The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 207: Mere Anarchists Are Loosed On The Land?

Police Chief Channel with native art

Darwin's police station was a grim grey barracks, a relic of the one-sided struggle between white settlers and the land's original inhabitants. Since then, it had seen its share of confrontation and strife, most recently the trade union unrest in 1918 that had come to be known as the Darwin Rebellion. The guard at the door matched the station -- hard and humorless, with a face that resembled the stones of the building behind him. He scowled as the Commodore's party approached.

"And where d'ye think you're goin'?" he demanded.

"I am Commodore Ethan S. Clark," the Commodore announced, "here to speak with Mister Channel."

The guard made a futile attempt to bar their path, but his defiance collapsed in the face of a superior sense of entitlement. The Commodore brushed past without stopping, followed by Everett and Jenkins.

"That was a remarkable performance," Jenkins whispered to Everett. "We should be glad he's on our side."

"Perhaps," Everett whispered back apprehensively. "Let us reserve judgment until we learn more."

A brisk march brought the trio to Channel's office. This was richly opulent, with polished wood paneling, fine leather furniture, and shelves bearing examples of aboriginal art -- an ironic choice given the station's history. The police chief sat at his desk, polishing a pair of metal-rimmed glasses with toad-like aplomb. His minions must have warned him they were coming, for he didn't look surprised.

"Commodore Clark, I presume," he said. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

His voice gave new meaning to the term 'oily'.

"Some minor matters, Mister Channel," Clark replied. "Last year saw several curious events involving this station. These began with the attempted hijacking of one of his Majesty's airships. The guilty parties seem to have vanished into your custody. This was followed by the disappearance of a traveler on the railway to Alice Springs -- once again, the relevant records seem to have made their way here. Finally there was the diversion of public funds in association with members of a questionable organization known as the British Union to purchase two War-surplus tanks. Can you shed any light on these affairs?"

"This is all part of the War Against Anarchism," Channel said sternly. "I need hardly remind you of the threat these Anarchists pose to civilization. Thirteen years ago, one of their number, Gavrilo Princip, ignited the holocaust that consumed most of Europe. We must not allow such a thing to happen again!"

"This is most certainly true," said Clark, in what was most certainly an understatement, "but I fail to see the connection with Darwin.."

The police chief picked up a carving from his desk -- a winged crab with a head of ropy tentacles -- toyed with this for a moment, then set it aside. "This town may seem unprepossessing," he replied, "but it has a large 'ussian �igr�community. This has become a haven for the disaffected, and a ripe recruiting ground for the Anarchist Menace. Our foes are wary of the police, so I found three Englishmen to infiltrate their ranks, posing as some of the misguided followers of Marx and Trotsky who have arisen among the educated classes. It seems these gentlemen misrepresented themselves. I had no way of knowing until they fled that they were members of this `British Union', with agendas of their own."

"And how does this explain the tanks?" asked Clark.

The police chief shrugged. "They seemed a good idea at the time."

"I see," said Clark. "We will, of course, wish to examine the relevant records from your files."

Channel drew himself up indignantly. "These are matter of some sensitivity!" he announced. "We can hardly reveal them to casual passers-by."

"You can reveal them to me," the Commodore said, in a voice that brooked no refusal.

"It may take some time to..."

"You may deliver them to our ship this afternoon," Clark said curtly. "Good day, sir."

"What do you think of Mister Channel, Commodore?" Everett asked after they were on their way back to the station.

"I'd say the man is what he seems," Clark replied, "a minor civil servant, caught up in affairs beyond his understanding."

"He seemed somewhat evasive, sir," observed Jenkins.

Clark made a dismissive gesture. "I imagine he felt intimidated in the presence of representatives of the Admiralty."

That afternoon, the Commodore summoned Everett and Jenkins to his quarters. These had been created by removing the panels that divided two unused cabins -- one thing airships had plenty of was interior space. One half had been furnished with the lightweight aluminum desk and table Clark had brought over from the Cottswold. His aide, Adley, hovered next to the latter with a tea service.

"Would you care for some scones?" he asked. "We seem to have misplaced the marmalade, but your chef was able to provide us with this jar of concentrated yeast extract."

"Thank you," said Everett. "Jenkins?"

"I believe I'll have some too," said the signalman. A strong palette was a requirement for members of the RNAS Signal Corps.

"Our Mister Channel has supplied the records we requested," Clark announced after cups had been poured. "They seem to confirm his account."

"What do they say about the hijackers?" asked Everett.

"Channel's office interrogated them at length using what may have been..." Clark shook his head, "...questionable means. They proved to be mere hirelings -- Communists in the service of some leader who escaped capture. They claimed this leader was English. This is independent support of the report's veracity, for Channel had no way of knowing what you told Michaelson about the fellow."

Unless he has an agent in Michaelson's office, thought Everett. But he kept this speculation to himself. "Do we have any idea who this gentleman was?"

"I imagine this was one of the police chief's `informants', who exceeded his instructions and decided to act as an agent provocateur," said Clark. "That would explain why Channel wishes to keep the matter secret. It would be something of an embarrassment if the story got out."

"What about Karlov, sir?" asked Jenkins.

"Channel was investigating him as a possible Russian agent. Which I suppose he was, after a fashion. But this investigation ended after the man vanished."

Everett nodded. "Thank you, sir. I'd be curious to see the reports."

Clark pushed the file across the desk. "Feel free to study them at your leisure."

"What do you think of Commodore Clark, sir? Jenkins asked Everett after they'd finished examining the reports.

Everett hesitated, reluctant to speak ill of a superior. "I'd say the man is what he seems," he replied, "a responsible officer, who may not be used to the peculiarities of the Pacific Station."

"He seems somewhat obtuse. However did he manage to rise so far in the Admiralty?"

Everett sighed. "These matters are determined by merit, but they also 'equire a patron. If that patron is sufficiently powerful, their prot�� may be insulated from consequences of his errors. What is your opinion of these documents?"

"They appear to be genuine," said Jenkins. "The dates and contents are internally consistent and the text shows no sign of forgery or amendment. But it's obvious Channel left out some material in an attempt to mislead the Commodore."

"Such was my impression was well," said Everett, "and I fear that he succeeded."

"What should we do?" asked Jenkins. "Clark's actions will have muddied the waters. And now that Channel knows he's being watched, he'll take steps to disguise his activities."

"This is be true," said Everett, "but there is one avenue of inquiry both men may have overlooked."

Next week: The Case of the Insufficiently-strong-hold...

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