The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Two

Episode 90: Swimwear

Taking a star sight

"Ujelang?" asked Sarah.

Antonio Notariello leaned back and adjusted his sleeves. The furniture in the Flying Cloud's mess hall (RNR Aeronautical Issue FD147-A) was not noteworthy for its comfort, but somehow the tenor managed to make his chair seem luxurious. While the others waited, he produced a small mirror, inspected his coiffure, and smoothed his mustache. Only after he'd arranged matters to his satisfaction did he deign to reply.

"I gather it's an atoll somewhere in the Marshalls," he said with a careless wave of his hand. "They spoke of it often, as a hidden stronghold, like Alcina's island in Orlando Furioso. They boasted about the ruse they used to build the place. It seems they landed their equipment while posing as photographers for a fashion company."

MacKiernan raised his eyebrows. "A fashion company?"

"That must be Matzner," said Emily. "They named one of their new lines of swimsuits after Ujelang. Aunt Leviatha thinks they're shocking. So does Aunt Behema. I have dozens."

Captain Everett glanced at the brunette. She returned his gaze with an innocent smile. He sighed inwardly and turned his attention back to the Italian. "Did they mention anything called the `Device'?"

"The Apparechio? Si. They seemed quite proud of this thing, whatever it might be. They'd marked its location on their map with big red letters."

"A map?" exclaimed several people in unison.

Everett help up his hand for silence. "Can you draw us a copy?"

The Italian gave a shrug of disdain. "I am a maestro, not a mapmaker. And why should an Italian care for maps? We are the greatest navigators in the world! Did Christopher Columbus need a map? Did Amerigo Vespucci? Did Antonio Pigafetta -- the first man to circle the globe? Pfagh! Bring me to this island and I shall lead you to this 'Device'."

Everett kept his expression neutral. Officers in the Royal Naval Airship Service were taught to maintain their temper under any and all circumstances. Even ones such as these. While he was thinking, MacKiernan drew him aside.

"He's quite an exasperating fellow," said the Exec.

"There is some truth to this observation," admitted Everett.

"Do you think we can trust what he says?"

"It's difficult to say," Everett mused. "I cannot help but wonder about the accuracy of his recollections. But the nationalists had no reason to lie to the fellow. They can hardly have expected us to rescue him in such a dramatic fashion."

"Aye," said the Irishman. "'Twas a bold stroke."

The operation had been in the best traditions of the Service. Fleming and Pierre had spirited the Italian into the jungle, out from under the very noses of their adversaries. The nationalists had beat the bushes in vain, then fled before the Flying Cloud could arrive. But now they had to decide what to do next.

"A discreet visit to the Marshall Islands would seem to be in order," Everett observed, "provided that we have the resources. Miss Wilcox and Miss Blaine, what's the status of our consumables?"

The two women were ready for this question. "The gas cells are 75% full," said Clarice, "and we have 1,500 gallons of fuel and 8,500 lbs of ballast remaining."

"That's not much for a thousand mile flight into a headwind," said Everett. "We'll need resupply, either now or when we arrive."

"The Germans have an air station on Kwajalein," said MacKiernan.

"The nationalists are sure to have agents watching the place," said Everett. "We couldn't call there without giving the game away."

"Can we resupply from a fueler?"

"Perhaps. But for that we'd need to arrange a rendezvous, and for that we'll need to contact Michaelson."

Faces fell. No one really trusted the senior captain. He might have been unexpectedly helpful in recent weeks, but he was still their avowed enemy, and he almost certainly had his own agenda.

"I suppose there's no help for it," said Everett brightly. "Jenkins, compose a message to RAS Cairns giving our position and fuel state and requesting resupply at sea."

Michaelson's reply, when it arrived, took them by surprise.

Rendezvous HMS Engadine, 158 16' 10" E, 6 58' 5" S, 17-Sep 2200 GMT for resupply and orders.

"Orders?" said Abercrombie. "I dinnae like the sound of that."

"How can he possibly know what we're up to?" protested MacKiernan. "He's almost a thousand miles away."

"We know he has contacts with the German intelligence service," observed Jenkins. "These must be more extensive than we thought."

Everett sighed. "I suppose we could hardly have expected the fellow not to interfere. We'll burn that bridge when we come to it."

"Don't you mean `cross that bridge', sir?"

"Not where Captain Michaelson is concerned," said Everett. He glanced at the clocks and did the conversion in his head. 2200 Greenwhich time on the 17th would be tomorrow morning, local time. "It appears we'll have to fly overnight to make the rendezvous. We'd best get started."

They bid farewell to the Administrator of the German Possession of Truk and dropped the mooring. By the time they'd worked the Flying Cloud up to speed, the last outlying islands of the archipelago had vanished behind them. Night came with tropical swiftness, but the moon was almost full, casting a brilliant track across the waters ahead. What they might find at the end of that path was the subject of some speculation.

"Mark!" called Everett.

MacKiernan checked his watch and noted the time as the captain lowered the sextant. They stood in the upper lookout station --a small cupola on top of the hull, open to the night. The moon had set, but dawn was still a few hours off, so the sky was full of stars. Everett studied them as if trying to read a message in the constellations.

"Do you think we'll have any trouble finding the Engadine?" MacKiernan asked him.

"Not if her captain knows his business," said Everett. "I'm more concerned what we'll find in the Marshalls. These nationalists have displayed a disturbing lack of scruples in pursuit of their goals. This suggests that they place considerable value on this mysterious Device."

"What do you think it might be?"

"I was inclined to believe it was some form of gun. That was the German's only real technical weakness at Jutland. In every other respect -- armor, protection, fire control -- the quality of the High Seas Fleet came as an unpleasant surprise. Some new type of cannon, with these supposed uraninite armor-piercing projectiles, could threaten the balance of power that has held since the Peace. But this hypothesis does not seem entirely adequate."

"In what way?" asked MacKiernan.

"These nationalists seek political power," said Everett. "It's hard to imagine how any naval weapon, however potent, could help them achieve this goal. For that they'd need some way to sway large numbers of people in their favor. Perhaps this Device is some manner of propaganda instrument. Perhaps it produces a sound that has a subtle mesmeric effect on people who hear it. This might be the origin of the tales we've encountered about these so-called Instruments of Joy."

"Like Dagda's harp," mused MacKiernan. "If true 'twould be a fearsome thing."

Next week: A Tale of the South Pacific...

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