The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 514: You Leave Them Alone For A Minute And Look What Happens!

Heiligwind guided aerial torpedo

Kaigun-Shosa Okada bowed. As humbly as he could. He knew what the price of failure in the service of the Emperor could be.

At last his superior deigned to notice him. "The Doitsunin vessel escaped," the Commander remarked, in much the same way that a shark might remark on the presence of is prey. "How did they manage to outrun you?"

"We maintained contact until I ran under a wave and was forced to reduce speed," Okada confessed. "I make no excuses for my failure."

If the Commander noticed that Okada had tried to absolve his men of blame, he gave no sign. "I understand the Manzura sustained damage during the pursuit," he observed. "How long will this take to repair?"

"The workers have already finished," said Okada. His life has not been the only one at risk.

The Commander gave what might have been at nod. "You will have an opportunity to redeem your failure. We need to discover the Fat Man's plans. Our sources in Honiare have identified a man they believe to his agent. You will take your vessel to Guadalcanal, apprehend this person, and bring him here to answer our questions."

Okada knew better than to shudder at those last words. "Ryokai," he replied crisply. "If this man is important, the Doitsunin may be present in force."

"That is possible," said the Commander. "You may take one of the new weapons to deal with them."

Kapitan Häbler stood in the control car and considered his command. Once she'd been the Fantasma, an Argentine liner from the Santos Dumas yard in Cordoba. Now she was the Drachen, a warship of the coming Reich. 240 meters long, 128,000 cubic meters enclosed volume, with a useful lift of 121.8 tonnes at 85% inflation, she was comparable to a medium-sized cruiser. Six FAdeA diesels generating 500 horsepower each, gave her a top speed of 65 knots -- not as fast as their adversaries, but her greater range and heavier armament made up for the deficiency. Some of the latter would come as a surprise to a foe.

The radioman emerged from the radio shack. "Kapitan, " he announced, "we've received a message from our leader. I assume you wish to be present when it's decoded."

Häbler made his way aft. At his nod, the operator unlocked the code machine, adjusted the rotors, and began to enter the message. With each keystroke, hidden circuits advanced the rotors, implementing a cipher no adversary could hope to defeat. The process went swiftly -- efficiency was one of the hallmarks of the coming Reich -- and soon Häbler was back on the bridge.

"Meine Herren," he told his lieutenants. "The party we sent to Guadalcanal met an informant, who promised directions to a White Russian laboratory that might hold the secret of the Refiner. These proved to be several pages of a kauderwelsch -- apparently some ploy by the Japanisch to distract us. We've been ordered to apprehend this man and bring him to die Zentrale for questioning."

No one flinched at these last words. "Surely our former allies will have taken steps to protect this man," said Schreiber.

"Perhaps," Häbler replied, "but they are unlikely to anticipate one of the resources we have at our disposal."

They'd raised the Solomon Islands at dawn, passed west of San Cristobal, and turned into Indispensable Strait. Evening found the Manzuru traversing `Hydrogen Sound' -- the famous stretch of water between Guadalcanal and Florida Island known for its volume of airship traffic.

Kaigun-chūi Mizushima came to stand beside Okada on the bridge. "I worry about all these observers, Kaigun-Shosa," he said, gesturing at a trio of island blimps en route to Honiara. "What if one reports us to the local authorities?"

"This should not matter," Okada assured him. "We're registered as a civilian fishery patrol vessel, not a warship. They can have no reason to remark on our presence."

The sublieutenant seemed unconvinced, but before he could speak, the lookout called down from the masthead. "Kaigun-Shosa, a large airship is approaching from the east!"

Okada stepped to the bridge wing and focused his binoculars aft. "She looks like one of Argentina's Pampas class liners," he decided. "Kaigun-chūi, are any expected to arrive today?"

"Iye," said Mizushima. "I checked the company schedule before we departed."

"Then this must be the ship the Fat Man's people hijacked in Port Moresby," said Okada. "We will have a surprise for them. Tankoshitsu, prepare the Kasai-yari."

"Hai!" came the reply from aft. Okada and Mizushima watched as the gunners unpacked a long cylindrical object, fitted it to a launching rail, and swung this to point toward the approaching airship.

"Are we certain this missile will give us the advantage?" asked Mizushima -- an understandable question given the usual outcome of an action between an airship and a small surface vessel.

"Of course," Okada replied. "Gravity is on our side. The gaijin cannot release their bombs until they are overhead. The Kasai-yari has a range of six kilometers. Lookout, what is the distance now?"

The spotter squinted though his rangefinder. "Ten kilometers, closing at eighty. They should be in range in three... Kaigun-Shosa, what is that!"

"What do you make of it?" Häbler asked his lieutenant.

The officer lowered his binoculars. "It appears to be one of the Hayabusa class torpedo boats the Japanish laid down before their war with Russia. These were all decommissioned by 1922, but according to the Review, there were plans to use some as fisheries patrol vessels."

Häbler shook his head. "Japan's fisheries are some distance away," he observed dryly. "This craft will belong to our former nationalist allies. Tell Bernhardt to prepare."

In the forward hold, Bernhardt listened to the intercom, glanced at the machine that hung from the launching rail, and touched the switch to open the cargo hold doors. As they rattled aside, he addressed his crew. "We have trained with this weapon," he told them. "You will now have the opportunity to put your training into practice. Mahler, review what you have learned."

"This is a Heiligwind guided aerial torpedo," the airman replied stiffly. "It consists of a 100 kilogram bomb fitted with wings and steering vanes that allow it to glide like an aeroplane. The weapon is directed by impulses sent down this wire that unreels from a spool in the tail."

"And what is its range?"

The airman glance at the altimeter on the launch station. "From this altitude, it can travel ten kilometers. This should be greater than any weapon our adversaries could have for defense."

"Ja, gravity is on our side!" Bernhardt announced cheerfully. He touched a switch to deploy the launcher, watched it descend into position, then took his seat at the guidance periscope.

"Torpedo bereit," he told the bridge

"Verstanden," came the reply. "Vorbereiter zu los... Los!"

Bernhardt touched a valve and the bomb left the rail with a whoosh of compressed air.

"Ist los," he reported. "Torpedo laeuft normal."

Next week: Now You Expect Us To Clean Up After Them...

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