The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 390: Peculiar Dialectics

Many people watching the Brotherhood of Workers

Loika and Tsukanov stood at the windows of the control car, gazing at the wall of clouds behind them. From this distance, it might have been a low line of cliffs -- this illusion was heightened by the lines of surf that rolled toward the coastline below. There was no sign of their pursuers.

"We seem to have outdistanced the wolves," Tuskanov remarked.

"That's fortunate," said Loika. "I wouldn't have wanted to start throwing passengers out of the sleigh."

The commissar chuckled. "Da. That would not have been in accordance with communist principles. Still, I wonder at our good fortune. Our escape seemed easy -- almost as if it had been contrived."

"Who would arrange such a thing, and why?" asked Loika

Tsukanov gave a helpless shrug. "I can't even begin to imagine. Perhaps our guest might have some idea." He glanced toward Karlov, who was studying the distant clouds with what might have been an expression of satisfaction.

The scientist noticed their gaze. "Thank you for rescuing me from the English," he told them. "If it hadn't been for you, our cargo would have fallen into their hands."

Loika noticed this use of the word 'our'. It did much to relieve his suspicions. It seemed their guest had thrown in his lot with them. "Do you still intend to destroy the artifact?" he asked.

Karlov paused as if in thought. After a moment he shook his head "Only as a last resort," he replied. "This prize could be of enormous value to Soviet science. Can we get it back to Russia?"

Loika glanced at the ballast board and frowned. The chase had left them with little in the way of reserves. Dialectical materialism might predict the ultimate triumph of communism, but for now, the capitalists had better engines.

"Not immediately," he admitted. "First we need resupply. We'll have to find some nearby port belonging to a neutral power."

"That doesn't leave many options," Tsukanov observed. "It will have to be somewhere in the Dutch East Indies."

Kalov raised his eyebrows. "Surely this is a bourgeois colony."

"Perhaps," said Tsukanov, "but the Dutch have no reason to report us to the Royal Navy. What does the Nemetskiy have to say?"

Loika leafed through their almanac of the Pacific until he found a promising entry. "There's a commercial air station at Kupang. It should have the facilities we need."

The Dutch settlement at Kupang was a confused warren of godowns, houses, and shops. Urban planning was noteworthy by its absence. Retail establishments stood cheek-by-jowl next to rubbish heaps -- where it was possible to tell the difference. It might not have been a glowing advertisement for the wonders of a market economy, but its air station was host to shipping from all over the Pacific.

The handler party picked up the Brotherhood of Workers' lines with practiced efficiency, ignoring the bright red stars on her sides as if these were nothing more than Christmas decorations. Mooring went smoothly, and soon the ship was riding from one of the high masts, flanked by an old Italian packet and a modern Argentine liner. Tsukanov marveled at the locals' indifference.

"You'd think Soviet vessels called here every day," he remarked.

Loika studied the passers-by on the field below. Their diversity quite unlike anything he'd seen in Kamchatka. They seemed drawn from a wide range of different cultures, ethnic groups, and possibly species.

"In a place like this, we may not seem unusual," he said dryly. "We should take advantage of this situation to gain some intelligence. Do you think you could contact the local communist cell without attracting attention from the authorities?"

The commissar chuckled. "I assume this is a rhetorical question."

Late afternoon found Tsukanov making his way through one of the fringes of town. It was an unsavory neighborhood, where colonial houses on their way down in the world met hovels on their way nowhere, and he had little fear of being noticed. Like any political officer who'd come of age during the Revolution, he knew how to blend in with the population.

Finding the local communist cell was a challenge, for Commodore Yumashev's information hadn't covered this port, but the Cause made provisions for such a circumstance. Tsukanov spoke the code words, made the recognition signs, and waited. At last, as he was visiting one of the anonymous shops, the proprietor glanced about to make sure no other customers were present, eased the door shut, and gave the countersign.

"Greetings, comrade," he said, "I have not seen you before. You must be from that airship."

"Da," said Tsukanov. "How is the revolution doing here on Timor?"

"Poorly," the man said bitterly. "The workers chafe under their colonial oppressors, but the Administrator replies with repressive measures, and he has powerful allies. They've eradicated most of our network."

Tsukanov raised an eyebrow. With one notable exception during the War, the Dutch had not distinguished themselves as masters of espionage. "Who are these people?" he asked.

"German nationalists, led by someone known as the Fat Man," said the shopkeeper. "They seem to have some connection with Ernst Röhm's German Worker's Party. In return for their aid, the Administrator turns a blind eye to their activities. Last year they hijacked an airship from this station."

"Do you think our vessel is in danger?" asked Tsukanov.

The man made a helpless gesture. "I couldn't say, but they must know you are here."

Loika sighed as Tsukanov finished his report. It seemed they'd escaped the Royal Navy only to acquire new set of enemies. "This must be the same nationalist group we heard of from our comrades in Darwin," he said glumly. "We already have the British trying to intercept us in the air. Now we can expect these Germans to attack us on the ground."

Tsukanov seemed unperturbed by this prospect. "We just have to lead them astray."

"How will we manage this?" Loika asked skeptically.

"We'll rely on misdirection. We'll begin by filing an Advance Notice of Arrival for the American naval base in Manila. After we lift ship, we'll send a coded message to the Comintern in Jakarta instructing them to arrange a bank draft to pay for resupply there. If our adversaries are as clever as we believe, they'll notice the transaction, assume Manila was intended as a blind, and arrange an ambush on Java. This will leave us free to head for Sumbawa."

It took Loika a moment to think this over. "Why Sumbawa?" he asked.

"This will allow us to hand our cargo over to those Scottish socialist archaeologists we met. If questioned, they can claim it was something they found in their own excavations. Then we wait for the Royal Navy to intercept us, invite them to board, and when they find nothing, allow them to escort us back to Russia, in the process protecting us from the German nationalists. In the meantime, the Scots can ship the artifact to Vladivostok."

Loika shook his head in admiration. "How do you come up with these plans? That one would never have occurred to me in a thousand years."

Tsukanov smiled. "That's why I'm a commissar and you're a captain."

Next week: It Is Possible To Be Too Clever...

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