The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 250: Another Fine Day In The Islands

R-505 and R-381 leaving Gililo

They'd recovered the Waltzing Matilda, washed off the lipstick to avoid embarrassing questions, and driven it back to the ruins along with their own machine -- it seemed irresponsible to leave disabled tanks littering the jungle. There they'd loaded the rest of the party aboard for the return to town. Now Everett, Clark, MacKiernan, and Miss Perkins sat 't the closest thing Weda had to a café sipping the closest thing Weda had to tea. Across the street, Vlad and Anna perched atop the Chekhov's Gun, watching the sunset with their arms around each other.

Clark studied the spot the couple had chosen for their idyll. "An interesting invention," he remarked, "but I doubt that these machines have much of a future."

"I believe they may be capable of some refinement," Everett observed.

"I daresay," the Commodore replied with a chuckle. "Still, whatever the merits of today's prizes might be, I'd say this expedition was a success. We've accounted for the Fat Man's airship, scotched Fuller's plans, and taken a rather satisfying bag of prisoners."

"Our search for Karlov came up short," noted Everett.

Clark made a dismissive gesture. "That was never important. It was merely a cover for our true mission, which was dealing with the nationalists."

Everett thought over the events of the past few weeks -- the misleading statements, seemingly arbitrary orders, and subtle changes in plan -- and nodded to himself. The Commodore had managed to locate his quarry, track them to Gililo, and move resources into a position to intercept them without once revealing his intentions. It was an impressive feat of misdirection.

"Well played, sir," he acknowledged. "I take it these nationalist movements have become a matter of concern back in Blighty?"

"Some more than others," said Clark. "Mosley may bear some watching, but his people have not shown any great competence in the pursuit of their 'oals. This R�m chap over in Germany is quite another matter. His organization functions with a bloody-minded efficiency that I find rather disturbing. Your 'Fat Man' is believed to be one of his agents, and I was sent by the government to pull the man's claws."

"By Whitehall?" asked Miss Perkins. "Not by the Admiralty?"

Clark glanced at the secretary as if speculating about the mind behind the question. "Would that matters were so simple," he replied. "Mister Baldwin's government recognizes the danger posed by these movements, but the First Lord has shown some sympathy for their aims, and the PM isn't in a position to replace him as long as the Chancellor and his faction remain undeclared. That Churchill is a wily fellow. He's aiming for a larger portfolio than just the Treasury."

"So you planned all of this, including Fleming's abduction and the Captain's action with the L-137?" asked MacKiernan.

"Not in detail," Clark admitted. "But once I'd established myself as irrelevant to the game, it was easy to keep shaking the board until all the pieces fell into place."

"I can't help but wonder about some of the other players," observed MacKiernan. "Who is this Natasha woman? From what the Americans told Fleming, it appears she traveled all the way to California after the Rabaul Incident and forged this `Nettie' identity so she could lure them back here to hijack the AT-38, which she then seemed quite happy to abandon. Whatever was she trying to accomplish? Was this all some move against Karlov?"

"Their conversation did suggest they were at odds," Everett mused, "but I can't even begin to speculate about the relationship between them. I'm more concerned about the extent of their information. How did she know that the French airship would be at Lifou, and how did he become privy to the machinations of Parliament and the Admiralty, as he suggested in his question to the Commodore?"

Clark rubbed his chin. "I've been wondering about that myself. Still, I don't think we need to worry about those two. This is not some cinematic drama. She is not the femme fatale, and he is not the deranged inventor, like Professor Rotwang in Metropolis. Both of them seem to be acting alone. Even if they are privy to some secrets, they can hardly have the money and organization to turn these to advantage."

"What about Fuller?" asked Miss Perkins. "He most certainly has resources at his disposal."

"Perhaps," mused Clark, "but I was advised to let the man go. The consensus seemed to be that he was more of a burden than a blessing to our opposition's cause."

Miss Perkins nodded. It was difficult to disagree with this assessment. "And what about our Russian friends?" she asked, nodding toward Vlad and Anna.

"We have no evidence linking Mister Ulyanov with any sort of untoward activity," said Clark. "To all appearances, he is what he claims -- an exiled intellectual who worked in Geneva during the War, then moved to the Pacific after Trosky's revolutionaries seized power in his homeland. As for Miss Anna, she may be a key figure in the White Russian community, and she was certainly involved in their attempt to destroy Rabaul, but Whitehall gave me specific instructions not to detain her. I am unwilling to speculate why, and I'd advise you to exercise similar restraint."

"I take it you propose to let the Americans go as well," said MacKiernan.

"I see no reason to pursue the fellows," the Commodore replied, with a certain trace of glee. "They did render us some material assistance, and there are no formal charges against them. The original crew of the AT-38 seem quite happy to be rid of the vessel, and the insurance company seems to have forgotten the incident. I imagine they'll take the ship back to the Colonies. After that, I don't care to guess what they'll do with her."

The N-109, a.k.a. AT-38, was cruising east at her most economical speed, bound for American Samoa. Outside, the day was beautiful, but the mood in the control car was glum.

"I got the numbers, Boss," said Books. "We can resupply at Howland Island, then set course for Pearl. That should get us to Frisco in a week."

Marty received this news with ill grace. "Yeah," he grumbled. "Sounds great."

Jake glanced at his boss in sympathy. "You still thinking `bout that frail?" he asked.

"Dames," Marty complained. "Ya just can't trust 'em."

"Don't I know it!" said Jake. "Just when you think you've got `em figured out, they turn out to be involved in some nefarious plot to use secrets from a vanished elder race that sank beneath the waves before the dawn of man to build some powerful weapon to take over the world."

Marty brightened. "I suppose yer right," he replied with a grin. "And did get ourselves this nice airship outta the deal."

"That was quite a caper, Boss," said Craig. "Ruskies, Limeys, Krauts, that guy with the tanks... I was having trouble keepin' those actors straight. You think that was all of `em?"

"Yeah," said Marty, "unless someone shows up late."

Clement, Jamison, and Peters stood at the foot of the dock, studying the prospect before them.

"Are we quite certain this is Weda?" asked Jamison.

"That's what is says on the sign," said Peters.

Clement studied the sleepy village, the empty mooring masts, the nearly-deserted harbor, and frowned. "Then where is everybody?"

Next week: The Fifth Flying Cloud Christmas Special...

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