Episode 569: Well Met, Old Chaps
Vlad favored his guests with a frown. He seemed every bit as concerned by
the situation as they were. "We do not know where your two missing
letchiki might be," he told them. "The Geschwader should
have been here by now."
Senior officers in the Royal Navy Airship Service were expected to have
some knowledge of foreign languages. What is this Squadron?"
Everett asked. Is this a vessel or an organization?"
"She is a commercial airship belonging to an ally of ours -- a man named
Manfred," Anna explained.
"I take it from these names that he too is German," Jenkins observed.
"Who is he and where did he come from?"
Vlad and Anna glanced at each other, then appeared to reach a decision.
Beckoning their guests to follow, they led Everett and Jenkins to what
appeared to be a decrepit shed on the edge of the field. The interior of
this structure was entirely at odds with its external appearance. Bright,
neatly furnished, with punkah fans to provide ventilation, it might have
been the intelligence office of any regional command center. A pair of
orderlies looked up as they entered.
"Good staff work is the key to any successful operation." Vlad informed
them. "You see some of ours. Felix, bring us our dossier on Manfred."
A stern-looking man with a mustache and beard that might have been lifted
from some Handbook For Revolutionaries opened a drawer, retrieved a file,
and handed it to his superior. Vlad paged through its contents.
"Manfred is a Prussian, eldest of three bothers, son of..." the Russian
shook his head at what must have been a cumbersome title, "...an aristocrat.
"During the War, he served in the Imperial German Flying Corps as an
aeroplane pilot." This prompted another shake of the head. "After the
Peace, he turned his back on his past, as so many other veterans did, and
moved to America to become an airshipman, first as a navigator, then as
master of a Lakehurst class packet, the N-168, that he purchased
"That would be the same year Ernst Rohm retired from the Reichswehr
to begin his political career," Jenkins observed. "I wonder at this
"As did we," said Anna. "Manfred has expressed contempt for these
nationalist movements. This may be one of the reasons he left Germany. His
brother Lothar became one of Rohm's followers, placing the two at odds.
According to our intelligence, Lothar advanced in the movement to become the
Fat Man's chief commander, and it's noteworthy that Manfred arrived in the
Pacific in 1926, shortly after the Fat Man did."
"That does form a suggestive picture," Everett observed. "Could Manfred
have decided to act against the nationalists without informing you?"
Vlad nodded. "Given his temperament, he very well might, if he'd obtained
new information from some unexpected source."
Everett and Jenkins exchanged glances. They had little doubt this was what
had happened, and who that source had been. "I suppose we must entertain
this possibility," Everett replied carefully. "How soon would you expect
him to contact you after this hypothetical operation was over?"
"It's impossible to say," Vlad admitted. "We haven't heard from him yet,
but he could be maintaining radio silence or could have some trouble with
his equipment. It's also possible that he was destroyed."
Everett nodded. He knew, from bitter experience, the cost of war. "We will
assume otherwise," he said confidently. "The question becomes how to regain
communication with your ally. Our best prospect might be for us to search
for him while you wait here in anticipation of his return."
Anna glanced at Everett oddly, as if reading something else into his
statement. "You are concerned for your friends," she observed. "Where will
you look first?"
Everett suppressed a frown. What could the woman be thinking? "We'll begin
at Rabaul," he replied. "It's a center of German commerce, so it's possible
a German might have called there for resupply."
Evening found the Flying Cloud speeding northwest with a tailwind
behind her. In his cabin, Everett studied his latest entry in the log.
31-May-1928, 2000 hrs. Lat 19 05' S Long 167 52' E. Concluded inquiries on
Aneityum. Proceeding to Rabaul on basis of intelligence received in search
of the Geschwader, N-168, whose master may have information of
value to the Crown. Have reason to believe events are approaching a
What had prompted him to add those last words, he wondered? Was he trying
to justify diverting one of His Majesty's airships to rescue two civilians?
This was hardly necessary -- there was ample reason to suspect the White
Russians' unsuspected new ally might have some special knowledge regarding
the Fat Man's plans.
The captain sighed. He might be able to hide his motives from others, but
he had to admit them to himself. The thought of Clarice and Emily, two
bright young sparks, getting extinguished by some casual act of malice was
not one he cared to contemplate. The world would be darker if they were
gone. He might not be able to change his past, but it was surely worth
some sacrifice to save their future.
Rabaul was the same as it had been on the day the non-functional replica of
the Ujelang Device had entirely failed to destroy it -- a distinctly German
settlement on the north shore of a distinctly tropical bay. To the west,
the twin volcanic peaks of Tavurvur and Vulcan smoked in a way that s
uggested dragons in no immediate danger of awakening. What had they looked
like when they were active, Everett wondered? In all his years in the
Pacific, he'd never witnessed a full-fledged eruption.
Jenkins interrupted his musings with a report from the wireless. "We've
received a message from the air station," he announced. "They confirm
that a handling party is ready and ask our intentions."
"Request they prepare for immediate resupply, and inform the Administrator
we will pay him a courtesy call," Everett told his aide. "We'll to take
advantage of this to learn if German Naval Intelligence has recent word of
this Manfred gentleman."
At the ballast station, Sarah chuckled. "That might not be necessary," she
said cheerfully. "Look."
They followed the island girl's gesture to see an unusually colored
airship moored from one of the commercial masts.
"Surely that cannot be this Manfred fellow?" marveled Iverson. "With
all the wide Pacific at his disposal, what are the chances he'd pick
just this moment to call at Rabaul?"
Everett had been studying the ship through binoculars. "We must assume
it is," he replied. "There cannot be an unlimited number of red
Lakehurst class vessels in this part of the world. Let us see if
our friends are still aboard."
Mooring was swift and efficient -- this was, after all, a German colony
-- and soon Everett and Jenkins were descending the lift. They stepped
unto the field to see two familiar figures running toward them. Before
Everett could react, Clarice had thrown herself into his arms and
planted a kiss on his cheek.
"Miss Wilcox," he said in embarrassment. "To what do I owe the honor?"
"I knew you come to rescue us!" she announced. "And please call me
Clarice. Only our schoolteachers called me Miss Wilcox."
"Veer well... Clarice," Everett said. "But you seem to have rescued
yourselves with the aid of this gentleman." He turned to face the man
who'd accompanied them -- a slender figure in airman's garb.
The man favored him with a nod. "Captain Everett, I presume. The two
Fraulein< told me much about you."
Everett nodded back. "And you would be Captain Von Richthofen. There
are matters we will wish to discuss."
Next week: An After Action Report...
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