The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 449: Here Be Dragons

Airship Recognition Cards

The cruiser dropped down from the heavens like a descending god. Sunlight gleamed on the mighty hull, gleaming fins, and eight powerful engines in two rows of four. A shower of water cascaded from the tanks as the crew weighed off. Then propellers thrummed to drive the vessel forward, over the field where the mooring party was waited to receive her handling lines.

The Commander watched the evolution from his office with a critical eye. Those foolish civilians in the Imperial Diet might be willing to tolerate slackness, but like any true servant of the Emperor, he demanded nothing less than perfection. At last, satisfied the vessel's captain was not going to disgrace his command, he returned to his paperwork -- one of the millions of details to be attended to if the Society was to free the Emperor from his treasonous counselors and restore the military to its rightful position of power.

He was busy reviewing a set of construction schedules when his aide knocked on the door. "Sumimasen, Kaigan-daisa," the man said respectfully, "Rikuden-Shoi Saito has arrived."

The Commander nodded curtly. "Send him in."

Lieutenant Saito's bow was precise, like the flash of blade. He was a young officer who'd served with the occupying forces in Korea, where he'd distinguished himself by his... forceful... approach to dealing with the native population. It was from steel such as this that the sword of empire was forged.

"Deliver your report," the Commander ordered.

"Hai," said the lieutenant. "On the night of 13 October, the Burmah Oil air station was attacked by two parties of sanzoku. These were followed by a squad of marines from a Royal Navy airship. This forced us to evacuate our remaining officers sooner than we'd planned. The operation was accomplished successfully, and we'd already moved Professor Koshino and his equipment here."

"What of the enlisted men?"

"They will not talk, and Nicholson knows better than to implicate himself."

"And the laboratory?"

"It is empty, except for the damaged centrifuge and some miscellaneous glassware. We were careful to remove every fragment of the Professor's prototype."

The Commander nodded. "Good," he conceded. "How long will it take the Professor to start production of the katsu busshitsu?"

"Most of his equipment is already in place. It should all be operational by the time he completes the enlarged version of his machine. He estimates this should be ready by next spring. But we'll still need the ore. May I ask where we will find this, sir? The Germans control the supply."

"Not all of the supply, Saito-san," the Commander said with a smile. "The gaijin overlooked one source. I have a job for you."

The airship rode from her mooring mast like some sleeping behemoth. Once she'd been a civilian vessel, pride of Argentina's commercial line. Now, staterooms replaced by bunkrooms, promenade deck converted to a gun battery, she was ready to serve a mightier cause. The Fat Man studied her lines with approval. They'd need a new name for the vessel. One of the heroes of Tannenberg, perhaps.

Behind him, his aide knocked on the door, then stood aside to reveal a second man in field clothing. "Mein herr," he said carefully, "Sigmund has arrived from Burmah."

The Fat Man motioned for the newcomer to enter. "You will deliver your report," he said.

The lieutenant saluted. He might have just returned from leading a force of bandits through the hills, but he looked like he'd just stepped from a recruiting ad for paramilitary commandos. It took more than a few weeks in-country to faze someone who'd served at Ypres and Verdun.

"We arrived at the air station on the night of the 13th and attacked as soon as we were in position," he said. "Unfortunately, the British Union chose the same moment to launch an attack of their own with a force of these so-called dacoiten. Shortly after that, the Royal Navy Airship Service arrived with a force of marines, forcing us to withdraw. The station is now held by the Indian Imperial Police."

The Fat Man nodded thoughtfully. "The English must have gotten word of the British Union's plans," he mused. "The Baron's people do not have good security. You did well to extricate your forces. Did you have time to search the place?"

"Not completely, but we were able to establish that the Japanese had removed the scientist and all of his equipment."

"This is an annoyance, but it may work to our advantage," the Fat Man observed. "It will leave the Royal Navy with more questions than it answers, and if it leads them to pursue the Japanese, so much the better for us."

"What about the British Union?" asked Sigmund.

"Our friends of the flexible allegiances?" said the Fat Man "They can be ignored. They made a bid to take the professor, and failed. Now we hold all the cards. We have the plans for the Device, we control the supply of ore, and it's only a matter of time before Doctor Schuman reconstructs the secret of the refiner."

The airship was patterned after a modern patrol vessel -- a falcon rather than an eagle. She'd begun life as a yacht. She was still registered as one, but her new owners had a somewhat more... permissive... concept of recreation.

In the vessel's cargo hold, Baron Warfield patted the breech of a QF-1 quick-firing cannon and smiled. "How long will this take to install?" he asked

Fuller flipped through his notes. "It should only be a matter of days, now that your machinists have finished the mount," he replied. "This is the same armament the Royal Navy Airship Service carries on their own Wollesely class ships, so we based it on their design."

The Baroness gathered up her skirt and crouched to gaze through the gunsight. "This should come as quite the surprise to certain parties," she observed. "I do so look forward to the opportunity to using it! What did you discover at the air station?"

"I spoke with the Assistant District Supervisor the Imperial Police sent to take charge of the place," said Fuller. "He had no idea why the Royal Navy Airship Service chose that particular night to arrive, but we can assume they got word of the Germans' plans. The Fat Man's people do not have good security. The centrifuges were missing, and there was no sign of the professor's machine, so it seems the Japanese removed these things before the attack."

"You're quite sure they were the ones responsible?" asked the Baroness.

Fuller nodded. "They must have loaded it aboard their cruiser, for the cargo-handling equipment was parked next to the mooring circle."

The Baron chuckled. "Their industry may work to our advantage. Now the Royal Navy and the Fat Man will waste their time pursuing the Japanese, and they'll be too preoccupied with this weapon of theirs to realize what they have. That will leave us free to steal it."

Next week: To Strive, To Seek, To Find... Somewhere...

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