The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 471: I Know Who To Ask

Chart of the Wstern Pacific

Everett had lifted ship in the evening. Now the Flying Cloud was cruising west with all three engines running at three-quarter power. Ahead, the sun was sinking below a sea of cloud, lighting the horizon with fire. Somewhere behind them Jenkins and Aunt Prodigia would be setting out aboard the Thunderbird. MacKiernan contemplated the signalman's prospects and shook his head.

"I cannot say I envy Jenkins at the moment," he observed.

"We will trust him to make the best of his situation," said Everett. "I believe this would be an opportune time to review ours. What have we discovered so far?"

The Irishman unrolled their small scale chart of the western Pacific and tapped a point in the highlands of Burmah. "The Japanese nationalists seem to taken the lead in the race to reconstruct the Ujelang Device," he said. "Earlier this year, they kidnapped a visiting American chemist, Professor Koshino, and brought him to their secret laboratory here, to build a refining device to concentrate the destructive principle on which we believe the weapon is based. We located the place and raided it, only to discover that they'd moved the Professor and his apparatus to a second facility, the location of which remains a mystery.

"Shortly after our raid, Mister Fuller, representing himself as a Colonial administrator, investigated the laboratory on behalf of the British Union. We have no way of knowing what, if anything, he learned from the wreckage. For our own part, we were able to confirm that the refining process involved high-speed centrifuges and this obscure ore known as uraninite. Centrifuges are something one can find almost anywhere, but only the White Russians and the Fat Man's German nationalists have managed to obtained the ore in any quantity. This came from the McIntyre's quarry in Enterprise Creek, some distance south of Darwin.

"We set out to determine if the Japanese had visited the place themselves. Along the way, we paused to investigate the wreck of Miss Helga's old freighter, the original Viking Girl, which the Germans pirated last year to obtain their supply of ore. On our arrival, we discovered Aunt Prodigia and her nieces preparing to tow the vessel off with their peculiarly-named salvage tug. We left them to this task and pressed on to Darwin. Shortly after our departure, the Japanese nationalists appeared with a salvage tug of their own and made off the freighter while Aunt Prodigia was elsewhere. In the process, they also made off with Miss Blaine and Miss Wilcox, who were aboard at the time, so we set off with Aunt Prodigia in pursuit.

"The British Union chose this moment to reenter the lists in the person of Mister Fuller and his steam-powered fleet submarine. He sank the tug and freighter while the crew took to their lifeboats. When we reached the scene, he'd seized the officers, presumably to interrogate them, rescued Miss Wilcox and Miss Blaine for reasons of chivalry, and made his escape. According to the young ladies' account, he diverted to Kupang in response to some information he received, set them ashore, and departed for parts unknown. At this point, the sequence of events becomes confused."

"I'd say it was confused enough already," chuckled Sarah.

MacKiernan began to object, then found himself smiling. The island girl's humor was infectious. "It became somewhat more confused," he corrected himself. "On their arrival in Kupang, Miss Wilcox and Miss Blaine encountered Professor Koshino, who it seems had been rescued from the Japanese nationalists by a woman named Nadia. We assume this is the same person we know as Natasha."

"Are we certain of this?" Iverson asked with concern. His memories of the woman were fraught with ambiguity.

"It seems likely," Everett observed. "This part of the world cannot contain an unlimited number of eastern European women who favor aliases beginning with 'N', meddle in the competition to recreate the Ujelang Device, have some yet-to-be-determined association with the mysterious Karlov, and share his annoying tendency to appear and disappear without notice.

"Why would she rescue the Professor?" asked Sarah.

"We can only speculate," said Everett, "but her actions seem less certain than Karlov's, as if she's reacting to circumstance, or struggling to reply to his moves. We've hypothesized that he was the one who designed and built the White Russians' refiner."

I wonder how much of his knowledge she shares," mused MacKiernan.

"As do I," said Everett, "but once again, we can only speculate. If you'd continue."

The Irishman nodded. "We arrived in Kupang shortly after Miss Wilcox and Miss Blaine. They led us to Professor and then -- exercising what seems to be a considerable talent for getting into trouble -- contrived to get kidnapped by the Fat Man's agents. Michaelson chose this moment to recall us to Cairns, but we left Lieutenant Iverson and Miss Sarah behind to search for the two young ladies.

"In Cairns, Michaelson questioned the Professor regarding the refining apparatus, and obtained a list of components the Japanese would need to produce enough copies for use on an industrial scale. Armed with this information, we proceeded to Melbourne to speak with a manufacturer of vacuum tubes who we'd identified as a possible supplier. The Fat Man's people chose this moment to raid the factory and steal its shipping records, but we recovered enough information to determine that the company had sent a shipment to Darwin, to be forwarded to some unknown destination.

"Deeming this suspicious, we set off for Darwin ourselves, expecting to find the German nationalists there before us. Instead, we found we'd been preceded by Miss Blaine and Miss Wilcox. They'd escaped from the Fat Man's agents on Timor -- one suspects their captors never had a chance -- and made their way back to Darwin, where they contrived to get captured by Baron Warfield and his lady, who were visiting the place in disguise to track down the same shipment of vacuum tubes that we and the German nationalists were..." the Irishman sighed, "...whatever. In the course of their adventures, our two young friends found time to leave us a message that the shipment was aboard a freighter named the Tranquility, which had been delayed several weeks behind what our adversaries might assume was her schedule.

"We propose to take advantage this information to intercept the Warfields. While Jenkins and Aunt Prodigia catch up with the Tranquility and shadow it, we will be trying to anticipate places the Warfields might lie in wait for the vessel."

"How will we accomplish this when they have the entire South Pacific to work in?" asked Miss Perkins.

"It seems safe to assume their operations will be limited to places the British Union has agents," Everett observed. "We will speak with someone who might know where these are."

MacKiernan had already noted their course and speed to deduce their immediate destination. He was, after all, the ship's navigation officer. "This would be the Countess?"

Everett nodded. "She keeps her hand in, even during retirement."

Next week: Perhaps We Weren't The Only Ones With This Idea...

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