The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 570: An After Action Report

Three moored airships

Norfolk Island was obscure even by the standards of the South Pacific. Located precisely in the middle of nowhere, 400 miles north of New Zealand, it had been neglected by successive waves of Polynesian voyagers as devoid of anything needed for colonization. Would-be settlers from New Caledonia may have visited the place sometime prior to the 18th Century, but they recognized a bad job when they saw one, and returned the way they came, leaving the place empty when Captain Cook first spotted it on 10 October 1774.

The Europeans who followed the great explorer should have taken a hint from this. Attempts to cultivate flax for use in cordage and sailcloth were a failure, local timber was of too poor quality for use in spars, and the lack of anything remotely resembling a harbor posed a challenge for would-be entrepreneurs. Desperate to find some use for the island, the British Government tried using it as a penal colony, but this enterprise was not notably successful, perhaps because those responsible tended to forget about the place.

At the end of the 19th century, the Crown threw up its figurative hands and handed Norfolk Island to the Commonwealth of Australia. The reaction of Australia's Parliament to this ambiguous gift is not recorded, but there was no rush to settle the place, and it only inhabitants were a few incurably optimistic speculators, a junior administrator who'd been unwise in his choice of patrons, and descendants of Pitcairn Islanders who were used to living in forgotten corners of the world.

For some reason -- a need to dispose of surplus equipment, perhaps -- the island did have an air station. Its three masts were quite sufficient to accommodate the Flying Cloud, the Geschwader, and the R-129 after Michaelson had sent the R-87 back the Cairns. Now the Commodore held court in the small bungalow that served as the Government House, which he'd appropriated for his own use.

"I've invited you here to pool our discoveries," he told his audience. "Kapitan von Richtofen, thank you for joining us. I understand that you oppose Ernst Rohm's nationalists."

Manfred studied Michaelson for a moment, then offered a nod that might also have been a salute. "As would any man who cared about out country," he replied. "This `fascist' ideology they imported from Italy is the path of shadow, suspicion, and hate. Germany is better than that."

"I also understand that you conducted a recent sortie against their base on Celebes."

"Ja," said Manfred, "With the information provided by your two young friends, we attacked on the dawn of the 27th, hoping to catch their ship on the mast. Unfortunately it was gone, so we had to content ourselves with inflicting minor damage to their hydrogen facilities, fuel storage, and arms depot."

"The latter may prove more important than you realize," Michaelson observed cryptically. "We intend to act against these fellows ourselves. May we count on your support if we do?"

Manfred's smile was fierce. "Ja!"

"Then if you'll step out for a moment, I would like to consult with my officers privately."

The German offered another nod that might have been a salute. As he left the room., Michaelson turned to Everett. "Captain, did you learn anything useful on Aneityum?"

"Perhaps," said Everett. "I spoke with the Grand Duchess and her associate regarding Karlov. They recalled that he arrived in 1924 to join the effort to build the Ujelang Device. His bona fides were good enough that no one thought to question how he'd learned about the effort. They also don't seem to have realized the extent of his contribution, or how many crucial pieces of information were known only to him, until after he was gone. They have since begun to wonder about his motives and agenda, but they have no more clues about these than we do."

"Have they had any encounters with this woman Natasha who seems to oppose him?"

"They're aware of her existence, but nothing more."

Michaelson seemed unsurprised by this information. "What is their association with Manfred?" he asked.

"I inquired about this in some detail," Everett told him. "They both share the same enemies, but it seems to be one of mutual interest than a formal alliance. They knew nothing of his plans for the sortie."

"Can we trust the man?" asked Michaelson.

"I believe so," said Everett. "It was a significant risk for him to attack the Fat Man's base with a lightly armed commercial vessel. I suppose this could have been staged to place him in our confidence, but it seems proof of his sincerity. He also seems unaware of the Device, and it's difficult to imagine how he could profit from it even if he was."

Michaelson turned to MacKiernan. "Commander, what is your report?"

"We proceed to New Zealand as you instructed, and met with your contact in Christchurch, who directed us the the British Union of Fascist's agent there," said MacKiernan. "This man seemed somewhat vague -- more in the nature of a hobbyist than a Believer In The Cause -- but he it seems he facilitated communication between the British Union and William Bridgeman, First Lord of the Admiralty."

There was a moment of silence as everyone absorbed this bombshell. At last Michaelson nodded. "This should hardly come as a surprise," he remarked. "It would explain Admiral Wentworth's reluctance to become involved in this affair."

"Do you think he's one of Bridgeman's confederates, sir?" asked Jenkins.

"Quite the contrary," Michaelson observed, "I suspect that he's doing his best to avoid getting caught in middle of some contest between between powerful men. He's a political animal, and knows not to meddle in the affairs of such people, for they are far from subtle, and may be quick to anger. He'll leave the risk of any investigation to us, then side with whoever wins."

"Who might these people be and what are they after?" asked Everett.

Michaelson rose, walked to the window, and gazed out to sea. It was the very picture of serenity. Perhaps he sought comfort from it. "I took steps to discover this," he announced.

This could only mean one thing. "You spoke with the Warfields, sir?" Jenkins asked with concern..

"It was the obvious thing to do, provided one took suitable precautions," the Commodore replied. "It appears that the Baron and his lady plan to sell the Device to some faction in Government, just as we have guessed. Whether the First Lord is part of this or utterly apposed to it remains to be determined. "

"What about Karlov?" asked the signalman. "What is his role in this?"

"This also remains to be determined," said Michaelson. "The Warfields kept the man hidden. But there is an additional mystery. It appears he's practiced some slight upon them to convince them he can alter the laws of chance."

This prompted an exchange of glances. "Do you have any idea why?" asked Miss Perkins, voicing the question that was on everyone's mind.

Michaelson shrugged. "I have no idea what he hopes to accomplish. The man seems to make a specialty of misdirection. We must strive to ensure this doesn't work to our disadvantage."

Next week: Others May Reach Different Conclusions...

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