Who was the masked ace who flew vengeance
wings against the Boche, swooped to the rescue of Allied airships,
and performed missions of mercy throughout the Front - yet kept his
identity a secret from friend and foe alike?
he brown, scarred and pitted landscape of the
Front stretched as far as the eye could see from the basket of the
observation balloon. The grey mist that had blanketed the area in the
early morning hours was receding as the red ball of the sun rose in
the East like a bloody explosion. The American major in the
balloon-basket could not see the men waiting in the shadowed
trenches, waiting, he knew, to fight or die with the next wave of
warfare that was scheduled to burst forth.
Major Temple was powerless to stop it. Hanging
in the thin air over the battlefields from a high-riding bag and
looking down, he could only watch, hoping to spot the first signs of
the oncoming attack in time to relay vital intelligence to the men
below. So far, though, only the blazing sun and a few shreds of grey
cloud moved in the still air.
"Quiet up here, ain't it, Sir?"
He started to turn to his sergeant, Jones, but
paused. Suddenly, his binoculars revealed a smattering of tiny dots
on the far horizon, in the direction of the German lines. Nine of
them! Nine enemy airplanes approaching out of the haze. He focused
his lenses, trying to determine if they were bombers or fighters,
striving to predict their destination and their targets.
Soon enough he saw that the ships were Fokker
Eindeckers - the "Fokker Scourges." And minutes later their
destination was clear - they were spreading out and homing in on his
and the other gasbags that drifted over the fields! Ack-ack clouds
burst around them, but the enemy planes skillfully dodged the ground
fire until the artillery crews could no longer fire for fear of
hitting the balloons.
A trio of planes bored up from the Allied
lines, sending searing lines of flame at the Fokkers' undersides. The
Boches looped and whirled, and three of them raced down at the
defenders. The Allied Spads were taken down in minutes, riding
smoking trails of flame into the earth. Temple yelled for Humphrey to
follow suit and ducked to the floor of his little basket as a
snarling Scourge came at him, guns blasting in a flare of red fire
and yellow tracer streams.
He heard the high-pitched screech and jerked
his head up in time to see another plane that came shrieking down
from the air above the balloon. He'd never heard an engine make a
wailing sound like that, but he'd heard of it. Diving down on the
attacking Scourge was - the Shrike!
Despite the danger, Temple and Humphrey both
stood and stared as the tiny red-and-blue craft - a type unfamiliar
to either side - rained death on the Scourge. The Fokker broke off
its attack on the balloon bag and dove off to the left. Leveling, it
flew beneath the bag, placing the Allied observers between itself and
the screaming Shrike. The newcomer silenced its guns and swooped up
over the balloon and momentarily out of sight.
The German raced on away from the bag, setting
his sights on another balloon to the West. He didn't get far. Down
again swooped the Shrike, ululating its weird cry, dropping past the
Scourge and then swinging back up to face the Boche in a plane to
plane battle. The Boche answered with searing lead. He couldn't seem
to hit the Shrike. The red and blue plane danced about like a wraith.
Finally the Shrike came straight on at the
perplexed German, and bullets with vivid yellow tracer-trails tore
his craft to shreds. The Boche pilot managed to jump free, his
blossoming white chute disappearing groundward.
The screaming stranger soared past the balloon
bag. Its masked pilot waved a thumbs-up and gave a wide grin. Then
the Shrike was gone, zeroing in on one of the other German planes
that was attacking another balloon.
By the time the newcomer had downed two more
Germans and was dueling with a third, reinforcements arrived. A cloud
of Allied aces divided up the remaining enemy planes and began to
make short work of them. The Shrike dispatched his last foe and sent
his gaudy plane nose up, past the balloon to vanish into the rarefied
It was only then that Sgt Humphrey noticed
that a strange object lay on the floor of their bag. He picked it up.
It was a smooth, sealed cylinder.
"Cripes!" he shouted. "It's a
"No it isn't," Temple told him
calmly, lifting the capsule from the sergeant's hand. It was colored
red and blue, like the Shrike's plane. He gave it a twist and the
capsule opened so that Temple could pull out a small piece of paper.
