The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 369: Conclusions Worth Leaping To

Hurdler leaping over the edge of a cliff

"More tea, sir?" asked Fenwick.

"I believe I will," said Michaelson.

The two men sat in the R-87's tiny mess hall, gazing out the starboard window. As the sea breeze filled in, the airship had swung at her mooring to give them a view of the other mast, where the Brotherhood of Workers rode like a five million cubic foot puzzle. Some time ago, a party had left the Russian vessel and headed into town. Fenwick suspected it had contained two more members when it returned.

"I imagine those fellows have rescued their captain and commissar from that bar," he remarked. "It's a pity they didn't leave us more time to conduct our inquiries."

"The investigation was not entirely profitless," said Michaelson. "We learned that the communist cell in Darwin didn't have a chance to send a report about last year's events. This suggests that Trotsky's government has yet to learn about the Device. We can anticipate a reaction when they do."

"I daresay!" Fenwick agreed. "But if the Soviets didn't know about the White Russian plot, why did they send an airship here?"

Michaelson tapped the report they'd just received from Sydney. "We may be able to draw some conclusions from their movements," he observed. "According to the Admiralty, they lifted ship from Vladivostok at the end of June and called at Da Nang to resupply. Their next port of call was Besa, on Sumbawa. What does that suggest to you?"

Fenwick glanced at their small-scale chart of the Pacific. "It's on a direct line from French Indochina to American Samoa," he replied. "This would be a good place to replenish their consumables if they were bound for the US Naval Air Station at Pago Pago. It's also where Captain Everett encountered that party of Scottish socialists. We can assume those fellows were agents."

"Quite," said Michaelson, in the same tone of voice a schoolmaster might use to encourage a particularly slow student. "But the Russians didn't continue on to Tutuila. Instead they diverted to Darwin, as if they'd learned of something important here."

"Do we have any idea what that could be, sir?"

Michaelson studied the other airship for a moment, as if hoping this would provide some clue, then shook his head. "Not yet," he admitted, "but I wonder about the timing. Their decision to change destinations occurred after Captain Everett's visit to Sumbawa."

"Do you think there's a connection?"

"We should not leap to conclusions," Michaelson said with a smile. "We will allow our adversaries to make this error on our behalf."

"More tea, Comrade Loika," asked Tsukanov.

"Da," said the captain.

The two men stood in the common room of the Brotherhood of Workers, gazing out the port widows. To the west, the R-87 gleamed in the afternoon sun. She was smaller than their own airship -- an elegant example of British engineering -- but her graceful lines gave no clue as to her mission.

Loika studied the vessel, then shook his head. "So that was Caption Michaelson," he remarked. "He thinks very quickly, that man. I can understand why the cell here tried to eliminate him."

"It's unfortunate they didn't succeed," grumbled Tsukanov. The commissar was still smarting from the treatment they'd received in the bar before they'd managed to establish their bona fides.

"Perhaps," chuckled Loika. "Still, it's better to have an adversary you can see than one who remains hidden. Now that the man has revealed himself, he is no longer a threat. I wonder what brought him to Darwin."

"We found him questioning members of the local cell," Tsukanov observed. "He must have been investigating the assassination attempt."

"We should not leap to conclusions," chided Loika. "According to the bartender, the British Union has been active here. They would be natural allies for a British naval officer."

The commissar frowned. The implications were obvious. "You think the Royal Navy is trying to discover the secret of this weapon the White Russians built."

Loika nodded. "If this so-called `Device' is powerful enough to destroy an entire island, I wouldn't like to see such a thing in the hands of the capitalists,"

"I wouldn't like to see such a thing in anyone's hands," said Tsukanov. "We must take steps to prevent this."

The Governor held the glass up to the light and sighed in resignation. It was a näive Australian wine, with notes of eucalyptus that seemed entirely out of place in a red, but he supposed it could have been worse. At least it wasn't Chateau Rennel.

He was reflecting on the disadvantages of life in the Pacific when a henchman knocked on the door. "We have received word from Cairns," said the man. "The assassination attempt failed."

"I suppose we should have expected this," the Governor replied philosophically. "Michaelson is a formidable adversary. Where is he now?"

"He departed the station two days ago aboard the R-87. We have no idea where he went, but we did receive a report from Sola. The Flying Cloud called there yesterday."

"Alors," mused the Governor. "They must have learned our friends les Japonais have used the place for resupply."

"Could they be trying to find the cruiser?"

"We should not leap to conclusions," said the Governor. "Captain Everett would not be so foolish. His ship is no match for the vessel."

"Then what was he trying to accomplish?"

The Governor shook his head. "That is not the right question. We must ask ourselves how the Anglais knew to investigate Vanau Lava. They could only have learned of the place from our friends' erstwhile ally."

The aide raised his eyebrows. "The English have joined with the Fat Man?"

"So it would seem. We must take steps in response."

The Fat Man set down the report he'd been reading and glared at his aide. "How hard can it be to kill a glorified clerk?" he asked incredulously.

"Michaelson was lucky," said the man. "According to our agent, someone stumbled upon the assassin before he could act. We'll get him next time."

"We will not make the attempt," said the Fat Man. "Now that he's forewarned, he will guard himself carefully. What did he do after the assassin was caught?"

"He ordered the Flying Cloud out on a sortie. We have yet to determine where the vessel went. Then he departed for Darwin aboard the R-87. He must have learned of our arrangement with the chief of police."

The Fat Man indicated the paper in front of him. "We should not leap to conclusions," he chided his aide. "According to our agent at the air station, a Soviet naval vessel called there yesterday."

"The Russians!" exclaimed the aide.

"Ja," said the Fat Man. "This cannot be a coincidence. Michelson must have gone to meet them. We must take steps to oppose this alliance."

Next week: The Big Sheep, Part I...

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