The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 565: A Picture Is Beginning To Form

Karlov and Natasha

Michaelson had ordered the R-129 back to Cairns Royal Air Station to receive MacKiernan and Miss Perkins' report. They found him in his office, dealing with more of the paperwork that was a senior officer's lot. He seemed unperturbed by their recent discoveries, but MacKiernan sensed a strange undercurrent to his manner.

"I take it your mission was not entirely fruitless," the Commodore said curtly.

An admission of defeat seemed the safest way to begin. "Our stratagems did not prove as successful as we hoped," said MacKiernan, "but we did locate the Fat Man's secret base. It's on the west coast of Sulawesi, just as our Australian friends reported, at the head of a shallow bay. Our investigating party observed facilities to resupply two airships, up to a cruiser in size, along with a hydrogen plant, fuel depot, maintenance shops, and what appeared to be an arms depot. They were unable to map out its defenses in detail, but they did spot several 77mm field guns on anti-airship carriages, similar to what the Germans maintained at their base on Sarah's Island before this fell into the Warfield's hands."

Michaelson's eyes narrowed, as if this last reference brought back some bitter memory, but otherwise his expression seemed unchanged. "Were they able to discover anything about the Fat Man's plans?" he asked.

MacKiernan sensed he might do well to avoid any further mention of the Baron and Baroness. "The mysterious cruiser was gone by the time our party arrived, but there was still evidence of its visit, so it seems he has renewed his alliance with the Japanese nationalists," he replied cautiously. "They were unable to determine more before the Germans imprisoned them for questioning. They were rescued by Natasha."

Michaelson did not seem entirely surprised by this development. "Interesting," he remarked. "I take it was the same woman we've encountered under other names on so many previous occasions. Did she deign to explain her presence this time?"

"Only to some extent," said MacKiernan. "She claimed she was there to promote an alliance between the Germans and Nationalists against the British Union. It seems this is intended to counter whatever Karlov doing on Sarah's island."

"And we still have no clue where either of them are from or what they hope to accomplish?" said Michaelson.

"No, sir. Only cryptic statements to effect we could never understand her origin or what she's about about."

The Commodore made no attempt to hide his annoyance. "That's hardly complimentary, but I suppose it does not come as a surprise."

"Do you think her claim could be true?" asked Miss Perkins.

Michaelson rose and moved to the window. Outside, handling machines were rolling one of the Wolleselys to a shed for maintenance. He watched for a moment, as if he hoping this might provide some insight, then allowed himself a sigh. "Perhaps," he replied. "The situation of our adversaries seems so finely balanced that someone with the right knowledge and opportunity might well have been able to influence them. You experienced this sort this of manipulation yourself on Tahiti and Gililo. The question becomes how Karlov and Natasha could have obtained this knowledge and opportunity. We've seen no evidence that either maintains a networks agents, or has the resources to pay informants."

"They do seem to have a remarkable way of getting about," Miss Perkins observed. "Could they be using this talent to spy for themselves?"

"This seems unlikely," said Michaelson. "Their abilities can hardly be supernatural, and they would have needed incredible luck to conduct this espionage without being caught."

MacKiernan frowned. There'd been times when Karlov and Natasha's luck seemed to verge on supernatural. He gestured at Michaelson's desk, where the books and journals they'd recovered from the White Russian's secret laboratory lay next to a stack of RNR-0185 forms. "Has the material we found in Karlov's hiding place provided any clues?"

"No, but we can draw some conclusions from what they aren't doing. It's clear that neither wants the White Russians, Germans, or Japanese to obtain the secret of the Device or the uraninite refiner, since they've both taken steps to prevent this. Karlov's intentions regarding to the British Union remain to be determined, but there is no reason to disbelieve Natasha's claim she's trying to stop him."

"What could the Warfields want with a weapon that could destroy entire cities?" asked Miss Perkins. "They seem like gamblers, not architects of mass destruction."

"Perhaps they hope Karlov has some engine that can influence the workings of chance," Michaelson said wryly, "but I suspect they mean to sell the weapon to someone else. By process of elimination, it would seem this must be someone in our own government."

There was a pause while MacKiernan and Miss Perkins absorbed this bombshell. It raised uncomfortable questions. "Who?" asked MacKiernan. "Do you think the Admiral's office could have anything to do with..."

Michaelson made a gesture for silence and indicated a sealed envelope that lay on his desk. "It is premature to speculate regarding these matters," he warned. "We need to determine who the Baron and Baroness have been in contact with. To this end, I have instructed Captain Everett to remain in Aneytium to obtain more intelligence from the White Russians. You will proceed to the destination contained in these instructions to follow a lead we received from Heinrich in German Naval Intelligence. Meanwhile, I will take the field myself to pursue a third line of inquiry. Dismissed."

Miss Perkins lingered after MacKiernan left the room, then turned to face Michaelson. As a civilian, she was not subject to full naval discipline. "Sir," she asked with concern, "this third line of inquiry of which you spoke -- do you mean to travel to Sarah's island and confront the Warfields directly?"

Michaelson studied the secretary for a moment. "That isn't your real question, is it?"

Miss Perkins kicked herself mentally. She should have realized this herself. "No," she admitted. "It concerns Lady Warfield's role. It's become clear that you, Captain Everett, and her share some history. Two years ago, this was hardly my affair, but as our involvement with the British Union has grown, it has become something that might affect all our lives. May I ask what it is?"

A rare flicker of emotion crossed the Commodore's face. It occurred to Miss Perkins that she had never seen anyone look so bleak.

"No," he replied. "You may not."

Next week: Let's Have A Look At That Island Nation, Shall We?...

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