The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 388: Putting This Information to Use

Proposed routes of the Flying Cloud and the Sunnyvale

Everett slid down the ladder to the Number Two engine car, then stepped aside to make room for Rosendahl to follow. He'd spent the better part of an hour giving his guest a tour of His Majesty's Airship the Flying Cloud, beginning at the bow station and working aft. As that hour passed, he'd sensed the American's skepticism beginning to wane.

Rosendahl reached the bottom of the ladder and turned to stare at the massive 12-cylinder supercharged diesel that dominated the compartment. At last he nodded. "That doesn't look much like a Beardmore product," he observed.

"No," Everett said dryly, "I don't believe it does."

Rosendahl smiled. "I had some reservations about that story you gave," he admitted, "but this tour has made me a believer. You have no clue where these engines came from?"

"We've assumed they were built by the same fellows who built the vessel," said Everett. "They appear to be based on a German design, but this may not mean much. Our mysterious yard seems happy to copy plans from other countries as well."

"So it would seem," mused Rosendahl. He gave one of the rocker arm covers a speculative tap. "This machinery must be somewhat more powerful than the specification for a Junior Vickers."

"I suppose this is possible," Everett said cautiously. America and England might be on friendly terms, but detailed performance figures for regular naval units remained a closely guarded secret.

"Excuse me," said Rosendahl, "I didn't mean to pry. Still, it's an impressive piece of engineering. I wonder where those nationalists got the money to pay for it."

"I've wondered that myself, but this question may have to wait for the future" said Everett. "At the moment, I'm more concerned about their activities here on Palau."

"As am I," said Rosendahl. "Let's see if Commander Williamson has learned anything new."

The two captains collected their aides, rode down to the surface, and set off for the administration building. They found Williamson in his office, making his way through stacks of paperwork like a cheerful but somewhat frog-like version of Captain Michaelson. The commander seemed in good spirits, as if satisfied by some coup. He offered his visitors a seat, dug through his files, and pulled out a report.

"We've apprehended all of the men responsible for yesterday's attack," he told them. "I have their confessions here."

"The investigation seems to have gone faster than you anticipated," Everett remarked.

The commander made a dismissive gesture. "Palau is a small island, where everyone knows each other's business, and these people weren't very careful about covering their tracks. There were six of them -- all German, as you'd guessed. Two had set themselves up as island traders, another was posing as a retired seaman, and the last three were working as waterfront laborers. Those were the ones who attacked your crewwoman..."

"Crewwoman?" Rosendahl whispered to Everett.

"The Royal Navy Airship Service may have somewhat different traditions from your Colonial equivalent," Everett whispered back.

Rosendahl nodded. "How long have these men been on Palau?" he asked Williamson.

"The first three settled on this island shortly after the War. If we're to believe their story, they didn't join the nationalist cause until they were recruited in 1924. The other three arrived in 1925 on a small tramp steamer named the Duck."

"We've encountered this vessel ourselves,' said Everett. "At the time she belonged to one of the Fat Man's minions, but she has since changed ownership."

"Would there be any point in tracking down the current master?" asked Rosendahl.

Everett tried to imagine an encounter between the American captain and Helga, then abandoned the effort. The prospect was too unnerving. "I do not believe this would provide us with useful information," he replied. "Commander Williamson, did these agents reveal anything about their mission?"

"There wasn't much to reveal," said the commander. "Until yesterday, their activities seems to have been limited to recording our naval movements. When they reported your arrival, they received instructions to kidnap you."

"Did these instructions make any mention of the Sunnyvale?" asked Everett.

"No, but this shouldn't be a surprise," said Williamson. "There's no way they could have known she was coming now that Pago Pago has changed the codes."

"There's also no way they could have hoped to hijack a major naval unit using only six men," observed Rosendahl's aide.

Jenkins nodded. It seemed he'd been thinking along similar lines. "The Fat Man must be planning to send an assault team if he can get sufficient advance notice of your vessel's arrival. It's a pity that didn't happen here so we'd have a chance to capture the fellows."

Williamson's eyes brightened. He leaned back in his chair, rubbed what passed for his chin, and smiled like a batrachian realtor who senses a killing in the lily-pad market. "Perhaps we can," he told his guests. "We've apprehended all of this man's agents, taken possession of their wireless equipment, and have a copy of their codes. We should take advantage of this opportunity."

Everett raised an eyebrow. "Are you thinking what I think you're thinking?"

The commander nodded. "Suppose we use their equipment to report that you were injured during the kidnapping attempt and are heading back to Cairns. We could follow this with a report that the Sunnyvale arrived for here resupply en route to some destination where we can anticipate cooperation from the authorities. That would give you a chance to get there first, go ashore secretly, and arrange a trap."

"We'll need some place where the nationalists are known to be active but we can find reliable allies," said Rosendahl.

Everett considered the possibilities. "Our best bet may be Truk," he decided.

"Isn't that a German possession?" asked Rosendahl's aide.

"It is," said Everett, "but the Administrator is opposed to the nationalists, and he's worked with us against them in the past."

Williamson set aside his papers and unrolled a chart of the Pacific. "Timing will be important," he announced, "but I think we can make it work..."

It was evening by the time Everett and Jenkins finally made their way back to the Flying Cloud. At the foot of the mooring mask, Jenkins turned to gaze at the Administration building. A light still gleamed in the commander's window.

"That was a remarkable performance," he observed. "Why are air station commanders such inveterate schemers?"

"It may be a hazard of the profession," mused Everett. "It leaves them long periods with nothing else to do."

Jenkins thought this over. "I suppose that might explain some of Michaelson's behavior. I wonder what the senior captain is up to now."

Next week: I Suppose We Should See If They Left Anything Behind...

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