Episode 516: Daring Damsels of Darwin
It was raining as they lifted ship from Cairns -- a relentless drizzle that
obscured the sky, drummed against the hull envelope, and churned the field
to mud -- but airships laugh at weather like this, and soon they were above
the clouds. Night found them crossing the Gulf of Carpenteria. The moon
had yet to rise, but the Milky Way glimmered above them in a firmament
crowded with stars. The south, the Magellanic Clouds were cryptic whorls
of light. On a night like this, it was possible to imagine they cruised
though interstellar space rather than the skies of Earth.
Everett smiled at this conceit, then glanced at the chart table, where
Iverson was working on his reckoning. "What have you got for us,
Iverson tapped a point on the chart. "I'd put us here, just north of
Wellesley Island. May I ask what out plans are, sir?"
"Some details remain to be determined," Everett admitted. "Michaelson's
given us a bit of a poser. We're to track down our German nationalist
friends aboard a distinctive vessel they can hardly fail to recognize."
"I take it you have some thoughts on the matter?"
"Perhaps, but first we'll wish to replenish our consumables. This will
require a visit to Darwin."
Iverson's eyes widened in alarm. "Sir"
"I know," sighed Everett. "We will hope they are occupied elsewhere."
Darwin lay under the same cloak of rain as Cairns. This posed no problem to
an airship, which could descend at leisure, feeling its way through the
overcast until ground came in sight. The field was every bit as sodden as
the one they'd left, but the handling parties didn't seem to mind.
Australians all, they treated the mooring operation like a sporting event
-- a variant of rugby, perhaps, with a somewhat larger and more buoyant ball.
After a certain amount of shouting, the Flying Cloud was riding from the
mast while Everett took the lift down to the surface. Dabney was waiting
at the foot of the mast. In his uniform, the reserve lieutenant might have
been a referee for the contest his men had just completed.
"G'day, Captain," he said cheerfully. "What brings you back to Darwin?"
Everett glanced up at the airship, then thought better of it. Service in
this part of the world might encourage an element of flippancy, but one had
to draw the line somewhere. "We're en route to Port Hedland to follow up
on our investigations of last year," he replied. "To this end, we require
"No worries, mate," the commander assured him. "We just ran off a fresh
batch of hydrogen. We can top off your bunkers as well. I reckon your
destination's a secret?"
"I would appreciate it if you could treat it as one... and ensure that
Mister Channel discovers it."
Dabney grinned. It was clear that he had no great love for the police
chief, and understood the principle of disinformation. "Dinki di!"
The Australians worked through the night to finish resupply. This might
not have been part of their cultural tradition, but beer most certainly
was, and a supply of the latter sufficed to encourage the former. Their
activity seemed likely to draw George Channel's attention, but this too
was part of Everett's calculations. If the police chief passed word to
the Germans, Japanese, British Union, or whoever he was working for at the
moment that the Flying Cloud was bound for Western Australia, so
much the better.
By morning, the ship was ready to depart. Only one
"Where are they?" wondered Iverson.
Everett gazed toward the village, which was faintly visible through the
rain. "That is indeed a mystery," he observed. "I expected them to have
made an appearance by now."
"As did I," Jenkins remarked. "Perhaps they were preoccupied by some
"I suppose we should be grateful," said Everett. "Order the crew to flight
stations before this situation can change."
They dropped the mooring without incident, and soon the ship had was
climbing above the overcast on her way north. The envelope dried as it
warmed in the morning sun, requiring Sarah to pay careful attention to
trim. Everett noticed the island girl puzzling over her figures.
"I take it you've discovered some anomaly," he remarked.
Sarah frowned. "I've gone over the numbers several times and we seem to
be two hundred pounds heavy. I don't know what to make of it."
Jenkins raised an eyebrow. "Sir, you don't think..."
Everett sighed in resignation and reached for the intercom. "Is there
any doubt?" he replied. "Miss Blaine, Miss Wilcox, we know that's you.
Please report to the mess hall immediately. Jenkins, Miss Sarah, if
you'd accompany me."
To say that the atmosphere in the mess hall was strained would been to
understate its complexity. Sarah was as cheerful as ever -- this may have
been the island girl's natural state. Emily and Clarice were trying,
without any particular success to maintain an impression of innocence.
Jenkins seemed annoyed -- whether this was because of the presence of
stowaways or his failure to anticipate their stowing away remained to be
determined. At the head of the table, Everett was maintaining the
sphinx-like inscrutability that is a prerogative of command.
"Ladies," he told guests, "to what do we owe the honor of your
Clarice and Emily glanced at each other uncertainly. What had seemed like a
good idea at the time seemed less so now. "G'day, captain," Emily replied
uncertainly. "We saw you arrive, and thought it would be great sport learn
where you were going."
"So I see. May I ask how you made your way onto my ship?"
"We strolled past the sentries, climbed aboard, and found a place to hide,"
said Clarice. "No one paid any attention. Everyone knows us. And we had
plenty of practice with that `place to hide' bit last year on the
"Yes, I suppose you did" Everett mused. "What shall we do with you now?"
"I imagine we'll wish to take them back to Darwin," said Jenkins.
"This would put paid to our pretense of being on an urgent flight to
Hedland," Everett observed. "It would also use up some of the consumables
we went to such trouble to obtain. Miss Sarah, what was your tribe's
policy for dealing with stowaways?"
The island girl thought over. "I suppose this depended on the state of our
supplies," she replied.
Everett glanced at her as if wondering if she was serious, then shook his
head. "This is no longer accepted practice in the Royal Navy. It is well
known that we have this problem relatively under control and that it is the
commercial air services that now suffer the largest casualties in this area.
It appears shall have to find a third alternative. Miss Wilcox, Miss
Blaine, you are welcome to resume your positions as civilian specialists
under RNR 247-632 subject to naval regulations and conditions subject the
provisions of RNR 247-401 Clauses C and D with final pay grade and bonuses
to be determined according to Clause G, but please try to stay put of
Next week: Kupang Up Appearances...
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