The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 127: Things to Contemplate

Jenkins tries an experiment

"A second Device!" exclaimed MacKiernan. "How many of these diabhalta things are there?"

"So far we've found reference to two," said Jenkins.

"That's two too many," muttered the Irishmen. Around the table, others nodded in agreement.

The mess hall fell silent. Above them, a girder creaked as the airship swung from her mooring. Captain Everett rose from his chair, strode to the window, and gazed at the village of Darwin. It seemed even more peaceful than usual this morning, for the rain had driven most people indoors. He imagined it struck by the weapon that had destroyed Ujelang -- that great cloud of fire, bright as the sun, rising above a plain of cinders -- and sighed. He'd seen more than enough destruction during the War.

"I believe we've accounted for one of the Devices," he observed with a certain amount of understatement. "The question becomes who has the other one. There seem to be three main possibilities: the White Russians, this so-called `British Unions of Fascists', and the German nationalists."

"I believe we can discount the Russians," observed Jenkins. "Their organization seems fatally compromised. We know that Yakov betrayed them to the German nationalists. Someone -- possibly Yakov again -- must have betrayed them to the British Union as well, for the fascists knew enough to steal the safe from the Ostrovnaya Devushka. Their marginal note in the vessel's log suggests that they also knew about the Device."

"Do you think they found it?" asked MacKiernan. "They've had ample time to track the vessel down and take her."

Jenkins shook his head. "Their behavior seems to suggest otherwise."

"In what way?" asked Everett.

The signalman paused to marshal his thoughts. "Consider their actions. Lieutenant Blacker, who we believe to be their agent, went to considerable lengths in his attempts to steal your report about the Device. After he failed, their agents on Espiritu Santo attempted to kidnap Miss Perkins, presumably to learn what she knew of the thing. This suggests some ignorance on their part regarding its nature and construction. And why would they go to so much trouble if it was already in their possession?"

Everett nodded. "Your thinking parallels my own. But that still leaves us with two possibilities."

"This Ostrovnaya Devushka," asked Abercrombie. "What d'ye ken became of her?"

"That's a good question," observed Everett. "It occurs to me that we've overlooked a clue that's been staring us in the face since June."

"The distress call!" said the Scotsman. "The one we were following when that cruiser attacked us! D'ye ken it came frae the Russians?" He glanced at Jenkins, who rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"It's impossible to say," replied the signalman. "It was an unskilled operator, transmitting at around five words per minute with a fair number of errors. I didn't recognize the hand, and there was nothing to give away his or her nationality. All we can say for sure is that the signal came from the east."

"In the direction Michaelson sent us," mused Everett. He glanced at Miss Perkins, but the secretary didn't rise to the bait.

"What did the message say?" asked Davies, who hadn't been on the bridge when the signal arrived. "Did they mention any attackers?"

"No," said Jenkins. "They gave their position and reported that they were taking on water after an engine room explosion. Then they went off their air. After the cruiser attacked us, I assumed that the message was theirs -- a ruse intended to lure us into their clutches -- but now I wonder. We've encountered any number of people who've accused us of piracy: most recently the Legionnaires in Port Villa and that German planter on Florida. This suggests that some actual vessel has gone missing."

"This brings us to the Germans," said Everett. "I find it hard to believe they were able to lay their hands on both Devices. The timing doesn't seem right. And that leaves us with no possibilities at all."

"What is this DeBroglie Refiner?" asked Sarah, changing the subject. "That anthropologist on Efate -- Mrs. Cressman -- mentioned something with a similar name."

Eyebrows went up around the table. "What exactly did she say?" asked Everett.

"It appears that a party of English glassmakers, led by some anonymous gentleman, visited the island in June to look for a mineral that sounds suspiciously like uraninite," said Iverson. "She overheard them speak of something called a DeBroglie Refiner."

"Interesting," said Everett. "Jenkins?"

The signalman gestured at the papers they'd recovered from the safe. "These notes are quite obviously incomplete, as if someone made off with the body of the material. The most likely candidate would seem to be our self-styled fascists."

"Do you have any idea what this DeBroglie instrument might be?"

"No, but I would like to test a hypothesis. I will need some of the ore samples we found -- preferably ones from Sarah's island that gave the highest reading on the radium detector."

There was pause while a suitable collection of rocks was fetched from the hold. They were unprepossessing things -- dark chunks of mineral with a faint hint of green. Everett studied them, wondering at their secret. How could something so ordinary in appearance contain so much destructive power? The signalman picked one up in each hand and hefted them speculatively. "Could you describe the Device, Sir?" he asked.

"It consisted of two slugs of metal, which we gathered were derived from this mineral, mounted at opposite ends of a rail," replied the captain. "One of the slugs was fitted a pyrotechnic charge to drive it into the other."

"Like this?" asked Jenkins, slamming the rocks together. There was a clank, followed by a clatter of overturned chairs as several people dove for the floor.

"Yes," said Everett dryly. "I take it that you anticipated this result."

The signalman nodded. "This ore must contain some active principle that reacts to produce the explosion we witnessed," he said. "In ordinary concentrations, the quantity must be insufficient to have any effect; otherwise the deposits on Sarah's islands would have blown up spontaneously. The Russians must have devised an instrument to extract this active principle."

"This DeBroglie Refiner?"

"Such would be my guess."

"So," mused Everett, "the British Union may have the plans for this Refiner, but might not know how to build the Device; the German nationalists almost certainly know how to build the Device, but may not have plans for the Refiner; and the Device itself could be in the hands of some as-yet-unidentified third party that doesn't have the slightest idea what it is."

"That would be my guess as well."

"An interesting situation. There must be some way we can turn it to our advantage, but this will require some thought."

Next week: A Pause to Reflect...

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