Episode 254: Eagles Gather...
The girl was beautiful, blonde... and profoundly alarming.
"You must be an airman," she said breathlessly. Her eyes were very
"Um... er... yes," said Lieutenant Murdock. "I'm a lieutenant in the Royal
Navy Airship Service."
"An officer!" she exclaimed. "I've always loved a man in
"You... uh... have?" said Murdock, glancing around the bar for some way to
escape. Those lectures on tactics back at the Naval College had never
covered situations like this.
"Yes," she said, leaning forward to rest a hand on his arm. "Do you go up in
one of those airships? They're very big."
Are lips supposed to be that color? wondered Murdock. And does
she realize that her blouse is slipping? "I suppose they are," he
replied awkwardly. "The new Shire Class cruisers are eight hundred and
thirty five feet long, with over six point two million cubic feet of enclosed
volume." Maybe if he quoted enough dimensions and specifications she'd go
"That's wonderful!" she gushed. "Which ship are you on?"
"The His Majesty's Airship R-505, The Flying Cloud," Murdock
announced. He was on safe ground here.
She leaned even closer. "The Flying Cloud?" she breathed. "What
a manly name! Where will you fly next? It must be someplace exciting!"
Murdock shifted his legs uncomfortably, wishing there was some polite way he
could adjust the fit of his trousers. But before he could reply, a big
meaty hand came down on his shoulder and spun him around on his barstool.
"'Ere, mate!" cried an angry voice, "What are you up to?"
The figure Murdock found himself confronting might have stepped straight
from Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man. Thick slabs of muscle
bulged beneath a set of dockworker's clothes. Its great hairy arms seemed
to hang down to the floor. With a fresh shave and some careful grooming,
its face might have done credit to a Neanderthal.
Diplomacy seemed called for. "Er... um... nothing in particular," he
replied. "But thank you for asking."
The man glared back and raised a massive fist. "Are you tryin' to make
time wit' my Sheila?" he demanded.
Murdock considered his options, and realized they were few. His training at
the Naval College had not covered this type of situation either. He was
bracing himself for an impact when rescue arrived from an unexpected quarter.
"No, he is not," said a calm cultured voice. "But I will be happy to
The two men turned to see Pierre slip an arm around the girl's waist. She
glanced at the Frenchman in surprise, took in his smile, and seemed to melt
into his arms. The dockworker stepped forward as if he meant to object, but
before he could act, an even larger figure appeared behind him, picked him
up gently, and set him aside.
"Sir," Abercrombie told Murdock. "We're wanted back at the ship. The
Captain's ordered us tae make her ready for departure."
"Right," said the lieutenant. "That sounds like an excellent idea."
It hurtled through the air at half a mile a minute: this contrivance on
which they'd placed all their hopes. Sunlight gleamed on its slender prow,
its gracefully curved body, its four proud fins. As Fleming watched, it
hit the board with a thunk, well outside the triple ring.
"Lad," Davies announced, "that was a terrible throw."
"It was close," protested Fleming.
"Close only counts with grenades," grumbled the marine. "It looks like
we'll be buying the next round."
"Right-o!" said Bascomb. "Hurry up and lose so we can all start drinking!
Who's your next man? The Chinese?"
"His name's Iwamoto," said Davies, "and I believe he's from Japan."
Bascomb gave a chuckle. "Japan, China, what's the difference? Has he ever
"A fair question that," said Davies. "I don't rightly know."
It had taken considerable effort to pry the engineer away from his diesels
and drag him into town for an afternoon of recreation. Even more persuasion
had been required to make him enter the bar. Now he was examining his dart
as if it was some kind of dead animal. As Davies watched in apprehension, he
gripped the missile, drew back his arm, and let fly.
The dart flashed across the room, invisibly fast, and sank its nose into the
center of the bulls-eye hard enough to dislodge several of its neighbors.
Iwamoto nodded to himself, then turned to his companions and bowed.
"Arigato," he said politely. "This very enjoyment."
It took Bascomb a moment to recover from his shock. "Good lord!" he
exclaimed. "Where did you learn to throw like that?"
"In home village, Mie Prefecture," said Iwamoto. "We have... teachers.
Please excuse, I go back to engines now."
Davies waited until the engineer had left the bar, then slapped Bascomb on
the back. "Let's hear it for Mie Prefecture, whoever or whatever it may
be! I guess this means you're buying!"
The afternoon sun shone down upon the terrace, the tea service, and the
elegant stone tools. Sarah has just finished shaping a new point for her
spear. Now she was fixing it in place with resin and rawhide lashings.
From time to time, she paused to inspect her nails.
"What were the Captain and Michaelson talking about this morning?" she
The lieutenant set down his cup and gazed north toward the Station. Several
ships were on the mast: a Wolseley, an Armstrong-Whitworth, a Tower Class,
and a pair of coastal patrol blimps. "I don't know," he replied, "but they
seemed disturbed by something Phelps reported."
"Did they come to any sort of agreement?"
"I rather doubt this is possible," Iverson observed glumly. "The antipathy
between them seems to run deep."
The island girl sighted down her spear and rotated the shaft to make sure
the new point was on straight. "Do you have any idea what that's all
about?" she asked. Her tone was light, but her concern was obvious.
"No," said Iverson, "and I could hardly ask. But some things Jenkins has
said suggest it happened around the time of the Peace."
"Mister Iverson, Miss Sarah."
They looked up to see MacKiernan watching them from the doorway. The Exec
seemed to be hiding a smile.
"Sir?" asked Iverson.
"We're wanted back at the ship. The Captain's ordered us to make her ready
The R-67, City of Brisbane, newly refurbished, with a new control
car to replace the one that now lay somewhere north of the Barkly Tableland,
made a majestic sight as she rode from the mast at Darwin's modest air
station. Clarice and Emily had come to watch her moor. Now they discussed
the evolution while they made their way back to the offices of the North
"They were a bit slow with that final pitch correction," Clarice said
"Perhaps," replied Emily, "but I gathered from Jenkins that those old
Armstrong-Whitworths can be a bit of a handful."
"Captain Everett's people could have done better," said Clarice.
Emily glanced at her companion. "I thought you didn't like him," she
"I don't," said Clarice. "But we must give credit where credit is due.
And we had much more fun aboard his ship than we do here in Darwin."
"True," grumbled Emily. This was a sentiment she could agree with.
They reached the office to find Lany, head of the Scheduling
Department, gazing at the visiting airship with a speculative
"Good morning, ladies," he announced when he saw them. "We may have an
errand for you."
Next week: ...And So Do Clouds...
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