The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 538: Taking Stock

A game

Everett studied the field of Cairns Royal Air Station, where beams of sunlight played across hull of the L-103. The Germans had accompanied them back from Norfolk Island. Now armorers marveled at the cargo they were unloading from her holds while clerks invented a shipping contract that would take the ship somewhere her crew would be secure from retribution. If only he could say the same for himself.

At head of classroom, Michaelson rapped desk to call for attention. Everett sighed inwardly and steeled himself for the worst.

"I have reviewed you reports," the senior captain told them dryly. "Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan, you were instructed to find Karlov and/or the Japanese laboratory in China. You were unsuccessful in your attempts, and would have failed if the former hadn't approached you in Saigon to offer the location of the latter in return for transportation to the site. You obliged, and arrived in time to witness an attack by German nationalists. Karlov claimed this had been orchestrated by his counterpart or adversary, the woman we know of as Natasha, then found you the mortar you used to destroy the uraninite the refiner before Germans could capture it."

"Yes, sir," said MacKiernan. His superior's interpretation of events might have been biased, but it seemed unwise to argue.

Michaelson turned to Everett. "Captain Everett, your original instructions were to determine what the Germans nationalists were up to. They led you a merry chase, during which two of your... associates... contrived to get captured by the Japanese nationalists and taken to their base on Sarah's Island. In response, you abandoned your mission and sent Lieutenant Iverson to rescue them. He arrived to discover them in the company of this woman we know of as Natasha, fleeing as the British Union of Fascists took the place from the Japanese. According to her, Karlov was behind this attack."

"Yes, sir," said Everett. Here too it seemed best to agree.

Michaelson turned back to MacKiernan. "Where is Karlov now?"

The Irishman shifted in his seat uncomfortably. "He vanished while we were shelling the laboratory. We searched the vicinity but found no sign of his trail."

"And Natasha?" Michaelson asked Everett.

"She accompanied us when we recaptured the L-103, but wasn't aboard ship when we rendezvoused at Norfolk Island," said Everett. "It's difficult to imagine she could have departed in mid-flight, so we assume she never boarded."

The senior captain frowned. "I cannot say that either of you acquitted yourselves well."

"At least none of our adversaries has the uraninite refiner," Everett observed. "Without it, none of them can recreate the Ujelang Device."

"That may be true," said Michaelson, "but if Karlov and Natasha are to be believed, they've both been playing everyone for fools."

MacKiernan nodded glumly. It was difficult to argue with this position. "Do we have any idea what they're about?"

Michaelson gave him a hard look a hard look, as if he suspected the Irishman of offering a distraction. "It's difficult to say," he admitted. "At one point or another, each of them seems to have worked both for and against the White Russians, German nationalists, Japanese nationalists, the British Union, and the Crown. All we can be certain of is that they view the rest of us pawns."

Everett thought this over. "I wonder if the other pieces in this game recognize their status."

The Commander faced his subordinate and frowned. "Kaigun-shōsa Fujita, explain your failure."

Fujita hid his apprehension. He might be asked to do more than explain. "The Germans attacked by surprise, in overwhelming force," he replied crisply. "They used some new type of gliding bomb to destroy our gun emplacements, then landed two tanks, which were invulnerable to our remaining weapons."

"Were you able to defend the uraninite refiner?"

"No, but it was destroyed by mortar fire from one of our observations posts."

The Commander acknowledged this with a nod. "That shows foresight on your part. This is commendable."

Fujita breathed a sigh of relief. This might be a good time to change the subject. He still had no idea how the mortar had been left behind, who had found it, or why they'd chosen to intervene. "May I ask what happened on the island?" he said.

The Commander's frown returned. "The British Union betrayed us and took the place for themselves," he replied. "We should have known not to trust them."

The Fat Man glanced up from his papers like a carnivore interrupted at a meal "What is the report from Kapitan Stein?" he growled.

Baumann kept his expression neutral lest he be held responsible for the content of his message. "The attack was successful, and they took the Japanese laboratory with minimal casualties, but they found the refiner destroyed."

The Fat Man considered this news. "It was always possible the Japanese would take this step to keep the machine out of our hands," he observed philosophically. "That means it's no longer in their hands either. Now there will be a race to see who's scientists can reconstruct it first. I would place my bet on ours."

"What about this woman Nadja who gave us the laboratory's location?" Baumann asked.

The Fat Man made a dismissive gesture. "She was merely an adventuress. We have paid her her her silver and sent her or her way."

The Governor poured three glasses of wine -- a new shiraz from South Australia -- and handed the two to the Baron and his lady. "A toast to your success!" he announced.

"And to our alliance!" the Baron Warfield replied. "Did any of the Japanese escape?"

"Not as far as we know," said the Governor. "I've sent scouts to search the surrounding jungle, but I believe your men captured them all."

The Baron nodded. "I trust that the laboratory survived intact."

"Oui," the Governor assured him. "I had men in place on top of the mountain to secure the laboratory when you forces made their move."

"What became of our go-between, this Karlov fellow?" asked Lady Warfield.

The Governor shrugged. "He was merely a soldier of fortune. His role in this affair is finished."

The man set down his tea as the woman took a seat across the table. "That was well-played in China," he told her. "Still, I arrived in time to destroy the refiner and neutralize your move. I trust you enjoyed your visit to the island?"

"I was unable to stop the British Union from taking the place, but I did prevent that shipment of weapons falling into their hands," she replied.

The man raised his cup in salute. "An excellent job of cutting your losses."

She scowled "What are you planning? Surely you don't mean to help these people obtain... what we know."

"They could well discover this knowledge on their own," the man said lightly. "They do have a head start compared to ours."

The woman scowled at him. "I cannot allow this! I will do everything in my power to stop you!"

He gave her an ironic smile in reply. "This too may be part of my plan."

Next week: The Eleventh Flying Cloud Christmas Special...

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