The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 128: A Pause to Reflect

Sunset over the Timor Sea

The rains had ceased and the clouds had retreated to the borders of the sky. To port, a glittering track of light led across the ocean toward the setting sun. To starboard, Melville Island was cloaked in shadows and mist. Captain Everett gazed at the scene and smiled inwardly. He might never admit it to his crew -- as captain he had an image to maintain -- but even now, after ten years in the Service, such things still had power to stir his soul.

"Climbing through 500'," announced Fleming from the elevatorman's station.

"Very good," replied Everett. "Loris, ring ahead one half on Engines One and Three, then bring us right to 080."

"Ahead one half on One and Three, then right to 080."

Slowly, majestically, the airship swung to starboard, giving them a view to the north. In the distance, a coastal freighter was bucking through the waves as it forged its way east through the Timor Sea. Closer at hand, a few laggard fishing boats were plodding through the Dundas Straits on their way home to Darwin. Everett waited until the Flying Cloud had settled on her new heading, then opened the ship's logbook. His next entry would require some thought. The log might not be a public document, but even so, a certain amount of discretion seemed advised, given the nature of their discoveries.

November 23, 1926. Lat 11 38' S, Long 141 47' E. Returned Miss Clarice and Miss Blaine to Darwin and departed the Air Station at 1810. Our investigations of the past month have uncovered evidence of conspiracy, piracy, and theft on a significant scale. We are proceeding to Cairns to forward specifics to Naval Intelligence.

Satisfied, he set the tome aside and studied the sky. "We'll take the offshore route," he told Iverson. "I don't see any particular reason to risk a night passage overland during monsoon season. I'll leave you the conn after we clear Croker Island "

"How do you think Michaelson will react when we reach Cairns?" asked the lieutenant.

"It's difficult to say," Everett mused. "The man plays his cards very close to his chest. He must have had some inkling of what we'd find -- one imagines that's why he ordered his secretary to accompany us -- but his motives remain a mystery. Did he send us out to conduct an investigation, to distract our adversaries from some investigation of his own, as a stalking horse, or was this all some elaborate attempt to discredit us? At this point we have no way of guessing."

"What about Miss Perkins," asked Iverson. "Do you think she might know?"

The captain walked to one of the control car windows and gazed at the sunset for several long moments. At last he shook his head. "Perhaps," he replied. "But she remains a cipher."

MacKiernan stood at the mess hall windows, gazing at the sunset. This one was unusually vivid, even for the South Pacific. Clouds changed color as he watched, fading from gold to red while evening spread across the sky. Below them, waves cast back the light in flecks of ruby and gold. Scenes such as these never failed to stir his soul. How could the Captain watch them unmoved, he wondered? It was a tribute to the man's professionalism.

He was reflecting on aesthetics and the burdens of command when he heard a footstep behind him. He turned to see Miss Perkins making her way aft. Noticing his attention, she walked over to stand beside him.

"What brings you here at this time of the evening?" she asked primly.

The Irishman searched her face for some trace of mockery, but it remained the usual mask, giving away nothing. She could be beautiful if she ever let down her guard, he thought, but until she does, she'll always remain a cipher.

"The sunset," he replied. "It's gorgeous. That's one of the reasons I joined the Service. 'Tis a sight you can only see from an airship."

"I suppose it is," she said begrudgingly. "Perhaps these machines are good for something after all."

"They weren't always instruments of destruction," he observed. "The German service began as a commercial enterprise. And since the Peace, vessels like this have carried cargo and passengers, flown rescue missions, and carried out errands of mercy throughout the world. By now I'd wager they've saved far more lives than they've ever taken."

The secretary shook her head. For an instant, she almost seemed ready to laugh. "Are you trying to make a convert?" she said in mock protest. "I should think you'd have enough already. But you said `one of the reasons'. What was the other?"

The Irishman gave her a sharp glance. Begorrah, he told himself, that woman misses nothing! Memories came flooding back and he stifled a sigh.

"Have you ever visited Ireland?" he asked.

"Not yet," she admitted.

"Ye should," he replied, lapsing partway into the dialect of his youth. "'Tis a beautiful country -- not like this fey jungle. I was born near Ballyclare, in County Antrim -- the fairest county in all the land, with lush green fields, clear blue skies, and gentle rains come spring. But the prettiest thing in all of Antrim was the girl who lived next door. Marcia was her name. Her hair was like a glimpse of sunlight, her smile could make the whole day bright, and her laughter was like birds singing in the trees. It was always understood we were to be married some day. When I went off to Naval College at the age of fourteen, she sent me letters every day. They were like a sweet breath from home.

"When the War came, her parents took her to live with relatives in America. There'd been talk of German sympathizers, fifth columnists, and a resumption of the Troubles, so they wanted her someplace far from the strife. But 'fter eight months had passed, they decided it was safe to bring her home. They booked ship on a Cunard liner -- a beautiful ship, built by John Brown and Company of Clydebank, Scotland: 800 feet long, 44,000 long tons, with four Parsons steam turbines producing 76,000 hp to drive her 25 knots.

"Her name was Lusitania."

Miss Perkin face turned pale. "Wasn't that the ship that..."

"Aye. She was sunk by one of the German submarines, U-20, in the Western Approaches on May 7, 1915. 'Twas a day I'll never forget. I swore revenge. And the best way to achieve this seemed to be on one of the new blimps that had just started flying anti-submarine patrols, so I volunteered for the Airship Service."

"What happened then?"

MacKiernan shook his head. "The Peace came before I could see action. 'Tis probably for the best. Vengeance is a treacherous thing. It has a way of rebounding against those who'd inflict it."

She reached out to touch his arm -- a gesture as genuine as it was unexpected.

"It seems we both lost people we loved to the Germans during the War," she said softly.

"Aye," said the Irishman. "That's why I want to be sure we never have another."

Next week: Mister MacKiernan's Wild Ride...

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