Episode 246: Haute Cuisine
The men who accosted Fleming and Nettie might have stepped straight from
some recruiting poster for the Deutsches Heer. They had classic
Teutonic features, with long skulls, high cheekbones, and narrow humorless
eyes that suggested an ancestry on the Steppes. Their hair was blond, cut
so short it might almost have been machined. They wore brown
quasi-military garb, with Parabellums holstered at their belts. It took
little effort to deduce that these were the Fat Man's men.
"G'day, mates!" said Fleming, doing his best to look like an innocent
passer-by "Don't mind us. We're just going walkabout."
But the Germans weren't looking at him. Instead, they were staring at
"It's Natalia!" said one.
Fleming glanced at his companion in dismay. They know her? he
thought. Oh dear. This is not good.
The woman nodded curtly. "Take me to your füher," she ordered. "If
I'm not mistaken, that would be Artur."
"At once, Fraulein," said the Germans. "What about this man?"
My part in her plans must be over now, Fleming told himself
hopefully. Perhaps she'll let me go.
Nettie smiled as if reading his mind. "He's one of Captain Everett's
crewmen," she told them. "Bring him along."
Two officers were waiting for them in the ship's mess hall. One had a
receding hairline, strangely ordinary features, and the penetrating gaze of
an airman. This was clearly the ship's captain. The other was a
hard-looking man with an air of command. Fleming guessed this was Artur.
"Fraulein Natalie," said the second man, "you have changed your
"I like this color better," she replied curtly.
Fleming's head was still spinning from this unexpected turn of events.
Natalie? he wondered. Is that her real name? Has she been a
nationalist agent all along? If so, what was she doing with Marty and his
"We have not seen you since Ujelang," said Artur. "What has brought you to
"The same reason that brought you," she said. "Karlov was here three days
ago. He departed for Weda, but if you move quickly, you should be able to
Artur turned to the ship's captain. "Ernst, how soon can we get underway?"
"We need to resupply first," said the other man. "We're down to 50%
hydrogen, 6900 liters of fuel, and 6300 kilos of ballast."
"You don't have time," Nettie warned them. "A Royal Navy ship is on its
way here this very minute."
Ernst scowled. "Can we trust her information?"
"We can't afford not to," said Artur. "And she proved her loyalty when she
betrayed her companion to us. Lift ship immediately." He turned back to
Nettie. "What should we do with this man?" he asked. "Shall we..."
The woman's gaze was as hard as his own. "Not yet," she replied. "We might
have some use for him."
The Flying Cloud was cruising south along the western shore of Kao
Bay, engines purring at three-quarter power. To starboard, a row of peaks
was outlined against a bright blue tropical sky. Ahead, a small village
nestled in a bend in the coastline. Everett glanced at the chronometer and
nodded to Iverson
"That would be Kao, right on schedule," he observed. "A nice bit of pilotage,
Iverson brightened at the compliment. With MacKiernan off the ship, the
duties of the navigation officer had passed to him. "Thank you, sir," he
replied. "Shall I contact them and request a handling party?"
They were interrupted by a call from the upper lookout. "Captain, Loris
here. We have a ship lifting from the station. I can just make out her
number. It appears to be N-109."
Everett stepped to the window. Through his binoculars, the other ship was
visible as an oblong dot, changing in aspect as she turned toward the south.
He examined the vessel, studying the shape of her fins, the arrangement of
her rigging, and details of her cars.
"Which N-109 do you think it is, sir?" asked Iverson. "The hijacked
Frenchman or the German nationalists?"
"These will be our friends on the L-137," Everett replied. "I imagine we
have both anticipated this encounter." He strode to the intercom and
pressed the alarm. "Battle stations," he announced. " This is not a drill.
Davies, prepare the main battery for an aerial engagement. Iwamoto, your
engines must be ready for sudden changes in power. Wallace, take us up to
6000' to get us above the terrain. Mister Iverson, please relieve
Abercrombie at the helm so he can take his place at damage control, then
ring full speed and bring us left to 200. Miss Sarah, what is the status of
"We have 75% hydrogen, 10,500 lbs of ballast, and 5200 gallons of fuel."
"Very good," said Everett. "We should have an advantage there. We will
take a position on the chase's port quarter and see what she does."
Ernst peered through his binoculars and swore. "Verdamnt, that's
the R-505. The lines are distinctive. Arnold, take us up to 2000 meters.
Frederick, turn right to 190, and ring for full power. We will hope they do
not recognize us."
Girders creaked as the ship swung to her new course. Minutes later, a call
came from the stern lookout. "Sir, the other airship has turned in pursuit."
"Can we outrun them?" asked Artur.
Ernst stared at the Fat Man's agent, wondering how the man could be so
ignorant. "Not that ship," he replied. "We shall have to climb to escape
them. Now we could use those supplies we had to leave behind in Kao.
Marcus, what can we accomplish with what we have?"
The ballast officer studied at his board and frowned. "I can take us up to
4,000 meters. Anything higher would be a severe risk."
"Take us up," ordered Ernst.
Ballast cascaded from the tanks, the nose pitched up, and the ship began to
climb. In the hull above, the gas cells would be expanding as the air
pressure dropped. Around them, the roar of the engines deepened. Ernst
listened, then smiled to himself. As long as the diesels held out, the race
"They're climbing, passing through 10,000', and they've begun a turn to the
right," called Loris.
