The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 468: We're Checking It Twice

Everett reading Clarice's note

The Flying Cloud departed from Melbourne late on the morning of the 9th. It was an awkward time to lift ship, with the sea breeze filling in to complicate the evolution, but this gave them a tailwind for the first leg of the flight. It also allowed them to cross the Great Artesian Basin at night, avoiding the scorching heat of an Australian summer that would have forced them to vent hydrogen to stay below their pressure height.

Nightfall found them cruising above the Simpson Desert, 150 miles southeast of Alice Springs. This was no ordinary wasteland. Part of the great desolation known variously as the Outback, Beyond the Black Stump, Back of Beyond, or Never Never, it was a void that made other wastes lush by comparison. Now, night had transformed it into a place of beauty. The full moon was rising to starboard like some promise of peace. Below the ship, long lines of dunes wound away to the north, muting the harshness of the landscape until it seemed almost forgiving.

MacKiernan gazed down from a window of the mess hall, reflecting on the paradox this landscape presented. How was it that the most perilous places were often the most beautiful? Did this extend to other aspects of life as well? His meditations were interrupted by a voice behind him.

"I thought I might find you here."

He turned to see Miss Perkins entering the compartment. Like the desert, her features seemed softened by the moonlight. Her expression was slightly too wistful to be a smile.

"Alice," he said.


There was an awkward pause while he fumbled for a reply. Michaelson had almost certainly placed his secretary aboard as a spy. The senior captain was also almost certainly aware of their feelings for each other and counted on these to work in his favor.

She saw his expression and nodded. "I know," she told him regretfully. "And you know I know, I know you know I know, and we could go on like this forever."

"Tuigim," he sighed. "Let's speak of something else. What do you think we'll find in Darwin?"

She seemed relived by the change of subject. "The Japanese will almost certainly have taken delivery of vacuum tubes by now," she replied. "They seem to hold the lead in the race to recreate the Ujelang Device. They were quicker than the Germans to recognize the importance of the refining process."

"They also seem to have gained some understanding of how to accomplish it," MacKiernan observed. "If Professor Koshino's report is correct, all they need to begin full-scale production is more copies of his apparatus. I wonder how the White Russians managed to build the original Device. There was nothing in either of their laboratories to suggest they knew of the professor or his discovery."

"I imagine this Karlov fellow devised something similar," said Miss Perkins. "He might have incorporated it into their equipment, but kept its secret for himself."

MacKiernan nodded. "That might explain his subsequent interest in other artifacts that are alleged to influence chance, such as the Nui Mana."

"The Warfields seem to share his interest," Miss Perkins observed. "Perhaps they learned of Professor Koshino's work and passed this information to the Japanese."

"That is most certainly possible," said MacKiernan. "I'd give a lot to know their agenda. I also wonder about their connection with our respective superiors. We know that the baroness was once Captain Everett's fiancé. Did Michaelson have some association with them as well?"

She hesitated, as if wondering what to say, then spread her hands helplessly. "I don't know, Fergus," she confessed. "His manner suggests that they share some history, but he hides his secrets too well."

They arrived to find Darwin covered with clouds. Everett made a wide circle about the air station, to verify that the German nationalists' new airship wasn't lying in wait -- it wouldn't do to get caught at the mast -- then ordered MacKiernan to begin their descent. This went smoothly, and a short time later, Everett and Jenkins were making their way down Mitchell Street to speak with the freight forwarder who'd handled the shipment of vacuum tubes. The rain was relentless -- the kind of weather that gave birth to the expression `going troppo' -- but members of the Royal Navy Airship Service were expected to ignore such inconveniences, and they reached their destination without incident.

The shipper proved to be John Decker, who Jenkins had dealt with the year before. They found him reclining in his chair, wooden leg propped up on his desk, reading a novel by someone named P. G. Wodehouse. He smiled in greeting.

"G'day! 'Ow ya goin'?" he announced cheerfully.

"Quite well, thank you," Jenkins replied. "We understand that you handled a shipment of vacuum tubes from Melbourne. We were wondering if you could tell us its destination."

The shipper seemed regretful that he couldn't provide an answer. "I'm afraid I don't know," he told them. "The information was in a letter to be forwarded to whoever undertook the delivery. I only know it was some port in Indochina. You're the second person to ask this week. Two young sheilas from the railroad office were here about it yesterday. They left a message for one of your captains -- some bloke named Everett. Would either of you happen to know the chappy?"

"That would be me," said Everett said apprehensively.

The shipper rummaged through a drawer to produce a message. Everett read this, then passed it to his aide.

Dear Captain Everett,

Emily and I have located the shipment of vacuum tubes you inquired about. According to Mister Decker, it left two weeks ago aboard a freighter named the Tranquility. If only they'd been around to carry us back to Darwin! Thank you ever so much for giving us that tour of your ship last June. Emily and I remember this every time we pass the air station.

Sincerely yours,
Clarice Blaine

"She demonstrates considerable mastery of hidden meanings," Jenkins observed.

"Quite," said Everett. "She must have worried the message might be intercepted. The first three sentences call our attention to the vacuum tube shipment, suggest this is of interest to our adversaries, and imply that she met the vessel carrying it and prevailed upon the captain to carry her back to Darwin. She concludes by calling our attention to the events of last June and suggesting they're connected with something she saw at the air station."

"According to the station's log, the only vessel to call during the past few days was a Wolesley class, the R-387, which departed the day before we...," the signalman's eyes widened as he considered the possibilities, "...oh dear."

Everett nodded. "That will have been the Warfields' prize, here under a false registration. She was one of the American copies of a Wolesely, built under license by Goodyear. To the casual eye, she'd have been indistinguishable from her British equivalent."

"Do you think Miss Wilcox and Miss Blaine took it upon themselves to investigate?" Jenkins asked in alarm.

Everett sighed. "Is there any doubt? Mister Decker, have either of the two young ladies been seen since yesterday?"

"Not that I know of," said the shipper. "Why do you ask?"

Next week: Weighty Matters...

Comments about Episode 468? Start a new topic on the Forum!

StumbleUpon        submit to reddit Reedit