The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 377: Well, That Was Interesting

Junior Airman decoder ring

After chasing down the Black Sheep to rescue her passengers from Viola's vengeance, Captain Everett had brought the Flying Cloud back to Pago Pago. Now he was pretending not to watch as MacKiernan handled the mooring operation. The lieutenant-commander had matured nicely. Soon he'd be ready to have his own command. Everett regarded this prospect with a mixture of approval and regret -- he'd be sorry to see the Irishman go -- but time moved on, and one had to move with it or be lost forever in the past.

If only it was that easy, he told himself. Unfortunately, there are times when the past returns to haunt us.

"Bow fitting's secure," Abercrombie announced over the intercom.

"That should conclude our evolution," said MacKiernan. "Wallace, ring Finished With Engines. Captain, shall we go to mooring watches?"

"Keep the crew at flight stations," said Everett. "We may wish to depart after I've spoken with the commander here. Jenkins, Mister Murdock, if you'd come with me."

The ride down to the surface was uneventful, and soon Everett and his companions were making their way across the field. Lieutenant Murdock still seemed unsettled by his recent experiences. He watched their surroundings as if he expected to be set upon by more island maidens, another flock of rabid sheep, or both.

"You seem restless, Mister Murdock," Everett observed. "Is something troubling you?"

"This is an odd place, sir," said the lieutenant. "And that Mister Straight was a very strange person. Are all Americans like that?"

Everett suppressed a smile. "Don't worry, Mister Murdock," he replied. "You'll grow accustomed to such things on the Pacific station."

The guard at the administration building gave the Englishmen a crisp salute, then summoned a rating to escort them to Captain Avery's office. They found the commander and his secretary making their way through the day's paperwork. Avery was a short man, with the self-satisfied expression of an administrator who knew precisely how things were supposed to be done, and knew that he was precisely the man to do them. He greeted his visitors according to what must have been some standard procedure.

"Good evening, Captain Everett," he announced. "Welcome back to Pago Pago."

"It's always a pleasure to make this our port of call," said Everett. "You have quite a nice air station here."

"Thanks," said Avery. "It can be tough to maintain discipline in a place like this. The men get bored, and the only excitement we've had recently was a visit by an Italian opera star. I understand you did us a favor, catching those kidnappers."

"It's all part of the Royal Navy's mission to suppress piracy," Everett said modestly. "I'm here regarding a different matter. We've received intelligence that someone has stolen your naval codes."

Avery's expression darkened. It seemed this news upset his sense of order. "What's your source of information?" he asked.

Everett had given this matter some thought. On one hand, he could hardly approve of the dereliction of duty that had led to the code's being stolen. On the other hand, he had no way of guessing who the guilty party was, and he was keenly aware of the havoc a blind accusation could wreak upon morale.

"I'm not privy to the details," he replied, "but it came from a source we've learned to trust. The theft was commissioned by a renegade German nationalist leader who's established himself here in the Pacific."

"Would this be the guy they call the Fat Man?" said Avery.

"You know of him?" asked Everett in surprise.

"Only by name," the American admitted. "I'd appreciate anything you could tell me about him. Rumor has it he had something to do with the explosion on Ujelang."

Everett hid his surprise. He would have expected the American intelligence services to have better knowledge of events in the Marshall Islands, since these were an American possession. Had they chosen to not pass this knowledge on for some reason of their own?

"We're not certain of the man's identity," he said. "We have reason to believe he was a decorated airman during the War. He's collected a group of disgruntled veterans, erstwhile war profiteers, and disaffected youth who feel betrayed by the Peace -- followers of this Ernst Rohm fellow. It's almost certain they maintained some manner of installation on the island before the explosion, but we have not been able to determine the details."

"Neither have we," said Avery. Everett studied the American's expression and decided he was sincere. It seemed the man had been kept in ignorance. This was food for thought.

"I must warn you that these Germans are not the only nationalists active in American Samoa," he told the commander. "At one time they were allied with a group of Japanese militarists. The two parties had a falling out, and are now at odds, but the Japanese almost certainly have links with a sulphur smuggling operation here on Tutuila."

"How do you spell `sulfur'?" asked the secretary, who'd been keeping notes of the conversation.

Everett and Avery glanced at each other. "It depends," they said.

"Oh," she muttered, "one of those."

Avery waited for the woman to finish writing, then stacked his papers, rose, and walked to a chart of the South Pacific that hung from the wall. He studied this for a moment, as if contemplating fleet deployments. "I don't suppose you have any idea why the Germans chose this particular moment to steal the codes," he said.

Everett revised his judgment of the American upwards. The man might be a bureaucratic hack, who'd been shuffled off to this undistinguished post to make sure the paperwork got done, but he was an intelligent bureaucratic hack. "As a matter of fact, we do," he replied. "We gather that they mean to take your new cruiser, the USN Sunnyvale."

Avery's eyes widened slightly. "Ambitious fellows," he remarked. "We'll send Rosendahl a warning by wire at his next port of call instructing him to report his movements by secure telegram until we can change codes. There may also be some way we can use the old codes to set a trap. I'll have to think about this. Thank you, Captain. You've given us a lot to go on. We'll let your know what we discover."

They lifted ship that evening, as the sun was slipping below the horizon. Everett watched the lights of the air station dwindle beneath them, then turned to his officers.

"I'd say we've concluded our business here," he observed. "This was fairly profitable. We established that the German and Japanese nationalists both maintained operations here, and managed to put a spoke in both their wheels. Unfortunately, given the extent to which their agents appear to have interacted, we must assume that both groups may have had access to the American naval codes. This complicates matters."

"Could they both have been trying to hijack the American cruiser?" asked Iverson.

"This seems unlikely," said Everett. "Still, we will wish to make some effort to determine where the vessel has called and who might have taken an interest in her movements."

Jenkins chose this moment to emerge from the radio shack with a message slip in hand. "Captain," he said. "We received this communication from our naval attaché back in Pago Pago. It was in the secure cipher, which suggests he thought the information was reliable."

Everett opened the slip of paper and studied its contents. "Interesting," he remarked after he'd finished. "I believe we should investigate."

Next week: More Fun With Unreliable Premises...

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