The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 518: Hunting the Dragon

Abercrombie, MacKiernan, and Miss Perkins contemplate a dragons' tail

MacKiernan and Miss Perkins watched the airship as her crew dropped lines and sent down a party of marines. At least 4.5 million cubic feet, with engines mounted three on a side German fashion, and a jaunty Latin rake to her fins, she was clearly a product of the famed Santos Dumas yard in Buenos Aires. The name above her streamlined control car read Drachen.

"I believe we've found the hijacked Argentine liner," Miss Perkins remarked dryly.

"So it would appear," said MacKiernan. "If I'm not mistaken, her new masters are kidnapping this shopkeeper we came to question."

"Should we try to stop them?" asked the secretary.

MacKiernan shook his head. "They will have deployed in overwhelming strength. An attempt on our part to intervene would only alert them to our presence. They'll have seen our ship at the air station, but for now she's just another anonymous Wollelsey."

Miss Perkins turned back to glare at the attacker. MacKiernan what was going through her mind. She'd lost family to the Zeppelin raids during the War. As they watched, a hoist descended to retrieve a group of indistinct figures. Engines came to life, the rudders swung, and the airship put on way.

"Right," Miss Perkins announced after the vessel had vanished around a bend in coast. "What do we do now?

"We need to anticipate their next move," said MacKiernan. "I imagine they'll interrogate their informant, realize that someone substituted false documents for the material he gave them, and get the information directly from him. This suggests we can expect them to visit the Santa Cruz islands. They'll have five to ten knots on us, we could never hope to overtake them, but we might be able to intercept and shadow them upon their return."

"How would we accomplish this?" Mis Perkins asked.

MacKiernan paused to work out the figures in his head. "Nendo is six hours away. A vessel that size is certain to pose a challenge for the station's handling parties, so they they're likely to time their arrival for evening, resupply during the night, send a party the next morning to investigate the Natasha site, and lift ship tomorrow evening. That should bring them back to this vicinity around midnight. The moon will be rising by then, so we should have a good chance of spotting them."

Miss Perkins seemed skeptical. "I believe we should appraise Michaelson of the situation and obtain his opinion of our plans before we take action."

"Very well," said MacKiernan. "Let us head back to the ship."

It took Miss Perkins little time to compose a message in the secure cipher. Secretaries in the Royal Naval Airship Service were expected to be skilled at cryptography. The reply, in plain text, was swift... and remarkable for its brevity.


MacKiernan frowned. "I suppose one must approve of the man's economy of words."

The approach of midnight found MacKiernan at his desk composing an entry in the log. When he was done, he sat back to listen to the drone of the engines. A triumph of British engineering, they'd run without missing a beat -- or in the case of Number Two, without missing too many beats -- since the R-83 had been commissioned ten years before. As a young lieutenant, he'd hoped to equal their stolid reliability, but now he wondered if this was always a virtue in a human being. Engines never had to react to circumstances or decipher a mystery.

He smiled at the thought, then reviewed his entry.

19-February-1928. Lat 910 33' S Long 161 59' E . In accordance with instructions from Cairns, we are patrolling east of the Solomons to intercept the German nationalist cruiser operating under the name Drachen. If they act as anticipated, we should spot them shortly after moonrise.

"May I come in?" came a voice. The Irishman looked up to see Miss Perkins standing at the door. He hesitated, wondering if he should summon a chaperon, then dismissed this as unnecessary. Privacy on a Wollesley was little more than a convention agreed upon by her crew.

"Please do," he replied.

She accepted the chair he offered, then indicated the chart spread next to the log. "What are our chances of spotting the German ?" she asked.

"I'd say they're fairly good," he replied. "This is what Wolleselys are for. I'm more concerned about Michaelson's agenda. The speed of his reply suggests that he anticipated this situation and is supplying someone with enough rope to hang themselves. Let us hope it isn't us."

"I can't imagine why it would be," she assured him. "He has no reason to bear you a grudge."

"Perhaps," said MacKiernan, "But he's most certainly at odds with the Captain, and matters seem to have gotten worse since the Warfields' return. What is the reason for their enmity? We know that the Baroness was once Everett's fiancé. Did she have some connection with Michaelson as well?"

Miss Perkins hesitated, as if torn between loyalty to her superior and something she and MacKiernan were still afraid to acknowledge. "I've wondered about that myself," she admitted. "I consulted Blake's Peerage, but it offered no clues. Do you think we should risk digging up matters it was best to leave hidden?"

MacKiernan noted her use of the word `we'. "I don't know, Alice," he confessed. "But the moon will be rising in thirty minutes. Shall we make way to the bridge to see what it might show us?"

MacKiernan had adjusted his lieutenants' schedules to give the Middle Watch to Wilcox. Smade might have been more reliable, but like the ship's three Beardmore diesels, he seemed limited in his ability to react to novelty. A crewman noted their arrival.

"Captain on the bridge."

"As you were, gentlemen," said MacKiernan. "Mister Wilcox, what is our situation?"

"We're 10 miles east of Makira, heading 350 at 35 knots at 5000'," said the lieutentant. "Crew have been warned to be ready for maneuvering and Abercrombie is in the upper lookout station."

MacKienran nodded and keyed the intercom. "Abercrombie, are you awake up there?"

"Aye, Captain. The moon's just coming up, an' I see a glimmer of light one point to the north."

MacKiernan stepped to the starboard window and focused his night glasses. Soon, he made out what was almost certainly an airship running without lights. "What's their range and bearing?" he asked.

"I'd put them 25 miles at 082 degrees, moving south at one degree a minute."

Royal Naval Airship Officers of command rank or higher were expected to do vector calculations in their head. "If they're cursing at 50 knots, they'll be on a heading of 280," MacKiernan told his men. "Mister Wilcox, give me a turn left to 280 and keep us and ring for full speed on all three engines. The game is afoot, gentlemen. Let us see where at leads."

Next week: It Shouldn't Take Much Work To Narrow This Down...

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