The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 337: It Didn't Seem Important At The Time

The Silver Key of Dreams?

Everett and Iverson sat at a table, pretending to review some paperwork while they kept an eye on Lieutenant-Commander Baxter. Across from them, the accountant was digging through a mountain of reports with the same kind of determination a dog might show searching for a lost bone. At last he turned to the two airmen and gestured at the ones he'd set aside.

"I'll want copies of these records regarding this ornamental key the airship pirates stole from Lord and Lady Beachly," he announced.

Everett marveled at the man's ability to say a phrase like `airship pirates' without flinching. Perhaps this was something they learned in Accountant School. "Is there some particular reason for this request?" he asked.

Baxter raised an eyebrow. This too must have been a skill they practiced in Accountant School. "Why do you ask?" he said.

"RNAS regulation RNR-7589A requires that we determine the origin of any requests for information regarding specific items plundered by marauders," Everett replied smoothly.

The accountant nodded. "I understand. This assignment originated from Simpson in Equities and Pensions."

"That information should be sufficient," said Everett. "I'll instruct the secretarial pool to draw up copies for you."

"Thank you," Baxter said as he rose to depart. "I appreciate your cooperation."

"Is there really such a regulation?" Iverson asked Everett after the accountant had gone.

Everett smiled. "No, but our guest could not be aware of this. No one can possibly know the entire body of Royal Navy regulations. This is something to keep in mind during encounters with the bureaucracy."

"Do we have any idea who this Simpson fellow might be?"

"Not that I'm aware of," said Everett. "We shall see what Michaelson makes of this revelation."

It was never safe to guess Michaelson's mood, but Everett sensed an element of smugness in the senior captain's manner. "So our guest claimed to be making this inquiry in behalf of a colleague named Simpson," he mused. "Do you think he was telling the truth?"

"I believe so," said Everett. "Either the man is remarkably skilled at misdirection or he's every bit the non-entity he appears to be to be. The latter seems more likely. No one would waste a talented agent on such a minor inquiry."

Michaelson nodded. It appeared the senior captain's thinking ran along the same lines. "This key Baxter was asking about: you didn't see fit to mention it in the summaries you compiled for me."

"It's significance was not apparent at the time," Everett admitted.

"You should have been more imaginative," Michaelson remarked dryly. "We now have several parties competing to find some cryptic artifact for reasons we don't understand. Does this remind you of anything?"

Understanding dawned. "That so-called Nui Mana our friend Karlov set everyone in search of back in February," said Everett. "Do you think he's behind this as well?"

"I rather doubt it," said Michaelson. "That game was subtle, far-reaching, and entangled many different people in a web that didn't become apparent until the end. This one shows less finesse, as if the player has less experience and skill."

"This Simpson fellow Baxter mentioned?" asked Jenkins.

Michaelson shook his head. "The lieutenant-commander was too free with that information,' he observed. "Our hypothetical player will have taken greater precautions to conceal his or her identity. Still, this could be the beginning of a trail leading to that person."

"Do you plan to forward this intelligence to the Admiral's Office?" asked Everett, doing his best to sound casual. What was the Admiral's involvement in this affair?

"Admiral Wentworth has his own troubles and his own concerns," Michaelson replied with what might have been a trace of bitterness. "We shall have to investigate the matter ourselves. To this end, I believe it's time you told me where you've sent Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan and Airman Fleming."

Everett began to voice a denial, then thought better of it. He could hardly hide the fact that the two were no longer aboard his vessel. "I left MacKiernan in the Dutch East Indies to investigate evidence of Korean activity there. We thought this might have some connection with that mysterious woman Kim. He has since taken passage in the R-67 to Broome. I sent Fleming on a reconnaissance flight west from Darwin to search for a resort the police chief purports to be building. Circumstances suggested this might be cover for something more sinister."

Michaelson's smile gave Everett the uneasy feeling that he'd been manipulated. "That should serve," said the senior captain. "I gave Miss Perkins leave to proceed to Darwin to conduct inquiries of her own. By now, I trust she and Fleming will have some idea what our adversaries are up to. Recover your people and report on what they've discovered."

`Gave Miss Perkins leave', thought Everett? Something about the senior captain's choice of words struck him as peculiar. "I understand," he replied. "We'll lift ship as soon as we've resupplied."

The next night found the Flying Cloud cruising west over the Arufara Sea. In his cabin, Everett finished working out the evening sight, then made an entry in the log.

3-August-1927 11 32' 22"S 137 3' 12" E. Crossed the Cape York Peninsula and Gulf of Capentaria en route to Broome. Will proceed offshore to economize on ballast. At sunset, Davies thought he might have seen another airship running without lights some distance astern, but the sighting, if real, was lost in the gloom so it did not seem worth investigating.

Satisfied that the entry didn't give too much away, he set the volume aside. If all went well, they should be able to pick up MacKiernan in Broome, but where was Fleming? He'd expected that the Aussie would have reported his position and called for retrieval by now. He was studying a chart of the Kimberly coast, deciding how best to conduct a search for his missing crewman, when Jenkins knocked on the door.

"Sir," said the signalman, "I'm afraid there's some trouble with the wireless. We can transmit but we're unable to receive."

"Have you identified the problem?" asked Everett.

"I suspect that one of the vacuum tubes in receiver stage has failed. There are quite a few of those, so it could take some time to identify and replace the faulty component."

"I suppose that will have to do," Everett said philosophically. "Fortunately, it's still early in our flight, so we're unlikely to miss any important messages."

Next week: More Fun In The Kimberly Region...

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