The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 583: Reconciliation

Off into the sunset one last time

The Flying Cloud, the Geschwader, and the Coup de Grace had flown to Norfolk Island for resupply after the action -- for obvious reasons, it was no longer possible to do this on Sarah's island. The Viking Girl II had joined them two days later with survivors of the mysterious cruiser and guards Helga had rescued from the cataclysm. Now the Englishmen, Germans, Japanese, and Vikings enjoyed an afternoon tea beneath the pines with which Norfolk Island was so richly endowed.

"I'd say that went rather well," said Michaelson. "The uraninite refiner was destroyed and the secret of its manufacture lost forever. The Chancellor's faction will be happy to see it gone."

"How will Lord Bridgeman react to this defeat?" wondered Everett.

Michaelson made a dismissive gesture. For the first time in as long as Everett had known him, he seemed in good spirits. "I imagine the First Lord will take credit for keeping the Ujelang weapon from the nationalists, and claim this as a victory."

Across from him, the captain of the mysterious cruiser nodded. "We also glad to see it gone," he said. "We thought to use weapon as threat, to compel Wakatsuki's government to abandon its pacifist policies, but the thought of directing it against some peaceful city like my home in Hiroshima must be repugnant to any warrior. It is better that no one have it."

"As another of the nationalist in question, what are your thoughts on the matter?" Michaelson asked Lord Warfield.

The Baron shrugged. He seemed almost as cheerful as the Commodore. "This was never more than a hobby," he said. "We were happy to take advantage of the British Union for our own ends, but they'd had outlived their usefulness, and I can't say I'm disappointed to see them go."

Beside him, the Baroness smiled. "They'd grown tedious," she remarked. "Their naive determination to follow any demagogue who promised to make Britain great made them too easy to gull. I trust the Admiralty will reward us for our role in putting paid to their plans."

Everett and Michaelson glanced at each other, as if to say, "Is this the woman with whom you once contemplated an alliance?"

"I imagine they will," Everett observed diplomatically, "Manfred, I'm sorry about the loss of your brother."

Manfred shook his head. "There was no other possible ending. The differences between us could not be reconciled. I chose Germany, he chose Ernst Rohm's Stalhelms, and one of us had to fall. I am glad that he fell in battle. I will tell Mother, Bolko, and Ilse that he died well."

Across the table, the captain of the mysterious cruiser bowed in salute. On his side of the table, Everett was glad he wasn't German or Japanese, "What about your people, Miss Sarah?" he asked. "What will they do now that their home is gone?"

The island girl seemed unconcerned by this prospect. "They'd already left," she replied lightly. "Father led them somewhere else when the Governor arrived. I have no idea where they are now, but I'm sure they're prospering."

Everett nodded. If Sarah's kinsmen were anything like her, he pitied anyone who defied them.

Miss Perkins had an entirely different question. "I wonder about Karlov and Natasha's machine," she said. "Could it really do the things that they claimed, and alter the rules of chance itself?"

"It most certainly did something," Jenkins observed. "The entire island erupted into flame, which seemed to vanish before out eyes."

"I wonder about all coincidences that preceded this," said MacKiernan. "Squidbats and the creatures they scientists found on Ujelang, the Nui Mana and Karlov's `deBroglei Filter', the cloud from the explosion and the carvings on Sarah's island, the weapon and her people's tales of some apocalyptic battles with some terrible foe. Could her ancestors have some upon the secret of this mechanism themselves sometime in the distant past?"

All eyes turned to Sarah, but she and Iverson seemed lost in some world of their own that no one had the heart to disturb. "I imagine we'll have to ask Professor Otkupshchikov, the next time we see him," said Everett. "Until then, let us all enjoy our tea, and take satisfaction in the knowledge of a job well done."

Evening found Jenkins and Emily back aboard the Flying Cloud, engaged in a game of Encrypted Anagrams. Emily played a letter of encrypted text, set the key letter aside, and glanced at her partner. "What do you think of this recent development?" she asked.

"Between the Captain and Clarice?" said the signalman. "It caught me by surprise as well, but in retrospect, it would seem to have been inevitable. Of course, they might not be the only two of whom that might be said."

She smiled and took his hand. "That's fair dinkum," she admitted. "I wonder if they've figured it out."

The others had left, but Everett and Clarice still sat beneath the pines, reflecting on the events of the past two years. To the west, the sun was setting the clouds alight. Clarice watching it and sighed. So much had happened, so much of it unexpected. At last she asked one of the two questions that had to be asked.

"Was it painful to see her again?"

Everett glanced at her. "It might have been, once, but two things have changed. One was seeing how she and the Baron were most surely meant for each other. I'm happy for them, and relieved at what I now recognize to have been a narrow escape. I imagine Michaelson feels that his late brother also avoided what might have become quite the disaster."

She met his gaze. "And what was the other?" she asked.

Everett smiled and answered her second question.

Michaelson stood by the railing of the Viking Girl II, where he and Helga had been discussing remuneration for all the help she'd given to the Royal Navy Airship Service. The paperwork might prove challenging, but with luck, they might be able to accomplish this with a suitable combination RNR-503 Transport of Military Equipment, RNR-9074 Invoice For Supplementary Infantry Support, and RNR-1095 Evacuation of Refugees In The Event Of A Natural Disaster forms. He was contemplating how best to proceed when she emerged from the captain's stateroom with a bottle of brännvin.

"So!" she said, pouring him a glass. "You faced your dragon! Skâl!"

Officers in the Royal Navy Airship Service of command rank or higher were expected not to choke on overproof beverages. "Skâl," he replied courteously. "I suppose there were two of them."

"And how did you fare against the important one -- the one in your own heart?"

Michaelson sighed. "I finally admitted the truth to myself, that I'd secretly loved her all these years. But it could never have worked out, for my late brother, Everett, or myself. Indeed, I shudder to think what might have happened had she not left us all for the Baron."

She looked him on the eye. "What will you do now?" she asked.

He gazed to the west, where the last light was fading from the sky. "I suppose I'll be getting along," he said. "There's work to be done, an air station to run."

She grabbed him by the collar, turned him back to face her, and glanced toward her stateroom. "That not what I ask, silly man," she said with a smile. "You slay the dragon. You are the hero. You earn the reward. What will you do now?"

Natasha picked herself up from the floor of the cavern and got to her feet. Her ears still rang from the explosion they'd escaped. In the light of her torch, she saw Karlov inspecting the place the machinery might have been. As always, it had failed to make the transition.

"You planned this," she said accusingly.

"So did you," he replied. "It appears that we outwitted each other again. What are the chances of that?"

She laughed ruefully and crossed the chamber -- curiously, in this branch there was no chasm in the floor. "Shall we see where we are?" she said, resting a hand on his arm.

"I suppose we might as well," he replied. "Perhaps we've finally found our way home."

Together they made their way to the surface. These tunnels were not so different that they couldn't find the way, and soon they emerged onto the mountainside. Below them stretched a great monolith-crowned citadel -- a monstrous acropolis of vast angles and stone surfaces to great to belong to anything right or proper for this or any earth. Along its streets, strange and titanic figures -- eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order -- went about their business.

Natasha studied it and sighed. "It appears that we ended up in one of the HPL branches again," she observed philosophically. "Still, I suppose it could have been worse."

Next week, join us for The Final Flying Cloud Christmas Special... for Now...

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