The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 542: Before You Go Your Separate Ways

MacKiernan's new command

Commodore Michaelson set down the message from Sydney and frowned. It was clear he wasn't happy with the contents. "It seems there was an attempt to kidnap Admiral Wentworth during the Kensington Air Station's annual ball," he told his audience. "The attempt went astray and kidnappers made off with his signalman instead. The Admiral's office has instructed us to investigate, `in view of our demonstrated acquaintance with these matters'."

"Someone tried to kidnap the Admiral?" marveled Everett. "Did anyone in Sydney take the trouble to determine who the perpetrators might have been?"

"Apparently not," Michaelson said sourly, "but they did bother to identify the vessel on which the fellows made their escape. This was a Dutch commercial airship, the HL-62, registered out of Jakarta. According to Jane's, she's one of the copies of Germany's L-20 class Fokker built under license, shortly after the War. This may make our task easier."

Everett nodded. The L-20 s were sturdy workhorses, capable of running forever with minimal maintenance, but they lacked the range and endurance of newer designs. These qualities made them well-suited for use in the islands, provided those islands weren't too far apart. "They'll have to resupply in Australia if they plan a passage of any length," he observed. "I trust that someone's instructed our stations to keep watch for the vessel."

"I took care of that matter myself," said Michaelson. "Now we must make provisions to pursue the fellows. Commander MacKiernan, I will give you the R-129 to follow up reports as they are received. She may be old, but she's a Barlow product, so has the necessary legs."

"I assume my people will be the scrapings and leavings of the brig, who I'm supposed to whip into an effective crew by the by force of my personality," the Irishman said wryly.

A flicker of expression -- it might have been amusement, annoyance, or both -- crossed the commodore's face. "No, we'll want this vessel to fare better than the R-46," he replied. "You'll have her regular crew, along with Lieutenants Wilcox and Shade. Try to prevent them from flying another one of His Majesty's airships into the ground. Captain Everett, you will stay, the rest of you are dismissed."

The others filed out, leaving behind Everett and Jenkins, who assumed the instruction to remain behind also applied to an aide. Michaelson gazed into space, as if remembering things he'd rather forget, then sighed -- an uncharacteristic display of emotion from a man who made icebergs seem demonstrative.

"I imagine we both harbor the same suspicions," he observed to Everett.

Jenkins' ears perked up. Could this relate to the unknown history the two men shared? He held still, trying to pretend he was part of the furniture.

"Matters could hardly be otherwise," Everett admitted. He too had memories he wished to forget. "This attempt on the Admiral raises the possibility that someone in the government wants to remove him without revealing their responsibility. One imagines this has something to do with the Ujelang Device. Our mysterious Karlov suggested that three factions had taken an interest in the Device. There is no reason to believe all might share our scruples about recreating it, and even if..." he paused, "...someone of our acquaintance isn't the sort to destroy an entire city to further her own interests, she might be happy to provide the means to someone with less concern for human life, in return for suitable favors. I assume you'll be sending me to Sydney as a stalking horse while you pursue some agenda of your own."

"That's how the game is played," Michaelson said curtly. He nodded to Jenkins, eliminating any hope the signalman harbored that he hadn't been noticed. "Your aide has intelligence contacts in the city. Use them as you will. Lift ship as soon as you're ready for flight."

MacKiernan, Abercrombie, and Miss Perkins stood on the field, examining MacKiernan's new command where she rode from Mooring Mast Number Seven. One of the Improved Armstrong Whitworth packets that bound the Empire together, she was 675' long with 2,100,000 cubic feet enclosed volume. Unlike the ill-fated R-46, this ship looked well- maintained. Her hull gleamed in the sun, fresh fabric marked places where parts of the frame and envelope had been overhauled, and five new Beardmore diesels had been installed in place of her original Sunbeams. The increase in horsepower might not had increased vessel's speed -- the words `speed' and `Improved Armstrong Whitworth' didn't belong in the same sentence -- they added to the class's already legendary range and endurance.

"She's nae beauty, but she'll dae the job," Abercrombie remarked after a moment.

"Ay," said MacKiernan, to both sentiments. For all of their undoubted capabilities, the Armstrong Whitworth vessels seemed to draw much of their design inspiration from a stork. "Given enough time and the right intelligence, we should be able to catch up with the Dutch."

"It remains to be determined if they'll still have our quarry aboard," Miss Perkins observed. "For all we know, they might be merely a charter, entirely unaware of what their passengers are about."

"That occurred to me as well," MacKiernan admitted. "Has Michaelson taken this possibility into account? If so, why did he give me such a good command, and what does he expect us to achieve?"

Recognizing that the question was aimed at her, Miss Perkins gave a helpless shrug. "He plays a careful game, " she replied. "He assigned me to this mission to handle codes and forward any orders he might send... again... but I have no idea what those orders will be."

"I wonder about the game," said MacKiernan. "Would it be chess, go, or faro? This could make quite a difference to the pieces."

The secretary shook her head. "Tit might not be that simple," she said sadly. "This could be is a game in which no one knows the rules or stakes... or whether their players or pawns."

Next week: What Are The Other Players Up To?...

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