Episode 347: All Your Secret Air Station Are Belong To Us
Captain Everett stood in the control car of the Flying Cloud gazing to
starboard. On the field below, handling parties were dragging fuel, ballast,
and hydrogen lines into position. Beyond them, the coastline stretched
toward the east in a succession of inlets, estuaries, and offshore islands.
Somewhere in that maze were Clarice, Emily, and Miss Perkins -- it was
difficult to imagine who else the `three sheilas from Darwin' could have
been. Whatever could have brought them to Broome, and where were they
"Miss Sarah," he asked, "what is the status of our consumables?"
Beside him, the island girl studied her figures. "We're at 68 percent
hydrogen, 1900 gallons of fuel, and 7800 pounds of ballast. The flight
from Cairns was expensive."
Everett nodded to himself. The Flying Cloud might be unusually
fast, but economy was not one of her strong points. "What's the latest
word from our friends below?" he asked.
"Chief Morris expects to have the hydrogen system purged and tested by the
end of the morning shift," Sarah replied. "After that, he can give us forty
thousand cubic feet an hour. Are you planning a sortie to look for our
"It is difficult not to feel some concern about their situation," Everett
replied. "Unfortunately, we won't be in a position to conduct an extended
search until we've resupplied. It seems MacKiernan and Captain Sanders
set off to find them -- we must hope they have the matter in hand."
Jenkins emerged from the radio shack. "Sir," he said, "we've received this
communication from Michaelson in the secure cipher."
Everett studied the message and frowned.
YOUR TWO PARTIES HEADED SOUTH FROM HIDDEN RAIL DEPOT LAT 15 10 S
LONG 125 27 E STOP IN DANGER FROM UNKNOWN SOURCE
"That last bit wasn't particularly informative," Jenkins observed.
"No, it wasn't," Everett said sourly, "but it does suggest a need for
immediate action." He turned to the intercom and touched a key. "All
hands to flight stations! Prepare to lift ship!"
"Will we have enough fuel and hydrogen for an action?" asked Sarah.
Everett shook his head. "We must hope it does not come to that."
Clarice, Emily, and Miss Perkins clung to whatever handholds they could find
as Ed advanced the throttle of the switching engine. The machine had
obviously not been intended to operate at any great speed and this,
combined with the indifferent condition of the track, made for an uncertain
ride. Behind them, the secret Finnish air station was disappearing behind a
"That's the last we'll see of those chappies!" Ed exclaimed. "It should be
clear sailing from here to the coast!"
"What about the airship!" asked Miss Perkins, yelling to be heard over the
sound of the machinery.
Ed glanced back to the south, where the mysterious cruiser could still be
seen riding from the mooring mast. "They just got back from a sortie!" he
yelled back. "They'll need to resupply before they can chase us! That's
why Natasha picked today for your escape!"
Miss Perkins wondered how their enigmatic benefactress had know this
opportunity would arise. What was the woman's relationship with their
erstwhile captors? But before she could ask, Clarice gave a cry of
"Look up the track!"
They turned to see another train approaching from the north. Smoke
billowed from the engine as it barreled down the line. "Strewth!" swore
the engineer. "That must be the next supply run! They're two days ahead
"What can we do?" asked Miss Perkins.
"There's a siding at the foot of this grade!" yelled the engineer.
"We'll have to get there in time to pull off the line!"
MacKiernan ducked as another volley tore through the cupola of the caboose.
By now, every window had been shattered and the wood was peppered with
bullet holes. Beside him, Captain Sanders was examining a hole
in the brim of his cap.
"I must say," the skipper complained, "nothing like this ever happens in
MacKiernan refrained from pointing out that Sanders was accompanying
them at his own request.
"I should hope not," he replied politely.
"What are our prospects, sir?" asked Fleming.
"We appears to have a standoff, for now," said MacKiernan. "Those Finns
may have taken the engine, but we hold this caboose, and at this range, our
American friends' submachine guns should be a match for our adversaries'
"We can't hold those guys off forever," Marty growled beside them. "We're
running low on ammo."
MacKiernan found it hard to fault the gangsters for this oversight. They
could hardly have anticipated a running gunfight against Finnish cavalrymen
aboard a hijacked freight train in Western Australia. Their foes must be
equally unprepared, but the Finns had the advantage of superior numbers.
"We got other problems, Boss!" Jake yelled. "Look ahead!"
MacKiernan looked where gunman was pointing and swore. Another train had
crested the rise ahead and was headed their way. Collision seemed
"Do any of you ladies know how to work a railroad switch?" Ed yelled. They
were nearing the siding, but the other locomotive was less than a mile away.
Its operators had made no attempt to reduce speed -- they seemed to be
preoccupied by something in the train behind them.
"We do!" Clarice and Emily yelled back cheerfully. Their time at North
Australia Railroad's Darwin station had not gone to waste.
The locomotive slowed as Ed applied the brakes. "Go to it then! And hurry!"
Clarice hitched up her skirt and leapt from the train, followed by Emily.
The two women hit the ground running and sprinted for the switchstand. The
points lever was a rusty bar with a strip of cloth wrapped around the grip.
At first it seemed stuck, but at last, with screech of poorly-maintained
equipment, the points began to move. By now, the other train was very
"It's now or never!" Ed yelled as he advanced the throttle again. Slowly,
then with increasing speed, the locomotive chugged forward. It reached the
v-rail, veered right, and swerved onto the siding just as the second train
"No worries!" laughed Emily.
"That was fun!" Clarice agreed.
In the cab beside them, Miss Perkins was pointing up the line. "Who," she
asked, "are they?"
MacKiernan braced the crowbar against the link pin, heaved downward, and
swore. "An diabhal! The suarach rud is stuck!"
"Hurry!" Marty yelled. "We're runnin' outta time!"
"It's this ainis Australian rolling stock!" MacKiernan yelled
back. "I can't help it if... oof!"
The Irishman lurched backward as the pin flew free of the link. Taken by
surprise, he almost fell from the boxcar, but he recovered in time to leap
for the caboose. Fleming reached out a hand to drag him aboard. Above them,
Jake was already applying the brake. Wheels screeched as the caboose
slowed to a stop.
"That was a near thing, sir," said the airman.
"All's well that ends well," MacKiernan told him, "but I say, what's this?"
They turned to study the siding beside them, where a switching engine sat
belching steam. As they watched, an astonished face peered from the cab.
MacKiernan recognized it instantly.
"Alice?" he said in surprise. "Is that you?"
"Fergus?" asked Miss Perkins. "Whatever are you doing here?"
"We were looking for you. Why are you aboard that engine?"
"We were making our escape," said the secretary. "May I ask what was on the
train that just passed?"
MacKiernan shrugged. "Just a few thousand gallons of diesel fuel. Why do
you ask? And what's at the other end of this line?"
"A secret airbase, where several flatcars loaded with bombs are parked
alongside a warehouse packed with high explosive that's standing next to a
"Oh dear," said MacKiernan. They gazed south, where the train had vanished
over a rise. As they watched, a cloud of smoke belched upward, followed
seconds later by the sound of an explosion.
"I'm not certain what this is all about," MacKiernan observed, "but
I imagine our immediate problems are over."
Beside him, Fleming had been staring at the sky. "Sir!" the airman said
Next week: Someone May Be Bluffing...
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