Episode 224: Could He Possibly Know What He's Doing?
MacKiernan expected Clark to rush to Efate and investigate the bank robbery
in person. Instead the Commodore ordered his crew to maintain station over
the Pacific, using the minimal necessary fuel while they waited for reports
to come in. The Cottswold was well-suited for this purpose. She
might not have been as fast as the Flying Cloud, but the Hill Class
ships were legendary for their endurance.
That afternoon he called his passengers to the bridge and unrolled a chart
on which he'd plotted positions and times.
"We've had several more sightings of this supposed N-109," he announced.
"Some, such as these ones in German New Guinea..." he indicated several
marks near Rabaul, "...are quite obviously misidentifications. If we
discard those, the ones that remain suggest the vessel is headed for the
Solomons. We must consider the question of their motives."
"Could they be trying to escape us?" asked Miss Perkins.
"This seems unlikely," said the Commodore. "We didn't call at Efate, so
they can have no way of knowing we're pursuing them."
MacKiernan hid his surprise. He hadn't expected this degree of foresight
from their host. If Clark noticed the Irishman's reaction, he gave no
sign. "Mister MacKiernan," he said brusquely, "I understand your ship
called at the Solomons last year. What can you tell us about the
"There isn't much to tell," the Irishman replied. "The administration is in
Honiara, on the island of Guadalcanal. This seemed entirely unremarkable.
There are some German farmers on the out-islands. These fellows may not be
uniformly friendly, but we found no evidence of any nationalist activity.
The place doesn't seem to get many visitors. The only other traffic at the
Station was a Japanese government packet named the Shiratoru Maru
-- one of their copies of the Graf Class"
"Japanese," mused Clark. "What brought a large passenger vessel to such an
"She was carrying a party of geologists back from an expedition to Ujelang,
" said MacKiernan. "It appears they'd been investigating the explosion."
The Commodore's eyes widened. "And this didn't strike you as noteworthy?"
"The Japanese government sends a airship to investigate the Ujelang Event,
which we know to be the work of German nationalists. On her way home, this
vessel just happens to call at a place where a hostile German population
could easily mask the presence of nationalist cells. Now another ship that
we're certain belongs to the nationalists is headed for the same location.
This can hardly be a coincidence!"
MacKiernan wasn't so sure of this. But we was quite sure what would happen
if he voiced his doubts. "You're right, sir," he replied as convincingly as
he could manage. "What shall we do?"
"We'll follow them discreetly," said Clark, "taking care to remain one or
two ports of call behind them."
"What about fuel and ballast?" asked MacKiernan. A prolonged shadowing
operation could strain their reserves of both.
The Commodore made a dismissive gesture. "The Cottswold should be
up to the task."
MacKiernan and Miss Perkins walked back from the control car together.
Engines thrummed in the background, and they could hear voices from astern
where a party of riggers was inspecting one of the gas cells, but they could
count on the sheer size of the airship's interior to protect them from
"What do you think of the Commodore's latest plan?" Miss Perkins asked.
MacKiernan frowned in exasperation. "I don't know what to make of the fellow.
For the most part, he appears to be quite clueless, but then he'll come up
with something, like that decision not to call at Efate, that seems rather
"You think this is all a game," said the secretary.
The Irishman nodded. "It's difficult not to wonder. In which case we must
also wonder who else is involved and what they're after." He watched his
companion carefully, for she was almost certainly an agent of one of the
If Miss Perkins noticed his scrutiny, she gave no sign, "I think we can
assume this involves the Ujelang Device," she replied. "It does seem to be
the common thread connecting these various conspiracies. The British Union
will be trying to obtain the secret of the refiner the White Russians used
to concentrate uraninite. The German nationalists will be seeking the same
information, unless they already have it, in which case they would be
seeking to preserve it for themselves. And Clark..." she paused.
"That is the question, isn't it?" observed MacKiernan. "What is the
Admiralty's objective? Do they seek to understand this weapon, to suppress
it, or to reproduce it for their own use. The first two possibilities seem
quite reasonable. The third might be cause for concern."
She stopped and turned to face him. "Fergus," she said quietly. "What
makes you think there's only one faction in the Admiralty?"
He studied her face in surprise. It gave nothing away. "Alice?" he began.
She touched his lips to silence him. "We'd best get back to the crew
section," she said, "or we'll miss dinner."
The L-137 maintained station above the southern shore of Oa Ki, engines
turning over at low power to hold position in the steady southeast breeze.
From the air, the atoll seemed untouched by the hand of man -- the abandoned
laboratory hidden beneath a canopy of jungle. Ernst studied the scene from
the control car window, then turned to the leader of his shore party.
"So Sigmund," he asked, "what did you find?"
"It appears that we were not the first ones here, Mein Herr," the marine
replied. "We found signs that someone landed a party by Transporter a week or
two ago. They seem to have proceeded directly to the Russian laboratory, then
returned to their ship."
"Would this have been our friend Everett?"
The marine shook his head. "I does not seem so. Most of the drag marks were
gone, but from the traces that remained, I'd guess the vessel was a Hill
Class or equivalent."
Ernst frowned. "That is not good. It suggests the Royal Navy is taking a
greater interest in this matter than we'd like. Were there any other
"Yes, Mein Herr. We found signs that a second party brought a boat here
sometime after the first. Like their predecessors, they made their way
directly to the laboratory, as if they knew it was there."
"Do we have any idea what these people were looking for?"
"It is impossible to tell after so much time," said Sigmund. "Still, we were
able to determine which buildings the parties examined. The first group
seems to have concentrated on the one where the centrifuges used to be. The
second group visited this building too, but they spent most of their time
exploring one of the dormitories."
"One of the dormitories," mused the captain. "This would be the one where
the scientists lived."
The marine nodded. "Yes, Mein Herr. What does this mean?"
"If they came by boat, they must have been White Russians. Anyone else
would have arrived by air. Some of them must have survived our attack last
year. They will be trying to locate their missing scientist.
"This raises the stakes. We must find the man first."
Next week: Our Inquires Are Noted For Their Discretion...
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