The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 457: Who Else Indeed?

Professor Koshino gets a visitor

Professor Koshino finished rinsing the negatives, held them up to the light, and nodded in satisfaction. The last calibration run had been a success. Through his magnifying glass, he could make out an intricate pattern of interference fringes. It would take some effort to count them all, but that's why he had a lab assistant.

He tucked the film away in a folder and studied his creation. It was significantly larger than the model he'd brought from Chicago -- an intricate collection of coils, electronics, optical components, and antennae that completely surrounded one of the centrifuges. It bore a vague resemblance to the native artwork he'd seen in an article by some anthropologist. What was the man's name? Otkupschikov, or something like that? He shook his head and discarded the thought as irrelevant.

Koshino had every reason to be proud of his accomplishment. His original irritation at being kidnapped had vanished when his hosts had provided him with all the resources he needed to put Louis de Broglie's theories about matter waves to practical use. If this machine worked as expected, it would make his reputation, and they'd promised him any patents that might result. In spite of this, he felt sense of unease. Scientists had a reputation for being naive and unworldly, but when he'd taken advantage of this to ask questions, the answers had been cause for concern. His hosts claimed to be manufacturers, trying to improve the efficiency of some refining process. If that was true, why had they hidden their laboratory in the wilds of Burmah? And why had they moved it here, wherever here was? They hardly had to worry about industrial espionage in the hill country. This seemed almost like military security.

"Good afternoon, Professor Koshino!" came a cheerful voice from the doorway. "How did this morning's experiment go?"

He turned to see his assistant enter the laboratory. Unlike his hosts, she was quite obviously not an Asian, with a tall figure, eastern European features, and long blond curls. He gathered that she'd been a teacher from some nearby mission. This was fortunate, for otherwise they might never have found someone who combined an understanding of chemistry with a knowledge of English.

"Good afternoon," he replied. "It seems to have been a success, which I'm afraid means more work for you."

The woman accepted the folder, glanced through the prints, and smiled. "I assume you want me to calculate the coherence lengths?"

"That is correct," said Koshino, wondering again where she'd gotten her education. Just what mission had she taught at? And what was their curriculum?

"I'll get started," Nadia told him. She turned to go, then hesitated as if something worried her. "Professor," she asked in a concerned voice. "Do you ever wonder what our employers want your machine for?"

"They'll be using it to purify uraninite ore. They want to remove the radioactive isotopes to avoid a repetition of Radium Scandal."

"That's what I was told as well," said the woman, "but why go to all that trouble? The mineral's only use is as for tint for ornamental glass, and they'd have to produce tons of ornaments before this `radiation' ever became a hazard."

Koshino nodded thoughtfully. "I'd begun to wonder about that myself," he admitted.

"Could you ask them?" Nadia suggested. "They're Japanese, just like you."

"It isn't that easy," said Koshino. "We may share the same ancestry, but these native-born Japanese seem to regard foreigners like me as inferior."

The woman frowned, then seemed to reach a decision. "One of the managers at the air station has been friendly. I'll see if I can learn from him."

"Friendly?" asked Koshina. He might be a naive and unworldly professor, but he could recognize a euphemism when he heard one.

Nadia smiled. "Don't worry," she assured him. "I can take care of myself."

It was late the next day when Nadia returned. She looked unsettled, but Koshino gathered this wasn't because of some unwanted adventure the previous evening. "Professor?" she asked quietly, "What do you know about Ujelang?"

Whatever this have do with ornamental glass? Koshono wondered. "I understand the island was destroyed by an immense explosion last summer," he replied. "Doctor Bretz in the Geology department, hypothesized that this was caused by the impact of a giant meteorite, similar to the one that struck Siberia in 1908."

The woman's lips tightened. "That's what the papers said, but according to my... acquaintance... the explosion was man-made, produced by something he called the `Device'."

Koshino shook his head in disbelief. "That's impossible!" he protested. "The blast was supposed to be equivalent to thousands of tons of TNT! How could any man-made agency be so powerful?"

Nadia glanced at the machine that stood beside them. "I'm not sure, but I gather that it has something to do with radioactivity."

It didn't take Koshino long to realize the implication. "The isotope!" he exclaimed. "It must be one of the the ingredients! They aren't trying to remove it; they're trying to concentrate it! Who are these people?"

"I found that out too," Nadia said grimly. "The man bragged about it, thinking it would impress me. They're militarists, working for some nationalist group in the Japanese government who feel their country was betrayed by the Peace and got a raw deal at the Naval Conference."

Koshino was silent for a moment. "I'd heard of such things, but I'd hoped they were only a rumor," he said at last. "We can't let these people get their hands on a weapon that could destroy entire cities. What can we do?"

Nadia gave a nervous glance over her shoulder. "I don't know," she admitted, "but our first step must be to get you out of here. I managed to examine this week's flight schedule. A supply packet will be lifting ship tomorrow morning. Give me a few hours to prepare and I think I can smuggle you aboard."

It was dark when they set out. Nadia led the way through the compound, hair and face hidden by a hood. Koshino followed wearing the darkest clothing he'd been able to find. He'd worried about guards, but there didn't seem many about, and the few they saw all managed to take a wrong turn or hurry past without spotting them -- the professor felt no need to question this good fortune. Soon they came to one of the gates to the air station. This was secured by padlock, but Nadia spun the dial, seemingly almost at random, until it fell open. He wondered how she'd gotten the combination, but decided to wasn't polite to speculate.

A darkened alley, another lock, another door, then they were standing in a dimly-lit shed, surrounded by pallets of cargo. Nadia gestured at one of these.

"This was supposed to be holding some used glassware they're taking to a port on the coast," she whispered. "I swapped that for this empty crate. If you hide inside, they shouldn't notice the difference. It's supposed to be a short flight -- less than a day -- and this isn't an important cargo, so if you wait until nightfall, you should find yourself in an empty warehouse."

Koshino studied the crate. It reminded him all too well of his undergraduate days. "Are you sure this will work?" he asked.

She rested a hand on his arm. "Please," she said softly. "Trust me."

Next week: And Our Friends Are All Aboard...

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