Episode 362: Red Star Over The Dutch East Indies
The Brotherhood of Workers had lifted ship from Da Nang in the
morning, bound for Pago Pago. This lay five thousand nautical miles to the
east -- a journey that would challenge the vessel's capabilities. The
Soviets might have embraced aviation every bit as enthusiastically as the
Germans, English, French, and Italians, but airship development in the
workers' paradise had taken a somewhat different path. Russian vessels
were flawlessly streamlined, as would be expected from a culture
famous for its mathematicians and chess players. Their engineering was
less remarkable, and fuel consumption was always a concern.
Now Captain Loika sat at his desk, considering the problem of resupply. In
this region of colonial powers unsympathetic to the communist cause, the
options were limited. He was studying the Almanac, deep in thought, when
Tsukanov knocked in the door.
"Comrade Loika, may I come in?" asked the commissar. This was hardly
necessary -- a political officer's authority was as pervasive as it was
ill-defined -- but it was a mark of the man's character that he offered
the captain this courtesy.
"Da, Comrade Tuskanov," the captain replied cheerfully. "I assume
you're here to produce some secret orders that will change the entire
character of our mission."
The commissar chuckled. "Would that I were so important," he replied.
"Operatives at my level are not entrusted with such things. But I did
receive some direction from Comrade Yumashev. The Admiral provided
us with a list of communist cells in the Pacific to contact if the
Loika frowned. "How can `opportunity permit' if we barely have enough
consumables to reach our primary destination?"
"Some of these cells are in places we could obtain resupply," said
Tsukannov. "I call your attention to this one on Sumbawa."
"That's in the Dutch East Indies," Loika objected. "The imperialists
are hardly likely to welcome us."
"That may be true," said Tsukanov, "but their subjects are jealous of the
rights they retain, and they welcome the chance to defy their overlords."
Loika brightened and reached for a chart. "It's not on a direct line to
Pago Pago," he announced after a moment, "but it's not too far off our
course, and from there the distance to American Samoa is only seventy eight
hundred kilometers. We shall give these people an opportunity to
demonstrate their independence."
Captain Loika reduced speed for the flight to Sumbawa, timing their arrival
for dawn of the second day after they left Da Nang. This would ensure calm
conditions for mooring, conserve valuable fuel, and reduce strain on the
engines. These had shown some tendency to overheat, the provisions against
ice and snow so essential for operations in Siberia proving entirely useless
here in the Pacific.
According to the Almanac, the island had two air stations. On a whim, Loika
picked the one in Besa. This proved to be a small port to the west of the
enormous bay that split Sumbawa almost in half. The presence of a mosque
and subtle features of the architecture suggested a Malay influence, but
otherwise there was little to distinguish the place from dozens of other
small seaports in the Dutch East Indies. A modest Government House and an
ancient a patrol boat flying a Dutch flag were the only signs of a colonial
The other side of the bay was dominated by a massive caldera. Its flanks
were covered with jungle, but the upper slopes had been blasted clean of
life by some event of unimaginable violence. Tsukanov glanced through
the Almanac and nodded.
"That must be Mount Tambora," he announced. "According to this entry, it
exploded in April of 1815, with a blast even bigger than the one in Siberia."
Loika gazed at the shattered peak. It looked as bleak and lifeless as the
Moon. "Imagine what it would mean if someone could turn that power into a
weapon against the capitalists," he suggested.
The commissar shook his head. "Comrade, you know as well as I do that this
could never be acceptable on moral grounds. Too many innocent civilians
would die. We have both seen war. We both know what it means."
Loika nodded. He and the commissar had been sounding each other out on
issues of morality and politics ever since they'd left Kamchatka. It seemed
they were in agreement on this one.
The Brotherhood of Workers's arrival in the Sultanate of Besa did
not go unnoticed. If the airship's unusual lines hadn't been enough to
reveal her nationality, the bright red stars painted on her hull and fins
were something of a give-away. A small group of White Russian exiles
gathered outside the air station to heckle the crew as they disembarked.
The Sultan's constabulary watched in amusement, making no attempt to
"Why do these fools support a lost cause?" wondered Loika. "The will of
the people has triumphed. The czarist regime is over forever."
Tsukanov frowned. "They could still represent some danger to the State,"
he observed. "We'll see what our contacts can tell us. According to the
Admiral's information, they will be camping near Mount Tambora, pretending
to be a team of scientists."
No cars were available for hire, so the two Russians chartered a fishing
boat to take them across the bay to the village of Pekat, where they were
able to obtain horses to carry them into the interior -- a certain amount
of resourcefulness was expected from officers of the Workers' and Peasants'
Red Airship Fleet. A trail led inland from the village, past a small coffee
plantation, to a campsite next to what appeared to be an archaeological dig.
Three brawny Scotsmen emerged to confront the approaching riders.
"Who are you an' what are ye doing here?" asked one.
"I am Captain Loika, Directorate of the USSR Airship Forces, and this is my
comrade, Commissar Tsukanov," said Loika.
The Scotsmen grinned at this information. "Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low, the rough ground shall become level, the
rugged places a plain!" exclaimed their leader. "Welcome to Sumbawa! I am
Comrade Angus, and these are Comrades Calum, and Duff. How can we help you?"
Loika frowned inwardly. Enthusiasm of this sort was rather embarrassing.
"What can you tell us about counter-Revolutionary activity in this area?"
"The South Pacific is a hotbed of reactionary thought!" Angus told them.
"The Grand Duchess fled here after she escaped from Yekaterinburg, and she
has many followers. They were building some sort of giant bomb to use
against the Party, but their organization was infiltrated by a group of
German nationalists who stole the thing for themselves."
Loika and Tuskanov exchanged glances. They shared an opinion regarding
weapons of mass destruction. "What became of this device?" Loika asked
"We believe they tested it in the Marshall Islands. There was an enormous
explosion on the island of Ujelang last August."
"Has anyone else taken an interest in this matter?" asked Tsukanov.
"Perhaps," said Angus. "We received a visitor from the Royal Navy Airship
Service yesterday: a captain named Roland P. Everett. He pretended to be
asking about a Korean cultural mission that visited the island, but that
was almost certainly a blind to hide his real intentions."
Next week: Whatever Were You Fellows Trying To Accomplish?...
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