The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 244: Her Evil Twin

Nettie, Anna, and a blimp crew

Everett and his men sat in the closest thing Galela had to a café Since there was no way to keep their visit secret in a village this small, he'd opted for the alternative of overwhelming potential eavesdroppers with information.

"What have we learned so far?" he asked Jenkins.

"Karlov arrived here aboard our old acquaintance, the Tranquility," said Jenkins, "One cannot help but wonder at this coincidence. He then took passage on a boat heading south. I was unable to determine its destination, but the only two villages of any size in that direction are Tobelo and Kao. He was followed by an airship registered as the N-109. By all accounts, the crew were quite obviously American, which suggests this was the AT-38. They had a rather public encounter with some evangelical organization in this village, then they headed south as well."

"Have we heard any word of them since?"

The signalman nodded. "An `N-109' called in Tobelo later that day. One assumes this was the same vessel. They made some inquiries about a `German mission', remained overnight to effect some repairs, and departed the next afternoon."

"A German mission," mused Everett. "What does the Almanac have to say?"

"There are two here on Gilolo," said Iverson, "one at Dorosago, another at Kao."

"We will investigate Kao first," Everett decided. "It's closer."

Ernst gazed out the window of his cabin, remembering other sorties on an entirely different type of aircraft. Zeppelins might be the wave of the future, but he missed the snarl of radial engines, the whistle of wind through the wires, the feeling of triumph when you rolled into a bank and pulled back on the stick to line up your sights on some unsuspecting foe.

He did not, however, miss the terrible conflict of which those experiences had been a part.

"Mein Herr?" came a voice behind him, "you look thoughtful."

He glanced over to Sigmund standing in the doorway. "The memories," he replied.

The marine nodded. "Ja, the memories," he said sadly. "Do you think those times might return?"

"Not if we have the secret of the Device. Then no one would dare attack us, or so the Fat Man claims. But I wonder if that's his only..." Ernst caught himself. There was little privacy aboard an airship, "... no matter."

"Do you think this English commodore will take the bait and waste his time flying to Tobelo?" asked Sigmund.

"This seems likely," said Ernst. "I have read the man's dossier and he does not have a reputation for brilliance. That should leave us plenty of time to reach Kao, resupply, and conduct our investigations. I wonder what we will find."

Anna trudged up the hill toward the mission. The boat trip to Kao had been uncomfortable, for the accommodations had not even begun to approach the standards she'd grown accustomed to during her childhood in Russia, but at least she'd had a companion to share her woes.

"That was fun!" gushed Nettie. "Just like a Douglas Fairbanks movie!"

Well, perhaps `share woes' isn't the proper expression, thought Anna. "I suppose it was," she replied with as much grace as she could muster. "Let's hope these people have word of Karlov."

"A young Russian, with straight blond hair and a serious expression?" said the abbot a short time later. "I remember this man. He visited us earlier this week to ask about the old native ruins."

"Native ruins?" asked Nettie. "What are those like?"

The abbot shook his head. "They are relics of a pagan past, which we have done our best to eradicate."

Nettie's expression fell. "Does that mean they're all gone?" she asked, in much the same voice a child might use to ask about Halloween candy.

The abbot raised his hand to chide the girl, then relented, defeated without even realizing he'd been in a contest. "There are still some near the old mines," he told her. "Metal is rare here in the islands, so deposits of ore had special significance in native culture. There's a shrine up near Mount Talasoho with carvings that look almost like reindeer."

"Is that where my countryman is now?" asked Anna.

"No," said the abbot. "He left to visit the ruins near Weda."

"That's some distance to the south," said Anna. "Is there any way we can get there quickly?"

Their host thought this over. "It's a long way by boat, but you might be able to find a blimp down at the station."

There was only one blimp at Kao's air station: a small 60,000 cubic foot ship that seemed to be the Dutch equivalent of a Sea Scout class. The captain gave Nettie an appreciative glance, then looked Anna up and down as if calculating payload capacity. "The Vandervecken is not one of your big liners," he informed them. "I can only carry one passenger. Will that be you, jongedame"?" he asked Nettie hopefully.

"I will go," Anna said curtly. "When can we depart?"

The man's disappointment was obvious. "As soon as you're aboard," he sighed.

Anna gave Nettie a hug. "Thank you for your help," she said. "Will you be all right until Marty gets here?"

Nettie smiled. "Of course," she replied. "I'll find something to do while I wait."

Fleming and Vlad disembarked from the launch that had carried them to Kao. It had been a slow passage, which had done little to ease Vlad's impatience. "Where will we find this mission the ladies were seeking?" he asked Fleming.

Fleming pointed up the hill. "I imagine that's it, next to that bell tower with the cross on top."

"Da," said Vlad. "I knew that. I was just checking to make sure you were paying attention."

Soon they were speaking with the abbot. "More visitors," marveled the cleric. "Our little town has become very popular. How might I help you?"

"Do you recall two young women, one Russian and one American?" asked Vlad.

The abbot nodded. "They were here just this morning. They left to visit the mining office."

"They might still be here!" cried Vlad. "We must move quickly! Starbuck, you search the village while I check at the office!"

Fleming's route back to the village swung past the air station, where a small blimp had dropped its mooring and was heading toward the south. He gave the vessel an incurious glance, wondering what on this seemingly worthless island could be worth the cost of transport by air, then continued on his way. Near the edge of town, he overtook a familiar figure.

"Strewth!" he exclaimed. "It's Nettie!"

The woman turned at the sound of his voice, "Mister... Starbuck," she replied coyly, "whatever are you doing here?"

"I came with Vlad to look for Anna," said Fleming. "I think those two are sweet on each other."

For some reason, Nettie seemed to find this amusing. "Are they?" she said. "If only they knew. Where's Marty and the ship?"

Fleming frowned at her. "We left them in Tobelo but they must be underway by now. What's going on?" he demanded. "Who are you, Nettie, and what kind of game are you playing?"

A shadow passed across the woman's face. "You couldn't possibly understand the answer to any of those questions," she told him. Then her mood seemed to brighten, "You were right!" she cried, pointing toward the north. "There they are! Let's go meet them!"

Fleming turned to see an old-fashioned airship, clearly based on an S Class, rounding a bend in the coast. The number `N-109' was plainly visible on the vessel's side. He looked back at Nettie, but she was already rushing toward the station. He shrugged and set off after her.

They arrived just as the handling crews were dispersing. Fleming followed Nettie toward the mooring mast, where the airship was shutting down her engines. As they drew closer, he began to feel a sense of unease. He looked up at the vessel, taking in subtle details of design that he'd missed during their rush to the station, and stopped in alarm.

"Wait! Nettie!" he warned. "That isn't our ship, that's the..."

"Da schau her," came a harsh voice behind them. "What have we here?"

Next week: A Brush With Fuller...

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