"The Shrike must have tossed it aboard when he flew past. It's a
THE GERMANS ARE UP TO SOMETHING
THEY DON'T WANT YOU TO SEE. STAY ALERT.
Beneath the signature was a simple drawing of
a bird - a shrike.
When Temple and Sgt Jones strode into
Headquarters, they found their commanding general all but frothing at
the mouth. Temple hid a smile. He knew that the Shrike was the object
of the general's wrath - a thorn in his side.
"Not one of the pursuits we sent out to
help the airships even saw which way his plane went, much less
pursued him!" His fell on the two observers. "Temple! Can
you at least tell me which direction that Shrike disappeared in?"
Temple inclined a palm. "Yes, sir - up,"
he replied dryly. Then he grew serious. "The Shrike craft
appears to be able to gain altitudes none of ours - nor the enemy's -
can. In every sighting, he simply climbs straight up and out of
sight. That, and its speed and maneuverability, plus that weird
screaming sound, defy classification as any known aircraft type."
"He'd better be able to disappear!"
the general growled. "I've got standing orders out to shoot him
down on sight!"
"Sir, he saved my life and that of Sgt
Jones today - not to mention our fleet of
observation balloons, by holding the enemy off until help arrived.
Hasn't he always helped the Allied cause?"
"No!" the general roared. "He
has been seen delivering medical supplies to the Boche trenches, as
well as ours. If he's on our side, why doesn't he declare himself?"
"I don't know, Sir," Temple had to
admit. "But he's never opened fire on Allied ships. I'd give a
lot to know what his motives are, but I don't believe he's on the
Imperial side. And he gave us - this." He let the metal message
tube clatter to the table and handed the message to the general.
"I'm supposed to believe the Boche tried
to down all our observation balloons so they wouldn't see some big
secret? That's nonsense! Even if they did, we'd have new bags up
before they could make a move!"
"Maybe not shoot them down," Temple
mused. "Maybe just distract them. Maybe their big move has
already happened ?
under cover of the balloon
attack! Sir, request permission to take a scouting plane out over the
front. Maybe I can find a clue as to what's going on."
On the Eastern border of the front lines, a
small fleet of vehicles pulled up before a series of low hills. They
halted and disembarked several German offizers with high-ranking
insignia. These, with a few civilians, marched among some high,
tarpaulin-covered structures that appeared, as far as they could
tell, rounded, and toward the hillside. Great, steel-reinforced doors
that resembled hatches on a ship were placed at intervals on the
sides of the hills, giving evidence of underground bunkers. The men
trooped to one such lock, and the two German guards standing there
snapped to attention and set to opening the doors. The visitors filed
One of the ununiformed men, a slight,
blond-haired young man in spectacles, went directly to a seat before
a desk fitted with a typewriter. The stenographer checked over his
machine and placed a stack of paper beside it. He placed the first
sheet into the typewriter and waited for the meeting to begin.
The second civilian was a tall, balding man
with the mien of a vulture. He wore a thick-lensed glasses over a
hooked nose and a white lab coat over a set of brown coveralls,
draped upon a hunched back. His habit of wringing his hands when he
spoke completed his resemblance to a carrion bird. He stood near a
white screen that had been pulled down on one wall, glaring at the
audience with unconcealed contempt.
The German officers took seats on small
folding chairs. The ranking officer stepped to the screen, ordered
the lights dimmed and a slide projector turned on by an orderly. The
blond stenographer frowned and fingered his thin mustache; it would
be difficult to type in the gloom. When the assembled men had
quieted, he announced in a deep voice, "Gentlemen ?
Most of you know me. For the
newcomers, I am General Gauner. This is Doktor Von Geier. It is his
work that has brought us here today. I will explain."
There were whisperings and murmurings in the
crowd, and Von Geier's face creased in a vivid scowl when he heard
the word Schnabel.
"You must remember, though, that not a
word of this project is to be carried away from this room. We are
working on our own. Der Kaiser would not approve, and it would
mean the end of our careers, and possibly our lives, if it were
leaked before we are of the war in der Vaterland's favor."
