The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 385: A Few Awkward Moments

'The R-87 and the 'Brotherhood of Workers' meet again

Loika and Tsukanov examined the artifact Karlov had discovered. It was obviously a work of some antiquity -- the layer of dust caked on its surface suggested it had lain here for centuries -- but it seemed too intricate to be the product of an ancient culture.

"You called this an Antikythera Mechanism," said Tuskanov. "What does this name mean?"

"It's an anachronism: something out of its place in time. The original Antikythera Mechanism was a mechanical calculator. Such things may seem perfectly ordinary today, but that one was found in a ship wrecked off the Greek island of Antikythera in 80 BC."

There was a pause while Loika and Tsukanov digested this information. "So this is another calculator," said Loika

"Perhaps," said Karlov. "It may also be able to function as a DeBroglie filter." He glanced at the airmen as if watching for a reaction, but the phrase meant nothing to them.

"Who left it here?" asked Tsukanov. "This can hardly be the site of another ancient Greek shipwreck."

Karlov chuckled. "Professor Oskari at the University of Helsinki believes this region was visited by immigrants from the Baltic who arrived on primitive airships before dawn of recorded history. Local aborigines believe these ruins were left by creatures that filtered down from stars. I leave you to decide which is more likely. The question now is what we should do with this thing."

Tsukanov raised an eyebrow. "I assumed we came here to destroy it."

"First we need to determine if it represents a danger," said Karlov. "If it doesn't, it's much too valuable destroy. A treasure like this should be sent back to Russia. Is there somewhere we could hide it while we arrange for the necessary tests?"

The commissar thought this over, then smiled. "I know the perfect place. We can leave it with the archeologists we met on Mount Tambora. They can pass it off as something they found at their dig."

It took the airmen some effort to wrestle the artifact through the tunnels. Its inertia seemed disproportionate to its weight, which made it awkward to handle -- Loika was reminded of a toy gyroscope he'd owned as a child. At last they managed to haul it to the surface so it could be hoisted up to the ship.

By now a gusty breeze had risen from the south, making Transporter operations a challenge. The flight juggled engines and controls to keep the hoist platform from dragging while the ground party loaded their cargo, but even so, there were several tense moments. Not for first time, Loika wished the Brotherhood of Workers was equipped with reversible propellers, but such extravagances were reserved for capital ships.

When they were finally back aboard, Loika and Tsukanov hurried to the control car, leaving Karlov to help the riggers pack the artifact away. The flight crew snapped to attention as they arrived.

"That was good work," Loika told them. "This will go on your record."

"Thank you, sir," said the watch officer. "What are your orders?"

"I believe it's time we said farewell to Australia," Loika observed. "Chekov, set a course bearing 020 at three-quarter power. That should keep us away from most observers."

The helmsman reached for the engine telegraphs. "Course 020 at three-quarter power."

There was never much sense of motion on an airship, but the compass swung, engines droned, and the ruins dwindled behind them. Loika nodded in approval, then turned to Tsukanov.

"I've been wondering about our guest," he said. "He found this artifact with remarkable ease, which suggests he knew something of that base beforehand. Could he be allied with the people who built it?

"Perhaps," said the commissar, "but this doesn't seem consistent with his actions. If he was working for these `Enemies of the Revolution', and knew the thing was there, why didn't he simply hand it over to them?"

"He might have some agenda of his own," said Loika.

Tsukanov nodded. "Such was my thought as well. We should keep an eye on the man."

"Sir," said Chekov, "We have another airship ship bearing 270."

Loika gazed to port and saw a graceful shape closing from the west. As he watched, it turned to fly parallel to their coast. The vessel's lines were distinctive.

"It's a Wollesley class," said Tsukanov.

"Da," said Loika. "I can't make out her number, but I'd guess that's Michaelson on the R-87."

"How did he find us?" asked Tsukanov.

Loika shook his head. "We can worry about that later. Now we need to find some way to break contact."

"He's faster," said the commissar.

"He's also some distance away," said Loika. "If we can find a more favorable wind, we may be able to open that distance."

"Interesting," said Michaelson.

Fenwick followed the senior captain's gaze. Through binoculars, he recognized a familiar shape.

"It's that Soviet vessel," said Fenwick. "Whatever are they doing here?"

"We'd best look into the matter," Michaelson said sharply. "Lieutenant-Commander Colson, bear right and ring for more speed to put us on a converging course. When we're close enough, we'll order them to heave to."

"What if they don't, sir?" said Colson. "They'll most surely outgun us."

Michaelson shrugged. "Inform Sydney of our situation. That will leave the Russians with two options: heave to and cause an international incident, or destroy us and cause a bigger one. I'm guessing they'll chose the former."

Colson seemed unconvinced by this argument. "Yes, sir."

"How are we doing?" asked Tsukanov.

Loika studied their pursuer again. The two airships were running northeast in a southerly breeze, with the English vessel to port and astern. It hadn't managed to close the distance, but they hadn't been able to pull away.

"Not well enough," he told the commissar. "We seem to have a slightly stronger tailwind, which neutralizes their advantage in speed, but this can't last forever. I expect conditions to change to our disadvantage as we approach the coast."

"Trouble, comrades?" came a voice from behind them. They turned to see Karlov descending the companionway. Loika stifled a scowl. Civilians had no business being on the bridge.

"We have suitors," Tsukanov said, gesturing toward the English ship. "We're doing our best to spurn their advances, but they have an edge in speed."

Karlov seemed unperturbed by this information. "Surely we can find some way to hide."

"How?" Loika said in exasperation. "We're flying over a desert, with no mountains or clouds to provide cover."

"What about those?" said Karlov.

Loika followed the other man's gesture to see a line of clouds forming ahead of them, running parallel to the distant coast. As he watched, these began to build.

"Neimoverny," he muttered, "can we be so lucky?"

"What is it?" asked Tsukanov.

"It's a convergence line, where an incoming seabreeze meets the wind from the interior." said Loika. "If the clouds grow thick enough, we can use them to hide a change in course. It seems fortune is on our side."

Michaelson studied the wall of clouds into which the Russian airship vanished. It had formed with impressive speed, putting an end to the chase. After a moment he turned to his aide.

"Fenwick," he asked, "how often does such a well-defined seabreeze front develop in this part of the world?"

By now, Fenwick had learned to be ready for questions of this sort. "According to our meteorological records, no more than one day in a hundred."

Michaelson returned his attention to the clouds. "One chance in a hundred," he muttered. "I wonder..."

Next week: Captain Everett, I Presume?...

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