The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 558: The Other Player

Hand with two cards

They called at Polewali -- a small port a few dozen miles south of the Fat Man's hidden their secret base. The place was unremarkable, even by island standards, but it still saw enough traffic to ensure the anonymity of another Armstrong Whitworth. MacKiernan wondered at Michaelson's foresight. How could the commodore have been prepared for this eventuality?

The eventuality itself was not cause for joy. "Alice? are you quite sure about this?"" he asked Miss Perkins.

She looked up from the wireless set, where she'd been locking away the code book. "We'll be fine," she assured him. "And it's not as though we we have a choice. These were Michaelson's orders."

MacKiernan gazed down her with concern. He still wasn't certain what they might be to each other, but he was certain he didn't like the instructions they'd received. "You and Miss Kim are both civilians. As such, you have no obligation to follow them," he told her.

She tried to smile, then realized that this artifice wouldn't work. They'd been through too much together to deceive each other. "If I refuse, he'll only find some other way to achieve his ends -- one that might be even less to our advantage," she said sadly.

"That's exactly my point," he protested. "The man cares nothing for others. He uses everyone around him as tools. You don't owe him such loyalty."

She gazed into the distance, then sighed. "Perhaps," she admitted, "but I've sensed there's more to him than that -- something to do with whatever secret he and Captain Everett share. Until we know what this is, I don't think we can pass judgment."

MacKiernan nodded. He too had wondered what shadow from their past bound the two adversaries together. "Very well," he said, "but I'll send Abercrombie to accompany you. I will brook no argument with this."

This smile was more genuine. "Thank you, Fergus."

Abercrombie had no difficulty operating the steam launch they'd secured for the trip up the coast. He might not have been an engineer, but as a Scotsman, he was genetically coded to understand machinery. Noon found them forging their way north with the shoreline to starboard. The jungle looked deceptively innocent, but the Fat Man's base lay only a few miles ahead.

"We will need a cover story to explain our presence," Miss Perkins told her companions.

Miss Kim nodded. It seemed her knowledge of English extended to colloquialisms. "Perhaps we pretend being members of Hunminjeongeum Society. This has working before."

Miss Perkins thought this over. She still had no idea why Koreans had organized a society to teach Pacific islanders their writing system, but the resistance movement has used it as cover too often in the past. "I fear the Germans may have tumbled to this ruse by now," she observed.

"We could pretend to be missionaries," Abercrombie suggested.

Miss Perkins glanced at him. She and Miss Kim might possibly be able to pass as nuns, but what would the Scotsman disguise himself as? A church tower? The church itself? "This stratagem may also have seen too much use," she announced. "We will pose as anthropologists. This will give us an excuse to ask questions that might otherwise give rise to suspicion. We'll wish to adopt the identities of people known to be in the Pacific, but I have some candidates in mind."

The German nationalists' secret air station was at the head of a small bay. Away from any airship routes, hidden from the ocean by an arm of the land. It might have gone undiscovered were it not for Clarice and Emily's initiative. The settlement was the mirror image of Polwali -- trim rows of warehouses and bungalows laid out with military precision. One of the latter, overlooking the others, was quite obviously a headquarters, with the Imperial German flag flying beside it.

A single ship from the masts -- a powerful vessel of at 5 million cubic feet with six engines. Miss Perkins didn't Abercrombie's help to recognize the hijacked Argentine liner or the modifications the Germans had made to arm it as a cruiser.

"How we reacting to that?" asked Miss Kim.

"We'll pretend not to recognize it," Miss Perkins said blithly. "We're anthropologists, not airmen."

This cover story was put to the test as soon as they pulled up to the dock. Two guards, whose brown civilian clothes were too much like a uniform to disguise a military background, stepped forward to challenge them.

"You will tell us who you are you why you are here," ordered one, in the unique German semantics that went so far beyond the imperative.

Secretaries in the Royal Navy Airship Service were the standard by which imperturbability was measured. "We're anthropologists from Columbia University," she replied in an authentic New York accent. "I'm Margaret Cressman, this is my husband Luther, and this is our assistant, Chan Lee. We're conducting a survey of the socio-sexual traditions of the indigenous island cultures."

The guard paled. So, unnoticed, did Abercrombie. It was clear that he hadn't expected such a bold declaration. "Warum ist das?" he managed to stammer.

"What?" Miss Perkins asked innocently.


"We will use this data to determine patterns of cultural transmission. Since it involves intimate details of our subjects' personal lives it is less likely to be corrupted by external influences."

The Germans glanced at each other. They'd clearly abandoned any thought these strange visitors might be spies. "You will follow me to speak with our leader," said the one who'd addressed them. "He will decide what to do with you."

The headquarters building was less an island bungalow than a command center disguised as an island bungalow. The Miss Perkins, Miss Kim, and Abercrombie affected not to notice as they were led past offices where staff in their not-quite-a-uniforms labored over maps and logistics charts. A few Asians, whose own not-quite-a-uniforms resembled those iof the army that even now was threatening Manchuria, labored beside them. Clearly some major operation was in the works.

At last they were ushered them into an officer that was larger than the others. "Mein Fuhrer," he said. "These three strangers arrived at the dock. They claim to be anthropologists who wish to study the native tribes."

Miss Perkins had read the Fat Man's dossier. She was unprepared for the presence of the man himself. He dominated the room like an ogre and examined her with a predatory gaze. It seemed more was at stake than their lives. Beside him, a German and Japanese captain recognized a moment to remain silent.

"So you are anthropologists," he said. "Do you know the Warfields?"

Secretaries in the Royal Navy Airship Service knew how to answer such questions without missing a beat. "He's a Professor at Yale University, noted for his monograph on the Beaker People of Bronze Age Europe. I've never met his wife, but I understand she's active in church groups."

The German nodded. It was impossible to tell if he believed their story, but he too seemed to have dismissed any thought they might be spies. He gestured to the guard. "Hans will find suitable accommodations for you while we consider your request."

`Suitable accommodations' proved to be a bungalow in the middle of the settlement. It wasn't a prison, exactly, but with a guard by the door, it might as well have been. Miss Kim stared at it glumly.

"What we do now?" she asked

"We will hope they decide we're what we claim," said Miss Perkins.

"What if they decide not?"

The secretary was loathe to admit a deficiency in her planning. "Then we will contrive an escape. Abercrombie, do could you force that door and incapacitate the guard?"

"Aye," said the Scotsman. "But yon streets are sure tae be patrolled."

Further discussion was interrupted when the door swung own and a slender figure with blonde hair and eastern European features figure slipped into the room. They recognized her instantly. "Natasha!" "Nellie!" "Nari!" they exclaimed in surprise.

The woman surveyed them with dismay. "What are you doing here?" she demanded. "You'll ruin everything!"

Next week: Surely These Are Clues...

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