The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 210: Was This Part Of The Plan?

The Almanac

Commodore Clark sat in the office he'd requisitioned at the Cairns Royal Air Station, studying the report while Michaelson and Everett looked on -- one of the privileges of flag rank was making your subordinates wait. At last he set the file aside. "So a French airship, the AT-38, was hijacked from the air station on Lifou Island on March 15," he mused. "Careless of them. They should have paid more attention to Shakespeare. Where is this Lifou?"

Michaelson opened a copy of the Almanac and flipped through the pages until he located the relevant entry. "It's here, sir," he replied, "a raised coral atoll in the Loyalty Islands with an area of 462 square miles. As of the 1926 census, the population was 5,200. The principal exports, besides copra, are rubber, vanilla, and sugarcane. It seems an entirely unremarkable place."

"I understand the local authorities apprehended some suspects and sent them here," said Clark.

"Yes, sir, but they could hardly have been responsible for the piracy, since they were still on the ground when the airship left. I interviewed the fellows and established that they knew nothing of the affair."

"Are they still in your custody?"

Michaelson shook his head. "No, sir. We had no reason to hold them, so I let them go."

"This may have been premature," observed Clark. "Did it occur to you that they might have had confederates aboard the vessel?"

"That seemed unlikely," said Michaelson. "If they had, why would they have remained behind to be captured?"

"A good point," Clark admitted. "What is your hypothesis?"

Michaelson looked thoughtful. "One wonders about the possibility of insurance fraud. The owners might have arranged this alleged `hijacking' so they could file a claim for an otherwise worthless vessel. We've made inquiries with Lloyds to determine if the underwriters were English. Unless they are, the matter would lie outside our jurisdiction."

"Perhaps," said Clark, "but we will still wish to investigate, if we can do so without detracting from our primary mission. Is my ship ready for flight?"

"We finished yesterday," said Michaelson. His manner was casual, but Everett guessed the senior captain had put his maintenance crews on triple shifts when it became clear the Commodore would be returning early.

"Very good," said Clark. "Here is how we will proceed. Captain Everett, you will take the Flying Cloud to Lifou Island and investigate this hijacking. If this is a case of insurance fraud, as your superior suggests, I will expect you to get to the bottom of the matter. Meanwhile, I will take the Cottswold west to examine this laboratory you discovered on the Oa Ki atoll. I will need a navigator familiar with the site, so I will take your Mister MacKiernan with me. I trust this will not be an inconvenience for you."

Only one answer was possible. "No, sir."

"Very good. Captain Michaelson, I will need a more complete report on what you have discovered about these various nationalist conspiracies."

"The Admiralty seemed satisfied with the version I sent last month," said Michaelson. Something about his tone of voice caught Everett's attention. The senior captain did not sound quite as defensive he would have expected.

"Perhaps," replied the Commodore, "but the document seemed peculiarly... reticent... regarding some matters."

Michaelson's expression was curiously unreadable, like a man who'd just drawn to fill out a straight. "An unfortunate omission on my part," he replied. "I'll instruct Miss Perkins to provide you with a complete copy of our files."

What is Michaelson playing at? Everett wondered. For the man was most certainly playing some sort of game.

"It might be best if you sent Miss Perkins herself," Clarke said snidely -- this was another of the privileges of flag rank.

"That might interfere with my management of this office," Michaelson observed.

"I trust you'll make do," said Clark.

Everett kept his expression neutral. Did the Commodore realize he'd just been manipulated into taking an agent aboard his vessel? Possibly not. After all, he hadn't noticed when Everett had left an agent behind in Darwin.

"You're sure this will work?" asked Dabney.

"Dinki-di," said Fleming. "Commodore Clark seems to be investigating the sites we discovered last year. The first was on the coast to the west. The second is on a small atoll near Timor. That's almost certainly where he'll head next. He may have an airship, but we're closer, and he'll have to resupply in Kupang, so I should be able to get there ahead of him if I start now."

"I suppose Stevens could take you there in the Thunderbird," said Dabney, glancing toward one of the two obsolete gunboats that rode at anchor in Darwin's harbor, "but how will you explain your presence when the Commodore arrives?"

"The Captain will find a way," said Fleming, with a confidence Everett might not have felt justified.

"We should still send word to Cairns, to let them know your intentions in the event this Clark chappie decides to head elsewhere."

"How will we manage without Channel noticing?" asked Fleming. "He's sure to have an agent at the telegraph station."

"A packet is scheduled to arrive late this week," said Dabney. "We can put someone aboard with a message. I know just who to send."

"She'll be apples then," said Fleming. "What could go wrong?"

Doctor Schuman coughed to announce his presence, then handed over the report. "Mein Herr," he announced, "here are the results from the test run."

The Fat Man hefted the file in his hand. It was a rough hand, scarred by violence, like the soul of the man to whom it belonged. "What was the yield?" he asked.

"Disappointing," said the scientist. "It took us fifteen hundred hours of continuous operation to double the concentration of the active ingredient."

"And what level of concentration do we need to reproduce the Ujelang Device?"

"According to the notes we captured from the laboratory in Australia, at least eighty percent. At the present rate, it would take us several decades to reach this level."

The Fat Man frowned. "How did the Russians manage to accomplish this in little over a year?"

"This is not clear," said Schuman, "but it appears they've lost the secret, for their second Device -- the one they used at Rabaul -- was a failure."

"That was unfortunate," said the Fat Man, "for it would have rid us of that traitorous Governor. Do we have any idea why the original refiner was so much more effective?"

"No, but there is a name that appears several times in our notes..."


"Yes, Mein Herr."

The Fat Man turned to a bland-looking figure who stood beside him. "Artur, have we learned anything more about this elusive gentleman?"

"One of the men we captured on Oa Ki suggested that he might have designed some crucial component of the equipment they used. Unfortunately, our informant... is not in a position to provide us with additional information."

"I see," said the Fat Man. "Who else is searching for our Herr Karlov?"

"The British Union has been eliminated from the game," said his lieutenant, "but the White Russians and Trotsky's government are both still involved, and our agent in Cairns reports that an investigator has just arrived from the British Admiralty."

"So the game has several players," mused the Fat Man. "We shall have to make certain we win."

Next week: Just Think Of It As A Temporary Separation...

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