The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 502: He Also Left Some Tracks Behind

Karlov rounding a corner

The strangers stared at Iverson and Sarah with suspicion. As well they might. It couldn't be every day they met a Royal Navy airship officer accompanied by an attractive young lady with a spear.

"Was is das?" demanded the leader.

Iverson had only a limited understanding of German, but the other man's meaning seemed clear. "I am Lieutenant Iverson, Royal Navy Airship Service and this is our ship's ballast officer, Miss Sarah," he replied. "We assume you are survivors from the L-147. We were sent to look for you in response to a request from Rabaul."

The Germans glanced at each other. "How do we know they tell the truth?" asked one.

The leader eyed Sarah's spear, which was pointed directly at his chest. "They must be from the Royal Navy. Only the Englishers are so eccentric," he assured his men. Turning back to Iverson, he made his introductions. "You will be one of the crew who crash-landed here two years ago. I recognize your name from the briefing we received before our mission. I am Oberleutnant Neumann of the Imperial Luftschiffwehrflotte and these are Flieger Fisher and Signalgeber Lehr."

"Are you the only survivors?" asked Iverson.

"I'm afraid so," said Neumann. "We were surprised by the giant cruiser, of which you must know. Kapitan Mayer drew the vessel away to cover our landing, but it outclassed our own ship in every way, so there is no way he can have escaped, or survived an engagement."

Iverson nodded ruefully. It was as they'd feared. "We understand you were sent here to discover what the Japanese nationalists were about."

"Ja," said Neumann. "We climbed this trail, hoping to find a place from which we could spy upon their air station. When we reached the top we saw what appeared to be an observation post to the east. It would not have been safe to leave this behind us, so we set off to investigate. As we approached it, we came upon a tunnel, surrounded ruins of what might have been an ancient temple. We decided to explore thby is before we proceeded any further."

Iverson glanced at Sarah. "Do you know of this place?"

The island girl clapped her hands in delight. "That must be the marae the Dwellers From The Sky built when they were trying to recover the secrets of the Old Ones. No one goes there now. All of its mana was consumed during the Time of Fire."

Iverson suppressed a frown. His companion's explanations did little to clarify matters. Indeed, they only led to new questions. He resolved to ask for more detailed information when he had a chance, but another question seemed of greater urgency. "What did you find inside?" he asked Neumann.

"The place was difficult to navigate," said the German. "It was a maze of twisty turny passages, all different. But it seemed someone had been there before us, for we found arrows scratched on the wall, accompanied by the initials `A.S'."

"Either this was a remarkable coincidence or someone had a peculiar sense of humor," Iverson observed.

Neumann chuckled. "I read that book too. Whoever this man was, we followed his marks past many cave paintings, several intersections, and an abandoned smelter. Finally we came to a chamber the Japanisch nationalists had restored to use."

"You're sure the Japanese were involved?" asked Iverson.

"There was little doubt, for they were hard at work when we arrived," said Neumann. "Fortunately they did not see us. The corners in that place were... strange."

"Whatever were they doing?"

"We wondered that as well," admitted Neumann. "We could not tell by watching, so entered to inspect the chamber after they were gone. It might once have held a smithy, for we recognized the ancient forges, but the Japanisch had moved these aside to install several large tanks, which must have some poisonous gas, for they were marked with the Scädel und Knochen. Pipes ran from these to a row of devices that resembled rotary washing machines. These were surrounded by racks of magnetic coils. These were connected by cables to a large cabinet filled with trays of vacuum tubes. This machinery did not seem to be complete, for it was surrounded by boxes of unused components."

Iverson and Sarah exchanged glances. This sounded much like the laboratory the Japanese had built in Burmah to refine uraninite. They'd moved that one to somewhere in China. Why were they building another one here? Was this intended as a precaution or did it represent some division among their adversaries?

"Why would they build this facility on top of an extinct volcano?" he wondered, giving no hint of these thoughts.

Neumann shrugged. "It would be a good place to keep a secret. The caves were already there, and it's a place no one would think to look. But I have no idea what this secret might be."

"What did you do after you'd examined the room?"

"It seemed unwise to continue onward, with our adversaries behind as well as in front of us, so we decided to return to the coast," said Neumann. "We planned to fell some trees, construct a raft, and escape under cover of darkness."

Iverson felt this scheme might have been over-optimistic. He'd navigated these waters in a significantly more substantial craft during his escape with Natalie two years before, and it had not been an easy passage. Still, he could hardly fault the other man's enterprise. "Did you leave any trace of your visit?" he asked.

The German shuffled his feet. "Nein. Except for that unconscious guard."

"Unconscious guard?"

"The one Fisher had to subdue when he walked in on us."

Iverson frowned, then glanced at the sun, which was now high in the sky. "If this occurred last evening, I imagine he'll have been found by now."

"The Japanisch have not reacted," said Neumann. "They must have assumed he was struck down by one of their own people. They can hardly be aware of our presence. We should be able to escape aboard the vessel you used to arrive."

This scheme also seem somewhat over-optimistic to Iverson, but before he could comment, something caught his eye. He looked offshore to see one of the French-made torpedo boats the Japanese had used so effectively against the Russians in 1905 round a bend in the coastline. It hove to off the mouth of the estuary where they'd landed, as if its crew had guessed where they must be hiding.

"These assumptions may have been somewhat premature," he observed. "We shall need to refine our plans."

Next week: Surely They Cannot Have Noticed...

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