on the side..."

Iverson smiled at her. "Someone made me a better offer."

Wasserman emerged from the radio shack with a scowl.

"The Fat Man is not happy about this," he informed the Governor.

The Frenchman seemed nonplussed. "Neither am I," he replied. "It may be time for us to reassess this alliance."

"What do you mean by that?" Wasserman snapped.

The Governor glanced upward. The Dutchman turned to see an enormous cruiser rising above the ridge. Sunlight gleamed on eight mighty engines, a row of guns, and a familiar flag.

"You! You called... them!"

He lunged for the radio. A shot rang out. The Governor lowered his pistol and shook his head.

"Someone made me a better offer."

Next week, join us for The Flying Cloud Christmas Special...

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