The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 482: Some Second Opinions

Three different swords

The commander set down his writing brush, stacked the form neatly in the outbound tray, and glanced at the ones that remained. He'd never imagined, when he joined the Cause, that running a secret air station of behalf of a militant nationalist conspiracy could involve so much paperwork. Had this always been part of the burden of command, he wondered? Had Tokugawa Ieyasu spent the eve of the Battle of Sekigahara reviewing personnel records? Did Izanagi and Azanami have to file a requisition for the heavenly spear, Ame-no-nuboku, they'd used to create the Land Of The Gods? He dismissed this speculation as unprofessional. Humor was not considered a virtue in the service of the Emperor.

He rose to stretch, stepped to the window, and gazed across the field. To the northwest, the mountains rose bright and clear against the sky. A few wispy clouds marked the beginning of the dry season in this part of the world. Closer at hand, an airship rode from the mooring mast -- a powerful cruiser with eight engines arranged in rows of four on each side. She was a triumph of the designer's art -- more than a match for any opponent -- but placed severe demands on their system of supplies. Losing the station in Australia had been a blow. They couldn't afford to lose many more.

His reflections were interrupted by the arrival of his aide. "Forgive the intrusion, Kaigun-daisa," said man. "We've just received a message from Kaigun-chûi Kicuchi in Manila. He reports that our station there has been destroyed."

The commander kept his face expressionless. Outward displays of anger were also not considered a virtue in the service of the Emperor. "How did this happen?" he asked calmly.

The aide was not fooled for an instant. "His men captured two spies leaving the German's headquarters and brought them to the station for questioning," he replied cautiously. "Somehow they managed to escape and set fire to the hydrogen plant."

The commander frowned. There were some circumstances under which displays of emotion were acceptible. "Baka," he swore. "Instruct the kaigun-chûi to atone for his mistake. That should encourage his successor to be more diligent. We must decide what to do about these Germans. The Futotta Otoko grows too bold. First his agent helped Professor Koshino escape. Now he's attacking our stations. It is time for us to strike back."

The Fat Man set down his pen, closed the folder, and frowned at the pile of work that remained. He'd never anticipated, back when he'd sworn to liberate the Fatherland from the government that had betrayed it, that running a conspiracy would involve so much bureaucracy. Matters must have been simpler in the old days. Did Herman have to review supply records before Teutoburger Wald? Did the Huns have to get their paybooks stamped before they swept across Europe? Surely not, but it seemed this was the price for victory in the modern era.

He glanced out the window, where the captured liner was visible through curtains of rain that swept across the field. In this case, the price had been worth it. His men had finished arming the vessel, the captain was working her into shape, and the new weapons from BFW would make her a match for even the Japanese cruiser. With an asset like this, it was only a matter of time before they tracked down that shipment of vacuum tubes. How hard could it be to find a slow-moving freighter?

His aide chose that moment to arrive. "Mien Herr," the man said apprehensively. "We've received a message from Leutnant Ziegler in Manila. He informs us that he's lost his headquarters."

"Did he say how?" growled the Fat Man.

The aide relaxed slightly, glad not to be the immediate target of his superior's ire. "The circumstances are not entirely clear," he replied. "It appears that he took some British Union spies captive. They managed to escape, and during the pursuit that followed, two of the plantation's trains collided. The Americans authorities arrived to investigate and took possession of the site."

The Fat Man scowled. "The Englishers will have been agents of the Japanisch," he announced. "We know that they've reached an accommodation. Our former allies are testing our resolve. We cannot let this attack go unanswered."

Lord and Lady Warfield sat in the cafe at Manila's air station. To the south, a dozen airships from as many nations rode from their masts like a flotilla of tethered clouds. Among them was the Coup de Grace.

The Baroness admired the vessel, then took a sip from her tea and glanced at her watch. "Where is Parkhurst?' she demanded. "He should have been here by now."

"We must cultivate patience, my dear," said the Baron. "The man can hardly dash out to meet us without breaking his cover."

"And by the same token, we cannot dash over to his estate," the Baroness said sourly. "This could mean a long wait."

"So it could," admitted the Baron. "But who is this?"

A timid-looking man was making his way toward their table. He halted before them, glanced over his shoulder, then lowered his head to speak. "Lord and Lady Warfield," he said nervously. "I'm Simons, the librarian. Parkhurst was unable to come. He's been arrested by the Americans."

Lord Warfield studied the man in much the same way a wolf might study a sheep. "How did this happen?" he asked.

Sheep weren't stupid. They knew when it was time to make sure they didn't get the blame. "I'm not entirely certain, milord," said the man. "It seems that Forbes apprehended two spies. Sometime after that the armory caught fire and exploded. This attracted the attention of the American authorities, who took everyone prisoner. I only escaped because I was hidden beneath a pile of broken shelving."

Lord Warfield glanced at his wife. "An inconvenient development," he observed. "Do you think the Royal Navy was responsible? Captain Michaelson always was too clever for his own good."

The Baroness shook her head. "Lawrence is insufficiently bloodthirsty. He would never willingly resort to a strategy that placed so many lives at risk. I sense someone else's hand -- perhaps that Russian scientist who thwarted us at Tahiti. I wonder what our unknown adversary's game is."

An answer of a sort was provided by Bludge, who arrived from the ship carrying a message. "Milord, milady," said the butler, "Foster received a communication in our private code. There was no indication who might have sent it. I took the liberty of decoding it, and decided you would wish to see it."

"In our private code," mused the Baroness. "That's a message in and of itself. Let us see what it says." She took the message from the butler, glanced at it, and raised an eyebrow.

"It take it this is something unexpected," said the Baron.

"Indeed it is," said the Baroness. "Some mysterious benefactor has seen fit to tell us where to look for the Tranquility and that shipment of vacuum tubes."

Next week: A Mysterious Pho...

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