The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 407: The Manila Folder

Folder with photgraph of the mysterious cruiser

Everett set down his pen and studied his latest entry in the log.

7-September-1927, 1200 hours, Lat 9 9' 50" N, Lon 121 8' 14" E. Crossing the Sula Sea en route to Manila Bay, estimated time of arrival 1800 hours. Pampagna reports the American ocean liner is still in port. This should facilitate Inspector Scott's investigations.

He reread the last sentence and frowned. Unstated was his hope the presence of the liner might also facilitate an improvement in the inspector's mood. The flight from Cairns had been strained, as their passenger pioneered new ways of combining arrogance with condescension. At last Everett had been forced to take advantage of Naval regulations to ban Scott from the bridge. Among other things, this minimized contact between the inspector and Sarah, who promised to get along like nitric acid and glycerol.

The island girl must have guessed his thoughts. "How long will the fellow be on board?" she asked from her station at the ballast board.

"I imagine he'll be with us until we've discharged our duties," said Everett.

Sarah glanced down at the ocean, three thousand feet below. "Is there any chance we could discharge him instead?"

Everett allowed himself a smile. "This might have repercussions we could ill afford," he told her. "He was imposed on us by the Admiral's office. We'd do well to tread cautiously until we reach the Philippines."

Pampagna Air Station was a thoroughly modern facility; the work of a young nation that believed in doing some things just because they could. Its gleaming new buildings and handling equipment contrasted sharply with the moldering Spanish architecture and plantations that surrounded it. A pair of Shenandoah class reconnaissance ships rode from two of the masts -- these might not have been as powerful as the newer Los Angeles class, but their larger payload fraction and range made them better suited for operations in the Pacific. Soon the Flying Cloud was riding from one of masts alongside them.

Tradition demanded Everett pay a courtesy call to the commander of the station. He found Captain Arnold ensconced in his office, poring over a set of reports. The American seemed grateful for the distraction.

"Welcome back to Manila," he told Everett. "I'll bet you're here to look into that pirate attack on the President Cleveland."

Everett nodded. "The Admiralty has appointed a special investigator to look into the matter. They seem concerned about this affair."

"They're not the only ones," sighed Arnold. He gestured at the papers piled on his desk. "The Lieutenant-Governor's been breathing down my neck about this, particularly since it comes right after that attack on the Shiratori Maru."

"We're certain the same attacker was involved in both cases?" asked Everett.

"There isn't much doubt," said Arnold. "I'd hoped the pirates would turn out to be those guys from Tahiti -- they seem more like showmen than buccaneers -- but there's no way multiple witnesses could confuse an eight hundred foot long ship with eight engine cars with a three hundred foot long ship with only three. Also, one of the passengers managed to snap this shot as the ship flew away."

Everett studied the photograph the commander handed him. The image was blurry, but the lines were all too familiar. "We're familiar with this vessel," he observed. "We've been calling her the `mysterious cruiser'."

Arnold nodded. "She's a dead ringer for the USN Sunnyvale. It's a good thing Rosendahl's ship was accounted for during both attacks or we could've had an international incident on our hands. You've run into these guys yourself?"

"We've encountered them several times," said Everett. "The first was last June, when they attacked and destroyed my previous command. Since then, we've encountered them at Fiji, Ujelang, and most recently in Western Australia."

"She's big as a major naval unit," marveled the commander. "Who on Earth could have built her?"

Everett considered his reply. On the one hand, he had no way of knowing if his host might have some hidden agenda. On the other hand, Americans were not noted for their guile, and the world owed them a debt of gratitude for the Peace. He decided he could trust the captain.

"We believe she belongs to a Japanese nationalist organization," he said. "They are one of several nationalist groups operating in the Pacific. Some, such as Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists, seem comparatively harmless. These Japanese most definitely are not. At one time, they were allied with a group of German nationalists led by someone known as the Fat Man, but the two parties have since had a falling out."

"Germans," mused Arnold. "Those guys happen to own the Marshall Islands. Did this Fat Man character have anything to do with that big explosion on Ujelang?"

Everett nodded to himself. The Americans might lack guile, but they weren't stupid. "I'm not in a position to say," he replied carefully. "We know that his people maintained some sort of establishment on the island, but this was destroyed by the explosion along with any evidence it might have contained."

The commander seemed satisfied by this explanation. If he'd guessed that Everett knew more, he gave no sign. "What are your plans now?" he asked.

Now it was Everett's turn to sigh. "I suppose I'd better pay a visit to the harbor to see how our inspector is getting along"

Like the air station, the new American harbor facilities in Manila Bay contrasted sharply with their surroundings, with docks, cranes, and warehouses, that might have been taken from any port in California. Everett found the liner tied up alongside one of the former.

The SS President Grover Cleveland had been built for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company shortly after the Peace. Ownership had since passed to Robert Dollar's Dollar Shipping Line. Five hundred thirty feet long, 12,000 tons, with two Bethlehem Steel steam turbines generating 10,000 hp to drive the vessel at something less than 17 knots, she could carry seventy first class passengers and some larger number of the lower classes in varying degrees of comfort, if they were patient. She showed no obvious signs of damage from the attack, except for her foremast, which had apparently been shattered by gunnery.

After he was aboard, Everett had no difficulty finding Scott. All he needed to do was follow the trail of pained expressions back to their source. This proved to be the bridge, where the inspector was browbeating the vessel's hapless captain.

"Suppose you tell me precisely what happened," Scott demanded.

"We were bound from San Francisco to Hong Kong via Honolulu and Manila," said the captain. "Nine days out of Honolulu, we sighted a large airship approaching from the southwest. From her lines, we assumed she was the USN Sunnyvale, which we'd heard was in the area. She turned parallel to our course, fired a shot across our bow, and signaled us to heave to."

"Why didn't you radio for help?"

The captain pointed at the remains of the foremast. "Because they shot away our radio antenna!"

The inspector seemed unimpressed. "Hmph," he snorted. "What happened then?"

"They deployed a launch, sent a party aboard, and abducted one of our second-class passengers along with his luggage."

"Who was this gentleman?"

"Some professor named Koshino. I think he was from Chicago."

Scott shrugged, then seemed to notice Everett for the first time. "Ah, there you are captain," he said dismissively. "We've learned all we need to know here. I believe it's time to return to your ship."

Next week: Up, Ship! And Stay Up!...

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