The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 576: We Will Advance Two Rooks

The Germans and Japanese set out

The luftjäger marched up the ramp as soldiers had done for centuries, weapons at port, grumbling about the weight of their packs. Above them, the Drachen's engines rumbled at idle. When the men had taken their places, a buzzer sounded, gears whined, and the hoist platform rose up to the ship. Lothar watched until the doors to the hold had closed behind it, then glanced at the airspeed indicator to check the surface wind.

"Buoyancy?" he asked the gewichtsmeister.

The ballast officer consulted his board. "200 kilograms light, mein Herr."

"Good," said Lothar. "Engines One and Two to one quarter power."

"One and Two to one quarter power," acknowledged the helmsman. Bells rang and the drone of the engines increased ever so slightly.

"Drop the mooring."

"Mooring drop."

On a vessel this size, the sound of the nose fitting being released was imperceptible, but on the ground below, their shadow began to drift aft as a light breeze from the south overcame the thrust of the engines.

"30 meters, climbing at 0.2 meters per second," reported the elevatorman.

Lothar nodded. "Bring the nose up one degree, all engines to one quarter power."

"Nose up one degree."

"All engines to one quarter."

The bow lifted ever so slightly and the sound of the engines deepened. "80 meters, climbing at 0.4 meters per second," said the elevatorman as the field dropped away beneath them

"That will be sufficient," said Lothar. "Bring her up to 1000 meters, then maintain altitude. Helmsman, give me a turn right to 170 degrees, then ring for half power on all engines. We will remain at that speed until our freunde in the cruiser have joined us."

"Climb to 1000 meters and maintain."

"Turn right to 170 degrees, then half power on all engines."

Lothar watched the evolution, giving no sign of his approval -- such gestures were only for the softer races -- then strode aft, accompanied by his aide, to gaze at the field where the Japanese nationalists' cruiser was rising to follow them.

"Do you believe we we trust them, mein Herr?" his aide asked quietly.

Lothar shrugged. "They are our natural allies, Deckoffizier Rudel. The Deutsch and Japanisch Reiche have no reason to fight each other. We will take the West and they will take the East, to divide the world between us."

"What about the British?" asked the other man.

"Their day is over. We will crush their defenses and land our truppen in overwhelming force. Their weak garrison will not stand a chance."

The aide nodded. A commercial vessel such as the Drachen might be slower than a warship of similar enclosed volume, but it had a greater payload fraction. This gave them greater range, a higher operational ceiling, and the ability to carry a sizable landing force. It also meant they were more lightly armed than an equivalent naval vessel.

"What if Cairns sends ships to their defense?" he asked.

"They only have two vessels of available. These are half our size," said Lothar. "If they are there when we arrive, we will brush them aside. If they appear after we have landed our forces, we will turn on them and crush them."

The aide frowned. This was one of their privileges. "This may be true, but it also seems suspiciously convenient. I wonder if we are being manipulated."

Lothar smiled and clapped the man on the back "You worry too much, Herr Rudel. Who could possibly do such a thing, and why?"

The Captain watched the station disappear astern, then turned to gaze at the hills to port. These were cloaked in a thick tangle of vegetation entirely unlike the streets of Hiroshima where he'd attended the Naval Academy. He didn't look forward to an operation in such a setting -- as members of the world's most heavily urbanized culture, his countrymen were hardly natural jungle fighters. Still, this was unlikely to affect the outcome. He carried a company of infantry -- veterans from the occupation of Korea -- armed with Type 38 rifles, Type 11 machine guns, and one of the powerful Type 3 mortars that had served Imperial forces so well during the conquest of Tsing-Tao in the opening months of the War. He frowned, recalling how the treasonous civilian government had surrendered this and other territories as part of Peace. They would learn the error of their ways. And when that time came, he would be numbered among the teachers.

The watch officer approached him and bowed. "Kaigun-daisa, we are at 1000 meters, 170 at 110 kilometers per hour. We will assume formation with the Germans in ten minutes."

The Captain didn't bother to nod -- praise was for weaker races. "When will we reach the resupply station?"

"At 0800 hours the dawn of the 14th."

"That will be adequate," said the Captain. "We will have Rikugun-Chui Kaito prepare his men to attack on the morning of 16th."

Beside him, the Lieutenant ventured a question. "Can we trust the Germans to support the assault?"

"It is in their interest to do so," the Captain observed. "We are natural allies against the British. When the time is right, our two great nations will divide the world between them."

"Can we anticipate any trouble from the defenders?"

The Captain made a gesture of contempt. "They will not be skilled fighters. These are the Governor's prison guards, accompanied by whatever soldiers of fortune the British Union was able to recruit. We will crush them. Are the crew ready for action if Cairns sends ships to their defense?'

"Hai! They look forward to victory!"

The Captain dismissed his attendant, then turned back to the window to regard the curve of the mighty hull above him. The sight filled him with pride, accompanied by a very slight twinge of uncertainty. For all of her power, the cruiser had never been in action against a capable foe, so it was impossible to be certain her crew would perform as flawlessly as the should in the confusion of their first battle. There was also the matter of the reports their spies had been unable to obtain from the acceptance trials the Americans had conducted on the ship from which her design had been copied, the Sunnyvale. Did these contain any information of which he should be aware?

He shrugged. He knew the measure of their most likely foe. His ship was more than twice the size and infinitely more powerful. The outcome of a battle might be in the hands of the kami, but they were known for being on the side of the biggest battalions.

Next week: FAdvance Two Knights of the Air in Reply...

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