The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 564: The Cavalryman

Kapitan Manfred

Emily spun on her heel to examine the stateroom in which they'd been imprisoned. At one time it must have been fairly luxurious -- to the extent that this was possible on an airship -- but furnishings had stripped to reduce weight or reduce the chance of fire during an action. The implications were exciting.

"Bonzer!" she exclaimed. "This is ever so much fun than Cairns! Where could this ship have come from?"

Clarice set down the pendant she'd abstracted from Channel's loot and cocked her ears to listen to the engines. "Those sound like Packards," she observed. "I reckon she's a commercial version of one of the Americans' Los Angeles class patrol vessels -- a bit smaller than the Flying Cloud, with a higher payload fraction. That tells us nought about the owners, but I imagine we'll meet the chappies."

"Dinki-di," Clarice agreed. "And it will serve Everett right for ignoring us!"

Before Emily could reply, they heard a knock on the door. It swung open to reveal an athletic-looking man in his late thirties with a slender build and and light brown hair. His features were distinctly German. In another century, he might have been a minor nobleman, riding the bounds of his estate. Like Captain Everett, he was quite clearly a veteran of the War, with eyes that had seen too much.

"Guten abend, Frauleins," he said politely. "Welcome aboard the Geschwader. My name is Manfred and I am her captain. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it was necessary."

"I'm Clarice Blaine and this is my mate, Emily Wilcox," Clarice replied cheerfully. "What's the oil?"

The man seemed unfazed by Australian colloquialisms. "I wish to ask you some questions."

"Are you with the Fat Man?" Emily asked.

"Nein!" their host replied with a scowl. "Those people are my enemies -- one man in particular. I have joined with the White Russians to fight them, just as you have joined with the British Union."

Now it was the Aussies' turn to scowl. "In yer boot!" Clarice replied. "They're enemies of the Crown. Also, the Captain is at odds with one of their leaders."

The German did not seem immediately convinced by her protests. "If this is true, you can prove your good faith by telling me where they have established their base."

Clarice glanced at Emily. "What do you think?" she whispered.

"I reckon he's telling the truth," the blonde whispered back. "If he was one of the nationalists, he'd hardly have to ask, since they're the fellows who built it."

"Very well," said Clarice, turning back to their host. "It's on an island in New Caledonia. We also know where the Fat Man's secret base is."

Manfred raised an eyebrow. "Ist das wahr?"

"Bob's your uncle!" Emily assured him. "We just escaped from the place. It's on the west coast of Sulawesi."

Manfred's eyes hardened, like a hawk sensing its prey. "Are they aware that you have found them?"

Clarice chuckled. "Hardly. Those drongos didn't even know we were there."

A smile played across the German's face. "We must take advantage of this opportunity," he observed. "Please come with me."

They followed the captain forward along the curve of the keel passage until they reached the control car. Like bridge of the Flying Cloud, this was a streamlined blister below the hull. Its crew -- a mixture of several nationalities -- were too well-disciplined to glance at them as he unrolled a chart of the Banda Sea and pointed to Sulawesi. "Please show me the location of the Stahlhem's base," he said.

"It would be here, at the head of this small bay," said Clarice, indicating a point midway between Polawesi and Aoni.

Manfred nodded and turned to his men. "Our guests have given us a chance to strike the Braunhemden by surprise," he announced. We must not let this slip away. Give me a run left to 290 degrees and ring for full power on all five engines."

"Left to 290 degrees and full power on One through Five," said the helmsman. Bells rang, engines thrummed, and the ship began a swing to the west.

"Shall we inform the Duchess of our change in plans" asked a man who must have been the watch officer.

"No, Herr Luffberry, we will maintain radio silence," said Manfred. "Secrecy and speed will be the key to success."

The Geschwader could have made the flight to Sulawesi directly, but that would have her low on consumables, so Manfred called at Manokwari, an obscure village on the north coast of New Guinea, to take on fuel, ballast, and hydrogen. While his ship was being resupplied, he invited Clarice and Emily to join him for dinner in the vessel's salon. Like the staterooms, this had been stripped of its original furnishings, but it must once have been a place of some luxury. The captain proved a gracious host -- it was clear he'd benefited from an aristocratic upbringing -- putting his guests at ease with conversation about their life in Australia, but at length they had a chance to ask some questions of their own.

"You've got a bonzer ship," said Clarice. "What brought you to the Pacific?"

Their host paused, as if deciding how to answer, then nodded to himself. "I suppose I owe you some explanations," he told them. "I was born in Lower Silesia, eldest of three brothers. Our family was Junker, similar to the lesser nobility in England, so my brothers enjoyed the typical pursuits of our class: riding, hunting, and shooting. When War came, it was natural we should join the cavalry and be posted to the Eastern front.

"The first weeks were exciting, dashing across the countryside, fighting wild skirmishes with the Cossacks, as out ancestors had done before us. This came to a climax with the great battle at Tannenberg. Then the glamor of those early charges gave way to the agony of trenches. Modern warfare had no place for cavalry, and we were reduced to carrying messages behind the lines.

"This was not how Lothar and I had hoped to serve our country, so we requested a transfer to the Imperial German Flying Corps. This was accepted, and we were trained to fly those aeroplanes for which people once had such extravagant hopes. There's no telling what might have happened had the War continued, but it ended before we'd seen much actions.

"Not everyone in my country was happy with the Peace. Some felt it was a surrender of a war we should have won. My brother was one of these. He turned against the government to join Drexler's Deutsche Arbeiterpartei even before Ernst Rohm took over. Since then we have been the bitterest of foes. When I learned he'd come to the Pacific to serve our old squadron commander, I found this ship and came here to oppose him.

"But what about you?" he said, changing the subject. "How did you two jungfrau become involved in this contest? Surely you cannot have similar stake in the affair."

"No," Clarice admitted. "We're just two clerks from the railway station in Darwin. But Darwin is boring, so we badgered Captain Everett to take us along on an adventure."

"I cannot imagine you gave him much choice in the matter," Manfred observed with a smile. "The captain is a special friend of yours?"

Clarice blushed. "Certainly not!" she said indignantly. "I'd never be matey with that wowser!"

Manfred's nod was not entirely convincing. "I see."

Next week: A Picture Is Beginning To Form...

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