The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 238: There Are Several Different Approaches

Gilolo and the surrounding islands

Jenkins emerged from the radio shack with a message flimsy in hand. "We've received a coded message from Iverson," he told Captain Everett. "He found no sign of our German friends, but it appears a vessel that might have been the hijacked French airship visited Ternate a week ago, followed two days later by the Cottswold."

Everett raised his eyebrows. "So the AT-38 is here too? I imagine Commodore Clark set off in pursuit."

"From what we know of the Commodore, this does seem likely," Jenkins observed wryly. "Do you think he realizes he's changed quarry?"

"There's no way to tell," Everett replied. "But there's no sense in joining him, so I suppose we must continue our pursuit of the L-137."

"How will we accomplish this?" asked Jenkins. "We counted on them refueling on Ternate."

"That may still be their intention," said Everett. "I believe we can turn this to our advantage."

The next evening found the R-505 riding from a mast at Ternate's air station in a light southeast wind. To starboard, the shadow of Mount Gamalama was stretching across the field. To port, across the strait that separated the island from Gilolo, a line of clouds caught the light of the setting sun. They'd picked up Iverson and his party offshore. Now they were taking on some much needed hydrogen and fuel -- for all of her speed and maneuverability, economy was not one of the Flying Cloud's strong points.

Everett gazed across the field at the row of visiting ships, then turned to his bridge crew. "Our arrival here will have put a spoke in our adversaries' plans for resupply," he told them. "They now have two alternatives. They can divert to another station, exposing themselves to observation by Michaelson's agents, or they can press on without replenishment, which could leave them at a disadvantage in an encounter."

"Which d'ye ken they'll chose?" asked Abercrombie.

"I imagine they'll press on to be sure they reach Karlov first," said Everett. "This raises the question of how best to intercept them. Mister Iverson, could we have the chart?"

Iverson unrolled their Admiralty survey of the Banda Sea. Gilolo lay near the top, between Sulawese and the western tip of New Guinea. It was a large island, stretching across more than a hundred miles of ocean. Four long peninsulas radiated from a central mass, like the head of one of the quaint squid-faced idols found in parts of the Pacific.

The lieutenant pointed to a mark near the junction of the southeast and southwest peninsulas. "According to the Almanac, there's a mining concession at Weda, here on the west coast," he noted. "They might be expected to keep track of commercial traffic."

"Perhaps," said Everett, "but it's somewhat out of our way. I believe we should start at Jailolo, here, across the strait from Ternate. It's a more central location, and there's no point in using up fuel and ballast until we need to."

They'd signed on more marines in Kupang to replace the squad they'd lost on Java. The end of the War had left many unemployed sailors looking for a chance to avenge the Imperial Navy's loss at Jutland, and some had made their way to the Pacific. The recruits swaggered about the L-137 with all the enthusiasm of those who had never seen combat.

Sigmund regarded the replacements with some misgivings. "I do not think much of these new men," he muttered to Ernst, "and I do not like these attacks on civilians."

"Neither do I," the captain muttered back, "but our master leaves us little choice." He indicated Artur, who was glaring at the latest message from their agent on Ternate.

"Two Royal Navy airships called at the station this week," the Fat Man's representative announced. "One is still present. They must have learned where we are headed. Sigmund, could your men have talked?"

"No, Mein Herr," said the marine. "And if I understand this message correctly, the first ship must have arrived before the men were taken."

Artur gave a begrudging nod. "Perhaps," he admitted, "but we cannot resupply at Ternate while the Englishers are there. Can we reach Gilolo with the supplies we have on board?"

Ernst had been expecting this question. "This would not leave us in a position to fight an action," he warned, "but we should have enough resources for routine flight operations. Will we call at Weda to check the records of the mining concession?"

"No," said Artur. "We will visit the mission at Dorosago, near the tip of this northeastern peninusula, and learn what we can of our adversaries' movements. Then we will move on to Kao. We have agents there."

"Gilolo?" snorted Marty. "What kind of name is that? It sounds like..."

Vlad looked pained. It appeared he had some understanding of English idioms. "I did not name this island," he replied in annoyance, "but that is where our man is now. Can we have the map?"

Marty glanced at Al, who spread out the chart they'd purchased in Hollandia. "It's a mighty big island," the skipper said dubiously. "Where ya gonna look first?"

"We know that this freighter, the Tranquility, called at Galela, at the tip of this northwestern peninsula," said Vlad. "We will start there. It is where Karlov will have disembarked, and there are no roads on the island, so he cannot have gone far."

"What if he hides when he learns we're after him?" asked Jake.

The Russian grinned. "How will he learn of this? There are no phones on the island either, and our ship is faster than any runner. We will find the man before he even knows of our arrival."

Clark studied their chart of the Banda Sea with every evidence of satisfaction. "The German nationalists are bound for Gilolo, here," he announced, pointing to a spot near the top of the map.

MacKiernan examined the island the Commodore had indicated. It was a substantial body of land -- not as large as Ireland, perhaps, but almost certainly greener, with significantly more coconuts. He wondered how the Commodore could be so certain of his information.

Miss Perkins saved him the question. "How do we know this is their destination?" she asked.

Clark gave a dismissive gesture. "We received intelligence from a reliable agent," he replied.

MacKiernan put two and two together. This might explain how Adley had come upon the scene in the market. The signalman could have been returning from a contact. Once again, he found himself wondering if the Commodore's air of cluelessness was only a pose.

"Where will we look first?" he asked.

Clark tapped a mark on the east coast of the island. "We will start at the port of Buli, here. It's a central location, so it should be a good place to begin our inquiries."

Fuller looked up as his lieutenant entered. "Do we have word of our quarry?" he asked.

"We've confirmed that he was heading for Gilolo," said the other man. "He should be there by now."

"Good," said Fuller. "And what about our competitors?"

"We can be sure the Fat Man's people are involved," said his lieutenant. "We've also received word that one or more Royal navy vessels are in the area. This could pose some problems."

"Quite," said Fuller. Submarines were notoriously vulnerable to airships. He studied the chart he'd tacked to the wall of what the submarine's designers had been pleased to call the captain's 'stateroom'.

"We'll begin at Saketa, here, on the southwestern peninsula," he decided. "It's the least-inhabited part of the island, so we should escape notice."

"Gilolo?" exclaimed Peters. "What an extraordinary name! I wonder if the islanders are aware how much it resembles..."

"One imagines they aren't," Jamison remarked, "or else they would have changed it."

"It appears to be a sizable island," Peters observed. "Wherever could Fuller be heading?"

Clement glanced at his henchmen. At times like this, with dissention in the ranks, it was important to show strong leadership. "I understand there's a mining concession at Weda," he announced. "We'll call there and see if they have word of the fellow."

Next week: Routing Teutons...

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