The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 484: Meanwhile, Some Distance To The North

Fuller's submarine in Haiphong

The Flying Cloud could have flown from Singapore to Haiphong in eighteen hours, but Captain Everett elected to make the passage at reduced speed so they'd arrive in the morning, when the winds were light. This proved to be a wise decision, for the mechanized equipment at the Station Aerienne de Cat Bi seemed optimized for aesthetics rather than efficiency. This complicated mooring operations, but finally, after a wait while ground crews located the necessary adapters, the airship was riding from a mast.

There seemed no reason to fear attack at a well-guarded French colonial government facility, so Everett elected to lead the shore party himself. He brought along Pierre for his investigative skills, Murdock to provide the youth with experience, and Abercrombie in case they needed to lift any heavy things. The station had a motor for hire, and soon they were rolling along the streets of Haiphong.

This was city rich in history, with legends dating back to the First Century and the Trung Sisters' rebellion against China. After Ngo Quyen drove out the Southern Han at the Battle of Bach Dang, it served as an administrative center for a succession of Annamese dynasties. It'\s original name, Hai tan Phong Thu, had meant something like `Defensive Coastal Area'. Now it was one of the jewels in the crown of French Indochina, with a major naval base and air station, an important highway junction, and a rail line to China.

"D'ye ken Miss Wilcox and Miss Blaine got here before us?" asked Abercrombie as they parked at the customs office.

"This seems unlikely," Everett said dryly. "The town is still standing. But the Tranquility could well have done so. Even at eight knots, they've had ample time to make the passage from Singapore. We'll see if the port officials have any record of the vessel."

The customs office denied any knowledge of the Tranquility, but it was unwise to take such things at face value in this part of the world, so Everett decided to examine the waterfront in person. They found no sign of the freighter, but as they were examining wharves in the Lien Vi district, Murdock made an unexpected discovery.

"I say," the lieutenant remarked, "that ship seems rather low in the water."

Everett looked where the youth was pointing, raised an eyebrow, and ordered Abercrombie to pull over the curb. The vessel in question had a distinctive appearance, with a raised bow, low topsides, and two stubby funnels aft of the bridge. "That," he announced, "would be Mister Fuller's K Class submarine."

"Etes-vous sur?" asked Pierre in surprise.

"The lines are quite characteristic. And there can only be a limited number of these craft in the South Pacific... or the entire world, for that matter."

"D'ye think he kens we're here?" asked Abercrombie.

"That's a good question," mused Everett. "The British Union must maintain agents at the air station, but they might not have noticed us amidst all the traffic. It's also possible that Fuller has word of our arrival, but elected to remain. The second alternative would would seem to constitute a message. We'd better confront the fellow and find out what he's up to."

Everett hailed a pair of seaman who seemed to be swabbing the deck -- why this should be necessary on a submarine wasn't immediately apparent, but perhaps they did this to keep up appearances. "Ahoy there!" he said. "We'd like have a word with the master of your vessel."

"I don't believe he's aboard," replied one of the men, "but if you'll follow me, you're welcome to speak with the mate."

Everett had hunted plenty of submarines from the air during exercises, but this was the first time he'd actually been aboard one. In many respects it resembled an airship, with analogous controls for rudder, elevator, and ballast. In others, it seemed an inversion of the technology with which he was familiar -- cramped rather than spacious, fashioned from steel rather than aluminum, with a periscope in place of windows. The mate met them in the vessel's wardroom. He informed them that Fuller had gone ashore to visit a machine tool supplier, and provided them with the address. This proved food for thought.

Bund der Frontsoldaten Werkzeugmaschinen, Dong Hai, Hai An.

"C'est Allemend!" marveled Pierre after they were back in the auto. "Surely the British Union is allied with the Japanese nationalists, who have become the Fat Man's bitter foes."

"That was our assumption," said Everett, "but the Baron and Baroness have always been somewhat flexible in their alliances. Let us visit this establishment and see what we can find."

The Germans' warehouse was located in the Hai An district, on the other side of the river. It had clearly been the scene of some confrontation. The entrance had been forced, apparently by a battering ram, and the windows shattered by gunfire. Spent cartridge cases marked places attackers had chosen for cover before the final assault. Pierre stooped to examine one.

"It's an 8 milimeter round," he reported. "This is an unusual caliber."

"It would be for the Nambu Type 14 semi-automatic pistol that recently entered service in Japan," lectured a voice from behind them. "It uses a short recoil action with locking breech, derived from its predecessor, the Nambu Type B."

They turned to see a middle-aged gentleman with a receding hairline and the manner of a scholar. Everett recognized the man immediately. "Mister Fuller," he said politely.

"And you would be Captain Roland P. Everett of the Royal Naval Airship Service," said Fuller. "I'm glad we finally have a chance to meet."

"I'm not certain why this should be the case," said Everett. "You're one of the leaders of the British Union of Fascists. That would seem to place us at odds."

"So I would have them believe," said Fuller. "I'm actually working for Naval Intelligence."

Everett raised an eyebrow. "Can you provide some evidence to substantiate this claim?"

The other man smiled. "Consider my record as their artficer. You can hardly think that all the equipment I've provided the Warfields malfunctioned by chance. You should also ask yourself how a private citizen could possibly have gained ownership a War surplus fleet submarine. I thought it might give the game away when I rescued the two young ladies from the Japanese armed salvage tug, but it seems that my cover is more convincing than I realized."

Everett thought this over. Fuller's revelation did provide an explanation for several mysteries. "What are you doing here in Haiphong?" he asked.

"I hoped to prevent the Germans and Japanese from receiving that shipment of vacuum tubes. I imagine you're here on a similar errand. It seems that our adversaries have done our work for us. According to the local authorities, the Japanese and Germans fought some sort of battle here two nights ago, then fled before they could be apprehended."

"That seems convenient," mused Everett. "It almost seems too convenient, as if it was contrived."

"Contrived?" asked Fuller. "Who could possibly be responsible? From what I know of the Warfields' resources, they're hardly in a position to do such thing."

"I have my suspicions," said Everett. "I also cannot help but wonder how Miss Wilcox and Miss Blaine might fit into this party's plans."

Next week: Girls' Night Out...

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