Beryl was naked under her voluminous indigo thobe, reclining on rugs and cushions within a traditional Bedouin black tent. An embroidered and tasselled wool camel bag nearby was playing As Time Goes By. She concentrated, hard. Phone. That’s my iPhone. I’m… I’ve got a phone call! Beryl dived for the bag, rummaged about in it and found the phone just as it stopped ringing. She was cursing fluently in Arabic, English and Swahili when it rang again. This time she answered.
“Agent 160? Can we talk freely?”
“We can,” she replied, “The boy is with his sheep.”
“Get down to Aqaba as quickly as you can,” it was Larry’s factotum, Barrymore, on the other end of the phone, “There will be a Loening Air Yacht down at the waterfront and Dark Flo will be joining you. She has all the details for your mission.”
“OK…” Beryl paused as if to say more.
“That’s not a problem is it?”
“Not a problem. I’ll be there sometime this afternoon.”
Beryl felt a weight lifted from her mind – action at last, and an excuse to move on. She really had enjoyed her time with Abdulla, but his affair with the blond English woman was doing much too much for his confidence after a short lifetime with nothing but his goats and camels. Before long he would have become a pain. It was better this way. Quickly changing into her flying kit and throwing a few necessaries into a threadbare carpetbag she wrote a hasty note of thanks and regret and left it on the brass tray under a coffee pot. It was but a short stroll to her Dragon Rapide. Beryl checked the fuel gauge, waved goodbye to the cluster of Bedouin children that had gathered around and, buckling her flying-helmet under her chin, taxied to the makeshift landing strip. She was airborne when she noticed Abdulla’s Toyota kicking up dust as it sped towards the camp. She banked the Rapide, flew low over his pick-up truck and dipped the wings in salute before heading south.
Beryl found the seaplane swinging gently at its buoy as the tide turned. She selected a café on the Aqaba Corniche, sat at an outside table, ordered a strong Turkish coffee and the fill of a shisha pipe. She would wait for Dark Flo to contact her, and pulling a well-thumbed Penguin paperback copy of Freya Stark’s Valleys of the Assassins from her canvas knapsack, she settled back in the uncomfortable plastic chair.
She had reread a chapter and a half and was beginning to drift when the winsome figure of Dark Flo appeared in front of her. The thick black hair was plaited into a single pigtail down her back and a thin, sleeveless frock exposed pale bare arms and legs, blushed by a hint of sun-burn and glistening damp in the heat of the early afternoon. Flo sat, took a long drag on the mouthpiece of Beryl’s hookah and waved to a waiter.
“A glass of mint tea, if you would be so kind.”
“So…” Beryl beamed and leaned in close to her willowy companion, “What have you got us into this time?”
“We’re going to Antarctica. Well I am. You’re to overfly New Swabia and I will bail out over some whaling station or other. Larry’s heard from Bamse at last and it appears they’ve made a right hash of things. So good old Ninja Flo gets to don a wingsuit and do her Wonder Woman act.
“Larry reckons it’ll be easier to find places on the way to set down and refuel with the amphibian than your Dominie. So he’s lumbered us with that crate over there.”
“Great.” The pair giggled together.
They took a room in a family run, backstreet hotel for the night. Throughout the nocturnal hours there was no let up in the clamour from the street and the fragrant air hung hot and humid. They did not sleep much. Next morning they had a breakfast of croissants and grilled halloumi cheese before setting off for the waterfront. After some hard bargaining Beryl secured the services of a local felucca skipper and they were ferried out to the air yacht. Flo produced the keys to the Loening and balanced on the felucca’s thwart as she reached for the door. Beryl passed up their luggage and they clambered, without much dignity, into the seaplane. Giving them an appreciative leer, the boat skipper sheeted in the large lateen sail on his skiff and veered away.
Within the fuselage most of passenger seats had been ripped out to make room for additional fuel tanks. An Elsan ‘Bristol’ chemical toilet and pipe cots had also been installed so that the duo would not have to go in search of accommodation every time they stopped for the night.
