The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 532: We Get The Message

A course change

Everett descended the accommodation ladder and glanced around the control car. At 2200 hours, midway through First Watch, it seemed an island of tranquility. Muted light gleamed from the instruments and hushed voices blended with the drone of the engines, for little effort was required to keep the Flying Cloud on course in the still nighttime air.

The ballast officer noted his arrival. "Captain on the bridge!"

"As you were, gentlemen," Everett told his men. "Lieutenant Murdock, what is our situation?"

"Heading is 310 degrees and 60 knots at 3000'," the youth replied. "According to my reckoning, we should be 100 miles southwest of New Guinea, passing south of Trangan Island."

Everett nodded to himself. He'd hardly needed to ask their position -- airship captains were genetically coded to know these things -- but these questions were part of the education of a junior lieutenant. "Very good, Mister Murdock," he replied. "We'll maintain this heading until 2300 hours, then bear another 30 degrees to the north."

"May I ask our intentions, sir?"

"Indeed you may," said Everett. This too was part of the education of a junior lieutenant. "We're hoping the L-103 might lead us to our German nationalist friends. We have agents aboard the vessel, but we have no idea where she might be at the moment, so we'll wish to find a place to resupply while we wait to hear from them. I've chosen Ternate for this purpose. It's centrally located, and its proximity to Gilolo may serve to mislead any watchers regarding our intentions."

The lieutenant nodded, as if filing away this stratagem for future use. Everett dismissed him and turned to see Jenkins emerging from radio shack.

"Sir," said the signalman. "I've just received up a message in clear text. It was unsigned, and there was nothing to designate a recipient, but there seems little doubt regarding who sent it or who it was intended for."

Everett examined the message slip and raised an eyebrow.

CAPTAINS HONEY TAYTAY PALWAN TOMORROW

"This appears to be an indirect reference to Miss Wilcox, presuming upon relationship that doesn't exist," Everett said in annoyance. "I imagine this is Miss Blaine' work. However did those two gain access to a wireless set?"

"Given their approach to life, the two young ladies might have simply walked into the control car and appropriated the equipment, hoping no one would notice," Jenkins observed.

"Yes, I suppose they would," mused Everett. "And lacking a codebook, they sent a message that would be meaningless to anyone except us. I suppose we must appreciate their resourcefulness. But their information presents us with a challenge because Palawan is 1600 miles away."

"Do we have a chance of intercepting the L-103?"

"Perhaps," said Everett. "They're at least a day ahead of us, but we can anticipate a delay while they make their rendezvous and transfer the weapons. We'll continue with our present course and resupply at Ternate so we have reserves to deal with any eventuality."


The next morning found Captain Everett at his desk, finishing an entry in the log.

25-February, Lat 0 46 ′N, Long 127°00′ E. Continuing pursuit of the German nationalist arms shipment aboard the L-103. Reports from our agents have the ship arriving at Palawan today. This should give us the opportunity to overtake the Germans while they're moving cargo.

He waited for the ink to dry, then closed the volume. Had he made the right decision, he wondered? There didn't seem much choice. Even if considerations of chivalry hadn't demanded they attempt to rescue the two young women, they could hardly continue without resupply. It seemed their hand was forced, and they had no idea what cards fate might be holding.

They reached Ternate's air station a shirt time later. This could only be described as `primitive', and considerable effort was required to walk the ship to the mast, wrestle pipes and hoses into position, and bring consumables aboard. Fortunately, Everett's crew had considerable experience working under conditions of this sort, and by evening, they'd managed to off her bunkers and ballast tanks and inflate her gas cells to a miraculous-under-the-circumstances 78%. With time of the essence, he decided this was sufficient to lift ship for Palawan.

The dog watch passed uneventfully. First Watch began likewise, but as four bells rang, Jenkins approached Everett with another message.

"I just received this from our friends," he reported. "It would seem that their circumstances have changed."

WE WON SURPRISE DREAM CRUISE TO MISSES ATOL

Everett frowned. "I take it you interpreted this the same way I have."

"This `dream cruise' would be a reference to our friends in the mysterious cruiser," Jenkins observed. "I gather the the Japanese nationalists have taken the L-103, put a prize crew aboard, and are taking the vessel to their base on Sarah's island. Do you think we can intercept them?"

Everett ordered a turn to the southeast, waited until the evolution was complete, then gazed into the night. "They'll have a very large ocean to hide in," he observed. "There is also the question of the cruiser. If they're escorting their prize, we'd face action against a more powerful vessel, where our only advantage would be in supply.

"We will wish to retain this advantage. We'll take on consumables at Port Moresby, then proceed to Sarah's Island, take station outside the range of its detection equipment, and decide on a detailed course of action."

Jenkins and Iverson nodded. Both recognized this euphemism for `play it by ear', but neither had a better suggestion


The air station at Port Moresby had the latest mechanical handling equipment to facilitate operations. It also almost certainly had nationalist agents who'd report their arrival, but Everett judged the risk acceptable, for the station's role as a transportation hub would make it difficult for their adversaries to guess their destination.

Once again, Everett lifted ship at sunset, heading for Cairns they were out of sight of land to confuse any watchers. By now, he'd noticed a trend to events, and he took care to visit the control car during First Watch. He arrived to discover Jenkins locking away the code books.

"I take it we've received another message," he observed dryly.

"I'm afraid so, sir," the signalman told him. "MacKiernan sent this using the secure cipher."

Everett studied the text with a mixture of concern and exasperation.

XAMINED PHOTOS FM CELEBES STOP THESE PLAN OF JAPANESE SECRET LAB BURMA STOP SUGGESTS GERMANS MEAN TO ATTACK J SECRET LAB CHINA

"Interesting," he said after a moment. As gentlemen, officers in the Royal Navy Airship Service were expected to refrain from stronger language, no matter what the circumstances.

"It appears that we rushed to conclusions regarding the Fat Man's intentions," said Jenkins. "He never intended to attack Sarah's island at all."

Everett sighed. "In our defense, we had no reason to believe he was even aware of the second Japanese laboratory. I wonder how he managed to discover its whereabouts. This presents us with a bit of a poser. We'll have to send one ship after the Germans while the other pursues the Japanese."

"MacKiernan's R-87 is hardly a match for the Draken," Jenkins ventured.

"It's even less of a match for the mysterious cruiser," Everett observed. "And Miss Sarah is aboard our vessel, leaving us in a better position to land a party on the island should this become necessary. We seem to have little choice. Instruct MacKiernan to follow the Germans while we press on to New Caledonia."

Next week: A Clash of Cultures...

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