The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 277: Questions, Some Answers, and a Fateful Decision

Silhouette of the Shiratori Maru

Murdock and Sarah's would-be assailants had been imprisoned in the brig at Fort Stosenberg. Since their misdeeds involved members of the armed forces of a friendly power, Captain Arnold felt this was a military rather than a civil matter, and Acting Governor-General Gilmore had been only too glad to wash his hands of matter. This gave Everett an opportunity to interview the prisoners himself.

The brig was a legacy of America's struggle against Filipino revolutionaries after the Spanish-American War, so its accommodations were reasonably humane. Unlike their Spanish predecessors, who might have subjected detainees to torture or held them indefinitely without trial, Americans prided themselves on following English legal traditions. These included habeus corpus, the right to confront one's accusers in court, and a certain standard of decency. Everett followed a guard to the clean well-lighted cell where the leader of the attackers was being held. They found the prisoner studying his surroundings with a sullen expression. Something about the man's attitude suggested he would have preferred a dungeon.

"Listen up," announced the guard. "This here's Cap'n Ev'rett, commander of the crew you attacked. He's gonna ask you some questions. If you know what's good for you, you'll give 'im some answers."

The prisoner seemed unconvinced by this speech. Everett had some doubts about its effectiveness himself, but there was no help for the matter. He drew himself up and fixed the man with his most authoritarian stare. "Why did you attack my people?" he demanded. "Was this on your own initiative or were you acting under orders of another?"

The prisoner did not deign to reply. Everett thought he detected a hint of contempt in the man's gaze. He wasn't surprised by this. As an officer in the Royal Navy Airship Service, he had some knowledge of the traditions of other Powers, and self-sacrificial loyalty to one's superiors seemed to be a consistent thread in Japanese history.

"Very well," he observed. "I will pose this same question to your companions. If one of them answers, he may receive clemency, but matters could become harder for the rest of you."

The prisoner gave a derisive snort. "You try Prisoner's Dilemma," he said. "That not work with Japan people."

The guard gave Everett a glance of sympathy. "Don't you hate it when they do that?" he muttered.

Everett stifled a sigh. "It was worth a try."

"I take it the fellows were not very informative," Jenkins observed later.

"We should hardly have expected otherwise," Everett observed. "Their culture still labors under the misapprehension that unquestioning respect for Authority is a virtue."

There was no need for him to elaborate. The terrible conflict of the previous decade had taught Europeans the folly of such an attitude. Authority might deserve attention, and even benefit of the doubt, but respect was another matter. Respect had to be earned. And it could be forfeited by an unnecessary war.

Still, there was no point in dwelling on lessons others had yet to learn. "Mister MacKiernan," Everett asked, "what is our status regarding resupply and maintenance?"

Like any good exec, MacKiernan had this information at his fingertips. "We've finished regassing, brought aboard a full load of fuel and ballast, and Pierre has restocked the commissary," he replied. "Abercrombie is still installing the new ballast valves, but he reports this work will be done by 0600 tomorrow. Iwamoto took this opportunity to overhaul the lubrication system on the Number Two engine."

Everett nodded. "We must commend his initiative. I believe I'll go aft to see how he's progressing."

The Number Two Engine Car was a narrow streamlined shell located beneath the keel, 177 feet forward of the airship's stern cone. Its interior was dominated by the gleaming mass of the twelve-cylinder supercharged diesel. Like the ship itself, the engine's origin remained a mystery. It bore a sufficiently exact resemblance to a Maybach VL-3 that parts were interchangeable, but subtle details of workmanship made it clear this machine had not come from any factory in Germany. They had no reliable way to measure its maximum power output, but this almost certainly exceeded 800 horsepower.

Iwamoto was sitting on a stool next to the oil pump housing. The engineer had unbolted the cover, removed the impeller, and was busy replacing the bearings. In spite of the inherent filthiness of this job, his overalls and hands looked spotless. Apparently he was a member of some social class that did not get dirty, no matter how demanding the circumstances.

"At ease, Mister Iwamoto," said Everett, forestalling the man's impulse to snap to attention. "How is your work going?"

"Konichi wa, Captain-sama," said Iwamoto. "Work going well. Finished inspected oil lines and fittings. Now perform service interval of pump."

Had this choice of words been intentional, wondered Everett? It furnished a ready opening for the questions he meant to ask. "I take if you're familiar with the plant's service history," he observed.

"Hai," said Iwamoto. "I come with engines."

"I appreciate your diligence," Everett told him. "I also appreciate your coming to the aid of Lieutenant Murdock and Miss Sarah yesterday. It's fortunate you happened to be in the vicinity. I imagine you were visiting some acquaintances in the Dilao district."

Iwamoto replied without hesitation, as if he'd anticipated this observation. "Many people having friends in Dilao," he said. "Different friends."

Everett had no trouble recognizing the implication. "Might these different groups of `friends' be associated with different factions in Japan?" he asked.

"This possibilities," said the engineer. "Some possibilities I cannot speaking."

Everett studied the man's expression. It gave nothing away. Or did it?

"When we found this vessel, she belonged to a group of German nationalists," he observed. "I've wondered if she might have been built by some comparable group of Asian nationalists with whom the Germans later had a falling out. This hypothetical group might also be connected with our friends on the mysterious cruiser."

Was that a hint of a nod?

"I cannot speaking," the engineer said carefully. "But different factions may have strifes, and one faction might taking steps to..." he paused for a moment, as if trying to remember how prepositions worked, "...stopping bad plans."

"I understand," said Everett. "It would be interesting to know what these `bad plans' might be."

"Hai," agreed the engineer. "Other people also interesting to know these plans."

Wasserman scowled as he handed the Governor the report. His resources combined with those of his host gave the two men an extensive network of agents throughout the Pacific, but the information this network provided was not always cause for joy. "It seems our allies made another attempt to take some of Everett's people in the Philippines," he said. "They failed."

"We should not be surprised," said the Governor. "The Americans spent the better part of a decade fighting the Moro insurgency. They would hardly allow someone to kidnap visiting naval personnel from under their noses."

"Perhaps," grumbled Wasserman, "but if our vreiden continue these attempts, it's only a matter of time before they `give the game away' as the Englishers would say."

The Governor's smile was not the expression of a man with scruples. "They seem to have recognized this fact," he replied. "Everett has been trying to find this packet, the Shiratori Maru. Our allies have decided to stop interfering with this search, and take more direct measures to ensure that it doesn't succeed."

Next week: They Converge With Unerring Imprecision...

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