The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 398: Adding Up The Score

Cricketeer facing an airship

It was an idyllic setting -- a circle of jungle-clad hills sloping down to a small harbor and air station at the head of a bay -- but the atmosphere was anything but idyllic. Troops drilled next to the field, training for the day they'd bring Law to the Fatherland. Behind them, a large modern airship rode from the mast. The Fat Man studied the latter with approval.

"Häbler has brought us a valuable prize," he observed. "What are the vessel's specifications?"

Servants of the coming Reich were expected to have such knowledge at their fingertips. "The vessel is 128,000 cubic meters enclosed volume, with a useful lift of 121.8 tonnes at 85% inflation," his aide replied. "Her plant consists of six diesels from the Packard corporation in Detroit. They may not be as powerful as Maybach's products, but they're almost as economical, and still give the ship a top speed of 65 knots.

The Fat Man nodded. "This is much more capable than our previous airship. We'll need to import a cadre to replace the crew we lost on the L-137, and it may take some time to get the vessel ready for service, but with the latest weapons from Schwerin..." he smiled at the thought, "...she will be more than a match for any of our adversaries."

The signalman saluted, then composed himself to wait. Like most of his fellows, he'd learned patience in a very hard school. Discipline in the True Patriotic Society was enforced by draconian measures.

At last the captain deigned to notice his subordinate. "What is the word from our agents?" he asked.

"We took the Royal Navy by surprise," said the signalman. "None of their airships was in a position to intercept us. Even if they had been, none would have been powerful enough to face us."

The captain nodded. The only comparable naval unit within a day's flight of their position was the American cruiser from which their own vessel was copied, and that was still at Truk taking on supplies. "How is our shujin adjusting to his new status?" he asked.

"He complained at first, but this was merely to save face. When we showed him the plans, he dropped this pretense. He seems excited by the opportunity."

"Good. Those German eta may still be ahead of us, but we have more pieces of the puzzle."

The Governor held his glass up to the light, took a sip, and nodded. The wine might have suffered during its voyage from France, but it compared favorably with the alternatives from Australia and Argentina. "Things are going well," he observed. "Our allies were grateful for the intelligence we provided about American liner. Now they have a prize to distract them. Meanwhile an even more valuable prize has delivered himself into our hands."

Across the table, Wasserman drained his mug, wiped the foam from his lips, and belched. "Have we learned anything about this machine he brought?"

The Governor shrugged inwardly at this display of manners. One didn't expect social graces from a man of his nationality or station. "It appears to be authentic," he replied. "It's not something that would be easy to fake, and it matches the description in our copy of Professor Solvyov's notes. We may not know how to operate it, but we will obtain this information from our guest. Did he have any light to shed on the matter?"

"He wasn't in the village this morning." Wasserman said with a grin. "He must have finally realized he's our prisoner."

The Governor matched his minion's smile. "This insight came too late to save him. We're on an island. There is no way this man can disappear."

The R-505 and R-87 had made their ways back to Cairns Royal Air Station, each bearing its cargo of bad news. Now Everett and his officers sat in the schoolroom Michaelson used for hearings while the senior captain studied their report. For several long minutes, the only sound was the scratch of Michaelson's pen as he took notes. At last he set the document down and scowled.

"I cannot say that this performance did you credit," he remarked sourly.

Everett did his best to keep his expression neutral, but this was an old game -- one they'd been playing ever since a day neither man cared to remember.

Michaelson also seemed to recognize the futility of this charade. "I know," he growled with what might have been a sigh. "And there's no need for any observations regarding the relative color of pots and kettles. We may both have to answer to the Admiral's office, so we'd best be prepared. Let us review the situation.

"The Fat Man has found another airship to replace the one we took back in April. According to Jane's this one is considerably more capable than the L-137. With proper armament, it could be a formidable opponent."

"Should we expect this, sir?" asked Jenkins. "They won't find it easy to procure the necessary weapons here in the Pacific."

"Of course," Michaelson said irritably. "They're Germans. It's what they do. We must also worry about the mysterious cruiser. While the Fat Man's people were taking the Argentine vessel from under your noses, these Japanese had the effrontery to attack an American ocean liner and kidnap a passenger. This reflects badly on all of us. It also suggests their intelligence is more comprehensive than we realized. Finally, I must admit that Karlov outwitted me. Again. I grow annoyed with that fellow."

Everett glanced at Michaelson. The signs were subtle, but he'd learned to read them. "I gather matters are not as bleak as they appear," he observed.

Michaelson made as if to disagree, then thought better of it. "You are correct," he admitted. "Several aspects of this situation may work to our advantage. One involves flight personnel. We captured most of the Fat Man's airmen when we took the L-137. He will need a new crew from Germany to man his prize. Such people are not common. We will ask naval intelligence to track the movements of those with the necessary training.

"Another aspect involves the Japanese. Once they were an enigma. Now they may have tipped their hand. We will examine the passenger manifest to learn about this fellow they kidnapped. This should provide some insight into their plans, and might even offer some clues regarding the location of their base."

One question remained. "What about Karlov?" Everett asked cautiously.

Michaelson didn't even bother to disguise his expression. "The man may have played me for a fool," he said sharply, "but he has almost certainly played the Governor for a fool as well. We will regard this as a test match. The game is not over just because a single innings is closed."

Next week: The Eighth Flying Cloud Christmas Special...

Comments about Episode 398? Start a new topic on the Forum!

StumbleUpon        submit to reddit Reedit