The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 435: And What Shouldn't We Conclude From This Information?

Jigsaw puzzle with scissors

The Commander set down his pen and gazed at the mountains to the north. They gleamed in the noonday sun like a gateway to some other mysterious and more elemental world. What secrets did they hide, he wondered? Who lived there besides these sullen Tcho Tcho tribes? He put these speculations aside as unworthy of a servant of the Emperor. Turning away from the window, he glanced at the aide who'd been standing at attention, waiting to be noticed.

"Speak," he said curtly.

The aide bowed. "Hai, Teitoku. We have received word from our agent in Bhamo. He reports that Captain Everett has been questioning the archaeologists about their missing colleague."

Servants of the Emperor did not indulge in something as puerile as a scowl. "He's getting too close," said the Commander. "He must not be allowed to continue. Instruct our agent to kidnap this `inspector Scott' in such a fashion that blame falls on the Germans."

"That may not be necessary, Teitoku. It seems that our allies have already kidnapped the man for reasons of their own."

"Interesting," said the Commander. "Did they explain why they've chosen to reveal themselves?"

"No, Teitoku."

The Commander shook his head. "It will involve money," he said contemptuously. "These gaijin are only merchants. They do not know any better. But that is not our concern. We have the scientist and the centrifuges. All we need now is an adequate source of electrical power."

"Our agent may be able to provide this," said the aide. "He has found a cargo of generators. Shall I instruct him to purchase them?"

The Commander allowed himself a smile. "Hai. It seems that the gods smile on our venture."

The airship once known as the Philadelphian, now the Vexillator, registration number G-FANG, rode from one of the outlying masts at Da Nang's sprawling air station. In the captain's stateroom, afternoon light filtered in past a set of embroidered curtains. Once the preserve of a captain of American industry, the cabin had undergone a substantial transformation. Now it was furnished like a lady's boudoir... for a lady with a fascination for edged weapons.

Baron Warfield studied the chamber with approval. "I see you've made good use of this prize," he told the baroness. "What else have you been up to while I was away?"

Lady Warfield poured herself a glass of wine. "I've been amusing myself by using Captain Everett to track down the missing Japanese chemist," she said, "but this game has come to an end. It seems that our allies took the man to their secret base in Burmah."

"The one the Korean woman escaped from?"

The baroness nodded. "They still believe we don't know about the other one. I've seen no need to shatter this illusion. Fortunately, we were able to recover the man's papers from his luggage on the Grover Cleveland. These confirm our suspicions about his invention. How was England?"

The baron shrugged. "As tedious as ever, but Moseley continues to provide unwitting cover for our own activities, and Milford's legal actions against us have been quashed. There was a price for the latter. It seems the viscount's visit to the Pacific attracted notice in Whitehall. Someone -- presumably Churchill -- sent an investigator, and I was told to see that this inquiry came to nothing. Our Japanese associates expressed a similar sentiment. I had our old associate in Bhamo intercept the man, and I've been using him to draw Everett on a wild goose chase. I trust this won't interfere with your own plans."

"Hardly," said the baroness. "Everett outlived his usefulness long ago."

"Good," said the baron. "With him out of the way and the Japanese laboring under misapprehension that we're on their side, our agent in Bhamo should have little trouble abducting the chemist."

The Fat Man studied the report with a frown. Once again, his men had failed in their attempt to kidnap the English inspector. Couldn't they do anything right? How did they expect to restore the Fatherland to greatness if they couldn't even manage a simple abduction? He glanced out the window, where day was turning to evening, and scowled. The fault lay with this environment. It was too soft. Warm sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, and sultry island maidens were hardly the right tools with which to forge warriors.

He turned as his aide entered. "Are you here to report another failure?" he growled.

"No, Mein Herr," the man said cautiously. "We've received word from Burmah. It appears that someone else has kidnapped the inspector."

The Fat Man raised an eyebrow. "The Japanese?"

"The report wasn't clear, but it's difficult to imagine who else could have been responsible."

The Fat Man laughed. It was not a kind laugh. "So, our former allies have finally been forced to reveal their presence to the Royal Navy. We will not spare them any sympathy. Now they'll be preoccupied with Everett while the captain will be preoccupied with them, leaving us free to kidnap the chemist."

Michaelson set the last report aside, rose from his desk, and walked to the window. Outside, the sun was settling toward the horizon. It should have been a peaceful moment, but peace was not foremost in the senior captain's thoughts.

So far, the game had gone as he expected. Fenwick was on his way back from Iwojima after confirming the information from German naval intelligence. The Warfields had taken the bait and kidnapped the inspector, freeing MacKiernan to take over the search for the missing chemist while Everett distracted their adversaries by trying to rescue the man. He felt some satisfaction at this, like a man who'd seized the advantage in several simultaneous of games of chess. Still, he couldn't escape the impression that this had all been too easy. Was there another player, manipulating events in the same way for reasons of his or her own?

Night lay upon the village, cloaking the houses in shadow. Faint calls echoed from the surrounding jungle. They might have been nocturnal birds, or they might have been creatures from some earlier cycle of Earth's existence, preserved on this island by some strange caprice of natural law. Outside the Governor's mansion, a sentry gazed into the darkness and shifted his grip on his rifle. There was no need to worry about outsiders in this isolated place, but the islanders told stories of strange things that dwelt in the night, and these tales were not so easy to discount after the sun went down.

Inside, the Governor sat reading a copy of Baudelaire. He looked up as the door opened, and set down his glass of wine. The figure that met his gaze was unfamiliar, which was hardly possible given the circumstances.

"Who are you?" he asked in surprise.

The figure's expression might have been a smile. "I have been known by several different names. I also have a proposition."

Next week: Follow Those Portable Generators!...

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