The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 510: It Should Be A Simple Errand

Pierre makes off with some loot

Gears whined as the hoist swung the launch into its cradle. Beside it, the cargo hold doors rumbled shut. Captain Everett watched the operation, then turned to the intercom and gave a command to the bridge. The sound of the engines deepend as the ship got underway.

"I see that your mission was successful," he remarked to Iverson and Sarah as they climbed down from the cockpit.

"Yes, sir," said Iverson. "May I introduce Oberleutant Neumann, Flieger Fisher and Signalgeber Lehr. I'm afraid they are the only survivors from the L-147."

Everett nodded to the three Germans. "Welcome aboard, gentlemen. We'll get you back to Rabaul as soon as possible, and I'll wish to hear your story before then, but first we have an errand to run. Loris, please find accommodations for our guests. Mister Iverson, Miss Sarah, if you'd accompany me to the bridge."

Gas cells swelled above them, expanding as the airship climbed, as the trio made their way foward along the keel passage. By time they reached control car, Murdock had brought Flying Cloud up to cruising altitude and set a course to the northwest. If the youth felt daunted by this responsibility, he was too well trained to show it. Below them, an armada of clouds trailed shadows across the empty sea. To the northeast, the island of Grand Terre was a distant line on the horizon

Everett glanced at the instruments and nodded. "Very good, Mister Murdock," he announced. "Maintain this altitude and heading and let Iwamoto know that we'd appreciate all the speed he can give us."

"Steady as she goes and ring for full power," acknowledged the lieutenant.

"I take it we're on an errand of some urgency," remarked Sarah.

"You are correct," Everett told her. "While you were away, we received new orders from Cairns. "Michaelson has learned that the Fat Man's people plan a rendezvous with some informant in the Solomon Islands. We're to prevent this, and if possible recover their contact's information for ourselves."

Iverson frowned at this news. "One wonders about the sources of the captain's knowledge."

"Indeed one does," said Everett. "I imagine this came from his mysterious friend Heinrich in German Naval Intelligence, but doesn't explain why the Germans would turn to us for help. It could be that they fear a leak if they use their own people, but it could also reflect a desire by one faction in their govermment to keep this information away from another."

Iverson reviewed the list of topics that could demand such a measure. It was very short. "You think this involves the Ujelang Device or the apparatus to refine uraninite?" he asked.

Everett nodded. "The latter seems more likely, since the Fat Man's had a working example of the former. If this is indeed the case, the information could involve the operational principles of the machine, actual plans, or intelligence the Fat Man's people could use to mount an attack on one of the laboratories where the Japanese nationalists are building copies of their own."

Sarah considered this observation. Her culture had a long history of using stratagems and deceptions. "All three possibilities suggest that someone is manipulating them with careful releases of information," she replied. "Could this be Karlov's work?"

"It's difficult to imagine any other candidates," said Everett. "His mysterious associate, this Natasha, has already made her appearance. Where one is present, the other never seems to be far behind."

"What's the relationship between those two?" wondered Sarah. "Are they friends, enemies, siblings, or lovers?"

Everett suppressed a sigh. "I'd give a lot to know the answer. And I'd give even more to know what the questions to which it might apply. In the meantime, we shall make our visit to the Solomons. At our current speed, we should raise San Cristobel before dawn. We'll deploy Iverson, Jenkins, and Pierre aboard the launch, then continue to Honiara on Guadalcanal to distract any agents while they proceed to Pamua where the rendezvous is supposed to take place."

"We've been rather free in our use of the vessel," Jenkins observed. "What if our adversaries have learned to watch for it?"

Everett made a gesture that suggested members of the Royal Naval Airship Service should be competent to deal with such an eventuality. "We'll count those chickens if we can't make them drink."

Deployment and the passage to San Cristobel were routine. Iverson and his companions inquired at Pamua's rustic customs office to discover that their quarry had preceded them. A short time later, they stood by a wharf where one of the Fat Man's schnellboots was moored. It was an intimidating vessel, 89 tons, 107 long, whose every line promised speed.

"Sacre bleu!" marveled Pierre. "How many of these bateaux do the Fat Man's people have?"

Iverson shook his head. He'd long ago lost count of the number they'd seen destroyed. "They do seem to have access to an endless supply of replacements," he observed. "I wonder how they explain the torpedo tubes."

"These are listed on customs documents as `bathing apparatus'," said Jenkins.

Iverson tried to imagine how they might be used for this purpose, then abandoned the effort. "It seems we've found our nationalist agents," he said. "We'll find a place we can watch the vessel without being seen, wait for someone to go ashore, then follow and see where they go."

The airmen didn't have long to wait. A few minutes later two men who looked the way yachtsmen might look if they belonged to a club for owners of small surface warships strode down the gangplank and set off along the shore. Remaining unobtrusive was not one of their major skills, and the airmen had little difficulty following them to a shop on the west side of the village.

"That must have been their contact," Iverson noted as the Germans reemerged.

"Yes, that new folder they're carrying would seem to be a giveaway," Jenkins remarked.

"We will wish to secure it," said Iverson. "If we fall upon them as they pass, we can hope to overpower them before they can react."

"That should not be necessary," Jenkins replied. "It's an adage of the Signal Corps that violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." He reached into his satchel to produce a manila binder identical in appearance to the one the Germans had obtained. "Do you want to do the honors or should I?" he asked Pierre.

Pierre smiled. "Ça devrait ê tre moi," he replied. "I am less likely to be recognized." As Iverson watched, he accepted the decoy, stepped onto the street, and strode past the two Germans. The lieutenant was unable to spot anything unusual about the encounter, but after the Germans had vanished down the road, Pierre returned carrying the original folder.

"Voila!" he announced cheerfully. "Let us return to the ship and deliver this to the Captain so we might discover what it contains."

Next week: ...A Stranger In This Century And Among Those Who Are Still Men...

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