Episode 344: Some Messages Arrived While You Were Away
"Lively now," ordered Michaelson, "We have another incline coming up."
"Yes sir," said Fenwick, biting back a groan as the road sloped upward...
again. They'd spent the morning searching Nattai Bulli for some form of
transportation, but they'd found no vehicles or horses available for hire.
For a time it had seemed they might be stranded. At last they'd managed
to procure a tandem bicycle from pair of sports enthusiasts who'd been
passing through the village on one of the long pointless excursions that
seemed to be a hallmark of Australian youth.
Fenwick might have preferred to remain stranded. Their route back to
civilization was a rutted dirt track that wound through a succession of
hills. In defiance of the laws of physics and topography, its climbs
seemed to outnumber its descents. This particular ascent proved rather
grueling, and he was gasping for breath when they finally reached the
"Sir," he asked when he'd recovered enough to speak, "who is this Karlov
"We're not entirely certain," Michaelson admitted. "Captain Everett found
information on Java that suggests he's a scientist from Odessa, but we
cannot exclude the possibility this was been planted to mislead us. We
assumed he was one of the White Russian nationalists, but it has grown
obvious that he has own agenda.
"However did he manage all this?" asked Fenwick. He began to gesture at
their surroundings, then realized Michaelson couldn't possibly see him from
the front seat.
The senior captain must have guessed his intent. "The man has proved a
master at manipulating people by releasing what seem to be unconnected
tidbits of information," he replied. "This spring, he tricked several
different and mutually antagonist parties into obtaining an artifact for
him by posing variously as a beachcomber, a tourist, and a missionary to
provide them with the necessary hints. After they'd accomplished this
task, he went on to steal the thing from under our noses.
"He wouldn't have found it hard to plant the clues that led us to Nattai
Bulli. We had no reason to suspect any subterfuge. He also had plenty of
time to disable the telegraph station and tie up any transportation we might
have used to depart."
"How did he arrange the wreck of our motor?" asked Fenwick.
"The village does not offer unlimited places to park," Michaelson observed.
"A wagon here, a wheelbarrow there, and we'd have no choice but to leave our
machine at that particular corner. If Karlov knew the lorry driver's
schedule, and the man's unfortunate habit of reading text messages while
driving, it would have been easy for him to arrange the accident."
Fenwick thought this over. It was certainly within the bounds of
possibility. "Why would the man want to isolate us in this manner?" he
"He must have felt we'd interfere with his plans," Michaelson mused. "I'd
give a lot to know what those are. His history has been accompanied by a
certain amount of destruction -- we must remember the Ujelang Event -- and
he suggested that his latest machinations might place Captain Everett and
his people at risk. This is cause for concern."
"We must find some way to warn them!" said Fenwick.
"Quite," Michaelson agreed. "It remains to be determined how best to
proceed. For the moment, I imagine we've stolen a jump on the fellow.
There's no way he could have foreseen that those bicyclists would appear to
provide us with this machine. But he might have made contingency plans
should we return to Sydney or attempt to send a wire."
"What should we do?" asked Fenwick.
Afternoon was drawing to a close when they began the welcome descent to
Picton. This was a somewhat more substantial settlement than Nattai Bulli,
and sported several small shops in addition to the usual pub. A
battered-looking Vickers class airship with commercial markings was lowering
a cargo pallet to a field outside of town. This was a common way to deliver
equipment too heavy or bulky to transport over what passed for roads in this
part of the world.
Fenwick sighed to himself, knowing what was coming.
"We must take advantage of this opportunity!" said Michaleson. "Lively now!"
The final moments of their ride were somewhat more dramatic than Fenwick
might have preferred. Their speed was high, the field was strewn with
obstacles, and their machine lacked any meaningful form of brakes.
Michaelson leapt from the saddle with what seemed like a sigh of annoyance.
Fenwick, somewhat less adroit, did his best to acquit himself as would be
expected from a member of the Signal Corps. A group of spectators -- airmen
by their garb -- watched the ensuing acrobatics with expressions of
"Good on ya!" said one as they rolled to their feet. "What can we do for
Michaelson straightened his jacket, checked his cuffs, and turned to the
man who had spoken, "We wish to hire your vessel for a flight to Cairns
Royal Air Station."
"Strewth?" the man said in surprise.
"And we're willing to pay."
"Bob's your uncle."
They reached Cairns early the next morning. Unwilling to wait while their
charter picked up a mooring, Michaelson abseiled down one of the handling
lines. Fenwick followed, wondering how the senior captain managed to
accomplish the decent without wrinkling his clothes. Michaelson brushed
past the surprised ground party and led the way to his office, where
several message flimsies lay atop his desk.
"See to those, if you will, Fenwick," he announced brusquely.
The signalman unlocked the safe, took out the relevant codebooks, and set
to work. A few minutes later, he turned a worried face to his superior.
"We have three messages that may be significant," he said. "The first was
a report from Miss Perkins, sent in the secure cipher, that she'd arrived in
Broome on July 31 and was setting out to investigate a hidden railway depot
on the coast to the east. She went on to provide its estimated position.
The second was a broadcast from Lieutenant Commander MacKiernan in clear,
that he'd arrived in Broome on the 3rd and was setting out to investigate
what is almost certainly the same hidden railway depot. The third was a
report from Captain Everett in the standard cipher that they'd arrived in
Broome yesterday. He noted that they'd repaired a fault in their wireless,
and inquires if anything important occurred while they were incommunicado."
Michaelson frowned at the news. "I'm not sure what this is all about, " he
observed, "but I'm sure we're running out of time."
Next week: Let's Hope They Don't Take This Train...
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