The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 368: Dueling Denizens of Darwin

Two beer mugs

Fenwick stood with Michaelson, watching as the Soviet airship made her approach to Darwin's air station. Bold letters on the vessel's side announced that this was the Brotherhood of Workers, A-121. She was a modern design, with a streamlined control car attached directly to the hull envelope and five sleek engine cars arranged in a tractor configuration, but her lines were quite unlike anything in the Western navies.

The station's commander, an Australian reserve lieutenant named Dabney, studied the visitors' ship-handling with professional interest. "They managed that last turn rather well," he remarked.

Michaelson nodded. "We may regret their ideology, but we must never accuse the Russians of incompetence. Do we know the reason for their visit?"

"Not a clue, mates. They called by wireless an hour ago to request a handling party. That's the only word we've had."

"Fenwick, what do we know of this vessel?"

Aides were expected to have such information at their fingertips. "She's a Solidarity Class cruiser, from the Khrunichev Yard in Moscow, assigned to their Pacific Fleet," Fenwick replied. "Her Captain is Ivan Loika, a hero of the War. If the Russians follow their usual practice, he will be sharing authority with a commissar, but we have no way of guessing who this might be."

"We shall defer this question until later,' Michaelson said thoughtfully. Fenwick recognized his superior's tone of voice -- another skill aides were expected to master.

"Sir?" he asked.

"The Russians' arrival provides us with an opportunity," Michaelson observed. "We shall need some time to take advantage of it. Mister Dabney, I trust you can find a way to delay the fellows."

"Dinki di!" the Aussie replied.

"I shall assume that means yes," Michaelson said dryly. "Fenwick, if you'd come with me."

They commandeered a lorry for the trip back to Darwin -- an anonymous vehicle, with ample room in back where they could ride unobserved. "You will have guessed our plan," Michaelson told his aide. "I trust you have the wherewithal to disguise us as Soviet naval officers".

Fenwick nodded. Members of the Royal Navy Airship Service Signal Corps were expected to be prepared for any eventuality. "How will we know who to contact, sir?" he asked as he rummaged through his satchel to produce a sewing kit and the appropriate insignia. "We didn't keep the police chief's list of possible Soviet agents."

Michaelson's expression suggested a combination of pity and disappointment. "We had a chance to examine it," he told Fenwick. "This should suffice. If you advance in your career, you will discover that an accurate memory is essential for anyone who aspires to command rank. We shall begin with a bar named the Toff Blue. I understand this may be a local synonym for `class struggle'."

The bar was the very picture of a conspirators' hangout. Dimly lit, filled with shadows and smoke, it had more dark corners than geometry would seem to allow. The cliental were obviously communist expatriates. If their Eastern European features and workers' clothing weren't sufficient evidence, the Soviet propaganda displayed on the walls was something of a giveaway. Michaelson gave this an approving glance as the they strode through the door.

The bartender could have stepped straight from some poster for Heroes of Soviet Mixology. He scowled when he saw their uniforms, then did a double-take when he recognized the insignia. "Comrades!" he said in surprise. "You must be from that visiting airship! How can I help you?"

"Da," said Michaelson, with a flawless Russian accent. "I am Captain Mikhailenko, captain of the Brotherhood of Workers, and this is Commissar..." he paused for a moment, "...Fenwickski. I believe you have some information for us."

The bartender grinned. "Da!" he told them. "The Movement has many sympathizers here in Darwin. We educate the workers, advance the cause of labor, and maintain a network of agents to watch for reactionary plots. Recently we learned that the White Russians were building an enormous bomb for use against the Revolution."

Fenwick hid his surprise. If the bartender felt this was news, this suggested that the Soviet government had yet to learn of the Device. What would happen when they did?

If Michaelson was equally surprised, he gave no sign. "What became of this weapon?" he asked.

"A man named Yakov betrayed their plans to a German fascist organization that's based here in the Pacific. The Germans attacked the conspirators' secret laboratory, slew the occupants, and stole the weapon for themselves."

"So this thing is now in the hands of these fascists?" Michaleson asked sharply.

"Nyet," said the bartender. "The Germans must not have believed the device would work, so they tested it on the island of Ujelang in the Marshall archipelago. The resulting explosion destroyed most of the atoll, and the Germans as well."

"A satisfying conclusion," said Michaelson, "but how did you learn of this?"

"We had an informant: a man named Karlov."

This time, Michaelson was unable to hide his surprise. He covered this with another question. "Why didn't any word of this reach Russia?"

"We sent a message, but our enemies must have intercepted it. Baronet Moseley's so-called `British Union' has agents in the Pacific. They have thwarted our plans in the past. Their current leader has some tie with the commander of the Cairns Royal Air Station -- a man named Michaelson. We have taken steps to eliminate this threat."

While they were digesting this information, the bar door swung open to admit two Russians in uniforms identical to their own. One, with captain's insignia, was quite obviously a commander, with that indefinable look that spelled a veteran of the War. The other also seemed a veteran, but his status was harder to determine. More than an aide, less than a line officer, Fenwick guessed this must be the visiting airship's commissar.

The two men halted in surprise with they saw the Englishmen. "Who are you?" demanded the captain.

"I am Captain Mikhailenko, captain of the Brotherhood of Workers, and this is Commissar Fenwickski," Michaelson replied.

"These men are imposters!" exclaimed the Russian. "I am Captain Loika, captain of the Brotherhood of Workers, and this is Commissar Tsukanov."

"You're the imposters," Michaelson said calmly.

"No we aren't!"

"Yes you are!"

"Are not!"

"Are too!"

The bartender seemed unimpressed by the intellectual level of this debate. "Comrades," he announced. "This is getting us nowhere. We need some test to determine who is the real captain."

Fenwick held his breath. What form would this contest take? Their lives could depend on the outcome.

"How about chess?" Michaelson suggested. "It's as Russian as vodka and borscht. No capitalist lackey could hope to defeat a hero of the revolution at our national game."

The second Russian seemed to consider this for a moment. He glanced at his own captain -- a burly figure with muscles hardened by life on the steppes -- then studied Michaelson, who clearly spent much of his time at a desk.

"I have a better idea," he said. "We challenge you to a game of... arm wrestling."

"However did you manage that, sir?" Fenwick asked Michaelson as they left the bar. "The man was built like a wrestler and he must have outweighed you by at least two stone.

Michaelson smiled. "We're Englishmen, Fenwick," he replied. "We make do."

Next week: Conclusions Worth Leaping To...

Comments about Episode 368? Start a new topic on the Forum!

StumbleUpon        submit to reddit Reedit