The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 566: Let's Have A Look At That Island Nation, Shall We?

Upper Hutt

MacKiernan lifted ship that evening, then left Smade in charge of the first dog watch and invited Miss Perkins and Abercrombie to attend in his stateroom while he opened Michaelson's sealed orders. These took little time to read.

"What mission did he give us?" Abercrombie asked after he was done.

"Superficially, it seems straightforward," said MacKiernan. "We're to proceed to Wellington, New Zealand, to contact an agent of German Naval Intelligence who may have information regarding communications between the British Union and parties back in England. Most of the order is directions on how we're to contact this fellow. Left unstated are the implications."

"You wonder how German Naval Intelligence became involved in what would seem to be purely British affair?" asked Miss Perkins.

"That, and why Michaelson seems to be operating on his own, without the knowledge of Admiral Wentworth. I can imagine several troubling possibilities."

The secretary was quick to grasp his meaning. "You worry that one or both might be working against the Crown."

MacKiernan nodded. "That could certainly explain the order, but it offers no clue which side either might be on."

"Surely the Commodore is again' the Warfields," said Abercrombie. "He dinnae seem to be a friend of the Baroness."

"Perhaps, but we have no idea why," said MacKiernan. "Miss Perkins, it may not be my part to ask, given that you are in his service, but do you have any idea what lies between them?"

The secretary hesitated as if weighing her loyalties, then shook her head. "No," she softly. "But I suspect that he's hiding some terrible weight of sorrow."

As an Irishman, MacKiernan couldn't help but feel concern at this prospect. He allowed himself a sigh. "We'll just have to carry on as usual and keep our eyes open. But I wonder if events might be drawing toward some conclusion."

An Armstrong Whitworth was anything but swift, and it took the R-129 two days to make the passage to Wellington. Located at the southern end of North Island, this had replaced Auckland as capital of New Zealand in 1865 because of its magnificent harbor. The settlement had grown considerably over the next two generations, but a visitor from another world, viewing the region from the air, might still have concluded it was ruled by sheep who maintained a small population of human minions to serve them.

Rongtai Royal Air Station, south of the city, was a sizable facility -- bustling with commercial traffic and home to several elements of the Australia Squadron. The R-129's arrival went unnoticed in its immensity and no one remarked as MacKiernan, Miss Perkins, and Abercrombie set off the next morning in search of their contact. This was proved to be in the business district of Lambton Quay. They dismissed their jitney some distance from their destination and proceeded on foot until the reached an entirely undistiguished chandlery. The proprietor -- a lean man whose narrow fishlike features were as un-Teutomic as it was possible to imagine, gazed at them with wide unblinking eyes.

"Ia," he said politely, "what can I do for you?"

"We're just passing through, on our way to Milford Sound," said MacKiernan.

"Have you got the time?" asked the proprietor.

"I fear my watch stopped yesterday," said MacKiernan

The proprietor nodded. "That seems a shame."

"One imagines it's due to this spell of warm weather," said MacKiernan.

The proprietor glanced around to assure himself no one else was in the store, then lowered his voice. "You're from the Commodore?"

"Aye," said MacKiernan. "We understand that you have information for us about the British Union of Fascists."

"To some extent," said the man. "My mission is to watch Ernst Rohm's people, but I recorded several contacts between them and one of Moseley's agents. This man maintains a small sheep station to the north. I can provide you with his address."

The address was in the village of Upper Hutt, on the rail line north from the capital. MacKeirnan couldn't help but wonder at this name. Was it the result of misspelling, an obscure native animal, or some elder race that filtered down from the stars before the dawn of time, sank beneath the waves, and would rise again when the stars were right to sweep the Earth clean of humanity? Their directions led past meadows filled with the inevitable sheep to a small farmhouse. As they approached the door, a massive figure, clearly one of the native Maori, emerged to bar their path.

"Where do you think you're going?" he growled.

"We wish to speak with the proprietor of this estate," MacKiernan told him.

The man snorted in derision, then flexed muscles that wouldn't have looked out of place on an ox. "He doesn't want to see you."

Beside MacKiernan, Abercombie's face brightened. "Braw!" he exclaimed. "A tussle!" Before the others could could react, he and the Maori had raised their fists and charged.

They met with a crash like shattering glaciers. A flock of birds, frightened by the collision, erupted from the surrounding trees. Miss Perkins watched for a moment, then shook her head. "They seem happy," she observed to MacKiernan.

"So they do," said the Irishman. "Shall we see if the owner is at home?"

"No need," came a voice from the veranda. They looked up to see an elderly English gentleman evening dress regarding them with a smile. "It appears that my attempt to avoid outside notice has not been an unqualified success. May I invite you in for tea?"

A short time later, they were seated in parlor that would have been quite peaceful were it not for the occasional grunts and crashes that filtered in from outside. Their host filled their cups with an entirely adequate black tea from Java as he made his introductions."

"I am Sir Reginald Landis, owner of this station," he told them. "I take it you're from the Royal Naval Airship Service."

"You are correct," said MacKiernan. "I'm Commander MacKiernan, this is Miss Perkin, and that..." he paused as the ground shook to a particularly loud impact, ".. is our chief rigger, Abercormbie. We understand that you're a member of the British Union of Fascists."

"Quite," said their host. "I knew Baronet Moseley before I retired, so when he asked me to join his social club, it felt that I owed him a favor."

"Social club?" said MacKiernan in amazement.

Landis made a vague gesture. "It hasn't proved as engaging as I anticipated -- all those hypothetical discussions of the mobilization of society under a single party to achieve national rejuvenation -- but it seemed impolite to complain."

MacKiernan and Miss Perkins glanced at each other, at a loss for words. "Has anyone else joined in these `discussions'?" Miss Perkins asked.

Landis paused while a series of crashes echoed from outside, then took a sip from his cup. "There were those German fellows, I suppose -- the ones with the brown shirts. There was also some fellow from Baldwin's cabinet who dropped by for a visit last year."

Miss Perkins seemed to be struggling to hide her impatience. "Do you recall his name?"

"My memory isn't quite what it used to be," Landis confessed, "but I believe he was Home Secretary at one time."

MacKiernan felt a twinge of alarm. "This wouldn't have happened to be William Bridgeman?" he asked.

"That name does ring a bell," said Landis. "This would have been a tall gentleman with a receding hairline and a regent mustache?"

"Indeed it is," said MacKiernan. "He's now First Lord of the Admiralty."

"Bully for him!" said Landis. "May I interest you in some more tea?"

MacKiernan and Miss Perkins exchanged another set of glances. "Thank you," Miss Perkins told him, "but I fear we must be going if we're to make the train. We appreciate your hospitality."

They emerged from the house to find Abercrombie and the Maori surrounded by debris from their contest. Both seemed satisfied with the outcome.

"'Twas a brave tussle!" the Scotsman informed them. "Did ye learn anything inside?"

MacKiernan nodded. "I fear that we did."

Next week: Memories Of A More Innocent Age...

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