More murmurings. Gauner stared at the small
group scornfully, an ill-concealed fanatic light in his jet eyes that
was reflected in many of theirs. He was an almost archetypal German
offizer and nobleman. Close-cropped blond hair, a thin ascetic
face, a Heidelberg dueling scar - a Mensur - across the left
side of his face, immaculate, close-fitting uniform.
"May I have the first slide, please?"
An enlarged aerial photograph of the
installation flashed upon the screen. At the general's nod, it was
followed by another, and another, showing the bunkers as seen from
"There are eight bunkers built into the
side of this hill. Each holds tanks of gas. There are two types of
gas, four bunkers for each."
The next slides showed large, sealed vats
inside the bunkers.
"The two gases are inert. That is a
precaution devised by Herr Doktor. Even if one container
should leak, the released gas would be harmless. It is only when the
two types of gas are combined that they are lethal.
"As an added precaution," Gauner
went on as a new slide appeared, this one showing the
tarpaulin-covered mounds outside the bunkers. "Beneath these
tarpaulins are huge, turbine-powered fans. We will not launch the gas
until the prevailing winds will take it toward the Front, and until
German troops have been ordered to abandon their trenches and
retreat. But in the event that the weather reverses, and the cloud
threatens to drift back upon us, the powerful fans will drive it
An older offizer raised his hand. "How
lethal is this gas?"
"Very," Gauner replied with a
twisted smile. "And in a matter of moments. Doktor Von
Geier has also made it extremely insidious - gas masks are of no use
against it!" He seemed satisfied at the whispers of approval
that went through the assemblage.
"Yet even that is not what makes this gas
so dangerous. Herr Doktor, perhaps you would like to explain
the true beauty of your creation?"
Von Geier's thin lips twisted so that it was
not apparent at first that he was trying to grin. With crabbed steps
he moved toward the general, who stepped smartly aside. Wringing his
clawlike hands, the hunched scientist began to speak.
The men in the room listened raptly. More than
one Boche face blanched as the meaning of his words sunk in. Only the
stenographer's features remained impassive as he recorded the minutes
of the meeting on his clacking typewriter; the only sign of emotion
he gave was wiping perspiration from his brow and mustache. When the
doktor had finished, his stooped frame withdrew back behind the
screen, a thin smile on his haggard face, still rubbing his crooked
hands together nervously. General Gauner stepped back to the fore
and, after a few curt instructions, dismissed the group. The
projectionist switched off his machine, and the stenographer drew and
shuffled together the sheets from his typewriter; he put these into a
folder and handed it to Gauner as he departed the room.
Within the half hour, a plane lifted from the
forest beyond the bunkered hillside. It soared swiftly without being
spotted to an altitude where it was little more than a dot, and kept
the sun behind it to make it even less noticeable. The plane was
painted in gaudy red and yellow and when it reached altitude and
opened the throttle, it emitted a thin, high-pitched shrieking sound.
Behind the stick, a slim figure donned a flying helmet in mid-flight,
a yellow helmet with thick goggles and tight sideflaps, and pulled a
red scarf across lips and chin. Beside the pilot on the plane's seat
lay three odd items: a blond wig, and a thin strip of blond hairs
twisted into a false mustache, and a pair of spectacles. The craft
dwindled into the North and disappeared.
It was an hour after noon when Temple reached
the German Front, but his plane shared the sky with dark, rising
masses of cloud that threw much of the ground below into shadow. He
gave a grim smile in spite of that, because the weather would help
hide him from ack-ack guns and pursuit planes as well.
He sent his Spad skimming over the Front,
peering as he could through rifts in the cumulus. He couldn't make
out much. He saw some sort of a bunker - or a series of them - built
into hillsides and large, rounded bumps covered by canvas that moved
slowly in the fitful wind. Not much of a clue as to what the Boche
were up to.
Temple memorized what he saw so that he could
draw sketches of it for the Intelligence people back at Headquarters,
and turned the Spad back westward. Suddenly, from out of the huge,
near-black depths of a cloud mass whose top was shredding into an
anvil shape under the upper winds, came a flight of enemy pursuits.
