The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 528: Among The Adversaries

Three airships

"Spannen!" ordered the loadmaster.

On the airship above him, a winch drew the cable tight. The German watched how the vessel rode from the mast, judging her position as she swung in response to changes in the wind. When he felt the angle was right, he gave a second sharp command.


Water gushed from the airships ballast tanks and the winch whined to life again. Metal creaked as the strongback took up the load, lifting the tank free of the ground. For a moment it threatened to swing -- a twenty nine ton rhomboid wrecking ball. Then it was rising toward the hold of the L-92.

On the other side of the field, Lothar watched the operation from the bridge of the Drachen. As handlers swung the tank aboard the chartered freighter, he nodded in satisfaction. The other vessel might be obsolete by modern standards, but she was an enlarged version of the Afrika class -- ships legendary for their range and cargo capacity -- and she'd only have to make one voyage.

"What are Kapitan Werner's final figures?" he asked Lehman.

The aide consulted his notes. "He has 3,280 kilograms of ballast and 4,400 liters of fuel at 85% inflation."

Lothar nodded. "That will allow them to reach the resupply point. From there it's only a short flight to the target. Is there any new word of the Englanders?"

"We have traced their movements here on Celebes," said the aide. "They found the tanks and the training camp, but they do not appear to have grasped their significance, for they made no attempt to identify or follow the transport. Instead, they flew to Gilolo."

"They must be searching for the weapons shipment," said Lothar. "This has been moved?"

"Yes, Freiherr. We accelerated the schedule and the L-107 took it aboard yesterday."

The baron nodded and glanced around the bridge. It had been stripped of all unnecessary equipment, Latin extravagance replaced by controls for the new weapons. It was ready for the operation. As were his men.

"We will allow Kapitan Everett to investigate as he will," he said smugly. "He has `missed the boat', as the Englanders say."

"What about the Japanisch?" asked Lehman.

Lothar smiled. "They will be anticipating an attack on their island base. They will not realize our true intentions until it is too late."

The Governor glanced around the bridge of the cruiser. It was entirely unlike the commercial vessels with which he was familiar. There were no concession to comfort here, only the uncompromising efficiency that was the mark the higher order of weapons. He smiled inwardly. If all went as planned, this weapon would be pointed at the wrong target.

"Thank you for inviting me aboard," he told the Commander, giving no hint of his thoughts. "This is a remarkable piece of engineering."

The Japanese gave a slight bow of acknowledgment. "Arigato. It is also a place we can talk without interruption. Have you any new word of our adversaries?"

The Governor made a show of consulting the folder he'd bought. "The Germans seem to have done nothing after sending their spies. Tthere have been no ship movements to indicate they're preparing an attack."

The Commander smiled in much the same way Yoshinaka might have smiled when the Taira fell into his trap at the Battle of Kurikara. "They conceal their intentions too well," he announced smugly. "They hope to take us by surprise, but we'll have a surprise for them. Our force is larger than they expect." He gestured at the field below them, where engineers were adding to the defenses and erecting a new row of barracks.

"Are you certain we can trust our friends from the British Union to fight?" asked the Governor. "As your host, my position is also at stake."

"Hai," the Commander assured him "These Igirisuhito are veterans of the War, and they spent several weeks training at their camp on Woodlark Island. They will be prepared."

The Governor nodded. "Then you might be in position to take advantage of the news I've received from an agent in Weda. " He produced a slip of paper and handed it to his guest.

The Commander's eyes widened as he read the message. "You have located a shipment of their new weapons!"

"Yes, and it is on its way to their depot on Celebes."

"We will not let this opportunity go the waste!" the Commander announced, turning to his aide. "How long will it take us to finish resupply, board our marines, and lift ship?"

"We can be ready by tomorrow evening."

"Yoi!" said the Commander. "We will have a second surprise for the Doitsunin!"

Baron Warfield accepted a glass of wine from his butler and studied the bridge of the Coup de Grace. It was a businesslike compartment -- Wollesleys did not have room to spare -- but he and the Baroness had taken steps to make it more presentable. Teak veneer now framed the instruments and aluminum control wheels had been replaced by ash and lignum vitae. The new fittings were every bit as functional, and reflected their conception of the vessel's purpose -- a poniard rather than a broadsword.

"The pieces are falling into place," he remarked to his lady. "The Germans left Celebes as expected and the Japanese will have received the information you planted by now. Everything is proceeding according to schedule."

The Baroness took a sip from her own glass, then held it up to the light. "Let us make certain this continues," she warned. "We're making a fairly substantial gamble, and have much to lose if it fails."

"I have no concerns on that score, my dear" said the baron. "Your plans are excellent as always. If any details need to be attended to, I will handle their execution myself."

Michaelson studied the reports and frowned. "This is all?" he asked Fenwick.

His aide nodded. "Yes, sir. MacKiernan found a British Union encampment on Woodlark Island, but it was abandoned when he arrived, and there was no clue where its occupants might have gone. Everett made a similar discovery on Celebes involving the German nationalists. He determined that they'd had a shipment of weapons ion Gilolo, but this too was gone by the time he arrived. And there have been no recent sightings of the Drachen , the Japanese cruiser, or the Warfields' ship."

The senior captain gazed out the window. The sky outside was dark, but not as dark as his mood. He remembered another day, another betrayal.

"Sir?" asked Fenwick. He might have been young, but he could tell that something was amiss.

"I sense the Baroness's hand in this," said Michaelson. "She will be planning some coup. Summon our people back to Cairns. We must review what we've they've discovered and hope we can anticipate it."

Next week: Pieces of At Least One Puzzle...

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