Episode 70: Remembrance Days
The sun was sinking in the west. Below them, the Timor Sea glimmered in the
fading light. But the mess hall of the Flying Cloud was a bright
spark of civilization. Captain Everett waited until tea had been served,
then called the meeting of his section chiefs to order.
"Our current line of inquiry appears to have reached a dead end,"
he observed. "We've found no sign of this
`Karlov', and the German nationalists seem to have captured or killed all of
the Russian scientists and plundered their laboratories. They also seem to
have made off with this `Natasha', who may or may not have been Karlov's
wife. But they did leave us some clues. Jenkins, what do you have for us?"
The signalman set two empty cartridge cases on the table. "Pierre found
this in the entrance to the laboratory," he said, pointing to one. "It's
for the .357 caliber Parabellum pistol used by the German Army. It must
have been left by the nationalists. And this..." He pointed to the other
shell, which seemed unusually long and slender. ".. was found by Iverson on
the floor of the laboratory itself. It's for the .32 caliber Nagant
revolver used by the Russian Imperial Army during the War -- the shape is
quite distinctive. This seems to have been the weapon used by the
defenders. Finally, we have this." The ensign reached into his satchel and
produced an intact round. "It came from the pistol I took from one of the
ruffians at the train station. It is also Russian, of .32 caliber, but the
weapon was an automatic of a type I've never seen before.
"The Nagant is suggestive. It's the sort of weapon one would expect to find
in the hands of White Russian exiles. The automatic pistol must be some new
design from the Revolutionary Military Council that isn't yet known to the
West. This would seem to imply that the ruffians had some connection with
the Soviet government."
"And you say that one of them had an English accent, just like the hijacker
who escaped," mused Everett. "Things seem to be falling in place."
"You think the laboratories belonged to Czarist exiles while the fellows who
tried to hijack our ship were Communist agents?" asked MacKiernan.
"We will use this as a working hypothesis," said Everett. "But I'm not sure
where police chief Channel fits in. We know he has connections with the
Russians, and the hijackers did disappear after they were in his custody,
but this could mean anything."
"Shall we head back to Darwin to confront the fellow?"
"That might be premature. And we still have another lead to investigate
here. Jenkins, have you had a chance to examine that scrap of newsprint we
found in the caverns?"
"It's from an Indonesian periodical," the signalman replied, "called the
Pikiran Rakyat, which translates to something like 'Thoughts of
the People'. I believe this was established fairly recently, but I'm
not sure where it's published."
"In Badung," said Everett, surprising them with an answer, "just south of
Jenkins glanced at his captain. "Countess Zelle?"
"She will most certainly have her finger on the pulse of events in the
Dutch East Indies," said Everett. "And I imagine she still has contacts in
the larger world. Mister MacKiernan, plot us a course for Java at our most
economical cruising speed."
"You served with the Captain in the Dardanelles?" Iverson asked Davies
sometime later. The two men had remained with Sarah to review the ship's
ballast and inventory records. After so many landing and recovery
operations, these had become somewhat confused.
"Aye", said Davis. "We met on the HMS Irresistible back in 1915.
I was a loader for one of the 6" guns -- they always give some of a ship's
secondary armament to the red marines. He was a young lieutenant assigned
to our turret as captain."
"What does a turret captain do?" asked Sarah.
"As little as possible," laughed the marine. "They give a young gentleman a
gunnery position to see if he's fit for command. If the fellow's smart,
he leaves everything to his petty officer in charge. But the Captain
insisted on learning how to man all of the stations. I remember him working
beside me as a rammer when we shelled the Turkish forts at Kilid Bahr."
He shook his head in amazement.
"What was that like?" asked the girl, fascinated. Her people had no
experience with modern war.
"It was all fun and games at first. We'd fire at the Turks, the Turks would
fire back, we couldn't hurt their revetments, they couldn't penetrate our
armor, so there was no harm done on either side. Then, on March 18,
Churchill ordered us to run the Narrows and force the defenses." He shook
his head again, but now his expression was somber. "This didn't work out
quite as well as the First Lord planned. The Irresistable struck a
mine: part of a new field the Turks had laid the night before. We spent
hours trying to save her. The Ocean came to take us in tow, but
then she struck a mine as well. We managed to get most of the crew off
both ships. The next time we weren't so lucky."
"Next time?" asked Sarah.
The marine was silent for a moment. In the background, they could hear the
omnipresent drone of the engines. At last he sighed. "We were young then,
sure that courage and pluck were enough. We volunteered for the Naval
Brigade... just in time for the landings at Anzac Cove."
Sarah looked puzzled. This name meant nothing to her. But Iverson turned
Davis laughed when he saw the youth's expression. "It wasn't quite that
bad, lad. Most of us survived. But it was a near thing. You've seen that
scar the Captain has on his wrist?"
"Yes," said Iverson. It was an ugly thing, mostly hidden by the sleeve;
clearly not the result of an ordinary injury.
"I have the other half here." Davies traced a line across the front of his
chest. "A shell from one of the Turk's 4" Skodas at Krithia. It killed
the two men next to us, sliced me open, and near ripped off the Captain's
arm. I should have died there, but the Captain tore up his jersey for a
bandage, slung me over his shoulder, and dragged me back to our own lines --
this with one arm, mind you, under heavy shell-fire.
"I was a long time in the hospital. And my ribs still give me trouble when
a storm's coming. By the time I was out, the Captain had been given command
of a destroyer in the North Sea. I believe he was at Jutland. If events
had followed their normal course, he would have moved on to become Executive
Officer aboard some cruiser, then been given a capital ship of his own as he
made his way up to flag rank. But for some reason he transferred to the
Airship Service. I don't know why -- you'd have to ask Jenkins. We met
again aboard the R-35, shortly after the War. Then I was posted to the
Pacific as a gunner on the R-212. I was still aboard when he took over as
"She was a good ship," he added wistfully, "but this one is better."
Next week: The Dancer...
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