The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 263: More Fun With Rhotic and Lateral Consonants

Everett, MacKiernan, and `Kim'

Sarah studied her ballast figures and frowned. At one time, these calculations had involved a certain amount of guesswork, but over the months, the crew of the Flying Cloud had learned what to expect from their vessel, and these numbers did not match expectations.

"Captain," she announced, "I've reviewed all our gas volume, lading, fuel consumption, and meteorological records since we left Cairns, and it appears we've been running approximately one hundred pounds heavy."

"How certain is this estimate?" asked Everett.

"I have the calculations here," she replied.

The captain waved away the proffered clipboard. "No need for that, Miss Sarah," he told her, "I trust your work. Have you noticed any long-term trend?"

"No, it seems we were heavy when we lifted."

Everett considered the island girl's discovery. After the incident with Helga, he and his crew had resolved to pay closer attention to matters of this sort. Beside him, MacKiernan seemed to be thinking along similar lines. "The implications are suggestive," said the exec. "Shall I order the men to conduct a search?"

"That might not be the best way to proceed," Everett observed. "A vessel of this size offers a large number of hiding places. But other... facilities... may be in more limited supply."

"I take your meaning," said MacKiernan. "Who shall I detail to keep watch?"

"The watchers will have to remain hidden. Jenkins, Pierre, Wallace, and Rashid should have the necessary skill."

In the end, it was Jenkins who found their guest.

"Did you have any difficulty?" Everett asked his aide.

"Not particularly, sir," said Jenkins. "Common decency suggested I allow her to go about her business, but the chamber in question only has one exit."

"Quite," said Everett, turning his attention to their unauthorized passenger. Sarah had located fresh clothing for the stowaway -- over the past months, His Majesty's Airship R-505 had accumulated a surprising amount of feminine apparel -- but otherwise she looked every bit as slender and enigmatic as she had in Cairns. He sighed. This was not a welcome development.

"Jenkins," he announced, "I trust you have prepared for this eventuality. Please proceed."

"Anyonghaseo. Irumi muosieyo?" asked the signalman. He might not have been fluent in Korean, but members of the Royal Navy Airship Service's Signal Corps were expected to be resourceful.

The woman hesitated, then seemed to reach a decision. "My name Kim," she replied.

Interesting, thought Everett. He wondered if this was a first or last name. "You speak English?" he asked.

"Not speak ware."

It took the captain a moment to interpret that last word. This eliminated any doubts he might have had regarding the woman's region of origin. "Why didn't you reveal this knowledge at Cairns?" he asked.

"There are dangers," was her reply.

Everett suppressed a frown. It occurred to him than an imperfectly shared language was an even greater obstacle to understanding than mutual incomprehension might have been. "You may be our guest," he said politely, "but your manner of arrival aboard our vessel was somewhat irregular, so you will understand that we must ask some questions?"

The woman nodded.

"Very good," said Everett. "Can you tell us where you came from?"

"An island," said the woman. The last word sounded almost normal, without the trailing vowel Everett might have expected one of his counterparts in Japan's airship services to add. Was this some quirk of Korean pronunciation, he wondered, or did she have better command of English than she pretended?

"Did this island have any distinguishing characteristics?"

"It had..." she seemed to hunt for the words "...copra plantations."

That, thought Everett, was not particularly helpful. He considered asking the woman who she was working for, but decided against it. The question would only serve to put her on her guard.

"How did you get to Cairns?" he asked.

"On ships. Ocean ships."

"Was one of these vessels named the Cordelia?"

"Cor-de-ree-ya," she said, struggling with the name. "Not think so."

Then who joined that vessel on Goodenough Island? wondered Everett. "Where did you board the last ship?" he asked, trying a different tack.

"On island called..." the woman hesitated and took a deep breath, "...Gwa-da-ka-nair."

"I imagine that would be Guadalcanal," Everett whispered to Jenkins.

"It's difficult to think of many alternatives," the signalman whispered back.

Everett suppressed another frown. This was second on their list of destinations. He mistrusted coincidences such as these. "What were you doing at Cairns Naval Air Station?" he asked the woman.

"I try to stop man. We fighted."

"Was this the man who planted the bomb?"

"Not know bomb."

It occurred to Everett that if the woman had been unconscious at the time, she might not be aware there had been an explosion. He reached into his pocket to produce the cufflink Michaelson's men had found. "Do you know anything about this?" he asked.

The woman showed no reaction, but Everett sensed immediately that he'd said something wrong.

"No," she replied.

"She's rather guarded with her information," Jenkins observed after they'd returned to the control car.

"Such was my sentiment as well," Everett observed. "I doubt she's revealed more than a fraction of the truth. We should take care what we say around her. Her command of English might be greater than she admits."

"What should we do now, sir?" asked MacKiernan. "Shall we take her back to Cairns?"

Everett shook his head. "She's obviously trying to avoid notice by someone. Until we know who her hypothetical adversary is, we might not want to reveal her presence in such a public fashion."

"Do you think Michaelson knows she's aboard?" asked MacKiernan.

Everett sighed. "Knowing Michaelson, he probably engineered the whole thing. We'll send the man a suitably worded acknowledgement, then do out best to carry on."

Michaelson had taken the R-87 to Brisbane to inspect the local air station. Now he sat in a cafe reading the paper while Phelps ran an errand to the telegraph office. He was opening the sports section -- in Australian periodicals, this could be quite substantial -- when an elderly-looking gentlewoman took a seat nearby.

"Sir," she said quietly.

"Miss Perkins," he replied in surprise. "You've quite outdone yourself. However did you manage this disguise?"

The secretary smiled. "Much of a woman's arts are designed to make her look younger. It's an easy matter to reverse this process."

"What was the state of affairs in Sydney?" asked Michaelson.

"Most of the Fat Man's people are still prisoner, but the lieutenant, Sigmund, has escaped as you expected."

"Could you determine if the man had help?"

"No. The Admiral's staff seemed as much in the dark as I was. They've been keeping the matter quiet. May I ask what's been happening in Cairns?"

"Phelps continues to play into our hands by playing a game for his masters. I've taken steps to determine who these might be. I gather from your report that those two young women from Darwin, Miss Wilcox and Miss Blaine, are on their way back home."

Miss Perkins nodded cautiously. "I did my best to spirit them out of Sydney before they could attract attention, but I fear we were spotted on our way to the civil air station."

"That should serve," Michaelson replied. "I've sent the Flying Cloud to Darwin as well. We'll see what that stirs up."

The secretary's eyes narrowed. "Sir, you could be playing a game with their lives!"

Michaelson made a gesture of unconcern. "I trust the two can look after themselves."

Next week: A Place For Evolution...

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