The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 271: The Parable of the Elephant

Men with blindfolds inspecting an elephant

They'd gathered in the Flying Cloud's auxiliary control station to listen to Pierre's report. The compartment was cramped and uncomfortable, tucked like an afterthought into the base of the lower vertical stabilizer, but it offered an element of privacy that was difficult to obtain in other parts of the airship. "I followed the chandler to the house of a `Herr Muldorf'," said Pierre. "This monsieur appears to manage a network of agents here in Bougainville for notre ami, the Fat Man."

Everett and his officers fell silent as they considered their old adversary. The nationalist renegade played for high stakes, and was noteworthy in his disregard of human life.

"Are you quite sure?" asked Iverson, in a tone of voice that suggested he hoped the answer would be `no'.

"I found a position from which I could overhear most of his conversation with the chandler," said Pierre. "This left little doubt regarding their allegiance."

"Weren't you taking a risk?" said MacKiernan. "What if you'd been caught?"

The Frenchman gave a nonchalant shrug, as if to suggest it was meaningless to speculate about hypothetical possibilities.

"Did these people reveal anything of their plans?" asked Everett.

"To some extent," said Pierre. "They seem determined to send us after this Japanese packet: the Shiratori Maru. The vessel seems to have some connection with a group of adversaries they referred to as `Them'."

MacKiernan frowned. "That's a rather uninformative pronoun."

"Quite," said Everett. "Could they have been referring to the masters of the mysterious cruiser?"

Pierre spread his hands helplessly. "There was no way to tell. It could just as easily have been a colony of giant ants. There was another mystery as well. The Germans made several references to some new associate they called `Her' or `She'."

"'She'?" said Iverson apprehensively.

"I believe we can safely assume there's no connection with the work of H Rider Haggard," said Everett, noticing his lieutenant's expression. "Did they offer any clues to this woman's identity?"

"No, but I gathered that the lady was English."

"Could this be some agent of the British Union?" asked Jenkins.

"I suppose this is possible," mused Everett, "but we sent the Baronet back to England, and all of his henchmen are accounted for except Fuller, who doesn't seem quite the fellow to mastermind some conspiracy. I imagine this is some local adventuress who's thought to profit by selling information to these people."

Captain Michaelson had been called back to Brisbane to adjudicate a dispute between the air station and local landowners who claimed the blimps were disturbing their sheep. In view of this errand's notable lack of urgency, he'd elected to travel on his yacht -- one of the privileges of command was the ability to choose comfort over expediency. He was riding the tender to shore when the skipper, a mousey-looking girl who didn't look much older than fifteen, cleared her throat.


Michaelson was too well-disciplined to do a double-take. "Why, Miss Perkins," he said in admiration, "you've outdone yourself again. I expected to meet you ashore."

The secretary was too well-disciplined to smile. "It's a elementary rule of intrigue that one should never repeat oneself."

"A wise practice," said Michaelson. "Were you able to locate this Sigmund fellow?"

"I tracked him to a safe house in Manly," she replied. "He's still there, managing the Fat Man's network in Sydney. I've managed to identify most of his agents."

"Very good," said Michaelson. "Is he in communication with our unfaithful Mister Phelps?"

"Not that I've been able to determine. The nationalists' contacts in Cairns all seem to involve some intermediary."

The senior captain nodded. "We suspected as much. Phelps cannot have been working alone when he smuggled Lieutenant Blacker aboard the R-87. Do we have any idea who this intermediary might be?"

Miss Perkins shook her head. "The British Union is accounted for, I can't imagine the Germans making alliance with the Russians, and our mystery party seems determined to remain hostis humani generis, but I did overhear one the Fat Man's people make some reference to `The Englishwoman'." She paused. "Sir?"

Michaelson caught himself before he could give anything away. "It was nothing," he told her. "Let's hope this is just some local adventuress."

The Fat Man uncapped the bottle and poured himself a mug of ale. Judging from his aide's expression, this news was likely to be good. "What was the report from Bougainville?" he asked.

"Everett and his people contacted our agent, just as we planned," the aide replied. "Our man pretended to prevaricate, then fed them the information we wanted. By now, they'll be on the next leg of his search for the Japanese vessel."

"Did they show any signs of suspicion?"

"Our man reported that the signalman attempted to follow him, but he had no trouble losing the tail."

The Fat Man lifted his glass. "This is good," he announced. "What is our latest word of Michaelson's agents?"

"It appears that they flew to Ponapai, where they foiled another attempt to kidnap them."

The Fat Man paused, mug just short of his lips. A troll would have envied his frown. "Ponapai?" he muttered. "What are they up to? There's nothing there!"

"Perhaps Michaelson ordered them to make the flight to distract us," suggested the aide.

"No," the Fat Man decided. "If anyone was meant to distract us, this would be Everett. Michaelson must be pursuing some lead of which we're unaware."

The Governor set down the bottle and held up his glass to inspect it. The wine -- one of the new malbecs from Argentina -- caught and held the light. "An ambitious effort," he decided. "Give them a few more decades and it might amount to something. I take it you have come with news?"

Across the table, Wasserman nodded, "We've received word of Everett. He was in Bougainville."

The Governor set the glass aside. "Bougainville," he mused. "This comes at an inconvenient time." His expression was as unreadable as a snake's.

"I take it our `friends' are ready to begin?" said Wasserman.

His host brushed the question aside. "Someone must be feeding the man information. Do we have any idea who his contacts might be?"

"Perhaps," said Wasserman. "He was seen to meet with the two young women from Darwin."

The Governor made a dismissive gesture. "We can ignore them. They are obviously intended as a distraction. Everett is the man we must watch."

Next week: Speculation...

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