The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 530: About Those Assets...

L-107, pursued by the mysterious cruiser

Clarice and Emily crouched inside the lightless crate until the airship assumed an even keel. They had no way to know what was going on outside, but it seemed reasonable to assume the crew had finished their climb to altitude and gone to cruise stations.

"Do you reckon it's safe to bail out of this box?" Clarice whispered.

"No telling," Emily whispered back, "but we can't stay in here forever."

There was some truth to the blond's observation. Their hiding place lacked certain necessary facilities, and it seemed best to emerge before this became a matter of some urgency. Clarice rummaged through her handbag for the appropriate wrench, then unbolted the hinges while Emily held the door. Then they were closing the crate behind them and taking stock of their surroundings.

Unlike modern vessels, the L-107 had no internal partitions to define cargo and accommodations sections. The crates were strapped to a narrow deck aft of the hold doors, with nothing above them but a network of rigging that vabnished into the gloom. The two young women slipped off their stockings, donned gloves from their handbags, then scrambled up one of the frames to a convenient longitudinal. They edged along this until they were hidden from below by the bulk of the Number Six gas cell, then settled down to wait. Soon they recognized an oversight in their planning.

"I'm bored" grumbled Emily.

"So am I," sighed Clarice. "Also, we don't have a clue where this ship is heading."

Emily brightened. "Let's climb down and spy on the crew!"

"Go on!" Clarice protested. "What if we get nicked?"

"What's the chance of that?" Emily replied smugly. "Surely we can outwit those German drongos."

Clarice wasn't entirely certain about this, but she followed her companion down the rigging. It took some time to locate a suitable spot for eavesdropping, but at last they found a hiding place above an overhead storage locker . From there they could hear crew speaking on the keel passage below.

"Shouldn't we be hiding in an apple barrel?" whispered Clarice.

"Only if these were pirates," said Emily.

Clarice listened to the conversation below them frowned. "They're speaking German!"

"Of course, you nong!" whispered Emily. "What else did you expect? This is a German airship."

"Did your boyfriend teach you any German?" asked Clarice.

Emily elbowed her in the ribs. "Don't be a mug! Jenkins isn't my boyfriend."

"Go on! We both know you're sweet on him."

"Hush, did someone just say Palawan?"

The Aussies craned their ears. The word was repeated, along with the name `Taytay' and what might have been a flight time. Satisfied with this discovery, the two climbed back to their original hiding place.

"Now we know where they're heading, and when the expect to arrive," Emily observed after they'd made themselves comfortable.

"Bonzer," said Clarice, "but what can we do with this information".

"We wait until nightfall, find the wireless, and send the Captain a message."

Clarice gazed at her companion in alarm. "You've gone troppo! Do you think we can sneak into the control car, warm up the equipment, and transmit a signal without being noticed?"

"She'll be apples," Emily assured her. "This is a working cargo ship. How many chappies could they have on watch at night?"

The blond's prediction proved accurate. Like all commercial transports, the L-107's crew had been kept to a minimum to reduce costs in a fiercely competitive industry. As darkness fell, sounds of activity on the keel passage below diminish until snores competed with the drone of the engines. The two young women waited another hour, then crept forward along the longitudinal, then down the frame that supported the control car.

Taking care not to be seen ducked down the access ladder that led to bridge. Their caution proved unnecessary, for the night watch -- an elevatorman, helmsman, and a watch officer who doubled as ballast officer -- were nodding at their stations, while the mechanic detailed to keep an eye on the engine in the rear seemed to be asleep. No one noticed as they slipped into the radio shack, eased shut the door, and brought the equipment to life. A few minutes later they were back in their hiding place congratulating themselvess.

"That was a beaut!" said Emily.

"Bob's your uncle!" agreed Clarice. "What do we do now?

Emily glanced at the darkness around them, then shrugged. "I reckon we wait until morning."

The two young women felt too keyed up to sleep, but they must have dropped off, for they awoke to see daylight filtering through holes in the fabric of the ancient hull envelope. Emily crept to one and gazed out. To the west, a long row of hills loomed above the horizon. "Land, ho!" she announced. "I reckon that's Palawan."

Clarice peered through a hole beside her. "Where's this Taytay place those chappies were talking about?"

"It should be somewhere to the north. Can you see anything from your position?"

Clarice moved her head until she could gaze forward, and frowned. "Em," she warned. "I've spotted another airship, closing with us, four points off our bow. Is that who I think it is?"

The blond looked, and stiffed an imprecation, "Bloody... it's that mysterious cruiser. Whatever are they doing here?"

Her question was answered by the flash of a cannon. A shell screeched past in front of their vessel, to land somewhere to starboard. Moments later, the sound of the L-107's engines dropped to a low rumble.

"That will have been a warning to reduce speed, maintain a constant heading, and prepare to receive boarders," said Clarice.

"How will they manage that last bit?" Emily objected. "They can hardly lay alongside or send a boat across."

"I imagine they'll take position overhead and abseil down," Clarice said glumly

Te brunette's prediction proved correct. The other ship climbed and edged right, to disappear above them. Soon they heard sounds of activity overhead, followed by harsh voices as a prize crew made its way down from upper lookout station. Minutes later the sound of the engines rose in pitch and their ship made turn to the east.

"These chappies must be taking us to some hideout," Clarice speculated. "Is the cruiser still about?"

"Not that I can see," said Emily. "Where do you reckon we're heading"

Clarice took a bearing on their shadow with her pocket compass, then unfolded a pocket chart of the South Pacific from her handbag. "We're on a course for New Caledonia," she announced. "They must be bound for their base on Sarah's island."

"We'll wish to alert the Captain to these developments," said Emily. "Let's sneak down tonight to use the wireless again."

It was a good plan, and under ordinary circumstances, might well have succeeded, but the two young women had reckoned without the addition of the prize crew. They'd finished sending their message and just climbed back to the keel passage when a startled voice called out behind them,.

"Kimi wa donatadesu ka?"

Next week: So That's What They're Up To...

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