The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 562: Some Answers

R-129 leaving Sulawesi

Polewali's air station could have been one of the standards by which `forgotten by the rest of the world' was judged. Two simple masts, a hydrogen plant that might have dated from before the War, and a fueling facility notable for its antiquity were surrounded on two sides by jungle, a third by the sea, and the fourth by a tropical coastal village notable for its tranquility.

Its situation was somewhat less idyllic. With the Fat Man's secret base only a few dozen miles to the north, the decision to send Miss Perkins, Abercrombie, and Miss Kim to spy on the place no longer seemed like such a good idea. The trio had no way to communicate with the ship if they encountered difficulties. If they were discovered and the Germans launched an attack on this air station, the R-129 was hopelessly vulnerable.

If pressed, MacKiernan would have admitted that his concern for Miss Perkins weighed every bit as much as his concern for his command. They might have begun as adversaries, divided by loyalty to different superiors, but circumstances had changed, and they could no longer deny what they meant to each other. What had he been thinking, agreeing to a mission on which so many things could go wrong? And could he forgive himself if they did?

Motion to the west caught his eye. He raised his binoculars to see a large motor launch rounding a bend in the coast on its way toward the harbor. It wasn't the vessel the shore party had hired, and he was about to turn away when he noticed a familiar figure standing by the deckhouse. As he looked, the figure raised her arm to wave.

Why are they doing returning on a different vessel? he wondered. This did not seem cause for complacency. "Mister Wilcox," he snapped. "Order crew to flight stations and ring Standby on all engines."

The lieutenant issued a crisp series of commands, with no trace of his normal lethargy. Footsteps sounded in the keel passage overhead, followed by reports from the intercom as airmen rushed to their positions. By now the launch was approaching the wharf. MacKiernan hid his impatience as Miss Perkins, Abercrombie, and Miss Kim brought the vessel alongside, made fast, disembarked, and set off for the station. They didn't seem in any particular hurry, so apparently there was no immediate crisis, but their progress was notably brisk.

Soon they'd reached the mooring mast and were riding the lift up the ship. We're back aboard," came Abercrombie's voice over the intercom. "I dinnae ken anyone's after us, but ye may want tae lift ship."

MacKiernan nodded to Wilcox. "Make it so."

Engines clattered to life, ballast cascaded from the tank, then the ship was climbing away from the station. Below them, a few villagers glanced up at from whatever it was they hadn't been doing, then returned to not doing it.

"Course, sir?" asked Wilcox as they climbed through 1000'.

"All ahead one quarter, give me a turn right to 270, then ring for full power and take her up to 3000. The Germans or Japanese may outgun us, but we have greater range than either of their vessels. We'll take advantage of this to broaden their search area."

They'd finished their turn to the west and were working the R-129 up to what passed for her top speed when Miss Perkins descended the companionway. MacKiernan exchanged a brief but not-entirely-professional smile with the secretary before he asked for her report.

"From manner of your return, I gather there were some unexpected developments. Do we need to apprehend pursuit?"

"Not immediately," she replied, "but by now the Fat Man will have concluded that we were agents of the British Union. We can expect some reaction."

MacKiernan raised an eyebrow. "However might he have come to this conclusion?"

"His people may not have recognized us upon our arrival, but they were suspicious of our intentions," said Miss Perkins. "They imprisoned, presumably for interrogation, and we escaped with the aid of the woman we know of as Natasha."

"Natasha!" marveled MacKiernan. "What was she doing at the German nationalist's secret base?"

"If she is to be believed, she was there to contrive new alliance between them and the Japanese to attack the British Union," said Miss Perkins.

There was pause while MacKiernan took this all in. "Did she explain why?" he asked in amazement.

Miss Perkins frowned. "She represented this as a move against Karlov, who she gave us to understand had reached some similar agreement with the Warfields. I did not find this helpful."

"Nor do I," scowled MacKiernan. "Where did these people come from? Where did Karklov obtain his knowledge? What is his relationship with Natasha? And what are they trying to achieve? Karlov seems to have spent most of the past two years helping people build components of the uraninite refiner, which he then allows to be destroyed, while Natasha has busied herself betraying people, rescuing people, and delivering messages?

"I asked," said Miss Perkins, "but her rely took the form of more cryptic messages."

MacKiernan nodded ruefully. What else could they have expected? Perhaps it was time to turn to more immediate matters. "How advanced are the German and Japanese plans?" he asked.

"It's impossible to say," Miss Perkins observed, "but we saw no flurry of preparations for a sortie. This suggests that any such plans may still be in the initial phases.

MacKiernan gazed at the island dwindling astern while he considered his alternatives. Should he take a station offshore to keep the Fat Man's base under observation? The Germans were unlikely to allow this. It could only serve to put his own people in danger. Should he make another attempt to land spies? This would be difficult to accomplish now that their adversaries were forewarned. Could he intervene directly against the Mysterious Cruiser, the Drachen, or both? They could swat the R-129 like a slow, unmanueverable, and inadequately armed fly. Could he attack the base directly? With what?

He sighed.

"Theres nothing we can accomplish here," he told Miss Perkins. "We'll send a message to Michaelson with a one-time pad informing him of situation, then return to Cairns to report."

Next week: All Roads Lead To Romanov...

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