“How far is Antarctica? This is going to be real fun, I don’t think,” muttered Dark Flo as Beryl climbed to the open cockpit to begin flight checks.
“Don’t know. Check the charts. And can you make sure they cover the entire journey? I don’t want to be trying to track down a copy of ‘Admiralty 4075’ in some one horse South American back water.”
“All crew to their stations. Prepare to surface.” The distorted voice of Felix von Luckner crackled over the ship’s Tannoy system.
“Kapitän Entwhistle, if you would like to join me at the periscope.”
Minutes later Harold appeared on the Command Deck accompanied by his Chief Engineer, Albert Fleck, short and skeletal in a boiler suit that had once been white, hob-nail boots, a dish-rag round his neck and a woollen tea-cosy on his head.
“Ah Kapitän, and you have brought your stoker. Would you like to take a look at our destination?” Von Luckner ushered the trawlermen to the periscope and Harold peered into the eyepiece. He could see ice and snow – pretty much like all the ice and snow they had been surrounded by since coming south. Dead ahead was a low black rectangular orifice sheltered beneath an overhang in the cliff.
“Can I see too?” asked Albert. As he surveyed the desolate scene a lonely wandering albatross waddled over to the funny stick protruding through a hole in the lightly frozen ocean and blocked out the view. Distorted goggle eyes peered in at the startled artificer.
“What the f… …is that?
“The entrance to our U-Boat pens,” replied the Kapitänleutnant, blissfully unaware of the bird’s antics. He turned to his ensign, “Take her up.”
“Bow planes ten degrees, rudder amidships, blow all tanks.”
The Seeadler surfaced, breaking through the thin layer of barely formed ice and startling the inquisitive seabird into panicked flight.
A queue of ship’s officers formed at the bottom of the conning tower ladder whilst the Oberfähnrich climbed up to open the hatch. Von Luckner took two paces back and, with a hand pressed against Harold’s chest, indicated that the trawlermen should do the same. Seawater showered through the hatchway onto the up-turned faces below.
“This happens every time. They never learn.”
The submersible’s deck officers were clustered outside on top of the conning tower when Harold and Albert joined them and the Seeadler was gliding silently towards the cavernous entrance. As they entered the submarine pens the crew lined the deck to take a salute from stevedores gathered on the nearest floating quay; a small brass band with a glockenspiel played ‘Edelweiss’. While Seeadler navigated alongside and was made fast Bert Fleck observed a Cuban, Foxtrot Class submarine and a Type VIIC/41 Flak U-Boat on neighbouring pontoons. The sleek Cuban vessel’s cargo of crates and steel drums was unloaded and stacked on shore. She was taking on the last of the supplies for her return journey and appeared to be making ready to sail.
“Stop engines. Prepare to disembark.” Once the trawlermen had been rounded up Easter joined Harry and Albert with von Luckner, Billy Tate remained with the crew who were quickly escorted ashore.
“Your men will be treated with respect, Kapitän. You may check on their wellbeing in a little while. But I wish to be with you when you first set eyes on our establishment here.” The Kapitänleutnant indicated the gangway. They proceeded along the pontoon to a short ramp and then ascended a long escalator. Globe lamps on patinated bronze mounts lit their way, the architecture was modernist with a severely Teutonic twist.
They emerged into a spacious concourse. Half-moon skylights, pierced through the sea-green ceiling high above, cast shafts of daylight into the scene below, the polished Carrera floor shone like water, the walls glowed with warm beige marble cladding. A mahogany cased clock dominated the far end of the hall and dwarfed figures scurried purposefully wherever the Yorkshiremen looked. Just ahead a sulky line of king penguins shuffled past, heads down and shoulders hunched. Intermittently each in turn would squawk a mumbled complaint. Nearby stood a group of self absorbed men in tall orange hats, with faces of wrinkled, walnut leather; their saffron robes all but hidden by too large, wrap around yak-skin coats, secured at the waist by string.
