The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 224: Could He Possibly Know What He's Doing?

MacKiernan and Miss Perkins watch Clark with some dismay

MacKiernan expected Clark to rush to Efate and investigate the bank robbery in person. Instead the Commodore ordered his crew to maintain station over the Pacific, using the minimal necessary fuel while they waited for reports to come in. The Cottswold was well-suited for this purpose. She might not have been as fast as the Flying Cloud, but the Hill Class ships were legendary for their endurance.

That afternoon he called his passengers to the bridge and unrolled a chart on which he'd plotted positions and times.

"We've had several more sightings of this supposed N-109," he announced. "Some, such as these ones in German New Guinea..." he indicated several marks near Rabaul, "...are quite obviously misidentifications. If we discard those, the ones that remain suggest the vessel is headed for the Solomons. We must consider the question of their motives."

"Could they be trying to escape us?" asked Miss Perkins.

"This seems unlikely," said the Commodore. "We didn't call at Efate, so they can have no way of knowing we're pursuing them."

MacKiernan hid his surprise. He hadn't expected this degree of foresight from their host. If Clark noticed the Irishman's reaction, he gave no sign. "Mister MacKiernan," he said brusquely, "I understand your ship called at the Solomons last year. What can you tell us about the archipelago?"

"There isn't much to tell," the Irishman replied. "The administration is in Honiara, on the island of Guadalcanal. This seemed entirely unremarkable. There are some German farmers on the out-islands. These fellows may not be uniformly friendly, but we found no evidence of any nationalist activity. The place doesn't seem to get many visitors. The only other traffic at the Station was a Japanese government packet named the Shiratoru Maru -- one of their copies of the Graf Class"

"Japanese," mused Clark. "What brought a large passenger vessel to such an out-of-the-way location?"

"She was carrying a party of geologists back from an expedition to Ujelang, " said MacKiernan. "It appears they'd been investigating the explosion."

The Commodore's eyes widened. "And this didn't strike you as noteworthy?"


"The Japanese government sends a airship to investigate the Ujelang Event, which we know to be the work of German nationalists. On her way home, this vessel just happens to call at a place where a hostile German population could easily mask the presence of nationalist cells. Now another ship that we're certain belongs to the nationalists is headed for the same location. This can hardly be a coincidence!"

MacKiernan wasn't so sure of this. But we was quite sure what would happen if he voiced his doubts. "You're right, sir," he replied as convincingly as he could manage. "What shall we do?"

"We'll follow them discreetly," said Clark, "taking care to remain one or two ports of call behind them."

"What about fuel and ballast?" asked MacKiernan. A prolonged shadowing operation could strain their reserves of both.

The Commodore made a dismissive gesture. "The Cottswold should be up to the task."

MacKiernan and Miss Perkins walked back from the control car together. Engines thrummed in the background, and they could hear voices from astern where a party of riggers was inspecting one of the gas cells, but they could count on the sheer size of the airship's interior to protect them from eavesdroppers.

"What do you think of the Commodore's latest plan?" Miss Perkins asked.

MacKiernan frowned in exasperation. "I don't know what to make of the fellow. For the most part, he appears to be quite clueless, but then he'll come up with something, like that decision not to call at Efate, that seems rather brilliant."

"You think this is all a game," said the secretary.

The Irishman nodded. "It's difficult not to wonder. In which case we must also wonder who else is involved and what they're after." He watched his companion carefully, for she was almost certainly an agent of one of the players.

If Miss Perkins noticed his scrutiny, she gave no sign, "I think we can assume this involves the Ujelang Device," she replied. "It does seem to be the common thread connecting these various conspiracies. The British Union will be trying to obtain the secret of the refiner the White Russians used to concentrate uraninite. The German nationalists will be seeking the same information, unless they already have it, in which case they would be seeking to preserve it for themselves. And Clark..." she paused.

"That is the question, isn't it?" observed MacKiernan. "What is the Admiralty's objective? Do they seek to understand this weapon, to suppress it, or to reproduce it for their own use. The first two possibilities seem quite reasonable. The third might be cause for concern."

She stopped and turned to face him. "Fergus," she said quietly. "What makes you think there's only one faction in the Admiralty?"

He studied her face in surprise. It gave nothing away. "Alice?" he began.

She touched his lips to silence him. "We'd best get back to the crew section," she said, "or we'll miss dinner."

The L-137 maintained station above the southern shore of Oa Ki, engines turning over at low power to hold position in the steady southeast breeze. From the air, the atoll seemed untouched by the hand of man -- the abandoned laboratory hidden beneath a canopy of jungle. Ernst studied the scene from the control car window, then turned to the leader of his shore party.

"So Sigmund," he asked, "what did you find?"

"It appears that we were not the first ones here, Mein Herr," the marine replied. "We found signs that someone landed a party by Transporter a week or two ago. They seem to have proceeded directly to the Russian laboratory, then returned to their ship."

"Would this have been our friend Everett?"

The marine shook his head. "I does not seem so. Most of the drag marks were gone, but from the traces that remained, I'd guess the vessel was a Hill Class or equivalent."

Ernst frowned. "That is not good. It suggests the Royal Navy is taking a greater interest in this matter than we'd like. Were there any other landings?"

"Yes, Mein Herr. We found signs that a second party brought a boat here sometime after the first. Like their predecessors, they made their way directly to the laboratory, as if they knew it was there."

"Do we have any idea what these people were looking for?"

"It is impossible to tell after so much time," said Sigmund. "Still, we were able to determine which buildings the parties examined. The first group seems to have concentrated on the one where the centrifuges used to be. The second group visited this building too, but they spent most of their time exploring one of the dormitories."

"One of the dormitories," mused the captain. "This would be the one where the scientists lived."

The marine nodded. "Yes, Mein Herr. What does this mean?"

"If they came by boat, they must have been White Russians. Anyone else would have arrived by air. Some of them must have survived our attack last year. They will be trying to locate their missing scientist.

"This raises the stakes. We must find the man first."

Next week: Our Inquires Are Noted For Their Discretion...

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