The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 381: I Suppose It's No Longer Much Of A Secret

The Brotherhood of Workers reaches the secret laboratory

Lieutenant-Commander Colson brought the R-87 to Cairns precisely on schedule -- with Michaelson aboard, matters could scarcely be otherwise. The station was busy, as elements of the Pacific Squadron passed through on a cruise to Melanesia, but the handling parties knew their business -- another testimony to Michaelson's strictness -- and the mooring went smoothly.

After the vessel was on the mast, Michaelson departed for his office, leaving Fenwick behind to handle the minutiae that attended an arrival. When these had been dealt with, the signalman headed to the administration building to report. He found Michaelson working his way through the pile of paperwork that had accumulated during his absence.

The senior captain didn't bother to look up. "I trust everything is in order," he said curtly.

"The R-87 has been taken to the shed for servicing, as you instructed," said Fenwick. "Colson expects her to be ready for flight in two days."

"That should serve," said Michaelson. "We're unlikely to need the vessel before then. Everett can keep an eye on the German and Japanese nationalists for us and the Soviets have been accounted for."

"Can we be certain they'll investigate the White Russian's secret laboratory?" asked Fenwick.

A smile flickered across Michaelson's face. It was the smile of player with a winning hand... or a swordsman who'd delivered a successful thrust. "They have no choice," he told his aide. "They'll know I'm trying to mislead them, but they can't take the chance there might be something there. This places severe limits on their scope of operations. If they fly directly to the site, they'll be low on consumables. If they resupply en route, we'll learn of this in ample time to take appropriate measures."

"What if they find something there?"

Michaelson made a dismissive gesture. "The place has been picked over quite thoroughly. What could they possibly find?"

Captain Loika studied the empty sky with some satisfaction. They'd crossed the Timor Sea at night to avoid observation, and dawn had found the Brotherhood of Workers off a deserted stretch of the north Australian coast. The only possible watchers would be pearl fishers or smugglers, neither of whom would be likely to report their presence. This left the Russians free to do as they chose.

Now they were heading west, searching for the White Russian laboratory. To their left, the shoreline was a succession of low headlands, sandy beaches, and mangrove swamps, interspersed with the occasional mud-choked estuary. Settlements were notable by their absence. Farther inland, the terrain grew drier, giving way to a landscape so empty it made ordinary deserts seem lush by comparison. It was difficult to imagine anything less like Kamchatka.

"What's that up ahead?" asked Tsukanov.

Loika looked where the commissar was pointing. Through binoculars, he could make our a clearing near the mouth of a small river. "That might be our laboratory," he replied. "Airman Chekov, reduce power to one third."

A short time later, they were maintaining station 1000' over the jungle, engines turning over at low revolutions to counter a light breeze from the northeast. Below them, the clearing spread out like a diagram of how to cut down brush if one wasn't too concerned about leaving a mess. It was quite obviously artificial -- strewn with recent stumps and criss-crossed by the tracks of heavy equipment.

"It doesn't look very secret," Tsukanov remarked. "Could this be some mine or lumber camp that isn't marked on our charts?"

"I don't see any buildings," said Loika. "This must be the site of the laboratory. Michaelson did say the place had been looted. This clearing must have been left by the looters."

"How long ago do you think this happened?" asked the commissar.

Loika studied the clearing, then chuckled. "Who can say?" he replied. "The brush is beginning to grow back. In Siberia, that would take years. Here in the tropics, it might take several minutes."

Tsukanov chuckled as well, then gestured in the direction of the Transporter room "Shall we investigate, comrade?"

The Transporter platform struck the ground with its usual clang. Loika and Tsukanov vaulted over rail before it could drag, then signaled the operator they were clear. As the hoist rose back to the ship, they took stock of their surroundings. These were even more overgrown than they'd seemed from the air. Thickets were spreading along the edges of the clearing and the ground was covered with fresh grass, fast-growing sedges, and stinking passion flower -- an invasive species the Australians regretted almost as much as they did the rabbits.

Loika pointed at the ruts still visible beneath the vegetation. "It looks like someone used a traction engine to drag cargo into the clearing. Let's find out where these tracks came from."

Examination revealed two trails into the jungle. One lead north toward the estuary. Loika dismissed this as work of latecomers who'd arrived after the original looters were gone. The other led a short distance south, ending at a cave.

The Russians examined this with some annoyance. "A cave?" grumbled Tsukanov. "Are they serious?"

"What else should we have expected?" said Loika. "In radio dramas, the secret laboratories are always hidden in caves."

Tsukanov sighed. "I'd hoped for more imagination."

The airmen had to stoop to negotiate the entrance, but the ceiling rose as they advanced until they were able to walk upright. It was obvious that others had been here before them. The floor was scarred with the marks from a sledge, broken brackets showed where lighting fixtures had been torn from the ceiling, and the place was littered with cartridge cases.

Tsukanov examined several in the light of his hand lamp. "Some of these are from the Nagant M1985 used by the Imperial Army," he reported. "Others are for the 9 mm Parabellum. This suggests the place was held by the czarists and attacked by Germans, just as Michaelson said."

"They're long gone by now," said Loika. He gestured toward one of the walls. "What do you think of this?"

Tsukanov examined the rock and saw that it was covered with petroglyphs -- obviously work of some antiquity. Most were so stylized it was difficult to tell the subject, but he spotted some humanoid figures in company with what he assumed were creatures out of myth. One of the former was clapping what might have been a pair of cymbals together. Some of the latter looked almost like characters from American animated cinema.

The commissar shook his head. "This doesn't conform to the principles of Soviet Realism."

"Capitalist petroglyphs?" Loika suggested.

"That would be `capitoglyphs'," chuckled Tsukanov.

"Da," said Loika, "painted by `petralists'."

Continuing down the tunnel, the airmen came to a large chamber that must have housed the laboratory. This had been stripped of everything of value -- even the cables and plumbing were gone. Smashed cabinets, overturned benches, and more scattered cartridge cases testified to the violence of the struggle that had raged here. Farther on, the tunnel ended at what might have once been a vault. This too had been looted. Even the door had been dismounted and dragged away, presumably for its value as scrap.

Loika studied the vacant chamber and swore under his breath. "We've come here for nothing," he muttered.

"That's why Michaelson told us about this place," said Tsukanov. "That man is a negodyay. He knew we'd have to waste time, fuel, and hydrogen assuring ourselves it was empty."

"It's not entirely empty, tavarishch," came a voice from behind them.

They turned to see an unremarkable figure in ordinary field clothing -- another Russian, judging from his accent -- watching them with a sardonic expression.

"Who are you?" demanded Tsukanov.

The man gave a faint smile. "My name is Karlov."

Next week: No One Visits Choiseul, Except For The Cryptic Artifacts...

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