The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 300: On Second Thought, I'd Rather Not Be On The Philadelphian

Cruiser pursuing the Philadelphian

The two sentries reached for their weapons as Aunt Behema approached in much the same way soldiers of ancient Rome might have reached for their arms at the approach of a war elephant. The matron snorted. These fellows weren't going to have much better luck than those hypothetical soon-to-be-flattened troopers.

"Where do you go?" asked one.

She favored the man with a glare. "I need to get some things from that ship."

"What things?" asked the second. "We can get them for you."

"`Women's things'," she announced sternly. "And I will not have you messing about with them."

The guards glanced at each other nervously -- it seemed that this prospect gave them pause. "Very well," said the first man. "We will help you up the ladder."

"That won't be necessary," snapped Behema. "I can manage by myself."

The two Germans withdrew with evident relief. Behema gave them a final scowl, then hauled her way up to the handling platform. A third sentry was standing watch, pistol at ready. She laid the man low with a blow to the jaw, checked her hair, and strode up the accommodation ladder to the ship. The bow station was packed with controls. It took her several minutes to locate the one Mister Cartwell had described: a dial and switch, bolted to a frame function. She had just set the former and pulled the latter when she heard a polished English voice outside.

"What happened here? Is there some dissention in these fellows' ranks?"

A woman answered in a tone of command. "It could be the prisoners, trying to retake the ship. Get the men aboard quickly."

Behema retreated into the shadows where she hoped -- not without reason -- that she might be mistaken for some piece of the ship's equipment. Footsteps clattered up the steps, then a column of figures in yachting garb filed past her position. Last to board were a man who might have been an officer and a woman with the bearing of a fencer, or some beast of prey.

The man noticed the release control and laughed. "Look, baroness, someone's trying to do our work for us."

"And there she is," said the woman, fixing Behema with a gaze like the point of a dagger. "Who might you be?"

Any thoughts of defiance Behema might have harbored withered under that stare. "My name is Heather Clementine Behema," she replied in a shaky voice. "Who are you?"

"That," the woman told her, "is none of your business. Blacker, should we keep this person as a hostage?"

The man looked Behema up and down and seemed to perform some calculation. "That might not be advisable," he replied. "These Wolesley Class ships only have a limited cargo capacity."

Behema took this as her cue to leave. The strangers made no move to bar her way. She reached the ground without incident, and found the guards lying unconscious at the base of the mast. As she knelt to take their weapons, she heard a clunk, followed by a whoosh as the ship above her dropped ballast. She glanced up to see the vessel rising from the mast.

She'll be apples, she told herself. I don't know who those chappies were, but I reckon we're rid of them.

Then something to the north caught her eye. "Bloody hell," she muttered. "What is that?"

Clarice and Emily gazed offshore, where smoke was billowing from the German patrol boat. To the west, a familiar shape was outlined against the sky.

"It's the Flying Cloud!" Clarice exclaimed in delight. "They've come to rescue us!"

"I knew someone wouldn't forget you," Emily said archly.

"Are we talking about Jenkins?" Clarice replied. "I'm not the one he's matey with."

Behind them, Mister Cartwell chuckled. "Your friends got here in the nick of time," he observed. "Do you think they can retake my airship?"

They turned to watch the Philadelphian. By now the vessel's latest hijackers had gotten the engines started and were putting on way. "I'm sure they can," Clarice assured him, "The Flying Cloud is almost certainly..."

"Clare," Emily said urgently. "Is that what I think it is?"

Clarice looked where her companion was pointing and gasped. A massive airship, with eight engines arranged in rows of four on each side, was dropping from the clouds. She recognized it from Everett's description.

"Oh no," she said, "it's them!"

Everett studied the patrol boat through binoculars, then keyed the intercom. "Well done, Davies," he announced. "I believe you've disabled the vessel without loss of life."

"Thank you, captain," answered the marine. He sounded pleased.

"What now, sir?" asked Iverson. "Those people seem to be lifting ship." He indicated the island, where the Philadelphian was rising from the mast.

