The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 365: A Few Things Happened While You Were Away

Broken desk

The flight from Palawan to Cairns -- 2200 nautical miles into a quartering headwind -- was well within the Flying Cloud's capabilities. At the airship's most efficient cruising speed, the voyage took two days. This gave her crew plenty of time to reflect on their latest discoveries and speculate about the reason for their recall.

"I wonder what Michaelson is about this time," said MacKiernan.

"If he's followed his usual procedure, he'll have been using us as a distraction while he undertook some stratagem of his own," Jenkins said dryly. "Now I imagine we'll have to pick up the pieces."

Everett nodded ruefully. There was some truth to his aide's statement. "This shouldn't be too troublesome," he observed, "as long as we weren't one of those pieces."

They reached Cairns to find a large commercial airship of unfamiliar design riding from one of the masts. A bright Argentine flag flew from the visitor's stern cone. It seemed she was a recent arrival.

"Who could they be?" wondered Loris, who had the helm this watch.

"That looks like one of the new Pampas class liners from the Santos Dumas yard in Cordoba," said Murdock, who like many young lieutenants had an encyclopedic knowledge of aeronautical trivia. "They're five million cubic feet, with a fixed weight of 227,000 lbs, useful lift 171,000 lbs at 85% inflation, and six FAdeA diesels generating 500 horsepower each, giving them a top speed of 65 knots and a cruising speed of 48."

Loris frowned at the lecture. Everett smiled inwardly. He'd been young once. "I believe you're right, Mister Murdock" he remarked.

"What could have brought them all the way here from South America?" asked Sarah.

"I imagine we'll find out," said Everett. "But first we must pay a visit to our commander."

Michaelson received them in his office -- a plain utilitarian chamber that was all the more intimidating for its lack of any obvious symbols of power. It seemed somewhat the worse for the wear, as if it had been the scene of some altercation. The senior captain was at his desk, dealing with some of the paperwork that was a commander's lot. He glanced up as they entered.

"So, you're finally here," he grumbled. "It took you long enough."

"I take full responsibility for any delay, sir," said Everett. "Who is our guest?"

"They're the Fantasma, out of Buenos Aires, carrying an opera star on a tour of the Pacific," said Michaelson. "You will remember the fellow: Antonio Notariello."

"This seems like an odd choice of venue," Everett remarked.

Michaelson sighed. It didn't seem he had much time for opera. "Lord knows what brought him back to the Pacific, and I don't plan to ask the Almighty for clarification. What have you learned about our Miss Kim?"

"We picked up her trail in the Dutch East Indies," said Everett. "She seems to have accompanied a group of Korean educators who were traveling about the Pacific, trying to spread the use of their alphabet."

Michaelson raised his eyebrows. "What a strange thing for them to do."

Everett shrugged. "Some people collect stamps, some people display art, some promote writing systems..."

"I daresay," interrupted the senior captain. "What was the nature of her association with these fellows?"

"She may have been using their pedagogical mission as cover for some agenda of her own. There is reason to believe she joined them from somewhere in Asia. "

"If that's where your missing people are being held, it could be difficult to reach them," Michaelson observed.

Everett nodded sadly. "Quite," he agreed. "Be this as it may, the manner of Miss Kim's arrival in the Pacific was food for thought. According to a witness we encountered in the Philippines, she was a passenger on an airship named the Wolkenflieger."

Michaelson winced. "That was your ship before you took her from the Fat Man's people."

"So it would seem," said Everett. "I can't imagine that anyone else would use such a dreadful name."

"Could the lady be one of the Fat Man's agents?"

"I've considered the possibility, but this seems like a strange association for someone from Korea," said Everett. "If our witness's dates are correct, she arrived while the Germans were still allied with the Japanese nationalists. A Korean would have no reason to be sympathetic to the latter, and her actions on Ujelang make it clear she's opposed to the masters of the mysterious cruiser."

"This doesn't preclude the possibility of a German connection," MacKiernan observed. "She might have anticipated that the two parties would have a falling out, and been biding her time."

"Perhaps," said Everett, "but there are other possibilities. There seems to be a communist presence in the islands. We encountered a party from the Scottish State Socialist Party during our investigation of Sumbawa. They claimed to be archeologists, excavating ruins left by the eruption of 1815, but this could easily have been a cover story."

"You suggest she might be working with the Soviets?"

"Japan and Russia have been at odds for quite some time," Everett observed. "They fought a war not too long ago. The Koreans might welcome an ally."

"Then how do the Germans fit in?" asked Michaelson. "They are hardly friends to Trotsky's government."

Everett shrugged helplessly. "I haven't been able to come up with a hypothesis that fits all of our observations," he admitted.

"Then let us turn to the reason for your recall," said Michaelson. "During your absence, there were several attempts on my life."

"My goodness!" Murdock blurted in horror. "Did any of them succeed?"

The other airmen turned to look at the lieutenant.

"Oh yes...," he mumbled, "right."

"Who was responsible?" asked Everett.

"There were three would-be assassins," said Michaelson. "One was a Frenchman acting on behalf of the Governor of Sarah's Island and his Japanese friends. Another was a minion of the Fat Man. The third was sent by Soviet agents in Darwin. These fellows weren't working together -- indeed, they seemed to be somewhat at odds -- but all three mentioned the American ship during their interrogations."

"The Sunnyvale?" marveled Everett. "What was their interest in the vessel?"

"The Germans want to take the ship," said Michaelson. "This does seem like the sort of thing German nationalists do. The Japanese want to `take advantage' of the vessel, whatever that may mean. The Russian wasn't entirely coherent, but he seemed to regard the Americans with some hostility."

"What should we do?" asked MacKiernan. "We can't stand aside and allow our Colonial friends to be attacked."

"We can hardly escort an American warship about the Pacific," said Everett. "That would look bad."

"No," said Michaelson, "but we can try to forestall the attackers. If the Germans plan to take the ship, they must first determine its itinerary. This is hardly public knowledge. Their only plausible source of information would be some mole at the Fleet headquarters in American Samoa. You will travel to Pago Pago and winkle the fellow out."

"What about our other two parties?"

"The Governor of Sarah's island is out of our reach, but we know the Soviet agent came from Darwin. It may be time for me to pay the place a visit."

"Won't you risk revealing yourself as a player, sir?" asked Jenkins.

"Our adversaries have already made three attempts on my life," said Michaelson. "I think they've figured it out."

Next week: Vacation in North Australia...

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