The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 581: Follow The Uraninite Road!

Tank climbing the hill

Michaelson announced that he would lead the expedition to the Warfields' laboratory, then left the composition of the party up to Everett. After some thought, the captain decided on himself, Jenkins, Iverson, and Sarah, along with four of Helga's Vikings to operate the tank. Clarice and Emily wanted to accompany them, but Everett refused.

"We'll miss all the fun!" Clarice protested.

Everett found himself smiling. "I believe you've had sufficient entertainment these past few weeks, Miss Blaine," he observed. "Also, your presence on this sortie might complicate what already promises to be a difficult confrontation."

Clarice then nodded. "I reckon it could be quite the barney," she admitted. "Let me give you this for luck."

She drew what appeared to be a locket from beneath her blouse and handed it to Everett. He found himself holding a cryptic mechanism from some metal he was quite unable to identify. "What is this?" he asked her.

"I found it with the swag Channel nicked from Karlov," she told him. "It must be a lucky charm, because that's when our adventures began. I hope it works for you to too," She looked around to make sure no one was watching, then reached up to kiss him. "Come back to me, Roland," she whispered.

He reached out to touch her hand. "I shall endeavor to do my best, Clarice."

The trail to the Warfields' laboratory led up the northern side of the ridge, winding back and forth as it climbed toward the peak of the volcano. It must have begun life as a village path, but the Warfields had hired engineers to blast a road for lorries carrying cargo and equipment. This was easily substantial enough for the Chekhov's Gun, and soon the tank was crawling up the slope, sending spills of gravel down the slope each time it negotiated a turn. The ride was noisy, for the vehicle made no concessions whatsoever for comfort. As they rounded the final turn and came in sight of the entrance to their goal, a new sound joined the whine of the transmission, the clatter of the treads, and the deafening roar of the engine.

"I say, what's that pinging?" asked Iverson. "Could we have a loose valve or two?"

"I believe someone is shooting at us from that tunnel up ahead," Everett remarked. "Driver, back up until we're out of their line of fire?"

"Ja!" said the Swede. He pulled on a lever, signaled his co-driver and the two gearsmen, and the machine lurched to a stop. Then it was crawling backward around the turn.

"What shall we do now, sir?" asked Jenkins after they were out of the line of fire. "We seem to be at an impasse. They can't harm us inside this tank, but we can't get through that entrance unless we disembark."

"Perhaps there's another way in," said Everett. "What does the map Natasha left for us show?"

Examination of the sketch revealed what appeared to be a second entrance up the slope to their right. There was no way of knowing if this too might be guarded, but the words `secret passage' scrawled next it seemed promising. They slipped out the door and ordered the tank to continue down the road. With luck, the Warfield's people would assume they'd gone back to the village with the Swedes.

The map lead them on a difficult scramble along the side of as slope. Even at this altitude, the brush was thick -- a tribute to the fecundity of the tropical soil. From time to time, Everett or Michaelson had to stop so Jenkins could brush some nameless creature from their jacket. At last they came to a narrow draw, too small to be called a valley, but deep enough to hide a wall of rock that matched the feature shown on their map. This showed no sign of an opening.

"Are we quite certain this is the correct place?" Michaelson demanded.

"Perhaps if we stand by that grey stone when the squidbat knocks, the setting sun with the last light of Tualua's Day will shine upon some key-hole," suggested Sarah.

The Commodore raised an eyebrow. "And what is the source of this particular bit of wisdom?"

The island girl smiled. "It's from one of stories my grandmother used tell about the Old Ones."

"It's easy to find if you how to look," came a voice from behind them.

The airmen turned to see Natasha emerge from the brush, wearing a dress that seemed entirely unsuitable for the jungle. Somehow she'd also managed to see to her hair, which fell to her shoulders in a cascade of blond curls.

Michaelson seemed unimpressed. "How did get here?" he demanded. "Are you with the nationalists or the Warfields?"

"That does not necessarily follow," she replied. "You cannot imagine it would be difficult to stow aboard one of the ships that call here bringing supplies. Captain Everett, may I borrow that artifact your girlfriend gave you."

