The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 541: That All Seems Fairly Straighforward

Poster of the Ujelang Device

By now the schoolroom they'd been using for meetings had become all too familiar -- a reminder of the more tedious aspects of childhood. It had the advantage of security -- there was no conceivable place for an eavesdropper to hide -- but even Michaelson seemed tired of the venue. He strode to the lectern, sunlight gleaming on his new Commodore's insignia, and glanced at his audience.

"Good afternoon," he told Everett and his men. "As you know, we have received the promotion list for this month. In addition to my advancement..." he gestured at the broad gold bands on his sleeves, "...the Admiralty has raised Mister MacKiernan to Commander. I offer him my congratulations."

"Thank you, sir," said the Irishman, in a voice that suggested he harbored some doubts regarding the the other man's sincerity.

If Michaelson noticed, he gave no sign. "Let us review the events of the past two years to determine where we stand," he announced. "In June of 1926, Captain Everett lost His Majesty's Airship R-212, to this mysterious cruiser operated by a group of renegade Japanese nationalists who are plotting to overthrow their nation's government."

Everett nodded. These were times it would have been profitable to object. This was not one of them.

"You piloted the bow section of your vessel to Sarah's island..." Michaelson offered the island girl a polite nod, "...where you took the your current ship, the Flying Cloud, from a group of renegade German nationalists who are plotting to overthrow their nation's government. They'd once been allies of the Japanese, but the two groups were now in competition to acquire a weapon a renegade group of White Russian exiles were building in a plot to overthrow their nation's government."

"The Germans, under direction of an individual we know of as the Fat Man, attacked the White Russian's hidden laboratory near Darwin, stole the device for their own, and brought it to Ujelang. Their subsequent test destroyed the island in a blast equivalent to several thousand tonnes of high explosive."

Michaelson paused to allow his audience to contemplate the implications of this weapon. Everett remembered the flash like a glimpse of hell and the cloud of fire rising above the blasted atoll as the shock wave raced toward their captured schnellboot. They'd been lucky to escape.

When he felt he'd made his point, the commodore resumed his lecture. "Several weeks after you returned to Cairns, an officer we'd believed lost with the wreck of the R-212 reappeared in the employ of the British Union of Fascists, a renegade group of nationalists..." Michaelson sighed, "... who are plotting to overthrow their nation's government. They cooperated with the Fat Man's people to steal a second Device from the White Russians, intending to use it against the German settlement at Rabaul. Fortunately for the inhabitants of Rabaul, this Device proved to be non-functional replica, continuing a Russian tradition that dates back to Potemkin."

"We recovered the replica from Rabaul harbor. From this and your observations of the original Ujelang Device, it's been possible to reconstruct the mechanism. This consists of a small mortar that slams two machined blocks of a specially prepared material together. The material is derived from uraninite ore that has been refined in some way to extract a destructive component. The nature of this component remains a mystery, as does the principle by which it is refined, but it's become clear that recreating the refiner is the key to producing more examples of the Device.

"This raises the question of how the White Russians managed to discover that principle in the first place. We believed this was the work of their scientists at a second secret laboratory they maintained the Dutch East Indies, but it appears that the necessary information was supplied by one man: the mysterious Karlov."

"Have you had any success in determining who he is and where he came from?" asked Everett.

"No more than you have," said Michaelson. "He appears full-blown on the scene, like Athena from the brow of Zeus. Your source suggested he was a young scientist from the University of Odessa. Given the antipathy between the Crown and Trotsky's government, this has been impossible to confirm or deny. All we know is that he has a specialized knowledge of physics, some way of getting about without being noticed, an agenda of his own, and an adversary in the form of this equally mysterious woman who's represented herself various as Natasha, Nettie, and other names beginning with N.

"So matters rested until the end of the year. Then Baron and Baroness Warfield appeared on the scene, attempting to abduct an heiress who'd chosen that moment to visit the South Pacific. We sent them packing with the assistance of..." the commodore could not suppress another sigh, "... the Sky Pirates of Tahiti, but this proved the beginning of the deluge as the Admiralty sent Commodore Clark to investigate our affairs. His investigation may have been complicated by the reappearance of Karlov and Natasha in some some contest involving American gangsters and a hijacked French airship, but I cannot say that you acquitted yourselves well."

"We did manage to recapture the airship, the L-137, the Germans had hijacked to replace the Flying Cloud," said MacKiernan.

"So you did," admitted Michaelson, "but in the process, you allowed everyone else connected with the matter to escape."

MacKiernan made no reply. Like Everett, he was discovering that there were times it was not profitable to object.

"Over the next fourteen months, events became complicated," Michaelson continued, in what was most certainly an understatement. "On the balance side, this saw the destruction of three secret Japanese laboratories, rescue of the officers and crew who'd gone missing with the loss of the R-212, the escape of an American chemist the Japanese had kidnapped to further their research, and the exposure of several nationalist agents. On the debit side, the Japanese destroyed a commercial airship with considerable loss of life, the Germans took an Argentine liner to replace the vessel you'd recaptured, and the Warfields reappeared to assume control of the British Union's organization in the South Pacific. They've since betrayed both the Germans and Japanese to take control of Sarah's island, along with a laboratory and materials to reconstruct the uraninite refiner."

"I cannot help but wonder at their motives," Everett observed. "We've both gained acquaintance with the Baroness's character, to our sorrow, but neither she nor the Baron are the sort who'd casually destroy cities to further their goals."

Michaelson's expression might have daunted a lesser man. "This is true," he replied curtly, "but they have connections who might not feel the same scruples. You reported that Karlov asked Commodore Clark whether he was acting on behalf of the Prime Minister's faction, the First Lord's, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer's. We might wonder the same about the Warfields."

"This raises the question of how Karlov became aware of this division in our government," Jenkins observed. "It's hardly public knowledge."

"So it does," said Michaelson. "He and his adversary have represented each other as manipulating affairs to their own ends. I'd have discounted this as braggadocio were it not for the many instances when they've accomplished just that. We need to discover what they're about if we're to regain any control of the situation."

Further observations were interrupted by the arrival of a signalman. "We've received an urgent communication from Sydney, sir," he told Michaelson. "I felt you shoukld see it immediately."

The commodore read the message and frowned.

"The situation has just become more complicated," he announced.

Next week: Before You Go Your Separate Ways...

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