Episode 536: Perhaps They Won't Notice
The German airships came from out of the sun -- roar of their engines
filling the valley like an ambush of tigers. Shielding his eyes against
the glare. MacKiernan made out the Drachen accompanied by two aging
freighters. That latter were quite obviously nearing the end of their
service life. Smoke trailed from their exhausts and oil spattered the
sides of their engine cars.
Beside him, Sergeant Donnelly studied the defenses of the laboratory complex
the Japanese nationalists had built next to the river. "That could be a
tough nut to crack," he said. "Those fellows have four batteries of 75's to
keep the Germans out of bombing range."
"This will depend on how the Drachen is armed," said MacKiernan.
"If they're carrying some of those new glide bombs, the Japanese could be
in for a fight."
"Surely the mysterious cruiser intercepted the shipment aboard the L-103,"
"Perhaps," said MacKiernan, "but the Germans only used one in their action
against the destroyer. They might have kept others in reserve."
As if on queue, a dart streaked between the ship and the complex. Instants
later, one of the gun emplacements erupted into a plume of debris. Three
more bombs struck in quick succession, reducing the other guns to rubble as
"It appears that they did," Miss Perkins observed as the dust settled.
"This would seem to put paid to the Japanese long-range defenses."
"Aye," said Donnelly, "but their entrenchments remain untouched. The
Germans will have a tough time charging those the face of massed machine
MacKiernan nodded. The marine was almost certainly right. Like many who'd
served in the war, the marine spoke from experience. But the freighters
had begun their descent -- a glide that would bring them to the ground
beyond range of small arms fire. They touched down in what seemed like slow
motion. From this distance, the evolution looked delicate, almost graceful,
but the Irishman could snapping cables and shriek of tearing metal as their
cars tore furrows through the ground. As he watched, the two hulls slid to
a halt. For a moment, all was still. Then two familiar objects burst from
"Oh dear," he said. "They brought the tanks."
"We should have expected this," Miss Perkins observed. "The machines were
just sitting in that warehouse on Celebes. If the Germans hadn't taken
them, it's certain some other renegade nationalists would. Do you think
they'll suffice to overcome the defenses?"
"Oh aye," Donnelly said glumly. "It's all over for those Japanese. They
won't have any weapon to stop those things."
The marine's prediction proved correct. The entrenchments were silent as
the defenders absorbed what had happened, then they erupted in a blaze of
fire. This proved entirely incapable of penetrating the tanks' armor.
The Germans might have been inconvenienced by the vehicles' inability to
move much faster than a walking pace, but the outcome was hardly in doubt..
Miss Perkins watched the pace of their advance and shook her head. "We may
be here for some time," she remarked dryly.
"So it would seem," said MacKiernan. "I feel we should find some way to
intervene, but I cannot imagine on whose side, or how."
Beside them, Karlov had also been watching developments. "That was
well-played on her part," he remarked, "but she cannot have anticipated my
counter-move. Lieutenant-Commander, you will wish to destroy the refiner
before the Germans can capture it. I suggest you take advantage of the
armanent the Japanese were kind enough to place at your disposal."
MacKiernan turned to look at the shack behind them. In the excitement of
the attack, he'd entirely forgotten about the Brandt 81 mortar the Japanese
had left at this observation post. Together, he and Sergeant Donnelly
unpacked the tube, baseplate, and bipod, and began to set them up. This
took little time, for this was hardly a complicated weapon, and the
sergeant had some of experience with its English predecessor during the
"We're lucky this was here," he remarked as he tightened the final bolts.
"Yes," Karlov said cryptically. "You were." For some reason, he seemed
amused by the marine's observation.
MacKeirnan glanced at him in puzzlement, then went back to sighting the tube
and adjusting the elevation. As a naval officer, he had some experience
with gunnery, and recognized the challenge they faced -- a downhill shot,
with an unfamiliar weapon, and nothing to help them find the range.
Donelley had already opened the crate of bombs. He prepared one and held
it over the muzzle. "Sir?"
MacKiernan studied the combat below. The Japanese were maintaining their
fire. The tanks were continued their snail like progress, shrugging off
bullets with magnificent indifference. As long as they remained preoccupied
with each other, neither side was a threat, but the Drachen was
maintaining station to the east, armed with cannon that could pound this
position flat. Could they manage to hit the laboratory before her crew
"Let's give it a go," he said. "Fire one!"
Donnelly dropped the bomb into the tube and covered his ears. It fired with
a loud thump, and MacKiernan caught a glimpse of the projectile vanishing
into the blue. He counted the seconds, ready to call out corrections. At
twenty, a cloud of smoke blossomed from the building they'd identified as
"That was stroke of luck!" he exclaimed in surprise. "Let's give them a few
more for effect."
"Aye!" Donnelly said cheerfully.
The laboratory must have contained something destructive -- flammable
chemicals, perhaps, or tanks of explosive gas -- for five rounds were
sufficient to reduce it to a heap of burning debris. MacKiernan watched for
signs of retaliation, but the fighters below were so engrossed in the
struggle that they entirely failed to notice that the reason for this
struggle had been destroyed.
"That was almost anti-climactic," Miss Perkins remarked.
"Those are the best kind of battles," Donnelly replied. "The ones that
sound heroic after they're over are never much fun at the time."
MacKiernan nodded. The War had ended before he received his commission,
but he understood what it had been like in the trenches. Meanwhile,
Miss Perkins had been glancing around the hilltop.
"I say," she asked, "what's become of Karlov?"
A brief search sufficed to determine that the Russian was nowhere to be
seen. MacKiernan shrugged.
"It appears that he's up to his old tricks again. I suppose this too
should not have come as a surprise."
"Should we try to find his trail?" asked Donnelly. "He can't have gone
"I doubt we this would succeed," said MacKiernan. "The fellow has a way
of vanishing in ways that seem impossible. We'll wait for night, call
Harris for retrieval, head back to Cairns, and hand this particular mystery
over to Captain Michaelson."
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