The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 437: I Daresay It's Time For A Spot Of Marauding

The Viking Girl II

Helga and her crew had laid their vessel alongside the freighter -- a noteworthy piece of seamanship, which led Murdock to wonder if they made a practice of this sort of behavior. Now they picked out the captain, mates, and bosun and ordered them aboard. The captives made a half-hearted protest, but the Swedes outnumbered them, outweighed them, and had more edged weapons. A short time later, the Swedes were steaming south while the freighter limped back to Akyab under the command of her engineers.

Murdock followed Scott as the inspector boarded the Swedish vessel -- no one had invited him, but it seemed the thing to do. This proved to be the Viking Girl II, a trim island steamer of perhaps 3000 tonnes, registered out of Nuku'alofa, Tonga. Several features of the vessel caught the his eye. Among these was a War-era QF 4.7 Mark V naval gun -- as Scott had guessed from the sound -- mounted in a fake crate to disguise it as deck cargo. Was such a thing common in this part of the world, he wondered? No one had bother to mention this custom to him, but lieutenants learned to accept oversights of this sort as part of their education.

Murdock's education also hadn't prepared him for anyone like the Swedes' captain. Someone less like the popular conception of a gentlewoman would have been difficult to imagine. Her long blond braids gleamed like gold, her eyes sparkled in the sun, and a short silk dress clung tightly to a figure almost as remarkable as the axe she carried. She waved to the bridge to give her helmsman the course, then strolled over to study her prisoners.

These were somewhat less striking than their captor. The freighter's captain was a tired-looking seaman named Miller -- the very model of a sailor down on his luck, condemned to this forgotten corner of the world by some sorry caprice of fortune. Even so, he retained some vestige of self-respect, and responded to Scott's questions with belligerence.

"Who are your employers?" the inspector asked him.

"Pfagh!" spat Miller. "You can hardly expect us to betray them."

Scott's shrug suggested complete indifference to the man's proclamation. "No matter," he said lightly. "It's quite obvious you've been working for the Germans."

The skipper seemed taken aback by this suggestion. "What?" he asked in amazement.

"The German nationalists," said Scott. "They're an unsavory lot, led by some fellow known as the Fat Man."

Miller recoiled in alarm. "You can't possibly believe this!" he exclaimed.

"Who else would you have stolen the centrifuges for?" said Scott. "They're the only fellows in this part of the world who could possibly want them."

Miller frowned. "Whatever are you talking about?"

"Germans have always been fascinated by centrifuges," Scott explained, as if lecturing to a child. "They enjoy Coriolis effects, and they just can't resist the opportunity to separate chemicals based on their specific density."

"We aren't working for the Germans!" cried the skipper.

"This particular German is an avowed enemy of the Crown -- an association that may go hard for you."

"We're loyal Englishmen!"

The inspector gave a derisive snort. "We'll see what the Governor-General's office has to say about the matter. Lord Irwin has rather strong views about treason."

By now Miller seemed on the verge of despair. "What can we do to convince you of our loyalty?" he pleaded.

Scott studied the man in much the same way he might study an inappropriate choice of cufflink. "Explain where you delivered the centrifuges... if you can."

The captives exchanged nervous glances. "We unloaded them in Rangoon," said the bosun.

"A likely story," said Scott. "We'll travel to Rangoon, there will be no sign of the machines, and where will be your proof?"

"They aren't in Rangoon any more," Miller confessed. "They'll be on their way to one of Burmah Oil's plants in the north."

Murdock's ears perked up at this information. Hadn't Captain Everett mentioned some scandal involving Burmah Oil and the former Lord of Admiralty? Could that be why Scott was here? Was he some agent of the Government, sent to inquire into the company's activities? Would he press the man for more information?

The answer seemed to be no. "Very well," Scott said dismissively. "We'll travel to Rangoon to investigate this story of yours. In the unlikely event it turns out to be true, I may be able to persuade the authorities to be lenient with you."

The inspector favored the captives with a final condescending stare, then spun on his heel and stalked off toward the deckhouse. The Swedes gave this performance a round of applause. Helga gazed after him thoughtfully, then nodded to herself.

First watch found Murdock walking the deck, unable to sleep after the day's excitement. The Viking Girl II was cruising offshore, engines throbbing steadily as they pushed the ship toward the south. The moon, a few days short of full, was shining on the coastline to the east. A few faint lights marked the locations of some scattered fishing villages.

The lieutenant paused to gaze at the shore and tried to reconstruct the chain of events that had led him from the control car of one of His Majesty's airships to the deck of this extraordinary vessel. This was hardly what he'd expected when he was assigned to the Australian Station. What could it all mean? He yelped as someone poked him in an unexpected location and turned to see Helga grinning at him.

"What you do up so late at night?" she asked.

"I... uh... couldn't sleep," said Murdock.

The woman's grin broadened. "Maybe we do something help you sleep," she suggested cheerfully.

Murdock's eyes widened in alarm. What could she possibly have in mind? He didn't feel prepared to deal with some of the possibilities. "Uh... err... um..." he stammered.

She reached out to pinch his cheek. "You a cutie!" she chuckled. "You also still a child. Helga not take them so young. This Scott inspector, how long you know him?"

It took Murdock a few moments to recover his wits. "Not too long," he replied. "He came aboard the Flying Cloud a few weeks ago."

"Is he always being like this?"

"I suppose so," reflected the lieutenant. "He has seemed rather clueless at times."

Helga studied him for a moment, then shook her head. "You watch that man. Maybe he not as stupid as he acts."

Next week: The Well-Mannered Bunch...

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