The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 378: More Fun With Unreliable Premises

Watching the Russians departon a wild goose chase

Michaelson and Fenwick stood in the control car of the R-87, gazing down at Jakarta's air station as Lieutenant-Commander Colson flew the departure. Around them, the bridge crew were going about their tasks with a minimum of fuss. Michaelson would have not have accepted anything less. From the senior captain's expression, Fenwick guessed he'd also found events on the ground acceptable.

"Do you think the Soviets believed us, sir?" he asked, gesturing toward the corner of the field where the Brotherhood of Workers rode from her mast. Even from this distance, the Russian ship's unusual lines proclaimed her origin to anyone with even the slightest knowledge of airship design.

"This hardly matters," Michaelson said dismissively. "Whatever their conclusions regarding our veracity, we've planted seeds of doubt in their mind. That should suffice for our purposes."

"How will we know they won't get up to some mischief after we're gone?"

Michaelson gave the ensign a sharp glance. His expression suggested profound disappointment with a world filled with people who stubbornly failed to live up to his intellectual standards. "That's exactly what we want them to do, Mister Fenwick," he said impatiently. "We've dropped hints that will force them to investigate the abandoned White Russian laboratory near Roebuck Bay. That will force them to waste time they might otherwise have spent fomenting trouble. It will also serve to distract our various nationalist foes."

Fenwick fumbled for an adequate reply. Aides who weren't fast on their mental feet couldn't look forward to a long career -- particularly if they were aide to someone like Michaelson. "How can we be certain they'll go there themselves, and how will we follow their progress?" he ventured.

Michaelson nodded, as if relieved to be asked an intelligent question. "We've taken their measure," he replied. "Their intelligence network may be wide, but it does not seem up to the task. That will force them to investigate the place in person, and we have a very good estimate of their ship's capabilities. We've established her maximum speed during the chase and we can infer her fuel, hydrogen, and ballast consumption from the consumables they brought aboard in Jakarta. The vessel also has a rather distinctive appearance. I don't believe we have to worry about the fellows dropping out of sight."

"What will we do if the nationalists take the bait and attack them?" asked Fenwick, appalled his superior's willingness to use others as pawns.

Michaelson turned back to the window. He seemed undisturbed by his aide's reaction. After a moment, he shook his head. "I doubt it will be that simple," he said, as if to himself. "I doubt it will be that simple at all."

Captain Loika stood at the starboard windows, smiling as the R-87 vanished into the distance. "That went well," he remarked to Tsukanov. "You won that round. Now we can do as we please, free from observation."

The commissar shook his head. "I'm not so sure," he said ominously. "Captain Michaelson was trying to determine what we know. It's impossible to guess what he learned."

Loika raised an eyebrow. "If that's what he was up to, the exchange was very one-sided. He gave us considerable information about the White Russians and their German foes."

"Do you believe all the things he said?" asked Tsukanov.

"Da," said Loika. "The man may be abrasive, unpleasant, arrogant, and elusive, but he doesn't seem the type who'd resort to outright lies. He would think such things beneath him."

"Exactly," Tsukanov replied. "That means he was telling us things he wanted us to know."

One didn't rise to command rank in the Workers' and Peasants' Red Air Fleet without a thorough understanding of gamesmanship. "You think he was trying to manipulate our movements, hoping we'd investigate this abandoned laboratory and the German nationalists."

"Da," sighed Tsukanoov, "and I don't see that we have much choice but to let him."

The Governor stood on the verandah, gazing across the plantation, where gangs of convicts were laboring with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. This augured poorly for the next harvest, but taro and yams were only a sideline. He had other more profitable endeavors to engage his attention. He was reviewing one, plotting his next moves, when Wasserman appeared.

"We've received word from Pago Pago," said the Dutchman. "Everett was on American Samoa. He exposed our connection with the sulfur smugglers."

The Governor frowned. This was hardly a catastrophe. Like tropical vegetables, Period 3 chalcogens were only a sideline, but how had the English discovered the operation?

"Michaelson must have sent him," he concluded. "Everett could never have known to look there on his own. This must be in retaliation to the assassination attempt. Where is Michaelson now?"

"He made some effort to drop from sight after the attack, but according to our agents on Java, the R-87 called at Jakarta... at the same time as a Soviet cruiser named the Brotherhood of Workers."

"A clever move," said the Governor, "but not clever enough. He must have reached some agreement with the communists."

"Why would they ally themselves with the English?" asked Wasserman.

"They share a foe. The Russians covet the same territory in Korea and Manchuria, so it would be natural for them to seek an ally against our Japanese associates. We will forward this information. For the usual price, of course."

The radioman snapped to attention with the precision of a man who'd learned to fear demerits. "Mein Herr," he announced, "we've received a communication from American Samoa."

"What is it?" said the Fat Man.

"Everett was seen on Tutuila. It's impossible to be certain of his movements, but our agents believe he was already present when his ship arrived, as if he'd landed in secret sometime earlier. Shortly after his departure, the Americans changed to a new naval cipher."

"Verdammt!" swore the Fat Man. "We should have killed the man in New Caledonia when we had the chance. Michaelson must have sent him."

"How could Michaelson have guessed we'd stolen the old codes?"

The Fat Man thought for a moment, then laughed. "He must have interrogated our assassin, learned that we planned to take an American ship, and drawn the obvious conclusion. His misunderstanding will cost him dearly. Where is Michaelson now?"

The radioman leafed through his folder of reports. "He arrived in Jakarta yesterday aboard the R-87 and departed for Cairns this morning."

"Jakarta," mused the Fat Man. "Did he visit the Countess?"

"Not as far as our agents could tell," said the radioman. "But he was seen meeting with the officers of a visiting Soviet cruiser named the Brotherhood of Workers."

"Interesting," said the Fat Man. "He must think he's outwitted us with this unlikely choice of allies. This too shall cost him. We will watch these Soviets and see where they lead us. We will also take steps to rid ourselves of Everett."

Next week: The Nationalist Inquiry...

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