The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 495: An Interrupted Plan

Captain Michaleson giving a lecture

Captain Everett glanced around the chamber Michaelson had chosen for the meeting and suppressed a sigh. It was the same place Admiral Whitworth had used for his inquiry the previous year -- a severely-furnished schoolroom, with chairs slightly too cramped to be comfortable for full-grown adults. Abercrombie in particular seemed to be encountering difficulties. There was little doubt Michaelson had chosen this venue deliberately.

The senior captain strolled in a few minutes later -- just late enough to emphasize who held the position of authority. He gestured for Everett and his companions to be seated, then shook his head in disapproval.

"I have reviewed your mission report," he told his audience. "It does not reflect well on your performance. Do you have any explanation to offer for allowing this Wasserman fellow to escape with the vacuum tubes?"

"I believe we could have done better," Everett replied, with studied ambiguity. "Our ability to anticipate our adversaries' actions was hampered by a delay in the arrival of intelligence about the German, Japanese, and British Union nationalist presence in French Indochina."

Michaelson's expression didn't change, but it was clear that he understood the implication. He set a folder on the lectern in front of him and drew out a page. "Let us summarize what we know of this affair," he announced. "Sometime prior to May of 1926, a group of White Russian exiles who'd taken refuge here in Australia began development of something they called the `Device'. This uses some derivative of uraninite ore in conjunction with other materials to produce an explosion of unprecedented magnitude, sufficient to destroy an entire city. Their motive remains to be determined, but we've assumed they intended to employ this weapon against Trotsky's government.

"In June, a German nationalist group -- a branch of Ernst Rohm's Bund Reichskreigsflagge led by an individual known as the Fat Man -- attacked the White Russian's secret laboratory, overpowered its defenders, and stole the Device along with equipment involved in its manufacture. Their motive also remains to be determined, but they too may have intended to use it against their own government. These Germans were allied with a Japanese nationalist group, leadership unknown, that presumably had similar aims regarding the Diet. The Germans provided troops to carry out the operation while the Japanese provided two airships that they'd constructed at some secret yard in Korea. One of these vessels -- a copy of the Americans' Sunnyvale class -- we know of as the Mysterious Cruiser. The other -- a copy of our own Junior Vickers class -- fell into your hands in New Caledonia.

"After the attack, these two parties had a falling out. The Germans hid the manufacturing equipment, we know not where, and took the Device to Ujelang in the German Protectorate of the Marshall Islands. Their subsequent test -- triggered, perhaps, by some of the people in this room -- produced an explosion equivalent to several thousand tons of TNT that blasted most of the island clean of life. It also may have left some lingering toxin, which poisoned some of the life that remained.

"The Ujelang Event attracted the interest of other parties. Among these was Baronet Mosely and his British Union of Fascists. He stole what appeared to be a second Device from the White Russians, but his ambitions were less lofty than those of his competitors, and he only tried to destroy the German government's administrative center in Rabaul. Fortunately for them, this second machine was a harmless model and failed to explode.

"We recovered the second machine from the bottom of Rabaul harbor and brought it to Cairns Royal Air Station for study. It appears to be lacking a missing element in the form of the previously-mentioned derivative of uraninite, which must be refined in some way to concentrate its destructive potential. Like so many aspects of this affair, the nature of this refining process remains a mystery, but it may have something to do with a chemical concept knows as `isotopes'.

"That is the situation as it stood last December. Are there any questions?"

Sarah raised her hand. As a civilian specialist, she was free to bait the bear in its own lair. "How do we know the Japanese nationalists' shipyard is in Korea?"

"The engineer you found aboard your ship suggested as much. This hypothesis is supported by statements from this Miss Kim, who seems to be an agent for..." Michaelson allowed himself a sigh, "...a Korean nationalist group. We must hope they aren't also after the Device. Their cabbage is potent enough."

The senior captain replaced his page and drew out another. "Moving on to 1927, the beginning of last year found three nationalist groups competing to recreate the White Russian weapon: the Germans, the Japanese, and the White Russians themselves. The first seem to have plans for Device, but not the refiner. The second seem to have plans for the refiner, but not Device. The third presumably know how to build both, but lack the necessary resources. Since then, the British Union has reappeared under the control of Baron Warfield and..." the senior captain's pause was almost imperceptible, "... his lady. They seem uninterested in the weapon, but they have made several attempts to acquire some secret associated with the refining process. These were foiled by this mysterious young scientist named Karlov."

Everett nodded to himself. One of the reasons he and Michaelson were so often at odds was that their minds worked the same way. "I take it you've become curious about his role this affair."

"As have you," the senior captain replied dryly. "According to your informant in Java, he's been involved with the White Russians from the beginning, and there's some reason to believe he invented the refiner. When the Germans attacked their laboratory in Australia, he managed to escape. Since then, he's been manipulating events for some purpose of his own. In addition to thwarting the Warfields, he's collected several native artifacts of unknown value and he played a role in the destruction of two Japanese nationalist air stations.

"This Karlov has an adversary: the woman we've known as Natasha, Nettie, or Natalie. The nature of their relationship remains a mystery, but during her successive appearances, she has variously warned us against him, worked to foil his plans, or challenged him directly. Like her peer, she's demonstrated a disturbing knowledge of our plans, along with an annoying tendency to appear and vanish like a character from some radio drama.

Michaelson set down the page some force -- an uncharacteristic show of emotion. "This has gone on long enough," he announced. "It's clear that this fellow holds keys to our mysteries. It's time for us to track him down and find out what this he's up to. Captain Everett, you will proceed to the White Russians' insufficiently-secret air station at Aneityum and prevail upon the people in charge to tell us what they know of the man. You will use this information to locate Karlov and bring him back to Cairns for questioning."

Everett thought quickly. How much of Michaelson's performance was an act? And what was the senior captain's real agenda? Before he could offer a reply, a radioman burst into the room to hand his superior a message. Michaelson read it in silence.

"Sir?" asked Everett. The other man might be skilled at keeping his expression neutral, but he'd learned to recognize the signs.

Michaelson set down the message and frowned. "We have received a report from Rabaul," he announced. "There will be a change in plans."

Next week: Welche Farbe hat dein Fallschirm?...

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