Everett raised his eyebrows, then handed her the device. There'd be time to inquire about the source of her knowledge... and the fact that she hadn't realy ansered Michalson's question... later. Natasha studied it, made some adjustment to the dials, then walked along the rock face. As they watched, she disappeared around a corner they hadn't seen before -- one that looked obtuse, but acted as if it was acute.

Sarah clapped her hands in delight as the woman reemerged. "It's one of the Sunken Corners my grandmother told me about."

"It's a Geometric Ambiguity," Natasha explained. "Your ancestors must have discovered the principal somehow. If you follow me, I will lead you to the chamber where Karlov has set up his equipment."

Michaelson held up his hand. "Before you proceed, Miss Natasha, we will need the answer to some questions. Just who are you and what is your relationship to Karlov?"

Her face fell, "I can't tell you that," she whispered.

"Can't or won't?" demanded Michaelson.

"Can't. You lack background to understand."

"Try us."

"I am Karlov's shadow. He is mine. Each of us is what the other could have been."

Michaelson frowned. "Where did you come from"

"I can't explain that either," Natasha said sadly, "but it's a place that suffers from a curse you might still escape."

The Commodore thought this over. "Very well," he conceded. "If you hope to receive our trust and cooperation, tell us what you are trying to achieve."

"I sought a way home," she said plaintively. "But Karlov seeks to recreate this here, by reproducing that curse, and I am trying to stop him."

"And this curse would be the Ujelang Device," said Michaelson.

She nodded.

"What are the principles behind this thing?" asked Everett. "We understand these involve refining uraninite to extract some active ingredient from a larger volume of inert material. We also understand the ore is plentiful on this island. How is this active ingredient induced to explode?"

The woman seemed to be groping for an answer they could understand. "The atoms of the active ingredient can split to release large amounts of energy. The probability this will happen increases if it's assembled in sufficient volume."

Everett reflected on all they'd learned over the past two years. "This so-called `deBroglie filter' Karlov uses in the refiner -- we understand it affects the probabilities atoms will behave in certain ways. Could it be used to split them in situ?"

Natasha stared at as if she hadn't expcted this question. "Perhaps," she conceded. "But this island must contain this and of tonnes of the active ingredient. The result would be an unimaginable catastrophe, like the explosion of Tambora in 1816, only larger."

Michaelson seemed uninterested in this speculation. "I believe we have exhausted this topic," he observed. "Let us proceed."

The tunnels must once have been channels through which lava flowed. Someone -- presumably the ancestors of Sarah's people -- had reshaped them as passageways, smoothing the floor, removing obstructions, and carving the walls with images of men in conflict with tentacled monsters of uncertain aspect and dimension. In places, they'd included representations of what looked almost like airships, along with the Tree Of Life symbol they'd seen two years ago in the ruins on southern slope of island. This latter reminded Everett of titanic mushroom-shaped cloud that had risen over Ujelang after explosion.

Sarah indicated several of the carving with delight. "Here are the Instruments of Joy my grandmother told me about, here are the musicians who played them, and here's old Tualua himself, fleeing from their songs to his home beneath the waves."

Natasha touched one of the carved monsters. "And in this branch, where they might have been real, he's the captain of an island freighter," she muttered in amazement. She offered no explanation.

The tunnel complex was only of moderate extant. After a few false turns, the passage they were following opened up into a large chamber illuminated by strings of incandescent bulbs someone had hung from the ceiling Baron Warfield, the Baroness, and Karlov stood next to a row of machinery on the far side, accompanied by a squad of the Warfields' mercenaries.

"I assume that's the uraniinte refiner," Michaelson remarked. "We must find some way to destroy it."

"That may be something of a challenge, given how it is defended," Everett observed. "Do you have any suggestions how we might elude the guards?"

The Commodore frowned in thought, but before he could reply, this decision was made for them, as Natasha stepped into the chamber waved her arms, and shouted, "They're over here!"

Next week: The Final Confrontation(s)...

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