Round the storm I flew into calm air under a weak hazy sun. I took out the sextant and got two shots. It took me thirty minutes to work them out, for the engine kept backfiring, and my attention wandered every time it did so. The sight in the end was not much use; the sun was too far west, but I got some self-respect from doing the job.
Suddenly, ahead and thirty degrees to the left, there were bright flashes in several places, like the dazzle of a heliograph. I saw a dull grey-white airship coming towards me. It seemed impossible but I could have sworn that it was an airship, nosing towards me like an oblong pearl. Except for a cloud or two, there was nothing else in the sky. I looked around, sometimes catching a flash or a glint, and turning again to look at the airship I found that it had disappeared.
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I screwed up my eyes, unable to believe them, and twisted the seaplane this way and that, thinking that the airship must be hidden by a blind spot. Dazzling flashes continued in four or five different places, but I still could not pick out any planes. Then, out of some clouds to my right front, I saw another, or the same, airship advancing. I watched it intently, determined not to look away for a fraction of a second: I’d see what happened to this one if I had to chase it. It drew steadily closer, until perhaps a mile away, when suddenly it vanished. Then it reappeared, close to where it had vanished: I watched with angry intentness. It drew closer, and I could see the dull gleam of light on its nose and back. It came on, but instead of increasing in size, it diminished as it approached. When quite near, it suddenly became its own ghost – one second I could see through it, and the next it had vanished. I decided that it could only be a diminutive cloud, perfectly shaped like an airship and then dissolving, but it was uncanny that it should exactly resume the same shape after it had once vanished. I turned towards the flashes, but those too, had vanished. All this was many years before anyone spoke of flying saucers. Whatever it was I saw, it seems to have been very much like what people have since claimed to be flying saucers.
I felt intensely lonely, and the feeling of solitude intensified at every fresh sight of ‘land’, which turned out to be yet one more illusion or delusion by cloud. After six hours and five minutes in the air I saw land again, and it was still there ten minutes later. I still did not quite believe it, but three minutes later I was almost on top of a river winding towards me through dark country. A single hill rose from low land ahead, and a high, black, unfriendly-looking mountain range formed the background. A heavy bank of clouds on top hid the sun, which was about to set.
Well, this was Australia. Away to the south lay a great bay, and at the far side I spotted five ships anchored. They were warships. I flew south, and crossed the bay. Flying low between the two lines of ships I read HMAS Australia, HMAS Canberra. On the other side there appeared to be an aircraft-carrier. My heart warmed at the thought of getting sanctuary there, but all the ships had a cold, lifeless air about them. I supposed that I must fly on to Sydney. I flew over an artificial breakwater near a suburb of red-bricked, red-tiled, bungalows and houses like a small suburb in a dull-brown desert, with only a few sparse trees of drab green. There was not a sign of life, and not a wisp of smoke from the chimneys. Had the world died in my absence? If there was anyone left alive, there would surely be a watchman on one of the warships. I turned and alighted beside the Australia, its huge bulk towering above me. The seaplane drifted past and away from it, bobbing about on the cockling water. There was dead silence except for the soft chop chop chop against the float. I felt a fool to drop into this nest of disdainful battleships. I stood on the cockpit edge, and began morsing to the Canberra with my handkerchief. An Aldis lamp at once flashed back at me from the interior of the bridge. A motor-launch shot round the bows of the warship. I cancelled my signal, and stood waiting.
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