The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 519: It Shouldn't Take Much Work To Narrow This Down

Calling at Manado

They lifted ship from Kupang in the morning and set a course toward Java. After they were out of sight of land, Everett turned to Iverson and Jenkins. "I trust you've had time to review the shipping records Jenkins photographed and the material provided by the Administrator," he told them. "What have you discovered?"

"We examined both for reports of vessels that might have been the L-137 or the Drachen," said Iverson. "From these, we were able to reconstruct many of their voyages. We checked the legs for consistency by comparing them with the amount of fuel, hydrogen, and ballast the vessels took aboard for resupply."

"Well done," said Everett. He'd examined the material himself -- it was the sort of thing captains did to maintain their aura of omniscience -- but he saw no need to let the lieutenant know he'd been checking his work. "Was there anything that might reveal where the German nationalists are hiding?"

"We believe so," said Jenkins. "There were several ports of call in the true records that didn't appear in the information we received from the Administrator. One assumes these involve places the man didn't want us to know about. None of these received enough visits to be a plausible candidate for the Fat Man's base, but most were to the west, which suggests it's somewhere near Sumatra or the west coast of Borneo."

Everett nodded. It was hardly likely that the place would be filing shipping reports. "This region could take some time to investigate," he observed. "It's also characterized by an element of lawlessness, which one imagines is why our adversaries chose it. Was there anything else of note?"

"Perhaps," ventured Jenkins. "The Administrator removed references to several ports on Celebes, Maluka, and Dutch New Guinea, but none seems large enough to harbor any substantial establishment."

"We'll investigate these first," Everett decided. "Their small size will make it more difficult for out adversaries to hide. The question becomes whether we should pursue a circumspect approach, beginning with places the Administrator admitted the Germans visited, or we head directly for the ones he seems to trying to hide."

Iverson decided to risk an opinion. "The former might not be a profitable way to spend our time," he ventured. "Since we can hardly hope to keep our movements a secret, I believe we should turn this to our advantage and head for the latter to take our adversaries off balance."

Everett smiled inwardly. The lieutenant was learning. "I believe you're correct, Mister Iverson," he said brightly. "Plot a course for Celebes."

On the chart Celebes resembled an `H' drawn by someone with a severe grudge against capital letters. The right upright was bent to make room for the Gulf of Tomini, while the left veered east 400 miles to form Minahassa Peninsula, which stretched between the Celebes and Molucca Sea like the paw of a curious cat, or tentacle of some elder god who'd filtered down from the stars before the dawn of time, slept beneath the waves, and would rise again when the stars were right to sweep earth clean of humanity.

The port of Manado was located where last knuckle of that paw would have been -- or last sucker if this had been a tentacle. During the previous four centuries, it had passed through a succession of owners as the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and English competed to foist it off on each other. At the beginning of the Twentieth, the Catholic Church had made granted it an Apostolic Prefecture, for reasons no one could quite remember. It was also renowned for its sea slugs and spectral tarsiers.

The Flying Cloud reached the Mapanget Air Station during a break in the monsoon, when the skies had cleared to reveal Mount Klabat, Mount Tongkoko, Mount Empang, Mount Mahawu, and Manadotua Island -- the stratovolcanos that ringed the settlement. Jenkins studied them with interest.

"What is it about these nationalists and volcanoes?" he wondered.

"The latter are difficult to avoid in this part of world," said Everett. "When was the last eruption here?"

"The Almanac suggests this may have involved Tongkoko, sometime in previous century, but there seems to be some uncertainty about the subject."

Everett shrugged. "Perhaps the locals were preoccupied by other matters," he mused. "Call the station to request a handling party. After we're moored, Mister Iverson and I will call at the station to maintain a pretense that we're calling for resupply. Meanwhile you and Pierre will make a round of the port district. The Drachen shoukd have a crew of forty or so. If they called here, they will have left some trace of their passage."

"I imagine Miss Blaine and Miss Wilcox will also wish to go ashore," Jenkins observed cautiously.

Everett repressed a sigh. "I doubt they can get into much trouble," he decided. "Our adversaries won't dare call attention to themselves by attacking them."

Emily and Clarice frowned as they strode through Manado. The excitement they'd hoped to find here was conspicuous by its absence. Celebes might have been been one of the Spice Islands -- the realm of Sinbad, Magellan, and the VOC -- but it seemed more tired than exotic. Even the street venders seemed unenthusiastic.

"Get your nudibranches," droned one. "Soft-bodied marine gastropods, fresh from warm tropical reefs! Would you ladies care to try some sea slugs?"

Clarice frown deepened. "Is this a rhetorical question?"

The vendor sighed. "I take it that's a no."

Leaving the market behind, the two young women pressed on across the Tandano River. Soon they came to a gate bearing the sign `Verboden! Niet Betreden!' and secured by a massive padlock. Emily eyed it speculatively.

"I wonder what this is all about," she remarked. "Shall we have a look?"

"Bob's your uncle!" said Clarice, producing a lockpick and torque bar. Moments later they were swinging open the gate to discover a rutted gravel yard dotted with puddles left over from the rain. Two familiar machines were parked across from the entrance --- massive steel rhomboids camoflaged in mottled shades of green. The names Waltzing Matilda and Checkov's Gun were scrawled across their prows.

"Strewth!" Emily exclaimed. "Those look like Mister Fuller's tanks."

"Whatever are they doing here?" said Clarice. "The last we heard they were on Gilolo."

"It looks like someone's been working on them," said Emily, gesturing toward an open hatch.

Clarice crouched to look through the opening. "No sign of the chappie now," she said. "He must have stepped out for a brew."

Their observations were interrupted by the screech of brakes. The women turned to see a late model Adler pull to a stop at the entrance and three figures emerge. They recognized their former captors from Timor.

"Actung!" cried one. "Die bieden frauleins aus Kupang! Erfassen sie!"

"Do not attempt to escape!" ordered another. "You are now prisoners of the Kommend Reich!"

Clarice and Emily exchanged glances, then ducked though the beckoning hatch. "No worries, mate!" Emily called back as she dogged it shut behind them. "We have other plans!"

Next week: Let Us See Where This Leads...

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