The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 137: Someone's Been Busy

Saber and spear

Captain Collins, commander of Suva's air station, passed a dispatch to Captain Everett. "Commander Ferguson reached Nuku'alofa yesterday in the Thanet. He spoke with the British Consul and learned where your men are."

Everett glanced at the message flimsy and shook his head. "Eua."

"Is something wrong, sir?" asked Iverson in alarm.

Everett looked puzzled. Then he smiled and tapped the chart. "It's a small island here, southeast of Tongatapu."

"Oh," said the lieutenant. "Yes. Right."

"I wonder what they were up to," mused Collins. "Shall I instruct Ferguson to investigate?"

"I'm not sure this would be wise," said Everett. "The appearance of one of His Majesty's destroyers in those waters might give the game away. Have him remain in Nuku'alofa to distract our adversaries while we pay the place a visit in the Flying Cloud. Your riggers will have finished with her by now."

"Will you have enough fuel for operations after you arrive?"

"Miss Sarah has calculated this quite closely. I believe we can manage."

Departure had to wait until afternoon. With a full load of fuel and ballast, the Flying Cloud was too heavy to lift until the sun had warmed her gas cells above the temperature of the surrounding air. Even with this `superheat', it took several degrees of nose-up pitch and full cruise power from all three engines to generate enough lift to keep her aloft. But their bunkers grew lighter as they burned off fuel, and by the time they reached Eua, late the next day, the vessel handled almost normally.

They made a slow circuit of the island, keeping an eye out for their enemies in the mysterious cruiser. The saw no other airships, but as they finished their circuit, they spotted a small freighter anchored to the east of a beach near the northern tip end of the island. Everett examined it through binoculars, then called the upper lookout station. "Davies, can you make out the name of that vessel?"

There was a brief pause while the marine swung his spotting scope. "It's... oh dear... the Skerry Lady."

Jenkins did his best not to flinch. "Whatever were they thinking?"

"I'd prefer not to speculate," said Everett. "Davies, what else can you see?"

"There's a strange-looking barge tied alongside. From the shape, it looks like its bow can be lowered to form a ramp. It has an armored car aboard."

"An armored car?"

"A 1914 pattern Rolls, just like we had at Gallipoli."

Everett and his aide exchanged glances. "This Fuller chap, do you think?" asked Jenkins.

"I imagine so. The man does seem to have an inordinate fascination with technology. We should ask the Admiralty if they can determine what else he might have bought. In the meantime, we will send down a party by Transporter to investigate."

Iverson stifled a frown, knowing what was coming next.

"Mister Iverson..."

Transporter operations were blissfully uneventful. With a steady breeze blowing from the southeast, the flight crew had no trouble maintaining station while Iverson and Sarah made their descent to the freighter. They arrived to find the deck littered with footprints, broken gear, and discarded cigarette butts.

Sarah examined the disorder with a puzzled frown. "Whatever happened here? This place is a mess."

Iverson crouched to study some of the cigarette butts. "I'd hesitate to venture a guess, but there do seem to be quite a few nationalities represented here. Let's look in the cabins. We might learn something there."

The ship's living quarters had been thoroughly ransacked. Cabinets had been flung open, drawers pulled out and dumped to the floor, and chests overturned by someone with little regard for the sanctity of personal property.

"Could MacKiernan and Abercrombie have done this?" asked Sarah.

"I rather doubt it," said Iverson. "Miss Perkins would never have tolerated such behavior. I imagine this was the work of other parties who arrived after they left. If MacKiernan left any message for us, it must be long gone."

"Who could these other parties have been?"

"I can't even begin to imagine. Perhaps we can find some clues ashore."

They'd brought along the Flying Cloud's longboat, such as it was. It was a matter of moments to inflate the tiny craft and lower it over the side. The pull to shore might have been a challenge for some, but Iverson had rowed in Naval College, while Sarah was born and raised in the islands, so they made it through the surf without incident.

Like the deck of the freighter, the beach was covered with footprints, hoof prints, and tire tracks. Some had been almost effaced by wind and weather; others were comparatively fresh. There were also two great drag marks where someone had set down with a Transporter.

"It looks like an army has been through this place," said Sarah.

"Perhaps several armies," said Iverson ruefully. "Unless we're lucky enough to find a witness, we'll have a devil of a time sorting out what happened."

"Listen, does that sound like hoofbeats?"

They looked up to see a horseman trotting along the beach. He seemed to spot them at the same time, for he gave a loud war cry, drew a saber, and spurred his mount toward them at a gallop.

"Whatever is he doing?" asked Sarah.

"He must mean to attack!" cried Iverson. He fumbled for his service revolver, unsure what use it would be against a ton of charging horse and man. Beside him, Sarah gave a sigh of exasperation, grounded the butt of her spear, and lowered the point to aim at the horse's chest.

Horses are intelligent animals. Unless directed by an iron will, they won't press home a charge against infantry that is prepared to receive them. The horseman seemed unaware of this fact. The result was predictable. The horse stopped short. The rider continued his progress, in accordance with Newton's laws of motion, sailing over the animal's head in an elegant parabola that would have warmed the heart of any physics professor.

His impact with the sand was somewhat less graceful.

Before he could recover, Sarah had leapt forward to place the point of her spear against his throat. Iverson noted that he looked quite young -- certainly no more than 16. "Who are you,' demanded the island girl, "and why did you attack us?"

"I am a soldier of the Tsar!" the youth replied haughtily. "I will not talk, even under threat of torture!"

"You're quite sure about that?"


"Oh, bother," said Sarah. She stamped the ground in frustration and turned to Iverson. "What should we do with this fellow?"

"If he won't talk, we don't have much use for him. I suppose we could just let him go."

"No!" cried the youth in horror. "Please! No!"

Iverson raised his eyebrows. "What seems to be the problem?".

"You can't leave me here! I'll go mad with boredom!"

"But you said you wouldn't talk."

"That was just an initial negotiating position."

"He's a minor Russian nobleman named Count Brasov," Iverson told Everett after they'd returned to the ship. "He came here at the request of the Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich, who seems to have been one of the original refugees."

"Grand Duke Mikhailovich," mused Everett. "I remember the fellow. He used to maintain an estate in Staffordshire. I always wondered what became of him. So he was the leader of these éigrés?"

"No, that was a young woman who Brasov knew as `Dama' or `Anna'. The Grand Duke seemed to defer to her."

"Curious. And the Russians are now allied with Fuller and these self-styled British fascists?"

"So it would appear. They were on their way to the... that freighter of theirs when they were attacked by someone who sounds remarkably like Miss Helga. I gather that MacKiernan and his people escaped during the confusion."

"That's something," said Everett. He might have said more, but at that moment, Jenkins arrived with a folder. The signalman looked concerned.

"Sir, we've received a reply from the Admiralty regarding Mister Fuller's purchases. I would draw your attention to the item I've circled on Page 9."

Everett flipped through the papers and frowned.

"Oh dear."

"These were my sentiments as well."

"I hope Mister MacKiernan finds out in time."

Next week: Unsportsmanlike Behavior...

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