The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 492: Perhaps Not The Outcome We Hoped For

Puzzle pieces

Everett had lifted ship the day after the hijacking to take Aunt Prodigia and her nieces back to the Stalking Herring. Now the Flying Cloud's three supercharged diesels were driving the airship north at 60 knots -- a speed calculated to bring them to Danang in the morning. To port, the sun was dropping toward the hills of the Malay Peninsula. To starboard, the South China Sea was a dark blue mirror that did little to reflect the captain's thoughts. He contemplated it for a moment, then opened the log to make an entry.

5-December-1917, 1800 hours, Lat 1 19' N, Long 103 55' E. Cleared Singapore Royal Air Station at 1700. While in Singapore, we located the British Union of Fascists' organization, apprehended its principal members, and rescued two citizens of the Commonwealth they'd abducted. Now we're en route to return an intelligence asset to Danang.

Should he add more, he wondered? He decided against this. There was an art to recording some minor victories without making it too obvious that one was avoiding mention of a fairly substantial defeat. Michaelson was certain to notice the omission, of course, but the senior captain could hardly call them out on it without drawing attention to his own machinations... whatever those might be.

Jenkins knocked on the door behind him. "I have the report from Singapore regarding the freighter Wasserman left behind," said the signalman. "It seems the vessel wasn't his, but was chartered from an owner in Hong Kong by some American firm called the Marsh Refinery."

"This will almost certainly turn out to be a front," mused Everett. "We're unlikely to learn more from that line of inquiry. What did you think of last evening's adventures?"

"They may not have been an unqualified success," Jenkins observed honestly. This was one of an aide's duties. "It's a pity we couldn't follow the Make A Good Fist from the air."

Everett nodded. The Dutchman had timed his move well. Even with the moon approaching full, they'd have found it impossible to pick the yacht out from other nighttime traffic in the Straits. "I take it there's also been no sign of Miss Natasha," he said.

"No, she vanished as thoroughly as Karlov did, assuming he was present."

"I imagine he was," said Everett. "She indicated as much to Miss Blaine and Miss Wilcox, and events do suggest that someone was working against her. We know she freed Koshino from the Japanese, and she claimed she was trying to prevent them from getting hold of the vacuum tubes. Wasserman would seem to have put a spoke in her wheel."

"Could the two of them have been working together?" asked Jenkins.

"I doubt it," said Everett. "It's difficult to imagine why they'd have freed Miss Blaine and Miss Wilcox to alert us to their plans when they could just as easily have kept the young ladies prisoner and made off with the yacht without us being the wiser. Also, this succession of apparent coincidences that combine to hand us a defeat has been one of Karlov's trademarks."

"At least Michaelson can't fault us for not finding the yacht in time," said Jenkins. "We had no way of knowing where it was until Miss Blaine and Miss Wilcox were available to tell us."

"I imagine he'll contrive to blame us for something," Everett observed philosophically. "But we'll deal with this eventuality when it arises. I'm more concerned about the identity of Wasserman's employer. The man may have a reputation for appropriating other peoples' belongings, but he wouldn't have gone to so much effort to steal a shipment of electronic valves that would be worthless to almost anyone unless someone had commissioned the theft."

"Surely this would be Karlov." said Jenkins.

Everett shook his head. "There's no reason to believe he had the resources to charter that freighter. Also, he's tended to work behind the scenes, manipulating other players to achieve his ends."

"That reduces the possibilities to the Japanese, the Germans, the White Russians, the Red Russians, the Warfields, or some new party who remains to be determined," Jenkins observed.

"So it does," sighed Everett. "If it's any consolation, our adversaries must be every bit as much in the dark as we are."

The radioman watched apprehensively as the Fat Man studied the report. His section had drawn lots to determine who'd deliver it, and he had lost. At last the Fat Man smiled. It was not a comforting smile, but the radioman took comfort from the fact it didn't seem aimed at him.

"So our operations in Manila, Haiphong, and Saigon have all been eradicated, along with those of our adversaries," said the Fat Man.

"Ja, mein Herr."

"This will be the work of the British Union," the Fat Man announced. "It's confirmed by the disappearance of their yacht. They must have learned of the vacuum tubes' importance and faked the hijacking to steal these for themselves and mislead their adversaries. We will find a way to take advantage of this."

The aide bowed and handed over the report with the same practiced movements he might have used to handle a sword. He hoped he wouldn't be required to atone for its contents with the same unquestioning efficiency. The commander read it as if weighing the possibility, then nodded.

"It seems the Germans have made their move," he said. "These simultaneous attacks on all of our bases cannot be the work of the Royal Navy. The Igirirsuhito seemed as surprised as we were."

"What about the British Union?" the aide risked asking. This was one of an aide's duties.

The commander made a gesture of dismissal. "Those gaijin lack the necessary subtlety. As long as we tempt them with promises of power, we can be certain of their loyalty."

Bludge had volunteered to deliver the report for the radiomen. Not only was he more familiar with the Baron and Baroness's whims, he was also less prone to breakage. He watched impassively as Lord Warfield finished reading.

"So," chuckled the Baron, "our agents have all been apprehended, the Australian women escaped us, and that Dutchman hijacked our yacht. What do you make of this, my dear?"

His lady glanced through the pages and smiled. "This cannot be the work of the Germans. They may have employed Wasserman in the past, but they lack the imagination. It also can't be the Japanese, for they have no reason to suspect us yet. If the Royal Navy was involved, Mister Fuller would have informed us of their plans. That suggests the presence of another party, with whom we might make a deal."

The Governor glanced at the air station, where a mighty cruiser rode from the mast, then poured a glass of wine for his guest. "Did our current allies notice your cargo?" he asked.

Wasserman snorted in derision. "We disguised it in the delivery of food, as you recommended. De Japanners are too proud to examine items they disdain."

"And the yacht?"

"We sold her in Haiphong. That will throw our adversaries off the scent and also bring us some money. May I ask what all this was for?"

The Governor's expression was deceptively mild, but Wasserman wasn't deceived. This man had betrayed his previous allies without a thought. "No, you may not," he said. "But as long as you continue to play your part, you will continue to be rewarded."

Next week: The Tenth Flying Cloud Christmas Special...

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