That they were after him he never doubted. The odds were too great to
make turning to fight anything other than madness, so Temple opened
up his throttle and sped back over the bombed-out trenches at the
Spad's top speed - almost 200 km/hr.
His plane shivered as bullets from his
pursuers' Spandau LM08 guns began raining on his ship. Temple didn't
waste time trying to dive or dodge - that would have slowed him from
reaching his ultimate goal. His only hope lay in gaining Allied
territory before the flight of angry hornets he'd stirred up overtook
and gunned him down.
As the roar of motors and the crashes of slugs
grew louder he knew he wasn't going to make it. German planes were
practically breathing down his neck now. Temple took a desperate
chance. He threw down the stick and plunged the Spad groundward. It
started to twist into a dizzying tailspin, but he managed to fight
his way out of that and bring the plane to a shuddering, but
controlled crash landing on the scarred, blasted earth of No Man's
Glancing up he saw the Boche planes circling
like buzzards. In an instant they would start spiraling downward for
the kill. He had a desperate plan, but he knew he had to act fast.
Temple pulled a pack of matches from his
jacket, tore it open. He leaped from the plane and hit the ground,
going flat and rolling away. He tossed a lit match, two, at the
craft's gas tank and hugged the ground. He was lying face down, as
close to the wreckage as he dared and willing him to be invisible,
when the tanks went up and his erstwhile craft disappeared in an
eruption of flame that pitched shards and debris across the
Tensely, hardly daring to breathe, Temple
stayed prone on the ground, listening to the mutter of the Fokker
motors, expecting a hail of Spandau slugs to stitch his back at any
moment. Finally, the motor-snarl began to diminish as the hunters one
by one gave him up for dead and returned to their own lines. When the
skies were silent, the American major dared to turn his head and open
his eyes, and he saw that he was alone.
He stood up, dusted dirt and ashes from the
too-close smouldering plane from his uniform. He was still stranded
somewhere in No Man's Land, but he didn't know where. He saw the
banks of fortified trenches in the near distance, but were they his
side's or German? He had no idea.
It was not until he tried to take a step
forward that Temple got a nasty surprise. His left leg gave out from
under him and looking down he saw his uniform leg in tatters and
blood dribbling from his thigh. He must have been hit by a bit of
flying debris from the ship's explosion.
There was nothing for it now but to try to
make it to that trench and hope they were Allied. He looked around
him and picked up a broken piece of strut that he could use as a
crutch, began hobbling toward the trench.
In the distance he suddenly saw small figures
clambering out of the hole. They swarmed toward him and as they got
closer he could hear shouts in German, and caught flashes of German
insignia on their coats. Temple drew his pistol and prepared to
defend himself against a mob of foes with rifles and fixed bayonets.
But before they got any nearer, the ground in front of the Boche
troops erupted in a series of small explosions, tossing clods of
earth into the air. They halted, looking and pointing upwards.
A sound that Temple realized he had been
hearing unconsciously for several seconds abruptly registered in his
ears. A shrill, keening noise like the scream of a raptor bird. He
jerked his head up and saw the gaudy red-and-yellow painted aircraft
circling above the scene. The plane that he knew as the Shrike!
The Shrike hit the sward a little ahead of him
and rolled to a stop, its engines still snarling, guns pointing
menacingly at the advancing troops. A gloved hand from the cockpit
waved, urging him to get to the plane. Then the masked pilot opened
fire, his Vickers slugs hitting the ground a few yards ahead of the
Boche. Temple didn't waste time wondering why the Shrike didn't
simply mow the Germans down, but raced as fast as he could limping on
his makeshift crutch to the ship and grasped its wing struts, pulling
himself onto one wing.
The figure in the cockpit yelled, muffled by
his concealing scarf, "If you can hang onto that wing, it'll
have to be enough! Get ready - I'm taking off again!"
The ground seemed to drop away under them as
the brightly-painted plane rolled forward and soaring aloft. This
close, Temple noted that the red and yellow paint job was designed to
resemble feathers. He hung on for dear life as the Shrike's ship took
him higher and higher, ignoring the few scattered shots fired in vain
by Boche rifles below.
