The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 351: That Was Fun, But Who's Going To Clean Up The Mess?

Michaelson contemplating some katanas

The meeting venue at Cairns Royal Air Station was a place of ill omen. It might have seemed only a schoolroom, but in the absence of any alternatives, the new administration building having been destroyed by the saboteur's bomb that spring , this was where hearings, inquests, and disciplinary proceedings were held. Iverson and Sarah stood by a window wondering what was to come. They'd arrived early, which gave them too much time to reflect.

"Do you know why Michaelson called this meeting?" Sarah asked.

Iverson shook his head. "It's supposed to be a review of our recent findings, but I fear this will be another episode in his long-standing feud with the Captain."

"What is the reason for their antipathy?" asked Sarah. She was unfamiliar with confrontations of this sort. Among her people, interpersonal conflicts tended to be resolved with clubs, axes, and spears.

"I don't have the slightest idea," Iverson admitted. "It must date back to before I joined the Service, and it appears to run very deep. Jenkins may know, but I'm not certain it would be appropriate to ask."

"Do you think Lady Warfield is involved? We know she was engaged to the Captain during the War. Could she also have had some relationship with Michaelson?"

Iverson thought this over. The possibility hadn't occurred to him, but the tension between the two captains had seemed to increase after the baroness appeared on the scene. "That," he mused, "is most certainly food for thought."

Their conversation was cut short by the arrival of the others. Michaelson strode to the lectern, leaving Everett and his people to take places at the desks like reluctant students. This impression was heightened by the chairs, which were slightly too small for full-sized adults. The senior captain waited until they were seated, then shuffled through his papers in what was almost certainly a piece of showmanship.

"I have reviewed your report," he told them, "and I cannot say that you acquitted yourself well. You never did find this Korean agent, and you allowed the American gangsters to escape."

"We had no specific instructions to effect their capture," Everett replied calmly. "We were to investigate a report of airship pirates in the Java Sea and put an end to their depredations. This we did. As for Miss Kim, we discovered some promising clues regarding her movements. In the process, we also contrived to destroy a secret air station belonging to enemies of the Empire. Surely this must count to our credit."

"Perhaps," said Michaelson, brushing this riposte aside. "It would have been helpful if you'd been able to recover some physical evidence that would shed light on those enemies' intentions."

"We did find a few damaged hand tools and the remains of several ornamental swords," said Everett. "Unfortunately, the condition of the ruins was not favorable for any detailed forensic investigation." This was something of an understatement. The collision of the fuel train with several carloads of aerial bombs parked alongside an arms warehouse that just happened to be located next to a hydrogen plant had left little in the way of `physical evidence' behind. "I cannot help but wonder at the circumstances that led all three of our parties to the site at almost the same time," he added. "I assume this was your intention."

Michaelson set down his papers. It seemed they were done with the preliminary fencing. "I knew that Darwin's police chief was up to some skullduggery, but I couldn't take a hand directly without compromising my sources of information."

"So you sent us out on what our American friends might call a `wild goose chase' and tricked Miss Perkins into setting out on her own account in hopes one of us might stumble upon the trail."

The senior captain shrugged. "It was a necessary deception. Now we must review what we've learned so far. The basic story seems clear enough. Sometime after the War, White Russian exiles here in the Pacific began work on a novel super-weapon -- this so-called Device -- in what one imagines was a plan to overthrow Trotsky's government. A group of German nationalists got wind of this and resolved to steal the weapon in concert with another group we now know to be Japanese. The Japanese constructed two airships to support this effort: the mysterious cruiser that destroyed your R-212 last year and the vessel you now command. Meanwhile, the Germans infiltrated the White Russian laboratories and performed the actual theft. Sometime after this, the two groups had a falling out, which should hardly be surprising given the unnatural nature of their alliance."

"What about the British Union? Where do they fit in?" asked Sarah. Iverson glanced at her in admiration. She'd managed to bring up the subject of Lady Warfield without seeming to do so directly.

Captain Michaelson favored the island girl with a brief examination. His face might not have shown any expression, but it was clear he recognized her intent. Across from him, Everett seemed to be studying his nails.

"They appear to have arrived on the scene later," the senior captain replied. "The presence of three of their agents in Darwin suggests that George Channel was involved. I would guess the police chief had been working with the Germans, but was happy to sell information to them as well.

"We sent their original leader packing last fall, thanks to Miss Perkin's help." The secretary inclined her head slightly. "Sometime after that, the Warfields arrived on the scene, recognized an opportunity, and the baroness took control of the network. They since seem to have made common cause with the Japanese. Would you agree, Captain Everett?"

An edge seemed to have entered the senior captain's voice. Everett must have noticed this, for he took pains to change the subject. "There are some additional players," he replied. "In particular, I wonder what this `Natasha' is up to. At first she seemed to be a German agent, but she betrayed them to help our people escape on Ujelang. Sometime after that, she showed up with the American gangsters, pretending to in a romantic association with their leader. Most recently, she was at the secret air station in Western Australia, where she again took steps to rescue our people."

"She and Karlov have both made statements that suggest they're opposed," mused Michaelson.

"This does little to clarify matters, since we don't know what Karlov is up to either," Everett observed.

"Quite," said Michaelson. "Let us consider what we learned about this air station in hope it might shed light on our adversaries' plans. The actual construction was almost certainly managed by Channel. This is not particularly informative, since we know the man to be an opportunist, taking advantage of any opportunity he can find to siphon off funds for himself. The site was chosen by a team of Finnish archeologists, who were looking for..." the senior captain sighed, "...I don't believe we need to review the details."

"These Finns seem to have been duped by the Japanese nationalists. We must assume the Japanese had some military purpose planned for the station. They most certainly had plenty of bombs, and it's difficult to imagine them lending any credence to this abusrd tale of ancient civilizations in the Australian Outback. Given the projected capabilities of their vessel, what could they have had in mind?"

Next to Everett, MacKiernan rubbed his chin. "That does little to narrow things down," he observed. "The design seems based on an American vessel that was recently undergoing trials in California. Properly handled, a ship of that class could have a combat range as high as 3000 miles, and ferry range sufficient to cross the Pacific."

"True," mused Jenkins. "We believe they already have a base on Sarah's island. That would allow them to cover much of the southwestern Pacific islands. A second base near Broome suggests a target farther west. This could include Burma, the Malay Peninsula, and all of Australia."

"I believe we can safely discount the latter," Michaelson chided the signalman. "It's difficult to believe a group of renegade nationalists would contemplate a direct attack upon part of the Commonwealth."

Sirens sounded from the field outside. The airmen leapt to their feet and dashed to the windows. Looking north, they spotted a familiar shape -- a titanic hull, at least six million cubic feet, with eight engines arranged in rows of four on each side. For a moment, everyone was too shocked to speak.

"Good lord," muttered someone. "They're here!"

Next week: We Thought We'd Drop By And See How You Were Doing...

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