The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 569: Well Met, Old Chaps

Everett and Jenkins at a loss

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, " 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 in 1923."

"That would be the same year Ernst Rohm retired from the Reichswehr to begin his political career," Jenkins observed. "I wonder at this coincidence."

"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 conclusion.

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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