The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 571: Others May Reach Different Conclusions

Dragon chess pieces

The Fat Man's office might have been lifted directly from the Reichswehr -- a celebration of dark varnished wood and brutal modernist design that seemed entirely out of place in the South Pacific. A faint breeze stirred the curtains, then withdrew as if afraid to enter. Outside, sunlight slanted across the air station, casting broad shadows below the Drachen and the cruiser where they rode from the masts. Beyond them, the barrels of two 7.7 cm FlaK L/27s rose from the new gun emplacement on the far side of the bay while a Schnellboot stood picket duty offshore to ensure there was no repetition of the recent attack. Inside, the Fat Man and the Japanese commander were ignoring the view as they studied a chart. An aide waited nervously for them to acknowledge his presence.

At last the Fat Man deigned to notice his underling. "What is the status of the repairs?" he demanded.

"Mien Herr," said the aide, striving to keep his voice expressionless. "The gasometers were consumed by the fires, but they will be easy to replace from the equipment we maintain in storage. The hydrogen plant itself is largely undamaged and will be restored to full capacity in three days. We suffered some loss to our fuel stores, but we have already ordered a tanker from Kupang, and this will arrive before the end of the week."

"What about the arms depot?"

The aide strove to hide his apprehension. "There our losses were more serious. We can obtain more conventional bombs and ammunition from our sympathizers in the Reichsmarine, but we were only able to save five of the new gleitbombs, and we cannot expect more until the next shipment arrives from Germany."

The Fat Man studied his underling for a moment, then made a gesture of dismissal, as if such prey was too small to be worthy of his attention. "Very well," he announced. "That will be all."

The Commander waited until the underling had departed, then glanced at his host. "Who were these people who attacked you?" he asked.

The German shrugged. "The vessel is known to us,. Her master is a supporter of the treasonous civilian government. We did not expect him to be so audacious, but as you have heard, he only inflicted minor damage, and if he dares to reappear, he will be destroyed."

"Was he acting on his own?" asked the Commander.

"We have wondered this as well," said the Fat Man. "According to our agent in Rabaul, the vessel called at the station after the attack, at the same time as the R-505. He believes there might have been some exchange of personnel between the two ships."

The Commander raised an eyebrow. "Could this mean the Admiralty is involved?"

"That seems unlikely," the Fat Man observed. "We would have learned of this from our agents in Admiral Wentworth's office. But we know that Commodore Michaelson and Captain Everett both had some association with the Warfields. It's possible they're acting on behalf of some other party that wishes to obtain the Device from the British Union."

"We cannot allow this," the Commander said quietly.

"And we will not," the Fat Man assured him. "It is time for us to confront the Baron and his lady and recover what is ours. We have five of the new weapons. These will be enough."

The sommelier presented the wine, then withdrew. The Governor swirled his glass, sniffed the bouquet, took a sip, and nodded. "An acceptable Pinot Noir," he told his guests. "You will find it superior to those naive Shirazes from Australia."

Baron Warfield took a sip of his own, then held his glass up to the light. "It's quite good," he agreed. "Might we take this gift as evidence of interest by your government?"

"Only if yours will not meet the price we decided upon," said the Governor. "Have you heard more from your friend in the Admiralty?"

"He has secured the necessary funds, but it will take him some time to move them," said the Baron. "He does not enjoy unqualified support from his colleagues, so he must work in secret, then present them with a fait accompli."

The Governor nodded. "The same will be true for my contact in Le Ministère des Outre-mer. But how does your Commodore Michaelson fit in? What was the significance of his visit?"

Beside the Baron, the Baroness studied her nails. "He pretended ignorance of our plans, but that is how he plays the game," she decided. "He'll have been trying evaluate the state of our defenses."

"On whose behalf?" asked the Governor.

"It could hardly be our friends in the Admiralty, so I imagine this will be our former allies and foes."

The Governor raised an eyebrow. "Surely he would not deliver the Device to the Germans or Japanese."

The Baroness smiled. "No, he is a student of Machiavelli. He will be planning to use and betray them. But this hardly matters. They only have two ships, both of known capability. The radio-detection apparatus will warn us of any attack long before they are in range to strike."

Karlov studied the petroglyphs while he waited for the generator to warm up. They told a story as ironic as it was familiar. He reached out to trace their geometry, then paused. It wouldn't do to meddle with such things now, this late in the game.

He sensed movement behind him. He turned to see a woman step from what might have been a hidden angle of the wall. They regarded each other across the chamber,

"I suppose I should have expected this." he said. "Are you ready to concede?"

"Never," she replied sternly. "You must abandon this mad plan of yours."

He raised an eyebrow. "You're hardly in a position to make such a demand," he observed. "You're as much to blame as I."

"Perhaps I am," she admitted, "but what do you hope to accomplish, Karlov? Do you really intend to inflict this branch with the same curse that damned ours?"

"I do not need to explain myself to you, Natasha," he replied, "nor would you believe me if I did."

"Then there is no hope of peace between us," she said.

He met her gaze. "Was there ever?"

"I suppose not, given what we are" she said sadly. Then she had stepped back around the corner, if corner it was. He made no move to follow.

Next week: Preparing For The Contest...

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