Episode 474: It's Wise to Plan Ahead
It was an awkward tableau. Everett, MacKiernan, and Miss Perkins sat on one
side of the table, while Ritter and his lieutenant sat on the other, like
delegates to some dubious peace conference. Untouched cups of tea stood
between them. At the head of the table, Countess Zelle waited for them to
begin. She seemed untroubled by her role as hostess. She would have
learned this sort of balancing act during the War, Everett reflected. How
would she manage today's confrontation?
Ritter opened the negotiations. "You suggested we have interests in
common," he told Everett. "What is your proposal?"
"We both wish to prevent the Japanese or their allies in the British Union
from getting their hands on that shipment of vacuum tubes," Everett replied.
"To this end, we're both trying to determine where the British Union might
try to intercept the freighter that's carrying it. I propose that we pool
our efforts, following separate leads and keeping each other informed of
our discoveries. That way we double our chances of success."
"What happens when one of us finds the shipment?" asked Ritter.
"They destroy it," said Everett. "In addition, if one of us manages to
intercept the Warfields, they promise to free their two captives."
Ritter nodded. "So the victor would receive no spoils. Why should either
of us agree to this arrangement?"
"Because those spoils are worthless without the plans for the refining
apparatus," said Everett. "I'm willing to wager that you don't have access
to these, since you and the Japanese are at odds, and you can hardly believe
they've provided us with a copy -- our interactions have tended to involve
"That may be true," Ritter admitted, "but why should we also agree to
release your two young friends?"
Everett shook his head ruefully. "I very much doubt you'd want to keep them
on your hands," he assured the German. "This would almost certainly be more
trouble than it was worth. They're two overly-adventurous civilians with a
regrettable habit of ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Ritter noticed his expression and frowned. "Do they really cause so much
"Words are inadequate to describe their ingenuity."
"I will take this under advice," said Ritter. "But why should we trust
Everett met the other captain's gaze. "You were not always a merchant
skipper," he said. "I imagine we served in similar capacities during the
War. We may well have faced each other on the North Sea that day in May.
And the Kaiserliche Marine has the same traditions of honor as does
the Royal Navy."
"So it does. Would that they were more widely observed," mused the German.
He sat for a moment, then turned to address Countess Zelle. "You have been
silent throughout this discussion, Gráfin," he said politely. "What
do you have to contribute?"
The Countess took a sip of tea, then set her cup aside. Her manner was
brisk and precise, like a barrister explaining the conditions of a contract.
"I know of several ports where the British Union maintain agents," she told
them. "I can provide you with this information. In return, I would expect
some appropriate consideration. From you, Kapitán Ritter,
this would include a promise from your superiors not to attack my estate
"And if I cannot obtain from them such a promise?" said the German.
"Then you don't receive the information, and we discover whose resources are
greater: the Fat Man's or mine."
Ritter inclined his head in respect. "Your reputation is well-deserved,
Madam," he said. "I shall convey your message to our fuhrer and
recommend that he never put it to the test. Kapitán
Everett, you must have intelligence regarding the British Union. How
closely can we expect them and the Japanisch to cooperate?"
"The alliance may not be a willing one," said Everett. "The Japanese seem
to have forced it upon the Warfields when they surprised their airship on
Ujelang earlier this year. This raises some questions about the Warfields'
motives for trying to recover the vacuum tubes. They could be working for
the Japanese, they could plan to sell them to the highest bidder, or they
could want them for themselves."
"Such were my thoughts as well," said Ritter. "The Baron and his lady are...
flexible negotiators." He paused as if to reflect, then spoke to his
lieutenant. "Dedrik, return to the spáhwagen and tell the
driver to prepare. I will conclude our business with the Countess, then
The lieutenant rose and saluted. "Jawohl, Mein Heer."
Ritter waited until his subordinate was gone, then glanced at Everett.
"This so-called Ujelang Device, you have seen what it can do?" he asked
"We witnessed the explosion from offshore, and we've visited the island to
view the aftermath first-hand," said Everett. "It would be a formidable
weapon. It would be particularly devastating against civilian targets. My
service frowns upon such things."
Ritter nodded. "As does mine. I would see this tradition continue."
After the Germans had left, Everett sent MacKiernan and Miss Perkins to
contact the Flying Cloud and arrange for pickup. The Countess
ordered her butler to assist them, then came to stand by Everett.
"Do you think you can trust Captain Ritter to destroy the vacuum tubes?"
"I believe so," said Everett. "He and I may have different allegiances, but
we seemed to share an understanding."
The Countess glanced in the direction MacKiernan and Miss Perkins had
departed. "Your executive officer and Michaelson's secretary seem to
share an understanding as well."
"Of a different form, perhaps," said Everett. "Unfortunately, they too
are divided by their allegiances. I hope their story ends well, but I
fear that Captain Michaelson may have the final say in the matter."
The Countess laid a hand on his arm. "Lawrence never forgets, does he?"
"How could he?"
She sighed, then her face brightened with a smile. "At least your
signalman and Miss Wilcox don't face any obstacles of this sort."
"You know of their... friendship?" asked Everett.
"Of course!" said the Countess. "It is my business to know such things.
What about the young lady's companion, Miss Blaine?"
Everett glanced at her. "Surely you're not suggesting..."
The Countess's denial was not entirely convincing. "Of course not!"
Everett chuckled. "You needn't have any fears on that score," he assured
her. "Miss Blaine has made her opinion of the gentleman in question quite
Next week: We All Live On a Wolesley Class Dirigible...
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