Episode 260: The Girls From A.U.N.T.
The mood around the mess hall table was far from cheerful. Michaelson had
used Everett and his crew as pawns in the past, but this time the senior
captain had exceeded himself.
"Let me get this straight," MacKiernan growled, "Michaelson knew his aide
was a spy, so he allowed him to prepare our orders, knowing full well that
the man would forward their contents to his masters, who'd use this
information against us. Who was he working against: them or us?"
"Knowing Michaelson, it could well have been both," mused Jenkins. "This
would hardly be the first time he's combined considerations of strategy with
those of malice. The question becomes what to do."
"Given the situation, we might be ill-advised to follow our original orders
without some request for clarification," Everett observed. "We also need to
let the good captain know we're on to his game. Jenkins, send a report to
Cairns in the ordinary cipher detailing our discoveries regarding the
Cordelia and the Japanese airship. Make no mention of the
Frenchman, Captain Ritter, or our suspicions regarding the Fat Man's
involvement in this affair. Conclude the transmission with the words
`message received and understood'."
The signalman gave a faint smile, "Yes, sir."
Michaelson set the message down and frowned.
"So," he said, "Captain Everett has found word of the Cordelia."
"That was his report," said Phelps. "What did he mean by that last
"It's part of our long-standing game," Michaelson said dismissively. "You
needn't concern yourself with the details. Has our guest said anything
"Not in any known tongue," said Phelps. "Her speech seems limited to what
the doctors assume is Korean."
"That seems hard to believe," said Michaelson. "She must have had some
command of a real language to make it to Australia."
"Doctor Morley speculates she might be suffering from a form of memory
loss. The term he used was `aphasia'. This is not an uncommon response
Michaelson's expression remained sour, but this in no way reflected his
thoughts. His hand continued to improve. It was time to play another
card. "This is no longer a matter of any particular urgency now that
Everett has picked up the trail of our bomber," he observed lightly.
Send a message to bring him back to Cairns. We'll have new orders for
him when he arrives."
Emily and Clarice watched Miss Caustic depart with her new beau. "What
do you think they'll do?" Emily asked innocently.
"Ladies do not speculate about such things," intoned Clarice, imitating
the manner of their erstwhile chaperone. "What should we do?"
Emily already had an answer to this. "Let's go to the Naval Air
Station and look at the airships!"
"Oh yes. Let's!"
The journey proved easier than they anticipated. Sydney was a thoroughly
modern metropolis, with paved streets, electric power, and the Southern
Hemisphere's largest tram network. It also had a somewhat more
enlightened attitude toward women than Miss Caustic had given them to
understand. It had been the first city in the world to employ female
police officers, and at this hour of the day, a significant fraction of
their fellow passengers were ladies of various ages on their way to work.
The Royal Navy Air Station was located in a suburb with the peculiarly
appropriate name of Hawkesbury. Emily and Clarice disembarked from the
tram, then found a terrace where they could watch the operations.
They'd arrived as a Hill Class ship was picking up her mooring, and
Clarice found much to criticize.
"Look at the way the nose is coming up," she complained. "They haven't
been watching their trim. I'd give odds the ship will be light by the
time they get pitch straightened out."
"You shouldn't be so rough on the chappies," chided Emily. "Moorings
are hard yakker."
"Captain Everett's crew are better trained," sniffed Clarice. "His ship
is better-looking too."
Emily glanced at her companion. "I thought you didn't like the man."
"I don't!" Clarice said indignantly. "But let's give credit where credit
Emily raised an eyebrow, then turned back to the field. "I wonder if
they'd let us onto the Station to look around."
Clarice smiled. "I have an idea about that."
The Station was surrounded by a sturdy chain link fence. This might have
might have been designed to keep out wildlife rather than men, but it was
still quite tall -- one noteworthy quality of Australian wildlife was its
ability to jump. Clarice led the way along this barricade until they came
to a gate. The guard glanced at the two young women, did a double-take,
"G'day," he told them. "'Ow ya goin'? I'm Airman Bates. What can I do
for you?" Apparently Hawkesbury's regulations allowed sentries a certain
degree of informality in their dealings with civilians.
"I'm Miss Clarice Blaine and this is Miss Emily Wilcox," Clarice replied
politely. "We're from Australian Union for National Telegraphy, here to
investigate your lines. I wonder if you might summon a guide to show us
"Dinky-di!" said the guard. "Are you both Sydneysiders?"
"No, we're staying at the civil air station. We flew in this morning."
The guard smiled and scribbled something down on a scrap of paper.
"Bonzer! I'm due to join the naval detachment there today. Here's where
you can find me. Look me up, and we can find a brew."
"That was fun!" exclaimed Clarice several hours later, after they'd finished
their improperly authorized tour. The friendly guard had gone off duty, and
his replacement had given them a hard stare as they left they station.
"What should we do next?"
"We could find a night club," suggested Emily.
"Aunt Behema would never approve."
"That's the idea."
Their conversation was interrupted by an angry voice. "Emily Wilcox,
Clarice Blaine, what are you doing here!"
They looked up to see a conservatively dressed woman, slightly older than
they were, glaring at them in the manner of an angry schoolmistress.
"Who are you, and how do you know our names?" asked Emily.
"I'm Miss Perkins, Captain Michaelson's secretary from Cairns," the woman
replied, "and I know all about you from Captain Everett's reports."
"What are you doing here in Sydney?" asked Clarice.
"That's none of your business, but we have to get you out of here before
you ruin everything!"
Before the two girls could protest, the secretary had flagged down a cab
and bundled them inside. She ignored all their questions on the way back to
Botany Bay, but sat in the seat facing them, gazing out the rear window as
if it had done something to offend her. From time to time she called out
some arbitrary-seeming instruction to their cabbie.
"Turn here!" she ordered. "And here!"
The man complied, bringing them to a little-used side entrance to the
"Here we are," said the secretary. "I'd advise you to find a ship and
leave as soon as you are able."
"What was that all about?" asked Emily as the cab sped away.
"Something crook, I reckon" said Clarice.
"Too right! Should we try to find out what it is?"
"No," Clarice replied. "We don't need the hassles. I think we should
leave town as she said."
"Where will we find a ship?" asked Emily. "It will be days before the
City of Brisbane is ready to lift."
Before Clarice could reply, the question was answered for them.
They turned to see the guard who'd greeted them at Hawkesbury escorting a
man in civilian clothes. "Here I am, at my new post, just like I said," he
announced cheerfully. "I understand you two sheilas are telegraphers. Can
you operate a w/t?"
"Of course!' said Clarice. "Can't everyone?"
"Bonzer!" said the guard. "This gentleman needs wireless operators for his airship."
Next week: A Gentleman Biologist...
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