Episode 65: Perhaps We'd Better Start Keeping Notes
The first stage of the narrow-gauge line from Darwin to Alice Springs was
comparatively scenic, if one's idea of scenery happened to include blank
stretches of jungle. But by the time it passed Birdum -- the original end
of the line -- this had given way to brush. The terrain was singularly
featureless, as if the process of geology had run out of ideas and settled
upon wasteland as an alternative. Under ordinary circumstances, this might
have been tedious, but the three men had much to discuss.
"There seem to be many players in this affair," observed Everett. "We've
identified two groups of Russian exiles -- capitalists and communists --
these renegade German nationalists, and agents of the Kaiser's government
sent to track them down. We also have police chief Channel, the governor of
Sarah's Island, the mysterious cruiser that attacked us, and our friend
Captain Michaelson. Some of these parties may be acting in collusion.
Others, such as the German nationalists and at least one group of Russians,
are quite clearly at odds."
"Why would Russian communists be in exile?" asked Jenkins. "Didn't they
take over the country during the October Revolution?"
"'The Revolution is like Saturn, devouring all of its children',"
"George Danton, as he was about to be executed during the Terror," observed
Everett. "I didn't know you'd studied French history."
"I'm a Scotsman," said the rigger. "We ken a lot aboot rebellions."
The captain nodded. He too had learned more than he wanted to know about
war. "Let us review what we've discovered, with particular attention to the
timing of events, for I suspect this could be significant. In early May, a
Russian whose name may have been Karlov traveled to Enterprise Creek to
prospect for uraninite. Before he left Darwin, he made arrangements with
John Decker for shipping. He told Decker his name was Boris. On May 18th,
this man vanished on the train back to Darwin. The very next day, Channel
visited Decker to ask about his client. This seems suspicious, since the
transaction had been confidential. The police chief seems to have known of
the man as Boris. He was followed by two groups of Russians, one of whom
asked about a `Boris' while the other asked about a `Dimitri'."
"Could this mean Channel was conspiring with the first group of Russians?"
"That would be my guess," said Jenkins. "He must have had some contacts
among the émigré community to obtain those plans for our ship."
"True," said Everett. "Though we still have no idea where the Russians got
those plans in the first place. This brings us to the German nationalists.
In the middle of June, they appeared in Kupang aboard the L-505, which
they'd named..." he sighed, "...the Wolkenflieger. From there they
flew to the island of Oa Ki, where they raided and plundered a secret
Russian laboratory -- we do not, as yet, know which Russians this belonged
to. Their next stop was Darwin, where they landed agents to ask Decker
about the cargo of uraninite. They seem to have been the only party who
knew about the ore, and they referred to our mysterious Russian as 'Karlov'.
"By then, Decker had sold the cargo to Helga. The Germans discovered this
-- it must have been common knowledge around the docks -- attacked Helga's
vessel, and transferred the ore to a steamer named the Duck.
This was owned by one Jacob Wasserman, who purported to be Dutch, but whose
name sounds distinctly German. They had rendezvoused at Sarah's island when
we arrived aboard the wreckage of the R-212."
"The cruiser that attacked us," asked Jenkins. "Could they have been
enemies of the Germans who mistook our ship for theirs?"
"It's a plausible hypothesis," Everett replied. "We still have no idea
who they were or what their motive might have been. But this would suggest
they didn't know much about their target, since our two ships didn't look at
"This could mean trouble if we meet them again," said Abercrombie. The
others nodded. Suspecting that Germans at a French colony must be up to no
good, they'd stolen their ship and flown her to Cairns. Upon discovering
that the German government had no knowledge of the vessel, the Admiralty had
commissioned her as His Majesty's Airship R-505 and assigned her to Everett
and his crew.
"For the next few weeks," said Everett, "the Germans are unaccounted for.
During this time, Captain Michaelson ordered us to Darwin. Shortly before
we arrived, someone sabotaged the hydrogen plant at the air station in an
attempt to destroy us. A few days later, while we were hosting a reception
for several notables including Channel, a party of Russians tried to hijack
our vessel, led by a man with an English accent who we have not been able
to identify. Abercrombie overcame the hijackers with Helga's assistance,
but the Englishman escaped, and Channel invoked his authority to take
possession of our prisoners, who then vanish from sight.
"At this point, the nationalists reappear. In the beginning of July, they
hijacked a German government packet, the L-137, from under the nose of the
Dutch governor in Kupang. On the 16th of July, we crossed paths with them
in the Timor Sea, where they'd attacked and sunk an American steamer named
the Tualua's Dream, owned by one Howard Phillips. At some time in
the past this vessel had carried a passenger whose name began with the
letters `K `A', but we have no idea if this person was still aboard when
the ship was attacked.
"Upon our return to Cairns, we confronted Captain Michaelson to ask why he'd
sent us to Darwin. He informed us that he'd been working with agents of the
Kaiser's government, with Admiralty approval, to track down the
nationalists. We weren't satisfied with his explanations, so on the 23rd we
took advantage of our vessel's surprising turn of speed to pay a secret
visit to Sarah's island. There we discovered the Duck and the
L-137 at a secret rendezvous. During the ensuing confusion, the Germans
escaped aboard the airship along with this 'Fat Man' who appears to be their
leader, but we managed to capture the Duck, which we awarded to
Helga as a prize."
"What do you think became of the uraninite?" asked Jenkins.
"I imagine the Germans unloaded this at some secret laboratory of their own
sometime during the preceding month," said Everett. "If the Duck
cruised at eight knots, this could lie anywhere within a 1500-mile ellipse
with focuses at Sarah's island and Kupang."
"What do you think they wanted it for? It has no military or industrial
value. It's only known use is as a pigment for ornamental glassware."
"I have no idea. Unless we accept Iwamoto's hypothesis that
it could be used to make dense armor-piercing projectiles."
At that moment they noticed the train was slowing. Abercrombie leapt to his
feet in alarm. "D'ye ken we're under attack?"
Everett straightened his jacket and peered out the window. Some distance
ahead, the line ran past a tin-roofed shack. It was an unprepossessing
structure, but in this emptiness, it seemed like a metropolis. In front of
it, he could make out a sign with the words `Enterprise Creek'.
"Not yet," he replied. "But I believe we've arrived at our destination."
Next week: Wild Sheilas of the Outback...