The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 327: The Rabbit Supremacy

The secret base

Clarice, Emily, and Miss Perkins were awakened by a discreet tap on the door to their cell. "Excuse us," said a polite voice. "We propose to enter your compartment. Do you wish a few moments to compose yourselves?"

"Dinki di," said Clarice. "Give us a minute."

"How shall we play this?" she whispered to Miss Perkins.

Miss Perkins considered her reply. She'd had plenty of time to review strategy during their flight from the coast, and she'd thought of several ways it could be improved. "We'll add some refinements," she whispered back. "You were investigating the resort because your aunts suspected that some of the investors -- meaning Police Chief Channel, but we won't mention his name -- might be up to no good. This will raise questions our captors don't dare ask for fear it might give their game away. It will also protect us by suggesting that people back in Darwin know where we are. I will remain a friend from Cairns -- timid, bookish, prone to seasickness, frights, and the `vapors' -- who you invited along for the voyage."

The two Aussies chuckled. "This should be fun!" whispered Emily.

Miss Perkins wasn't so certain of this, but she hid her doubts as two of Lady Warfield's minions opened the door. The men weren't armed with pistols this time -- firearms and hydrogen-filled dirigibles were rarely a good combination -- but both of them carried truncheons. They held the weapons diffidently, the way a well-trained waiter in a fine restaurant might carry a questionable bottle of wine. "If you'll come with us," said one.

A short time later, the three women were gazing from the Transporter as it made its descent. Miss Perkins wondered why they hadn't been blindfolded. This suggested they weren't expected to leave this place alive. But it could also, she reassured herself, be because the location was impossible to identify.

Like most visitors to Australia, she'd heard tales about the Outback -- the great empty vastness that filled most of the continent. She'd also seen it from above during flights across country. But nothing had prepared her for its relentless sameness. The terrain was entirely anonymous. There was absolutely nothing to distinguish this particular stretch from any of the other two million square miles of desolation.

The same could not be said for the settlement this stretch contained. A tall wire fence enclosed an octagonal plot of land almost a mile across. From this, a rail line ran north into the distance -- she assumed this was the other end of the line they'd found on the coast. West of the enclosure, a rutted dirt track led to what appeared to be an excavation. The east side of the settlement contained a substantial marshalling yard, where a long string of boxcars was parked next to a warehouse. She wondered what they contained. The west side held barracks, a commissary, and what were obviously officer's quarters. The middle of the field was given over to a broad mooring circle, large enough to hold a capital ship, flanked by a fuel depot, a hydrogen plant, and a row of engine sheds.

An all-too-familiar airship rode from the mooring mast -- a leviathan, at least six million cubic feet in volume, with eight engines arranged in rows of four on each side.

"Is that..." began Clarice began.

"It must be..." said Emily.

"It is," sighed Miss Perkins. "As if there was any doubt."

Her companions glanced up at the ship above them, as if they could somehow hope to read the thoughts of its mistress. "Lady Warfield is allied with the masters of the mysterious cruiser?" Clarice said incredulously.

"We should have anticipated this," sighed Miss Perkins. "She fled from Ujelang pursued by the cruiser, and a vessel of that size and power would most certainly be faster than a Wollesley. Her only recourses would have been escape or negotiation, and given the difficulty of the former and her demonstrated skill at the latter, an alliance makes perfect sense."

"What interests could they possibly have in common?" asked Emily.

Before Miss Perkins could answer, the Transporter touched down with a jolt. Guards rushed forward to steady the platform before it could drag, calling to each other in a strange tongue.

"Varo!" cried one.

"Napata että kaide!" cried another.

"Ilmalaivani on täynnä ankeriaita!" cried a third.

A fourth man, somewhat better-dressed than the others approached and gestured for the three women to disembark. "Please follow me," he ordered, in a strong but unfamiliar accent. "The Johtaja will wish to speak with you."

"Very well," said Miss Perkins, speaking for her companions. Meekly, they stepped from the platform to follow their captors. As they left the field, they passed a large sign that read 'Public Works Department of Western Australia: State Vermin Fence Number Four'.

"Surely they can't expect us to believe this is another part of the Rabbit-Proof Fence," whispered Clarice.

"There seems to be a recurring theme here," Emily whispered back. "Do you think this could be some manner of cover story these people used to disguise the movement of men and materiel?"

Miss Perkins stifled a laugh. "I suppose this is possible."

"Could you understand what they were saying when we landed?" asked Clarice.

"Up to a point, though there were some non sequiturs," said Miss Perkins. "The language was Finnish."

"Whatever could people from Finland be doing in Western Australia?"

"I can't begin to imagine," whispered Miss Perkins. "We haven't seen all the pieces of this puzzle yet. Our challenge will be to get our captors to reveal them without dropping our facade as empty-headed females. Then we'll have to contrive to get rescued."

"How will anyone learn where we are?" asked Clarice.

Miss Perkins did her best to pretend a confidence she did not feel. "Australia is not one of the larger continents," she observed. "I'm sure someone will find us."

They day after they'd spotted the airship and the train, Fleming and Abigail topped a rise to see a line of green on the horizon ahead. "That must be the coastal mangrove belt," Abigail announced. "I reckon those would be Avicennia marina or Rhizophora stylosa, though they could also be Ceriops taga. These are all common to..."

"Quite," Fleming interrupted hastily. "It looks to be twenty miles away. If we press on, we could reach the shore this evening."

"What should we do then?"

Fleming glanced toward the track that ran some distance to their right. "We'll tether our horses, work our way east, and find out what's at the end of this rail line. That may give us some clue what this is all about."

Next week: Ein Kleinen Honeymoon Resort...

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