The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 248: Tanks, We've Already Got One

Everett, Clark, and Mark V tank

They sent the signalmen back to the ships to inform the crews of their intentions, then the rest of the party -- Everett, Clark, MacKiernan, Miss Perkins, Fleming, and Natasha -- sought out the fastest transportation to the mines. This proved to be an ancient dray pulled by a disinterested-looking team of mules. The Commodore managed to make it seem like a state carriage, but the others soon found fault with this conveyance.

"Perhaps we should have taken the other tank," suggested MacKiernan.

"Those machines are not particularly swift," Everett observed. "This is our best chance to beat Fuller to the mines."

"Are we certain the fellow's ahead of us?" asked Clark.

Everett studied the road ahead. "It's difficult to say, sir," he replied. "I don't see any tracks, so it's possible he managed to lose his way. His record is not one of unqualified success."

Clark nodded. "So I understand. Is he still associated with Baronet Mosley's lot: this British Union of Fascists?"

"He was at one time," said Everett. "They might have became disenchanted with him after the Rabaul incident. You know the fellow?"

"Not personally, but he has some reputation as a military theorist. He also has friends at the Admiralty."

"This might explain how he managed to acquire a K Class fleet submarine," said MacKiernan.

"He has one of those?" marveled Clark. "How extraordinary! This might not necessarily constitute evidence of friendship on the part of the donor. Do we have any idea where the man's allegiance lies now?"

"No," said Everett, "but we can assume he's after Karlov. It's difficult to imagine what else could have brought him to the Moluccas."

The Commodore glanced toward the tailgate, where Natasha sat with her legs curled primly beneath her. "And what is this lady's involvement in the affair?" he asked.

Everett had been wondering this himself. "I don't believe she's planning to betray us, if that's what you mean," he replied, "but she most certainly has her own agenda, and this remains a mystery."

Further conversation was interrupted by their arrival at the mine. This was an unattractive pit surrounded by a noisy assortment of pumps, generators, and the like. A row of ore cars looked distinctly out of place in this tropical setting. The only thing missing was a team of dwarves and an exiled princess. There was no sign of Fuller, but there was no way they could have heard his tank above the sound of the machinery.

The manager was a short burly Aussie wearing a hardhat. "G'day, mates!" he announced cheerfully. "Welcome to Weda Nickel and Transition Metals! What can I do for you?"

"We're looking for a Russian scientist who may have visited your works," said Clark.

"That chappie?" said the manager. "He's out fossicking over at the old ruins. They're just up that trail. You can't miss 'em."

The `old ruins' stood close enough to the mine that the sound of the works' machinery still echoed through the trees. The site was a maze of unmortared stone walls, half-strangled by jungle, that reminded Everett of the marae on Tahiti. Its masonry was crude compared to what he'd seen in Palestine, but impressive in this setting.

"The geometry of this place is peculiar," Miss Perkins observed. "It looks almost like a projection from some strange non-Euclidean realm into our ordinary four-dimensional space and time. Where did the islanders get this design?"

Natasha shrugged. "They attribute to it to some prehuman race that filtered down from beyond the stars before the dawn of humanity."


"It does look like quite the labyrinth," agreed MacKiernan. "Should we split up to search for our laddie?"

Clark shook his head. "We could end up searching for each other like characters from some radio drama. We'll stay together. We'll have more eyes and ears that way."

Everett wasn't sure what good ears would be with so much background noise. He anticipated a lengthy search. But the ruins were of no great extent, and soon they rounded a corner to find themselves gazing across a clearing at the face of a cliff, where a slight figure in field clothing was studying a series of petroglyphs. The man turned at their approach and nodded to the Commodore.

"Commodore Clark, I presume?"

Clark hid his surprise well. "You are correct," he replied. "I take it you are Karlov?"

"I am," said the man. "Are you here on behalf of the Prime Minister's faction, the First Lord's, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer's?"

This time Clark was unable to conceal his reaction. "How the devil did you learn about those?"

Karlov smiled. "My dear Commodore, you just told me." He nodded to Everett. "Good morning Captain. I take it from your presence that the nationalist's airship has been removed from the board?"

Everett raised an eyebrow. "Your awareness of these matters suggests you might have had some hand in arranging them."

"Of course he did!' cried Natasha. "It can hardly be coincidence that we all ended up in Weda at the same time! He's been manipulating us from the start!"

Karlov seemed unfazed by this accusation. "Well played, my dear," he told her. "But you have lost track of some of the pieces. I'm sure the Commodore wasn't supposed to be here."

"I don't know what you're talking about!" Natasha replied.

"Don't you?"

"What are they talking about?" Clark asked Everett.

"I'm not sure, sir," Everett replied, "but I doubt this conversation will resolve itself to our advantage. We might do well to intervene."

"Quite," said Clark, drawing himself up. "Mister Karlov, Miss Natasha," he announced, "let us return to the air station where you may continue this discussion at your leisure."

"I think not," Karlov said dryly. "Someone may have other plans." He gestured to their left, where the roar of an engine could now be heard over the noise from the mine. Before they could react, a great olive-drab machine had smashed its way into the clearing. The name Waltzing Mathilda was painted in neat white letters on its side.

"I take it this is that first tank you mentioned," Clark remarked to Everett.

"I'm afraid so, sir," Everett replied.

The sound of the engine dropped to an idle. A hatch swung open and a man emerged wearing a leather helmet of the sort favored by players of American-style football emerged. He was followed by several men carrying Enfield rifles and a stocky young woman who appeared to be their prisoner. The man removed a set of earplugs and shook his head to clear it.

"I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" he asked with a smile.

"Mister Fuller," said the Commodore. "I have heard of you."

"Commodore Clark," the man replied politely. "I know of you by reputation. And Captain Everett, at last we meet."

"How did you find this place?" asked Everett.

"I was fortunate enough to encounter someone who could direct me. Gentlemen, may I introduce Miss Annastacia. She is... in a position of some authority among the White Russians. Now I can complete my collection. Mister Karlov, Miss Nicki, I must ask you to come with me."

Nicki? thought Everett. How many identities does that woman have?

Under the guns of Fullers' men, Karlov and Natasha filed aboard the tank. The hatch clanged shut, the engine roared, and the machine crashed off into the brush.

"What should we do now, sir?" asked Fleming, as the clatter of treads faded into the distance. "If we run, we might be able to catch up with them."

"It's difficult to imagine what we could do to the machine if we did," said Everett. "Our past experience suggests that the best weapon against a tank may be another tank."

"Do you think we could get back to town in time to recover the other one?"

"Listen," said MacKiernan. "It sounds as if someone might have answered that question for us."

Indeed, the noise of machinery seemed to be increasing, this time from their right. Moments later, a second machine with the name Chekhov's Gun scrawled across its prow burst into the clearing. A hatch swung open and several smartly-dressed men leapt out to point submachine guns at the party.

"All right, buddies," demanded their leader, "where are the dames?"

Next week: Back By Popular Demand...

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