The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 291: When First We Practice To Deceive

Everet and Michaelson confront each other

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 the lieutenant.

"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 said curtly.

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 melodramatic sobriquet."

"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 its place."

"Did Phelps have any idea what this She might be after?" asked MacKiernan

"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 it arises."

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 British agents?

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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