The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 392: Deciding On Priorities

Flipping a coin

Fenwick had assumed they'd return to Darwin for resupply. Instead, Michaelson had ordered the R-87 back to Broome. Upon reflection, Fenwick could see the advantages of the senior captain's choice. Broome's air station might be smaller, but a Wolseley class wouldn't place any great demands on its facilities, and its isolation would protect them from prying eyes. If the hypothetical Japanese agents in the local pearl fishing community wanted to report the airship's return, they were welcome to waste their masters' time.

Michaelson watched the mooring operation without comment -- intimidating subordinates by pretending indifference to their actions was one of the privileges of rank. After the engines had fallen silent, he turned to gaze out the port windows. The prospect was deceptively peaceful. A mile away, lights were coming on in the village. Beyond it, a fishing boat was rounding Gantheueme Point on its way to the harbor. There was no sign of strife, but somewhere in the desert, far to the south, lay the ruins they'd left behind.

"So, Karlov has made a reappearance," he mused. "I suppose we should have expected this."

"Do you think this is the same fellow Captain Everett encountered?" asked Fenwick.

"It could hardly be anyone else," said Michaelson. "This is not a common name in the South Pacific. Also, Miss Perkins reported meeting his anima -- this Natasha woman -- at the secret air station. I have no idea what the relationship is between the two, but where one appears, the other is rarely far behind."

"How did he manage to show up at just the right time to meet the Brotherhood of Workers?"

Michaelson seemed uninterested in the matter. "Unlikely things seems to happen in his vicinity," he replied. "There was his theft of that Polynesian artifact -- this Nui Mana -- on Tahiti, his intervention in the confrontation between the American gangsters and the British Union on Wedam, and we must not forget his appearance on Ujelang shortly before the explosion that destroyed the island."

"That may be so," Fenwick admitted, "but why would he meet with the Soviets? Is he working with them or using them to his own ends?"

"Given the man's record, I suspect the latter," Michaelson said dryly. "He has shown himself to be quite the schemer." Fenwick sensed an element of admiration in his superior's voice, but he knew better to remark on this.

"Whatever is he trying to accomplish?" he asked.

Michaelson sighed -- an uncharacteristic gesture -- and turned away from the window. "It's impossible to guess his ultimate motives, but it seems our hypothesis about the secret air station was correct. He must have tricked the Japanese into using the Finns as a blind for their operations. After the Finns unearthed something he wanted, he arranged for the station to be destroyed so he could get this for himself. Now he's manipulated the Soviets into transporting this thing for him."

Fenwick shook his head in wonder. "What could justify such an elaborate subterfuge?"

"A more important question is how we should respond," said Michaelson. "We undertook this mission to learn more about the Japanese nationalists. This no longer seems so urgent, for their setback here must have put paid to whatever they were planning. Karlov has become a more immediate concern. He's stolen a move on us, but we have a more capable ship at our disposal, and we also have more resources. We will ask the Admiralty to forward reports of any sightings of the Brotherhood of Workers. We'll also contact naval intelligence to obtain a list of places the communists are known to maintain cells."

"Surely these people will be doing their best to hide," Fenwick protested.

Michaelson gave faint smile. "That may well be the case in Europe, but here in the Pacific, I would not expect the same degree of professionalism." He gestured toward the radio shack. "You'd best get started, Fenwick. You have a long night ahead of you."

Fenwick spent the night hunched over the transmitting key with a headset clasped to his ears -- `surfing the ether', as this activity was known among wireless operators. It was demanding work, picking faint signals out of the static and struggling to transcribe them, but members of the Royal Navy Airship Service Signal Corps were expected to do with out food or sleep and scorn such weaknesses in others. By morning, the signalman had filled out a tall stack of message forms. He'd just finished decoding these when Michaelson arrived.

"What do you have for us, Fenwick?" asked the senior captain.

Fenwick leafed through the messages to find the ones he'd marked as important. "We have a report from Captain Everett. He encountered the Sunnyvale on Palau and conferred with Captain Rosendahl. Now he and the Americans are cooperating to lure the Fat Man's agents into a trap. He also sent us the Sunnyvale's previous itinerary."

"We will forward this information to Sydney," said Michaelson. "If they're up to the task..." the senior captain's tone suggested he was dubious about this prospect, "...they should be able to compare this with their list of sightings to determine which ones involved the Japanese ship. Do we have any word of the Soviets?"

"According to our attaché in Timor, they called at Kupang two days ago and departed yesterday evening. It appears that Captain Loika met with the Administrator, but we have no way to guess who else they might have contacted in town."

"Do we know where they headed after they lifted ship?"

Fenwick had been waiting for this moment as a chance to demonstrate his deductive powers. "No, but they did transmit a coded message before their departure. According to naval intelligence, this was followed by activity at an Argentine bank in Jakarta that we know has dealings with Trotsky's government."

It took Michaelson no time at all to understand what his aide was implying. "You suggest they're bound to Java for resupply," he said skeptically.

"The timing is right, and the Soviets could have had no way of anticipating we'd detect the activity in Jakarta."

The senior captain shook his head. "We must not underestimate their subtlety, Fenwick," he chided. "We outwitted Commissar Tsukanov in Darwin. He will be seeking a rematch. This is almost certainly a blind to draw our attention away from their real destination."

Fenwick tried not to look disappointed. This would not win him any points. "How can we determine what this is?"

"Given the limitations of their vessel and the fact that they're in a hurry, they will not be in a position to try a new route. This suggests they'll resupply at the same stations they visited on their way here." Michaelson plucked the reports from Fenwick's fingers and flipped through them until he found the one he wanted. "If these older sightings are accurate, their first port of call should be Sumbawa. They'll be traveling at reduced power to economize on fuel. That should give us a chance to get there ahead of them."

Next week: An Archaeologist a Day Keeps the Russians Away...

Comments about Episode 392? Start a new topic on the Forum!

StumbleUpon        submit to reddit Reedit