The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 534: When Irish Eyes Are Perplexed

Southeast Asia and vicinity

MacKiernan had requested Lieutenant-Commander Harris to lift ship and set a course to the northwest. Now he, Harris, and Miss Perkins Miss Perkins met in the Admiral's Stateroom -- a spare cabin that under ordinary circumstances was used to store rigging supplies. A chart was spread across the desk, held down by a pair of turnbuckles the crew had overlooked when they prepared the compartment for habitation.

Harris indicated a narrow island on one side of the Philippine archipelago. "I gather from Captain Everett's message that these German nationalist fellows planned a rendezvous on Palawan," he observed. "Should we attempt to intercept them?"

"This is unlikely to be profitable," MacKiernan decided. "If they're gone by the time we arrive, we'll have wasted consumable to no avail, and if they aren't, we'll face action against a vessel with vastly superior speed, firepower, and endurance. We'd do better to find some place to resupply, then proceed directly to the Japanese nationalist's secret laboratory, where we can determine whether and how to intervene."

The others nodded. They could recognize a euphemism for `play it by ear' when they heard it. Left unstated was the fact that `intervention' might also involve `action against a vessel with vastly superior speed, firepower, and endurance'.

"Do we have idea where this laboratory might be?" asked Harris.

"To some extent," said MacKiernan. "Their old laboratory was in northeastern Burmah, and we have reason to believe they established their new one across the border in China."

Harris seemed unimpressed with this information. "As I recall, China is fairly large," he observed.

"So it is," said Miss Perkins, "but the Japanese will have needed some way to move equipment and construction equipment to the site, and they could only have done this by river or rail."

MacKiernan consulted the Almanac. "The Mekong River is an obvious candidate for the former. It's navigable over most of its length and passes near the border. According to this entry, the French are building several railways in the area as well. We will call at Saigon to make inquiries about these."

The reached Saigon without incident, trusting to their anonymity to protect them. Four other Wollesleys were already moored at the air station -- two commercial vessels, a Royal Mail airship, and a French government packet built under license at the Astra Torres yard in Trosly-Breuil -- so their arrival went unnoticed. MacKiernan and Miss Perkins visited the administration building to arrange for resupply, then paused at a cafe to discuss their next move.

"Do you think the Germans are ahead of us?" asked Miss Perkins.

"Perhaps," said MacKiernan. "The too will have needed resupply, and we have no way of knowing how long they might have waited at their rendezvous for the L-103 to appear. But our immediate concern is finding someone who knows where the Japanese laboratory might be."

This proved easier than the Irishman anticipated. As he was finishing his words, someone cleared his throat beside them. They looked up to see a slight figure with blond hair and Eastern European features.

"May I join you?"

"Karlov!" MacKiernan and Miss Perkins exclaimed in surprise.

The Russian seemed amused by their reaction. "Don't say that so loudly or everybody will want one," he replied sardonically.

"Whatever are you doing here?" MacKiernan demanded.

"Seeking the Japanese nationalists' secret laboratory, just as you are. I can offer you its location in return for transportation to the site."

MacKiernan glanced at the Russian. "And why are you seeking the place?" he asked suspiciously.

The other man made a dismissive gesture. "I wish to discover what my counterpart is up to," the Russian replied

"This would be the woman we know as Natasha," said Miss Perkins.

Karlov offered the secretary a nod, like a chess played acknowledging an interesting move. "I believe she has used that name."

"Why should you need transportation?" MacKiernan asked. "You seem to have your own ways of getting around."

The Russian gestured toward the air station. "Perhaps this involves finding people to give me a ride."

MacKiernan thought quickly. Could he trust the man? Probably not, but this might be their best chance of finding the Japanese laboratory. It also offered them a chance to keep an eye on the man.

"Very well," he said. "We have a deal."

The Mekong was a substantial river, flowing through China, Burmah, Siam, and French Indochina as it descended from its headwaters in the Tibetan plateau. Its lower portion wound through a broad floodplain -- ricebasket for much of Southeast Asia -- but it changed character north of Khone Falls, plains giving way to a succession of narrow gorges, with patches of flatter terrain that had been terraced and cultivated to within an inch of its life. These seemed like seemed like small islands of civilization in the midst of a wilderness. MacKiernan imagined tigers crouching and dragons hiding in the surrounding jungle.

Morning found them flying along a gorge, in the shadow of the hills to the east. Some distance to the north, the valley opened into another stretch of cultivated land. Karlov indicated a settlement at its far end.

"That will be the Japanese laboratory," he told them. "Is there some place we can deploy without being seen?"

MacKiernan studied the terrain ahead. "I can make out a clearing below that hill at the foot of the valley. Captain Harris, will your people be able to maintain station above it while we send down a party."

Harris examined the field. It was none to large, and the task would be complicated by a shifty downslope wind. "I believe they're up to the task."

A short time later, MacKiernan stood in the clearing with Karlov as the R-87 disappeared to the west. He'd brought Miss Perkins along to handle codes, should this be necessary. He'd also brought Sergeant Donnelly to keep an eye on Karlov. If the Russian was bothered by this evidence of mistrust, he gave no sign. "I see what appears to be a huntsman's track leading up this side of the hill," he announced. "I suggest we see if it leads to some useful vantage point."

MacKiernan looked where the other man had pointed and noted faint trail. How had Karlov spotted it, he wondered? This seemed an unusual talent for a scientist. Perhaps the man was simply lucky.

A short but stiff climb brought them to small hut on the crest of the hill. Here too, luck seemed to be working in their favor, for the place appeared to be an observation post that had never been completed. Inside, rolls of telephone wire lay next to an unused field phone and a crate of weapons the Japanese had not yet bothered to remove. Donelley examined one of these in surprise.

"That's Brandt 81 mm mortar!" he marveled. "What's it doing here?"

"The Japanese must have obtained it from the French and brought it here to cover the approach up the river," MacKiernan speculated. "We're fortunate they abandoned this place without leaving a garrison."

For some reason, Karlov seemed amused by this observation. "Yes," he replied. "I suppose we are."

"Commander," warned Donelley, "we have visitors."

MacKiernan looked where the marine was pointing to see three airships approaching from the east. One, larger than the others, was quite obviously the Drachen.

Karlov seemed amused by this development as well. "So," he said cryptically, "it begins,"

Next week: Just Like An Island Paradise, Only Different...

Comments about Episode 534? Start a new topic on the Forum!

StumbleUpon        submit to reddit Reedit