Episode 499: If These Are White Russians, Where's The Kahlua?
MacKiernan studied the ballast board and frowned. Like all small airships,
Wolseley class vessels had limited endurance -- an inevitable consequence of
their reduced volume -- and the R-86's endurance seemed more limited than
most. Matters were not helped by the state of her ancient Beardmore
diesels, which cannot have been particularly efficient even when new.
Still, one mark of a successful airship commander was a readiness to use
what one had rather than fretting about what one didn't. He turned to
Lieutenant Smade, who was staring at the horizon, and cleared his throat.
"Mister Smade," he said.
The lieutenant continued to stare at horizon as if trying to remember
something -- whether he was in charge of this watch, perhaps.
"Mister Smade," MacKiernan said again, more loudly.
Smade glanced up as if surprised to be addressed. "Oh, it's you sir,"
The Irishman shrugged inwardly. Officers in the Royal Navy Airship Service
learned to expect a certain amount of eccentricity. "Our fuel consumption
has not been particularly low," he observed. "Since we have no idea what
reception we can anticipate in Aneityum, I believe we'd do wise to resupply
in Port Vila. Plot us a course there at our most efficient cruising speed."
"I've already done so, sir," said Smade. "With the current wind forecast,
50 knots on a heading of 120 degrees will get us the on the morning of the
MacKiernan blinked in surprise. He hadn't expected this degree of foresight
from Smade -- in general, the youth seemed to show about as much initiative
as a brick. "Very good," he replied. "Make it so."
The lieutenant had been staring into space again. He noticed
MacKiernan's expression and seemed to collect himself. "At once, sir!"
Bells rang, the horizon edged right, and the airship settled on her new
course. Satisfied that the rest of Smade's watch was unlikely to result in
any catastrophe, MacKiernan made his way back to the crew section and
summoned Miss Perkins to discuss their next move. Under ordinary
circumstances, it might not have been not proper for them to meet in his
quarters, but accommodations on a small patrol airship were sufficiently
insubstantial that they counted as public spaces.
"What do we know about these White Russians?" he asked, after they'd
squeezed into position on opposite sides of what passed for a desk.
Miss Perkins set down a folder and leafed through its contents. "They are a
nationalist group, committed to some form of czarist restoration," she
replied. "It isn't entirely clear how they hope to accomplish this in the
absence of a czar, but their leadership does include several relatives of
the late Nicholas II. Among them is this Miss Anna or Anastacia, who we met
last year. Naval Intelligence suspects she may be a member of his
immediate family who escaped the events at Yekaterinburg, but this remains
to be confirmed.
"More is known of her companion Vladimir. He began his career as a
reformer, inspired by the writings of Karl Marx. Sometime before the War,
he was captured and sentenced to prison in Siberia. Upon his release, he
chose exile, first in Munich, then in Switzerland, where he continued
agitating for revolution in his homeland during the hostilities. There's
no telling what might have happened if the conflict had lasted longer, but
the Peace found him still in Geneva, and before he could return, Trotsky
had seized power.
"Like many of his fellow exiles, it seems he became disillusioned by the
new government. A manifesto he published before he left Geneva suggests he
viewed it as a betrayal of the Russian people. Rather than return home, he
traveled to the Pacific, where he made common cause with his former czarist
"Why did these fellows chose the Pacific?" wondered MacKiernan. "It seems
rather inconvenient as a place from which to stage a restoration."
"It's also beyond reach of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission,"
Miss Perkins observed.
MacKiernan nodded. Dzerzhinsky's Cheka was notorious for its zeal
at suppressing dissent, the means it employed to accomplish this, and its
willingness to ignore national boundaries in the process. "I
assume this is why they chose Australia and the Dutch East Indies as sites
to build the Device."
"So it would seem," said Miss Perkins. "It appears that a number of
Russian scientists fled here after the revolution of 1917. We have no way
of knowing who recognized the potential of the knowledge they brought, but
our friend Karlov was among them."
"Could he have been the one who organized development of the weapon?"
"He seems too young to have commanded the necessary authority," said Miss
Perkins. "But one wonders if he was pursuing his own agenda even then. We
shall see what his former employers can tell us."
They spent the night of the 9th resupplying, then departed the next morning
for the three and half hour flight to Aneityum. The White Russian's air
station lay next to the largest -- and perhaps the only-- settlement on the
island, an undistinguished village named Anelcauhaut. It was a modest
facility, with a single mast, a small hydrogen plant, and a machine shop,
but a sizable warehouse with a track leading to a sturdy-looking wharf
suggested it saw an unusual amount of business.
"Shall we signal for handling party?" Wilcox asked nervously as they
approached the field.
"I'm reluctant to place the ship at their mercy," MacKiernan observed.
"Miss Perkins and I will deploy via the Transporter.
The R-86's hoist was every bit as antiquated as the rest of the vessel,
but its brakes still worked, after a fashion. MacKiernan took the impact
without losing his footing and Miss Perkins alighted with her usual
aplomb. They found themselves facing a solid-looking woman in her late
20s and a lean middle-aged man with the face of a revolutionary -- quite
obviously Anna and Vlad. The Russians were flanked by minions armed with
the Nagant revolvers once favored by the Imperial Army.
"What are you doing here?" Anna demanded. "You British have not proved
reliable friends to our cause."
"Neither have we been foes," Miss Perkins replied. "We seek information
about someone who might be -- this man named Karlov who helped build the
"Why should awe ssist you?" asked Anna. "I'm sure your government and your
Admiralty both want the weapon for themselves."
Government and Admiralty? wondered MacKiernan. Hadn't
Michaelson also made this distinction?
"Perhaps they do," admitted Miss Perkins, "but they share your interest
in preventing the German and Japanese nationalists from acquiring it.
Karlov's intentions are another matter. We have no idea what they might be,
but he seems to be manipulating the rest of us to achieve them. He escaped
the destruction of your laboratory in Australia. Since then he's appeared
at moments of crisis to take advantage of these for his own ends. You
witnessed this yourself on Gililo."
Vlad and Anna exchanged glances. At last they seemed to reach a decision,
for Vlad made a gesture and their men lowered their weapons.
"We have wondered about that ourselves," he said curtly. "Let us both
share what we know."
Next week: Not Quite A Radio Drama, But Radio Does Play A Role...
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