Adventurer Raymond Swift stars in......

Trail of the HMS Fortuna

A Far-Flung Epic in 8 Chapters!

by Andrea Tran
About the author

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Previously: A mutiny aboard the airship, HMS Fortuna, threatens both professor Kramer and his mysterious device -- but the professor feels he has one last ace up his sleeve before it's too late! Meanwhile...

Episode 2: The Vanished Secret


  "WHAT DO YOU KNOW of Operation Meridian?’ The uniformed man was staring at him through gold-rimmed spectacles. His severe gaze would have intimidated any lesser man, but not Raymond Swift. Someone who had travelled the four corners of the world, explored uncharted jungles, and stared death in its ugly face many a time, was not easily intimidated -- ‘Maybe that’s precisely why they came looking for me, interrupting my holiday’, he thought.

Ray was an athletic looking man in his late thirties, with a strong jaw and shortly cropped dark hair, except for a rebel strand over his forehead. His eyes were the most peculiar feature of his handsome face. They were of different colors -- one blue, the other brown -- giving him a distinctive, intelligent look, well matched to his exceptional intellect. This uncommon trait gave him a very sharp eyesight, even at night.

He answered the officer’s question. ‘Meridian? Never heard of it. Some sort of Geographical survey?’ he guessed. They were in a small office on an underground floor of the Ministry of Defense, in the heart of London. To get there he had been escorted through five security checkpoints. His fingerprints had been checked at each one.

The English officer, middle-aged Colonel Halley, started pacing slowly behind his desk. ‘In fact, you are not supposed to have heard of it, Mr. Swift. It was a top priority secret military mission scheduled for last week, designed to transport classified equipment away from Britain. It failed catastrophically. Ended up with the loss of the equipment and...’ He stopped to look at him '...the disappearance of the carrier airship and her entire crew.’

Ray frowned. ‘You mean the airship crashed?’

The officer shook his head slowly. ‘I mean it disappeared. We don’t know where she’s gone. Vanished.’ He paused, then opened a folder from his desk. He showed him the picture of an airship. ‘The HMS Fortuna. One of the finest in our fleet, specially modified for Operation Meridian. Last known position was...’ he unfolded a map of West Africa, pointed at a circled spot, ’...here. In French territory, Southern Sahara Desert.’

‘Not a lot of places to hide an airship there’, Ray commented.

‘We have learned there was a mutiny on board. A security leak is certain. Our Intelligence people are checking its possible source. The French have been...difficult, but eventually authorized us to set up a base for research in French Sudan. Accurate aerial surveys of an area extending four hundred miles around last contact are being performed. Not a single trace has been found.’ Halley paused, looked at Ray. ‘Mr. Swift, You are a man of many virtues. Your scientific achievements in the United States, as well as your successful explorations around the globe, did not go unnoticed here in Europe. I understand you have gained a reputation for...how can I put it? For your talent in explaining the unexplainable.’ He got to the point. ‘Mr. Swift, we need your help finding the airship Fortuna and her crew.’

Ray nodded slowly, then stayed silent for a minute. He knew they had already revealed too much to allow him to refuse. ‘How do you know about the mutiny?’ he eventually asked.

‘The Fortuna radio operator launched an SOS before communication was interrupted,’ said Halley. ‘Here’s a transcript.’

Ray took the page the Colonel was handing him.

‘MAYDAY - MAYDAY - OPERATION MERIDIAN - MUTINY ON BOARD - MANY CASUALTIES - 18° 54’ 14” LAT. - 3° 33’ 21” LONG. - SHIP LOST - MAYD....’

Raymond Swift frowned. ‘What was the nature of the airship cargo, Colonel? You referred to classified equipment,’ he asked after a moment.

The other leaned back on his chair, took a deep breath. ‘Mr. Swift, does the name Professor Wilfred Kramer sound familiar?’

Ray recognised the name. Once learned, very little information was ever lost in his extraordinary brain. ‘A well known British scientist. Physics, I believe.‘

Halley confirmed that, then carried on. ‘He was also aboard the airship, supervising the transport of a...Device of his creation.’

A hint of impatience flashed in Ray’s singular eyes. ‘Colonel, you will understand that I will need as much detail as possible, if you want me to help you. What do we know of this Device?'

The officer paused at the question. He looked down, almost embarrassed. ‘This is where it gets weird.’

‘Well, it’s pretty weird already,’ Ray commented.

Halley made eye contact, serious. ‘Trust me, Mr. Swift. It gets weirder.’

~~~

Colonel Halley was preceding Ray in a long corridor. It was lined with rows of filing cabinets. They stopped in front of a door guarded by four armed men. The guards saluted the Colonel, checked Ray’s pass and eventually let them through the door.

They entered a spacious archive room. The Colonel walked behind a rack of ceiling-high shelves full of binders and files. Then Ray saw it.

In a corner of the room stood a tall metal cabinet. It had three large drawers. From the top one, the lifeless body of a man hung grotesquely, his head trapped inside the drawer! It was a disturbing sight. It looked like someone had pushed the drawer until the poor guy’s head had crushed.

‘We found him two hours ago,’ said Halley. ‘He was one of the two laboratory assistants of Professor Kramer.’ He pointed at the corpse. ‘No signs of struggle. Our specialists are certain that he...’ Halley paused for a moment, ’...he crushed his own head pushing the drawer with all his strength.’

‘God almighty...’ Ray whispered.

A uniformed man brought a sheet and did his best to cover the corpse.

‘The other assistant was found yesterday,’ Halley continued. ‘He choked himself to death with a steel wire around his neck. He slowly pulled the wire with his hands, comfortably sitting in his armchair.’ He looked at Ray. ‘Told you it would get weirder.’

‘No kidding...’ Ray was trying to piece it all together. ‘Who else other than the two assistants was familiar with the details of Professor Kramer’s creation?’ he asked.

Halley smiled. ‘You are already ahead of me, Mr. Swift. No one else knew on the Fortuna. On the ground, Professor Kramer has lived like a recluse in his laboratory for the past twelve years. The assistants surely knew what he was building, as did the Head of Intelligence, the man who financed Kramer’s research and who recently ordered Operation Meridian.’

‘Where is he?’, Swift interrupted.

Halley frowned, lowered his voice. ‘Three days ago, he didn’t turn up at his office. After a full scale search, he was found crawling by the riverbank, filling his pockets with stones. His mind was gone. He kept repeating he needed to bathe in the river. He is currently being checked in a military Hospital. He also destroyed several classified documents referring to Professor Kramer’s research.’

Colonel Halley looked at Ray. ‘To answer the question you asked me back in my office: we don’t know precisely what equipment the Fortuna was carrying, Mr. Swift. Not anymore.’


On to Episode 3 : The Daughter and the Dastard

Back to Episode 1 : Mutiny Among the Clouds


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On the Trail of the HMS Fortuna is copyright by Andrea Tran. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)