The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 148: Sometimes Life Throws You a Curve

The Automatic Speedboat fails its acxceptance tests

Mosley stood for a moment, relishing their expressions of dismay. Then he glanced at his pocket watch. "I must be going," he observed lightly. "I have business to attend to back in England. I'll leave you in my nephew's capable hands."

The baronet swept out of the hold like a man departing a ball. Outside, the engines of his yacht thundered to life. Blacker waited until the sound had faded into the night, then gestured with his pistol. Obediently, the prisoners followed the guards. MacKiernan glared at Miss Perkins as he passed, but she wouldn't meet his gaze. No wonder, he thought, the fhealltóir.

"Why have you thrown in with this lot?" he asked Blacker. "They're traitors to our government."

The renegade lieutenant gave a derisive snort. "You think government is the solution. We know that government is the problem. Asquith and his successors betrayed our nation by accepting the Peace. We will sweep these appeasers aside."

Appeasers? thought MacKiernan. Say what?

The guards marched them to the forecastle and locked them in a storeroom. This must once have been a paint locker, for its floor was covered with circles of color where buckets had rested. Helga picked up an old brush, hefted it as if evaluating its suitability as a weapon, then shrugged and cast it aside.

Abercrombie made his way over to where MacKiernan was standing. "I ken how ye must feel," he said sympathetically. "Ye cannae trust the lassies. With some exceptions," he added when he noticed Helga's expression.

"That's all water over the dam," sighed MacKiernan. "Now we need a way to escape."

"Is no problem!" said Helga cheerfully. "We wait until they make the mistake. Then we having fun!"

MacKiernan marveled at the woman's optimism. Was this what the Vikings were like? he wondered. I can see why people feared them.

They were awoken the next morning by the thrum of the ship's engine. Minutes later, the door swung open to reveal a man who might almost have been a butler -- from some culture that armed its domestic servants with large-caliber revolvers. "If you'll come this way," he said politely.

They emerged from the forecastle to find the Predpriyatie making her way the toward the middle of the bay. To the north, Rabaul was visible beyond the curve of Taruvur. Several airships were moored at the station. MacKiernan gazed at them hopefully, but none rose to their rescue. The only shipping in sight was an aged collier plodding south. An Australian flag drooped limply from the vessel's stern.

The speedboat and its cradle now rested on deck, surrounded by several Englishmen and Russians. MacKiernan recognized Blacker, Miss Perkins, and an elderly gentleman he assumed was Grand Duke Mikhailovich. Blacker was engaged in conversation with Miss Perkins.

"Have we heard from Leese?" they heard him ask.

"He sent word that he may be detained," she replied. "He suggested we proceed without him."

She looked away as the prisoners approached. Blacker turned to face them. "You admire our little vessel?" he said. "It's an automatic motorboat -- one of Fuller's more inspired creations. A special clockwork mechanism steers it along a predetermined course. It's started by an electrical impulse from this control stand."

MacKiernan wasn't entirely sure why anyone would trust one of Fuller's machines. The man's record was not one of unqualified success. "Where is the gentleman?" he asked. "I don't see him here today."

The lieutenant coughed discreetly. "Mister Fuller will not be with us this morning. He is in disgrace after that incident with the HMS Swallowtail."

"And what do you intend to do with his 'automatic motorboat'?"

Blacker's smile was a bit too smug to conform to Royal Navy specifications. "I'm sure you've guessed," he replied, stepping aside to reveal the object behind him.

MacKiernan had never seen the original Device, but he recognized the speedboat's cargo from Captain Everett's description. A dull cylinder of some unfamiliar metal sat at one end of a short track. At the other end, a conical slug of similar material was fitted to a stubby mortar that would fire it into the cylinder with considerable force. The thing seemed quite innocuous, but he knew, all too well, what it could do.

"You built two of them," he said in dismay.

"It seemed a reasonable precaution," said the Grand Duke.

"Surely you don't mean to use that thing against Rabaul!" MacKiernan protested.

The Russian seemed surprised by his objection. "Why not? It will be a blow against the Germans, it will demonstrate our strength, and it will rally people to our cause." He called up to the bridge. "Captain Tserkov, let us begin!"

In the wheelhouse, an officer gave a command. Below them, the engine fell silent, leaving the freighter rolling gently in the Pacific swell.

"Mister Becket, Mister Sokolov you may arm the device."

Two men standing next to the speedboat turned a pair of switches, then stepped back with some alacrity. The Grand Duke nodded to the derrick operator.

"Podemnik ot."

Gears whined, slings grew taught, then the speedboat was swinging over the side. MacKiernan remembered Ujelang. He imagined that terrible light blossoming over Rabaul, searing flesh from bones. He glanced at Miss Perkins, but she hung her head as if unwilling to meet his gaze.

"Gospodin," said a crewman, gesturing toward the harbor, where a sleek motor patrol boat had come into view. MacKiernan recognized one of the Imperial Navy's new Schnellboots. The Grand Duke studied it with a critical eye.

"They are not looking for this vessel," he announced. "And even if they were, it is too late for them to stop us."

The speedboat settled into water. A crewmen unhooked the slings and the hoist lifted clear. Blacker turned to his control stand.

"Sir!" cried one of his men, pointing toward the east. "An airship!"

MacKiernan looked up to see a vessel approaching out of morning sun. His heart leapt as he recognized familiar lines. "It's the Flying Cloud!"

To the north, the patrol boat had turned to speed in their direction, spray flying from her bow. To the south, the collier had raised the Red Ensign and was moving to block their escape. The Irishman turned to face his captors.

"The game is over," he announced. "Give yourselves up."

"Never!" cried Blacker. Before anyone could react, he thumbed a button on the control stand. Relays clicked, motors whined, and the speedboat was racing away, trailing a roostertail of spray behind it.

MacKiernan watched in horror as the craft streaked toward Rabaul. Even if they recognized their danger, there was no way the Germans could possibly intercept it. A puff of white rose from the vessel's stern. Apparently a steam line had burst, disabling one of its engines, for now it was veering to starboard. Blacker stared, incredulous, as it swung in a wide circle back toward the waiting freighter.

"Fuller!" he screamed. "You imbecile!"

The craft pulled alongside as clockwork shut down its remaining motor. In the Device, a timer would be counting down to zero. MacKiernan and Abercrombie braced themselves for annihilation. There was a muffled bang, followed by a klunk.

The two airmen exchanged glances.

"Guid laird!" said Abercrombie. "It was a dud!"

Helga had taken advantage of their captors' astonishment to recover her axe from the hands of a nerveless guard. She smiled.

"Now we having the fun."

The patrol boat lay to the north, guns pointed at the Predpriyatie. Above them, the Flying Cloud was maintaining station, cannon at ready. But the fascists and White Russians seemed cowed by their misfortune. They lined up meekly to pile their weapons at Helga's feet.

MacKiernan expected a prize crew to descend by Transporter, but instead, the collier lay alongside. A gangway swung across and Captain Michaelson stepped aboard. He glanced at the startled airmen, then nodded to his secretary.

"Is this the lot?" he asked.

"Mister Fuller and the Grand Duchess remain unaccounted for," she replied, "but I believe this is the rest of the bag."

"Good work, Miss Perkins."

Blacker stared at her. "You were working for the Admiralty all along? You betrayed us, after what the Germans did to London during the War?"

Miss Perkins turned to face him. "Of course, cousin." There was steel in her voice. "Did you think I'd let you destroy these people in revenge?"

Next week: Picking Up the Peace...

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