The major watched as damp plumes of cloud
whipped past him. He threw surreptitious glances at the pilot, trying
to discern some facial features - but with helmet, goggles and scarf
over his face, it was impossible. Nor could he speak to the man over
the rush of wind and roar of motors.
He turned his gaze to the landscape below, and
noted with dismay that they were not headed for the Allied lines to
the West, but North, away from the battlefields and toward a forest
that sprawled over the horizon. Temple tried to wave to get the
pilot's attention. When the helmeted head finally looked his way, the
major pointed to the North, shook his head no, then to the West and
He was startled to see the mystery pilot's
head shake from side to side. No? Why not? They had vital information
they needed to get to Allied High Command. For a wild instant he
thought he was betrayed, being delivered to some remote German
outpost. But that didn't make sense - the Shrike had just saved his
life; if the mystery man had wanted him dead, he would have left him
to the Boche.
The Shrike plane zoomed over the forest and
circled until the pilot found what he was looking for. Temple peered
down. There was a black patch among the green. The Shrike began
circling toward this. Temple frowned - it was hard to tell from this
height, but it looked as though that cleared swath was long enough to
land a plane in.
He closed his eyes and turned his head away
when leaves and branches began scraping the plane's sides. They
landed with a rough jolt and finally rolled to a stop. Temple jumped
from the wing he stood on and moved away from the craft as it motored
down. The masked pilot also drew himself out of the cockpit and
leaped lithely to the sward.
"We have to talk," the Shrike said
before Temple could utter a word. "Follow me, please."
They both plunged into the trees, Temple
catching his feet several times on knotted roots. It only took a few
minutes before they reached the Shrike's goal - the burnt-out frame
of a farmhouse. The mystery man stepped around a cracked frame that
used to be a threshold and walked through the rubble of a foyer and
carpetless living room. Temple followed warily.
The Shrike booted some large chunks of wood
away and revealed a squarish wooden hatch in the floor, bent down and
lifted it. In the darkness that welled up Temple could make out a set
of makeshift steps going downward. The Shrike led the way, and Temple
followed gamely - the wood didn't look any too sturdy.
His masked companion was lifting something off
the wall in the pitch black room. It was a sconced wall torch. This
he lit, and light flared in the small chamber. By its glow Temple
could see a door with a thin trace of light under it.
When they had entered the next room, Temple
realized that it was not only larger, but equipped with modern
devices and well-maintained. There was a big, polished desk where a
tall man sat, feet on the shiny desktop, enjoying a big black cigar.
He came to his feet and pulled out the chair for the Shrike to sit
down in, gestured to a small stool that Temple could move over to the
table to sit on.
"I'll put the ship up," he
volunteered, and sauntered off through yet another door.
"No, don't - Major Temple and I will be
taking off shortly."
The Shrike looked at Temple, then took a small
stenographer's pad from his belt pouch.
"This will give you full information and
proof," the masked man said. "But we, and your High command
will have to act fast. The threat is imminent; it could happen
whenever the wind and the weather are favorable."
"What threat?" Temple wanted to
know. "A big push against our lines? Bombing raids over our
"Gas," said the Shrike.
Temple considered. "That's bad, but the
troopers in the trenches have gasmasks?"
Shrike admitted. "But this is a new type of gas. The chemicals
in it will sear through rubber - and skin. The German soldiers along
the Front will receive orders to abandon their posts when the gas is
released. Those canvas-covered structures are huge fans; in case of a
reversal in the wind direction, they can blow the stuff back away
from the bunkers. It will drift over the German lines, and the Allied
lines - and beyond!"
"Beyond!" Temple echoed. "But
beyond the lines are -
airfields, the High Command -
supply depots -
"And Paris," the masked man rapped
grimly. "The horrible feature of the new gas is that it doesn't
dissipate. Not for days and days. And if the winds are right, it will
still be lethal as it continues to drift past the Front. Even if you
could issue gasmasks to every man, woman and child in the city, and
the intervening towns and farmsteads, it would cripple the Allied
Temple argued, "But the Germans would
never do that! It'd be a war crime!"
