The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 366: Vacation in North Australia

Two competing captains

Captain Loika stood at the window of the control car, gazing at the ocean below. This stretch of the Timor Sea was dotted with islands, ranging from sizable land masses such as Savu or Rote down to anonymous flecks of coral and rock. An old island freighter was threading its way between them. Through binoculars, Loika could make out the name Tranquility. It seemed appropriate for these surroundings.

Footsteps sounded behind him as Tsukanov descended the companionway. "Good morning, Comrade Loika," the commissar announced. "Are we on schedule?"

"Da," said Loika, "we should reach this Australian town of yours by mid-afternoon. "What's so special about it?"

"Nothing," Tsukanov replied cheerfully. "The place has no commercial value whatsoever, so the capitalists won't be paying much attention to it. But it does have an air station where we can resupply without attracting notice. According to the Admiral's notes, it also has a communist cell. They should be able to tell us what this Captain Everett was up to."

"What we know about the man?" Loika asked.

Political officers were expected to have such information at their fingertips. "He was one of the civilian students who volunteered for officer training at the onset of the War," said Tsukanov. "He served with some distinction in the Dardanelles campaign, where he was wounded rescuing one of his countrymen, and went on to command a destroyer in the North Sea. After the Peace, he transferred to the Airship Service for reasons our agents in the Admiralty were not able to determine. He was captain of the R-212, Flying Lady, when the ship was lost under mysterious circumstances last June. He has since assumed command of the R-505, Flying Cloud."

"There seems to be a pattern to these names," Loika remarked wryly.

"So it would seem," chuckled Tsukanov. "What do we know of his new vessel?"

Flight officers were expected to have such information at their fingertips, but Loika's research had drawn a blank. "The ship is a mystery," he was forced to admit. "She's not on our latest copy of the Navy List and she isn't listed in Jane's. She might be some obsolete packet the Royal Navy chartered as an auxiliary."

Tsukanov shrugged. "We'll see what our comrades in Australia can tell us."

Fenwick was still young enough to find airship travel exciting. Even a Wollesely Class courier like their R-87 had a certain grandeur, and there was something magical about sailing through the sky like a cloud as the landscape swept past below.

Darwin was somewhat less engaging. It was an unremarkable village on the shores of the Aurfura Sea that made Cairns -- hardly a significant population center -- seem like a major metropolis. For some reason, they had a small air station with two mooring masts. This was one more station and two more masts than the signalman would have expected in such an unimportant location.

"What are our intentions, sir?" he asked Captain Michaelson as they rode the lift down to the surface.

The senior captain's expression might have been a smile, but it was dangerous to make assumptions where Michaelson was involved. "We will question the chief of police here: a fellow named George Channel," he replied. "The man fancies himself a conspirator. He was funneling funds to the Japanese for their secret air station in Western Australia under the guise of building a resort and skimming some off the top to line his own pockets. He also has a long association with the British Union. Last year they persuaded the town to buy two War-surplus tanks, ostensibly for defense against a Russian invasion."

"However did they manage that?" marveled Fenwick.

"The man has a certain skill as what our Colonial friends would call a `huckster'," Michaelson observed, "but he has not been as discreet as he might have supposed. I've been aware of his activities for quite some time. He'll almost certainly have made some arrangement with the Soviet agents here. We shall compel him to tell us what he knows about their activities."

"How shall we accomplish this, sir?" asked Fenwick.

This one was almost certainly a smile. "Elementary, Mister Fenwick," said Michaelson. "We shall levy some accusation for which he's unprepared and see what information he offers in denial."

Darwin's police station was a fortress-like structure dating back to a time when the original inhabitants of Australia's Northern territory were in a position to object to the European's appropriation of their land. The burly thug who guarded the front door might have been a holdover from that age. He moved to block their entrance, but Michaelson brushed past the man as if he wasn't there. Fenwick made a mental note of this. It seemed like a useful skill.

The interior of the building was something of a maze, but Michaelson had no trouble leading the way. He must have studied the floor plan -- a precaution Fenwick noted as well. How had the senior captain acquired these talents, he wondered? They seemed unusual for a man in his position.

The airmen found George Channel in his office, paging through a glossy magazine that seemed unlikely to involve police work. He frowned as the two men entered and thrust it into a drawer. "Who are you and what is the meaning of this?" he demanded.

Michaelson studied the man in the same way he might study an insect. "You know quite well who we are," he replied. "I am Captain Michaelson, Commander of the Royal Naval Air Station, Cairns, and this is my aide, Fenwick. We would like to ask you a few questions."

"I don't have to answer," growled Channel. "You have no authority here."

"Under ordinary circumstances, this might be the case, unless certain... financial matters were involved," warned Michaelson. "But this case concerns Naval security. We have reason to believe there are Soviet sympathizers on your force."

The police chief's expression was the very picture of astonishment. Fenwick guessed he'd been prepared to defend his involvement with the spurious resort. Michaelson's implied accusation seems to have caught him entirely off guard.

"You suggest they have agents in this station?" he said, in an attempt at belligerence.

"The Worker's Movement has a long history in this area, dating back to the Darwin Rebellion in 1916," Michaelson replied patiently, as if explaining things to a child. "This would hardly be possible unless your department was looking the other way."

"That's nonsense!" spluttered Channel. "We've been keeping a very close eye on the fellows."

Michaelson studied his fingernails, then returned his gaze to the police chief. "I see no sign of this," he remarked.

Channel yanked open a drawer, pulled out a thick file, and brandished it in front of the airmen. "This is what we've uncovered."

Michaelson plucked the folder from the man's fingers, paged through it with an expression of disinterest, and tossed it back on the desk. "This is hardly convincing," he remarked. "Do you have any evidence to offer?"

"I'd say that was fairly productive," Michaelson remarked to his aide as they emerged from the station sometime later. "We have several leads to explore, a plausible reason to explore them, and Channel won't dare interfere lest he seem to be aiding the communists."

"Where shall we begin, sir?" asked Fenwick.

"We don't want to seem too interested in the matter," said Michaelson. "We'll head back to the R-87 first and... my my."

Fenwick followed his superior's gaze and halted in surprise. Ahead of them, a sleek modern cruiser was descending toward the air station. Bright red stars were visible on the vessel's fins.

"That," said Michaelson, "is an interesting development."

Next week: An Entirely Uneventful Flight...

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