The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 152: Things To Do On A Rainy Day

The derelict yacht

Rain swept across the Cairns Royal Air Station, flooding the sidewalks, drenching the fields, turning the roads to mud. Outside, a few unfortunate souls scurried between the buildings, hunched against the downpour. But inside Captain Michaelson's office, the atmosphere was dry.

Everett and Jenkins would have preferred the rain.

The two men sat in straight-backed chairs, waiting while an orderly brought in tea. On the other side of his desk, Michaelson leaned back in his seat. The senior captain seemed at ease. This was always cause for concern.

"I felt Miss Perkins deserved some leave," he remarked. "But I believe you'll find that Ensign Phelps brews an acceptable cup."

Everett waited the polite amount of time, then ventured a sip. It was an unremarkable black that would have taken little effort to prepare. If he'd had any doubts that this was to be a confrontation, this would have put them to rest. "You asked to see us?" he replied.

"Yes," said Michaelson. "We've just finished questioning your Lieutenant Blacker and I thought you might be interested in the report."

"I wouldn't say he's `our' lieutenant," Everett observed, taking care to disassociate himself from the renegade's treason. If his adversary wished to seize the moral high ground, he'd have to try a little harder. "He forfeited his claim to a commission when he threw in with Mosley's lot."

"True," mused Michaelson. If he was disappointed Everett had recognized the gambit, he gave no sign. "Be this as it may, the man proved fairly cooperative, though was reticent about some matters."

"I take it he's been working for this British Union of Fascists for some time."

"Since before he was posted to the Pacific, though he was somewhat vague about the precise circumstances of his recruitment."

"Did he have anything to say about the German nationalists or the mysterious cruiser that attacked us?"

"It seems Mosley's people are at odds with the former, though he wasn't able to add much to the information we already have. In particular, he has no idea what the Fat Man's plans might be now. As for the latter, his only words on the subject were, `Blimey, those chaps must have built another!'"

"Rather cryptic," Jenkins observed.

"Quite," said Michaelson. "You wouldn't have discovered anything that might shed light on this matter?" His manner was causal, as befitted an experienced gamesman.

"I can't say that we have," said Everett carefully. If the senior captain noticed his deception, he gave no sign of this either. "How did Blacker manage to escape from the wreck of the R-212?"

"It appears that your chief engineer, Lieutenant Page, was able to bring the stern section down to a safe landing in the Pacific. The survivors were in the process of deploying a life raft when the cruiser arrived to take them prisoner. Most of them submitted, since they had no other hope of rescue, but Blacker elected to conceal himself in the wreck."

"That would seem rather reckless unless he knew Fuller was in a position to pick him up before it sank," Jenkins observed. "This suggests he was privy to the British Union's plans."

"So we have guessed," said Michaelson, "but here we encountered one of Blacker's areas of reticence. Under ordinary circumstances, we might have negotiated by offering him some measure of clemency during his courts-martial, but we'd already received instructions from Sydney to proceed with utmost severity."

Everett and Jenkins exchanged glances. This information could be interpreted in a variety of ways.

"Really," said Everett. "Do we have any idea where this instruction originated?"

"No," said Michaelson, "and I am hesitant to ask for clarification."

Everett thought furiously. Was Michaelson warning them about a possible conspiracy in Admiral Wentworth's office or was he merely feeding them rope in hope they'd save him the expense of a hangman? "Then it seems we'll have to seek our answers from Fuller," he replied nonchalantly, "and he's gone to ground, or underwater, as the case may be."

Michaelson nodded and reached for the teapot. As usual, his expression gave away nothing. At that moment there was a knock on the door, and Ensign Phelps burst in.

"Excuse the interruption, sir," said the signalman, handing his superior a message flimsy, "but we've received word from an operator in Julatten. It seems they've been struck by a bomb."

"A bombing raid, in this weather?" the senior captain seemed offended by the prospect. "What a strange thing for someone to do."

As special subjects of Michaelson's ire, Everett and his crew had drawn the unenviable assignment of mooring at one of the high masts, ready to respond to an alert. Under ordinary circumstances, this would have meant nothing more than extra watches and extra maintenance. Now it meant a chance to distinguish themselves -- a consequence that cannot have filled their adversary with glee.

By the time Everett reached the ship, his men were at lift stations, preparing the Flying Cloud for her sortie. This was a time-consuming process. During the War, Everett had seen newsreels of pilots in the fixed-winged air service rushing to their craft for a `scramble'. With an airship, the pace was more of an `amble'. But he'd trained his crew well, and within an hour, they were heading northwest at 55 knots. By now, the clouds were breaking up, giving them a stunning view of the Dividing Range below. To the west, the waters of Lake Mitchell glimmered in the sun.

"What does the Almanac have to say about this Julatten?" Everett asked MacKiernan.

"It's a small hamlet a few miles north of Mount Molloy," said the navigation officer. "It had a population of thirty-six at the last census, and its principal product appears to be mangoes. I can't imagine why anyone would want to bomb the place."

"Perhaps they have an aversion to chutney," said Sarah. With a straight face, no less.

"I suppose this is possible," mused Everett. "Is that it up ahead?"

"I believe so," said MacKiernan. "But I don't see any sign of an explosion."

Everett had to agree. He didn't see much sign of anything except a few small bungalows and orchards of what he assumed was genus Mangifera. "They're quite sure they were bombed?"

"At approximately 1120 local time, according to their message," said Jenkins.

Everett glanced at the clock. "Mister Iverson," he said, "what was this afternoon's wind forecast?"

"Six to twelve knots, varying between south and east."

"Mister MacKiernan, plot us a search pattern to the northwest."

The search pattern was an elaborate zig-zag -- a succession of ever-lengthening arcs to the northeast and southwest calculated to bring them within sight of an object drifting downwind from Julatten. Shortly after two, Davies called over the intercom.

"Upper Lookout to Bridge, I've spotted something ahead, bearing 320, twenty degrees above the horizon."

"What is it?"

"I honestly can't say, sir."

The three officers exchanged glances, then reached for their binoculars. It didn't take them long to spot it: a slender gold and white tower, tilted slightly to the side, drifting high above the clouds.

"Could that possibly be an airship?" asked Iverson.

"If it is, it's badly out of trim," observed MacKiernan.

"A Junior Shorts Class, I believe," said Everett. "One can recognize them by the configuration of the keel. They appear to have suffered some mishap."

"I'll say," said Iverson, peering through his glasses. "Her control car and forward engine car are missing!"

"Interesting," mused Everett. "These are hardly the sort of things one can misplace. I suppose we'd better look into the matter."

"Sir?" asked the lieutenant. He seemed to be dreading the answer.

"We'll take station above them and send a party down to investigate."

Next week: Those Daring Young... Uh... Men...

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