The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 469: Weighty Matters

The Thunderbird, slightly down by the stern

Rain drummed on the tin roof of the shack that served Darwin Air Station as an operations building, rattling the panels and dripping from the eaves. It seemed the vaunted improvements to the station hadn't extended to its administration facilities -- either that, or the contractor hadn't offered George Channel the necessary bribe. Inside, Everett and Jenkins examined the logbook while Reserve Lieutenant Dabney looked on. At last Everett tapped the most recent entry.

"According to your records, a Wolesley class, the R-387, called on the 5th and departed yesterday," he told his host. "We have reason to believe these people may have misrepresented themselves. Can you recall anything noteworthy about their visit?"

"It wasn't a biggie," said the lieutenant. "According to their customs declaration, they were a government mail packet en route to Sydney. They had some bizzo in town, but I never did learn what this was about."

"Did you get a look at any of the ship's officers?"

"Dinki-di," said Dabney. "The master was quite the toff, and the first mate was a dangerous-looking sheila with dark hair."

"That would seem to describe Baron Warfield and his lady," Jenkins remarked to Everett.

"So it would," agreed Everett. "Was there anything unusual about the vessel itself?"

"Perhaps," said the lieutenant. "It looked slightly crook, like those copies of the Wolseleys Goodyear's building under license. Who are these Warfield chappies?"

"They're a pair of adventurers from England who've taken over the British nationalist movement in the Pacific for their own ends. Their ultimate goal remains to be determined, but they seem to be in race with the German nationalists to locate a shipment of vacuum tubes that's bound for a secret laboratory the Japanese nationalists established to recreate a weapon devised by the White Russian nationalists for use against the Red Russians."

Dabney frowned. "How many of these nationalist groups are there?"

"We will hope this accounts for most of the lot," said Everett. "They're challenging enough to keep track of as it is."

"What were the Warfields doing in Darwin?"

"Here's where the picture becomes complicated," said Everett, ignoring the lieutenant's raised eyebrows. "The vacuum tubes were sent to a freight forwarder here, who shipped them out aboard a freighter named the Tranquility along with a sealed set of instructions regarding their ultimate destination. The freighter left port a week ago, but returned yesterday to bring back two residents of Darwin, Emily Wilcox and Clarice Blaine, who encountered the vessel on Timor."

"Emily and Clarice are back?" said Dabney. "Bonzer! I thought they'd left town with their aunt. Where are they now?"

Everett sighed. "It appears they've been kidnapped by the Warfields, who will have left to search for the Tranquility in the Java Sea, unaware that the vessel doubled back to Darwin."

The lieutenant didn't seem thrilled by this news. "Strewth!" he exclaimed. "I'm not looking forward to breaking this news to the lady who's coming up the walk."

The airmen glanced behind them to see Aunt Prodigia striding through the rain toward the shack, Iverson and Sarah in tow. They were drenched. She was steaming. She flung open the door like some challenger throwing down a gauntlet.

"Right!" she thundered. "What have you done with my nieces?"

Everett knew better than to accept the accusation. His long contest with Michaelson had acquainted him with this strategy, and suggested ways to reply. "I gather that they arrived yesterday," he replied calmly. "Not finding you here, they took it upon themselves to investigate a shipment of vacuum tubes we believe was destined for the same people who pirated your salvage. This brought them to the attention of Lord and Lady Warfield of the British Union, who were visiting Darwin in disguise, and carried them off on their airship. We are attempting to determine where they've gone."

The matron's eyes narrowed. At last she nodded, either in acceptance of the olive branch or because she recognized there was more than enough blame to go around. "Very well," she said gruffly. "What have you learned?"

"I'd be happy to tell you what we know so far," said Everett.

Aunt Prodigia listened with interest while the captain repeated the story he'd told Dabney. When he was finished, she grinned. It seemed she appreciated the irony.

"So the Warfields will all be searching the Java Sea for a freighter that isn't there because it turned back to carry my nieces to Darwin after their man Fuller dropped them off in Kupang," she chuckled.

"So we can surmise," said Everett. "We'll wish to take this opportunity to find the Tranquility and determine where its cargo was to be delivered. We'll also wish to intercept the Warfields to rescue your relatives."

One didn't manage a salvage company without some grasp of logistics. "You'd have to be in two places at once," the matron observed dryly.

"Quite," Everett admitted. "This could be a bit of a poser."

"No worries," said Aunt Prodiga. "You take chase down this Baron chappy with your airship and I'll find the Tranquility."

Jenkins cleared his throat. "Will it be possible to do this in a timely fashion?" he asked. "Your salvage tug, for all of its many virtues, cannot be significantly faster than your quarry."

"No, but Stevens at the naval station owes me a favor. He can take me out in the Thunderbird."

The signalman seemed dubious about this prospect. "This would be the gunboat that Mister Fuller torpedoed back in April when our airman Fleming was aboard?" he asked.

"Bob's your uncle," said the matron. "Stevens is looking for a rematch with that wanker!"

Everett repressed a sigh. He'd grown acquainted with the Australian habit of regarding everything as a sporting event. "I can find no fault with this plan," he said, glossing over the fact that he hadn't tried. "The only refinement I might suggest would be adding an experienced w/t operator to facilitate communications. I believe Jenkins is the appropriate choice for this role."

"Are you sure this is our most efficient allocation of resources?" Jenkins asked as he and Everett made their way back to the ship.

The captain smiled. "I should be able to manage by myself for a time, and Miss Perkins can most certainly handle any coding and decoding tasks that might arise. We will wish to send a representative along on Aunt Prodigia's expedition to address matters she can be counted on to overlook. The only other candidate would be Pierre, and as a civilian, he might not carry the necessary authority."

Jenkins nodded. It was clear the signalman wasn't looking forward to this assignment. "This may prove to be a substantial undertaking," he observed.

"We will console ourselves with the knowledge that there are only 13,466 islands in the Dutch East Indies," Everett said cheerfully. "It shouldn't take long to search them all."

Next week: How Hard Can It Be To Find A Baron?...

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