The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 559: Surely These Are Clues

Map of the White Russian laboratory

From outside there was nothing to mark the building as out of the ordinary. It might have been a been a wagon shed or warehouse left over from the days when Cairns Royal Air Station was established. But an unusually muscular clerk glanced up as they entered and made a brief hand sign as he recognized Michaelson. The Commodore gave a sign in reply, then nodded at Everett and his companions to follow.

"This way, gentlemen, and lady."

Their destination was a door notable for its anonymity. This opened into a storeroom whose contents were anything but. Everett recognized the remains of Fuller's `automatic motorboat', the replica of the Ujelang Device they'd recovered from Rabaul harbor, and the two winged bombs Clarice and Emily had stolen from the Germans in Patani. One of the latter had been fitted with an engine and propeller to serve as an aerial torpedo. Michaelson brushed past these to a table where Fletcher and Jenkins were pouring over the journals and books they'd recovered from the White Russian's hidden laboratory near Darwin.

"I understand that this material belonged to Karlov," he said dryly. "How did you happen to miss it during your previous investigations?".

Everett knew better than to offer a defence. "The man outsmarted us," he said. "A concealed passageway led from what we assumed was his hiding place to a more substantial chamber he seems to have used as a study and laboratory. Gaps in the shelves suggest that he'd removed some of its contents, but didn't have time to remove them all."

Michaelson's expression suggested he that felt `outsmarted' was the usual state for all of his subordinates. "Was there any sign the White Russian knew about this place?" he asked.

"Not that we could find," said Everett. "There was only one set of footprints in the dust, and it doesn't appear anyone else had taken refuge there."

"One wonders who could have built such a thing," mused the commodore. "He could hardly have excvated the tunnels this himself."

"It might have been a natural feature," said Everett. "It appeared to be quite old. The walls were marked with petroglyphs similar to the ones we found in the main cave."

"One also wonders how Karlov could have stocked the place without the White Russians noticing. Was there another hidden passageway to the surface?"

"We couldn't find one, and we examined every inch of the the chamber," said Everett. "One wall was covered with geometric symbols, as if Karlov had used it as a blackboard, but there were no other ways to reach the place. From all appearances, it's contents might have sprung full-grown from the brow of Zeus."

Michaelson frowned as if he was considering this seriously, then turned to Jenkins and Fletcher. "What have you found?"

Jenkins indicated one of the notebooks. "Most of the material we recovered was journals such as this one. They contain what appear to be equations, accompanied by cryptic comments in Cyrillic and columns of figures that might represent some attempt to solve them. One imagines this attempt was unsuccessful, since Karlov would hardly have left them behind if they contained anything of value."

"Do we have any idea what these equations might describe?" asked the commodore.

"The formalism is entirely unfamiliar,"" Jenkins admitted. "These are not the familiar equations for electromagnetism, thermodynamics, or the dynamics of a fluid. This expression here..." the signalman pointed to a combination of numbers, letters, inverted triangles and what looked like backwards `6's, "...seems like a combination of the equations for wave propagation with those for the diffusion of gas."

"Could this have anything to do with the principle of the uraninite refiner?" wondered Michaelson. "Karlov seems to be the only one who knows its secret."

"Perhaps," Jenkins replied, "but I wonder about the timing. The condition this writing suggests it was made after the White Russians had a working example."

The commodore frowned. "What about the rest of these books?"

"They fall into three categories," said Fletcher. "The first are reference works, such as the Almanac, an atlas, and volumes of an encyclopedia. The second are studies of the recent conflict. The third appear to be volumes of speculative fiction, similar to the work of that Wells fellow, involving some world where in which the War lasted longer than it did in ours."

The older airmen glanced at each other. None had pleasant memories of the conflagration that had consumed most of the globe for two brutal years. At last Michaelson spoke.

"I'm glad we gave that one a miss."

In another part of Cairns Royal Air Station, Emily and Clarice stood on a porch, watching as handlers rolled a Wollesley class back to one of the airship sheds. Under ordinary circumstances, they might have been fascinated by the operation but they were chafing over the way they'd been bundled off to this dormitory without a word of thanks from the Commodore.

"It hardly seems fair," Emily grumbled. "We found the Fat Man's base for him. Now he's going to ship us home so we miss all the fun."

"It's the Captain's fault," said Clarice. "He should have put in word for us."

Emily grinned. "You're just miffed because he's ignoring you."

"Oh go on! Look at you and Jenkins!"

Emily began a denial, then decided it might be wiser to change the subject. "I have an idea. Lets nip off to town to go shopping!"

Her companion brightened at the prospect. "Bonzer! We can look for shoes!"

No one challenged the two young women as they left the air station -- perhaps no one dared. A brisk walk down Sheridan street, past the Esplanade, brought them to Florence, where they turned right toward what passed Cairns for a downtown. This proved every bit as unexciting as one might expect for a town whose main industries were mining and sugar cane. They did manage to find a shoe store, but only footwear on display was steel-toed boots, and they had plenty of these back in Darwin.

As they were emerging from the store, a lorry screeched to a stop beside them. ""Is Everett's ballast officers," someone cried in a thick Russian accent. "They will know where it is! Get them!"

Before they could react, they'd been bundled into the back of the motor, rushed off to the harbor, and forced aboard a small motorship. Crew shouted commands, the plant rumbled to life, and the vessel was heading out to sea.

The two young women glanced around the cabin in which they been imprisoned, than grinned at each other.

"And we thought things were getting boring!" said Clarice.

"Dinki di" Emily replied. "This is more like it!"

Next week: The Other Player...

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