The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 289: A Discussion of Some Gravity

Two campstools

Everett reached for the teapot and lifted the lid to make sure it was full. Satisfied, he offered it to their guests "Would you care for another cup?" he asked.

"I don't mind if I do," said Devers.

The five men were sitting in the cargo hold. Everett, Jenkins, and Iverson relaxed in comfortable chairs next to the bulkhead. The two agents perched on a pair of folding camp stools set near the edge of the cargo bay door. From time to time, one would glance nervously at the ocean, thousands of feet below, then return his attention to his tea. Their aplomb was remarkable, but not very convincing.

Everett sighed inwardly. He preferred not to resort to such ungentlemanly measures, but time might be of the essence, and he'd discovered that interviews under conditions of this sort left their subjects too preoccupied to prevaricate. "I wonder if we might discuss your activities on Goodenough Island," he told the two men. "You are clearly not long-term residents, and you went to some effort to provide us with misleading clues during our visit in May. This suggests you were sent to the island for this purpose."

"It's a fair cop," Roth admitted. "What will you with us now?"

Everett made an offhand gesture. "It depends on who sent you," he announced blandly. "I assume this was the Fat Man and his German nationalists. This was an unfortunate choice of allegiance, for the court might consider it treasonous."

The agents' eyes widened in alarm. "We are not traitors!" Devers cried. "We are both loyal subjects of the Crown. We were sent by the British Union."

"Come, come, gentlemen," Everett told them. "We all know the Union is defunct now that Baronet Moseley has been chivied back to England."

"So you thought," Roth said smugly. "But the network was taken over by his successor."

Everett assumed an expression of disbelief. "A likely story. And just who is this so-called `successor'?"

Devers leaned forward like someone imparting a secret. "Her name remains a mystery," he said breathlessly. "We know her as... She Who Must be Obeyed."

"Interesting," said Everett. "What can you tell me about this lady?"

Devers opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Roth nudged him in the ribs. "We must consider the consequences," he told Everett. "If we antagonize you, the worst you could do would be confine us in some noisome prison, far from the sun, where we'd rot away the rest of our lives in misery and despair. If we antagonize Her..." He shuddered.

Everett nodded. This was more information than he'd hoped to obtain. He keyed the intercom button to summon Abercrombie, then pulled back the table so the two agents could rise without getting too close to the yawning gulf behind them. "Thank you, gentlemen," he told them. "One of my men will escort you back to your quarters."

"Who's this She Who Must Be Obeyed?" Iverson asked after the prisoners had been taken away. "Could she be some agent of the Fat Man? They do seem to be a bloodthirsty lot."

"She could also be connected with the mysterious cruiser," Jenkins suggested. "It does seem about time for some of their agents to appear."

Everett frowned. Neither of these possibilities seemed quite right. And something about Dever's revelations stirred up unpleasant memories. "I believe it is premature to draw conclusions," he observed." There seem to be more factions in this affair than were dream of in our philosophy. We will continue on to Guam. That's where the packet was headed. If the cruiser didn't want them to reach the place, it may hold some clues."

The lieutenant departed to make arrangements. Jenkins watched him go, then turned to Everett. He'd served as aide long enough to sense his captain's moods. "You seem troubled, sir," he said quietly.

Everett sighed. "I'm disturbed by the way the pieces of this puzzle have been fitting together."

"They do seem to form a consistent picture," the signalman observed. "We've deduced that the Fat Man and his nationalists are at odds with what we believe to be their Japanese counterparts on the mysterious cruiser. This makes sense, given the demonstrated antipathy between the two nations during the War. We've also deduced that Phelps planted the bomb, then forwarded information to send us after the Shiratori Maru to thwart some plan of the cruiser's masters. Now it seems he was working for whoever has taken over the British Union."

"Perhaps," said Everett. "But this all fits together too neatly for my taste. It also doesn't explain this." He reached into his pocket to retrieve the cufflink they'd found near the site of the explosion in Cairns. "We assumed this was left by the bomber, but we have since discovered that the bomber was Phelps. It's difficult to imagine how it could have come into his possession, or why he would have left it at the site."

Jenkins glanced forward toward the crews section. "The only other candidate would seem to be our Korean guest."

"That is true," said Everett. "And I cannot help but suspect Michaelson arranged for her presence aboard. I wonder what the man's up to."

By now, Murdock had learned how to read some of Kim's moods. The woman had silences for every occasion. This one suggested uncertainty. Experience had taught him to wait these ones out.

"What happen to Japans?" she asked him at last. "Why they crasheded?"

"They were attacked by another airship," Murdock told her. "The Captain believes the attackers were also Japanese."

This silence suggested astonishment. "Why Japan ship attacking Japan ship?"

"It would seem they belonged to two different and mutually hostile factions," Murdock replied.

"Factions?" said Kim. Murdock couldn't tell whether she unfamiliar with the term or asking for details. He decided to assume the latter.

"I don't know much about Japanese society," he admitted, "but I gather they have liberal and militarist groups that are at odds."

The Korean did not attempt to repeat either of these words. They might have been designed to cause problems for speakers of Altaic languages. "They never terring me..." she began. Then, as if realizing she was about to say too much, she fell silent.

Michaelson was at his desk studying reports of ship movements when Captain Anthony arrived. He glanced up at his second-in-command and raised an eyebrow. "What is it?"

"I have some bad news, sir," Anthony replied. "Phelps has escaped."

Michaelson set down the documents, stacked them neatly, and leaned back in his chair. "How did this happen?" he asked dryly.

"It seems he had outside help," said Anthony. "We found the guard unconscious and the cell empty."

Michaelson sighed. "I suppose we should have been prepared for this," he said. "The man admitted he was in contract with enemies of the Crown. We should have guessed he'd have confederates who might come to his aid. Well, there's no use crying over spilled milk after the cows are gone. Find Commander Sanderson and tell him to get his ship ready to lift."

"What are your intentions, sir?" Anthony asked.

"I will be assuming direction of our investigations in the field. It's time a competent hand took charge. I will leave you in command here until my return."

Next week: Let's All Marshal in the Marshalls...

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