The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 384: I Suppose We Should Have A Look At The Place

Folder of 'Falsified registrations: Gn-Gv'

"Choiseul was a dead end," MacKiernan said sourly. "There was no sign of the mysterious cruiser. The only visitors were those aisteach Finnish archeologists, and they arrived by sea."

"This is hardly cause for dismay," Everett assured his exec. "We can't expect all our inquiries to be profitable. While you were gone, Pierre made a discovery here on Guadalcanal."

All eyes turned to the Frenchman. He made a dismissive gesture, as if to suggest this was a matter of no great concern. "I had wondered how les nationalistes Japonais paid for resupply," he said. "I assumed they would resort to some forgery but when I examined the receipts at the air station, I found they'd drawn on what appears to be a legitimate letter of credit from a commercial bank in Utrecht."

MacKiernan nodded. Left unstated was the means by which Pierre had gained access to what should have been confidential information. "Why did they bother?" he wondered. "They've been quite willing to resort to murder. Why should they scruple at theft?"

"They might wish to avoid the attention that would follow detection of a forgery," mused Everett. "Their use of a Dutch bank is suggestive. We know they were once allied with the German nationalists, and the Fat Man almost certainly has connections in the Dutch East Indies."

"You think they established contacts of their own there?"

"Perhaps, and this may be our only remaining lead. The last reported sighting of the mysterious cruiser was a week ago. If its range is at all comparable the Sunnyvale's it could be anywhere by now."

"Should we follow this one up or try to shadow the Americans?" asked Iverson.

"The Americans may be a more immediate concern if the Fat Man plans them some mischief," MacKiernan observed. "They may also be easier to find. These Japanese fellows have proved somewhat elusive."

"We aren't in a position to evaluate the consequences of our decision," said Everett. "We'll have to inform Michaelson of the situation and request instructions."

It only took Jenkins a few minutes to encode and transmit the message to Cairns. The reply arrived almost as quickly. Everett studied it and nodded.

"The senior captain's orders are much as we should have expected," he told his officers. "He's instructed us to shadow the Americans."

MacKiernan swore. "That ar bheagan man is sending us on a task he's certain we'll fail."

"Then we'll have to make sure we succeed," Everett said brightly.

As a trainee in the Signal Corps, Fenwick had been taught that patience was a virtue. He had ample time to practice this lesson as he waited for Michaelson to acknowledge his presence. At last the senior captain looked up from his paperwork.

"I trust you've sent the instructions," he said.

"It would have reached them fifteen minutes ago."

Michaelson set his pen aside and nodded. "Pieces are falling into place," he announced. "The Fat Man's people seem interested in the American vessel. They've also made several attacks on Everett. We'll leave him to entertain them while we learn what the Japanese nationalists are up to with their famous cruiser."

"Perhaps they're building another secret base," Fenwick suggested.

Michaelson shook his head. "They'd bring the material in by sea. An airship could hardly carry enough cargo. I imagine they're looking for something or moving against some enemy. Their use of a warship suggests the latter. The alternatives would be the Fat Man's people, the White Russians, or possibly the British Union. It would be tempting to let them carry this struggle to a conclusion, but as my friend J. R. R. observed in a similar context, the victor would emerge stronger and free from doubt."

"How will we track them down?" asked Fenwick. "Everett couldn't, and he was on the scene."

"We have somewhat more resources than the good captain," Michaelson said dryly. "We shall ask our acquaintances in German Naval Intelligence to make inquiries regarding this bank. While we wait for their reply, we'll investigate the Japanese community in Broome. Given its proximity to their secret air station, it's an obvious place for the nationalists to have maintained agents. Have Lieutenant-Commander Colson prepare to lift ship."

The flight from Cairns to Broome took less than a day. Since they were assured of resupply, they could afford to make the passage at full power. Mooring was easy -- one of the advantages Wolseleys had over larger vessels -- and soon Michaelson and Fenwick were making their way to the station's office. There they learned that a large airship, seven million cubic feet enclosed volume with eight engines, had called at Broome shortly after the destruction of the secret Japanese base, claiming to be a Pacific Mail liner named the Grover Cleveland, N-122.

"How could they get away with such an implausible deception?" marveled Fenwick.

"We can hardly expect people in a place like Broome to know any better," said Michaelson. "Did these fellows take anyone aboard while they were here?"

Fenwick flipped through the loading documents. "I see three passengers listed as `Foreign laborers. Occupation: pearl fishing. Nationality: Asian'."

"Those will have been our agents," mused Michaelson. "It seems we arrived too late to pursue them. Is there anything else of note?"

"No," said Fenwick, "but according to the port records, some group of `wogs' -- that was the word they used -- showed up on a raft a few days after the airship left and took passage on a local island freighter. Shall I try to learn more about this incident?"

Michaelson shook his head. "It's unlikely to be relevant. We'd do better to visit this secret air station. Everett didn't have a chance to investigate the place, and if it's as substantial as his report suggests, it may offer us some clues."

No one on the R-87 had ever seen the station, but Everett and MacKiernan's report had provided a position. In the interests of speed, Michaelson elected to fly there directly rather than head east and follow the rail line inland from the coast. After they were on course, the senior captain left to attend to some paperwork, instructing Fenwick to inform him if anything happened. This proved an exercise in monotony. As the miles crawled past with little to see except for a few sheep stations established by ranchers with more optimism than sense, some abandoned mines, and a stretch of the Vermin Control Fence, Fenwick found himself envying his superior.

Toward noon, Michaelson returned to the bridge and checked his watch. "I take it we're on schedule," he said to Colson.

"Yes, sir," the lieutenant-commander replied. "The station should be coming into sight any minute."

As if on cue, a call came over the intercom. "Upper lookout station to bridge, I've spotted the station, bearing 100, range approximately 15 miles. There's something above it, heading north."

"Can you make out what..." Colson began, but Michaelson had already snatched up a pair of binoculars and trained them to the east.

"Sir?" asked Fenwick.

"Interesting," said Michaelson.

Next week: A Few Awkward Moments...

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