The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Two

Episode 57: People Just Leave These Things Lying Around

Davies in front of the wreckage holding a stubbie

The Transporter Room smelled of oil, grease, and electricity. The Transporter itself -- a massive winch and drum of cable -- took up most of the space. The rest was occupied by the hoist platform and operator's station. Iwamoto stood in his usual place by the controls.

"What's the status of the equipment?" Iverson asked the engineer.

"Equipment ready," said Iwamoto.

Darn, thought Iverson. He was not looking forward to using it. But waiting wasn't going to make the experience any more pleasant. "All right, men," he said. "Let's get this over with."

Davies vaulted onto the platform. Landing parties were old hat to the veteran marine. Fleming followed more cautiously. The young Australian might pursue adventurous hobbies -- Iverson still marveled at his willingness to leap into space on his Lilienthal glider -- but he didn't seem to be looking forward to the Transporter ride. Iverson didn't blame the man. Taking a deep breath, he gave the necessary command.

"All right, Mister Iwamoto. Energize."

The engineer flipped a toggle, advanced a lever. A motor whined to life and the hoist platform lurched downward, sending the three men grabbing for the rail. Then they were dropping into space as the airship dwindled above them.

"Does this ever get easier?" asked Fleming.

No, thought Iverson, but he was an officer, with an image to maintain. "It does, in time," he said, in a reply that might have been more convincing if it hadn't come out as a squeak. The cable above them seemed entirely too fragile to support their weight, while the space below them was all too real.

"At least we aren't swinging," said Davies. "I remember a deployment just after the War when we swung through the window of a chateau near Amiens."

"What happened?" asked Fleming, fascinated.

The marine's battered face cracked in a smile. "They were just serving a banquet for the Comte and his guests. I smashed into a large bowl of soup. Some kind of fish, I believe, though it's hard to be sure with those French. That was pretty much the end of that uniform. The Captain ended up sitting in the lap of the Contessa's daughter. She'd just turned eighteen, and seemed quite pleased by the experience. Officers... they have all the luck."

"You've served with him a long time," said Iverson, after they'd stopped laughing.

"Aye. We met on the HMS Irresistible during the Dardanelles campaign."

"The Dardanelles?" Fleming began, but at that moment the platform struck the ground with a crash.

"Right!" ordered Iverson, when they recovered their balance. "Everyone out before this thing starts to drag!"

As soon as they were clear of the hoist, Iverson led them toward the wreckage they'd seen from the airship. The terrain was, if anything, even drier and emptier than it had seemed from above. On a distant branch, a hawk waited patiently for the first thermals to form. Closer at hand, a lizard regarded them from a rock with that expression of skepticism peculiar to lizards. Other than that, there was no sign of life.

Their destination lay some distance away, at the end of a trail of shattered crates. Fleming paused to examine one of these. It was flattened by the impact, and covered with dust, but they could still make out the graceful image of a long-necked waterbird on the side.

"Swan Lager. Queensland's finest," said Fleming ruefully.

"They must have been pretty desperate if they were throwing beer overboard," said Davies.

"And it's all smashed."

"Don't leap to conclusions," said the marine. He crouched and poked through the fragments until he extracted several intact stubbies. "Permission to take these back to the ship, sir," he asked Iverson, "as evidence?"

The lieutenant sighed. Officers in the Royal Naval Airship Service learned to tolerate a certain amount of irregular behavior. "Permission granted."

The wreckage was torn, twisted, and smashed as if by some terrible impact. One end was a flattened mass of duralumin. The other had split open to reveal an engine block, driven into the ground by the force of the crash. A shattered propeller lay nearby.

"Could this have been the engine car from an airship?" asked Fleming.

"It looks more like one of the old-style external control cars," said Davies. "I'd say it came from the R-67."

"How d'you reckon?" asked the Aussie, impressed by the marine's powers of observation.

"The number is painted there on the side."


"Wasn't this the packet the Captain was on?" asked Iverson.

"I believe so," said Davies, "but we know he reached Darwin safely because he sent us that wire."

"Why didn't he mention this?" asked Iverson, gesturing at the wreckage.

Davies shrugged. "Word charges are expensive. And I imagine he didn't think it worthy of mention. After all, it's only a control car."

"Whatever is it doing here? It's hardly the sort of thing anyone could misplace."

The marine examined one of the struts. "I'd guess they jettisoned it deliberately. This appears to have been cut. They may have lost a large amount of hydrogen and needed to reduce weight. Perhaps some rigging cables snapped and tore open several of the gas cells. That happened on the old R-38, back in the Gale of '21."

"This must be how they did it," said Fleming, holding up the battered remains of a power saw. "They're all over the place."

"That's the Captain's work all right," said Davies. "He always was a resourceful bloke. Should we take some of these saws back with us?"

"I don't see any reason to," said Iverson. "The motors, shafts, and bearings will all have been smashed by the fall. The only thing that didn't break would be the blades, and I can't imagine what we could possibly need those for."

The ride back up to the ship was uneventful. Iwamoto braked the hoist to a stop, engaged the bolts to lock the platform in place, and shut down the power. Iverson waited until everything was secure, then dismissed his men and made his way to the bridge.

"Shore party is back aboard, sir," he informed MacKiernan.

The Exec seemed preoccupied. "You can deliver your report later," he announced. "Now please take the helm and ring for full speed. As soon as we have way on, steer course 345 for Darwin."

"What's wrong, sir?" asked Iverson, suddenly concerned.

"We've received a message from town. The Captain's been kidnapped."

Next week: The Savage Darwinian Struggle For Survival...

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