The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 506: If Everything Seems Under Control, You Aren't Going Fast Enough

The race

Lieutenant Iverson crouched in the bushes and examined the torpedo boat through binoculars. Small, sleek, and deadly, it was one of the Hayabusa class vessels that had proved their worth during the Russo-Japanese War. It might be obsolete by modern standards, but it was more than capable of blowing their launch out of the water.

"We need a way to get past those fellows," he observed. "Are there any other inlets we could put out from?"

"There's one a few miles to the east," said Sarah, "but our launch is moored here."

"Oh yes, right," said Iverson.

"Could you call upon your airship?" asked Neumann. "It would make short work of the Japanisch."

Iverson shook his head. Airships might be the mortal enemies of small surface craft, but such a move was unlikely to go unopposed. "They'd spot our ship the same way they spotted yours and send their cruiser to meet it."

The German nodded ruefully. The Japanese cruiser was a monster. An action between it and a ship half its size could have only one outcome. "Then we must find some way to slip past them, as you have said," he remarked.

Sarah smiled. "I have an idea!"

Mid-morning found the airmen following a trail that ran east, parallel to the cliffs. Like the track north to the mountains, this seemed more than a simple game trail, but it was impossible to guess who or what might have made it. Iverson studied the ground, looking for impressions, then abandoned the effort. Strange legends haunted this part of the Pacific. He wasn't certain he wanted to confirm them.

"Do the Japanese mount any patrols on side of the island?" he asked Neumann.

"We found no evidence," said the German. "At one time we heard distance shouts, but that could have been some athletic competition."

Iverson frowned. This seemed a frivolous pastime for servants of the Emperor, but he supposed there was no accounting for tastes.

They paused for lunch next to what might have been a ruin. By now it was little more than a head of stones, but these seemed to have been shaped by the hand of man sometime in the distant past. Several bore images similar to the ones they seen on the hike north... and on the walls of the cave system in Australia where the White Russians had established their secret lab. Iverson puzzled over a group of humanoid figures connected to some monstrous winged form by lines that extended from objects in their hands. Were these meant to represent spears, he wondered, or did they have some symbolic value?

"Who drew these images?" he asked Sarah. "Was it these Dwellers From The Sea or Dwellers From The Sky you told me about?"

The island girl seemed amused by the question "No, those just show the Time of Fire," she chuckled. "No one pays any attention to them."

Once again, Iverson wasn't sure that his companion's explanation was particularly informative, but there seemed little point in asking for elaboration.

Another brief march brought them to the inlet Sarah had told them about. This was significantly less substantial than the place they'd actually landed -- little more than a ravine emerging from the cliff -- but it was still a plausible harbor. Iverson took the rocket flare they'd brought from the launch and planted this pointing out to sea. Then he rummaged though their supplies to measure out a length of slow match. He had no idea how accurately it would burn in these tropical conditions, so he decided to err on the side of caution.

"Are you certain this will work," Neumann asked as he spliced it to the fuse.

"If I've timed this right, it should go off a few hours after sunset," he replied. "That should provide the distraction we need."

Kaigun-chusa Rokuda stood on the Manzuru's tiny bridge, bracing himself against the vessel's motion. The Hayabusas had never been designed for this sort of duty, and his command rolled abominably in the southeasterly swell. His first mate, Ittōheisō Chiba, studied the shoreline that loomed dark in the night, then glanced at the chronometer.

"The moon won't rise until 2200," he remarked his superior. "What if the gaijin try to escape under cover of darkness?"

"They will fail," Rokuda replied. "There are only two places on this coast from which they could set out. They cannot know which one we are covering unless they make a light."

As if on cue, a bright spark flared to the east and arced out over the water. Rokuda grinned. "So, the Germans have made their bid for freedom. They will think we are guarding this harbor. Let us prove them wrong."

Iverson sprinted back from his lookout post and scrambled aboard the launch. "They've taken the bait!" he announced. "Let us depart before they realize they've been fooled."

The engine was already running at idle. It was the work of but a moment to back away from the beach, swing the bow south, and get underway. Breakers heaved to either side as Sarah guided them past the bar. Then they were clear of the surf line and rising to the swell.

Iverson had thought to head straight offshore, but a moment spent pounding into the oncoming waves showed that escaping to the south was not an option. He turned west, thinking to take the swell on their quarter. As he steadied the launch on its the new course, Fisher called out a warning.

"Acthung! The Japanisch have seen us!"

A brief glance showed the torpedo boat turning to follow. Smoke billowed from its stacks, lit by the rising moon. Iverson shoved the throttle forward, the engine roared, and the chase was on.

The competitors proved equally matched. For all of its virtues as a means of circumventing America's Eighteenth Amendment, the launch had never been intended as a sea boat. It surfed down the face of each wave, bounding over the chop like a barrel bounding down a hill, only to slam into the back of the next. The torpedo boat seemed to take some seas slightly better, but its narrow bow plowed through others in a burst of phosphorescent spray.

"Are they gaining?" Iverson yelled.

A flare lit up the night the night, followed by spray as a shell struck a short distance behind them. "I cannot tell," Fisher yelled back, "but they are almost in range. I have raced the powerboats. You will steer while I take the throttle."

Iverson hesitated, then gestured to the control. There seems no reason not to trust the German. The other man had as much reason to escape as he did. "Be my guest!"

With an experienced man at the throttle, the launch picked up few more knots of speed. The Japanese must also have drawn on some reserve, for they'd picked up speed as well. Another flare lit the night, followed by another fountain of spray. This one seemed closer.

"Sarah, you know these waters!" called Iverson. "Is there way we can use this to our advantage? Could we trick them into following us across some reef?"

The island girl laughed. "I say," she remarked. "That may not be necessary."

Iverson risked a glance astern in time to see the torpedo boat surf down a particularly steep face and run under the wave ahead of it. For a moment, the vessel was hidden by an explosion of foam. At last it reappeared, down by the bow, with its pilot house smashed in, a funnel missing, and deck gun twisted on its mounts.

Beside them, Neumann nodded to Fisher to ease back the throttle. "Thank you," he told Iverson. "I think we can slow down now."

Next week: Useful Directions...

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