The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 560: But What Game Are They Playing?

Nathasha flipping a coin

Miss Perkins, Abercrombie, and Miss Kim stared at the woman who'd just stepped into the room. "Natasha!" "Nellie!" "Nari!" they exclaimed in astonishment.

The woman seemed equally surprised to see them. "What are you doing here?" she demanded. "You'll ruin everything!" Her accent was unplacable as always, but had hint of Eastern Europe.

Miss Perkins suppressed a frown. Secretaries in the Royal Navy Airship Service reserved expression of emotion for moments of advantage. Given their inquisitor's history, who was she to question them? "I'm sure you can guess," she replied calmly.

The other woman scowled. "You were looking for the Fat Man's secret base. Now you have found it. Did Karlov send you?"

Miss Perkins thought quickly. Their original mission to discover what the Fat Man was up to had quite clearly been compromised, but a new possibility had appeared in its place. Her adversary seemed unsure of herself. If she played her cards right, perhaps she could extract the answers to some more important questions. Now was a time to feign emotion. "If he did, how would we know?" she snapped. "The man seems a master at manipulating others without their knowledge. But he is the only one who plays this game."

Natasha -- if that was really her name -- nodded ruefully. "I have little choice," she said. "I must use what what tools I can find. But recall that I have also helped you. I saved Lieutenant Iverson on Ujelang, distracted the Germans so your captain and his party could escape the explosion, and rescued your two Australian friends from the Japanese in Australia."

"That may be true," said Miss Perkins., "but you remain a mystery. Who are you and what have you been trying to accomplish with all these different aliases?"

Her adversary gestured at the bungalow in which they were imprisoned. "You're hardly in a position to ask questions," she observed. "I need only give the word and the Fat Man will know that you're British agents."

Miss Perkins kept her expression neutral. Now was the time to discover if her hand was as strong as she thought. "But you haven't done so," she replied. "You also told us that our presence could ruin everything. I'm betting you don't dare let him know who we are."

The other woman's shoulders slumped -- whether in defeat or an act, the secretary couldn't tell. "Very well," she replied. "You can call me Natasha. It's as good a name as any. And I oppose Karlov, as you must surely have guessed."

"What is the man to you?" Miss Perkins demanded. "And what's this all about?"

Natasha shook her head as if at some impossible demand. "You would not understand," she said.

"You mean that you aren't going to tell us," Miss Perkins said in exasperation. This time she didn't have to feign emotion.

"No," Natasha said sadly. "I mean that you lack the necessary knowledge to understand. He is what I might have been, and I am the same to him."

Miss Perkins had little patience with what sounded like mysticism. "And now you're going to tell us that we lack the necessary knowledge to understand what the two of you are trying to accomplish," she said curtly.

The other woman gave bleak smile. "I don't know what he hopes to accomplish with it, but I do know that he's planning to construct a deBro... what you are calling the uraninite refiner on that island. He allied himself with the British Union to capture the place. I've contrived an alliance between the Fat Man and the Japanese nationalists to attack it."

The secretary hid her surprise. She hadn't expected such a bald declaration. It was fraught with implications she didn't have time to examine. Could it possibly be true? It might be safest to assume it was. "It seems that you and I share a common interest in hiding our connection with the Royal Navy," she observed. "This might best be served if we were to escape, then were revealed as agents of the Warfields."

This smile looked genuine. "So it would," said Natasha. "I can get you out of the station without being noticed."

Beside Miss Perkins, Abercrombie flexed his muscles. "And we're ready if it comes to a tussle. But how will we get back tae our ship? We dinnae ken the trails through the jungle, and if we gang by sea, the Germans will follow us."

"Not if you hijack some vessel that was already scheduled to leave," Natasha suggested.

"And how will we find one?" Abercrombie asked skeptically.

This smile was cryptic. "We'll have to trust to luck."

The Scotsman was unconvinced. "Can we trust the lass?" he whispered to Miss Perkins. "She's dead hard."

"I don't know," Miss Perkins admitted. "Miss Kim, your people seem to have met her as well. What do you think?"

The Korean seemed surprised to be asked her opinion. "It hard to tell," she said at last. "She tricks people, like fox that live a thousand years, but never tell outright lie."

Miss Perkins turned back to Natasha. "Very well," she said. "We'll place our lives in your hands."

Natasha clutched a pendant she was wearing as if it might bolster her courage, then eased open the door. "We're in luck," she whispered. "The guard must have stepped away to answer the call of nature. Follow me."

The journey that followed was like something out of radio drama. Time and time again, they seemed about to come to grief, only to be saved by some quirk of fortune -- a convenient alleyway, someone calling from a doorway to distract a sentry, a squad of soldiers turning a corner at the last moment, a wagon blocking a line of sight just as they were about to be discovered. By the time they reached the harbor, even Miss Perkins was growing jittery. How long could this run of luck continue?

Only Natasha showed no signs of anxiety. She pointed to the wharf, where a nondescript motor launch was loading cargo. "That's the mail boat to Makassar," she whispered. "If you can sneak aboard, you should be able to overpower the crew after they're underway."

Miss Perkins scowled. How were they going to sneak past the half dozen stevedores who occupied the dock? Natasha might as well have told them that if they could fly to the moon by flapping their arms, they could back some moondust." As she was opening her mouth to popint this out, a beer wagon pulled to a stop across the street. As one, the dockworkers set down their burdens and hurried to avail themselves of what was evidently an afternoon tradition.

"There's your chance," whispered Natasha. "Get aboard and I'll make sure no one notices your absence until it's too late for anyone to follow."

The two women exchanged glances. It occurred to Miss Perkins that Natasha looked diminished, as if she was laboring under some terrible burden that no one could share. She rested a hand on the other woman's shoulder. "I don't know who you really are or where you came from," she whispered, "but I will trust. Thank you for your help."

Next week: I Suppose We Must Admire Their Effort...

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