The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Two

Episode 79: Hut One! Hut Two! Hike!

Iverson confronts Wasserman

The prison stood in the middle of a swamp, at the end of a long wooden catwalk. Like most of the native structures, it was constructed from bamboo and raised on stilts to protect it from vermin and mud. The guards shoved Iverson through the door, secured this with a very modern-looking padlock, and left. As soon as they were gone, Iverson tested the walls. A moment's experiment sufficed to demonstrate that a bamboo hut could be much stronger than he would ever have expected. A ceiling of closely-laid planks blocked access to the roof -- there would be no escaping that way. He was studying one of the windows, wondering if there might be some way to enlarge the opening, when he discovered that he was not alone.

"Who are you?" asked a voice from behind him.

Iverson turned to see a pale blonde woman sitting against the far wall, watching him with wary eyes. Her age was difficult to determine, but she couldn't have been much older than he was. She had a faint accent -- definitely not English or German -- and there was a hint of Eastern Europe in her features. It was clear from the condition of her clothing that she was a prisoner too. This was even more tattered than Iverson's uniform, and had he not been preoccupied with thoughts of Sarah, he might have blushed.

"I am Lieutenant John Iverson, Royal Naval Airship Service, His Majesty's Airship R-505, the Flying Cloud," he replied politely. "I don't believe we've been introduced."

The woman brushed down her skirt -- an unintentionally provocative gesture -- and rearranged her legs. "My name is Natasha," she said cautiously. She seemed to be waiting to see how he'd react.

"You were the one who was asking questions in Darwin!" exclaimed Iverson. "You're Karlov's wife!"

At the mention of this name, the woman leapt to her feet. "Do know where he is?" she cried. Before the lieutenant could react, she had seized his hand was gazing at him with imploring eyes. "These Germans won't tell me anything! Please... if you have know what has become of him... tell me!"

Iverson disengaged her grip as gently as he could. "We've been looking for him ourselves," he said, wishing someone like Pierre was here to advise him how to behave. "Is that why you went to Enterprise Creek?"

The woman hesitated, as if thinking this over. "Yes," she replied. "I'd heard rumors that he'd been there in May. But then these Germans captured me and took me away on their airship."

"How long have you been their prisoner?" asked Iverson.

"I've lost count of the days," said the woman. "I've been so worried about Karlov! I'd hoped he might be with you English."

"I'm afraid he isn't," said Iverson. "But it would seem these Germans don't have him either. I wonder why they came back to this island? I should think they would have abandoned the place after we discovered it."

The woman scowled. "I overheard them talking. They don't seem to care if I listen. The Governor invited them back. And they figured you'd never search here again."

"They may be right," admitted Iverson. "How did the villagers react?"

"They didn't have much choice," said the woman. "The Governor's guards and the men from this Utka... this Duck... they have all the weapons."

"I was wondering what became of those fellows after we made off with their ship," mused the lieutenant. "That Wasserman fellow didn't seem to happy about the matter."

Iverson spent the rest of the afternoon inspecting the cell, trying to think of ways to escape. He could hardly expect Helga to come to the rescue this time. As evening approached, he heard a roar of diesels from outside. Was this the Flying Cloud, coming to save them? He rushed to the window, only to see the L-137 dropping her mooring and setting off on some unknown errand to the north. Behind her, gun crews watched the skies. It was clear that the nationalists didn't mean to be surprised again. The lieutenant sighed, shrugged off his jacket, and began rolling it up to serve as a pillow. "I don't see much we can do now," he announced. "We might do well to get some sleep."

Natasha eyed him cautiously, as if trying to judge his intentions, but Iverson didn't notice her scrutiny, for he'd just discovered the broken saw blade, still in the pocket where he'd left it.

"What is this?" he said in amazement, pulling the thing free. Did the nationalists feel so self-assured that they hadn't even bothered to check his clothing? Perhaps this was typical of people who believed in a Cause.

"What is it?" said Natasha.

"It's a tool we might be able to use to cut our way free." He studied their prison thoughtfully. "But we'll have to be careful. I imagine the guards would notice a hole in the wall. Perhaps the floor..."

"But the ground," objected Natasha. "It is soft mud. If it's too soft, we would sink."

"We'll worry about that later," said Iverson. "Keep watch and make sure the guards don't hear."

The rasp of the blade was masked by the sounds of the night, but even so, it was slow going. The bamboo was tough, and saw's teeth were dull, and Iverson found the irregular fragment of metal quite difficult to grip. By morning, his fingers were stiff and sore, but he'd managed to cut a substantial hole in the floor to the right of the door. They couldn't escape by daylight, so they pushed a sleeping mat over the opening and hoped this would be enough to conceal it.

They had just resumed their places when the lock rattled and Wasserman entered the cell. He produced a long-barreled automatic pistol of unfamiliar design -- definitely not a Parabellum -- stepped to his left, and gestured toward the door.

"You will come with me," he announced. "Now."

"Who are you to give orders?" asked Natasha disdainfully. "You are not in charge here."

"Circumstances are about to change," sneered Wasserman. "I have better allies than these foolish nationalists. As you shall see."

An explosion rocked the hut, sending them sprawling. Iverson scrambled to his feet, but Wasserman was faster, and had his weapon up before the lieutenant could charge.

"I think not," tsked the Dutchman. "Now raise your hands like a good little boy and..."

They never found out what else Wasserman was about to say, for at that moment, the Dutchman set one foot squarely on the sleeping mat that hid the hole in the floor. His brief cry of astonishment was followed by a satisfying splash.

"It appears you were right about the mud," Iverson observed to Natasha.

"This is our chance to escape!" she yelled. "We should run!"

They dashed out of the hut to find the settlement in chaos. Smoke billowed from the ruins of the barracks. Out on the field, Germans were rushing to their guns, only to be struck down by Wasserman's sailors and the Governor's guards. Overhead, an enormous airship blotted the sky: a massive streamlined shape with a row of four engines on either side. As they watched, lines dropped from her holds and a squad of marines began rappelling to the ground.

"That's the cruiser!" exclaimed Iverson. "The one that attacked us in the Coral Sea! Wasserman and the Governor must have allied with them and turned against the nationalists!"

"Who are they?" asked Natasha.

"No one knows! But I very much doubt they're on our side!"

"What should we do?"

"I know a way to escape. This way!"

Beckoning the woman to follow, Iverson led the way east into the jungle, following the trail Pierre had showed them a month ago. For several nerve-wracking moments, he feared he'd forgotten the way, but then they reached the smugglers' cove. To his surprise, they found a small skiff drawn up on the beach. But there was no time to wonder how it had got there. As soon as Wasserman was free of the swamp, he would organize a pursuit. Working quickly, they pushed off, climbed aboard, and hoisted the sail. Soon they were headed out to sea.

Next week: Noumea...

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