The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 515: And Now You Expect Us To Clean Up After Them

Blimps to the rescue!

Everett did his best not to appear concerned as he and MacKiernan made their way to Michaelson's office. This second summons had been as ominous as it was unexpected. Surely the senior captain hadn't had time to devise some new way to make their lives unpleasant.

They arrived to find their nemesis studying a message slip as if it represented an unwelcome distraction. "Good morning, gentlemen," he said, in a tone that suggested he wished them anything but. "We've received word from the Solomon Islands, It appears that a Japanese vessel -- quite possibly the torpedo boat your lieutenant saw at Sarah's island -- was destroyed from air yesterday by some novel weapon. We must assume the Fat Man was responsible."

Everett raised his eyebrows. "Could his scientists have recreated the Ujelang Device?"

"We cannot discount the possibility, but the fact that someone survived to make a report suggests that this weapon was somewhat less... cataclysmic," Michaelson observed. "Be this as it may, we will wish to investigate. MacKiernan and the R-83 are the best choice for this purpose because they`re less likely to be recognized."

Or is it because they're less likely to survive? wondered Everett, but he kept this thought to himself. "I assume you have some assignment for the rest of us."

"Quite," Michaelson said dryly. "As far as we know, the only airship the German nationalists have at their disposal is the liner they hijacked from the Argentines last September. MacKiernan sighted the vessel in Kupang on the 9th, two days before the attack. This suggests it was travelling from somewhere farther to the west. You will proceed to the Dutch East Indies and attempt to trace their movements back to Fat Man's base. Dismissed."

The flight to Guadalcanal did not place any particular strain on the R-83s capabilities, and they reached Honiara the morning after they left Cairns. Mooring went as smoothly as one would expect for a Wollesely class, and soon the ship was riding from one of the masts at the port's air station. MacKiernan left Smade to handle resupply while he, Miss Perkins, and Wilcox paid a visit to the Government House

The Administrator received them on the inevitable veranda. These seemed to be an ubiquitous feature of the local architecture. If the copra market ever failed, MacKiernan imagined Pacific islands could support themselves by exporting verandas to developing nations that couldn't afford verandas of their own.

"Guten tag, Kapitäleutnant MacKiernan, Oberleutnant Wilcox, Frauline Perkins," their host said cheerfully. "I assume you're here to investigate the recent attack."

"That is correct," MacKiernan replied. "What do we know of the incident?"

The Administrator accepted a file from his secretary and extracted a sheet of paper. "It occurred on the evening of 11 February. The victim was a Japanese fishery patrol vessel named the Manzuru, 150 tonnes, with a complement of 24. The attack was witnessed by three island blimps that had passed the victim en route to Honiara. According to them, the Manzuru was traveling west northwest at approximately 15 kilometer per hour, 30 kilometers east of Honiara, when a large airship approached it from the northeast at an altitude of approximately 2000 meters. Sometime between 1905 and 1910 -- there is some uncertainty about the exact moment -- the Manzuru was observed to make sharp turn toward the airship. Around this time, one witness reported seeing a `bright flash' or `streak of light' between the two vessels. As it finished its turn, the Manzuru was struck by an explosion, caught fire, and began to sink. The witnesses turned back immediately to search for survivors. When they arrived, they noted that the vessel had a large hole, several meters across, above the waterline on the starboard side."

"What was the outcome of the rescue attempt?" asked MacKiernan.

"The blimps recovered two dozen men," said the Administrator. "These appear to be members of some Japanese nationalist group. Unfortunately, they refuse to talk. It's what Japanese nationalists do."

"I wonder about this weapon," said Miss Perkins. "An airship could hardly fire a shell large enough to blow a hole as large as the one described in the report. Could the attackers have released a bomb?"

"This is hardly possible," said the Administrator. "At the time of the explosion, the two vessels were several kilometers apart."

"What about a torpedo?" asked the secretary. "That turn suggests the Japanese were trying to reduce their profile to an attack."

"It's difficult to see how anyone could drop torpedo from 6000' or ensure it functioned after it struck the water from such a height," said the Administrator. "Also, none of the witnesses reported seeing a wake. I've wondered if the attackers used a missile."

MacKiernan cringed at the prospect of firing a missile from a hydrogen-filled dirigible. The risk was appalling. "I rather doubt it," he replied.

"Perhaps it was a copy of the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane," Wilcox suggested.

The others turned to stare at him. "Whatever is that?" asked MacKiernan.

"It's something I read about in an American periodical during a visit to the dentist," said the lieutenant. "It was a joint project by some aircraft promoter in New York and the Sperry gyroscope company. It was a small heavier-than-air machine that used a system of gyroscopes to control its attitude and heading, a barometer to measure altitude, and a clockwork mechanism to determine how far it would fly. The Germans might have adapted this concept for use as a weapon."

"I suppose this the sort of thing German nationalists do," said MacKiernan. "Do we have any idea where the airship went after the attack?"

"The blimp crews were preoccupied by the rescue operations, and weren't in a position to see the vessel after they'd descended." said the Administrator.

MacKiernan nodded. `Looking up' ranked high on the list of Things One Cannot Do From a Blimp. "This leaves us with the question of what these people were going on about," he observed. "What could have brought all of them to Guadalcanal?"

"This is where Iverson's party saw the Fat Man's agents meet with that shopkeeper," said Miss Perkins. "Perhaps there is some connection."

"What shopkeeper?" asked the Administrator

At that moment there was rumble of diesel engines to the west, followed by shouts of surprise. They dashed to the end of the veranda in time to see a powerful airship, at least 5 million cubic feet enclosed volume, come to stop above the village. As they watched, a party of armed men abseilled down from its holds.

"This would be the shopkeeper I imagine those fellows are about to kidnap," sighed MacKiernan. "Our mission does not seem to have been an unqualified success. Let us hope Captain Everett is enjoying better fortune."

Next week: Daring Damsels of Darwin...

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