“Lizard men?” enquired Harold Entwhistle of his host.
“None of us will ever meet the Merovingian Lizard Kings, my friend. That is not their way. These men of the Himalayas are envoys.
“Let me show you to your quarters, and on the way I will point out the officers’ mess. I will meet you back there in… Shall we say one hour?”
The officers’ mess was done out with a great deal of chrome and had the feel of an outsized American diner. Harold, Easter and Albert were sat at a cramped Formica table and by the time they were joined by Kapitänleutnant Felix Graf von Luckner had given a food order to a well-rounded fraulein in a short blue gingham dress and dinky, matching forage cap. Albert removed his tea cosy, stuffed it in a pocket and ran his fingers through his greasy hair. The waitress appeared with three All Day Breakfasts.
“Good, you have ordered. I will have an Americano, two shots of espresso, not too much water… and a small piece of your excellent schwarzwälder kirschtorte, if I may, my dear.”
Easter scowled at his surroundings, “All seems very clean – for a secret Nazi UFO base. Where’s the Storm Troopers.”
Felix sighed, “To business then. First I must explain to you our situation, we will postpone the small talk, pleasant as that would be, till later.
“There were never many Nazis here; our original expedition was, after all, a scientific survey. Those first comers were not intending to become colonists. There were not many women on the original expedition either but somehow, three generations later, we are still here. Our ancestors established a small base on this spot, claimed the land for the Greater Germany, began surveying the area and then made a discovery that changed everything. You had better come with me and I will show you… The secret you have come to uncover… The reason you can never leave.”
“Never… What?” Albert shot to his feet, banging his knees on the table, which was, fortunately, securely bolted to the floor.
Easter joined in with, “Now look here, captain…”
“Please. Just come with me. We can discuss your future circumstances later.”
The Yorkshire trio were still protesting vehemently as they crossed the concourse to one of a number of departure gates. Four of the mysterious, saffron clad orientals formed up silently behind them. A discoloured sign in a Gebrochene Schrift black letter typeface indicated AG Gate23 and below it an attendant, inspecting von Luckner’s pass, nodded them through. They entered a tube-like chamber lined with benches and settled down together whilst the mute envoys sat nearby, yet pointedly apart from the sailors. The doors slid shut with a whoosh, there was a sharp Plop, a hiss and a sensation of rapid acceleration.
“We are travelling in a pneumatic tube subway. First proposed, I believe, by your excellent Herr Brunel, though it has taken German vorsprung durch technik to make it work.”
“Not Isambard, for once, George Medhurst, a Kentishman,” muttered Bert Fleck, “but I bet he half inched the idea off a Yorkshireman.”
The travellers were contemplating the engineer’s observation as their transport stopped with an uncomfortable suddenness and the doors slid open. Otto stood back to let the Himalayan envoy disembark first, then he and the trawlermen followed along a gently downward sloping ice tunnel. At its end the oldest and shortest emissary, with the tallest hat, approached a small glowing tablet, placed his right palm upon it and a door swung open. The four monk-like beings entered first, followed reluctantly by Easter and Albert Fleck. Harold and the Kapitänleutnant brought up the rear. They found themselves inside a bare reception area. The curved outer walls were comprised of an alloy that Harold could not identify. There was no corrosion or decay, though there were signs of wear and an impression of great age. The inner bulkheads and floors were transparent and, disconcertingly, they could see down through several floors beneath their feet. In the room below were parked two foo fighters under plastic sheeting.
“Schoonfryder,” whispered von Luckner, “but there are many different types of what you would call UFO in neighbouring bays.”
“Great,” said Albert, who was pressed against the only wall that looked solid and was very deliberately not looking down.
The diminutive monk turned to address the company, “Discovering this the great grandfather of young Felix was. Lying here undisturbed for many millennia it had been. Under the ice. A secret it was, and must remain. The Andromeda Machine. Within a UFO mother ship you are.”