The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 354: Well, That Was Interesting

Overlapping combat radius circles

The mobile mooring mast eased forward the last few feet, then braked to a halt just inside the shed. In the cab, the engineers secured their controls. Atop the handling platform, riggers began to wrestle the bow fitting into the place. At the other end of the shed, other teams would be performing similar tasks aboard the stern dolly. A door swung open and the chief engineer hopped down from the cab. He glanced into the hanger, where the airship loomed like some enormous promise of flight, then made his way over to where Everett and MacKiernan were standing.

"Everything's proceeding on schedule, sirs," he told them. "We should have her on the mooring circle in another three hours."

Everett nodded. Even with mechanized handling equipment, it took a long time to move an airship out to the field. "Well done, Mister Crawford," he replied. "Please send word if there is anything that might require our attention. We'll be meeting with Captain Michaelson."

The engineer shook his head in sympathy, then made his way back to the cab. Behind him, the two airmen set off for their appointment.

"It's a good thing we didn't have to bring the big American ship into a shed," MacKiernan remarked. "Crawford might have found that a bit of a chore."

"Quite," Everett agreed. "Michaelson seemed to find them enough of a challenge as it was."

The Sunnyvale had departed the previous day. Her crew might not have made much demand on the air station's facilities, but sixty visiting airmen, with all the exuberance one would expect from members of a young nation, had placed some strain upon its administrative resources. Their shore leave in Cairns had been not been noteworthy for its tranquility.

"Do you think this meeting could be somehow connected with their visit?" asked MacKiernan.

"I can imagine several possibilities," mused Everett, "but it's premature to speculate. We'll know soon enough."

The atmosphere in the classroom was subtly different from before. The undercurrent of hostility was still present, but it was accompanied by a sense of expectancy, like the thrill of anticipation one might feel prior to some athletic contest. Even Captain Michaelson seemed to notice this. The others waited for him to speak.

"What was your opinion of our recent guests?" he asked Everett.

Everett thought this over. It never did to take these opening moves for granted in a game against the senior captain. "They were interesting fellows,' he replied cautiously. "They seemed quite competent, but I wonder if they are entirely prepared for some of the novelties of the Pacific Station. Did you warn them about the mysterious cruiser?"

"I am still considering the matter," Michaelson said sternly. "Until I reach a decision, none of you are to mention it to anyone outside this room."

The others nodded. The senior captain's plan might be as enigmatic as ever, but it didn't take much wit to recognize his threat.

"What will we do now, sir?" MacKiernan asked.

"Our players all seem to have gone to ground," Michaelson observed. "There's been no sign of the Fat Man for several months, the White Russians haven't made a move since their setback at Rabaul, and our friends on the mysterious cruiser vanished along with Lady Warfield after their air station was destroyed. Until they reappear, we shall follow the lead the Americans have unwittingly supplied. I trust you learned something about their vessel's capabilities."

"Captain Rosendahl was quite forthcoming with performance data," Everett admitted. The USN's Bureau of Aeronautics might already have made most of this information public to win appropriations from a reluctant Congress, but it still seemed like they were taking advantage of the man's hospitality. "I take it you're interested in their combat range. This turns out to be 2500 miles -- slightly less than we guessed."

"Thank you," said Michaelson. "We have assumed that the Japanese nationalists built their secret air station to extend their operations farther west than they could reach from New Caledonia. Let us see where this assumption takes us."

The senior captain picked out a pencil and a ball of string from a cabinet of classroom supplies, then turned to the chart of the Western Pacific that hung from the wall. After plotting the location of Sarah's Island and the secret air station, he measured off the appropriate length of cord and handed one end to his secretary.

"Miss Perkins," he said, "would you be so good as to hold this against the map for me?"

With his secretary's assistance, the senior captain drew two circles on the chart, then stepped back to examine the results. These were not as informative as he might have hoped, for the circles hardly overlapped at all. The western one encompassed most of Australia, the Dutch East Indies, and parts of New Guinea and the Philippines.

"That doesn't do much to narrow it down," Iverson observed.

"No," snapped Michaelson, "it doesn't. We shall have to pursue other avenues of inquiry. Captain Everett, you will resume the investigation of Miss Kim that you abandoned in Broome. Her actions on Ujelang suggest she's opposed to the Japanese nationalists. The details of this relationship could prove informative. Along the way, you will conduct a detailed examination of the railway depot on the coast, which you seem to have overlooked during your return to Cairns."

"Yes, sir," Everett said contritely. He knew better than to react to the criticism, and he'd been wondering about both these matters himself. "I assume Miss Perkins will be continuing her search for possible `moles' in Admiral Wentworth's office."

"No," said Michaelson. "She has made several trips to Sydney over the past few months. Another one so soon after the last might reveal her as my agent. I will be sending her aboard your vessel as an observer. When can you lift ship?"

One mark of a good airship captain was the ability to appear unperturbed in the face of unwelcome news. "We'll be ready this evening."

Captain Michaelson scowled. It seemed he wanted to find fault with this reply, but he could hardly expect the vessel to be ready any sooner. "That will have to suffice."

It took Everett and his people considerable effort to get the Flying Cloud ready for departure -- preparing an airship for flight was never a simple matter -- but at last the job was done. Everett listened to the reports from his section heads, checked the ballast board, then set off for the Administration building to receive any last-minute instructions from Michaelson.

He found his adversary standing at the window, gazing to the west. "We're ready to lift ship, sir," Everett told him. "Do you have any additional orders for us?"

The senior captain didn't bother to turn. "If I do, Miss Perkins will deliver them at the appropriate moment," he replied.

"I understand," said Everett.

At the window, Michaelson seemed to sigh. "You saw her," he said.

"Yes," said Everett, "several times." He hardly needed to be told who the senior captain meant.

"How did she seem?"

Everett shook his head ruefully. "The same as ever. We both know what she's like."

"I don't envy you," Michaelson said after a moment.

Everett hid his surprise. Was this a sincere expression of sympathy or just some move in one of the senior captain's interminable games? He decided to be charitable and assume it was the former.

"I don't envy you either, sir," he replied sadly.

Next week: We're Off...

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