The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 500: Not Quite A Radio Drama, But Radio Does Play A Role

Radio headset

Everett stood at the head of the bridge, gazing into the night. To port, a track of light led toward the setting moon. To starboard the sky was still dark, for dawn was hours away. Ahead, hidden by the curve of the Earth, lay Sarah's Island. What would they find there, he wondered?

They'd resupplied at Norfolk Island -- a lonely dot midway between Australia, New Zealand, and New Caledonia -- then steered northeast. This allowed them to approach their destination from the south, on its uninhabited side. Would this be enough to hide them from watchers? The Germans must have done the same, but it hadn't saved them.

He dismissed these worries as unprofitable. One didn't rise to command rank in the Royal Navy Airship Service without confidence in one's ability to deal with problems as they arose. "Mister Iverson," he said. "What is our position?"

The lieutenant had been busy with pad and pencil. "I put us 90 miles offshore. The mountains should by coming into view any minute."

Everett glanced at the chronometer and nodded. This matched his reckoning. "Very good," he said. "Tell Davies to keep watch for other vessels. We will wish to avoid surprises."

Iverson gave a command over the intercom, then glanced at his captain. "Do you think we'll encounter the mysterious cruiser?" he asked.

"Under ordinary circumstances I'd expect her to be at her mooring," said Everett. "Her masters can hardly keep her on patrol without defeating the purpose of visiting their supply base here, and it would take them some time to lift ship in response to a report from some coast watcher. But they did manage to intercept the L-147 and we must wonder how they accomplished this. Jenkins, have you detected anything that might be a transmission from a picket boat?"

The signalman looked up from the wireless station. "No, sir," he replied, "But I'm picking up a faint signal I cannot explain. It's a short unmodulated tone that repeats every few seconds, as if someone is testing their equipment."

Everett frowned. The loss of the L-147 also remained to be explained. Could these two mysteries be related? "Loris," he ordered, "Turn left to 270 degrees."

The helmsman spun the wheel and the horizon swung until they were headed toward the setting moon.

"Sir?" asked Iverson after they'd settled on their new course.

Everett gazed north, remembering something he'd read in the Gazette. "We know that the Japanese detected the Germans in time to intercept them. I wonder if this signal might somehow be involved. Jenkins, wasn't there talk of some spotting instrument that involved radio waves?"

The signalman thought this over. "I believe you're correct. A fellow named Christian Hülsmeyer offered the Admiralty something he called a Telemobiloscope. If I remember correctly, this was supposed to detect reflections from metal objects, such as the aluminum in our frames. The First Lord's office evaluated the machine and rejected it as unreliable."

"If these pulses you detected originate from some analogous device, do you think our Japanese friends know we're here?"

"Perhaps," said Jenkins, "but we should have detected their outgoing signal long before they could detect any reflections. Those would have to travel twice as far, allowing the inverse square law to work in our favor."

"And we picked up the transmissions when we were 90 miles away," mused Everett. "Let us proceed as if that is the range of their equipment. We'll continue towards New Zealand, circle back tomorrow evening, and send in the launch from 100 miles offshore. It's a wooden vessel, which should be harder for our adversaries to detect."

Launch deployments were always an adventure. At night, in the open ocean with a swell running, they became even more so. But a combination of skillful ship-handling and Iwamotos' hand on the winch controls brought the operation off without serious disaster and now Iverson and Sarah were motoring north with a following sea. Their craft's 12-cylinder Liberty engine purred behind them as they climbed the back of each wave, balanced on the crest, then plunged down the next face.

The sky was beginning to brighten when they reached the coast. There'd been no sign of the cruiser and they'd trusted the darkness to hide them from any watchers. Iverson hove to off the only possibly landing site -- the estuary they'd seen two years ago -- and studied the line of breakers. They might have been the setting for a picture titled `Shipwreck Here'.

"It could be something of a challenge to get past the bar," he remarked to Sarah.

The island girl seemed unconcerned. "There's a place where the current carves a channel," she said cheerfully. "Look for the white rock at the head of the valley, then bear to port until it's below the tallest peak in the ridge line. That should take us through."

Should take us through? thought Iverson. How did any of Sarah's people survive to reach adulthood? But it wouldn't do to remain here until they were spotted. He lined up the range marks his companion had described, swung the launch to face them, and advanced the throttle.

Waves rose around them, cresting to become lines of surf. Their craft lifted on one of the shoulders, surging toward what Iverson hoped was the gap in the bar. Then they were motoring through the quiet waters of the lagoon with the breakers behind them.

Iverson ran the launch up onto the beach, then hopped ashore to secure the painter while Sarah cut branches for camouflage. After they'd concealed the vessel to their satisfaction, they set off along the path Iverson remembered from his previous visit. If there were any survivors from the L-147, this seemed an obvious place for them to head. A brisk climb brought them to the white rock they'd used for navigation. This had obviously been placed here on purpose -- a waist-high column of coral inscribed with carvings than had long ago faded into intelligibility.

"Who raised this marker?" he asked Sarah. "You told us that your people never ventured to this side of the island."

She seemed amused by this question. "This isn't our work," she chuckled. "It was left by the Dwellers From The Sea."

"Who were these Dwellers From The Sea?" asked Iverson.

"They fought the Great Battle of Fire with the Dwellers From the Sky in the Age Before Time. My grandmother told me wonderful stories about it when I was young."

Iverson frowned. This explanation did little to clarify matters. But before he could ask for more information, Sarah had stepped past him and raised her spear to a guard position. "Someone's coming," she warned.

Moments later three figures in dust-streaked field clothing rounded a bend in the trail ahead. Their leader stared at Iverson and Sarah in surprise.

"Was is das?" he demanded.

Next week: He Seemed Trustworthy At The Time...

Comments about Episode 500? Start a new topic on the Forum!

StumbleUpon        submit to reddit Reedit