The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 453: A Rustic Island Laboratory

Tropical chemistry

Clarice and Emily watched from the deck of the Viking Girl as the Flying Cloud vanished into the west. If Clarice squinted, she imagined she could still make out figures in the command car. Beside her, Emily grinned.

"That was a real bonzer!" the blond announced. "I never expected those chaps to turn up here."

"I spose," Clarice said dubiously. "But you got to hang out with your cobber. I was stuck with the captain."

Emily looked at her companion as if about to say something, then chuckled. "I envy them. They get to have all the fun."

Clarice joined her in a laugh. "Dinki di! We'll have to find some adventure of our own!"

Everett gazed aft toward the receding shoreline and shook his head. Though binoculars, he could still make out a pair of brightly-clad figures on the deck of the freighter. A threatening shadow loomed behind them.

"We did well to escape that encounter unscathed," he observed. "I can't say that I envy those two young ladies their aunt."

"She is an intimidating individual," agreed Jenkins. "Should we be concerned for the young ladies' safety?"

Everett made a dismissive gesture. "What could possibly go wrong on a routine salvage operation?" he asked. "We will trust their formidable relative to keep them out of trouble while we go about our business."

The first order of business was a call at Darwin, for no airship captain ever turned down a chance for resupply. From there they headed north across the Timor Sea, dodging rains squalls along the way. Everett had decided not to notify the Dutch of their visit. This might have been a slight breach of the etiquette that governed visits by naval vessels between the Powers, but some Powers were more equal than others.

They raised Oa Ki the next morning. It was an undistinguished coral island, only a few miles across, some distance northeast of Timor. From the air, they could see the crater Sarah had reported from her visit with Helga. Vegetation was growing back, but they could still make out buildings beneath the trees around it. After studying the ground, Everett decided to risk deployment directly to the clearing. Once again, he led the party himself, bringing Sarah along to serve as a guide and Jenkins and Pierre for their areas of expertise.

"I'd say this place has seen better days," Jenkins remarked as they alighted from the Transporter.

Everett examined their surroundings. The radio shack was gone, only a few twisted girders remaining to show where it had been hit by the bomb. Beside this, a row of barracks were succumbing to the weather, for unmaintained buildings didn't last long in this climate. Only the laboratories -- three utilitarian concrete structures with corrugated tin roofs -- seemed comparatively intact.

"There may be some truth to this observation," he observed. "Let us see what's left."

They approached the nearest laboratory and pulled away the layer of vines that had grown across the door. Inside, shafts of light from the broken skylights illuminated rusting machinery covered with shattered glass and fallen leaves. A few shell casings gleamed on the floor, but it didn't seem the defenders had been able to put up much resistance against an overwhelming force.

Pierre brushed aside the litter to examine some of the machines, "This is not the sort of merchandise I usually deal with," he admitted, "but it seems to be conventional ore-processing equipment. These would be a crushing mill, leaching tanks, and a furnace."

"And this would be what they processed," Jenkins remarked from next to a wheelbarrow, where he was holding a chunk of greenish-black ore up to the Muller Counter they'd found in Darwin the previous year. "This resembles the material from Enterprise Creek. The reading is considerably lower than the samples from Sarah's Island."

Everett nodded. "We'd always suspected the Russians obtained their ore from Australia. Let us see what's in the next laboratory."

The second building was obviously a chemical plant. Tanks outside one wall made of an alloy Pierre identified as monel must once have held some gas. It was impossible to tell what this might have been, but the condition of the fittings suggested it had been highly corrosive. The interior of the building was in ruins. Some accident -- a consequence of the gunfight, perhaps -- had spilled caustic chemicals across the floor, scarring the concrete and streaking it with stains. Partially dissolved equipment glittered beneath a crust of poisonous-looking crystals.

"That looks rather nasty," said Sarah.

Everett considered the prospect. "I believe we'll give this particular building a miss," he decided.

Beside him, Jenkins nodded. "A wise decision, sir."

The third building was as enigmatic as the others were suggestive. Drag marks showed where the invaders had plundered the place of equipment, but nothing remained to show what this might have been. Jenkins crouched to examine the studs where several large objects had been bolted to the floor.

"These resemble the mountings for the centrifuge we found in Burmah," he reported. "It would appear that the Russians arranged the machines in series. Perhaps a succession of steps were required to concentrate the explosive impulse,"

"This still doesn't tell us how the process worked," said Everett. "It must have involved something in addition to the centrifuges, for the Germans haven't managed to reproduce the Device, and the Japanese felt it necessary to kidnap that American chemist. I wonder if the Russians left any notes."

Jenkins indicated the ruins around them. "If they did, we'll have a devil of time finding them."

Pierre began to nod, then paused as if struck by a thought. "Monsieur Jenkins," he said, "might I borrow the instrument you carry?"

The signalman shrugged off the shoulder strap and passed the device over. "What are you thinking?" he asked.

"If the Russians hid something here, they will have wanted to mark the spot in some way invisible to the naked eye. This machine detects radiations invisible to the naked eye. Let us discover what it can see."

The Muller Counter remained uninformative as they began their search, producing only the random clicks Everett had come to think of as `background', but as they passed a small wooden shack, the clicks intensified to a chatter. Pierre tugged open the door, revealing a single furnishing whose purpose was obvious. The counter seemed to be detecting something below it.

"Non!" he muttered in horror. "Surely they didn't!" Then he smiled, clambered atop the object, taking care to avoid what could only have been an unpleasant spill, and rummaged through the thatching. Moments later he was handing down a set of ledgers wrapped in oiled canvas.

"These Russians are clever, but they are no match for a Frenchman!" he announced.

"Excellent work!" said Everett. "We'll take these back to the ship."

Everett found MacKiernan waiting for him when he returned to the bridge. "We have received an urgent message from Aunt Prodigia," he told the captain.

"I take it this was not a distress call," said Everett.

"It seemed more in the nature of a profound annoyance call," replied the Irishman, handing him a message slip. Everett read a single terse line.


Everett sighed. "I suppose we'd better discover what she wants."

Next week: I Believe That's Our Freighter...

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