Episode 580: We're Off To Save The Warfields?
The crew of the Flying Cloud gazed down, appalled, at the
aftermath of the engagement. To the north, the broken cruiser had
fallen to the sea, and was sinking as hydrogen leaked from its gas
cells. Around it, the survivors were inflating life rafts they`d
salvaged from the wreck and plucking their fellows from the waves.
From this altitude, there was little sense of the chaos that must
have reigned among them.
"Do you think they`ll be all right, sir?" Iverson asked Everett.
"I imagine so," the captain assured him. "But they`re finished as
a fighting force, and their allies were not as fortunate." He
gestured to the north, where a plume of smoke marked the place
where the Drachen had been struck down, and shook his head
inwardly. The cost of victory was not always pleasant to
"The Geschwader is coming into view, bearing 005, range 20
miles," came Fleming`s call from the upper lookout station.
Signal lights were flashing from the distant vessel. Jenkins watched
these, then worked his Aldis lamp in reply.
"Manfred reports there as no damage to his vessel," he told Everett.
"He`s down to 60% 60% hydrogen, but still has several thousand pounds
ballast in reserve, and is able to support a landing."
Everett affected a satisfied nod. It seemed the easy part of the day`s
action was over. He turned to where Michaelson stood, arms across his
chest like a disapproving schoolmaster. "Commodore?" he asked. "What are
"We will land a party as we discussed," Michaelson replied curtly. "This
will consist of myself, the squad I brought from Cairns, your aide to handle
communications, your Miss Sarah to provide local knowledge of the island,
and such additional forces as you may wish to spare. We will deploy at the
west end of the field and advance under a flag of truce to demand a parley."
Everett studied the settlement below. The German and Japanese had easily
overpowered the Governor`s guards and whatever mercenaries the Warfields
had hired to defend the place. Veterans of the War and the conquest of
Korea, they`d now had taken cover beneath the trees at the east end of the
field, safe from aerial bombardment, but unable to oppose a landing to the
west. Michaelson`s immediate orders were sound, but what was the man`s
ultimate objective? For that matter, what was his own?
It seemed they were heading toward a final confrontation with the Baron and
Baroness. This left him little choice but to accompany his old adversary,
with Iverson along to take charge of the force should something happen to
both of them. Deployment was uneventful. Michaelson`s small squad of
marines abseiled down to establish what was more of a `polygonal` than a
`perimeter`, then held this while offices descended by Transporter. Soon
the party was making its way east past the prison compound.
There was no sign of fighting at this end of the field. It seemed the
stockade had been abandoned after Captain Krugman and the crew of the
L-103 had escaped the previous March, for the gate sagged open and new
vegetation was already springing up across the grounds. A cassowary that
had been poking through this -- hunting squidbats, perhaps -- raised its
head to watch as they passed, then seemed to decide the party was not
The air station had not fared as well. The operation building was in ruins,
shelled from the air, and nothing remained of the gun emplacements but four
ugly craters. Surprisingly, the trenches between them were still intact,
Perhaps the defenders had abandoned them before they could be bombarded.
Michaelson glanced at Everett.
"Could our people hold these as we planned?"
Everett studied the trenches with eyes schooled by his experience at
Gallipoli. "I see no reason why not, as long as we`re supported from
The Commodore nodded. "Very well. Sergeant Bascomb, you will establish
a defensive position here. Ensign Jenkins, you will set up your wireless
equipment and establish communication with the ships. Miss Sarah, I
would appreciate it if you would remain with them while Captain Everett
and I speak with our adversaries."
These instructions took little time to put into effect. All too soon,
Everett was following as the Commodore strode toward the wood, flag of
truce resting on his shoulder like an umbrella. As they neared the
treeline, two men emerged to confront them. One was quite obviously
German, the other quite obviously Japanese. "What is do you wish to
say," growled the former.
Michaelson made no pretense of diplomacy. "You are at a disadvantage,"
he observed. "You`re ships are gone, and you`re stranded on this island
with no hope of rescue. I am ready to accept your surrender."
"No," the German replied smugly, "it is you who are at a disadvantage.
We outnumber you, and have more than enough ammunition to keep you pinned
down until darkness, when your airships will no longer be able to support
you. Then we can overrun your position, take you prisoner, and hold you
hostage in return for passage home."
Michaelson seems unconcerned by this announcement. "I`d wondered if that
might be your reaction. I trust you will allow my companion and I to and
communicate this situation to our vessels."
The Japanese opened his mouth as if to refuse, but the German intervened.
"I will give you 15 minutes," he said. "Then we will begin our suppressive
"That went well," Michaelson remarked as they got back to the trenches.
Everett was less sure. "This assumes that every piece in the game will move
according to plan."
"I have no worries on that regard," the Commodore said lightly. "Ah, I see
that the nationalists have opened fire as expected."
The action that followed was noteworthy for its lack of action. After a
brief attempt to carry the English position that was driven back by shell
fire from the two airships, the nationalists were content to wait for
nightfall, when darkness, and the need to resupply, would remove their
support. For their part, the English were content to keep their heads
down and enjoy the tropical sun. From time to time, Michaelson examined
his pocket watch, At last he snapped it shut and peered over the
"Here they are, right on schedule," he announced.
Sarah followed the Commodore`s gaze to see a small island freighter backing
down to the settlement`s wharf. If there`d been any doubt about the vessel`s
identity, this ended when a voice from the bridge shouted.
"It`s Helga!" she exclaimed with glee.
"We discovered a common interest in putting paid to these nationalists
chappies," Michaelson explained. "We`ve made arrangements to do this for
once and for all."
He gestured toward the ship, where derricks were already lifting two
familiar rhomboid shapes from holds. One had the name
Waltzing Mathilda blazoned on its flank, the other, the other
bore the words Checkov`s Gun. Hatches swung shut, engines roared,
and the two machines began to roll south.
The island girl clapped her hands in delight. "She brought the tanks!"
The Commodore allowed himself a rare and uncharacteristic smile. "It
seemed almost a dramatic necessity," he told her. "And they do seem to have
provided us with an overwhelming advantage."
If anything, this observation was an understatement. The Germans began an
attempt at defense, but this crumbled as it became obvious none of their
weapons could penetrate the tanks` armor. The Japanese, who`d already
experienced an attack by these very same vehicles, wasted no time in laying
down their arms. If any of the nationalists retained thoughts of defiance,
this ended when Helga`s crew arrived to complete the rout and take them
The tanks halted by the treeline, engines rumbling, as the Swedes secured
their captives. Then the Chekhov`s Gun wheeled right and began
trundling toward the English position. It came to halt in front of the
trenches, hatches sung open, and two cheerful figures popped out.
Everett sighed in resignation. "Miss Wilcox, Miss Blaine, may I ask why you
are here rather than in Darwin?"
The two young women grinned. "Surely you didn`t think we`d miss all the
excitement!" beamed Clarice. "Also, Helga needed someone who knew how to
drive the machines."
Against his will, Everett found himself smiling. "I suppose she would
have," he admitted. "Thank you for your assistance."
"It`s the Everett and the Michaelson!" came a cheerful voice. The two men
looked up to see Helga hop down from the roof of the tank, where she`s been
perched like a warrior on some Viking ship of old. She gave the machine an
affectionate pat, then strode forward to where they were standing.
She studied them for a moment, as if taking their measure, then nodded.
"We defeated the trolls for you," she told them. "Now it time for you to
face your dragon."
Next week: Follow The Uraninite Road!...
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