Episode 67: Mostly Welcome Reunions
Mooring operations at the Darwin Air Station went smoothly. The Flying
Cloud weighed off, came into the wind, and dropped handling lines to
the waiting ground party. A short time later, the vessel was
riding at the mooring mast in a gentle morning breeze. MacKiernan kept his
men aboard while he descended to speak with Lieutenant Dabney. He returned
carrying a bulky satchel stenciled with the initials `PMG'.
"There's still no word of the Captain," he informed his command crew. "But
it appears that the post office has been busy in our absence. Mister
Iverson, you may call the men in by sections to pick up their mail."
Mail call was held in the mess hall; the only compartment in the crew
section big enough for this purpose. Much of the correspondence was
official in nature. Like all large organizations, the Royal Navy produced
massive amounts of paperwork, most of which served no function other
than to provide job security for the bureaucrats who invented it. But
there were several personal letters and Loris collected a thick packet of
envelopes addressed in a variety of feminine hands. There was also a
telegram for Fleming.
"Do you know anyone in Enterprise Creek?" MacKiernan asked as he handed it
to the young Aussie.
Fleming examined the sender's name and turned pale. "How'd she know I'd
be here?" he muttered. "Oh well, at least it can't be very long." He
unfolded the flimsy, read its contents, and raised his eyebrows in
"Sir," he asked, handing the form back to the Exec, "what do you make of
PETER STOP HOPE YR WELL STOP CAPTAIN TOLD ME ALL ABT YOU STOP AMBER
"How could she have met the Captain?" protested the airman. "He never
visited Enterprise Creek."
MacKiernan thought the matter over, then grinned. "Perhaps," he observed.
"But Channel has no way of knowing this. I suspect he's there now and chose
this method to call for a rendezvous without the police chief finding out."
"Orders, sir?" asked Iverson.
"There's no point in rushing off and giving the game away. We'll wait for
evening, make a leisurely departure, and stand offshore. Once it's dark,
we'll circle back inland and set a course for the cattle station."
"Fleming looked terrified!" said Sarah after the others had left. "I wonder
what that girl is like."
"I suppose he did," said Iverson, trying to sound curt. He was still feeling
miffed at the she'd had been ignoring him.
The island girl laughed. "You looked terrified too, back at the harbor."
"I did?" squeaked Iverson.
Sarah reached out to touch his arm, suddenly serious. "I'm sorry if it
seemed I've been avoiding you, John. But there's no privacy aboard an
airship. I hope you don't think I'm like Helga."
As an officer of in the Royal Navy, the lieutenant had been taught to react
decisively in the presence of danger. "I..." he stuttered, "err... uh...
I... that is..."
The girl laughed again, glanced around to make sure no one was watching,
and leaned forward to whisper into his ear. "Wait until we have shore
leave and you may find out!"
"There she is!" announced Abercrombie. They were standing with their hosts
on the verandah of the McIntyre homestead. Around them, the morning was
growing brighter. To the north, the Flying Cloud had just cleared
"That's a right bonzer!" said Drew. From his tone, it was clear this was a
term of admiration. His daughter seemed to share his opinion.
"She's gorgeous!" said the girl.
Everett had to agree. The airship's hull was a thing of beauty -- a
testament to the artistry of her designers. Her control car was graceful
blend of curves, like the figurehead of some ancient clipper. Her fins had
always seemed to him like masterpieces of proportion. He sighed,
thinking back to a time when beauty took another form, in an age gone beyond
memory or recollection. We must be grateful for what we have, he
"Jenkins," he said, turning to his aide, "you may inform them we are here."
The signalman produced an Aldis lamp and flashed off a signal. A light
winked in reply. Minutes later, the ship was maintaining station overhead
while MacKiernan, Davies, and Fleming descended on the Transporter. The
young Aussie's eyes widened in alarm when he saw who was waiting. Abigail
gave a cry of delight.
"She looks chuffed!" laughed Drew as the girl dashed forward to greet the
hapless airman. "Half your luck! That'll give the rest of you a chance to
Everett smiled to himself. Like all good airship captains, he took pride in
making strategic use of his resources.
"It's good to see you again, sir," said MacKiernan, after they'd exchanged
"It's good to be reunited," said Everett. "I trust you've taken good care
of the vessel."
"We've done our best to live up to your standards. Have your investigations
"To some extent," replied Everett. "We still haven't ascertained their
motives, but we've established that at least two different parties of
Russians are involved, in addition to the German nationalists and Channel.
They all seem to be interested in the geologist who came here to purchase
that shipment of uraninite back in May. The most recent inquiries came from
a Russian woman who arrived here a week ago, representing herself as his
wife. If I read the signs correctly, she was kidnapped by the
nationalists, who took her aboard their ship."
"Their ship was here?" said the Exec, glancing at their own vessel in alarm.
"I don't think we need fear an attack," Everett reassured him. "They must
be long gone by now. How have you occupied yourselves in our absence?"
"We mounted a search for the barge where Captain Ray of the
Tranquility found that cargo of barbed wire," said the Irishman.
"I intended it as a feint, to draw Channel's attention away from your
activities, but to my surprise we actually found the vessel. It was lying
near the mouth of a river, downstream of an abandoned
laboratory similar to the one Miss Sarah and Helga discovered on Oa Ki.
This clearly belonged to one of our Russian parties. It appears that the
nationalists attacked and plundered the place a month ago. The only thing
they left untouched was a sealed vault. This was blocked by a massive steel
door that we had no way to open because someone had fused the locking
mechanism shut. We'd have needed high-speed carbide-tipped saws to cut our
"High-speed carbide-tipped saws," mused Everett. "It's a pity the cargo of
the R-67 was lost."
MacKiernan cleared his throat. "Actually, sir, it wasn't. We found the
wreckage of the control car on our way here from Cairns. It was quite easy
to spot from the air."
They exchanged glances. The German nationalists had an airship, and agents
in Darwin to inform them that the crash site had been discovered.
"Oh dear," said Jenkins. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Back to the ship," ordered Everett brusquely.
Next week: There's Wisdom In Some of Those Old Saws...
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