"This won't do them much good," said Everett. "They will almost certainly be low on fuel and ballast. We have just resupplied, and we should have at least 15 knots on the vessel. It will be a straightforward pursuit. Prepare to..."

"Sir!" Davies cried over the intercom. "To port, bearing 350!"

Everett looked north to see an enormous shape, twice the size of their own vessel, descending from the clouds. It didn't take him long to recognize the mysterious cruiser. Their nemesis wasn't in range... yet... but he was in the worst possible position, caught at low speed and low altitude by a superior force.

"Oh dear," muttered Iverson.

"Steady, lieutenant," said Everett. "The game has just begun. Ahead full power on all three engines and bring us right to 100 degrees. We will stay low until we've worked up some speed. Downhill shots are always harder."

"Ahead full on One, Two, and Three, then right to 100. Do you think we can outrun them?"

That, thought Everett, was a very good question. If their adversaries were the same people who'd built the Flying Cloud, surely they'd have taken care to make their own vessel faster. But it wouldn't do to voice this concern. "We will trust Iwamoto to work his usual magic with the engines," he said calmly.

Bells rang, the drone of the engines deepened, and the horizon swung to the left. Behind them, the outline of the cruiser shortened as it turned to follow. At the wireless set, Jenkins scribbled down some characters, then frowned. "Captain," he announced, "some nearby station just sent a rather odd message in clear. It reads, `GERMANS ON WOLESLEY IM SORRY MURDOCK'."

"Whatever could that be about?" asked Sarah.

"They've sheared away," called Davies. "I believe they're pursuing the American vessel."

Everett glanced aft to see that the cruiser and the Philadelphian had both turned toward the south. Recognizing that their ship was slower, the crew of the latter were dropping ballast and climbing toward the clouds. As he watched, both ships disappeared into the overcast.

"An interesting development," he observed. "There is a mystery here. We will give those fellows time to depart, then we'll double back, pick up Captain Michaelson and see what light he can shed on the matter."

It took some time to arrange, but at last the shore party was recovered, Mister Cartwell and his guests were aboard the Flying Cloud, Sigmund and his crew were in chains, the damaged schnellboot had joined its predecessor at the bottom of the sea, and Lady Warfield's yacht had been donated to Professor Nakamura, who seemed delighted with his new possession. They'd found no sign of Miss Kim. It seemed she'd been aboard the Todstalker when the Germans retook the craft, but had vanished sometime during the confusion of battle.

The atmosphere in the Flying Cloud's mess hall was subdued. They might be the victors, but it wasn't entirely clear what they had to celebrate.

"We seem to be right back where we started," MacKiernan said sourly. "We may even be worse off, since Lady Warfield has taken Mister Cartwell's airship."

The industrialist seemed unfazed by his loss. "The vessel was insured against piracy and cannibalism," he assured them. "My brother insisted -- he has a colorful imagination. And Heather has promised to help me pick out a new ship."

"Do you think the baroness got away?" asked Sarah.

"We must consider the possibility," Everett observed. "The baroness is a resourceful individual. But I wonder about the radio message that sent the cruiser after her."

"Miss Kim must have sent it from the Todstalker," said Jenkins. "No one else was had the opportunity or the necessary equipment."

"What was her motive?" wondered Iverson. "Was she trying to scotch the Germans, who she believed to be aboard the vessel, was she after Lady Warfield, or was she trying to draw the cruiser away from us?"

"I imagine it was the latter," said Everett. "Her apology to Murdock suggested as much. This suggests she knew the cruiser was coming, which raises any number of additional questions."

Michaelson rose to his feet, strode to the window, and gazed toward the south. Everett noticed that this was the direction Lady Warfield's ship had vanished. He'd been glancing that way himself.

At last the senior captain turned. His face bore an uncharacteristic smile. "We have won some important points this round," he told them. "We have forced the masters of the mysterious cruiser to take the field, and determined that they have several enemies. The game may have gained a few more players, but that will make the contest more interesting."

Next week: The Sixth Flying Cloud Christmas Special...

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