The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 135: An Unexpected Move...

Chessboard, with Elder God

The mission ferry docked at Ohonua, the only sizable village on Eua. This proved to be a modest cluster of native huts and European-style bungalows dominated by a trim white Wesleyan church. There they learned that the Russians had settled at Kapa Beach, on the western shore near the north end of the island.

No vehicles were available for hire, so the three companions made their way on foot, past a succession of small cane plantations. Many of these had been abandoned in the aftermath of the Influenza, which gave the landscape a desolate look. MacKiernan wondered why they’d been established in the first place. Eua did not seem particularly well-suited for agriculture. It was a coral island with a porous volcanic crust, uplifted by the same tectonic convulsion that had formed the Tonga Trench to the east. It reminded him, more than anything else, of Sarah’s island. He hoped it didn’t contain quite as many secret airship bases.

He glanced at Miss Perkins, wondering what she would have thought of the adventure that won them the Flying Cloud. He doubted she’d have approved, and this didn’t seem like a good time for reminiscences. Since their conversation on the ferry, they’d been avoiding each other, as if concerned about what those conversations might reveal.

His musings were interrupted by a warning from Abercrombie. "Listen! That sounds like hoof beats!"

"You’re daft," said MacKiernan. "Who’d have horses in a place like this?"

"I’ll bet ye a shilling it’s a pair of Cossacks."

"You’re on!"

Moments later, three horsemen rounded the bend ahead. Their clothing -- jackets, tunics, boots, breeches, and shakos -- was distinctively inappropriate for an island climate, and left no doubt as to their nationality. The lead rider was a white-haired man of aristocratic demeanor, who sat his horse well in spite of his advanced years. He didn’t deign to bear arms, but his companions carried the Moisin-Nagant dragoon rifles favored by Russian cavalry.

"Pay oop," said Abercrombie.

"You said pair. I count three o’ the fellows."

"But they are Cossacks."

Miss Perkins frowned in annoyance. "If you gentlemen would pay some attention to the matter at hand."

The horsemen reigned in just in front of the travelers. "Who are you?" asked the aristocrat. His accent was slight, as if he’d spent considerable time in England, but his voice held no trace of friendship.

"Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan, Royal Navy Airship Service," replied MacKiernan. "We’re looking for the Russian settlement."

"Why?"

The Irishman hesitated. Until now, he’d been so preoccupied by the search that he’d never bothered to wonder what he’d do if they found their objective.

"We wish to speak with your leader," said Miss Perkins. "We bring important news."

The Russian looked at Miss Perkins. The secretary held his gaze, as if daring him to defy her. At last he nodded.

"Very well, Lady. We will take you to see the Dama."


The Russian settlement was even more modest than Ohonua. Three low houses -- their Slavic architecture looking distinctly out of place on a Pacific island -- were hidden beneath the palms next to a small stable. Outside, a few bored-looking islanders poked half-heartedly at a garden.

Their hosts escorted MacKiernan and his companions to the largest of the three dwellings. They entered to find themselves in a long room that resembled, more than anything else, the royal audience chamber in Nuku’alofa. At the far end, a heavyset woman in her mid-twenties studied them with suspicion. MacKiernan was struck by the contrast between this woman and Queen Salote. If Her Majesty was the White Queen, he thought, this would be the Dark Queen.

"Who are these people, Michael?" she asked the aristocrat, speaking in English for benefit of her guests.

"British airmen, Dama," he replied. "They claim they have something to tell us."

"I am Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan, Executive Officer aboard His Majesty’s Airship R-505, the Flying Cloud," said MacKiernan. "It appears that your people and ours share an enemy: the Fat Man."

"You know of this?"

"We know what he stole from you, and we know what it can do, for we were present at Ujelang when he tested it."

"The Czarina Bomba," one of the riflemen muttered in awe.

"What?" asked MacKiernan.

"A tasteless joke," said the woman. "We know of him now, and we are on the alert for his agents, so he is no longer a threat."

"He isn’t the only one who knows of these ‘Devices’," said MacKiernan. "Yakov sold information to other people besides the Germans. Another nationalist group called the British Union learned that you sent a second one here back in May aboard a vessel called the Ostrovnaya Devushka."

The Russians glanced at a safe that stood in the corner. MacKiernan recognized another product of the workshops at Tula. He wondered what it contained -- a map to the hiding place of the second Device, perhaps?

"I warned you we shouldn’t have trusted him, Anna," said the aristocrat.

"We needed him to obtain Solovyov’s papers, Michael," chided the woman, "and we have turned his betrayal to our advantage." She turned to MacKiernan with a smile he did not like at all. "We thank you for your warning, but as you will see, it was unnecessary."

A door swung open behind her to reveal two men. MacKiernan recognized Fuller from Captain Everett’s description. The other was someone he knew all too well.

"Blacker!"

"We got here first," said the lieutenant smugly. "And we made them a better offer."


Their captors marched them along the shore around the tip of the island. MacKiernan had assumed they’d load the safe onto a wagon, but instead they lashed it to the top of a Rolls Royce armored car left over from the War. MacKiernan wondered how they’d got the vehicle ashore. It was a strange procession: the Rolls in front with the leaders aboard, followed by the prisoners and a party of English seamen who served as guards, with four uniformed Cossacks -- broiling in the tropical heat -- bringing up the year.

Some of his questions were answered when they reached the next beach. A strange blocky-looking barge was drawn up on the sand, with its bow lowered to form a ramp. Fuller emerged from the car, hooked it to a cable, then strode over to the prisoners as the vehicle was winched aboard.

"You’re impressed?" he remarked. "It’s my own invention, to facilitate marine assaults. Those fools at the Admiralty lacked the vision to appreciate it."

"I imagine you’ll find a ready market among the White Russians," said MacKiernan. "How’d you persuade them to ally with you?"

"As you observed, we share common enemies," smirked Fuller, "the Germans, and the peace-loving socialists who control both our governments. You’ll learn more when you meet the Leader. But now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go to oversee operations."

The barge was too small to carry everything in one load, so it took the Rolls and its passengers first, leaving the prisoners and guards on the beach. MacKiernan and Abercrombie watched it make its way out to a small freighter anchored offshore. From here, they could just make out the vessel’s name.

"The Skerry Lady?" said Abercrombie in amazement.

MacKiernan shook his head. "I hope Jenkins never finds out."

"You two don’t seem to be taking this seriously!" complained Miss Perkins.

"There’s not much point in that until we have a serious chance to escape," MacKiernan replied pragmatically.

"And when might that be?" asked Miss Perkins. She didn't seem at all appeased by the Irishman’s observation. Their attention was distracted by a remark from one of the guards.

"Who the devil are they?"

The three companions turned to see a second craft approaching the beach. It looked like a ship's lifeboat, but it didn't appear to be in any particular distress. The oarsmen pulled with long even strokes from behind the row of ventilator covers they’d hung from the rail like shields.

MacKiernan and Abercrombie exchanged incredulous glances.

"Oh dear..." said the Irishman.

"You dinnae think..." said the Scotsman.

"Whatever is she doing here?"

"I’ve had quite enough of this!" announced Miss Perkins. "What are you two talking about?"

"You might wish to take cover," said MacKiernan politely. "I believe that things are about to become confusing."

The secretary opened her mouth to protest, but at that moment the air was split by a cry.

"Odin!"

Next week: And An Unexpected Reunion...

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