The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 389: I Suppose We Should See If They Left Anything Behind

Camel-riders of the outback

Michaelson and Fenwick gazed from the control car as the R-87 emerged from the clouds. Behind the ship, a towering wall of white receded like the face of a cliff. Ahead and to either side, the sea and sky were empty. There was no sign of the Brotherhood of Workers.

"So, it would seem our quarry has escaped," Michaelson remarked, as if to himself. Fleming noted that the senior captain didn't seem surprised.

"That was an amazing bit of luck on their part," marveled Colson. "However did they manage?"

Michaelson shrugged. "The Soviets can hardly raise clouds at will. Someone aboard their ship must have made a detailed study of the weather in this part of Australia. That suggests they came here for some purpose that they hid from us during our interview."

"Do you think it was connected with the secret air station?" asked Fenwick.

"It's difficult to imagine what else could have brought them to such a desolate part of the world," Michaelson observed. "Lieutenant Commander Colson, set a course back the way we came. We'll pay the place another visit."

The flight back to the station was an exercise in tedium. They might have had more leisure to examine the landscape than they'd had during the chase, but there was little to see. The rail line running below them was the only break in an otherwise featureless terrain. An abandoned handcar and a cryptic stretch of fencing did nothing to relive the monotony.

By the time they reached their destination, the sun was sinking below the horizon. The wind had died as the day drew to a close, so Michaelson took advantage of the calm conditions to land a party consisting of Fenwick and himself. The two men set up camp by the light of their electric torches, kindled a fire, then settled down to wait for morning.

Their surroundings were silent in the way only a desert can be. The moon wouldn't rise for hours, but the sky was full of stars. Beneath them, the abandoned station loomed dark in the night.

"Why did the Japanese nationalists build a base here, sir?" Fenwick asked Michaelson. "I know that the three rules for situating an air station are location, location, and location, but what's so special about this site?"

The senior captain studied the ruins. Their shattered walls were testimony to the power of modern explosives. "This place quite obviously included an arms depot," he told his aide. "I'd assumed the nationalists planned to launch some attack from here, but I can't imagine what their intended target might have been. Now I wonder if this was intended as a blind to draw attention away from those Finnish archaeologists."

"According to Miss Perkins, the Japanese took no interest in their dig," Fenwick protested.

"So it would seem," Michaelson replied. "And this suggests the choice might have been influenced by some third party."

"Who could this have been?" asked Fenwick. "The only other person at the base was this mysterious Natasha, or Natalie, or whatever her name is."

Michaelson sighed. "Judging from Miss Perkins's report, it seems the lady was another victim of circumstance. This leaves several possibilities, some of them dire."

Michaelson and Fenwick woke at dawn. To the west, the waning moon hung low in the sky. Around them, the desert was rousing itself to what passed for 'life' in the outback. The two men made an unhurried breakfast of tea and toast -- as Englishmen, they had standards to maintain -- then broke camp and set off to explore the ruins.

Like all small air stations, this one had been built around a mooring circle. Drag marks showed where someone had set down a Transporter. From this, tracks led to and from the ruins. These were accompanied by ruts, as if someone had manhandled a sledge back to the landing site.

"It does look like they recovered something from the site," said Fenwick.

"So it would appear," said Michaelson. "Let's see where these tracks lead."

The trail was easy to follow. In places their predecessors had removed rubble or dragged wreckage aside to create a path. An hour's scramble brought the two men to the remains of a warehouse, where someone had cleared debris to expose a ramp leading underground. The tracks led to the opening.

"This must be the site Miss Perkins reported," said Michaelson. "Shall we begin our descent?"

Fenwick eyed the tunnel. It had obviously suffered from the explosion. In places the ceiling seemed about to collapse. As he opened his mouth to voice his reservations, a muffled exclamation sounded behind them. The airmen turned to see a man in prospector's garb staring at them from the back of a camel.

For a moment, nobody spoke. It was difficult to say which party was more surprised. At last the stranger ventured a cautious greeting.

"G'day mates. Ow ya goin?"

Years of service in Australia had given Michaelson some understanding of the vernacular. "Quite well, thank you," he replied. "I am Captain Lawrence Michaelson, Royal Navy Airship Service, and this is my aide Fenwick. Who might you be?"

"Jake's the moniker," said the man. "You must have come on that airship I saw last night."

"So we did," said Michaelson. "What brings you to this vicinity?"

Jake shrugged. "I was out fossicking when I heard a big explosion out this way, so I rode over for a look."

Throughout this exchange, Fenwick had been fidgeting. He could contain himself no longer. "Where'd you get the camel?" he blurted.

The Aussie seemed amused by the question. "Bought it from that Leese chappie in Darwin. He was big on them. Plenty o' blokes ride camels here in the outback. The only other thing that can live out here is roos, and they don't make good pack animals. All your swag would bounce out once they started hopping."

Fenwick nodded. It was difficult to argue with this observation.

Beside him, Michaelson had been frowning at the interruption. "Have you seen any airships in this area besides ours?" he asked the Aussie.

Jake seemed to think this over. "No," he said at last. "Unless you count that one with the red stars on its tail."

"When did they arrive?" asked Michaelson.

"Day before yesterday," said Jake. "They landed two men who picked up a third bloke along with some swag."

Fenwick saw a flicker of impatience flash across Michaelson's face. "Do you have any idea who these people were?"

"Only heard a bit of their yacker, but they sounded like wogs," said Jake. "One was named Loyka, one was named Sukanuv, and the third had a name like Carlo... Carbau... Corlou..."

"Karlov," muttered Michaelson.'

"Dinki di!" Jake announced. "That was the moniker!"

Fenwick's eyes widened. "Goodness!" he whispered to Michaelson. "Has he been working for the Soviets all along?"

"I very much doubt it," Michaelson whispered back. "He will be using them to his own ends. I wonder if Loika and Tsukanov are aware that they've clasped a snake to their bosom."

Next week: Peculiar Dialectics...

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