The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 529: Pieces of Some Puzzle

Square pegs and ropund holes

"Finished with engines," ordered Everett.

"Finished with engines," said Murdock as he reached for the telegraphs.

Bells rang and the diesels fell silent. As the echoes died away, Everett gazed across the field. They'd been given Mast Number 6 -- the second least-desirable mooring at the Cairns Royal Air Station. The worst was Number 9, on the other side of the grounds. This was half-hidden by the row of airship sheds, but when he squinted through the rain, he could make out weatherbeaten outline of MacKiernan's R-83. He doubted these assignments were accidental. No matter how urgent the business that had led Michaelson to recall them, the senior captain had taken this opportunity to send them a message.

"Very good," he told the lieutenant. "Order the crew to mooring stations. We will keep everyone aboard until we've learned what Captain Michaelson has in mind for us. Jenkins, if you'd accompany me."

Michaelson held the meeting in his office. This was considerably smaller than the schoolroom he also used for this purpose but it was also more secure. Everett reflected on this as he and Jenkins squeezed into a row of chairs next to MacKiernan and Miss Perkins. It was not a good sign.

The senior captain studied them like a headmaster contemplating some disciplinary measure. "Lieutenant-Commander," he ordered, "your report, please."

This lack of preamble also did not bode well, but if the Irishman was fazed, he was careful not to show it. "We proceeded to Guadalcanal as instructed and investigated the attack on this decommissioned destroyer the Japanese nationalist had been representing as a fisheries patrol vessel," he replied calmly. "The Germans destroyed it from the air with some long-range secret weapon. The details remain to be determined, but circumstances suggest this was some form of air-to-ground torpedo."

Michaelson glanced at Everett. "I gather that you recovered something of this nature from Gililo."

"Yes, sir," Everett replied. "We brought it back to Cairns for analysis."

The senior captain made a dismissive gesture. "As well you should. MacKiernan, if you would continue."

"While we were in Honoria, the German nationalists appeared with their airship, which they've renamed the Drachen," said the Irishman. "They deployed marines to make off with the shopkeeper we saw in communication with their agents on our previous visit. We were not in a position to intervene, but it seemed reasonable to assume they'd take the man to the Santa Cruz Islands to locate his informant. We took position to the east, intending to intercept and shadow their vessel upon its return."

The senior captain nodded. If he recognized the audacity required to confront a warship with a courier vessel one third its size and four fifths of its speed, he gave no sign of this. "I take it this was not a success?"

"Our efforts were compromised by the failure of our Number One engine. I understand that unit has had a long history of trouble. This forced us to guess their destination, so we flew to Namatami on the island of Neumecklenberg. We found no evidence of the German vessel there, but we did find the Warfield's airship moored at the station. Circumstances became somewhat confused at that point, but we determined that they've begun communication with the Germans with the intention of switching sides."

Michaeson nodded, as did Everett. Both had some experience with the Baroness' `flexible' attitude toward alliances. "So what was all this business with Woodlark Island?" asked Michaelson.

"It seemed unwise to remain on Neumecklenberg, but we needed resupply, and Woodlark's obscurity made it an attractive alternative. The Warfields must have felt the same, for we discovered they'd been there before us and maintained an encampment for a sizable company on the site of an abandoned temple."

"And that's where you met..." the senior captain drew a deep breath, "...Professor Otkupshchikov."

"Yes, sir," said MacKiernan. "It seems he'd been informed of the temple by Karlov, with whom we gathered he's had a long history."

"And he's been under our nose all this time, along with those fellows on the Tranquility," muttered the senior captain.

"So it would appear, sir."

Michaelson didn't bother to hide his frown. "We'll cry over spilt milk later," he observed. "Captain Everett, please give your report."

Everett did his best to keep his expression neutral. Some details, such as Miss Wilcox and Miss Blaine's involvement, would require some finesse to explain. "We proceeded to Kupang to pick up the trail of the Drachen and the L-137. Since the Administrator appears to be in league with the Fat Man, we employed a ruse to gain his cooperation, then compared the information he provided with shipping records we pilfered from his archives, reasoning he might leave out places he wished to hide.

"Among these was Manado on Celebes. We visited it and discovered that the Germans had chosen the place to store two Mark V tanks. Further inquires determined that they'd encamped a company at a plantation outside of town. The camp had been struck down by the time we arrived, but we were able to secure photographs of the site.

"Considerations of timing suggested they'd taken ship with our old friend Captain Ritter aboard his Inselmädchen. We backtracked his vessel to Weda on Gilolo. Upon or arrival, we learned that the Germans had shipped out a cache of secret weapons just before we arrived. We were unable to catch up with this ourselves, but we managed to attach two intelligence assets..." this seemed the safest way to describe the two young women's intervention, " the shipment before it left the island."

Michaelson's expression suggested that he hadn't been fooled. "I see," he said dryly. "We will defer discussion of your actions for now. Our immediate concern would seem to be these two camps. Your descriptions suggest these were training camps. The question becomes, what were they training for?"

"I imagine the Fat Man plans to attack the Japanese nationalist base on Sarah's Island," MacKiernan speculated. "The two groups are most certainly at odds, the Germans have assembled the necessary armory, and these new weapons of theirs could allow the Drachen to destroy the Japanese defenses from beyond the range of their guns."

"This is possible," mused Michaelson, "but it doesn't explain the tanks. Those hardly seem necessary fro an assault on a small island. And where does the British Union fit in?"

Everett nodded. It was hard to imagine the Warfield's accepting a role as lowly spear-carriers. "Perhaps they intend to plunder some treasure comparable to this Nui Mana Karlov made off with last year while everyone was preoccupied."

Michaelson allowed himself an uncharacteristic sigh. "This too is possible," he said, "but we both have learned not to leap to conclusions when the Baroness is involved. We need more information. Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan, you will pick up the trail of the British Union. You're still comparatively unknown to them, so you may have the best chance."

"I'm not certain the R-83 is up to the task," the Irishman observed carefully. Michaelson would have no qualms about setting giving an impossible job, then penalizing them for failure.

The senior captain's face twisted as if he'd eaten something sour. "I suppose this is true," he admitted. "I will give you the R-87. You will take proper care of the vessel. Captain Everett, we will assume the Germans intend to use this arms shipment you discovered in whatever operation they have planned. You will employ these... intelligence assets... of yours to track it to its destination. Dismissed."

Next week: About Those Assets...

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