The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 545: Let's Have An Entirely Different Look Somewhere Else

Thursday Island

Wilcox called out the traditional warning as MacKiernan descended the companionway.

"Captain on the bridge."

Beside him, Smade was gazing out the window, by all appearances oblivious to the world. Wilcox gave him a nudge.

"Captain on the bridge. Now."

Smade blinked like some machine stirring to life and turned to face his commander. "Sir," he announced crisply. "We're cruising at 3000', bearing 350 at 45 knots, on approach to Thursday Island. Estimated time of arrival is 1320 with 74% hydrogen, 4,200 gallons fuel, 32.000 lbs ballast."

McKiernan resisted the urge to sigh, By now, he was well acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of his lieutenants. "Very good," he replied stoically. "Order the crew to mooring stations and call the station for a mooring party."

Thursday Island was an irregular lozenge of land, a mile or so long, in the middle of the small archipelago that lay off the tip of the Cape York Peninsula. Named by the famed Captain Owen Stanley after the day of its discovery in 1844, it began life as Friday Island, but the Admiralty switched its name with its predecessor to the west so they'd read from right to left on the map. It spent the next three decades languishing in obscurity, home to pearl fishers and the the like, until the government of Queensland, recognizing its importance as one of the few safe anchorages between the Torres Strait and Coral Sea, established a administrative center there toward the end of the century. Since then, it had prospered as port of call, telegraph station, and tourist destination.

The island's grandly named Government Air Station consisted of a single mast on the east side of the island, accompanied by a small hydrogen plant and fuel depot. These were defended by a pair of obsolete six-pounders from some forgotten armory, installed in reaction to Marty and his gangsters' attack the previous June. With wooden-wheeled gun carriages and no trace of a recoil mechanism, they were entirely adequate to repel and attack by marauding blimps, provided those blimps weren't too heavily armed. The station's administrator -- a young clerk from the telegraph office -- had stretched an awning between themselves to provide shade for guests.

"How may I help you, sir and ma'am?" he asked MacKiernan and Miss Perkins.

"I understand that a Dutch commercial airship, the HL-62, registered out of Jakarta, called here for for resupply," MacKiernan told him. "When did they depart?"

"You only just missed them," said the clerk. "They lifted ship yesterday evening,"

MacKiernan nodded. He could hardly have expected to overtake his quarry this early in the chase. "Did any of the passengers or crew disembark?

The clerk thought this over. "Not that I can recall," he decided. "They kept pretty much to themselves. I gained the impression they were in something of a hurry."

"Do you have any idea where they were bound?"

"No," said the clerk. "This was a private charter, so they weren't required to file destination with their clearance papers."

This too was as MacKiernan had expected. "Thank you for your time."

"That puts paid to any immediate hope we had of anticipating their next destination," Miss Perkins observed as they left the office.

"That was never very likely at this stage of the game," said MacKiernan, "but we did established that they still have their prisoner aboard."

"Could they have stopped to land him during the flight from Sydney?" asked Miss Perkins.

"Given the cruising speed of an L-20 class vessel, they cannot have had the time, and there are no significant transportation centers they could have called along the way. They might not even realize that the man is a prisoner."

"How could this be?" asked the secretary.

"It seems the vessel is a charter," said MacKiernan. "People tend not to ask questions of the charterer if there's money to be made. Still, I believe we should ask around the harbor to confirm that no one spirited the fellow away."

Thursday Island's harbor lay south of Victoria Parade, the grandly-named lane that ran past the island's three wharves. The first one, Navy Wharf, was empty except for the rare occasion the Navy actually paid a visit. The next, Main Wharf, was quite clearly reserved for tourists and ferries from mainland. This was reflected by its condition, which was immaculate. Engineer's Wharf, immediately to the west, was just as clearly given over to cargo vessels. This too reflected by its condition, which was somewhat less spotless than its neighbor's. A small island freighter was tied up alongside. MacKiernan's eyes widened as he read the name.

"We've seen that vessel before!" he marveled. "That's the Tranquility!"

"I take it this is cause for suspicion," Miss Perkins observed.

"Perhaps not," said MacKiernan, "but they do keep turning up in peculiar places. We found them at the White Russians' abandoned laboratory in Australia, recovering a cargo of barbed wire, and they just happened to show up to rescue Fleming from that island near Fiji. They've always had a plausible excuse for their presence, but I begin to wonder about these coincidences. Let's see what they have to say for themselves this time."

The Irishman led the way down the wharf and hailed the vessel. "Permission to come aboard?"

A dark-haired man with the air of a veteran appeared at the head of the gangway. "Bob's your uncle!" he replied cheerfully. "Cleaner, grab some brews for these chappies!"

A short time later MacKiernan and Miss Perkins were seated on some crates that had been pressed into service as furniture while a blond man and a fierce-looking brunette who appeared to be the freighter's First Officer passed around bottles of Swan's Lager.

"Welcome aboard," said their host. "I'm Ray, captain of this tub, and these are my mates, Cleaner and Vita. What brings you to the big smoke." He indicated the resort with an ironic gesture.

"I'm Commander MacKiernan, Royal Navy Airship Service and this is my aide Miss Perkins. We've been trying to locate some Dutch airmen. Might you have happened to meet them?"

The Aussie seemed honestly surprised by this question. "No, we delivered another cargo to those Germans with the fast motoryacht. Now we're on our way to Port Hedding."

MacKiernan and Miss Perkins exchanged glances. "This motoryacht wouldn't happened to have been around 100' length overall, approximately 100 tonnes burden, flush-decked with small pilothouse amidships?' MacKiernan asked.

"That's the one!" said Ray. "Were they friends of yours?"

"Not exactly," said MacKiernan. "What were these cargoes?"

"The usual swag: machine parts, stream generator, iron filings, diesel fuel, 75 mm cannon rounds," said Ray. "It seems these blokes had problem with local wildlife."

"Did you retain a record of where delivered them?"

"Aye, I'll fetch the log. You aren't the only ones who've asked," he added as an afterthought. "There were also those Asian chappies."

MacKiernan and Miss Perkins exchanged another set of glances. "Asian chappies?" asked the secretary.

"A boatload of Japanese pearl fishermen," said Ray. "We never did learn what they were about."

Next week: Whatever Is She Doing Here?...

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