The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 249: Back By Popular Demand

Vlad leaping from tank to tank

Commodore Clark raised one eyebrow. "I beg your pardon," he said.

It was a reasonable reaction. It couldn't be every day that a gang of ruffians came smashing through primordial jungle in a War-era tank to menace him with submachine guns.

"Where are the dames?" demanded their leader. "We know theyse with you `cos someone spotted you heading out with my babe."

The Commodore seemed puzzled by this novel interpretation of the English language. Everett moved to intervene. "That would be Miss... Nettie," he observed. "I'm afraid she is no longer accompanying us. She was abducted by a band of adventurers in a vehicle similar to yours. They departed in that direction." He indicated the trail of crushed undergrowth and shattered trees Fuller's tank had left in its wake.

A lean figure pushed his way forward, concern written on his face. "Did they have another lady with them," he asked urgently, "a Russian woman named Anna?"

"Vlad!" cried Fleming. "I thought you were still in Kao! Yes, she was their prisoner."

Marty's eyes widened as he caught sight of the Aussie. "Starbuck!" he exclaimed. "How'd you get here? And what are you doing in that uniform?"

"Starbuck?" Everett asked Fleming.

"It's a long story, sir," Fleming replied. "Captain Everett, this is Marty, captain of the... of one of the N-109s. Marty, this is Captain Everett. He's after those wankers too. We can still catch them if we hurry. How many can you fit in your machine?"

"We got room for two more," said Craig.

Commodore Clark had been following this exchange. He nodded to Everett and Fleming. "You have my leave to join the hunt, gentlemen. Tally ho."

The Mark V tank was easily the most uncomfortable vehicle Fleming had ever had the misfortune to ride. Its interior was hot, stifling, and choked with exhaust fumes. Unseen machinery clamored next to him in the dark. The vehicle lacked any form of suspension, and seemed determined to brain him against its sides as it lurched across the terrain. He would have voiced a complaint, but the noise made conversation difficult.

"Starbuck!" yelled Marty. "Have you been with these guys all along?"

"Yes!" Fleming yelled back. "My real moniker's Fleming! The Captain sent me out to find those chaps we're after!"

The gangster cracked a grin. "You'd make a good card player, kid! How much head start they got?"

"Not much! Where'd you get this machine?"

"Al dropped us off north of Weda soze we wouldn't get spotted! When we hit town, this thing was just standing there next to the docks! We thought, heck, if we don't steal that tank, it's a cinch some other mob will!"

It was difficult to argue with this line of reasoning, so Fleming returned his attention surviving the ride. A few minutes later, Craig shouted down from the driver's station, where a pair of bronzed baby shoes dangled next to the controls. "I see 'em up ahead, Boss!"

Marty glanced through his vision slit, then yelled back to the engineer. "Jersey, pour on the coals!"

Fuller and his men didn't seem to have expected pursuit. A burst of smoke poured from the exhaust of the Waltzing Mathilda as they did their best to accelerate. But the Chekhov's Gun was slightly faster, and soon the two tanks were racing neck and neck -- to the extent that this concept was applicable for vehicles with a top speed comparable to a brisk walk. As they drew alongside, Jake poked the barrel of his Thompson through a firing port and squeezed the trigger. Cartridge cases flew from the ejector, though the sound of gunfire was masked by the roar of the engine.

"It's no good, Boss!" Jake shouted. "Bullets just bounce off that thing!" Muzzle flashes from the other machine suggested that Fuller's crew were reaching a similar conclusion. Lacking main armament, the two tanks were entirely unable to harm each other.

"Can you keep 'em pinned down?" yelled Marty.

"Yeah, but that won't do us much good if they got boys waitin' in town!"

Vlad had been studying the interior of their own tank as if searching it for inspiration. Now he grabbed a mallet from the engineer's station and swung open the overhead hatch. "I know how to stop them!" he shouted.

"Jake!" yelled Marty, "Cover him!"

Jake fired off a succession of bursts to distract Fuller's men. As soon as they were occupied, Vlad climbed to the roof of the Chekhov's Gun. He crouched, judging the distance, then leapt for the deck of the other machine. It seemed that he must fall, to be flattened beneath its treads, then he managed to grab an exhaust pipe bracket and pull himself to safety. He lay there for a moment, either catching his breath or rejoicing in the fact that he was still three dimensional. Then he rolled to his knees, raised his mallet, and began to pound the exhaust pipe flat.

At first, the other crew seemed unaware of Vlad's presence. Perhaps they hadn't heard him over the noise of their own engine. At last a hatch swung open and a head peeked up to determine the source of the hammering. A burst from Jake's submachine gun drove the man back below.

Seconds passed as the two tanks rumbled across the terrain. Fuller's men must have been debating the best way to rid themselves of their unwanted passenger. Before they could reach a decision, Vlad gave his hammer a final swing and raised his fist in triumph. Beneath him, the other machine faltered, slowed, and sputtered to a stop.

"Hit the brakes, boys!" yelled Marty. As Jake cut the engine, the gangster shouted across to Waltzing Mathilda. "All right, youse! Come out with your hands up!"

Fuller's men seemed overwhelmed by this sudden change in fortune, for they made no effort to resist. The hatch beneath the nearside sponson swung open and they crawled out one by one, blinking in the sunlight. Last to emerge were Karlov, followed by Anna. Vlad leapt to the ground and swept the woman up in his arms.

"Anna!" he cried. "You're safe!"

She gazed at him with tearful eyes. "Vlad! You came to rescue me!"

He smiled back at her. "Of course I did! From each according to their ability and to each according to their need!"

"Well, it looks like he's happy," said Marty. "Now where's my babe?"

"For that matter, where is Mister Fuller?" wondered Everett.

A quick glance established that neither the woman nor the nationalist leader was among the prisoners. Marty, Everett, and Fleming dashed around to the other side of the Walting Mathilda to discover the far door open and a trail leading off into the brush.

"It looks like they bailed out," said Fleming. "Do you think we can catch them, sir?"

Everett shook his head. "I very much doubt it. The man served in the War, so he'll know how to move through difficult terrain, and she's demonstrated a fair degree of resourcefulness."

"Dames," muttered Marty. "Just when you think you got 'em figured out, they pull something like this."

They turned to see the gangster studying the side of the tank, where someone had scrawled a note with lipstick.

"We had good times, Marty, but now I gotta go. Kisses, N!"

"Oh well," he observed philsophically, "at least the boys and I got ourselves an airship and you Limeys found that Karlov guy you was after."

Fleming and Everett exchanged glances. "Sir," said Fleming, "we forgot to warn them. Do you think he's..."

Everett suppressed a sigh. "Let's find out." He led the way back to where they'd left the others and halted in annoyance. Karlov was no longer among the prisoners.

"Where'd the guy go?" asked Marty.

"He has a habit of disappearing like that," Everett said dryly. "Still, I suppose a dozen or so German and British nationalists in the hand are worth one Russian scientist in the bush."

Next week: Another Fine Day In The Islands...

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