The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 403: Conflicting Agendas

R-505 auxiliary control station

Everett turned the cufflink over in his hand, then studied the engraving. It was not one of Carter Gough, and Company's more elegant works -- the words `elegant' and `Coastal class blimp' didn't belong in the same sentence -- but the workmanship was impressive. As was the mystery the accessory represented. The accessory's owner, Lieutenant-Commander Forsythe, had been lost along with the rest of the crew on the stern section of the R-212, when the ship broke up after they'd been attacked by the mysterious cruiser. They'd since learned that Lieutenant Blacker had survived, to throw in his lot with Baronet Moseley and his British Union of Fascists. Now it seemed that others had survived as well. Where were they being held? What was the relationship between their captors and the British Union? How had Miss Kim gotten hold of the cufflink? And what was the Korean woman's agenda?

It didn't seem he'd find the answers to these questions today, so he tucked the cufflink back in his pocket, and entered the airship shed. As always, the sheer size of the building's interior filled him with wonder. It would have been just the place for someone who needed to store a row of cathedrals. Most of this space was occupied by The Flying Cloud, His Majesty's Airship R-505. The vessel dominated her surroundings -- a graceful testimony to humanity's conquest of the skies. Maintenance crew dotted the floor below her, dismantling scaffolding, stowing away hoses and lines, and packing up equipment as they finished an overhaul. Everett took a moment to appreciate the vessel's lines, then made his way to the ladder that led up to the cargo hold.

MacKiernan and Jenkins were waiting for him, along with the foreman -- a cheerful-looking man in overalls who might have been a model for maintenance chiefs anywhere. "G'day, Captain!" the latter announced, "As I was telling yer mates, she'll be ready to lift tomorrow."

Everett nodded. Civilian personnel were allowed a certain informality of address... particularly when they were Australians. "Thank you, Jim," he replied. "I appreciate your good work. I assume your people won't mind if we take a look around?"

"Not at all," said the Aussie, "but you might want to know Captain Michaelson's aboard." His expression suggested this was not a cause for delight.

Everett had no problem giving a convincing sigh. "We won't cross that bridge before it's hatched."

The senior captain has chosen the auxiliary bridge as a meeting place. This was a narrow compartment inside the vertical stabilizer from which the ship could be flown if the control car should somehow become disabled. It was also an excellent place to hold a conversation one didn't want overheard. Like most spaces on the Flying Cloud, it was spotlessly clean, but this hadn't prevented Michaelson from running a gloved finger along the top of a girder and frowning at the result.

"There you are," he growled as they entered. "I trust you didn't have too much trouble keeping this appointment."

"Not at all, sir," said Everett. It was best to ignore these opening salvos. There would almost certainly be more to come.

The senior captain adjusted his aim. "Did you learn anything more from Miss Kim after I left to give Inspector Scott his briefing?" he asked.

"Not as much as we might have hoped," Everett confessed, "It seems our people are being held in a prison camp at the Japanese nationalists' secret base, but she still has no idea where this is. She escaped by concealing herself inside a crate of cargo when the cruiser departed for Japan. This naturally limited her ability to observe her surroundings. When the cargo was unloaded on Formosa, she attempted to get in touch with confederates there, but her contact had been apprehended by the Fat Man's people, and she narrowly avoided capture herself. She was unable to return to Korea with the nationalists in pursuit, so she made her way south the Dutch East Indies, and eventually to here."

Michaelson raised an eyebrow. "The Germans were operating in Formosa? When did this occur?"

"This would be last September, after the attack on the R-212."

"It would also be after the two nationalist groups had their falling out," observed the senior captain. "This raises the question of just what the Fat Man's agents were doing in a territory that's belonged to Japan ever since the Treaty of Shimonoseki. How did she occupy herself between then and now? She can't have spent all her time fleeing from the Germans."

"She seemed reluctant to answer, and I wasn't in a position to press the matter," said Everett. "It's tempting to speculate that she reached some accommodation with them after she learned they were opposed to her enemies, but this wouldn't explain why she tried to stop the saboteur they sent here this spring. It also wouldn't explain why she's offered to help us rescue our people. I assume we'll try to pick up her trail and work backwards."

Michaelson's nod did not radiate sincerity. "This may be indicated," he observed. "Still, I have another errand for you. As you know, Inspector Scott intends to investigate the attack on the American ocean liner. To this end, he will require transportation. I have placed you and your ship at his disposal."

Everett bit back his reply. Nothing good would come of objecting. Captain Michaelson dismissed objections the way other men swatted flies. "This Scott of the Yard," he said instead. "What yard is he Scott of? Surely not the one in London."

Michaelson smiled like a chess player whose opponent has only avoided the most obvious trap. "This remains a mystery. He must have some influence if he could prevail upon the Admiral's office to give him this commission, but this tells us little, for there are several sources from which that influence could come. Whatever his origins, there is no way you could explain Miss Kim's presence aboard your vessel, so the search for your people will have to proceed on another. We'll assign the matter to Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan."

Everett hid his alarm. The senior captain didn't propose operations like this out of the kindness of his own heart. Surely there was catch. "But MacKiernan doesn't have a ship," he observed cautiously.

Michaelson's smile broadened. "I'm sure we can find a temporary command for him."

Next week: Oh Great. Scott...

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