Episode 291: When First We Practice To Deceive
Abercombie's voice echoed over the intercom. "Nose fitting clear."
Everett noticed that the Scotsman sounded subdued. This was understandable.
Captain Michaelson's intervention had come as an unpleasant surprise to them
all. But if they had to head home in disgrace, at least they could do so
with precision. "Mister Murdock," he ordered, "as soon as we pass through
300', ring for half power on all three engines and bring us left to 200.
Wallace, level us off at 600'."
"At 300', ring for half power on One, Two, and Three, then left to 200," said
"Level off at 600'," said the airman.
Bells rang, engines rumbled, and the Flying Cloud began a smooth turn to the
south. Below them, the air station at Piti dropped away. At one end of the
field, the R-87 rode from her mast like a taunt. MacKiernan studied the
vessel with a scowl. "As if we weren't having enough trouble," he grumbled.
"Why did Michaelson order us back to Cairns?"
"As a blind," came a voice from the companionway.
They turned to see the senior captain stepping onto the bridge. Abercrombie
followed with a hangdog expression on his face. "He boarded as we dropped
the mooring, and ordered me to keep quiet," he explained.
Everett nodded. The role of minor nation caught between two powerful
belligerents was never a comfortable one. "I understand," he assured him
"You may return to you post."
"Thank you, Captain."
After the rigger had left, Everett confronted his adversary. "Sir," he
Michaelson seemed unfazed. "I took the liberty of inviting myself aboard,"
he said blithely. "We have work to do. You will continue south at your
normal cruising speed. As soon as Guam is over the horizon, you will set a
course for Bikini Island at full speed: this vessel's true top speed, not the
published specification for a Junior Vickers. That should get us to the
island two days ahead of the R-87's scheduled arrival time."
"May I ask why, sir?" asked Everett. Under ordinary circumstances, it might
have been out of place for him to question a superior, but Michaelson did
not hold flag rank, and there were limits to how much authority he could
claim aboard someone else's command.
"Indeed, you may," Michaelson replied, as if this constituted some sort of
concession. "We are setting a trap for the new player in our game: this She
Who Must Be Obeyed."
"I assume this has some connection with Phelps," observed Jenkins.
"Quite," said Michaelson. "The fellow thought he'd escaped suspicion. He
was quite free with his confessions when he realized I knew he was the one
who planted the bomb. As I'm sure you've deduced, he was trying to set us
against the masters of the mysterious cruiser. I'd assumed he did this on
the Fat Man's orders, but it seems he was working for this lady with the
"We apprehended some of Her agents on Goodenough Island," said Everett.
"They told us She took control of the British Union after we accounted for
its previous leaders."
"So it would seem," Michaelson said dryly. "This sort of thing can be
rather like trying to pound small burrowing mammals back into their tunnels
with a mallet. As soon as you've dealt with one, another pops up to take
"Did Phelps have any idea what this She might be after?" asked
"No, but he was able to provide us with some history," said Michaelson.
"It appears these nationalist conspiracies were all working together in the
'eginning. They'd learned of this `Device' the White Russians were creating
and resolved to take it. The Fat Man and his people were at the center of
things, as we suspected. Some militarist group in Japan supplied them with
this airship while the British Union provided intelligence. Everything went
swimmingly until they captured the Device, at which time the factions had a
falling out. The Japanese launched a surprise attack on the Germans, hoping
to steal the thing for themselves. The British Union took advantage of the
ensuing confusion to strike out on their own under Baronet Moseley's
direction. The rest you know.
"We've scotched the Fat Man for now. Our friend Heinrich in German
Intelligence tracked down his network in Sydney, and I've placed an agent
aboard their vessel to keep me informed of its movements. The Japanese
remain an enigma, but they don't seem to pose any immediate threat. We will
take this opportunity to put an end to the British Union for once and for
all. I gave Phelps to understand we would set a trap for this She
gentlewoman. Then I allowed him to escape. Now we will wait for Her to set
a trap for my trap."
Against his will, Everett found himself admiring the ploy. "You're using
yourself as bait," he said. "You established that you'd be aboard the R-87,
ordered the vessel to proceed to the Marshals in a very public fashion, and
made sure we'd be in a position to get you there first so you could take
Her by surprise."
The senior captain smiled. "One uses the resources one has available."
Jenkins asked the obvious question. "What if someone else takes an interest
in our movements?"
Michaelson gave a dismissive shrug. "We will deal with this eventuality if
Salomon sat at his desk, staring glumly at the bulkhead. As internal
partitions went, it wasn't much to look at: a rust-flecked slab, painted an
unattractive shade of green, with a calendar opened to a cheap
black-and-white print of Miss Marine Diesel for June, 1927. Miss Diesel's
pose, draped across the intake manifold with one hand resting on an injector
housing, was not particularly convincing. Neither was the report he was
trying to compose. How would he explain their failure to capture the two
Rosencrans poked his head through the hatchway. "Kapitein!" he
cried. "You must come and see this!"
"What is it?" growled Salomon.
"It is easier to show you."
They reached the bridge to find Houge and Witts gazing toward the air
station, where a vessel was rising from the field. Salmon recognized it
from their sketches. "That's the R-505, Captain Everett's ship!" he
exclaimed in surprise. "When did they arrive?"
"It was sometime this morning," said Houge. "I spotted them when I visited
the station. But there is more. Another airship arrived from Cairns last
night... with Captain Michaelson aboard."
"The spinnekop has left its lair!" marveled Salomon. "What could
he be up to?"
"I do not know, but I learned that he is resupplying his ship for a flight
to the Marshall Islands."
Salomon brightened. This intelligence coup should more than compensate for
their failure with the agents. "Is he now?" he gloated.
"Wasserman will be interested in this news."
Next week: On the Whole, I'd Rather Be On The Philadelphian ...
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