The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Two

Episode 98: Could it Be?

Footsteps and spear


Iverson turned, saw Sarah standing beneath the trees, and the rest of the world was forgotten. A squad of German soldiers could have attacked and he'd never have noticed. As he watched, the island girl dropped her spear and ran to meet him. Then she was pounding on his chest and sobbing, as if unable to believe he was here.

"You're alive!" she cried. "You're alive! You're alive!"

He opened his mouth to speak, then realized that no words could possibly be sufficient, so he took her in his arms.

"I say," said Sarah, when they became aware of their surroundings again. "What are all those unconscious German soldiers doing lying on the ground?"

"They attacked while you were preoccupied," said Everett, "but we felt it would be ungentlemanly to disturb your reunion, so the rest of us took care of the matter."

"Natasha must have sent them," mused Iverson.

"Who's Natasha?" asked Sarah.

"It's good to see you again, Mister Iverson," said Everett, stepping in to intervene before the youth could say something catastrophic. "I trust you'll have some news to report. But I have neglected my manners." He turned to Phillips. "I am Captain Roland P. Everett, Royal Naval Airship Service."

"Pleased to meet you," replied the American. "Your lieutenant spoke highly of you. I'm Howard Phillips, a sea captain from Rhode Island, and this is my companion... where'd Karlov get to?"

"Karlov?" said several voices at once.

Phillips shrugged. "He does that sometimes. That's why I... oh... never mind..."

"I can see we have much to talk about," observed Everett, "but we may have more immediate concerns. Abercrombie, if you could hold this Italian for a moment..." While the Scotsman balanced the tenor over his shoulder, the captain consulted his pocket watch.

"There is a timer running inside that blockhouse," he explained. "Circumstances suggest it is in some way connected with the device we saw mounted on the lift platform that just ascended the tower. It will count down to zero in fifty one minutes. We might wish to be some distance from the island by then. Would you happen to have access to a boat?"

"Yes," said Phillips, "but it's only a sailing canoe and it's at the other end of the island. It might not be fast enough."

Everett nodded as if this had confirmed some suspicion. "Then we'll have to commandeer the nationalist's patrol craft. If you would follow me."

"Is he always like this?" Phillips asked Iverson as they set off through the forest.

"Yes," said the lieutenant.

The American smiled. "A man after my own heart."

They arrived to find the base in an uproar. One squad of nationalists had set off towards the tower while others rushed to and fro setting up cameras, microphones, and other measuring devices. Above them, the L-137 was making ready for departure. Already her propellers had begun to turn. As they watched, she dropped her mooring and began rising toward the sky.

"Our adversaries seem to have prepared for this situation," said Jenkins, gesturing toward the work parties. "I wonder if we've been manipulated into bringing the component they needed to complete the Device."

"Perhaps," mused Everett, "but I notice that the airship is leaving. I imagine the Fat Man is aboard. This suggests he has some concerns he's kept from his subordinates. Let's hope the patrol boat hasn't left as well."

The vessel was still at its dock, with its engines rumbling at idle, but a dozen men armed with Mausers kept watch from the shore. Everett studied them with concern. If they'd been carrying pistols, he might have risked a charge, but there was no way his party could make it across the beach in the face of rifle fire.

"Who's the woman?" whispered Davies, pointing toward a figure approaching the jetty.

"It's Natasha!" hissed Iverson. "She's come to warn them we're here!"

"Wait," said Phillips. "We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity. There may be more going on here than we know."

The woman spoke to the guards and gestured back toward the base. The Germans rushed off in the direction she'd pointed, leaving two of their number behind. She walked past them toward the boat, then turned as if to ask a question. The sentries hurried to attend her. They seemed unable to take their eyes off the woman and Everett could hardly blame them. But when they happened to glance away for a moment, she made a frantic gesture toward the hidden watchers.

"I believe you're right," he told Phillips. "That was most definitely a signal. Gentlemen, shall we rescue the damsel?"

They crossed the beach in a rush. Everett and Phillips laid the two sentries low, then headed for the bridge while Jenkins and Davies ducked down the companionway to secure the engine room. Abercrombie set the Italian down on deck with unexpected gentleness, then seized an axe from a nearby bulkhead and began to chop the mooring lines.

"Och!" he cried, "I love this part!"

"Watch out!" warned Iverson as a crewman bolted from the deckhouse, intent on raising the alarm. But Sarah had already sunk the butt of her spear into the man's stomach.

"Well, done, Miss Sarah," said Everett, who'd emerged after the hapless German. "That should buy us a few moments before our hosts realize what's afoot." He adjusted his sleeves, stepped to the companionway, and called down below. "Jenkins and Davies, if you're quite through subduing the guards, I'd appreciate full power from the engines."

"Aye, sir," replied a muffled voice. Diesels roared, propellers churned, and the boat pulled away from the dock. A few shots rang out from the shore behind them, then they were past Daisu islet and threading the passage through the reef.

A short time later, the patrol boat was several miles northeast of Ujelang, plowing through a beam sea at forty knots. Everett had feared the L-137 might come after them -- small surface vessels were notoriously vulnerable to aircraft -- but the airship's crew seemed preoccupied with getting as far from the island as possible. He'd noticed they'd chosen a course crosswind. Spurred by memories of the trenches and poison gas, he had done the same.

By now Notariello had regained consciousness. "I have missed the opportunity of a lifetime!" complained the tenor. "But perhaps we can hear the music of the Instrument from here. How much longer must we wait?"

Everett consulted his watch. "Approximately forty-seven seconds."

"Should we stuff our ears with wax?" asked Jenkins.

"Wax?" said Davies

"Like Odysseus's men did," explained the signalman, "to protect themselves from the song of the Sirens."

Everett smiled. "I don't think that will be nec..."

Light flared behind them, accompanied by an intense wave of heat, as if the sun had touched the earth for one terrible instant. As the glare subsided, Everett looked back to see a line of white racing towards them across the water, whipping the surface to foam.

"Down!" he cried.

Windows shattered as the concussion hit. The mast vanished, blown to splinters, followed by the roof of the deckhouse. Wind roared past the patrol boat like some blast from the gates of hell. Then, inexplicably, it reversed direction and began to blow back the way it had come.

At last the turmoil subsided. After he'd assured himself that his people were unharmed, Everett stood and gazed toward the southwest. Where Ujelang had been, a titanic pillar of smoke was rising toward the heavens, topped by a boiling cloud of fire. From this angle, it looked almost like a gigantic tree. The captain was reminded of the carving of the Tree of Life they'd found on Sarah's island. For several long moments, no one spoke.

At last Everett broke the silence with the only observation possible.


Next week: Ujelang Delende Est...

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