Episode 355: We're Off!
Captain Everett sat by the window of his cabin, gazing into the night. The
full moon, high in the eastern sky, bathed the landscape in light, softening
its outlines, lending a false impression of gentleness to this unforgiving
terrain. To the north, a single light glimmered in the distance -- an
isolated sheep station, or perhaps some hardscrabble mine -- but otherwise
the land seemed empty. Had this been Europe, it would have seemed a perfect
night for werewolves. Everett wondered if Australian mythology contained
any equivalent. Were-kangaroos, perhaps? He smiled at this conceit, then
turned back to his desk to finish an entry in the log.
11 September 1927, 2000 hrs. Approx 200 n. mi. west of Cairns bearing 250,
heading west 55 knots bearing 260 at 6000'. Winds est. 10 knots NE. Will
continue inland at most economical cruise to avoid observation while we
evaluate the information at our disposal.
That should suffice, he decided. It would satisfy any audit without
committing them to any particular destination. At the moment, they had
little to go on besides Captain Michaelson's speculations and some cold
leads. This made it difficult to decide upon a course of action. But the
stakes were as high as ever. Fourteen months had passed since the
mysterious cruiser had brought down their previous ship.
One man from the missing stern section, Lieutenant Blacker, had since
reappeared, only to be revealed as a traitor working for the British Union.
Had there been other survivors? If so, where were they being held,
and by whom?
He owed it to them to find out. As a captain, he had an obligation
toward the men under his command. If it was humanly possible, he would
find and rescue them. He might not know where to begin looking... yet...
but the Pacific Ocean was not so very large. If he and his crew were
methodical, and took things one step at a time, they were
certain to encounter some clues. With this thought, he closed the
book and made his way to the control car.
The bridge was dark when he arrived, lit only by the faint glow of radium
dials and reflected moonlight from the land below. First watch had just
begun, and MacKiernan's section was on duty. The Exec stood by one of the
windows, making measurements with a drift meter. He looked up as Everett
descended the companionway.
"Sir," he said politely. There was none of this
"Captain on the bridge!"
ceremony with a crew as small as the Flying Cloud's.
"Mister MacKiernan," said Everett. "What is our current position?"
The Irishman gestured outside. "This wasteland doesn't offer much in the
way of landmarks," he observed ruefully. "All we have to go on is dead
reckoning. That would put us about here." He indicated an anonymous spot
on the chart some distance south of the Gulf of Carpenteria.
"That should serve until we take our morning sight," said Everett. "We'll
adjust our course then."
"Will we be calling at Darwin to resupply?" said MacKiernan -- one of the
standard ways a junior officer could ask 'where are we going?' without
violating the unspoken protocols of the bridge.
Everett suppressed a smile. He'd used this ploy many times himself during
his own service as an exec. "I'd considered this, since it would have given
us an opportunity to investigate the police chief's involvement with the
people who built the secret air station, but I feel we should leave that
line of inquiry to Michaelson. The good captain has dropped many hints to
impress us with the extent of intelligence sources. If they're as effective
as he's implied, he should have no difficulty.
"I also cannot help but feel we've called at Darwin too often in the past.
Our adversaries will expect us to do so again. It may be time to take
advantage of our vessel's range and speed to drop out of sight and wait for
them to make a move."
"What do you have in mind, sir?" asked MacKiernan. Since it was the captain
who'd raised the issue, he could ask legitimately ask the obvious questions.
"We have two leads," said Everett, "the railway depot Michaelson ordered us
to investigate and the Korean cultural mission to the Dutch East Indies
that you learned about on Sulawesi. The former is on our way, so we'll
investigate it first, but the latter may be more interesting, since it
would have been a possible stop for our enigmatic Miss Kim."
"What do you think her involvement is in this business?" asked MacKiernan.
"It would be premature to hazard a guess," sighed Everett. "She comes from
a country so reclusive it's been known as the Silent Kingdom. Her
intervention on Ujelang may have worked to our advantage, but that tells us
nothing until we know more about her motives and history. Our only tangible
clue is the cufflink Michaelson's people found next to her unconscious body
after the explosion at Cairns."
"We're quite certain this belonged to Lieutenant-Commander Forsythe?"
Everett suppressed a grimace. "It was engraved with an image of a Coastal
Class blimp," he said, trying to keep the incredulity out of his voice.
"I can't imagine anyone else would have commissioned a jeweler to create
something so ugly. Unfortunately, this does little to clarify the
situation. Consider some of the possibilities. He might have given it to
her freely or she might have stolen it. She might be working with him or
against him. He could be an unwilling prisoner of our adversaries or
another traitor like Blacker. This gives us at least eight permutations,
each with its own distinct implications, and I'm sure we could hypothesize
MacKiernan nodded. It seemed his thinking had been running along the same
lines. "We'll be low on consumables by the time we reach the railway depot.
I assume we'll send down a landing party to investigate while the ship
continues on to the air station at Broome."
"That does seem the best way to proceed," said Everett. "The party should
include people who have some familiarity with the area, so I will place you
in charge, along with Miss Perkins. I'll also give you Rashid and
Abercrombie in case you run into trouble or need to lift heavy things."
There was a brief pause while the Irishman tried not to chuckle. Everett
nodded to himself. The ability to maintain a straight face under any and
all circumstances was an important quality for an airship officer. "Yes,
sir," the Irishman said after he'd regained his composure.
"I'll inform them when they come on watch."
Next week: Someone's Been Working On The Railroad...
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