The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 459: Follow That Submarine

The Mighty K Class

The Royal Navy's instructions to airship commanders were unanimous about the inadvisability of joining a landing party. "What possible reason could you have for wanting to do this thing?" they warned. "That's what we gave you marines for!" But Everett did not in good conscience feel he could send mere marines down to face Aunt Prodigia. That left him little choice but to lead the party himself.

With the Stalking Herring closing in from the south, they had to race to deploy the launch and reach the lifeboats first. These proved to have two sets of occupants: neatly-uniformed Japanese sailors and ragged-looking deckhands who might have been drawn from the gutters of Jakarta. The former were sullen and uncommunicative. The latter were quite ready to talk, particularly when Aunt Prodigia arrived and discovered that her nieces were missing.

"Right, you ratbags! Where are they?" she growled.

"The raiders took them," one of the deckhands replied meekly.

"What raiders?" demanded the matron.

The deckhand -- a burly lout who under other circumstances might have seemed quite threatening -- cringed under the force of her glare. "The raiders with the submarine."

"Don't come the raw prawn!" snorted Aunt Prodigia. "I'll submerge you if you don't give me the good guts! That's after I chain you to an anchor in the mouth of that river and chum the water to draw some crocs..."

Everett decided this might be a wise moment to intervene. "Excuse me," he said smoothly. "Could you provide us with more detail regarding this submarine?"

Aunt Prodigia turned to glare at him. The deckhand seized this chance of escape. "It was a big boat," he said quickly. "Maybe twice as long as our tug, with two funnels aft of the conning tower. They signaled us to take to the boats, sank our ships with gunfire, then came alongside to take our officers prisoner. They also rescued the two ladies who'd turned up on the freighter -- seemed to feel it was their duty as English gentlemen."

"A seam-powered submarine crewed by Englishmen," mused Jenkins. "This leaves us with only a limited number of possibilities."

"It leaves us with precisely one," sighed Everett. "Whatever was he doing here in the Gulf of Carpentaria?"

"Who are you talking about?" Aunt Prodgia demanded.

"This would be a one-time resident of Darwin named Fuller," said Everett. "He's a member of the British Union. He appears to be their expert on novel technology -- in some cases a bit too novel."

"I knew that dingbat," snorted Aunt Prodigia. "He was always going on about the `future of armored warfare'. We'll have to catch him."

"This may take some doing," Everett observed. "His vessel has top surface speed of 20 knots, so he could be anywhere by now. Operations will be complicated by the fact that we must call at Darwin for resupply."

"Then you'd best get cracking!" the matron announced. "While you're getting your tucker, I'll call the Torres Pilots to see if they spotted the chappy, then take a squiz at the western approaches to the Gulf."

Had the speaker been an ordinary civilian, Everett might have commented on the high-handed way in which she ordered the Royal Navy about. As it was, he settled on a nod. It seemed safest.

Darwin was some distance away, but Everett drew on his skill to manage the flight without dipping perilously into their reserves. Mooring went swiftly, for the Aussies seemed to regard manhandling a 700' long 80 tonne airship as something of a sporting event. A short time later, Everett and Jenkins were arranging for resupply in the shack that passed Reserve Lieutenant Dabney for an office.

"What brought you and your mates back to Darwin?" asked Dabney after the last requisition was signed.

"It's a confusing matter," Everett confessed. "Are you acquainted with the master of a salvage tug named the Stalking Herring?"

The Aussie nodded with some respect. "Strewth! She's no sook! I wouldn't want to get on her bad side!"

"I can appreciate this sentiment," Everett said dryly. "Unfortunately, other parties were not as circumspect. While the lady was salvaging a grounded freighter, some Japanese nationalists showed up to steal her prize. In the process, they inadvertently managed to also kidnap her nieces. The nationalists' vessel was then sunk by a submarine belonging to an erstwhile resident of Darwin -- a gentleman named Fuller."

"That would be the tank chappy?" asked Dabney.

"So it would," said Everett. "He subsequently vanished for parts unknown."

"And you're trying to find the two missing sheilas before their aunt goes troppo?"

"This seems wise," Everett observed. "Someone here in Darwin must have known of her plans and betrayed these to the Japanese."

"It might have been the other way around," Dabney suggested. "Perhaps she learned someone here was after the boat and decided to nick it first."

"I believe you may be right," said Everett. "This suggests an avenue of inquiry."

After some thought, Everett decided Pierre was the best person to renew contact with the freight forwarder who'd handled the Viking Girl's cargo. Their adversaries might well be watching, but the Frenchman should be able to draw on his experience as a jewel thief to avoid observation. A short time later, Pierre was stepping into the shipper's office.

"G'day, `ow ya goin!" said the shipper. "John Decker's the name. What can I do ferya?"

"My name is Pierre," said the Frenchman. "Captain Everett, who I believe you've met, sent me here to ask some questions."

"I saw your ship come in," said Dccker. "I was wondering when he'd send one of his blokes over for a chinwag. It's about that crook ore, isn't it."

"Oui," said Pierre. "I take it others have shown interest in the material?

"Aye" said the shipper. "Some of our pearl fishermen showed up to ask where it came from. They said they wanted it for some jewelry company back in Japan called the Amur River Society. I told them they were out of luck. The rail line's washed out... again."

"So the quarry is unreachable for now?"

"Dinki di! And it might stay that way until after the Wet."

"Merci," Pierre said thoughtfully. "I shall take this news back to the captain."

Everett was in his stateroom, wrestling with some of the paperwork that made command such a joy, when Jenkins knocked on the door.

"Sir," said the signalman. "We have received a communication from Miss Wilcox and Miss Blaine. It appears they are in Kupang. I felt you might wish to see their message, for it raises as many questions as it answers."

Everett examined the text. It was terse, and betrayed some ingenuity.


"So it does," he observed. "However did they manage to find him?"

Next week: Many More Of Them Live Next Door...

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