The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Two

Episode 78: Meanwhile, Back at the Secret German Base

The base on Sarah's Island

Outside his cell, Iverson could hear thuds and bumps as the Inselmädchen was made fast to a pier. The noises stopped and the sound of the engines died. Moments later, the door was thrown open and someone tossed in a bundle of clothes.

"We are here," came a gruff voice. "You will wear this."

Wondering where ‘here’ was, Iverson unrolled the bundle to discover his uniform. This was in poor shape, for it had suffered during his plunge down the cliff and it didn’t seem any attempt had been made to wash or mend it. Still, it was preferable to the hospital gown. After he was dressed, his captors ordered him out on deck. The lieutenant blinked in the unaccustomed sunlight, then blinked again in surprise. This was Sarah’s Island!

The Inselmädchen had tied up to the same wharf where the Duck had been moored a month ago. Behind him, the crew were using one of the ship's cranes to swing cargo ashore. Ahead, a line of convicts was carrying loads up to the village. This looked much as it had before -- a cluster of native huts and a row of prison dormitories surrounded by fields hacked out of the jungle. The ostentatious bulk of the Governor’s mansion rose beyond it, dwarfed by the encircling hills. To the west, the L-137 rode at the mooring mast, casting a long dark shadow across the land.

This was Iverson’s first good opportunity to study the captured German packet. She was an older design than the Flying Cloud, narrower and more angular, with an externally mounted control car. Even from this distance, he could detect some of the measures her builders had taken to save weight. The vessel’s engine cars looked much smaller than the nacelles that housed the R-505’s massive 12-cylinder supercharged diesels, and her frames were spaced farther apart. A ship like this would need careful handling, but with an experienced crew, she could carry enormous loads... or climb to altitudes that would give her an insurmountable advantage in any tactical encounter.

The illicit air station had undergone significant changes since his previous visit. The rustic wooden mooring mast was gone: replaced by a modern steel tower imported from some unknown factory. A small hydrogen plant now stood among the trees, a safe distance away from the field. Closer at hand, a substantial wooden barracks suggested that the Germans were here to stay. The nationalists had raised earthworks around the perimieter to accommodate a battery of field guns. These appeared to be 77’s -- the feared ‘whiz-bangs’ of the Great War. They would provide a formidable defense against an airship, or any surface vessel small enough to negotiate the entrance to the harbor.

"Enough looking," said one of his captors, prodding him with a rifle for emphasis. "Move!"

The sailors marched him up the trail to the Residence, past curious villagers and incurious convicts. There they handed him over to two humorless gendarmes armed with the venerable Model 1873 service revolver. Could I take them? wondered Iverson. He studied their expressions, their posture, the way their hands hovered over their weapons waiting for him to try, and decide that the answer was no.

A short time later, he was standing in a lavishly-furnished chamber somewhere inside the mansion. It was obvious that the Governor did very well for himself. Crystal chandeliers cast a rich yellow light on fine native craftsmanship and an elegant Louis XVI salon set that must have been imported at considerable expense from Europe. Three men sat at the far end of the room, examining him as if deciding his fate. One was a corpulent figure with a stern military bearing and cold hard eyes. Iverson recognized the Fat Man -- a leader of the nationalists. Another was Wasserman, the unscrupulous Dutch merchant captain who seemed to do their bidding. The third was a immaculately-dressed civilian who made the Dutchman look like a miracle of rectitude. Iverson guessed this must be the Governor.

"So," said the Fat Man, "it is our young lieutenant. He seems to have a talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You were trying to protect the Italian?"

"Yes," admitted Iverson. There seemed no point in denying it, and a concession now might gain him some breathing room later.

"A useless gesture," said the German, "for it seems that your Navy had already warned the lodge of our approach. You English never did know how to manage an operation. It’s a wonder your nation survived the War."

It must have been Sarah who sent the warning! exaulted Iverson. That means she’s alive! He held his tongue, afraid that his voice might give him away.

"If you knew about the singer," continued the Fat Man, "you must know about Yakov and what he possessed. We will let you live... if you tell us where to find the Trapezohedron."

The what? thought Iverson. "I don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about," he replied, unable to imagine what the German could possibly want with a dual polyhedron of an n-gonal antiprism.

"He’s lying," snarled Wasserman. "Let my men beat the truth out of him." It was obvious that the Dutchman had been nursing a grudge against the people who'd taken his vessel and would welcome a chance for revenge.

The Fat Man considered his minion's proposal. "This is possible," he observed, turning to the Governor. "What is your opinion?"

The Frenchman had been watching the proceedings with an expression of world-weary boredom. Now he leaned forward to study Iverson. For a moment, his eyes seemed to probe deep into the lieutenant's soul. Iverson felt his skin crawl. He did his best not to shudder. Satisfied, the Governor leaned back.

"I theenk not," he observed lightly. "This man lacks guile."

"Then it must be on their airship," mused the Fat Man. "Perhaps the signalman has it. He’s the clever one. I wonder: shall we kill this man?"

Iverson felt his life hanging in the balance. As he waited to learn his fate, he noticed Wasserman and the Governor exchange glances. What was that about? he wondered.

The Frenchman shrugged. "He might be of some value as a hostage."

"Very well," said the Fat Man. "Do as you will with him." He gave the lieutenant a disdainful glance, rose, and left the room. Wasserman followed with an enigmatic expression on his face.

The Governor waited until the two were gone, then gave an order to his henchmen. "Nous avons fini avec cet homme, pour le moment. Mettez-le dans la prison avec la femme."

Iverson knew very little French, but it didn’t take much understanding of the language to recognize the word for ‘prison’.

Next week: Hut One! Hut Two! Hike!...

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