The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 499: If These Are White Russians, Where's The Kahlua?

Romanov arms with cocktail glass

MacKiernan studied the ballast board and frowned. Like all small airships, Wolseley class vessels had limited endurance -- an inevitable consequence of their reduced volume -- and the R-83's endurance seemed more limited than most. Matters were not helped by the state of her ancient Beardmore diesels, which cannot have been particularly efficient even when new. Still, one mark of a successful airship commander was a readiness to use what one had rather than fretting about what one didn't. He turned to Lieutenant Smade, who was staring at the horizon, and cleared his throat.

"Mister Smade," he said.

The lieutenant continued to stare at horizon as if trying to remember something -- whether he was in charge of this watch, perhaps.

"Mister Smade," MacKiernan said again, more loudly.

Smade glanced up as if surprised to be addressed. "Oh, it's you sir," he replied.

The Irishman shrugged inwardly. Officers in the Royal Navy Airship Service learned to expect a certain amount of eccentricity. "Our fuel consumption has not been particularly low," he observed. "Since we have no idea what reception we can anticipate in Aneityum, I believe we'd do wise to resupply in Port Vila. Plot us a course there at our most efficient cruising speed."

"I've already done so, sir," said Smade. "With the current wind forecast, 50 knots on a heading of 120 degrees will get us the on the morning of the 9th."

MacKiernan blinked in surprise. He hadn't expected this degree of foresight from Smade -- in general, the youth seemed to show about as much initiative as a brick. "Very good," he replied. "Make it so."

The lieutenant had been staring into space again. He noticed MacKiernan's expression and seemed to collect himself. "At once, sir!"

Bells rang, the horizon edged right, and the airship settled on her new course. Satisfied that the rest of Smade's watch was unlikely to result in any catastrophe, MacKiernan made his way back to the crew section and summoned Miss Perkins to discuss their next move. Under ordinary circumstances, it might not have been not proper for them to meet in his quarters, but accommodations on a small patrol airship were sufficiently insubstantial that they counted as public spaces.

"What do we know about these White Russians?" he asked, after they'd squeezed into position on opposite sides of what passed for a desk.

Miss Perkins set down a folder and leafed through its contents. "They are a nationalist group, committed to some form of czarist restoration," she replied. "It isn't entirely clear how they hope to accomplish this in the absence of a czar, but their leadership does include several relatives of the late Nicholas II. Among them is this Miss Anna or Anastacia, who we met last year. Naval Intelligence suspects she may be a member of his immediate family who escaped the events at Yekaterinburg, but this remains to be confirmed.

"More is known of her companion Vladimir. He began his career as a reformer, inspired by the writings of Karl Marx. Sometime before the War, he was captured and sentenced to prison in Siberia. Upon his release, he chose exile, first in Munich, then in Switzerland, where he continued agitating for revolution in his homeland during the hostilities. There's no telling what might have happened if the conflict had lasted longer, but the Peace found him still in Geneva, and before he could return, Trotsky had seized power.

"Like many of his fellow exiles, it seems he became disillusioned by the new government. A manifesto he published before he left Geneva suggests he viewed it as a betrayal of the Russian people. Rather than return home, he traveled to the Pacific, where he made common cause with his former czarist adversaries."

"Why did these fellows chose the Pacific?" wondered MacKiernan. "It seems rather inconvenient as a place from which to stage a restoration."

"It's also beyond reach of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission," Miss Perkins observed.

MacKiernan nodded. Dzerzhinsky's Cheka was notorious for its zeal at suppressing dissent, the means it employed to accomplish this, and its willingness to ignore national boundaries in the process. "I assume this is why they chose Australia and the Dutch East Indies as sites to build the Device."

"So it would seem," said Miss Perkins. "It appears that a number of Russian scientists fled here after the revolution of 1917. We have no way of knowing who recognized the potential of the knowledge they brought, but our friend Karlov was among them."

"Could he have been the one who organized development of the weapon?" speculated MacKiernan.

"He seems too young to have commanded the necessary authority," said Miss Perkins. "But one wonders if he was pursuing his own agenda even then. We shall see what his former employers can tell us."

They spent the night of the 9th resupplying, then departed the next morning for the three and half hour flight to Aneityum. The White Russian's air station lay next to the largest -- and perhaps the only-- settlement on the island, an undistinguished village named Anelcauhaut. It was a modest facility, with a single mast, a small hydrogen plant, and a machine shop, but a sizable warehouse with a track leading to a sturdy-looking wharf suggested it saw an unusual amount of business.

"Shall we signal for handling party?" Wilcox asked nervously as they approached the field.

"I'm reluctant to place the ship at their mercy," MacKiernan observed. "Miss Perkins and I will deploy via the Transporter.

The R-83's hoist was every bit as antiquated as the rest of the vessel, but its brakes still worked, after a fashion. MacKiernan took the impact without losing his footing and Miss Perkins alighted with her usual aplomb. They found themselves facing a solid-looking woman in her late 20s and a lean middle-aged man with the face of a revolutionary -- quite obviously Anna and Vlad. The Russians were flanked by minions armed with the Nagant revolvers once favored by the Imperial Army.

"What are you doing here?" Anna demanded. "You British have not proved reliable friends to our cause."

"Neither have we been foes," Miss Perkins replied. "We seek information about someone who might be -- this man named Karlov who helped build the Ujelang Device."

"Why should awe ssist you?" asked Anna. "I'm sure your government and your Admiralty both want the weapon for themselves."

Government and Admiralty? wondered MacKiernan. Hadn't Michaelson also made this distinction?

"Perhaps they do," admitted Miss Perkins, "but they share your interest in preventing the German and Japanese nationalists from acquiring it. Karlov's intentions are another matter. We have no idea what they might be, but he seems to be manipulating the rest of us to achieve them. He escaped the destruction of your laboratory in Australia. Since then he's appeared at moments of crisis to take advantage of these for his own ends. You witnessed this yourself on Gililo."

Vlad and Anna exchanged glances. At last they seemed to reach a decision, for Vlad made a gesture and their men lowered their weapons.

"We have wondered about that ourselves," he said curtly. "Let us both share what we know."

Next week: Not Quite A Radio Drama, But Radio Does Play A Role...

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