Episode 305: Doubtful Deeds in Darwin
MacKiernan and Miss Perkins stood near the Administration building, watching as
the Flying Cloud was rolled from her shed. The last rays of the
setting sun slanted across the field, bathing the vessel with light. From
this perspective, she looked almost like a work of nature -- some fabulous
creature of the air, gracing the earth with a visit.
"She's beautiful," said Miss Perkins. "I can understand why you and your
shipmates are happy to serve aboard her."
"Yes," MacKiernan said honestly. "She's one of the two most beautiful
things I've seen."
Her glance assured him that she'd heard, but she didn't ask the obvious
question. "What are your thoughts about this mission?" she asked instead.
The Irishman shook his head in exasperation. "Captain Michaelson is using
us as a stalking horse. Again. Do you have any idea what he's up to this
She looked at him, then lowered her gaze. "You know my position, Fergus,"
she said sadly. "I couldn't tell you even if I did."
He touched her shoulder. "Don't worry, Alice," he said. "I would never ask
you to betray a confidence."
They stood for a time, not speaking. At last she sighed. "I worry about
the Captain," she said. "This must be a difficult time for him."
MacKiernan raised an eyebrow. "Which captain?"
She hesitated for a moment, then ventured a smile. "Both of them, I
suppose," she replied. "Lady's Warfield reappearance will have been a very
"What is Michaelson's relationship with the baroness?" MacKiernan asked.
"From the way he acts, its obvious she meant something to him at one time."
Miss Perkins shrugged helplessly. "I honestly don't know, Fergus, but he
seems to be taking things more personally than before. This is no longer a
game to him."
MacKiernan gave a rueful chuckle. "It was never entirely a game to us,"
he observed. "The pieces have a somewhat different perspective than the
She looked around to make sure no one was watching, then took his hand. "I
know," she said quietly. "I wish things were different, but we have little
choice over these roles we're forced to play. Please watch out for Captain
Everett. And watch out for yourself."
He glanced down at her in surprise. Then, because the moment seemed to
demand it, he lifted her hand to give it a kiss.
The next evening found MacKiernan in the Flying Cloud's upper
lookout station, waiting with his captain to take a sight. This might not
have been entirely necessary on a route they'd flown so many times before,
but it was well to stay in practice. Below the ship, the wastes of
Australia's Northern Territory swept past like some particularly drab and
poorly maintained carpet. A faint glimmer to the south might have been a
light from an isolated station, or it might just have been some reflection
of the setting sun.
MacKiernana squinted through his sextant, then lowered the instrument. The
sky was still too bright for him to make out any stars. "What do you think
of Michaelson's orders, sir?" he asked.
Everett seemed as unperturbed as always. "They seem reasonable enough,
given the circumstances," he replied. "Still, I can't help but feel that
he's playing fast and loose with the lives of our old shipmates."
"How so, sir?"
"We have good reason to believe that some of them survived the crash of the
Flying Lady," said Everett. "Lieutenant Blacker's reappearance is
proof of this. The fact that we haven't heard from them suggests they're
being held prisoner -- perhaps by the same fellows who brought down our old
ship. Michaelson's strategy involves revealing that one of them passed a
token to this Korean woman, then waiting to see who reacts. It's the sort
of subtlety I'd expect from the man, and I have no doubt it will provide us
with some valuable revelations, but it could have unfortunate repercussions
for our people when word gets back to their captors."
MacKiernan nodded. He shared this concern. "What should we do?" he asked.
The captain seemed to stifle a sigh. "I can think of several possibilities,
but it could be dangerous to act until we've spied out the lay of the land.
We'll see what we can learn in Darwin."
They reached Darwin to discover that the lay of the land had undergone some
"What's all this?" asked Iverson.
On their previous visits, the region immediately to the south of Darwin's
modest air station had been a patchwork of small paddocks, storage yards, and
housing lots. Now it was covered with construction equipment. In some
places, workers were clearing land, cutting roads, raising fences, and laying
tracks. In others, they were digging foundations for what was obviously a
row of airship sheds.
"They seem to be expanding the field," said Murdock, unnecessarily.
"Why didn't we hear about this?" wondered MacKiernan.
"It must be a private endeavor," said Jenkins. "If these new facilities are
purely commercial, there would have been no immediate need for them to inform
"Someone must anticipate a significant increase in traffic," MacKiernan said
"They must also have a fair bit of money to spend," observed Everett. "One
suspects that our friend Channel had a hand in this." He studied the works,
noting the locations of various pieces of machinery. Flying a hydrogen-filled
dirigible at low altitude over smokestacks that might be belching cinders and
sparks was generally frowned upon. "I will handle this approach," he
announced. "After we're moored, we shall inquire into the matter."
Lieutenant Dabney met them at the foot of the mooring mast.
"G'day mates," he announced cheerfully. "It's good to see you again. What
brings you back to Darwin?"
"We have a pair of clerks from your railway office to return," Everett said
nodding to Clarice and Emily as they emerged from the lift. "Then we'll be
continuing on a cruise to the Dutch East Indies. I see that there have been
some changes while we were away."
"Dinki-di," said their host. "With all the ships flying down from India or
across from the Suez, someone felt this would be natural spot for a way
station and organized a company to build new facilities. There's also been
talk of establishing a resort for tourists from the Big Smoke."
"A resort?" marveled Emily. "Whatever are these tourists going to do?"
"They visit the rail yard to count the boxcars," suggested Clarice.
Emily brightened at this suggestion. "They could also take rides on fishing
"Or they could go wading in the swamps."
"Would this `someone' who organized the company happen to be your
police chief?" asked Everett.
Dabney snorted. "Strewth. That's one reason I didn't buy stock in the
"This may have been a wise move," Everett observed dryly. "I suppose
courtesy demands we pay the man a visit to congratulate him on his
Next week: The Origin of Specie...
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