The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 488: Well, Almost All Roads Lead To Danang

The 'Make A Good Fist'

Natasha stared at Clarice and Emily. Her expression might have been the study for a portrait titled `Disbelief'. At last she shook her head. "You two are oreshki!" she muttered.

What's an `oreshki'? Clarice wondered. It sounded like some sort of fish.

Beside her, Emily grinned. "You say these chappies are bound for Danang?" the blond told Natasha. "We've been trying to find passage there. This saves us the trouble, and your yacht should be much faster than any freighter we could find."

"You would have to conceal yourselves in my cabin," Natasha said dubiously.

Emily seemed unimpressed by this requirement. "That shouldn't be a problem, as long as we have food, water, and.." she raised a hand to make a flushing gesture. "Also, it's not as if we were in a position to step ashore."

Their hostess glanced out the porthole, where the lights of Manila were receding into the darkness, and nodded in resignation. "Khorosho," she sighed. "But we must be careful, for I'll be at as much risk as you are."

For the next two days, Clarice and Emily remained hidden as the Make a Good Fist steamed west. The yacht was a considerable change from Aunt Prodigia's salvage tug, Mister Fuller's submarine, or the freighter they'd ridden to Manila. Her plant was quieter, her machinery ran more smoothly, and her fittings were tailored for a more demanding class of passenger. Even the way she rose and fell to the swell seemed more refined, as if the vessel was admonishing the waves to behave.

Fortunately, Natasha's stateroom included certain basic facilities that eliminated the need for ventures outside. It also seemed off-limits to the rest of the crew. It seemed their hostess occupied some intermediate level of status -- high enough to command quarters of her own, but not high enough for these to include maid service. This raised the question of just what that status might be.

"These are posh digs," Emily observed. "How does Natasha rate them? Do you reckon she's..."

"No," Clarice said with a chuckle. "If she was, she wouldn't need digs of her own. But she does seem to be on a first-name basis with those Edmunds and Collins chappies, and they're in the British Union. I wonder what her relationship is with the Warfields."

"We know she's connected with this Karlov bloke, even if she won't tell us how," said Emily, "and he's connected with the Ujelang Device. What do we know about that thingie?"

Clarice reviewed the story Everett had told her, doing her best to put the captain's mannerisms out of mind. How dare he act like such a gentleman! You'd think he was a naval officer or something! "There were two Devices, one at Ujelang and one at Rabaul," she replied. "The first one blasted an entire island clean of life. The second one did zilch. According to the Captain, both mechanisms were the same, so the difference must have involved the active principle."

"And that came from this uraninite ore."

"Bob's your uncle. It must be refined in some say, and it seems that's a bit of a trick. Karlov was working for the White Russians when they built the first Device, but may not have been involved with the second, which suggests he may be the only one who knows the secret."

"I wonder where he learned it," said Emily.

This question had never occurred to Clarice. It also didn't seem of immediate importance. "I wonder what he's doing here in the South Pacific," she replied. "From what Countess Zelle told the Captain, it appears that he arrived after the White Russians. He showed up with some fellow named Yakov, who'd been the assistant of some Russian archaeologist before the War. This Yakov was later found dead in Cairns, murdered by the Fat Man's people shortly after they attacked the secret White Russian laboratories."

Emily considered the implications. "Could Karlov have betrayed Yakov and the White Russians to the Germans?" she asked.

"If anyone ratted, I reckon it was Yakov," said Clarice. "He sounds like the type. But Karlov may have guessed what the man was about, for he did manage to escape when the Germans attacked. Then he showed up on Ujelang before the explosion to confront Natasha, dropped by Tahiti to nick that Nui Mana thingie, showed up on Gililo to confront Natasha again, and was waiting in Kupang to find us passage to Manila."

"And now Natasha has provided us with passage to Danang," said Emily.

The two women glanced at each other. "Do you reckon they're really working together?" asked Clarice, voicing both their thoughts.

Emily shook her head. "This seems more like some game where they take turns trying to use each other's previous move for their own ends."

Clarice thought back on everything they'd seen and heard. There were so many names and places it was difficult to keep track of them all. She glanced out the porthole at the sea and sky, but they told no tales. At last she sighed.

"I wonder what these last moves were about."

The next morning may not have provided an answer, but it did bring more questions. As the two young women were putting final touches on their makeup, a voice called out from on deck. Moments later, the yacht made a sharp turn to port.

"It sounds like they spotted someone," said Emily. "I wonder what's up."

They didn't have long to wonder. Moments later the yacht made a turn to starboard, the engine slowed, and a loud bang echoed from the foredeck.

"That sounded like a deck gun," Clarice remarked.

"It would be a QF-1 Nordenfelt-Maxim," said Emily. "We should have guessed the Warfields would arm their yacht. Who could these people be shooting at?"

It was clear that the target was one the Make A Good Fist's crew intended to plunder. Over the next several minutes, they called on someone to surrender, hove to, launched a boat, then brought it back aboard. But their victim lay to port, while Natasha's cabin faced to starboard, so it wasn't until the yacht was underway again and made a turn to starboard that Clarice and Emily could see who it was.

"Strewth, that's the Tranquility!" said Clarice. "Do you reckon these British Union chappies just nicked that shipment of vacuum tubes?"

"Dinki-di," said Emily. "We should hsve guessed that's what they were about."

Clarice nodded in agreement. It wasn't as if they hadn't had enough clues. "I wonder where they're heading now."

Next week: This Time We'll Get It Right...

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