Episode 568: Knight Threatens Castle
Daylight was waning as the Geschwader made her way north. The
airship's hull gleamed red in the light of the setting sun as five Packard
diesels pushed her long at an easy 48 knots. Below her, a few scattered
sails dotted the surface of the Flores Sea. To the west, an island blimp
was plodding south from Makassar toward parts unknown.
In the control car, Manfred studied the enlarged map of the coast of Celebes
he'd copied from their chart of the Dutch East Indies, then tapped it with
his pencil. "The air station is here?" he asked Clarice and Emily.
"Bob's your uncle!" Clarice said cheerfully. "It's due east of the western
arm of this bay, in line with these two hills to the south."
Manfred added a mark to his plot and nodded.
"Sehr gut, meine Damen," he told them. We shall take advantage of
your information to disrupt the the Dicker Mann's plans. If my
brother is there as well, we will give him cause to regret his allegiance."
"Do you mean to attack the place?" asked Emily.
"Ja, but we must not be reckless," the German warned them. "We do
not want to become the Adolf Hitler of this conflict."
"Who was that chappy?" asked Clarice.
"He was the last man to be killed on the Western Front -- an insignificant
corporal stuck down by a stray bullet at the Sommes, minutes before the
Armistice took effect," Manfred explained. "We will wish to be more caution
than he was."
Emily was undeterred by this information. Like many children of her
generation, she'd been raised on tales of the glamorous but impractical
aeroplanes that had enjoyed their brief moment of fame during the great
world conflict. "We could attack out of the Sun!" she suggested.
Manfred seemed amused by her enthusiasm. "This could not succeed," he said
regretfully. "They are veterans of the War, and will be watching the
sunrise for just such a tactic. But we can use this to our advantage. As
yopu shall see."
The pre-dawn gloom found the Geschwader two dozen miles west of
Celebes. The moon, a few days before full, had sunk below the horizon,
leaving the vessel cloaked in darkness. A few lights glimmered from
villages on the shore to the starboard. Clarice and Emily watched while
Manfred took bearings on these and marked their position on his chart.
He tapped this with his pencil. Around him, the bridge waited for his
"We are in the right place," he announced. "Turn right to 110, ring for
three quarter power on all engines, and bring us down to 80 meters."
The acknowledgements were as precise as clockwork.
"Right to 090, three quarter power on One Through Five."
"Descend to 100 meters and maintain."
Outside the windows, the horizon swing as the airship turned to point
southeast, descended until she was less half her length above the waves,
and began to pick up speed. If Manfred's people felt concerned about
flying so low, they hid it well.
"Deploy a marker buoy," Manfred ordered.
A crewman pulled a lever, and a small light fell from the control car to
the ocean below. Manfred watched it though the drift meter, jotted down a
few figures, and nodded.
"Take us down to 50 meters."
The elevator man eased the wheel forward with a deft touch of his fingers.
"Descend to 50 meters and maintain."
The nose dipped, then rose again as the airship dropped to just above the
waves. How can these people be so sure of themselves? Clarice
wondered. At this speed and altitude, the slightest error would send the
ship plunging into the sea.
Manfred seemed to sense his guests' concern. "We are on course, hidden
from the station by darkness and the curve of the bay," he informed them.
"If I have timed this correctly, we will reach the coast as the Sun is
rising above the hills. We will take advantage of its light to ascend and
engage whatever targets present themselves."
Clarice wasn't reassured by this announcement. What if the captain's
calculations were wrong? The same darkness he counted on for concealment
might hide the land ahead until they plowed into the terrain.
Minutes ticked past as the waves rushed by unseen below them. Ahead, the
sky began to brighten with the first light of dawn. Then a point of land
was looming ahead of them like a wall. Manfred nodded as if this was an
"Climb to 200 meters. Turn right to 180," he said calmly.
"Up to 200.'"
"Right to 180."
The elevatorman eased his wheel back gently, taking care their stern didn't
strike the sea behind them as the helmsman turned the ship to starboard.
To port, the coastline dropped away to reveal the Fat man's secret base on
the other side of a small bay. The Drachen was conspicuous by its
absence, but troops were already pouring from barracks and rushing to their
guns. Manfred studied then scene and issued a crisp series of commands.
"Main battery, put four rounds explosive and four incendiary into the
hydrogen plant bearing 090, four explosive and four incendiary into the
fuel depot bearing 100, then eight explosive into what appears to be an
ammo dump bearing 120."
The Geschwader's single 20mm cannon answered immediately,
sending shells screeching toward the distant targets. Clarice watched in
shock as these erupted into flame. She'd read stories and seen photographs
of conflict, but until this moment, she had not understood its cost. Those
were real buildings, real explosions, and real lives struck down in an
instant. No wonder Captain Everett never spoke of his experiences in the
Manfred didn't glory in his triumph. It seemed that he too had memories of
that terrible conflict. "That is enough for today," he told his men. "We
will not give these people a chance to reply. Descend to 100 meters, full
speed on all five engines."
By now the defenders were bringing their own guns to bear. A few shells
tore past the Geschwader, raising plumes of spray to the west.
Then the land was rising to port to screen them from retaliation as the
elevatorman brought the ship below the line of hills. Manfred nodded in
satisfaction and turned to his guests.
"Your help has allowed me to strike a blow against Ernst Rohm's
nationalists," he told them. "It cannot have been a ruinous one, but it
may force them to reconsider whatever they had planned. I expect my
brother to reply. I cannot in good conscience allow this to place you at
risk, so I will convey you to a place of safety after I've made a call to
gather intelligence. Where do you wish to go?"
Next week: Well Met, Old Chaps...
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