The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 265: It's A Popular Tourist Destination

Two ships at Darwin Air Station

Service on the Australian Station had proved more complicated than Lieutenant Murdock expected. Since he'd joined His Majesty's Airship R-505, the Flying Cloud, he'd encountered spear-wielding island maidens, Italian sky pirates, a renegade English nobleman, and now an exotic Asian stowaway. Against this background, their discovery of a strange ship at Darwin's air station seemed entirely unremarkable.

"Can you identify the class?" Captain Everett asked him.

Murdock studied the other vessel from his station at the helm. Crucial details, such as the configuration of her control car struts, were hidden from this angle but he could see enough to draw some conclusions. "She looks like a Wolseley," he replied, "but the shape of the upper vertical fin doesn't seem quite right. On the Vickers product, it would be slightly longer."

Everett gave him reassuring smile. "You have a good eye, Lieutenant. This would be one of the American copies, built under license in Ohio. From her lack of insignia, I'd judge her to be a private vessel."

"Who could they be, sir?" Murdock asked. "This seems an unlikely destination for tourists."

"We'll find out soon enough," said Everett. "Jenkins, make our signal and request a handling party. Mister Iverson, if you would take over from Mister Murdock. This field is none too big. If we're going to fit two ships into it, I believe we'll want more experience at the helm."

Murdock relinquished the wheel with a sense of relief. He hadn't been looking forward to flying such a difficult approach. And this sleepy little village of Darwin promised a respite from the adventures of the past months. Surely nothing could possibly happen here.

Emily and Clarice stood by the base of the mast with Mister Cartwell and their Aunt Behema, watching the mooring operation. The handling parties, Aussies to the core, had treated the mooring operation as an athletic event, making easy work of what might otherwise have been a challenge for members of a less exuberant culture. Now the Flying Cloud loomed overhead -- a graceful outline against the mid-morning sky.

"That's quite a good-looking ship," said Mister Cartwell.

"Dinki di," agreed Emily. "But they could have been a bit handier toward the end when they were hooking up the bow fitting."

"You're too picky," said Clarice. "With this wind picking up, I'd say they made a good fist of it. Oh look, here comes the elevator!"

Above them, the car had begun its descent. The two young women stood on tiptoe to see who was aboard. As it neared the ground, Emily glimpsed a flash of gold braid. She noticed that her companion was waving. "Clare," she asked innocently, "what's that all about?"

The blond reddened and snatched down her hand. "I just wanted to let them know we were here," she mumbled.


Moments later, the door slid open to reveal a familiar set of figures. At their head, Captain Everett nodded to the company. Emily glanced at the captain. Had his eyes brightened for a moment when he saw who was waiting or had that just been her imagination? "Miss Blaine, Miss Wilcox, Mrs. Behema, what a pleasant surprise," he said politely. "And who is this gentleman?"

"Captain Everett, may I introduce Mister Cartwell," said Emily. "He's the owner of the Philadelphian. Mister Cartwell, this is Captain Everett."

"I'm pleased to meet you, Captain," the American said, offering Everett a firm handshake. The captain, always ready to respect native customs, responded in kind.

"We were admiring your ship from the air," he replied. "She's quite a fine-looking vessel. The Goodyear corporation does good work. I assume she was from the 1924 production run?"

"Why, yes," said the American. "How could you tell?"

"They changed the rigging for the horizontal stabilizers that year. There was an article about this in Jane's. May I ask what brings you to North Australia?"

"I'm here on a scientific investigation," said Mister Cartwell. "Allow me to tell you more over lunch."

A short time later, the Flying Cloud's flight officers were seated with the American and the Darwinians at a small Greek restaurant owned by a retired sponge fisherman. The place was scrupulously clean -- not surprising given the proprietor's previous profession -- and some of the menu items seemed peculiarly appropriate, given the subject of their discussion.

Mister Cartwell had given his guests a brief summary of history, such as it was, of the Common Squidbat. Now he was discussing recent sightings. "The most recent reliable reports came from a Russian anthropologist named Karolek Solovyov, sometime before the War. Unfortunately, most of his notes seem to have been lost during Trotsky's revolution, so there's no record of where he might have seen the creatures."

Jenkins caught the captain's eye. "Karolek Solovyov? Didn't Countess Zelle mention that name when we called on her last year?" he whispered.

"Yes," Everett whispered back, "and this was in conjunction with the late Yakov and the Device."

"Oh dear."

If Mister Cartwell noticed this exchange, he gave no sign. "This man did have an associate," he continued, "a professor named Otkupshchikov, who I believe may be here in the Pacific. I'd been hoping I might run into him. Have you heard of him?"

Everett and Jenkins exchanged another glance. "We've met," Everett said dryly, "but the Professor travels rather widely, so I can't say what your chances of finding him might be."

Mister Cartwell shrugged. "No matter, I have plenty of other leads." He flipped open his notebook and indicated a page. "I've compiled a list of the places that might have information about the creature. The first one is an island named Guadalcanal. Are you familiar with the place?

Everett hid his misgivings. "Quite fortuitously, this happens to be our next destination. We'd be quite happy to guide you there."

"Thank you! That should alleviate any concerns we might have had..." the American chuckled, "...about piracy. Miss Emily, Miss Clarice, are you willing to continue on the Philadelphian as wireless operators?"

"Bob's your uncle!" the two women announced, almost in unison.

Beside them their aunt scowled. "If my nieces are going on this jaunt, I insist on accompanying them!"

Mister Cartwell smiled. "I'd be glad to have you aboard."

"Sir," Jenkins said when they were back on the ship.

Everett suppressed the urge to bite his lip. "I will admit that the situation has grown more complicated."

"However did Michaelson manage to pull this off?" asked the signalman.

"I doubt this was all his work, " said Everett. "He will have taken advantage of some preexisting situation. And he must have learned of this situation before he drafted our orders for Guadalcanal. I wonder..."

"Could this Mister Cartwell be one of his agents?"

"I very much doubt it," said Everett. "The man seems much too..." he paused for a moment, at a loss for words, "...American."

"Whatever could Michaelson hope to accomplish?"

Everett scowled. "I can't even begin to imagine. But it seems the captain has chosen to include our two young friends as pieces in his game. I find it difficult to approve of this action."

Next week: This One Seems Popular Too...

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