The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 387: I'm Glad That's Finally Out In The Open

Two identical cruisers

It was a perplexed group of airmen who met in the Flying Cloud's mess hall that afternoon. Everett didn't blame them. The day's expedition had not been an unmitigated success.

"It seems the German nationalists are lying low," he observed. "We gave our hypothetical kidnappers plenty of opportunity to act, but they refused to take the bait. We'll have to devise some other way to flush the fellows out."

"Perhaps the Fat Man doesn't have any agents on Palau," Jenkins suggested.

Pierre shook his head. "Our experiences suggest otherwise," he said. "When Sarah and I ventured into town, we were set upon by three German thugs who believed la mademoiselle was the Captain."

Eyebrows went up at this announcement. As well they might.

"What a strange thing for them to do," marveled Iverson. "They must not have had an accurate description."

"I daresay!" exclaimed Sarah.

Everett suppressed a smile. "What were you able to learn about these fellows?" he asked Pierre.

"Unfortunately, the authorities intervened before we had a chance to interrogate them or investigate their lodgings," said the Frenchman. "But I did have time to go through their pockets. The leader was carrying a handwritten note -- presumably a decrypted message -- scrawled on the back of an advertisement for Notariello's opera. This instructed him to capture a `R505 KPTN EVRTT'."

"I imagine the Fat Man sent them here to take the Sunnyvale," mused Jenkins. "When they reported our arrival, he must have ordered them to make sure of the Captain before he could warn the Americans. These orders would have been sent in haste, which would explain their imprecision."

Everett thought this over. The signalman's hypothesis seemed plausible enough, but it also seemed incomplete. He felt they were overlooking something -- something important -- important, but what could it be?

"The Americans will have begun their investigation," he observed. "We'll pay their commander a visit and see what they've learned."

Short and balding, with a chinless mouth, wide staring eyes, and a noticeable paunch, Commander Lawrence Williamson was a testimony to the melting pot that was American culture -- in his case, one that might have included hybrids between humanity and some race of frog-like beings that dwelt in primordial cities beneath the waves. He greeted Everett and Jenkins with a smile.

"We've been investigating the attack on your crew-woman," he told them. "It appears the perpetrators were part of a spy ring, as you suggested. When we searched their lodgings, we found a wireless set and a codebook. We've identified their acquaintances and are bringing them in for questioning."

"Did they give any reason for the attack?" asked Everett.

"No," said Williamson, "but in view of their intended victim's gender, I believe we can guess their motives. It's fortunate she had a guardian to protect her."

Everett saw no need to correct their host's misapprehensions regarding Sarah's ability to defend herself. "It seems the investigation is in good hands," he said politely. "How long do you expect it to take?"

The commander's smile broadened in a way that boded ill for any flies in the vicinity. "No more than a day or two," he said lightly. "Palau is an island, so it's not as if our suspects have anywhere to flee. We'd be done even sooner if we weren't preparing for an important visitor tomorrow."

Everett and Jenkins stood in the Flying Cloud's upper lookout station, watching as the USN Sunnyvale, ZR-87, approached the mooring. Morning sunlight gleamed on her streamlined hull, her massive fins, and eight powerful engines arranged in rows of four on each side. She slowed to a halt several hundred feet above the field. A brief shower of water fell from her tanks as her crew weighed off. Then the ship was moving again to begin the final stages of the evolution.

"It's difficult to see that ship without some apprehension," Jenkins observed.

"Quite," said Everett. The American vessel was identical to the mysterious cruiser that had destroyed their previous command.

"I wonder how our adversaries obtained a copy of the design," said Jenkins.

"We're unlikely to learn the answer today," Everett observed philosophically. "Still, I believe it's time we determined if the Americans are aware of the situation. We'll invite their captain to pay us a courtesy call."

Captain Rosendahl was a capable-looking officer with a stern but understanding expression -- the kind of commander men could trust to do the right thing in a crisis, and look after their interests after the crisis had passed. His tan might have grown darker since his visit to Cairns, but otherwise he seemed unchanged by his tour of the Pacific.

"It's good to see you again, but I didn't expect to see you here," he told Everett. "What brings you to Palau?"

Everett nodded to himself. The American was no fool. "We came to deliver a message that could not be sent by normal channels, as I'm sure you'veguessed," he told his guest. "Our naval intelligence has received word that a German nationalist group here in the Pacific may have designs on your vessel."

It took the captain a moment to digest this information. Everett didn't blame him. The possibility of piracy could hardly have been part of his pre-mission briefings.

"Why would Germans attack an American ship?" asked Rosendahl. "Our country mediated an end to the War."

"For which the world will forever be grateful," Everett replied, "but these people resent the Peace, and feel it deprived their country of victory."

Rosendahl nodded. Like all airship commanders, he'd learned to think quickly. "What can you tell me about this group?"

"They are one of several nationalist organizations operating in the Pacific," said Everett. "We've also identified Japanese, White Russian exiles, Red Russians, and a small group of renegade Englishmen. We haven't had a chance to interview any of their leaders at length, but they all seem to be gathering intelligence, recruits, and resources to support militarist factions in their respective home countries."

"Resources," mused Rosendahl. "Could this German group have anything to do with the explosion in the Marshall Islands?"

This was not a matter Everett was anxious to discuss. That particular game had enough players already. "It's true that the Marshalls are a German protectorate," he admitted cautiously, "but we might not want to read too much significance into this coincidence. With the notable exception of Tonga, all of these islands have been claimed by one Power or another. And there's another fact of more immediate importance. Sometime during their alliance, the German and Japanese nationalists built copies of two modern capital ships. Both remain active here in the Pacific. One is an exact copy of the USN Sunnyvale."

Rosendahl's reaction was noteworthy. Everett had not been aware that eyebrows could rise so high. "Do you have proof?" the American asked.

Everett nodded. "I've seen both vessels myself, under circumstances that left no doubt regarding their appearance," he replied. "The first one destroyed my previous command last June, in a surprise attack over the Coral Sea."

Rosendahl was silent for a moment. It was clear he found the story incredible, but was too polite to say so. "What about the second ship?" he asked at last. "Was this a copy of the Sunnyvale too?"

It took all of Everett's effort to resist a smile. Opportunities like this did not come every day. "No," he replied. "She is a copy of a Junior Vickers class. You're aboard her now."

Next week: Putting This Information to Use...

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