Episode 506: If Everything Seems Under Control, You Aren't Going Fast Enough
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
The island girl laughed. "I say," she remarked. "That may not be
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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