The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 555: Aggressive Negotiating Strategies

Aerial torpedo

Wilcox delivered the report, since he was less likely to fall asleep during the process. "We spotted the mysterious cruiser heading south, presumably from some station on the other side of the island," he told MacKiernan. "We didn't investigate further, but returned to the ship, assuming you'd want to receive this news as soon as possible."

MacKiernan stepped to the window of the control car and gazed south. The sky was clear, with no sign of their adversary. It didn't seem they were in any immediate danger of attack. "You did well," he told the lieutenants. "Are you quite sure it was the Japanese nationalists."

"Yes, sir," said the Wilcox. "This was large ship, at least six million cubic feet, with eight engines in rows of four on each side."

MacKiernan nodded. "That would be her. We must decide how to respond to this development."

"Can we shadow them?" asked Miss Perkins.

"We are unlikely to profit from the attempt," MacKiernan decided. "Our ship is hardly fast enough, and they'd make short work of us if we tried. We will send a message to inform the Captain of the situation."

Iverson watched German as nationalist cruiser passed heading north. There was no doubt about the vessel's identity. Five million cubic feet, with six engines arranged three on a side, this was quite clearly the liner the Fat Man's people had hijacked from Argentines the year before. Through binoculars he could make out the name Drachen.

"This is an interesting development," he observed.

"Dinki di!" Clarice said cheerfully. "What should we do?"

Iverson glanced at Jenkins, who'd taken this opportunity to return Emily's smile. "I assume our wireless gear is in order?"

The signalman nodded. "I checked it before we disembarked."

"That should serve," said Iverson. "We'll return to the launch and inform the Captain of this situation."

Murdock finished decoding the message and sighed. In Jenkins' absence, Everett had put him in charge of the radio shack -- the Royal Navy Airship Service appreciated the value of cross-training -- but he found the secure cipher heavy going. He turned to find the captain waiting behind him. How did he get there without me hearing him? he wondered.

"What have you got for us, Mister Murdock?" Everett asked kindly.

"Sir," said Murdock to hide his surprise. "We've received messages from Commander MacKiernan and Lieutenant Iverson. The Commander is at Palawan, reports that he's spotted the Japanese cruiser heading south, and asks for instructions. Iverson is on Sulawesi, where he spotted the German cruiser heading north. He also reports encountering what he describes as `two Australians you will remember'."

Everett suppressed a frown a this last news. They would deal with it later. He glanced at the chart, and nodded to himself. Only one interpretation of the situation was possible. "It would appear our adversaries have learned the location of each other's secret bases and have each decided to attack each other. One detects the hands of Karlov and Natasha at work. We may not wish to discourage this enterprise, but we will want to know the outcome. Instruct MacKiernan to remain in Palawan and watch for the Japanese. If they win, they will almost certainly return there to resupply. We'll remain off Sulawesi to see who shows up here."

Lothar stood in the control car, watching his flight officers with approval. Around them, the compartment echoed to the rumble of the Drachen's six powerful engines. They managing the passage with their usual efficiency, and in another day they' see action. The Japanisch would be taken entirely by surprise. He was reviewing his plan of attack when a call came over the intercom.

"Forward lookout to bridge. Contact bearing 310 on a reciprocal course. It appears to be the Japanisch cruiser."

Lothar stepped to one of the port windows and raised his binoculars. Even at this range, the outline of the other vessel was unmistakable. "It seems they thought to steal a march on us," he told his men. "We cannot allow this. Sound battle stations, ring all ahead full, and give me a turn left to 310."

Alarms rang, engines thundered, and the horizon swung until the other ship was dead ahead. It seemed to be turning toward them as well.

"They must expect an easy victory," his lieutenant remarked.

Lothar allowed himself a smile. The other ship was larger, faster, and have a heavier main battery, but this would make no difference today. "Perhaps they do," he replied scornfully, "but we have a surprise for them."

The Captain studied the other ship through binoculars and shook his head. "The Doitsunin have turned to attack," he said scornfully. "We will make short work of their vessel."

"They must know this," his watch officer observed. "What do they hope to accomplish?"

The Captain shrugged. "Whatever it migbt be, they will fail. Sound battle stations. We will end this quickly."

The atmosphere on Drachen's control car was tense but confident. Lothar stood by the gunnery station listening to the reports from the spotter.

"Distance eleven kilometers, closing at 64 meters per second."

In front of him the fire control officer worked his calculator. "We'll be in range of their main battery in two more minutes, Mein Herr," he remarked.

"And they are coming into in range of our surprise now," said Lothar. "Helmsman, turn right to 030."

"Right to 030."

The horizon swung again as the Drachen turned ninety degrees to starboard. Lothar waited until the evolution was complete, then nodded.


The fire control officer thumbed a button. Below the airship, a small object fell away, leveled out and began to accelerate. Sunlight glittered on its propellers, wings, and antennae as banked left toward the approaching cruiser.

Lothar smiled like a man who'd just played the wining hand. "The Japanisch will not be expecting this."

The atmosphere on the cruiser's bridge was one of annoyance, The lieutenant gestured to the east, where the German ship was turning away. "They are trying to flee," he said in contempt.

The Captain shrugged. "It will not save them. We are faster. Open fire as soon as we're in range."

"Forward lookout to bridge!" cried a voice from the intercom. "Something has dropped from the enemy ship and is headed toward us! It may be some sort of flying torpedo!"

"They have such a thing?" said the lieuteant.

There was only one possible answer. "It appears that they do," said the Captain. "Turn right to 030 degrees to unmask all the batteries, then open fire and destroy it."

Lothar watched the the cruiser through binoculars. A moment ago it had been sailing through a clear blue sky. Now it was obscured by blossoms of smoke as shells burst around the incoming torpedo. He nodded in respect, wondering how the Japanese were managing the fusing. It seemed the torpedo would still get through. Then a line of tracers walked across it and the machine burst into flame, nosed down, and plunged into the sea.

This makes the game more interesting, thought Lothar. He turned to his fire control officer.

"Number Two is ready?"

"Ja, but we only had two of the weapons."

"The Japanisch do not know this," said Lothar. "We will give them reason to believe otherwise. Los!"

The Captain frowned as another trail of smoke plummeted to the ocean below them. The second torpedo had come much closer that the first. They'd barely managed to stop it. Ths presented him with a dilemma. If they closed any more, they might not have time to engage a third, but from this range, they also couldn't engage their enemy.

"They're bluffing," said his lieutenant. "They cannot have many more of those weapons."

"That may be true," said the Captain, "but it also may not. The stakes have grown higher than either of us can afford. We will call for a parley."

Lother watched the lamp flash from the other vessel. Even if he hadn't been able to read the signal, it's intent was clear."

"They wish to parley?" asked his lieutenant.

"Of course," said Lothar. "They do not know hope we are armed, neither of us can afford to lose this contest, and they have realized we have interests in common. We will accept."

Next week: Fond Reunions...

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