The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 359: We'll Stop Here for Java

Airship over a tea plantation

"What do you think of our lieutenant?" Everett asked MacKiernan after Murdock and Jenkins had delivered their report.

The exec shook his head in wonder. "He seems to inspire confidences from the ladies. He also seems entirely unaware of this fact."

"The gods bestow this talent on some individuals, for reasons we may never understand," Everett observed dryly. "We will trust him not to abuse it."

"Aye," muttered MacKiernan. "What are our plans now?"

"We've determined that Miss Kim visited this..." Everett took a deep breath. "...Hunminjeongeum Society on Buton. We will wish to learn more about this organization. We also need to determine the origin of the prints you found at the depot. To this end, we'll need some source of information here in the Dutch East Indies."

"The Countess Zelle?" asked MacKiernan.

Everett nodded. "We will set a course for Java."

Resupply on Ambon had left them with plenty of consumables. Everett took advantage of this to avoid Jakarta and approach the Countess's plantation from the south. The southern coastal plains were a patchwork of cropland and villages -- one of the most densely populated landscapes in the world. As they flew north, these gave way to jungle-covered hills that seemed almost untouched by man. Here and there, the ruins of some ancient Buddhist temple rose above the trees. Abandoned since the founding of the Mataram Sultanate, centuries ago, they seemed like relics from some prehuman civilization.

North of the highlands, the terrain fell away in a succession of fertile slopes, given over to coffee and tea plantations. They had little difficulty picking out the Zelle estate from among them. Everett brought his vessel to a halt some distance away and ordered Jenkins to make their signal. The last airship to visit the plantation had dropped troops. The Countess might well have added anti-aircraft defenses since then.

"Is this the same Countess Zelle who had such a reputation in Paris during the War?" Miss Perkins asked while they waited for a reply.

Everett wasn't surprised Miss Perkins knew of the Countess's history. The two women shared some professional interests. "Yes," he told the secretary. "She retired to her ex-husband's estates after the Peace, but she continues her old avocation. She has helped us in the past."

A signal lamp winked from the roof of the mansion. Jenkins flashed an acknowledgement, then turned to his captain. "The Countess would be glad to receive us," he said. "She requests we land our people on the polo field to avoid damaging the crops."

"Very well," said Everett. "Loris, all engines to one quarter and bring us left to 310. Wallace, take us down to 2000'. Miss Sarah, prepare to weigh off once we're in position."

"I will be accompanying the landing party," Miss Perkins announced. "Michaelson gave instructions that I was to be present during any meeting with the Countess."

Everett didn't bother to raise an eyebrow. He'd expected as much. "As you wish." he said. "Report to the Transporter Room in ten minutes."

The wind was gusting, making hoist operations a challenge, and the Transporter platform was swinging as it approached the ground. Everett and Miss Perkins disembarked without incident -- officers of command rank were expected to take such things in stride, and secretaries were immune to the laws of physics. When they reached the mansion a servant escorted them to the salon where the Countess was waiting to receive them.

"Mata," Everett said graciously, "you look the same as always."

She smiled. "Ah, Roland, would that this were true. I see you brought a friend."

"This is Miss Perkins, Michaelson's secretary. Miss Perkins, may I introduce Countess Zelle."

The Countess's eyes sparkled. "Even better, you brought an adversary. What brings you here today?"

"We're investigating a Japanese nationalist group that's been active here in the Pacific. I assume you're aware of the fellows?"

"That would be the Amur River Society. They date back to sometime before the Russo-Japanese War, but they've recently taken an interest in events here. They're said to have an airship the size of a large cruiser, though how they manage to supply it remains a mystery."

"Those rumors are correct. We found and destroyed an air station of theirs in Western Australia. Its personnel had a characteristic taste in art. We recovered these from their barracks."

Countess examined the prints and chuckled. "I'm familiar with the genre," she said. "It had its enthusiasts in Paris. I also know this particular printer. They're a shop on Sumatra that specializes in cheap reproductions. I'll provide you with the address."

"Thank you," said Everett. "We're also trying to locate a Korean agent who turned up at Cairns Royal Air Station last spring. We have no idea who she was working for, but circumstances suggest she's at odds with the Japanese."

"This is hardly surprising, given the relationship between the two nations," observed the Countess. "I take it you have some leads."

Everett nodded. "We have reason to believe she traveled with the Korean cultural mission on Buton Island."

"That would be the Hunminjeong," said the Countess. Everett marveled at her ability to pronounced the name without any hesitation. "I don't know much about them, but I do know something about their movements. They've been traveling about the islands, trying to set up schools. Last year they were on Sumbawa."

"Do you have any idea why they're so determined to teach people their alphabet?"

The Countess shrugged. "Some people collect stamps, some people seek out erotic Japanese art, some people spread writing systems."

It was evening when the A-121, Brotherhood of Workers, reached Da Nang. A year ago, they might have resupplied in China, but the Kuomintang's attitude toward its erstwhile allies in Trotsky's government had cooled after Borodin's ill-advised support of the left-wing movement in Wuhan. Instead, the ship had to continue to the Kingdom of Annam, where the French welcomed the Soviets as an enemy of their enemies in Germany.

The head of the local Comniterm, slightly-built man named Nguyẽn Ái Quôc, met them in a cafe near the Han River.

"How is the Revolution faring here in Indochina?" Captain Loiko asked him.

"The situation is complicated," said the man. "We were working with the Nationalist Party, but now that they've allied with Kuomintang, we've found it expedient to make common cause with the colonialists against them. We're doing better in Burma. We have sympathizers among the British aristocracy, and we've also made contact with the Tcho Tcho."

"Who are they?" asked Commissar Tsukanov.

"They're one of the hill tribes. They're an Austraneasian people, noted for their skill at small-scale agriculture and the cultivation of yams... no, wait, maybe that's the Cia Cia, in the Dutch East Indies. Burma... Buton... it's a mistake anyone could make."

"Good," said the commissar. "Our network in the Pacific continues to grow. Comrades as far away as Australia will be chafing to act."

Next week: It's A Popular Destination This Time Of Year...

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