The shrike nodded. "The men who've
developed this are not acting on orders from the Kaiser. They are a
rogue outfit headed by a ruthless madman named Gauner, and a demented
scientist called Von Geier. I've heard them talk, and it's easy to
believe that they're both absolutely capable of unleashing a horror
like this. Gauner will do anything for political power and Von Geier
- has no soul. He only cares about proving and testing his
"I have to get to HQ with this!"
Temple yelled. "We'll bomb those gas dumps off the earth!"
The Shrike stepped forward and set a
red-gloved hand on the major's shoulder. "You have to promise me one
thing." The Shrike unfolded a crude, scrawled map. "This bunker - and this one,
here - those two store one component of the gas. That component is
harmless until it mixes with the other in bunkers 3 and 4. You must
bomb 1 and 2 only - without the first chemical, the other two are
Temple narrowed his eyes. "Why not
destroy all of the bunkers?"
"If you bombed all four, the two gases
would be released, mix with each other and kill the people in and
near the bunkers - and possibly blow back toward villages behind the
German lines as well."
"It would be safer to destroy
everything," Temple repeated.
"Major," the Shrike said levelly,
"If that gas is too horrible to be used, then you cannot use it
on your enemy either."
Something in his words -
rapped. "You say Allies and
your enemy. Aren't
you on the side of the Allies?"
The Shrike was silent for a long moment. Then,
"I am against war. I take no sides. Both of you are equally
right - and equally wrong. I simply do what I can to save lives."
Temple's lips tightened into a thin line.
"That's why you scared the boche trenchers off instead of
gunning them down. You saved my life in the balloon because I was
outgunned and in trouble, and you shot away the Fokker's wings so
that the pilot could bail out before his engine exploded. There are
rumors of you delivering medical aid to isolated units on both
"I am helping you now because Gauner is
acting apart from the German Command - and because that gas must
never be used. That genie has to go back into its bottle!"
"I'll tell the General your wishes,"
Temple swore. "But I can't guarantee he'll listen, even if you
were to approach him face-to-face."
"I will fly you back to your HQ, but I
don't have time to chat with your big boss," the Shrike grinned.
"There's still something I have to do."
"That doesn't concern you, Major."
It was dusk. Shadows drifted over the hills
and the bunkers with their tarpaulined fan-motors. The only movement
was the guards who paced in front of the bunker hatches. A military
vehicle pulled up and the German offizer at the wheel stared
at the bulking sheets of canvas.
The driver, a young leutnant, turned to
his companion and pointed to the bunkers.
"This is where our master stroke against
the Allies will take place. As a part of this operation, I will soon
His passenger was a redhaired, lithe young
woman who was probably very pretty when she was sober - which she was
not now. She wore a clinging green dress that was slit revealing up
the sides, dark stockings and seemed to have misplaced her shoes. Her
long red tresses were disheveled, falling across her bared shoulders.
She pouted and looked crossly at the leutnant.
"I don't see nothing," she
whined. "Just those big circus tents and doors in the hills. I
wanna go back to town."
'Ja, ja, you shall," the young man
complained. "Just be quiet and wait here. I have to perform an
inspection of the guards. I am," he added, still hoping to
impress her, "a very important offizer and I have
responsibilities." He opened his door and climbed out of the
"I wanna go with you!" the girl
cried, struggling with her door. "Hey, this thing's stuck! Help
"I cannot take you - " he began, but
at the sudden scowl on her face he went to the passenger door and let
her out. She stood on wobbly feet. "Very well. But remain silent
- don't say a word. I will do this quickly." He wanted badly to
impress this beauty he had picked up at a local tavern, and he
realized that her at his side would impress the soldiers on
duty as well.
As they passed one of the huge fans, the young
woman leaned in and picked at a corner of the tarpaulin. "What's
in here?" she wanted to know.
"Don't touch that! Just stay by my side
and be still!"
