Episode 496: Welche Farbe hat dein Fallschirm?
The chief rigger's face was pale in the dim light of the cargo hold.
"Word from the bridge!" he said in alarm. "The Japanisch have
found us! Kapitan Mayer orders you to jump immediately!"
Leutnant Neumann turned to his men. "Fischer, Lehr!" he snapped. "Follow
me!" Without waiting to see if they complied, he clipped in his static
line, stepped to the hatch, and leapt into space. His parachute opened
with a jerk, then he was swinging from the canopy as the L-147 droned away
toward the south. He watched until his men's chutes blossomed above him,
then glanced down to estimate their drift. The Kapitan had placed
ship well. Unless this wind shifted, they'd reach the LZ without any
Engines thundered and he looked up to see an enormous cruiser pass overhead
-- a monster, at least six times the volume of their own vessel, with eight
engines in rows of four on each side. Had it seen them? Its weapons could
destroy them in an instant. He tensed, waiting for a hail of machine gun
fire, but it seemed their canopies had blended in with the jungle below,
for the airship pressed on after the L-147.
Then the ground was rising up to meet him. He took the impact with his
knees, rolled to his feet, and gathered in his parachute before it could
tangle in the brush. Moments later, he, Fischer, and Lehr were dashing to
"Can you see the Japanisch?" asked Fischer as they paused to take
stock of their surroundings. A veteran of von Lettow-Vorbeck's campaign in
East Africa, he recognized that a degree of informality was allowed during
Neumann shaded his eyes and gazed to the south. "Nein." he told
the marine. "They must still be chasing the L-147."
"How did they lift ship in time to intercept us, sir?" asked Lehr.
Neumann had been wondering the same thing himself. "We were unlucky," he
decided. "They must have chosen this morning for a training flight, or
perhaps they were setting out on a patrol. Whatever the reason,
Kapitan Mayer is leading them away to buy us time. We must be
gone before they
Fischer glanced at the surrounding jungle, then down at his machete, which
seemed inadequate for the task of hacking a way through it. "What are we
hoping to find here?" he asked the lieutenant.
"This is the island where it all began," Neumann explained. "This is
where the Englisch crashed after their ship was attacked, and the
Fat Man's nationalists maintained a base here before the Governor betrayed
them to the Japanisch. We've been sent to learn why these people
place such importance on the place. According to our reports, there is a
trail not far from this clearing that leads across the mountains.
`Not far' proved to be an optimistic estimate, and it took the trio some
time to force their way through the jungle to the path. This slanted down
the side of a bluff to the head of an estuary, where crocodiles eyed them
from the shallows as if speculating about German cuisine. From there, it
climbed north into the hills. It seemed more substantial than a simple
game trail, and Fischer studied it with suspicion. This island jungle
might be quite different from the forests of East Africa, but some
things didn't change, and paths such as this didn't form by themselves,
except in radio dramas. During a pause on the march, he dug away at the
surface with his machete to reveal a layer of crushed lava.
"This was road once," he observed to the others. "Could the islanders
have built it?"
"This seems unlikely," said Neumann. "According to the Englisch,
the current inhabitants regard this side of the island as
verboten. It must have been some earlier culture of whom we have
"What could have happened to them, sir?" asked Lehr.
Neumann picked up one of the cobbles. He noticed that one side was
blackened, as by a layer of ash. "Who can say?" he replied. "Perhaps
there was a war."
Engines droned overhead. The Germans froze and looked up, but nothing
could be seen through the canopy of trees. As they listened, the sound
faded to the north.
"That must be the Japanisch, returning to their base," said
Fischer. "Do you think the Kapitan escaped?"
The lieutenant doubted this. An action between the cruiser and the
L-147 could have had only one outcome. "Of course," he replied. "Let us
resume our march."
They paused for the night in the place mentioned in their briefing -- a
hanging valley that overlooked the hills to the south. Lehr examined the
carvings on one of the standing stones the Englisch had reported.
These showed a man holding what might have been a pair of cymbals
standing next to a towering tree. On the other side, a swarm of other
figures were fleeing. They seemed strangely deformed.
"I wonder about these figures, sir," he told Neumann. "This one appears
to be holding a percussion instrument, but according to our reports, the
Device that destroyed Ujelang involved an impact between two blocks of some
special material, and this tree resembles descriptions of the cloud from
Neumann was unimpressed. "Surely this is just a coincidence. Let us
forget these speculations and make camp."
The next morning dawned clear and blue. The Germans ate a cold breakfast,
packed away their gear, and continued up the trail. The terrain grew
increasingly rugged as they climbed, scarred by ancient lava flows left by
unimaginable convulsions of the Earth. Neumann thought the landscape
looked just like the Alps would look if they were volcanic, covered with
jungle, and didn't look anything like the Alps.
It was noon when they finally reached the crest. To the north, the
mountains dropped away to the shores of a distant lagoon. A small but
modern air station stood next to this, with the cruiser riding from its
mast like some visiting god.
"What is that?" asked Fischer, pointing at a peak to their right.
Neumann looked where the marine indicated to see a tin-roofed structure
flanked by a strange waffle-shaped antenna. A newly-cut track led from
these down to the lowlands.
"It must be a Japanisch radio station," said Lehr. "That looks
like one of the new directional antennas patented by Tohoku University."
"Why is it rotating like that?" asked Fischer.
The radioman shrugged. "Perhaps they are testing their pointing equipment."
"We should investigate before we proceed any further in case they've posted
observers," said Neumann. "Fischer, can you find a way for us to approach
the place without being seen?"
The marine studied their surroundings until he spotted a narrow path that
branched to the east -- a game trail, perhaps, left by whatever creatures
lived at this altitude. Gesturing for the others to follow, he led the
way past jumbles of stone, stands of wiry brush, and pits that might have
marked openings to caves. Suddenly he halted and called out in surprise.
"Look, meine Herren!"
Next week: So Now They Expect Us To Find It For Them?...
Comments about Episode 496? Start a new topic on the