The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 228: A Simple Java Program

Approaches to Java

"Mein Herr," warned Sigmund. "It is our friend."

Ernst turned to see Artur descending the ladder to the control car. The Fat Man's lieutenant carried himself with disdainful confidence, as if he expected others to do his bidding. Since he could a report any cases of disobedience to his master, this was not an unreasonable expectation.

"When," he asked, "will we reach Java? I trust there will be no more delays."

Ernst swallowed a retort. Repairs to the engine had taken longer than they'd anticipated, but they'd made good time for a ship this old. "We will cross the coast in three hours," he replied. "We are approaching from the south to avoid Dutch naval patrols around Jakarta. We should reach our target well before sunset."

"And your men are ready for the operation?" asked Artur. His tone suggested he didn't think Ernst's crew could be ready for anything.

"Yes," said Enrst. "They will arrive by surprise, in overwhelming force. Even if our adversaries have agents on the island, they cannot possibly guess what we have planned. No one has ever done such a thing before."

Jakarta was the same as always, a timeless entrepot on the shores of the Java Sea. Its harbor bustled with shipping and its streets were thronged with merchants from the far corners of the Earth. Over the centuries, a succession of rulers, most recently the Dutch, had arrived to stake their claim on the port's prosperity, but otherwise little had changed since the days of Sinbad. Who would control the place a century from now, Everett wondered? Would Europe still dominate the world, or would this crown have passed to some other continent -- America, perhaps?

Setting these thoughts aside, he began an entry in the logbook.

14 May 2027. Lat 6 12' S, Long 106 48' E. Arrived Jakarta after a flight of 42 hours...

He paused, considering the best way to reconcile this with the vessel's official top speed.

...due to unusually favorable winds. Lieutenant Iverson is to be commended on an excellent job of weather routing. The Dutch Naval Air Station has no record of the N-109, but this means little.

This was most certainly true. Their adversaries might still be en route to Java after some diversion. They might also have switched to a different forged registration. He hoped it wasn't the latter, for this would complicate their search. As he was setting the volume aside, Jenkins knocked on the door.

"Sir," said the signalman, "I have examined the records from the other stations on the island."

"Was there any word of our quarry?"

"No," said Jenkins, "but it appears that someone else has been asking questions about Karlov. This was a middle-aged Englishman who represented himself as a Captain Omen. One imagines he was a yachtsman."

Everett frowned. "That doesn't sound like one of our men. Have you managed to secure a motor?"

"It's waiting by the mast. Who did you have in mind for the shore party?"

"I believe I should lead this particular investigation," Eevertt replied. "The matter is sufficiently involved that I'll wish to speak with the Countess myself, and Lieutenant Iverson is quite capable of overseeing the resupply operations in our absence. We will invite Miss Wilcox and Miss Blaine to accompany us. The Countess may be interested in the latest news from Darwin, and I imagine the ladies will welcome the chance to see Java."

Clarice clung to the seat of the ancient Napier and Panhard as it bounced along the narrow dirt road. It wasn't clear what a London taxicab was doing here in the South Pacific, but it was a vehicle of considerable antiquity, and could plausibly have arrived on one of the Ming Dynasty treasure fleets. By now they'd driven past miles of rice paddies, stopping for the occasional water buffalo, and she was growing bored.

"Isn't this grand!" exclaimed Emily.

"Perhaps," said Clarice. She wasn't sure she agreed with her friend's sentiment. Rice was not particularly exciting.

Captain Everett seemed to notice her ambivalence. "We should reach the hills soon," he observed pleasantly. "I believe you'll enjoy the change of scenery."

Clarice returned the captain's smile, but inwardly she wondered. Did he mean what he said or was he merely being polite? The man's reserve was so impenetrable that it was quite impossible to tell what he was thinking.

As they left the coastal region, the road began to climb. Rice paddies gave way to a patchwork of orchards and tea plantations. Clarice could see why they'd hadn't come by air. This terrain could pose a significant challenge for Transporter operations. At last their driver turned off the main road at a sign that said Eye of the Sun Tea. A series of switchbacks brought them to an unprepossessing manor house that would not have looked out of place in the Netherlands. Clarice frowned. She'd been hoping for adventure, not a lesson in European architecture.

A butler met them at the door. "Captain Everett," he said. "I take it you're here to see Countess Zelle. If you'll accompany me."

The furnishings of the house were quite at odds with its external appearance. The front hall was lined with carvings and hung with exotic tapestries. A row of exquisitely-rendered miniatures depicted scenes that Clarice's pastor would most certainly not have approved of. A faint smell of incense filled the air. This is more like it! she thought. I hope this Countess is as interesting as her decor.

At length they reached a sitting room. A woman rose to greet them. She was short and dark, with the bearing of a dancer and a figure that left Clarice feeling distinctly inadequate.

"Captain Everett!" exclaimed the woman. "I'd heard you were in Java. How kind of you to visit!"

"Mata!" replied the captain. "It's always a pleasure to see you! You know Jenkins. These are Miss Emily Wilcox and Miss Clarice Blaine. Miss Wilcox, Miss Blaine, may I introduce the Gravin Margaretha Zelle."

The Countess accepted their curtsies. Something about her manner put the two girls at ease. "Welcome to Java," she told them. "I hope you enjoy your visit. So, Captain, what brings you and your charming companions here?"

"Your excellent tea," Everett replied with a smile. "We're also seeking some information."

The Countess smiled back. "Is that all?" she asked coyly. "I believe that is something I can provide." Clarice sensed a strange undercurrent between her and the captain. It wasn't romantic, exactly, but it seemed their relationship went beyond ordinary friendship.

Everett gave a succinct summary of his mission. Their hostess listened intently. "This `N-109' you're searching for has not reached Java yet," she said. "I would know if they called at any of the air stations, and they couldn't land a party anywhere else on the island without being challenged. But your guess that they're after Karlov may be correct. The Fat Man's agents have been trying to find this man for quite some time. They also seek a woman named Natasha, who seems to be associated with him in some way."

"We encountered the young lady on Ujelang," observed Everett. "What is the nature of their connection?"

"I do not know," the Countess admitted, "but she appeared in the Pacific shortly after he did, and she's variously represented herself as his cousin, sister, or wife."

"Is there any way we can learn more?"

"I have contacts in Odessa," mused the Countess, "but it may take time to reach them. How much time do you have?"

This question was answered for them by a noise from outside. Clarice recognized the familiar drone of high-powered diesels, accompanied by the whine of propellers.

Jenkins moved to the window, pulled back the drapes, and glanced up at the sky. "Captain," he called, "you might want to have a look at this."

Everett followed his aide's gaze. "An interesting development," he observed. "I don't believe anyone has ever done such a thing before. This may place us at something of a disadvantage."

Next week: Signing Articles...

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