Episode 381: I Suppose It's No Longer Much Of A Secret
Lieutenant-Commander Colson brought the R-87 to Cairns precisely on
schedule -- with Michaelson aboard, matters could scarcely be otherwise.
The station was busy, as elements of the Pacific Squadron passed through
on a cruise to Melanesia, but the handling parties knew their business --
another testimony to Michaelson's strictness -- and the mooring went
After the vessel was on the mast, Michaelson departed for his office,
leaving Fenwick behind to handle the minutiae that attended an arrival.
When these had been dealt with, the signalman headed to the administration
building to report. He found Michaelson working his way through the
pile of paperwork that had accumulated during his absence.
The senior captain didn't bother to look up. "I trust everything is in
order," he said curtly.
"The R-87 has been taken to the shed for servicing, as you instructed,"
said Fenwick. "Colson expects her to be ready for flight in two days."
"That should serve," said Michaelson. "We're unlikely to need the vessel
before then. Everett can keep an eye on the German and Japanese
nationalists for us and the Soviets have been accounted for."
"Can we be certain they'll investigate the White Russian's secret
laboratory?" asked Fenwick.
A smile flickered across Michaelson's face. It was the smile of player with
a winning hand... or a swordsman who'd delivered a successful thrust. "They
have no choice," he told his aide. "They'll know I'm trying to mislead them,
but they can't take the chance there might be something there. This places
severe limits on their scope of operations. If they fly directly to the
site, they'll be low on consumables. If they resupply en route, we'll learn
of this in ample time to take appropriate measures."
"What if they find something there?"
Michaelson made a dismissive gesture. "The place has been picked over
quite thoroughly. What could they possibly find?"
Captain Loika studied the empty sky with some satisfaction. They'd crossed
the Timor Sea at night to avoid observation, and dawn had found the
Brotherhood of Workers off a deserted stretch of the north
Australian coast. The only possible watchers would be pearl fishers or
smugglers, neither of whom would be likely to report their presence. This
left the Russians free to do as they chose.
Now they were heading west, searching for the White
Russian laboratory. To their left, the shoreline was a succession of low
headlands, sandy beaches, and mangrove swamps, interspersed with the
occasional mud-choked estuary. Settlements were notable by their absence.
Farther inland, the terrain grew drier, giving way to a landscape so empty it
made ordinary deserts seem lush by comparison. It was difficult to imagine
anything less like Kamchatka.
"What's that up ahead?" asked Tsukanov.
Loika looked where the commissar was pointing. Through binoculars, he could
make our a clearing near the mouth of a small river.
"That might be our laboratory," he replied. "Airman Chekov, reduce power
to one third."
A short time later, they were maintaining station 1000' over the jungle,
engines turning over at low revolutions to counter a light breeze from the
northeast. Below them, the clearing spread out like a diagram of how to cut
down brush if one wasn't too concerned about leaving a mess.
It was quite obviously artificial -- strewn with recent stumps and
criss-crossed by the tracks of heavy equipment.
"It doesn't look very secret," Tsukanov remarked. "Could this be some mine
or lumber camp that isn't marked on our charts?"
"I don't see any buildings," said Loika. "This must be the site of the
laboratory. Michaelson did say the place had been looted. This clearing
must have been left by the looters."
"How long ago do you think this happened?" asked the commissar.
Loika studied the clearing, then chuckled. "Who can say?" he replied. "The
brush is beginning to grow back. In Siberia, that would take years. Here
in the tropics, it might take several minutes."
Tsukanov chuckled as well, then gestured in the direction of the Transporter
room "Shall we investigate, comrade?"
The Transporter platform struck the ground with its usual clang. Loika and
Tsukanov vaulted over rail before it could drag, then signaled the operator
they were clear. As the hoist rose back to the ship, they took
stock of their surroundings. These were even more overgrown than they'd
seemed from the air. Thickets were spreading along the edges of the
clearing and the ground was covered with fresh grass, fast-growing sedges,
and stinking passion flower -- an invasive species the Australians regretted
almost as much as they did the rabbits.
Loika pointed at the ruts still visible beneath the vegetation. "It looks
like someone used a traction engine to drag cargo into the clearing. Let's
find out where these tracks came from."
Examination revealed two trails into the jungle. One lead north toward the
estuary. Loika dismissed this as work of latecomers who'd arrived after the
original looters were gone. The other led a short distance south, ending at
The Russians examined this with some annoyance.
"A cave?" grumbled Tsukanov. "Are they serious?"
"What else should we have expected?" said Loika. "In radio dramas, the
secret laboratories are always hidden in caves."
Tsukanov sighed. "I'd hoped for more imagination."
The airmen had to stoop to negotiate the entrance, but the ceiling rose as
they advanced until they were able to walk upright. It was obvious that
others had been here before them. The floor was scarred with the marks
from a sledge, broken brackets showed where lighting fixtures had been
torn from the ceiling, and the place was littered with cartridge cases.
Tsukanov examined several in the light of his hand lamp.
"Some of these are from the Nagant M1985 used by the Imperial Army," he
reported. "Others are for the 9 mm Parabellum. This suggests the place was
held by the czarists and attacked by Germans, just as Michaelson said."
"They're long gone by now," said Loika. He gestured toward one of the
walls. "What do you think of this?"
Tsukanov examined the rock and saw that it was covered with petroglyphs --
obviously work of some antiquity. Most were so stylized it was difficult
to tell the subject, but he spotted some humanoid figures in company with
what he assumed were creatures out of myth. One of the former was clapping
what might have been a pair of cymbals together. Some of the latter
looked almost like characters from American animated cinema.
The commissar shook his head. "This doesn't conform to the principles
of Soviet Realism."
"Capitalist petroglyphs?" Loika suggested.
"That would be `capitoglyphs'," chuckled Tsukanov.
"Da," said Loika, "painted by `petralists'."
Continuing down the tunnel, the airmen came to a large chamber that must
have housed the laboratory. This had been stripped of everything of
value -- even the cables and plumbing were gone. Smashed cabinets,
overturned benches, and more scattered cartridge cases testified to the
violence of the struggle that had raged here. Farther on, the tunnel
ended at what might have once been a vault. This too had been looted.
Even the door had been dismounted and dragged away, presumably for its
value as scrap.
Loika studied the vacant chamber and swore under his breath. "We've come
here for nothing," he muttered.
"That's why Michaelson told us about this place," said Tsukanov. "That man
is a negodyay. He knew we'd have to waste time, fuel, and hydrogen
assuring ourselves it was empty."
"It's not entirely empty, tavarishch," came a voice from behind them.
They turned to see an unremarkable figure in ordinary field clothing --
another Russian, judging from his accent -- watching them with a
"Who are you?" demanded Tsukanov.
The man gave a faint smile. "My name is Karlov."
Next week: No One Visits Choiseul, Except For The Cryptic Artifacts...
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