The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 408: Up, Ship! And Stay Up!

Lieutenant Wilcox having trouble with the helm

MacKiernan opened the logbook, then paused. This would be the first time he made an entry as Commanding Officer. He'd been looking forward to this moment since the day he received his commission, but these weren't quite the circumstances he'd hoped for. He smiled ruefully and picked up his pen.

7-September-1927, 0800 hours, Lat 16 55' 49" S, Lon 145 46' 13" E. Lifted ship at 0700 hours. The evolution went as well as we could have hoped for. I intend to take the vessel on a short shakedown cruise before we undertake anything more substantial.

Unstated was his faith that the cruise wouldn't shake anything loose. By now, he'd had a chance to take the measure of his new command, and it didn't seem cause for despair. The vessel might be not be in the best of condition, but she didn't seem about to fall apart immediately. The crew might be an unpromising collection of misfits and rejects, but they were his collection of misfits and rejects and he trusted Abercrombie to knock them into shape. Of his two junior officers, Lieutenant Wilcox had obviously suffered from too much supervision, and Lieutenant Smade might be stolid to the point of oblivion, but he felt certain he could take them in hand.

His passengers were another matter.

Miss Kim and Miss Perkins had boarded the ship that morning. The former remained an enigma, and MacKiernan wasn't entirely sure how he felt about the latter. They'd left too many things unresolved after their last encounter. There'd be no chance to resolve them now, for airships offered little in the way of privacy.

His reflections were interrupted by the arrival of their object, chaperoned by Abercrombie. "Make yourselves comfortable," told them. "It's time we reviewed what we know about Miss Kim."

Abercrombie gave his chair a tentative shake to make sure it wouldn't collapse -- the R-46 was that kind of a ship -- before he took a seat. Miss Perkins saw no need for such a precaution. It would have taken an unusually bold piece of furniture to defy her.

"You will be wondering how far we can trust our guest," she observed.

"Quite," said MacKiernan. "She claims she wants to help us against Japanese nationalists, but is this her only agenda? We know by her own admission that she was working for the Fat Man's German nationalists this May. Can we be certain she's abandoned this allegiance?"

"I believe so," said the secretary. "She was acting against them when she tried to stop Phelps from planting that bomb. She also intervened on our behalf to send the Japanese off on a wild goose chase after they surprised us on Ujelang. This suggests she's had change of heart."

"That may be so," said MacKiernan, "but she wasn't aboard the Todstalker when we retook the vessel. Where did she disappear to? And how did she get from the Marshall Islands to Cairns? She can hardly have accomplished this without some assistance."

"She claims she abandoned the schnellboot and swam ashore because she feared it would be attacked. I see no reason to doubt that part of her story. But she's been extremely reticent about what happened between then and her arrival in Cooktown, so we have no way of knowing who her confederates might be."

"What about the British Union of Fascists?" asked Abercrombie. "We know they were also allied with the Germans."

Miss Perkins shook her head. "Then why did she trick the Japanese into chasing Lady Warfield's airship? She must have known the baroness was aboard."

"Perhaps we can deduce something from the timing of events," said MacKiernan. "She had a cufflink from one of our old shipmates in her possession. Presumably she obtained this at the secret base where the Japanese are holding them. This suggests she remained there until after the attack on the R-212 last June."

"That is consistent with her other parts of her story," said Miss Perkins. "I gather she threw in with the Germans after they captured her on Formosa. This couldn't have happened until after they had their falling out with the Japanese."

"Where did they take her after Formosa?" asked Abercrombie. "We might want a look at the place."

"She doesn't know," said Miss Perkins. "They bundled her into the hold of an island freighter -- I imagine this was Ritter's Inselmadchen -- and took her to what she described as a `volcanic island'. From the position of the Sun, she guessed it was north of the equator. That's all she was able to determine."

MacKiernan thought this over. He hadn't been the Flying Cloud's Navigation Officer for nothing. "That suggests the Marianas. We can't make a trip like that in one leg -- not on this ship -- so we'll stop at Port Moresby for resupply. This can also serve as a shakedown cruise."

Miss Perkins glanced at her surroundings and smiled. "I hope it doesn't shake anything loose."

After so many visits, Port Moresby seemed familiar -- to the extent that a piece of Twentieth Century pasted into a scene from Age of Dinosaurs could ever seem familiar. It seemed the R-46 was familiar to the local handling parties as well. They waited for the ship with noticeable lack of enthusiasm, everything about their posture seeming to proclaim, "I hope this goes better than last time."

In the control car, MacKiernan's people went about their duties with barely a hint of apprehension, but as they finished weighing off the ship, the Irishman noticed that the deck had a noticeable slant.

"We seem to be down by the stern," he remarked.

"She always does that," said Wilcox. "We usually send three men to the bow to compensate. We could also send Chief Sharp if we weren't in a hurry."

"Very well!" MacKiernan announced. "Make it so!"

Footsteps sounded overhead as the order was carried out. MacKiernan opened his mouth to give another command, then paused. "Does this vessel have any other traditions of which I should be aware?" he asked suspiciously.

The lieutenant hesitated, as if surprised to be consulted for his opinions about anything. "I'm not certain I'd call it a tradition, but Lieutenant Commander Noyes was in the habit of stationing airmen along the keel to relay messages to the engine cars should one of the telegraphs give out."

MacKiernan sighed. "Very well. Make that so too."

It was an exasperated MacKiernan who paid a visit to the Government House that afternoon. The Administrator welcomed him into his office, offered a cup of tea, and gestured toward the air station. "Good afternoon, Lieutenant Commander," he said cheerfully, "I see you have your own command now. Congratulations!"

"Thank you," MacKietnan said modestly. "I fear it's only a temporary assignment."

"I also note that it's the R-46. I sense Captain Michaelson's hand in this."

"There may be some truth in this observation," MacKiernan admitted. "May I inquire how your investigation of the hijacking of the Argentine airship is progressing?"

"We have determined that the perpetrators arrived here from Rabaul," said the Administrator. "We're working with the Germans to follow their trail. Is this what brought you to Port Moresby?"

"In part," said MacKiernan. "We're also trying to trace the movements of a young Korean woman with a motorcycle who might have passed through this port en route to Cooktown."

The Administrator's eyes widened. "That's not something we see every day. I'll consult our shipping records. If she did call here, I'm sure someone will have noticed her."

Next week: They Stir In Their Lairs...

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