The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Two

Episode 97: The Instrument

The Device

Natasha stared at Howard Phillips's companion in shock. The man seemed entirely unremarkable -- the sort of figure who'd pass without notice in any sort of a crowd -- but the woman looked as if she'd seen an apparition. "Karlov!" she cried. "What are you doing here?"

The man gave a sardonic smile. "I'm sure you can guess."

"But... that must mean..." her voice trailed off in something that was either astonishment or dismay.

"Of course," he replied lightly.

Phillips glanced at Iverson in exasperation. "Do you have the slightest idea what they're talking about?"

"No," said Iverson. "I thought you'd know."

Natasha seized the lieutenant's arm. "You must listen to me!" she cried. "Don't trust this man! He's been behind it all from the very beginning!"

Karlov shook his head. "Oh, not the beginning, most definitely not the beginning! But when I spotted your allies on the train back to Darwin, I knew I'd have to act. And when I returned to the laboratory and found it destroyed, this provided the opportunity."

"Whatever does he mean?" Iverson asked Natasha.

"I don't know!" she replied. "I don't have the slightest idea! But we have to get out of here now!"

Karlov nodded. "That is why we came to rescue your friend."

"What about the lady?" asked Phillips. "We can't let her warn the other guards. Should we lock her in the cell?"

"No!" cried Natasha. "Take me with you! I promise not to try to escape!"

Iverson glanced at Phillips in perplexity. "Do you think we can trust her?"

"No," said the skipper. "I thought you'd know."

"She can accompany us," said Karlov. "She may still have a role to play."

"What?" asked Iverson and Natasha simultaneously, but the man had already turned to go. They glanced at Phillips, hoping for an explanation, but the American seemed mystified as well.

"He's always been like that," said Phillips. "That's why I make him pay in advance."

Karlov led the way as they fled the complex. The man seemed to have an uncanny skill at avoiding guards. Again and again, just when it seemed the party must be discovered, a sentry would change course or glance the other way, leaving them free to advance. Iverson had worried that Natasha might give them away, but the woman seemed too cowed to act. He wondered at her relationship with their guide. Were they lovers? Enemies? Both?

When they reached the trees, Karlov set off toward the west. Phillips indicated to the others that they should follow. "We left our boat at the other end of the island," he explained.

"How'd you get past the nationalists?" asked Iverson. "Weren't they watching for anyone who tried to land?"

The American grinned. "I'm sure they were. But they were looking for a motorcraft approaching from the direction of Kwajalein. We bought a native canoe, loaded it aboard the Innsmouth Shadow, and sailed here from the west."

This was all very well, thought Iverson, but how could they hope to escape the patrol boat now that their adversaries had been alerted? His unease increased when their guide led them down a trail to the left.

"Why the detour?" asked Phillips.

Karlov smiled. "There is something I must check before we go."

The tower stood on three legs, reminding Everett of sketches he'd seen of Martian war machines from H. G. Wells's popular novel. Below it the blockhouse was squat, angular, and entirely lacking in grace. On its western side -- the side facing them -- two bored-looking sentries guarded a featureless door.

"You say the Device is inside?" he whispered to Notarillo.

"Yes!" replied the Italian. "Though that is a poor name for such a sublime achievement!"

"We'll have to find some way to get past those guards," said Jenkins.

At that moment, the Germans glanced at each other, then shouldered their rifles and marched around the corner of the building.

"What was that all about?" asked Davies.

"I don't know," said Everett, "but I believe we should take advantage of this development. Jenkins and Notariello come with me. The rest of you keep watch."

The lock proved little obstacle to a man of Jenkins's skills. The door opened into a neatly-organized laboratory dominated by a large lift platform. An enigmatic piece of equipment, labeled with writing in Cyrillic, stood atop the platform. Everett had no doubt this was the thing they were looking for.

"Behold!" cried Notariello. "The Instrument of Joy!"

"What is this?" Phillips asked Karlov.

To the west, in the center of a clearing, a peculiar three-legged tower rose above an ugly concrete blockhouse. Iverson assumed this was the tower he'd seen from the base. It reminded him of something from a radio drama.

"It is the culmination of several plans," said Karlov, "which may combine in a way their makers did not expect."

Iverson frowned. This explanation was not helpful. Then he noticed someone was missing. "Where's Natasha?"

"I thought you were watching her," chided Phillips.

"Weren't you?"

"Careful!" whispered Karlov.

Two guards had rounded the corner of the building. The fugitives prepared for a fight, but the Germans only gave a cursory glance at the undergrowth before they returned the way they'd come. Karlov watched with a smug expression, as if this was all part of some plan.

"Let us follow them," he said.

Everett studied the Device with a nameless feeling of apprehension. It didn't look much like a musical instrument. It didn't look like much of anything. A gleaming cylinder of some unfamiliar metal was bolted to one end of a short track of high-grade steel. A cone-shaped cavity was machined into the end facing the track. Across from this, a conical slug of similar material was mounted on a slider fitted to what looked for all the world like a stubby mortar. If that was indeed what it was, it would slam the slug into the cavity with considerable force.

"That is uraninite," said the Italian with a sweeping gesture of his hand, "refined to produce the most celestial of tones! The surrounding shell is fashioned from beryllium. In powdered form, this is the deadliest of poisons, but now it serves to purify and magnify the sound."

"Why is it mounted on a lift platform?" asked Jenkins dubiously.

"They must hide it on top of the tower to secure it from prying eyes," said the Italian.

This seemed unlikely to Everett. He wondered about radium and invisible toxins. Hadn't there been some scandal involving watch dial painters at the United States Radium Company shortly after the War?

While he was pondering these things, Notariello had pulled on a pair of gloves and produced a small lead-lined case. "The Instrument needs only one thing to make it complete," announced the tenor, holding up a machined pellet of some strange element that seemed to glow faintly in the dim light of the chamber. "This shining trapezohedron of polonium provides the particles of cosmic energy that serve as a chime!"

"That's the Trapezohedron everyone was looking for?" exclaimed Jenkins. "He had it all this time and didn't tell us?"

The Italian shrugged. "It didn't seem important."

Before they could stop him, he slipped the pellet into a socket on the tip of the slug, flipped a switch, and pulled a lever. As he stepped back, a bell rang and a grill slid shut across the entrance to the lift platform. Motors whined to life and the lift began to rise.

"Is it supposed to do that?" asked Jenkins.

Notariello shrugged. "I imagine it improves the acoustics."

Everett noticed that a timer had begun to count down on a panel beside them. "I have some reservations about this hypothesis," he observed. "We might wish to leave..." he studied the dial "...sometime during the next hour."

"You can go," the Italian announced. "I will stay and listen!"

Everett glanced at Jenkins. The signalman nodded, then laid Notariello low with a blow to the jaw. Everett slung the tenor over his shoulder and headed for the door.

They had just reached the west side of the blockhouse when a winch whined to life and a lift platform emerged from the top of the structure. Karlov smiled.

"Very good," he said. "My work here is done."

Before Iverson could ask what he meant, a door swung open and two men emerged from the blockhouse carrying a third. They subdued the guards and were making their way toward the treeline before he recovered from his astonishment.

"Captain Everett!" he exclaimed. "Whatever are you doing here?"

Everett turned. It occurred to Iverson that this was the first time he'd ever seen the captain look surprised.

Then he heard a voice behind him.

Next week: Could it Be?...

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