The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 577: Advance Two Knights of the Air in Reply

Michaleson deploys his forces

Everett had called a meeting in the Flying Cloud's mess hall to finalize their plans for the coming engagement. Now he and Manfred sat at the middle of table, accompanied by Jenkins, MacKiernan, Iverson, Sarah, and Manfred's lieutenant Ersnt, surrounded by a growing collection of charts, figures, and calculations.

At last Everett set down his pencil and studied the diagram in front of him. "I believe this will serve," he announced.

"Can we be certain that our foes will cooperate?" asked Manfred.

"They'll have little choice, given the relative performance of our vessels," Everett observed. "After you and I break formation, they'll have to split up to intercept both of us. Since the em>Flying Cloud is faster than your brother's Drachen, he'll have to follow you, leaving the cruiser to follow us. Are you prepared to handle your part of the engagement? The Drachen is twice the size of your Geschwader, carries five times her weight in armament, and has eight knots on you."

The German indicated the reports he'd been studying. "If this wind forecast is correct, we can deal with the last matters, and this speilzeug you have provided will render the first two irrelevant. But what about you, Herr Everett? The cruiser is a copy of America's Sunnyvale class. From what we know of this design, you will be at a similar disadvantage against ypur adversary."

"So it would seem," said Everett. "We can trust the Japanese to draw confidence from this. But published performance figures do not always tell the whole story. The Sunnyvale paid a visit to Cairns last year, and I took this opportunity to speak with Captain Rosendahl regarding her acceptance trials. These were quite comprehensive, in excess of anything the Japanese nationalists can have had an opportunity to conduct, and revealed two facts we can use to our advantage.

"The first was their top speed. This is slightly faster than the Flying Cloud's top speed when we took her from the Germans, but our chief engineer is unusually talented, and has managed to improve on this to the extent that we should be able to control the range of the engagement. The second is a design deficiency the Americans have made plans to correct, but of which the Japanese cannot aware. We should be able to exploit it if we can make this turn." He indicated a point on the diagram.

"This would require the Japanese to be in a position here," Manfred said, indicating another.

"If we follow the course I've shown toward the ridge, I imagine they'll go to considerable effort to do just that."

The German studied the diagram again, then gave a wolfish grin. "Ja," he said. "It is what I would do, believing I had you trapped. Have we confirmed that the ridge is as high as this map indicates?"

"Miss Sarah?" asked Everett.

The island girl smiled. "My tribe used to survey the heights every year, to prepare our defense in case the Old Ones returned from beneath the waves."

"What are these Old Ones?" asked Manfred.

"It's a long story, which we may hope will not have any immediate relevance," said Everett, seeking to head off a digression. "There remains the question of timing. Commander MacKiernan, have you given more thought to the matter?"

"Aye," said the Irishman. "We can expect the nationalists to attack Sarah's island at dawn. If we allow them four to five hours to destroy the gun emplacements, land marines, and overpower the Warfield's mercenaries, this suggests we should appear on the scene at noon. But for obvious reasons, it will be essential to do this on the right day, and I've been unable to think of a way to determine this."

They were saved from further discussion by the sound of foot of footsteps. They turned to see Michaelson enter the compartment accompanied by his aide.

"Sir," said Everett, beginning to rise. "This is an unexpected..."

"Please remain seated," the Commodore said dismissively. "It is time for us to act. We have deciphered a message intercept from the nationalists. Their two ships will be calling at Buka Town on the morning of the 14th to resupply. This suggests that they will reach Sarah's island sometime after the 15th. I have dispatched the R-87 and R-129 to stand off Bougainville and watch for their departure. This should allow us to anticipate the precise day of their attack."

Everett nodded at this use of the station's resources. A Wollesley and an Armstrong-Whitworth could make no contribution to an action except to serve as prey, but they were an excellent choice for a surveillance role. "Will this give Miss Helga time to get in position with the Viking Girl II?" he asked.

"I have already insttuicted Miss Helga to put to sea," said Michaelson. "She will stand off 50 miles from the island, out of range of their radio-detection apparatus, and head in when we inform her the attack has begun. That should bring her to the harbor shortly after we arrive."

It was left to Sarah to remark on the Commodore's use of the pronoun. "You said `we'," she observed cautiously.

"That is correct," Michaelson replied. "After considering the situation at some length, I have decided to move my flag to your vessel. I do not intend to interfere with your tactical deployments, but operations, but it it is time for me to take the field."

Noon the next day found the Flying Cloud and the Geschwader riding from the masts at Norfolk Island. This was as isolated as ever -- an anonymous speck in the middle of the Coral Sea -- and it occurred to Everett that their recent visits might have tripled the amount of traffic the island received in a year. The modern airships seemed entirely out of place in this setting, like débutantes that had wandered into a rustic country village. He smiled at this conceit, then studied his latest entry in the log.

June 15, 1928, 1200 hrs. Lat, 29 2' Long 167 57'. His Majesty's Airship Flying Cloud, R-505, Captain Roland P. Everett cmdr. Have finished resupply at Burnt Pine's air atation, Waiting for communication from the picket ships.

Should he say more, he wondered? This seemed a poor summary of a story that had begun almost two years before. But what more could he possibly commit to paper. So much of the story involved things they hoped to keep hidden, such as the secret of the uraninite refiner, things that might forever remain a mystery, such as Karlov and Natasha's true agendas, or things about which he could only speculate, such as Michaelson's motives… or his own.

It seemed almost certain that he, Michaelson, and Lady Warfield would meet for what might be a final confrontation. What outcome had he hoped for? And what outcome did he hope for now that his perspective had changed. He allowed himself what might have been a smile. At least the cause of that change was accounted for, along with her companion. Michaelson had given his staff explicit instructions to make certain that Clarice and Emily caused no trouble until a ship could be spared to take them back to Darwin. He was reaching out to put the log away when Lieutenant Iverson called from the bridge.

"Sir, we've received a message from Captain Harris. He spotted the cruiser and and the Drachen off Mono Island, cruising south-southwest at 60 knots. He estimates they'll reach Sarah's island tomorrow morning."

Everett rose from his desk and straightened his jacket, and reached for the intercom. "Very good, Mister Iverson," he replied. "Order the crew to prepare for our sortie. We will lift ship in six hours."

Next week: Rooks Take Pawns...

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