The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 568: Knight Threatens Castle

Manfred attacks the Fat Man's base

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 orders.

"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 old friend.

"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 War.

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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