The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 574: The End Game Begins

Ammo crate

The laboratory building stood on the far side of the air station, hidden from casual observation by a fold in the terrain. From outside it looked entirely -- a mission school, perhaps, or a village social center. Inside, it was a celebration of German engineering, polished metal, and glass. Doctor Schumann seemed at home in this environment -- a neatly-dressed man in his 30s who might have stepped straight from the University of Berlin. He paused in front of a row of equipment and turned to the Fat Man and the Japanese commander

"This is the apparatus the White Russians used to obtain the active principle for the Ujelang device," he informed them. "We recovered it from their secret laboratory on Oa Ki. The first step uses a smelter to extract metal from uraninite ore. This process is straightforward. The metal was combined with fluorine in this chemical apparatus to produce a gas. The reaction is unusual, the use of fluorine involves some challenges, and the product is toxic and corrosive, but this step also holds no secrets.

"The final step involves passing the gas through a Uranmaschine or `Uranium machine', to extract the active principle from a volume of inert material. These materials are chemically identical, distinguished only by the weight of the constituent atoms. The material is spun in a centrifuge to separate the lighter atoms from the heavy ones, and it is here that the problem lies."

"Please explain," said the Commender, with what might have been politeness, but was probably not.

"The difference in weight is very small --- little more than 1 percent ," said Schuman. "This makes the process very inefficient. An single stage of centrifuges is entirely inadequate for this purpose. One would several stages, each feeding its output to the next. From what we now know, thousands of machines would be required."

"The Russians obviously did not have these," said the Fat Man. "How did they manage without?"

"This to have been the work of our mysterious Karlov," said Schuman. "Unknown to the Russians, he fitted a device to each of their centrifuges to enhance the separation process. The very partial notes we discovered in Australia refer to something he called a `de Broglie filter', which alters the probability that different atoms will rise or descend in the centrifuge tube."

"Is this the device you were attempting to reconstruct at your secret laboratory in China?" the Fat Man asked the Commander.

The Japanese nodded curtly. "We hoped that the American chemist we kidnapped could discover the secret, but he learned of our intentions and escaped. We still haven't determined how."

The Fat Man nodded. "This no longer matters. We know that Karlov has decided to offer his knowledge to the British Union. After they have built their copy of the Uranium Machine, it will be a simple matter for us to take it."

"Hai," said the Japanese. "Our captains are preparing for the attack even now."

The captain of the Japanese cruiser strode down the keel passage like a warlord through the halls of his castle. Luther accompanied him as a distinguished guest. Airmen stepped aside as they passed and bowed in respect. Luther nodded inwardly. These Japanisch understood the value of discipline. They were worthy allies.

"How does you command compare with the other vessel from your Korean yard -- the one Captain Everett hijacked?" he asked.

The Captain gestured up at the inside of the hull envelope -- a vast space, 780 feet long and 140 feet wide, in which a row of 16 mighty gas cell loomed like hills made suddenly buoyant. "She is superior in every way," he replied, "larger and more powerful, with two 4Type One 7 mm cannon against their single paltry QF 1," he replied. "She is also be faster. Our engineers were trained at the factory in Osaka. Theirs is a peasant from Iga Province. Do you think this Everett..." he managed the rhotic consonant without effort, \"...will fly against us?"

"Ja," said Luther, "We are certain that Commodore Michaelson has made common cause with the British Union against us. But the only major unit at his disposal is the Flying Cloud, and when he commits this, you can destroy her with ease."

"What about the vessel that attacked you here -- this Akaifune?" asked the Captain.

Luther made a dismissive gesture. "That would be my brother Manfred. We have been at odds ever since he betrayed the Vaterland after the War. I have taken his measure. My Drachen can outfly him, outmaneuver him, outclimb him, outlast him, and outgun him. I will crush him like ein Käfer."

The Captain glanced back toward the holds, barely visible beneath the bulk of the gas cells. Orders sounded from inside as troops filed aboard. "We will be carrying two companies of infantry," he said. "This is more than enough to overpower the Warfields` garrison, even without the `tanks' you left behind after your attack in China -- yes, we recovered them for our own use. But to land these men, we must first destroy their anti-airship gun emplacements. And they will know that we are coming, for the radio detection apparatus will warn them when we are 100 kilometers away."

Luther smiled. "This information will do them no good. They have four 8.8 cm Flak 16 with a range of 10 kilometers. We have six of the Gleitbombes, with a range of 15 kilometers. It will not be a contest."

The Captain offered him the bow he might offer an equal. Luther nodded in return.

By now they`d reached the tail cone. Luther was surprise to note than instead of the usual cruciform structure that passed through the hull, the cruiser's fins were only anchor to the ring girders. "This is an unusual design," he remarked. "How does its strength compare with that of a conventional arrangement?"

The Captain might have hesitated for just thye barest a moment. "We tested it during trials," he said curetly. "It is sufficient."

Luther shrugged. Surely the other man knew his ship. "Good," he replied. "I pity our enemies. They cannot stand against us."

"Hai!" said the Captain. "Our attack will come as a complete surprise."

Next week: A Useful Discovery...

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