The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 149: Picking Up The Peace

A Royal Navy Airship Service tea sevice

The owner's stateroom of the collier Hughenden had been refurbished as a command center, its original furnishings replaced with files and charts from the Royal Air Station at Cairns. The compartment next to it was crammed with wireless gear, where a rating sat with headphones clamped to his ears, listening for signals from the ether. It seemed that Captain Michaelson had been planning this operation for quite some time.

"I'd say that went rather well," he remarked as he poured tea -- an unremarkable but palatable Assam from the Administrator's supply. "We've interrogated the Grand Duke's people at length, and it appears that all of these 'Devices' are accounted for."

"How did you know the second one would be a dud?" asked Everett.

"It seemed a reasonable supposition," observed Michaelson. "We know this `uraninite' material must be processed in some fashion to enhance its potency before it can serve in a weapon. But the timing of your discoveries at the secret laboratories in Collier Bay and Oa Ki suggested that the White Russian scientists had only just completed the first Device when the German nationalists struck. This suggested the second one might be a mock-up built to impress their superiors. Russia has a long history of such things, dating back to the time of Potemkin."

Everett nodded. He'd reached the same conclusion himself after they'd examined the settlement on Eua. For all of their fervor, the czarist exiles had only a limited amount of resources.

"So this was all just a stratagem to lure Mosley and his so-called British Union out of hiding," he said, indicating the paraphernalia around them.

"Yes," replied Michaelson. "Miss Perkins played her part well. By informing our adversaries of your movements, she was able to gather them all in one place for collection. Her encounter with the Grand Duke's men was particularly fortuitous, for it allowed us to rope them in as well."

"How long you were aware of Blacker's activities?" asked Everett, doing his best to sound unconcerned. Had his superior deliberately sent the R-212 to her destruction to investigate the man's loyalties?

Michaelson gave him a glance that could have meant anything. But then, he was poker player too. "We'd assumed he'd been lost with the Flying Lady. His reappearance came as something of a surprise. But we'd already instructed Miss Perkins to be on the alert for any overtures from Sir Oswald."

Everett noticed that the other man hadn't really answered his question. And who was this `we' to whom Michaelson referred? Had this been a slip of the tongue, or a warning that the senior captain had powerful allies who might react badly to curiosity on his part?

"Is she really the baronet's niece?" he asked, switching to a safer topic.

Michaelson nodded, as if pleased his hint had been noticed. "The relationship is somewhat more indirect, but it was somewhat naive of Mosley to assume we wouldn't be aware of it."

"What will you do with his men?"

"Lieutenant Blacker and Commander Harris will be remanded for courts-martial," said Michaelson sternly. "The hearings may have to be secret, but the consequences will be quite public, and they will be ones these men regret. We may have to let Becket go, given his position in the government, but it seems he was never too serious about this fascism nonsense -- he regarded it as something of a hobby, which has not proved quite as engaging as he anticipated. Mosley we cannot touch. He wasn't at the scene, so it would be your officer's word against a baronet who also happens to be a sitting member of Parliament. But we've pulled the fellow's claws. He'll be on his way back to England by now, and he knows the Admiralty will be watching him closely.

"What about the White Russians?"

"The Grand Duke's fate is a matter beyond our pay grade. Knowing how they think, I wouldn't be surprised if Naval Intelligence released him to serve as a stalking horse. But his minions are guilty of any number of crimes against maritime law, so we can salt them away for quite some time. The only people unaccounted for are their leader, who should be at a loss without her agents, and Mister Fuller. After these recent adventures, I cannot help but feel that the latter is more of a liability than an advantage to anyone's cause.

Everett nodded. The renegade technophile had distinguished himself in some rather remarkable ways. Still, there was one more thing he needed to know.

"Am I correct in assuming Miss Perkins was your agent from the very beginning?" he asked. This time he made little attempt to hide his feelings.

"Of course," said Michaelson dryly. "And this proved fortunate. Blacker never suspected his own cousin of deception."

Everett sighed. "He may not be the only one."

The senior captain surprised him by agreeing. "I imagine so," he said regretfully. "Given what lies between us, we can hardly pretend any sympathy for each other, but I do feel rather sorry for your Mister MacKiernan."

They sat on a terrace of the Government house, gazing out at the town. In the streets below, the citizens of Rabaul were adding final touches to their Christmas decorations. The effect, with cherubs and snowflakes dangling from acacia trees beneath the tropical sky while volcanoes smoked in the background, was somewhat incongruous.

"It's difficult to believe how close this all came to destruction." MacKiernan remarked. "But they're safe now, so I suppose it ended well." He didn't sound entirely convinced.

"You didn't trust me," said Miss Perkins. Her tone was casual -- she might well have been discussing the weather -- but the Irishman had learned to recognize things she kept hidden.

"Well, you did use us," he replied, trying to keep the sense of betrayal out his voice. "You were playing a double game all along."

She looked down at her teacup, as if hoping it might supply her with an answer. "I suppose that's true," she said at last. Her voice was very small.

MacKiernan studied her expression. Was that a tear, he wondered? And did either of them know if it was real? "What will you do now, Alice?" he asked gently.

"I'll be accompanying Captain Michaelson," she replied. "The Tower Hill will arrive on Boxing Day to take us back to Cairns."

MacKiernan nodded. "Perhaps this is for the best. It might do us good to be apart. I imagine we both need time to think."

She nodded. Then she met his gaze. "Perhaps you're right," she replied quietly. "But Fergus..."

"Yes?" he asked.

Her expression softened. "I'll be waiting for you."

This coming weekend, join us for The Third Flying Cloud Christmas Special...

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