The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 496: Welche Farbe hat dein Fallschirm?

Air drop over Sarah's Island

The chief rigger's face was pale in the dim light of the cargo hold. "Word from the bridge!" he said in alarm. "The Japanisch have found us! Kapitan Mayer orders you to jump immediately!"

Leutnant Neumann turned to his men. "Fischer, Lehr!" he snapped. "Follow me!" Without waiting to see if they complied, he clipped in his static line, stepped to the hatch, and leapt into space. His parachute opened with a jerk, then he was swinging from the canopy as the L-147 droned away toward the south. He watched until his men's chutes blossomed above him, then glanced down to estimate their drift. The Kapitan had placed ship well. Unless this wind shifted, they'd reach the LZ without any difficulty.

Engines thundered and he looked up to see an enormous cruiser pass overhead -- a monster, at least six times the volume of their own vessel, with eight engines in rows of four on each side. Had it seen them? Its weapons could destroy them in an instant. He tensed, waiting for a hail of machine gun fire, but it seemed their canopies had blended in with the jungle below, for the airship pressed on after the L-147.

Then the ground was rising up to meet him. He took the impact with his knees, rolled to his feet, and gathered in his parachute before it could tangle in the brush. Moments later, he, Fischer, and Lehr were dashing to the treeline.

"Can you see the Japanisch?" asked Fischer as they paused to take stock of their surroundings. A veteran of von Lettow-Vorbeck's campaign in East Africa, he recognized that a degree of informality was allowed during field operations.

Neumann shaded his eyes and gazed to the south. "Nein." he told the marine. "They must still be chasing the L-147."

"How did they lift ship in time to intercept us, sir?" asked Lehr.

Neumann had been wondering the same thing himself. "We were unlucky," he decided. "They must have chosen this morning for a training flight, or perhaps they were setting out on a patrol. Whatever the reason, Kapitan Mayer is leading them away to buy us time. We must be gone before they return."

Fischer glanced at the surrounding jungle, then down at his machete, which seemed inadequate for the task of hacking a way through it. "What are we hoping to find here?" he asked the lieutenant.

"This is the island where it all began," Neumann explained. "This is where the Englisch crashed after their ship was attacked, and the Fat Man's nationalists maintained a base here before the Governor betrayed them to the Japanisch. We've been sent to learn why these people place such importance on the place. According to our reports, there is a trail not far from this clearing that leads across the mountains.

`Not far' proved to be an optimistic estimate, and it took the trio some time to force their way through the jungle to the path. This slanted down the side of a bluff to the head of an estuary, where crocodiles eyed them from the shallows as if speculating about German cuisine. From there, it climbed north into the hills. It seemed more substantial than a simple game trail, and Fischer studied it with suspicion. This island jungle might be quite different from the forests of East Africa, but some things didn't change, and paths such as this didn't form by themselves, except in radio dramas. During a pause on the march, he dug away at the surface with his machete to reveal a layer of crushed lava.

"This was road once," he observed to the others. "Could the islanders have built it?"

"This seems unlikely," said Neumann. "According to the Englisch, the current inhabitants regard this side of the island as verboten. It must have been some earlier culture of whom we have no record."

"What could have happened to them, sir?" asked Lehr.

Neumann picked up one of the cobbles. He noticed that one side was blackened, as by a layer of ash. "Who can say?" he replied. "Perhaps there was a war."

Engines droned overhead. The Germans froze and looked up, but nothing could be seen through the canopy of trees. As they listened, the sound faded to the north.

"That must be the Japanisch, returning to their base," said Fischer. "Do you think the Kapitan escaped?"

The lieutenant doubted this. An action between the cruiser and the L-147 could have had only one outcome. "Of course," he replied. "Let us resume our march."

They paused for the night in the place mentioned in their briefing -- a hanging valley that overlooked the hills to the south. Lehr examined the carvings on one of the standing stones the Englisch had reported. These showed a man holding what might have been a pair of cymbals standing next to a towering tree. On the other side, a swarm of other figures were fleeing. They seemed strangely deformed.

"I wonder about these figures, sir," he told Neumann. "This one appears to be holding a percussion instrument, but according to our reports, the Device that destroyed Ujelang involved an impact between two blocks of some special material, and this tree resembles descriptions of the cloud from the explosion."

Neumann was unimpressed. "Surely this is just a coincidence. Let us forget these speculations and make camp."

The next morning dawned clear and blue. The Germans ate a cold breakfast, packed away their gear, and continued up the trail. The terrain grew increasingly rugged as they climbed, scarred by ancient lava flows left by unimaginable convulsions of the Earth. Neumann thought the landscape looked just like the Alps would look if they were volcanic, covered with jungle, and didn't look anything like the Alps.

It was noon when they finally reached the crest. To the north, the mountains dropped away to the shores of a distant lagoon. A small but modern air station stood next to this, with the cruiser riding from its mast like some visiting god.

"What is that?" asked Fischer, pointing at a peak to their right.

Neumann looked where the marine indicated to see a tin-roofed structure flanked by a strange waffle-shaped antenna. A newly-cut track led from these down to the lowlands.

"It must be a Japanisch radio station," said Lehr. "That looks like one of the new directional antennas patented by Tohoku University."

"Why is it rotating like that?" asked Fischer.

The radioman shrugged. "Perhaps they are testing their pointing equipment."

"We should investigate before we proceed any further in case they've posted observers," said Neumann. "Fischer, can you find a way for us to approach the place without being seen?"

The marine studied their surroundings until he spotted a narrow path that branched to the east -- a game trail, perhaps, left by whatever creatures lived at this altitude. Gesturing for the others to follow, he led the way past jumbles of stone, stands of wiry brush, and pits that might have marked openings to caves. Suddenly he halted and called out in surprise.

"Look, meine Herren!"

Next week: So Now They Expect Us To Find It For Them?...

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