The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 333: If You're So Clever, Why Don't You Figure Out If He's An Agent?

Everett and Michaelson study Baxter

Iverson and Sarah returned to Port Villa to find the Flying Cloud making ready for departure. They hurried to the control car to take their stations. Captain Everett smiled as they entered.

"I trust you found our missing peers?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," said Iverson. "Do you want our report now?"

"It can wait until we're underway," Everett told them. "It seems the plot has thickened. Michaelson has recalled us to Cairns."

"Did he say why?" asked Sarah. As a civilian specialist, she was free to ask the question on everyone's mind.

"That is not the senior captain's way," Everett observed dryly. "What is the status of our consumables?"

Sarah examined the figures Wallace had compiled in her absence. "We're at 70% hydrogen, with 10,100 lbs of ballast and 1,600 gallons of fuel," she replied.

Everett paused for a moment, as if working out time and fuel consumption calculations in his head. Iverson tried to do the same, but soon lost track of his figures.

"We can expect a quartering tailwind for most of the distance," Everett decided. "We should be able to accomplish the flight in 22 hours if we maintain an airspeed of 50 knots. That should leave us at 6,000 lbs and 1,000 gallons in reserve."

Iverson glanced at Sarah. The island girl jotted down a few numbers and nodded.

How does the Captain manage? wondered Iverson. And how long will it take me to learn?

Working the airship up to her most efficient cruising speed and adjusting her trim for economy was not a straightforward process, but at last Iverson and Sarah had an opportunity to deliver their report. Everett elected to receive it in his stateroom. This might not have been as spacious as the mess hall, but it had the advantage of privacy.

"Interesting," he observed when they were done. "Can we be quite certain it was the Americans who attacked Lord and Lady Beechly's liner on the Dutch East Indies?"

"I believe so," said Iverson. "His Lordship and his Lady may have been... somewhat vague, but their butler's descriptions matched what we know of Marty and his people."

"And the gangsters made off with a silver key?"

"So it would seem."

"This is not the first time we've heard of such an artifact," mused Everett. "We also heard reports of it on Guadalcanal and Port Moresby. This pattern seems familiar."

"You believe it might be something like that so-called Nui Mana the Warfields were searching for this spring?" asked Jenkins.

The island girl smiled. "Yes! My grandmother used to tell wonderful stories of the Silver Key to the Land of Dreams. It unlocks the doorway to a land where dreams become real."

"This doesn't sound very plausible," Jenkins observed.

"It also doesn't sound very useful," said Everett. "The Nui Mana was supposed to influence the laws of chance. Such a capability, if it really was possible, would have been of considerable value in the material world. The same cannot be said of a key to some dreamland."

"Don't the aboriginal inhabitants of Australia have legends of something called the Dreamtime, when the distinction between dream and reality was blurred?" asked Jenkins.

"It's difficult to imagine anyone as level-headed as the baroness or the Fat Man using this as a basis for action," said Everett. "Still, I believe we should keep this matter to ourselves until we have some idea what game Michaelson is playing this time."

"What game do you think Michaelson is playing?" Sarah asked Iverson as they made their way back to their cabins.

Iverson had been wondering the same thing. "I don't know," he replied, "but I feel some concern about the stakes."

They reached Cairns on schedule, with a comfortable reserve of fuel and ballast. As they approached the field, they noted an ancient Vickers class ship riding from one of the masts reserved for lower priority traffic. "I imagine that will be a courier from Sydney," Everett remarked dryly. "It can hardly have traveled much farther. We can assume it has something to do with the reason we were recalled."

"Why didn't Michaelson make any mention of this?' asked Jenkins.

"There may be some complications of which we're unaware, " mused Everett. "We will postpone shore leave and keep the crew at mooring stations to avoid any premature revelations of our own discoveries until we know more. Iverson, I will leave you in charge while Jenkins and I pay a visit to the senior captain.

The atmosphere in Michaelson's office seemed tenser than Everett remembered. He thought the senior captain looked haggard, but perhaps this was the light. "Sir," said Everett, "we're reporting back as ordered. I take it our inquiries have provoked the response from Hawkesbury you were hoping for."

Michaelson raised his eyebrows, like a schoolmaster contemplating an unruly student. "Your attitude seems almost insubordinate," he observed. "My intentions are none of your concern. But your are correct about the Admiral's Office. Someone there sent an accountant to review your operations. I am trying to determine who was responsible."

"I assume you've sent Miss Perkins to Sydney for this purpose," said Everett.

Michaelson gave nothing away, but Everett imagined he detected a flicker of emotion when the secretary's name is mentioned. What is that about? he wondered. He felt a vague sense of unease.

"This too is none of your concern," Michaelson told him. "We will move on to a more appropriate subject. Our visitor wishes to review your records of any plunder the pirates may have taken in the Dutch East Indies. I trust you've kept accurate logs."

Lieutenant-Commander Norman Baxter was even less prepossessing than Everett anticipated -- almost a caricature of an accountant. He reviewed their books as if paperwork was exciting. Jenkins studied the man with professional interest, trying to decide if he was more than he seemed.

"What you think?" Everett whispered.

"It's difficult to imagine he could possibly be an agent," said Jenkins. "No one could have such a brilliant gift for disguise. But he was almost certainly sent by someone who was hoping to provoke a response from us."

Everett nodded. This affair seemed to have more wheels within wheels than the Book of Ezekiel, and they had little chance of learning who or what was behind it unless chance threw some tidbit of information their way.

"Captain," asked Baxter. "What can you tell me about this item?"

Everett looked over the accountant's shoulder and did his best to keep his expression neutral. "A piece of native artwork that was stolen from Lord and Lady Beachly?" he remarked. "Does it have any particular significance?"

The accountant looked puzzled, as if questions that didn't involve numbers were in some foreign language. "I was given to understand it might be important," he replied.

"Sir," whispered Jenkins.

"It may," Everett observed, "be time for another conversation with Michaelson."

Next week: Fancy Meeting You Here...

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