Episode 534: When Irish Eyes Are Perplexed
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
"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
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
"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...
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