The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 520: Let's See Where This Leads

A bit of engine trouble

MacKiernan took another bearing on the Drachen. The German nationalists' airship might be running without lights, but her hull shown faintly in the light of the rising moon. Even without binoculars, she was visible as a glimmer above the horizon. Their own vessel, farther to the west, would be hidden in the darkness.

Measurement complete, the Irishman added another plot to the chart. By now this was a network of intersecting lines, like some figure from a geometry textbook. Wilcox watched with interest.

"You see how I'm going about this?" MacKiernan asked the lieutenant.

Wilcox indicated a row of intersections. "You've been solving for a track with constant heading and speed that matches these bearings. That will be the Germans' course."

"That is correct," said MacKiernan. "They seem to maintaining 320 degrees at 50 knots. This would take them north of the Solomons toward some location to the northwest."

"Could they be headed for Rabaul?" asked Wilcox.

MacKiernan nodded to himself. The lieutenant was quick, "I doubt they'll want to call there and risk drawing the Administrator's attention, but one imagines their destination lies somewhere on the Bismark Archipelago or German New Guinea. We'll do our best to shadow them."

"Surely they'll guess what we're up to," said the lieutentant.

"Not if we can make the encounter seem like a coincidence," MacKiernan observed. "We have several factors working in our favor. This is a popular route for vessels heading west, and we've started out ahead of them, which should disguise the fact that this is a chase. Also, Wolleselys are quite common. There must be dozens in this part of world and any number of foreign copies. Even Spain has a few -- the Banderillo class, I believe, from the yard in Barcelona. We'll close from the north, far enough away to explain why they didn't see our lights, and pretend to be from Tonga."

Night passed every bit as slowly as one would expect during a chase. MacKiernan remained on the bridge throughout the changes in watch, napping on his feet when he had the chance -- this was another of the skills required for command rank. Morning found the R-83 passing the northern tip of Santa Isabel Island with Bougainville to northwest. The sea below was dotted with surface vessels, from native proas to a pair of tramp steamers, while to the west an island blimp was setting off on a morning flight -- an early bird in search of its worm.

The Drachen still lay several miles astern. Smade, who had this watch, took another bearing, then added this to the plot they'd maintained during the night.

"They're closing the distance," he remarked.

"They seem to have five knots on us," said MacKiernan. "That should take them past us during the forenoon watch, but we should be able to keep them in sight during the day."

As if on cue, there was a loud bang from aft, followed by an unpromising clatter the Number One Engine clanked to a stop. Smade already turning to see what was wrong -- MacKiernan had noted that for all of his apparent obliviousness to ordinary events, the lieutenant was quick to react to anything that involved airships.

"Shannon, what seems to be the trouble?" he snapped over the intercom.

"She's swallowed a valve, sir. Again," came the reply. "It will be the number three exhaust valve. These old Sunbeams have a problem with cooling galleries there."

"How long will it take to repair?"

The engineer's `hmm' was audible over the line. "We'll have to depressurize the fuel system pull the manifolds pull the head remove the old valve grind in a new one then bolt everything back together..." he began.

"You have four hours."

"It'll take at least eight. sir!"

"Make it six."


"Very good, Mister Smade," said MacKiernan told the lieutenant after the exchange was over. "Let's see where this leaves us."

The situation wasn't as bad as it could have been. The R-83 had three propellers, but these were driven by four engines -- one in each of the engine cars and two in the control car -- so she was only down 25% in power. Unfortunately, this meant a 9% drop in speed.

"I don't believe we can keep them in sight, sir," Smade said after they'd worked out the figures. "We should lose contact by 1600 hours."

"I'm afraid that you're correct," said MacKiernan. "On the bright side, they'll have even less reason to suspect we're following them now that we've slowed, and we should be able to establish whether or not they're making for a port in Bougainville. We'll decide what to do after that."

In MacKiernan's experience, engineers tended to fall into two categories: quiet ones and loud ones. Shannon was one of the latter and his labors were punctuated by cries of "Would you now!" and "For the love of heaven!" audible even from bridge. One particularly loud curse was followed by the sight of the some small object falling from the car. Moment later the engineer ascended the ladder to the hull, then returned carrying what might have been a new wrench. MacKiernan decided not to inquire about this incident.

At last a call came over the intercom. "Number One to Bridge, she's ready."

"Give it a go," said Wilcox, who now had the watch.

A hiss of compressed air sounded from the engine car, followed by a clatter as its machinery came back to life. This settled down to a drone and the airspeed indicator began to climb. The lieutenant grinned, then glanced north, where the Drachen had vanished over the horizon. "Do you think we can catch them, sir?' he asked.

"This remains a possibility if they call at Kavieng or Namatani for resupply," MacKiernan replied. "We'll give one of these places a look."

"Which one shall we chose?" asked the lieutenant.

MacKiernan studied the ballast board and sighed. They urgently needed resupply themselves. "Namatani," he decided. "It's closer

Namatani was a small port on the north coast of Neumecklenburg, of interest only to copra merchants and trivia seekers compiling lists of names that began with `N'. In spite of its insignificance, it had a modest air station, furnished with three masts in accordance with some specification drawn up by bureaucrats in Berlin. The Drachen was conspicuous by its absence, and the only sign of activity was a handling party who must have brightened when they saw how small a ship they had to deal with.

Mooring was uneventful. Thirty minutes after dropping her lines, the R-83 was riding from a mast while her crew secured from flight stations. The helmsman had just rung `Finished With Engines' when Wilcox pointed to port, where another airship was approaching from the east. "I say," he remarked, "it appears we're about to have neighbors. Is that another Wollesely?"

"I believe its one of the American copies, built under license by Goodyear," said Smade. "Note the different way they balanced the rudders."

MacKiernan felt twinge of apprehension. The Goodyear-built ships were not uncommon, but one of the possibilities was cause for concern. He seized a pair of binoculars and trained them on the approaching vessel.

"What's wrong?" asked Miss Perkins when she saw his expression.

"That's the Warfield's ship," he replied. "We may have a bit of a problem."

Next week: Tanks For The Memories...

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