Episode 555: Aggressive Negotiating Strategies
Wilcox delivered the report, since he was less likely to fall asleep during
the process. "We spotted the mysterious cruiser heading south, presumably
from some station on the other side of the island," he told MacKiernan.
"We didn't investigate further, but returned to the ship, assuming you'd
want to receive this news as soon as possible."
MacKiernan stepped to the window of the control car and gazed south. The
sky was clear, with no sign of their adversary. It didn't seem they were in
any immediate danger of attack. "You did well," he told the lieutenants.
"Are you quite sure it was the Japanese nationalists."
"Yes, sir," said the Wilcox. "This was large ship, at least six million
cubic feet, with eight engines in rows of four on each side."
MacKiernan nodded. "That would be her. We must decide how to respond to
"Can we shadow them?" asked Miss Perkins.
"We are unlikely to profit from the attempt," MacKiernan decided. "Our
ship is hardly fast enough, and they'd make short work of us if we tried.
We will send a message to inform the Captain of the situation."
Iverson watched German as nationalist cruiser passed heading north. There
was no doubt about the vessel's identity. Five million cubic feet, with six
engines arranged three on a side, this was quite clearly the liner the Fat
Man's people had hijacked from Argentines the year before. Through
binoculars he could make out the name Drachen.
"This is an interesting development," he observed.
"Dinki di!" Clarice said cheerfully. "What should we do?"
Iverson glanced at Jenkins, who'd taken this opportunity to return Emily's
smile. "I assume our wireless gear is in order?"
The signalman nodded. "I checked it before we disembarked."
"That should serve," said Iverson. "We'll return to the launch and inform
the Captain of this situation."
Murdock finished decoding the message and sighed. In Jenkins' absence,
Everett had put him in charge of the radio shack -- the Royal Navy Airship
Service appreciated the value of cross-training -- but he found the secure
cipher heavy going. He turned to find the captain waiting behind him.
How did he get there without me hearing him? he wondered.
"What have you got for us, Mister Murdock?" Everett asked kindly.
"Sir," said Murdock to hide his surprise. "We've received messages from
Commander MacKiernan and Lieutenant Iverson. The Commander is at Palawan,
reports that he's spotted the Japanese cruiser heading south, and asks for
instructions. Iverson is on Sulawesi, where he spotted the German cruiser
heading north. He also reports encountering what he describes as `two
Australians you will remember'."
Everett suppressed a frown a this last news. They would deal with it later.
He glanced at the chart, and nodded to himself. Only one interpretation of
the situation was possible. "It would appear our adversaries have learned
the location of each other's secret bases and have each decided to attack
each other. One detects the hands of Karlov and Natasha at work. We may
not wish to discourage this enterprise, but we will want to know the
outcome. Instruct MacKiernan to remain in Palawan and watch for the
Japanese. If they win, they will almost certainly return there to resupply.
We'll remain off Sulawesi to see who shows up here."
Lothar stood in the control car, watching his flight officers with approval.
Around them, the compartment echoed to the rumble of the Drachen's
six powerful engines. They managing the passage with their usual
efficiency, and in another day they' see action. The Japanisch
would be taken entirely by surprise. He was reviewing his plan of attack
when a call came over the intercom.
"Forward lookout to bridge. Contact bearing 310 on a reciprocal course.
It appears to be the Japanisch cruiser."
Lothar stepped to one of the port windows and raised his binoculars.
Even at this range, the outline of the other vessel was unmistakable.
"It seems they thought to steal a march on us," he told his men. "We
cannot allow this. Sound battle stations, ring all ahead full, and
give me a turn left to 310."
Alarms rang, engines thundered, and the horizon swung until the other
ship was dead ahead. It seemed to be turning toward them as well.
"They must expect an easy victory," his lieutenant remarked.
Lothar allowed himself a smile. The other ship was larger, faster, and
have a heavier main battery, but this would make no difference today.
"Perhaps they do," he replied scornfully, "but we have a surprise for
The Captain studied the other ship through binoculars and shook his
head. "The Doitsunin have turned to attack," he said scornfully.
"We will make short work of their vessel."
"They must know this," his watch officer observed. "What do they hope
The Captain shrugged. "Whatever it migbt be, they will fail.
Sound battle stations. We will end this quickly."
The atmosphere on Drachen's control car was tense but confident.
Lothar stood by the gunnery station listening to the reports from the
"Distance eleven kilometers, closing at 64 meters per second."
In front of him the fire control officer worked his calculator. "We'll be
in range of their main battery in two more minutes, Mein Herr,"
"And they are coming into in range of our surprise now," said Lothar.
"Helmsman, turn right to 030."
"Right to 030."
The horizon swung again as the Drachen turned ninety degrees to
starboard. Lothar waited until the evolution was complete, then nodded.
The fire control officer thumbed a button. Below the airship, a small
object fell away, leveled out and began to accelerate. Sunlight glittered
on its propellers, wings, and antennae as banked left toward the approaching
Lothar smiled like a man who'd just played the wining hand. "The
Japanisch will not be expecting this."
The atmosphere on the cruiser's bridge was one of annoyance, The
lieutenant gestured to the east, where the German ship was turning away.
"They are trying to flee," he said in contempt.
The Captain shrugged. "It will not save them. We are faster. Open fire as
soon as we're in range."
"Forward lookout to bridge!" cried a voice from the intercom. "Something
has dropped from the enemy ship and is headed toward us! It may be some
sort of flying torpedo!"
"They have such a thing?" said the lieuteant.
There was only one possible answer. "It appears that they do," said the
Captain. "Turn right to 030 degrees to unmask all the batteries, then open
fire and destroy it."
Lothar watched the the cruiser through binoculars. A moment ago it had been
sailing through a clear blue sky. Now it was obscured by blossoms of smoke
as shells burst around the incoming torpedo. He nodded in respect, wondering
how the Japanese were managing the fusing. It seemed the torpedo would
still get through. Then a line of tracers walked across it and the machine
burst into flame, nosed down, and plunged into the sea.
This makes the game more interesting, thought Lothar. He turned to
his fire control officer.
"Number Two is ready?"
"Ja, but we only had two of the weapons."
"The Japanisch do not know this," said Lothar. "We will give them
reason to believe otherwise. Los!"
The Captain frowned as another trail of smoke plummeted to the ocean below
them. The second torpedo had come much closer that the first. They'd
barely managed to stop it. Ths presented him with a dilemma. If they
closed any more, they might not have time to engage a third, but from this
range, they also couldn't engage their enemy.
"They're bluffing," said his lieutenant. "They cannot have many more of
"That may be true," said the Captain, "but it also may not. The stakes have
grown higher than either of us can afford. We will call for a parley."
Lother watched the lamp flash from the other vessel. Even if he hadn't
been able to read the signal, it's intent was clear."
"They wish to parley?" asked his lieutenant.
"Of course," said Lothar. "They do not know hope we are armed, neither of
us can afford to lose this contest, and they have realized we have interests
in common. We will accept."
Next week: Fond Reunions...
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