The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 253: A Missing Link

A cufflink

The Cairns Royal Air Station infirmary was a thoroughly modern facility, with the latest word in diagnostic equipment and treatments. Its pharmacy was stocked with a wide range of medicines, from ointments and suppositories to some of the new sulfa drugs from the Bayer Corporation in Germany. Its x-ray apparatus, recently arrived from England, used one of the new Coolidge thermionic diodes in place of the capricious Crooke's tubes, with their whimsical tendency to wash out images, ruin exposures, and incinerate film. As Everett and Michaelson entered the ward, Marley, the head physician, was holding a set of negatives up to the light.

"I assume those are from our guest," said Michaelson.

"Yes, sir," said Marley. "Her cranium, to be precise. There is no sign of any fractures or displacement. Her injuries seem limited to bruises, abrasions, and that graze along the scalp."

"I take it the patient has not recovered consciousness."

"No, sir."

"May we see her?"

"I can think of no reason why not," said the doctor. "If you'll follow me."

The interior of the infirmary was clean, brightly lit, and almost empty -- medical problems at the Cairns Royal Air Station tended to be limited to minor mishaps, such as cuts and scrapes, that required only minimal treatment, and serious misadventures, such as fires, falls, and attacks by salt water crocodiles, for which no treatment was possible. The new patient had been installed in the far corner of the room, with a row of screens to ward her from prying eyes. Marley nodded to the marine guard and he slid aside one of the panels. Inside, a young woman in hospital gown lay unmoving on a bed. Her olive skin, high cheekbones, and long black hair added a touch of the exotic to these mundane surroundings.

"Do we have any idea where she's from?" asked Michaelson.

"No," Morley said thoughtfully, "but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say she was of Asian descent."

Michaelson glanced at the doctor as if he meant to deliver a retort, then sighed. "I daresay," he replied stoically. "What became of her original clothing?"

"I understand Captain Everett's aide was examining it."

Michaelson turned to Everett and raised his eyebrows. "Did he arrive at any conclusions?"

"The garments told no tales," said Everett. "They were lightweight workman's apparel such as might be found in any port along the East Asian coast. They did show signs of immersion, but there was some rain last night, so he was unable to determine if this was recent."

"And she had no other possessions or equipment?"

"Not when she was brought here," said the Marley. "I understand your men are still searching the grounds."

"Thank you, doctor," said Michaelson. "Let me know if there is any change in your patient's condition."

Their next stop was the Station's southern perimeter, where a party of marines was examining the grounds outside the fence. As the two captains arrived, a second party, led by a young lieutenant and an athletic island girl with a spear, emerged from the brush. Michaelson gave another sigh and turned to Everett. "They are members of your crew," he observed. "I will allow you to receive their report."

"Lieutenant Iverson, Miss Sarah," said Everett, "what did you discover?"

"We found a faint trail leading back to the beach," said Iverson. "But it's impossible to tell if tracks came ashore at that point or ran along the foreshore but were effaced by the waves."

"Could you tell how many parties were involved and whether they were coming or going?"

"No," said Sarah. "Last night's rain effaced most of the marks outside the Station and some of these gentlemen..." she gestured at the marines, "...trampled the prints on the field."

Michaelson nodded. "That's more information than I'd hoped for," he said, with some measure of grace. "Thank you, miss. Captain Everett, if you'll accompany me."

As they made their way back to the administration building, Everett pondered the mystery of the night's attack. Who could have been behind it? The most obvious candidate was the Fat Man, seeking revenge for the destruction of his airship, but this seemed a petty motive for an adversary who'd shown himself to be a far-sighted plotter. Also, how could the German nationalists, with their strange notions of racial supremacy, have enlisted an Oriental in their cause? Inevitably this led him back to the question of who owned the mysterious cruiser that had destroyed the R-212. Their identify remained unknown, but he had his suspicions.

When they reached Michaelson's office, the senior captain walked to the window and gazed in the direction of the infirmary. Everett could guess the man's thoughts. "Do you think our guest was responsible for the explosion, sir?" he asked.

"We must not exclude this possibility," said Michaelson, "but there are so many alternatives. Corporal Brummie saw two figures fighting. One of them was struck down by the blast, the other appears to have fled the Station. It's tempting to assume that one was our bomber while the other was the bomber's adversary, but there's no telling which was which."

"The bomber was successful," Everett observed. "This suggests he was the one who fled, since his adversary would presumably have been our ally."

"Perhaps," mused Michaelson. "But we have no way of knowing the motives of these two parties. We must also consider the possibility that the bomb was not successful. It might have blown up a building, but this was an unfinished structure that had yet to be occupied. I wonder if we can draw any conclusions from the character of our guest. She seemed rather slight. It's difficult to imagine her gaining the upper hand in an altercation. This might help us reconstruct the sequence of events."

"Unless she is the master of one of those mysterious Oriental fighting arts that allow some unprepossessing figure to defeat great numbers of larger and stronger opponents," said Everett.

"True," admitted Michaelson. "We need more information. I imagine she was a stowaway aboard one of the vessels in port. Someone that striking would surely have been noticed if she'd arrived openly. We will wish to trace the routes of these vessels backwards to determine her point of origin."

Everett could see where this conversation was headed. He could also guess who was about to receive the thankless mission of 'route tracing'. He was marshaling his arguments, trying to devise some way to refuse, when Lance Corporal Brummie knocked on the door.

"Sirs," announced the marine. "The men have finished searching the area of last night's incident. They found this lying in the grass near the spot where the woman was discovered." He handed Michaelson a manila envelope. The senior captain shook out its contents, and a small metal object clattered onto the desk -- a modest gold cufflink engraved with the profile of a Coastal Class blimp.

"Sirs?" said Brummie when he noticed the two men's expressions.

"Could that possibly be whose I think it is?" exclaimed Michaelson.

"The design is unmistakable," said Everett. "And I can't imagine who else would have chosen that particular subject. Some of them might still be alive!"

"Who, sirs?" asked Brummie, by now totally mystified.

"That cufflink belonged to Lieutenant-Commander Forsythe, second officer of Captain Everett's previous command," explained Michaelson. "He and the majority of the crew were believed to have been lost with the tail section of the ship when it went down over the Pacific."

Next week: Eagles Gather...

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