The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 508: What Should We Do With All These Extra Germans?

Launch recovery operations

Iverson braced himself against the coaming and tried to hold the sextant steady against launch's rolls. To the east, the horizon was growing clearer, but a wisp of cloud still blocked his view of Canopus. He squinted through the monocular, willing the obstruction to move. Was that a glimmer of starlight? It was worth a try. He'd just brought the image down to the horizon when a wave pitched him off his feet.

"Mark!" he squawked as Neumann grabbed his jacket to keep him from going overboard.

"Time," said Sarah. "Do you want to take another sight?"

Iverson examined the index arm to make sure it was locked, then copied down the reading. "We already have five, more or less," he replied optimistically. "That should serve. How much fuel do we have left?"

In the rear cockpit, Fischer held up an empty jerry can. "This was the last one," he replied. "It will have given us twenty of your Imperial gallons, plus whatever remained in the tank."

Iverson nodded. This should last until the Flying Cloud found them, after the ship knew where to look. "Thank you," he told the airman. "Oberleutnant Neumann, if you would take the helm, I'll determine where we are."

Some time later, the two young lieutenants studied the chart, on which five lines of position entirely failed to intersect. "That is better than I expected," Neumann said charitably.

"Do you honestly think so?" asked Iverson, unsure that the other man's observation should be taken as complement.

The German nodded. "It is clear that you have never had to navigate a small boat on the North Sea in winter," he remarked.

"Was that part of your training?" Iverson asked, impressed. "Our Naval College struck that from the syllabus."

"So did ours," Neumann admitted. "We were losing too many small boats. But I have heard stories from the survivors."

Iverson glanced at Neumann. Could the other man be serious? Then he noticed the German man struggling to maintain a straight face and they both burst out laughing.

The voyagers sent a coded message with their position, keeping it brief to prevent the Japanese from taking a bearing, then put out the sea anchor, shut off the engine, and settled down to wait. Around them, the sea was empty. To the east, the sun was climbing above a horizon dotted with squalls. For some time, they were content to relax. A night spent wrestling with unseen waves had taken its toll. At last Fisher broke the silence.

"I remain concerned about the Japanisch luftshiff," he said, gesturing southeast, in the direction of Sarah's island. "Do you think they will search for us, Herr Iverson?"

The lieutenant shook his head. "They cannot possibly know where to look," he replied. "We changed course after we broke contact with the torpedo boat, and since then we've traveled more 100 miles. I'm more concerned about what they might be up to with that laboratory you found."

"I this is some work is related to the Ujelang Device," said Neumann. "Can this thing really be powerful enough to destroy an entire island?"

"Sarah and I both witnessed the explosion," Iverson told him. "It produced an enormous fireball that blasted the eastern two thirds of the island clean of life. The western third survived, but the event seems to have left some lingering poison that twisted creatures that survived."

The German considered this information. "What could these nationalists possibly want with such a thing?" he wondered.

"Surely they intend it as a weapon of war," said Iverson in surprise.

"But it would be almost useless for this purpose," objected Neumann. "My uncle told me of his experiences at Verdun. Our artillery dropped thirty million shells upon the French positions over a ten month period, and even that was not enough to overwhelm them. No single explosion, however powerful, could break through a modern trench system. Its only use would be against civilian targets."

Iverson frowned, wondering how best to reply. "This may not always have deterred people in the past," he said diplomatically.

Neumann grimaced. "I understand what you mean," he replied ruefully. "But our Luftschiffwehrflotte regrets the London raids as much as you do, and is determined that such a thing shall never happen again."

Iverson nodded. "So is our Admiralty."

For a moment, no one spoke as the launch rose and fell to the swells. At last Lehr turned to Sarah. The young radioman seemed intrigued by her story. "Who were these Dwellers From the Sea and Dwellers From the Sky you told us about on the island?" he asked.

Sarah chuckled. "They were ancient adversaries from the Age Before Time!" she replied cheerfully. "My grandmother told me wonderful stories about them when I was a child. The Dwellers From the Sea were descendants of the Great Old Ones who filtered down from the stars before the dawn of humanity and who will return to take possession of the Earth when the stars are right. The Dwellers From the Sky were voyagers of some mystical land called Suomi, far to the west, who traveled across the sky in great canoes. These tribes competed in several great contests, using magical devices such as the Instruments of Joy, the Stone of Fortune, and the Repeating Distance Message. This ended in a final battle that consumed the southern half of the island in a terrible storm of fire."

Iverson frowned. Most of this story was new to him, and it raised certain questions. He wasn't the only one who noticed the implications.

"This Feuersturm sounds much like your description of the Ujelang Event," Neumann remarked. "Could there by some connection?"

Sarah raised an eyebrow. "Are you suggesting that primitive stone age cultures stumbled upon some secret, unknown to modern science, that allowed them to build such this weapon?"

Neumann shuffled his feet, to the extent that this was possible in the confines of the launch. "Well..." he began.

The island girl laughed. "That's hardly plausible. The tales must represent some ancient archetype that's part of the collective human unconscious."

"That is possible," mused Neumann. "We had a neighbor from Kesswil who spoke of such things."

Further discussion of island mythology was interrupted by the appearance of an airship to the west. After they'd confirmed this was the Flying Cloud, Iverson set off a smoke signal and restarted the engine to prepare for retrieval. This was a difficult operation on the open ocean, but Everett's people were up to the challenge, and soon the launch was being swung into its cradle in the cargo hold.

Everett had come aft to greet the ground party. "I see your mission was successful," he remarked.

"Yes, sir," said Iverson. "May I introduce Oberleutant Neumann, Flieger Fisher and Signalgeber Lehr. I'm afraid they're the only survivors from the L-147."

Everett nodded to the three Germans. "Welcome aboard, gentlemen. We'll get you back to Rabaul as soon as possible, but first we have an errand to run."

Next week: Marvels Strange And Terrific...

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