The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 391: It Is Possible To Be Too Clever

A pawn sacrifice

They lifted ship from Palau in the morning, as the sun was clearing the horizon. Ascent was routine, and soon the Flying Cloud was underway toward the south. At the station behind them, the Sunnyvale rode from her mast like a slumbering leviathan. A signal lamp winked from her bridge to wish them farewell.

Everett allowed himself a smile, then opened the log to make an entry.

24-Aug-1927, 7 20N, 134 29 E. Departed Palau 0600 heading south, as per the stratagem we agreed upon with Captain Rosendahl to lure the German nationalists into a trap. We will decide upon a destination en route.

He waited for the ink to dry, then closed the volume and turned to the table where MacKiernan was examining their small scale chart of the Western Pacific. Like its predecessors, this one had seen considerable use, and was overdue for replacement. Everett made a mental note to file an RNR-4599WP, Request For More Small-Scale Charts of the Western Pacific, after this mission was over.

"We have three days to lay a false trail, double back to Truk, and contact the Administrator," MacKiernan observed. "Do you have an intermediate destination in mind, sir?"

"We will pay a visit to Rabaul," said Everett. "It's within range of our final destination, and it's a plausible place for us to resupply on our way back to Cairns."

Murdock had been studying the chart, as if trying to measure distances with his eyes. "Wouldn't a route through Port Moresby be shorter, sir?" he asked timidly.

Everett resisted the urge to shake his head. The lieutenant still had some things to learn about airship operations. "Perhaps," he said gently, "but that would take us across the Owen Stanley Range, which would be costly in terms of ballast. We wish to avoid such expenditures if we can. As an exercise, I invite you to calculate the travel time for each route."

"Thank you, sir," said Murdock, glad to have escaped so lightly.

Traveling at the published cruising speed for a Junior Vickers, it took the Flying Cloud slightly more than 24 hours to make the passage from Palau to the Bismarck Archipelago. Everett had timed their arrival for late morning to increase their chances of being seen, so the air around them was busy with traffic. Blimps dotted the sky, carrying cargos and passengers whose schedules were not particularly urgent. A pair of government packets raced south on some errand to the Solomon Islands. To the east, a DELAG liner was setting a course for the Marshalls, Hawaii, or possibly America,

Rabaul's air station was as crowded as ever, but visiting naval vessels received preferential treatment. An hour after dropping her handling lines, the Flying Cloud was riding from a tall mast next to a Meersburg class patrol ship. As their engines fell silent, Everett turned to his officers.

"The Administrator will be expecting a courtesy call," he told them. "In keeping with our deception, we'll inform him that I'm indisposed and MacKiernan will make the visit in my place. In the meantime, Pierre and Sarah will see what news they can gather in town."

Government House sent a car for MacKiernan and Jenkins -- a late-model Adler similar to the one the nationalists had used in Cairns the year before. The ride involved some clashes between a rustic island culture and the Teutonic passion for order and efficiency -- at one point they had to halt to allow a herd of pigs to cross ahead of them -- but the driver seemed to take these checks in stride. When they reached their destination, a guard ushered them to the Administrator's office.

"Guten Tag," said their host. "I see that Captain Everett is not with you. I trust he's in good health."

"The Captain sends his apologies," said MacKiernan. "He was set upon by nationalist agents on Palau. He put paid to the fellows, but he suffered some minor injuries in the process, so we felt it best to return to Cairns."

The Administrator glanced out the window, where the air station was visible to the south. His expression was thoughtful. "Your captain doesn't seem to have taken any precautions to keep this secret," he observed.

MacKiernan nodded to himself. This man was no fool. "No," he replied. "I don't believe he'd be particularly upset if the matter became public knowledge.

The Administrator smiled. "I understand. I will see to it that this information reaches the right ears. Tell Captain Everett that I wish him a speedy recovery, and I regret that he will not be here for the opera."

Pierre and Sarah kept their eyes open as they wandered through town, but no one seemed to be paying them any attention. Attackers were conspicuous by their absence. Either that or they'd learned to leave Sarah alone.

"This isn't quite as exciting as I'd hoped," the island girl observed.

"Oui," Pierre said philosophically, "but we cannot expect entertainment on every island we visit."

Sarah shook her head, then paused to examine a poster. "It looks like we'll miss the opera too," she pouted.

"Notariello is coming here?" said Pierre.

She pointed at the schedule at the bottom of the flier. "Two days from now, after he finishes a performance at Port Moresby."

The figure behind the desk glanced up from the report he'd been reading. Once again, Dietrich was reminded of a dragon in its lair. "So," growled the Fat Man, "what is the word from Palau?"

Deitrich shuffled through his notes. The fuhrer might be in a good mood, but so was a dragon before it attacked.

"Everett escaped the kidnapping attempt, but he was injured in the process. He is returning to Cairns."

"What was the extent of his injuries?"

"Our agents didn't say, but they must be significant if he's abandoning the field."

The Fat Man nodded. "They did better than I expected. The captain is a formidable adversary."

"Why do we order our agents to make these attacks?" asked Dietrich. "They have no hope of success."

"They attract the captain's attention. It is worth sacrificing a pawn to neutralize a knight. I take it there's more to their report."

"Yes, Mein Herr. The Sunnyvale called at Palau a day after Everett's arrival."

The Fat Man laughed -- a short bark of derision. "This cannot have been a coincidence. He must have sought a meeting to warn Rosendahl that we have designs on his vessel. They still haven't guessed our plans. Is there any other news?"

"We have a report from our agents on Kupang," said Dietrich. "A Soviet airship called there today for resupply. This same vessel was seen earlier at Darwin."

The Fat Man made a dismissive gesture. "We'll keep an eye on them to identify their contacts, but we're after bigger game."

Next week: Deciding On Priorities...

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