The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 298: Ia, Look At That

Everyone looks at a box

The nationalists didn't bother to post guards. As long as they controlled the only means of leaving the island, there was no way their prisoners could escape. Professor Nakamura didn't seem concerned by the situation. He gestured to the others to wait and stepped into the laboratory tent. For several minutes, they heard him opening drawers and rummaging through cabinets. At last he reemerged carrying a small box. He opened this to reveal a specimen preserved in formaldehyde.

"We've been calling these animals kōmori-ika," he told them. "This might translate to `bat squid' in your language."

It didn't look much like a squid, but it didn't look much like a bat either. It looked as though something had gone terribly wrong during assembly for some member of order Teuthida or Chiroptera, with parts from the one being used for the other.

Mister Cartwell produced a hand lens and examined the specimen for evidence of sutures and other alterations. "It does look authentic," he concluded. "Was it alive when you found it?"

"We've caught several in what's left of the jungle," said Nakamura. "They don't seem to be very healthy, for they rarely survive long in captivity. There are no reports of these animals from before the explosion."

"Do you have any idea why?" asked Aunt Behema. "Could they be descendants of some ancient race that filtered down to Earth from beyond the stars and is now returning to sweep the planet clean of humanity?"

Nakamura held the tiny creature up to the light. If it planned to do any sweeping, it had its work cut out for it. "The lack of earlier sightings may not be significant," he observed. "This region of the Pacific has not attracted much study. We've found other strange creatures on the downwind end of the island. Last week, Professor Hiskawa thought he saw some shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and un-forming as pustules of greenish light slithering across the beach."

"Do you know if any other investigators have visited this place?" asked Mister Cartwell.

The professor indicated the blasted foundations of the German lab some distance away. "Someone built a fairly substantial structure here before the island was destroyed. We have no idea who they were."

Emily and Clarice exchanged glances. They'd decided to remain silent about the events of the previous year.

"Did they leave any records behind?" asked Mister Cartwell.

"We found some notes buried in the sand, but these were in some form of cipher." The professor shook his head. "Science should be an international endeavor. Knowledge is a common heritage of all mankind, whatever the Kokuryū kai might say."

"Who are they?" asked Emily.

Now it was scientists' turn to exchange glances, but whatever they were about to say was lost in the sound of an engine. The party turned to see a sleek motor yacht entering the lagoon. As they watched, it slowed to steer toward the wharf. Mister Cartwell studied the vessel in admiration.

"That's one fine piece of engineering," he observed. "I wonder who they are."

Sigmund ordered his men to attention as the yacht backed to a stop alongside the wharf. Two crewmen leapt ashore, neatly as any naval hands, to make fast the mooring lines and set the gangway in place. Once the latter was secure, the Lady Warfield strode down to the dock.

Sigmund had been trained to think of the English as beneath notice, but the baroness was clearly an exception to this rule. In her severely tailored yachting clothes, she might have been some captain of industry... or a pirate queen from some earlier and more warlike age. Against his will, he favored her with a bow.

"Lady Warfield," he announced, "you grace us with your visit. What brings you to the Marshall Islands?"

The baroness glanced at him as if she'd only just noticed his presence. "The same quarry you seek," she replied. "Michaelson and Everett were on Bikini two days ago. It's only a matter of time until they're here."

Sigmund's eyes widened. This could be an opportunity or a disaster, depending on the strength of the Englishmen's forces. "Did they bring the Flying Cloud?" he asked.

"We saw no sign of the vessel," said the baroness. "They must have arrived on the R-87. Given the limitations of the Wolesely class, they cannot be here in any force. We should be able to take them."

Michaelson lowered his binoculars. The senior captain's expression was quite impossible to read. "It's Tenare," he muttered. "I suppose it was too much to hope she was done with us."

"Who is this lady, sir?" asked MacKiernan. It seemed impolitic to reveal what Miss Perkins had told him the night before.

"She's the Baroness Warfield," Michaelson said dryly. "You will recall her from this spring. This complicates the situation. She'll almost certainly warn the Germans of our encounter on Bikini. But this could also pose an opportunity."

"Sir?" asked MacKiernan. Something in his superior's tone of voice gave him pause.

"Our adversaries have done us the favor of assembling in a place with only two exits: the American airship and the baroness's yacht. Captain Everett can easily run down the former with the Flying Cloud. If we can account for the latter, this island will become their prison. We will send a message, summoning Everett to make landfall tomorrow, then we will mount a cutting-out expedition against the yacht."

Abercrombie seemed to brighten at the prospect. "Are ye thinking of a nighttime attack?"

Michaelson consulted his pocket calendar. "We will not have sufficient time. It's the 18th of June, and the moon is only a few days past full. We will use our brief hours of darkness to land a party in the jungle. When morning arrives, they will don disguise, march to the wharf, and board the vessel. The Fat Man's people left us plenty of uniforms, and we have Hans and Dietrich to handle the language."

MacKiernan nodded in admiration. It was an audacious plan. He was beginning to understand why the senior captain was such a formidable opponent.

Murdock watched the boarding party pull away into the night. With careful strokes and muffled oarlocks, the boat made scarcely a sound. He wished he could have been aboard, but there was no help for the matter. He had to agree with the logic that dictated he and Miss Perkins remain behind to monitor the wireless and watch Miss Kim.

The Korean was standing by the signal mast, gazing at the island. Murdock had long ago given up trying to read her expressions, but he sensed an element of uncertainty.

"What these..." the woman caught herself. "What are all these nationalists up to?"

"I'm not entirely sure," Murdock told her. "Most of the events happened before I joined the Flying Cloud, but I gather that one of these groups devised some terrible weapon, powerful enough to destroy an entire city. The secret of this device has since been lost, and now they're all trying to recover it."

Kim pursed her lips. What was she thinking, Murdock wondered? He'd gathered there was some antipathy between Korea and Japan. Was she imagining using the weapon against some target in Japan, such as the new Imperial Headquarters in Ujina Harbor?

Her eyes widened and she raised her arm to point behind him. "Lieutenant Murdock!" she cried. "What is that?"

Murdock spun to peer into the darkness. "All I see are stars..." he began. Then something struck his head and darkness engulfed him.

Next week: Survive the Tranquil Lagoon!...

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