She stayed very closely by his side, hooking
both arms around his left arm and pressing against him lazily. Her
eyes were bleary and her feet unsteady. As they approached the first
bunker, the guard snapped to attention, threw a salute and rasped,
"Herr leutnant!" The man couldn't keep his eyes off
the young woman, and a slight wolfish grin twisted the corners of his
mouth. "All is well, sir!"
"Good, good," the leutnant
nodded, enjoying the guard's awe at his good fortune. "Now I
must make a brief tour inside. Open the hatch, please."
The guard did so, but as the pair stepped up,
he questioned, "Sir, is this ?
young lady ?
authorized to enter the
bunker? I am not sure - "
The dazed look on the girl's face began to
change to the scowl again, and her eyes were pleading behind too many
layers of kohl. "The fraulein has my authorization,
Sergeant!" He led the girl past the guard and into the long
corridor within the hillside, checking each room that opened off it.
"There is not much to see, Leibling,"
he told her. "Merely meeting rooms and supply rooms. This is
basically a shelter -"
He stopped short as he pushed open the door to
the main planning room. His face seemed to turn to ash. Seated at a
desk there were two offizers - a radioman tuning an instrument and
The head of the project stared hard at the
young man, ignoring his lovely if inebriated follower. He came to his
feet with his hand on the hilt of the pistol he wore on his belt.
"Leutnant Beller. Not only are you
late, but you seem to have brought an unauthorized person into my
headquarters. I am too busy to reprimand you now. Von Geier is
preparing the weapon for launch. It is too bad you will miss it!"
He strode down the corridor and summoned the
"Escort the leutnant back to the
base camp. He is under arrest. Return the fraulein to whatever
sleazy barroom he dredged her up from. Then alert the guards. Find
Von Geier. My radioman tells me that wind conditions will be
favorable for the launch at midnight."
He returned to the room where the radioman was
receiving reports, closed the heavy door behind him, cursing under
his breath about the kind of subordinates he had to work with.
Major Temple flew his Spad through the night
under a panoply of stars. Behind him rumbled a fleet of Handley-Page
bombers. He had spoken to his High command, but upon hearing of the
virulent new gas they had decided to ignore the Shrike's plea and
saturation-bomb the entire system of bunkers. Temple understood the
reasoning of the man who had saved his life twice, and even if he
didn't agree with it he felt that he, and the Allies, owed the Shrike
He wondered if the masked pilot was going to
show up for the bombing raid, but so far there had been no sign of
the gaudy red-and-yellow plane. Weather forecasts had indicated that
at midnight tonight the wind would be out of the East, the perfect
condition to spread the terror gas over the Front and, if the Shrike
was right, into Allied territory. The raid had to be before then.
The hillsides behind the Eastern Front were
soon visible below. Temple dived his Spad toward them. The huge
bombers lumbered in behind him.
Below, orders were being issued. Word was sent
to the Front to abandon the trenches. The giant fans were uncovered.
General Gauner supervised the operation of the valves and spouts
which would release the gas.
He pulled aside a hapless guard and rasped,
"Verdammt, man, where is Von Geier? Go to his quarters
and drag him here if you have to!"
He felt the wind rising. Soon enough his
operation would begin. He paced nervously until the guard returned.
The man's face was blanched white as bone.
"Herr General Gauner! Dr Von Geier
- is dead! We found his body in his quarters - shot in the head!
There is more - Leutnant Beller is missing. The man who was to
escort him is dead, on the ground next to his vehicle. The fraulein
who accompanied Beller is unconscious in the car."
It was Gauner's turn to go pale. Then blood
flushed his face an angry red. "Find Beller! He must not be
allowed to sabotage the operation!"
Gauner didn't need any more bad news, but it
came anyway. Another man thudded breathlessly up and reported,
"Bombers approaching from the West!"
Gauner swore violently. If his project failed
and was revealed to the German High Command, he would be arrested and
demoted - probably sentenced to death. His only chance to redeem
himself was to accomplish his goal, to devastate the enemy with Von
Geier's terror weapon.
"Release the gas!" he ordered the
guard. "Now! At once!"
"ja, but Sir, the wind is still calm. The
gas will only pool here."
"Uncover the fans! Use them! