Episode 577: Advance Two Knights of the Air in Reply
Everett had called a meeting in the Flying Cloud's mess hall
to finalize their plans for the coming engagement. Now he and Manfred
sat at the middle of table, accompanied by Jenkins, MacKiernan, Iverson,
Sarah, and Manfred's lieutenant Ersnt, surrounded by a growing
collection of charts, figures, and calculations.
At last Everett set down his pencil and studied the diagram in front of
him. "I believe this will serve," he announced.
"Can we be certain that our foes will cooperate?" asked Manfred.
"They'll have little choice, given the relative performance of our vessels,"
Everett observed. "After you and I break formation, they'll have to split
up to intercept both of us. Since the em>Flying Cloud is faster than
your brother's Drachen, he'll have to follow you, leaving the cruiser
to follow us. Are you prepared to handle your part of the engagement? The
Drachen is twice the size of your Geschwader, carries five
times her weight in armament, and has eight knots on you."
The German indicated the reports he'd been studying. "If this wind forecast
is correct, we can deal with the last matters, and this speilzeug you have
provided will render the first two irrelevant. But what about you,
Herr Everett? The cruiser is a copy of America's
Sunnyvale class. From what we know of this design, you will be at
a similar disadvantage against ypur adversary."
"So it would seem," said Everett. "We can trust the Japanese to draw
confidence from this. But published performance figures do not always
tell the whole story. The Sunnyvale paid a visit to Cairns last
year, and I took this opportunity to speak with Captain Rosendahl
regarding her acceptance trials. These were quite comprehensive, in excess
of anything the Japanese nationalists can have had an opportunity to
conduct, and revealed two facts we can use to our advantage.
"The first was their top speed. This is slightly faster than the
Flying Cloud's top speed when we took her from the Germans, but our
chief engineer is unusually talented, and has managed to improve on this to
the extent that we should be able to control the range of the engagement.
The second is a design deficiency the Americans have made plans to correct,
but of which the Japanese cannot aware. We should be able to exploit it if
we can make this turn." He indicated a point on the diagram.
"This would require the Japanese to be in a position here," Manfred said,
"If we follow the course I've shown toward the ridge, I imagine they'll go
to considerable effort to do just that."
The German studied the diagram again, then gave a wolfish grin.
"Ja," he said. "It is what I would do, believing I had you
trapped. Have we confirmed that the ridge is as high as this map
"Miss Sarah?" asked Everett.
The island girl smiled. "My tribe used to survey the heights every year,
to prepare our defense in case the Old Ones returned from beneath the waves."
"What are these Old Ones?" asked Manfred.
"It's a long story, which we may hope will not have any immediate
relevance," said Everett, seeking to head off a digression. "There remains
the question of timing. Commander MacKiernan, have you given more thought
to the matter?"
"Aye," said the Irishman. "We can expect the nationalists to attack Sarah's
island at dawn. If we allow them four to five hours to destroy the gun
emplacements, land marines, and overpower the Warfield's mercenaries, this
suggests we should appear on the scene at noon. But for obvious reasons, it
will be essential to do this on the right day, and I've been unable to
think of a way to determine this."
They were saved from further discussion by the sound of foot of footsteps.
They turned to see Michaelson enter the compartment accompanied by his aide.
"Sir," said Everett, beginning to rise. "This is an unexpected..."
"Please remain seated," the Commodore said dismissively. "It is time for us
to act. We have deciphered a message intercept from the nationalists.
Their two ships will be calling at Buka Town on the morning of the 14th to
resupply. This suggests that they will reach Sarah's island sometime after
the 15th. I have dispatched the R-87 and R-129 to stand off Bougainville
and watch for their departure. This should allow us to anticipate the
precise day of their attack."
Everett nodded at this use of the station's resources. A Wollesley and an
Armstrong-Whitworth could make no contribution to an action except to serve
as prey, but they were an excellent choice for a surveillance role. "Will
this give Miss Helga time to get in position with the
Viking Girl II?" he asked.
"I have already insttuicted Miss Helga to put to sea," said Michaelson.
"She will stand off 50 miles from the island, out of range of their
radio-detection apparatus, and head in when we inform her the attack has
begun. That should bring her to the harbor shortly after we arrive."
It was left to Sarah to remark on the Commodore's use of the pronoun.
"You said `we'," she observed cautiously.
"That is correct," Michaelson replied. "After considering the situation at
some length, I have decided to move my flag to your vessel. I do not intend
to interfere with your tactical deployments, but operations, but it it is
time for me to take the field."
Noon the next day found the Flying Cloud and the Geschwader riding from the
masts at Norfolk Island. This was as isolated as ever -- an anonymous speck
in the middle of the Coral Sea -- and it occurred to Everett that their
recent visits might have tripled the amount of traffic the island received
in a year. The modern airships seemed entirely out of place in this
setting, like débutantes that had wandered into a rustic country
village. He smiled at this conceit, then studied his latest entry in the
June 15, 1928, 1200 hrs. Lat, 29 2' Long 167 57'. His Majesty's Airship
Flying Cloud, R-505, Captain Roland P. Everett cmdr. Have finished
resupply at Burnt Pine's air atation, Waiting for communication from
the picket ships.
Should he say more, he wondered? This seemed a poor summary of a story that
had begun almost two years before. But what more could he possibly commit
to paper. So much of the story involved things they hoped to keep hidden,
such as the secret of the uraninite refiner, things that might forever
remain a mystery, such as Karlov and Natasha's true agendas, or things about
which he could only speculate, such as Michaelson's motives… or his own.
It seemed almost certain that he, Michaelson, and Lady Warfield would meet
for what might be a final confrontation. What outcome had he hoped for?
And what outcome did he hope for now that his perspective had changed. He
allowed himself what might have been a smile. At least the cause of that
change was accounted for, along with her companion. Michaelson had given
his staff explicit instructions to make certain that Clarice and Emily
caused no trouble until a ship could be spared to take them back to
Darwin. He was reaching out to put the log away when Lieutenant Iverson
called from the bridge.
"Sir, we've received a message from Captain Harris. He spotted the cruiser
and and the Drachen off Mono Island, cruising south-southwest at 60
knots. He estimates they'll reach Sarah's island tomorrow morning."
Everett rose from his desk and straightened his jacket, and reached for the
intercom. "Very good, Mister Iverson," he replied. "Order the crew to
prepare for our sortie. We will lift ship in six hours."
Next week: Rooks Take Pawns...
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