The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 561: I Suppose We Must Admire Their Efforts

Erratic wake

The airmen were puzzling over the Karlov's journals when the door to the storage room swung open. A petty officer entered and saluted Commodore Michaelson. "Sir," he announced. "There has been a disturbance in town. It seems two civilians have been abducted and carried away aboard a visiting freighter."

Michaelson and Everett exchanged glances. "Two civilians," said Michaelson. "Their names might not have happened to be Emily Wilcox and Clarice Blaine?"

The rating consulted the note he was holding. "Why yes, sir. How did you guess?"

"This did not represent any particular challenge," Michaelson said dryly. "What was the name of the vessel to which they were transported?"

"There seems to be some confusion about the matter," the rating confessed. "Apparently no one thought to check."

The commodore raised an eyebrow. "Surely it would merely be a matter of examining the port records, then checking the harbor to determine which vessel was missing."

"I gather the harbormaster is recovering from an evening of revelry and there has been some difficulty deciphering his penmanship."

Michaelson sighed, then turned to Everett. "It would appear that considerations of chivalry demand you rescue your lady friends. You have my leave to do so."

"Thank you, sir," said Everett, hiding his apprehension. He knew there might be a price to be paid for this concession.

It wasn't really possible to scramble an airship. The process was more of an `amble'. Nevertheless, Everett and his crew managed to lift ship with commendable speed, and an hour later, the Flying Cloud was standing offshore at 3000'.

"Course, sir?" Iverson asked as Cairns Royal Air Station dwindled behind them.

Everett had given the matter some thought. The freighter had a three hour head start. It it could make eight knots, this gave them a region 48 miles across to search -- a region that would grow with every passing minute. Fortunately, some parts of it could be excluded.

"They can hardly go north without a reef pilot, so we will begin with a sweep to the south," he replied. "Give me a turn right to 170 degrees and ring for full power."

"Right to 170 degrees and full power on all three engines." Wallace acknowledged from the helm. Bells rang, and the drone of the engines deepened as the horizon swung to the left.

"I assume we'll quarter to the north in 45 minutes," said Iverson. One couldn't become a lieutenant in the Royal Navy Airship Service without an understanding of course and speed calculations.

"You are correct," said Everett. "We'll fly a succession of traverses, each one longer and farther to the east. That should give us a good chance of spotting the fellows. The trick will be distinguishing them from other shipping."

Iverson nodded. It took little effort to recognize the difficulties they faced. "What if we can't find them by nightfall, sir?" he asked.

Everett suppressed a scowl. "It would tempting to leave those two with the kidnappers, but I believe there are international laws against that sort of thing, so we'll carry on and hope for the best."

It was some time before these hopes bore fruit. They were completing their third sweep to the north when Fleming called down from the lookout station. "Upper Lookout to Bridge. I have a vessel behaving strangely, bearing 040, range ten miles."

Everett raised his binoculars to see a small island freighter veering from side to side, as if she wasn't entirely under control. Beside him, Iverson frowned in perplexity "What could they possibly be about?" he asked.

The captain sighed. "One imagines our missing Australians are involved. Jenkins, signal the vessel to heave to. Fleming, man the main battery in the event this is required. Mister Iverson you will lead a boarding party. I'll give you Loris to handle the launch and Jenkins to handle languages. The fellows may be reluctant to answer, so be forceful in your inquiries.""

Deployment was comparatively uneventful. The hoist functioned properly, the falls released on command, and the launch didn't even come close to capsizing. A short time later, Iverson, Loris, and Jenkins were pulling alongside the freighter. Iverson noticed the name Predpriyatie painted in fading letters on the stern.

"I say," he remarked. "Aren't these the fellows who carried the mock-up of the Ujelang Device to Rabaul back in `26? I assumed the local constabulary would have locked them away."

"They may have cionsidered this," said Jenkins, "but the Germans are a noted for their adherence to rules, and have no regulations against mounting a fake weapon of mass destruction aboard an unmanned motor launch controlled by a clockwork mechanism that fails, causing it to circle back strike your own vessel and sink. Let's see what these fellows have to say for themselves."

The freighter had already lowered a boarding ladder. Iverson and Jenkins scrambled aboard, leaving Loris to tend to the launch. They were met by a man of with friendly features and a faint Russian accent. "Welcome aboard the Predpriyatie," he said,. "I am Captain Tserkov. How can I help you."

Mindful of Everett's instruction to be be forceful in his inquiries, Iverson decided to get straight to the point. "Excuse me for asking," he said politely, "but you wouldn't happen to have two kidnapped Australian women imprisoned on your vessel?"

The Russian made no attempt at denial. "Uvy!" he exclaimed. "If we'd know how much trouble they'd be, we never would have agreed to take them aboard. First they escaped from their cabin, then they sabotaged the steering gear, then they locked themselves back in their cabin and refused to come out unless we surrendered."

"Right," said Iverson, at a loss for a better reply. "Please take us to them."

"I'm afraid they're no longer here," said Tserkov.

"But you told us they'd locked themselves in their cabin," said Iverson. "What became of them?"

The Russian spread his hands helplessly. "When it became clear we could no longer hope to deliver them to the Czarina, we called an ally to take them aboard his airship. They seemed to regard this as an adventure."

Iverson sighed. He could understand Captain Everett's exasperation with the two young women. "What was the name of this ally?"

Miles away, a gleaming red airship was cruising east above the Coral Sea. In one of its staterooms, Emily and Clarice were remarking on their good fortune. "This is the bees' knees!" Emily exclaimed. "It's ever so much more fun than Cairns."

"Dinki di!" Clarice agreed. "It will also serve Everett right for ignoring us!"

Before Emily could reply, they heard a knock ion the door. "May I enter?" came a polite voice.

"Dinki di," said Emily.

The door swung open to reveal a slender man in his mid-thirties with light brown hair, German features, and fait air of nobility. "Guten abend, Frauleins," he told them. "Welcome aboard the Geschwader. I am her captain and I wish to ask you some questions."

Next week: Some Answers...

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