The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 139: Steamplunk

Steam-powered submarines, real and imagined

"A K-class fleet submarine!" exclaimed Iverson. "However did Fuller get hold of that?"

"I imagine the Admiralty wanted to get rid of the vessel," said Everett. "An understandable attitude in their part."

"Why?" asked the lieutenant. "It was a modern warship."

Everett glanced at Iverson and repressed a smile. The youth still seemed to have an unreasonable faith in the wisdom of high command. "The K's were one of the War's more ambitious concepts," he replied, "a steam-powered submarine, fast enough to keep up with a dreadnought when surfaced. This would have been impossible to achieve with a diesel plant. One can imagine how such an exercise in technology would appeal to our Mister Fuller."

"A steam engine?" Iverson was incredulous. "On a submarine? However did this work?"

"It was not an unqualified success," said Everett dryly. "The boats met their design speed easily enough on the surface. But whenever they wished to dive, they had to draw the fires, shut down the turbines, lower and seal off the stacks, and close any number of ventilators -- without anyone on deck to make sure they were secured properly. With practice, they could manage this fairly quickly, but there was always that nagging fear the subsequent submersion might prove permanent."

"How were the vessels armed?"

"Jenkins?" asked Everett.

"According to Jane's, the builders experimented with a variety of different deck guns," said the signalman. "Mister Fuller's boat is the K-6, from the yard at Devonport. Its specifications called for a pair of BL 4-inch naval guns, though it's not clear these were ever installed. But the primary armament would be ten 18" torpedoes."

"That's not something you find every day," observed Iverson.

"It may not be something you find any day," said Jenkins. "I imagine Fuller was forced to manufacture some form of substitute."

"That must be what he used against the Ostrovnaya Devushka," mused Everett. "This might explain why the ship didn't go down more quickly. Our Mister Fuller seems to have some difficulties turning theory into practice. What else have we learned?"

"I've finished examining the material Mister Iverson brought back from Eua," said Jenkins. "The island seems to have been quite a popular destination. We have cigarette butts from Russia, England, and Germany, a tin of Ettan snus, a flask that might have held vodka, several empty bottles of Bass Ale, and an empty bottle of schnapps -- quite a good brand, I might add. We also have drag marks left by two Transporters: an older set I assume were the work of our friends with the mysterious cruiser and a newer set that's consistent with German equipment."

"This does rather muddy the waters," said Everett. "What did our prisoner have to say?"

"According to him, Miss Helga arrived six days ago, just as Fuller and the Russians were moving a safe full of records and charts to the..." Jenkins sighed, "...Skerry Lady. Our informant exercised the better part of valor during the ensuing scuffle, so he wasn't particularly well-placed to observe the outcome, but it appears the Russian leaders escaped with Fuller, and Miss Helga set off in pursuit. Indications are that MacKiernan and his companions accompanied Miss Helga."

"Why didn't they just wait here for us?" asked Sarah.

"They must have felt time was of the essence," said Everett. "They would have left a message in our ship's private code, but this will almost certainly have been discovered and taken by one of the parties that came after them. Did our prisoner witness either of the landings?"

"He seems to have been lost in the jungle at the time," said Jenkins, "but he did see the airships fly over. The first could only have been the mysterious cruiser; I can't think of any other vessel that size with that engine configuration. She appeared five days ago: the same day we encountered her off Fiji. The second showed up two days later. This was an older-style ship with German lines that sounds remarkably like the L-137."

"The Fat Man," said Iverson apprehensively.

"Or one of his agents."

"I suppose it was only a matter of time before he reentered the game," said Everett. "With so many players about, we'll have a devil of a time keeping track of them all."

"Whatever are these people up to?" asked the lieutenant in annoyance. "It seems that everyone knows what's going on but us."

"If I had to venture a guess, I'd say they're all after the Russians and their records," said Everett. "I imagine these describe where the second Device is hidden."

"And without MacKiernan's hypothetical message, our only lead is that submarine," said Jenkins. "This doesn't seem particularly helpful. It's rather the nature of submarines to remain unseen."

"Leave that to me," said Pierre.

Eyes turned to the Frenchman.

"You know where it is?" asked Jenkins. Everett imagined he detected a certain amount of professional jealousy.

"No," said Pierre, "but I know how to find it. This bateau of Fuller's will need maintenance, and zee black market in used submarine parts cannot be so very large. I am a businessman. I know where to ask about such things."

Captain Everett finished the log entry, set down his pen, and sighed. An already confusing situation had become even more confused.

December 5, 1926. Lat 19 39' S, Long 174 42' W. Cleared Eua 1830 heading 020, airspeed 45 knots, wind SE 10. It appears that the White Russian exiles, led by Grand Duke Mikhailovich and some unidentified superior, have made common cause with Fuller and the British Union. Evidence suggests they departed Tonga on or around November 30 aboard Fuller's submarine (ex HMS K6, commissioned 8 November 1915, sold 22 October 1925) pursued by agents of several government and anti-government organizations as well as a private individual acting on her own initiative. In the absence of specific knowledge regarding their intentions, we intend to investigate Fuller's logistics trail to identify possible destinations.

"Sir?" asked Jenkins. He'd been with Everett long enough to recognize when his captain was worried.

"I grow concerned about Mister MacKiernan," said Everett. "I have faith in the commander's judgment in any ordinary circumstances, but his current situation is far from ordinary. This enterprise of the Russians' seemed to have drawn every conspirator in the South Pacific out of the woodwork. One marvels at the coincidence. One also cannot help but wonder if some other plan may be at work."

"You suspect the Fat Man may be behind all this?"

"Perhaps. The man seems Machiavellian enough. But I continue to wonder about Captain Michaelson. He professes ignorance of this affair, but for more than five months, he's shown an uncanny ability to send us precisely where the action is thickest. This suggests some special knowledge on his part. We have no idea what his motives might be... and he has an agent in MacKiernan's party."

"Miss Perkins."


Next week: This Trick Always Works, Sometimes...

Comments about Episode 139? Start a new topic on the Forum!

StumbleUpon        submit to reddit Reedit