The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 452: What Are You Doing Here?

The Viking Girl, Stalking Herring, and Flying Cloud

Captain Everett studied the coastline ahead through binoculars. "My my," he remarked. "Someone's been busy while we were away."

A few miles to the south, the original Viking Girl lay where they they'd found her the previous spring, grounded in shallow water some distance from the beach. From the air, the freighter looked comparatively intact. It seemed they weren't the only ones who thought so, for a small but business-like two-stacker was anchored just offshore. A cutter had just finished pulling from this over to the wreck.

"That looks rather like a salvage tug," Iverson observed, pointing at the steamer.

"So it would seem," said Everett. "Can you make out her name?"

Iverson gazed through his own binoculars, then frowned. "She's the Stalking Herring, out of Darwin," he said indignantly. "What sort of people would give a tug a name like that?"

Everett suppressed a sigh. "I can only imagine a limited number of possibilities," he observed. "We shall see if I'm right. Mister Iverson, you have the conn. Order Iwamoto to prepare the Transporter. I'll lead the party myself. Jenkins, if you'd accompany me."

Everett waited while Jenkins saw to his jacket, then nodded to Iwamoto. "Energize."

"Hai," said the engineer. He closed a toggle, advanced a lever, and the winch clattered to life. Everett and Jenkins stood patiently while the Transporter made its descent. On their last visit, with an unpracticed crew, they'd deployed to the beach. Now Everett trusted Iverson to hold a position so they could deploy directly to the freighter.

The platform struck the deck with its usual clang. A cheerful voice greeted them as they alighted. "Captain Everett, what are you doing here?"

Everett wasn't surprised to see Clarice and Emily. There will be an aunt here as well, he thought to himself, in much the same way a traveler might speculate about the possibility of earthquakes and landslides. "Miss Wilcox, Miss Blaine, how pleasant to see you," he replied politely. "We were en route to Darwin for resupply and thought we'd investigate this vessel one more time. What brought you here?"

Clarice gave Emily a nudge before the blonde could point at the tug. "Aunt Prodigia brought us along," she said, indicating a formidable figure behind them. "We're going to help her refloat this ship and take it back to Darwin."

Everett bowed to the matron. "Good morning, madam," he said, bracing himself for what might be to come. "I trust you've already dealt with the relevant legalities?"

Blackbeard would have envied the matron's grin. "Bob's your uncle!" she replied. "This tub may be aground now, but she was abandoned on the high seas. That makes her legitimate salvage."

Everett tried to imagine a confrontation between Aunt Prodigia and Helga over the matter, then abandoned the effort. There were some concepts the human mind was never meant to deal with. "Quite," he replied diplomatically. "We'll finish up our investigation and be out of your way as soon as possible."

Aunt Prodigia gestured at her nieces and smiled. "I'm sure Clarice and Emily would love to accompany you while I bring a line across from the Herring."

Everett glanced at the matron, wondering why she was being so congenial. It seemed quite out of character for members of her species. But she was already making her way back to the cutter. "Very well," he said philosophically. "Jenkins and Miss Wilcox, if you would inspect the deckhouse, Miss Blaine and I will take a look at the engineering plant."

Jenkins watched while Emily rummaged through the captain's cabin. Considerations of propriety had prevented them from searching this compartment properly on their previous visit, but now they had a searcher of the appropriate gender. Emily seemed amazed by some of what she found -- objects whose existence the inhabitants of Darwin had never dreamed of.

"Whatever is this for?" she asked Jenkins. "It looks almost like..."

The signalman gave a helpless gesture. Royal Navy training only went so far. "I wouldn't care to speculate," he told her. "We will trust that Miss Helga took proper safety precautions."

Emily chuckled. "I heard she joined your crew after her ship was taken."

"Yes, she served with us as briefly as a rigger, during which time she cut quite a swath through the enlisted men. She left to take possession of the pirate's vessel."

"Was she on good terms with the Captain?" asked Emily.

"Not in the sense you are wondering about," said Jenkins, "but I believe they reached an understanding. We've crossed paths with her since, to both of our advantage."

"What did the pirates want with her ship? All she had aboard was a load of ore. There are still a few tons down in the holds."

"This seems to be a critical ingredient for the weapon that destroyed Ujelang," said Jenkins.

Emily glanced toward the cargo section. "Are we in any danger here?"

"I don't believe so," said Jenkins. "The material seems entirely inert in its natural form. The process by which it's refined to achieve its destructive potential remains a mystery."

"Where did the pirates take it?"

Jenkins paused for a moment, then frowned. "We never thought to investigate," he admitted. "It wasn't aboard the pirate's ship when they called at Sarah's Island, so they must have unloaded it before then. I wonder if Helga found any records aboard their vessel."

Everett paused at the foot of the companionway and reached up his hand to assist Clarice, taking care he didn't glance where he shouldn't. She played her torch around the compartment, then examined the water that lapped the foot of the landing.

"It's salt, but it's also below the surrounding sea level," she observed. "Has someone been here before us to fix a leak?"

"After a fashion," said Everett. "The pirates smashed the condenser inlet, hoping this would send their victim to the bottom, but Helga was able to effect a partial repair. In one of life's little ironies, she eventually took the pirate's vessel for her own."

Clarice surprised him with a giggle. "That must have ticked them off," she said. "You said they were working for one of the nationalist groups. How many of those chappies are there?"

"It's quite the menagerie," said Everett. "There are White Russians, led by a woman with some connection to the Imperial family and an ex-revolutionary who grew disillusioned with Trotsky's government. There are the Germans, led by a veteran of the War, who are associated with Ernst Rëhm's DAP . There are the Japanese, who remain something of a cipher. Finally we have the Pacific branch of Moseley's British Union, which has been taken over by Baron Warfield and his lady."

Clarice hesitated, as if summoning up the nerve for a question. "I understand that you and the Baroness were once... close," she said.

Everett raised an eyebrow. "This is hardly common knowledge."

"It's my Aunt Leviatha," Clarice said apologetically. "She finds out things like that. She's a real stickybeak."

This time Everett couldn't suppress a sigh. "That was eleven years ago, during the final days of the War," he said. "We must learn to put the past behind us."

She hesitated again, then reached up to touch his arm. "It must have been quite a blow when she showed up here in the Pacific," she said quietly. "I'm sorry."

Next week: A Rustic Island Laboratory...

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