The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 462: We're Making A List

Vaccuum tubes and dynamite

MacKiernan glanced around the briefing room to make sure there were no eavesdroppers, then scowled. "What is Michaelson up to?" he demanded. "He gives us information, but goes out of his way to show that he's keeping some for himself. He returns some of our old crew from the Flying Lady, but without giving us time to train them on our new equipment. And he puts Alice aboard, when we know very well..." the Irishman's voice trailed off.

"...that her allegiances may be mixed," Everett said sympathetically. He knew how his Exec felt about the secretary. "The good captain is following his established strategy of sending us out as bait, after providing us with what could be tools for success but could also be intended to ensure our failure, and arranging matters so that he'll benefit from either outcome. It's difficult not to admire the man's ingenuity."

"That may be true, but this seems to go beyond his usual double game," MacKiernan said sourly. "Do you have any idea what this new game is?"

It was a good question. Michaelson had given them most of Koshino's notes on the so-called `De Broglie Filter', but made a show of keeping some for his own use -- a gesture he wouldn't have made by chance. He'd also assigned them Miss Perkins, along with some of their old crew from the R-212, any or all of whom could be his spies. "Not yet," Everett a dmitted. "I am also troubled by the circumstances of Professor Koshino's escape."

"Do you think this Nadia who helped him is the same lady we knew as Natasha and Nettie?" asked MacKiernan.

Everett nodded. "There seems little doubt. Her modus operandi was most certainly the same. And her motives still remain a mystery. It seemed she was working for the German nationalists when she betrayed Lieutenant Iverson, then she went out of her way to help us escape from Ujelang. Since then she's appeared with American gangsters and the Japanese nationalists, both of whom acted as if they trusted her. This suggests that she pretended to enlist in their various causes to pursue some agenda of her own. I'd give a lot to know what that might be. I also wonder about her connection with Karlov. She suggested to Iverson that she's his sister, but there's no more reason to believe this than anything else she's said."

"Whatever their relationship, they do seem to be at odds," Jenkins observed.

"That may be true," said Everett, "but they have similar habits, including this annoying business of appearing and disappearing at will while seeming to know what everyone else is about." The captain allowed himself a sigh, then gestured at the documents Michaelson had handed him. "What do you gentlemen make of these?" he asked.

Jenkins indicated some of the pages. These were covered with cryptic equations and notes, along with a detailed list of parts. "If I understand this section correctly, the core of the professor's machine seems to be something he called the `Parametric Conversion Stage'," said the signalman. "The relevant components are listed here. Most are decidedly mundane, but there are three exceptions: these `high-frequency triode amplifiers', `conductive diffraction gratings', and `Starke secondary emission plates'."

"That suggests three avenues of inquiry," MacKiernan observed. "Which shall we pursue first?"

Naval officers were required to know something about shipping. This implied knowledge about what cargoes ships might carry and where those items were made. "We'll start with the vacuum tubes," said Everett. "As I recall, there's a manufacturer in Melbourne."

Melbourne lay due south of Cairns -- a day's flight at the Flying Cloud's most efficient cruising speed. They made the passage in three legs, passing through the Great Dividing Range north of Townsville, then crossing the Great Artesian Basin -- Australian place names had a thought-provoking tendency to include the word `Great' -- to pick up one of the many tributaries of the Yarra River and follow this to Melbourne, where they took advantage of their Royal Navy status to bypass the busy commercial facility at Essendon and moor at the Point Cook Royal Air Station.

Established in the early Nineteenth Century by settlers who'd moved to Tasmania, given this up as a bad job, and moved back to Australia, Melbourne had grown to become Australia's largest city. It was also the colony's de facto capital, though there were plans to move this to Canberra. Its bustling seaport, on the shores of Apollo Bay, was flanked by a sprawl of warehouse and industrial districts. Among these was Fisherman's Bend. Once a district of fishermen and sailmakers, it was now home to steel mills, tool manufacturers, airship chandleries, and a branch of Australia's idiosyncratic domestic auto company, as well as a small air station used by firms making blimps under license.

It was also home to several electronics firms. Among these was the Fisherman's Bend Electronic Valve Company, whose corporate motto -- `True Blue Tubes For All Your Thingies!' -- reflected a uniquely Australian attitude toward entrepreneurship. An official request to examine their accounts would have given the game away, so Everett dispatched Pierre to view them in a less official category.

Night lay close over the harbor district. Pierre strode down Bertie Street following a route he'd memorized during the day. Finesse was the key to business endeavors of the sort he had in mind -- that, and meticulous attention to detail. When he came to the spot he'd chosen for his approach -- the mouth of an alleyway, partly hidden by the shadows -- he glanced over his shoulder to make sure he was unobserved, then ducked through the opening and examined the wall to his left. The masonry was uninspired, with crudely-mortared joints that offered little challenge to an experienced climber. Minutes later, he was prying open a second-story window and slipping over the sill.

The factory was empty at this time of night -- it seemed Australia's market for vacuum tubes did not demand round-the-clock production. Pierre listened to make sure no watchman was about, then smiled. Finesse, he told himself, it all comes down to finesse.

The company office was easy to find -- a lingering trace of perfume told of the secretaries who worked there during the day. The door was locked, but the mechanism did not pose any particular problems to a man of his skill. A moment's work with torque bar and pick and he was easing the door open. Everything was going according to plan. Governments, armies, and large corporations might place their faith in lawyers, guns, and money, but finesse would always triumph over those crude displays of brute force.

The sound was faint -- a slight tapping noise, like a moth beating against the pane -- but a professional jewel thief's senses were not those of ordinary men, and Pierre dove for cover in the hallway seconds before an explosion blew in the windows. Through the dust he saw two figures in airman's garb swing through the hole where the wall used to be, seize a filing cabinet, and wrestle it to where a third man waited aboard a hoist platform. A voice shouted a command, gears whined overhead, and the hoist began to rise.

Pierre waited until it was out of sight, then dashed to the opening and looked up. Above him, an airship was disappearing into the night. He studied the ruins of the office and shook his head in disgust. This seemed to be of those unfortunate moments when crude displays of brute force won an undeserved victory.

Next week: Be Careful That What You're Looking For Isn't Also Looking For You...

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