"They'll be turning downwind to run and hoping for a stronger wind at
altitude," Everett remarked to his bridge crew. "We can't hope to climb with
them, so we will remain on their quarter at a distance of five miles. That
should keep us out of range of any weapons that ship could carry. Have they
sent any messages?"
"There was one brief transmission by an unskilled hand," said Jenkins. "It
appears to be a simple single-substitution cipher, but there isn't much
material to work with." He handed the captain a slip of paper with a short
string of characters.
Everett puzzled over this for a moment, then handed it back to his
signalman. "I see what you mean," he said wryly. "We will continue the
chase and see what else develops."
For the next several minutes, the Flying Cloud droned west while
Loris called down position reports. Everett plotted these on the chart and
studied the result. "It appears to be a stalemate," he observed. "They
have 15 knots more tailwind, but we're 15 knots faster, so our groundspeeds
are equal. We will see who has the most patience."
They'd turned northwest after they reached altitude, crossing the Kao
peninsula as they fled downwind. Now they were heading out over the
Molucca Sea. Ahead of them, the Sangihe islands glimmered in the distance.
Their pursuer had followed, swinging in a wide turn that cut off some but
not all of the distance.
"He's maintaining his position on our quarter," came the report from the
"Ja," Ernst muttered. "Of course he is. That Everett is no fool."
"Why are we still running away?" Artur asked impatiently. "Why don't we
take advantage of our superior altitude, turn back, and engage them?"
"Because we can't," snapped Ernst. "Our adversary would not allow this.
From that position, he controls the range. If we turn toward him, he turns
away. If we turn away, he turns to follow. And we know, all too well,
just how fast that particular ship is."
"I could order you to try," Artur remarked. His voice might have been
casual, but his eyes were heavy with menace.
Ernst met the other man's gaze. "You could," he replied. "but this would
constitute a significant change in the nature of our contest with the Royal
Navy. So far, we have only kidnapped some of their people, threatened
them with violence on an individual basis, and vaporized the surface of a
small unimportant island. We have never opened fire on one of their ships
or engaged in an overt act of war. Are you ready to take this step?"
The two men faced each other while the control car's diesel hammered in the
background. Around them, the rest of the bridge crew held still, not
daring to intervene. At last Frederick cleared his throat.
"Excuse me, Mein Herr," he said cautiously, "Shall I order
Christophe to dope the fuel? The engines are sounding rough." With older
designs, such as the ones on their ship, it was standard practice to mix
in additives such as 2-ethylhexyl nitrate when running at altitude to
increase the cetane number and improve combustion.
Ernst glanced at his helmsman and nodded in approval.
"Ja," he replied. "That might give us some extra speed."
Two tough-looking marines had marched Fleming to a cabin and shackled him
to a stanchion. Now he sat as comfortably as his chains would allow and
tried to puzzle out what the ship was doing. He'd recognized the climb to
altitude -- this was not something an experienced airman could miss. This
suggested his captors were running from someone. But the air hadn't grown
much colder or thinner, which meant they hadn't climbed very high. Why
hadn't they gone higher? Could they be low on fuel and ballast? Was
there a chance he might get rescued if these ran out?
It would be a matter of endurance, he decided. If their fuel lasted until
nightfall, the nationalists could almost certainly escape their pursuers
under the cover of darkness. And these were competent men. They were
unlikely to have miscalculated their supply.
As Fleming was reaching this depressing conclusion, the ship's engines
sputtered to a stop. In the silence that followed, he heard a clatter of
footsteps and a series of shouted commands. He strained his ears, trying
to make out what they were saying. What's going on? he
wondered. Why did they shut down their plant? And why won't anyone
speak proper English?
The doorknob turned and the Aussie looked up to see Nettie enter the cabin.
She was wearing a look he'd learned to dread.
"What do you want?" he grumbled.
The woman produced a set of keys. "Our hosts are about to surrender," she
announced cheerfully. "I'm here to let you go."
"Why are they about to surrender?" Fleming asked suspiciously.
"Because their engines have failed."
"Why did their engines fail?"
Her smile was the very picture of innocence. "Because someone emptied a tin
of sugar into their supply of 2-ethylhexyl nitrate."
Drifting helplessly without power, the Germans had little choice but to
surrender. Given time, they might have been able to repair their plant, but
by then Everett would have summoned a force they couldn't possibly escape.
Fortunately they still had enough ballast to manage their ship as a free
balloon and bring her down for a water landing. Now her hull creaked to a
heavy swell as Loris maneuvered the Flying Cloud's motor launch
Iverson gazed up at the broken ship in apprehension. Already her frames
were beginning to part under the action of the waves. It was clear the
vessel wasn't long for the world. "We'll want to stay to windward," he
warned the rigger. "We don't want her rolling on top of us."
"Aye, sir," said Loris. "Do you think her people will come peacefully?"
"It's either that or swim," said Iverson. He cupped his hands and hailed
the wreck with more confidence than he felt. "Ahoy, L-137! We're prepared
to rescue you, but you must lay down your arms and come aboard as
"Good on ya!" came a cheerful voice from above. "Does that mean me too?"
Iverson looked up to see a familiar figure waving at them from a rent in the
hull envelope. "Fleming!" he said in astonishment. "Whatever are you
The Aussie laughed. "I'm not quite sure, sir. You might have to ask this
sheila." He moved aside to reveal the woman standing behind him.
"Lieutenant, this is..."
But Iverson had already recognized Fleming's companion.
"Good lord!" he exclaimed. "It's Natasha!"
Next week: Wending Their Ways To Weda...
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