The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 563: All Roads Lead To Romanov

Everett and Jenins confront Vlad and Anna

The Flying Cloud hung above Coral Sea like a singularly well-proportioned work of art. Below her, the crew of the Predpriyatie had shut down their engines, lest their damaged steering gear take them where no man had gone before. Everett studied the freighter as she rolled to a gentle swell from the southeast.

"We're certain Miss Blaine and Miss Wilcox had been aboard?" he asked Iverson.

"Yes, sir," said the lieutenant. "Captain Tserkov seemed to regret the experience."

"An understandable attitude on his part," Everett observed wryly. "One imagines he was relived to see them go. What do we know of the vessel to which he transferred them?"

"This was a mid-size commercial airship, possibly a Lakehurst class, named the Geschwader, commanded by a Captain Manfred."

Everett raised an eyebrow. "These names suggest some connection with the German nationalists."

"Such was our thought as well," said Iverson, "but when we challenged Tserkov on the matter, he was adamant that these were the White Russians' new allies against the Fat Man."

"Interesting," mused Everett. "I wonder who these people are, where they came from, and what their motives might be. Did the good Captain shed any light on the matter"

"No, sir," said Iverson. "We considered bringing him back here for questioning, but it seemed we'd exhausted his store of knowledge, and I felt it might be inconvenient to take him into custody."

Everett nodded approval. "A wise decision. These fellows can hardly escape before the salvage tug arrives. We'll leave it up to Commodore Michaelson decide if he wants to arrest the officers for their part in the kidnapping. In the meantime, we'll continue our efforts to succor our young Australian friends. It seems reasonable to assume this Manfred fellow will take them to the Russian leaders on Aneityum. Jenkins, send Michaelson a message in the secure cipher informing of this assumption and our intention of bearding the Russians in their own lair."

The message was swift to compose and send. The reply was even swifter and consisted of single word in plain text

Proceed

"It seems that the Commodore has anticipated our request," Everett observed. "Let us discover what this means."


At her top speed, theFlying Cloud could have reached Aneityum the next afternoon, but Everett elected to make the flight at reduced power and arrive the morning of the following day. In addition to saving consumables, this might give them a chance of arriving after their quarry to catch her on the mast. Dawn found them off the island's western coast, with the peak of Mount Inrerow rising ahead and the village of Anelgauhat was coming into view around a bend in the coast to the south.

Everett keyed the intercom. "What have you got for us at the air station, Fleming?"

"No sign of any shipping, sir," came the reply from the upper lookout station, "but those fellows have been busy in our absence. They've put up another mast and I can make out three gun emplacements."

"Some of the Putilov 76-mm air-defense guns, I'd imagine," Everett mused. "We can ignore them for the moment. Jenkins, instruct to them receive a landing party, then meet me at the Transporter."

The station made no attempt to prevent them from sending down a party. Its guns were manned, but quite clearly pointed away from the visitor. The crews appeared to me Russian expatriates -- exiled aristocrats and workers disillusioned by direction the Revolution had taken under Trotsky.

A man and woman strode across the field to meet them as the Transporter platform touched down. The former was tall and lean, the latter less so. Everett recognized Vlad and Anna from several previous encounters.

"Kapitan Everett and Jenkins," said Vlad. "What brings you back to our humble domoy?"

"Vlad, Grand Duchess," Everett replied. "I will dispense with preliminaries, since this is a matter of some urgency. You instructed your agents to kidnap two members of my crew and bring them here for questioning. Where are they, and what did you hope to learn from them?"

Anna raised a very substantial eyebrow, as if surprised to be recognized by another title. "Why should we admit this, or tell you if we did?" she asked.

"We intercepted Captain Tserkov and the Predpriyatie after he'd transferred them to your ally," said Everett. "It's also possible that our interests coincide. We both seek to prevent these German, Japanese, British nationalists from reconstructing the uraninite refiner to produce copies of the Ujelang weapon."

The Russians conferred for a moment. "You are British as well," Vlad observed. "We would need some assurance that you are not working with the Warfields."

A flicker of pain crossed Everett's face. "There are reasons this could never be possible," he replied quietly. "As a gesture of good faith, I can tell you they have established a base on the island in New Caledonia at latitude 22 36' S, longitude 168 57' E. Karlov is with them as well."

"Karlov is there!" Anna exclaimed. "I wonder if this is that `Island of the Staryye' he spoke of."

Everett had intended to ask where the Geschwader might be, but officers in the Royal Navy Airship Service were expected to recognize an opportunity. "We've gathered is may have been this Karlov who developed the uraninite refiner," he observed. "Who is he and where did he come from?"

The Russians exchanged glances, as if deciding whether to answer. It was Anna who replied. "We do not know."

"How can this be?" Jenkins asked in surprise. "You trusted him enough to let him work at your secret laboratory."

"He contacted our agents in Jakarta in 1924 claiming to be a student of Professor Solovyov at the University of Odessa who'd fled after the Revolution," said Anna. "The information he offered was valuable enough that we didn't think to question antecedents, but in retrospect we have no way of knowing if he was telling the truth."

"I assume this information was the secret of the refiner," said the signalman,

"You are correct," said Anna. "It's something we have not since been able to recreate. According to Professor Sokolov, he also made significant contributions to the design of the Ujelang Device itself. He seemed to have a remarkable understanding of the physical principles involved."

"How did he know you would need this information?" asked Everett.

"This too is a question we did not think to ask at the time," Anna admitted. "It wasn't until he vanished that he might have been manipulating us for his own ends."

"Did he mention any companions or adversaries?" Everett asked.

Anna glanced at him sharply. "You're speaking of this woman named Natalia."

Everett nodded. "We've met her under several different names."

"As have we," said Anna. "She shares his habit of appearing and disappearing without notice, and her motives remain every bit as enigmatic. At times I've wondered if everything that's occurred over the past four years -- the Device, the appearance of the German and Japanese nationalists, Yakov's betrayal, the arrival of the British Union -- might be some strange game they're playing between them."

"Which brings us back to two of the pieces," said Everett. "What has become of my missing crew members?"

"We do not know," said Vlad. "The Geschwader should have been here by now."

Next week: The Cavalryman...

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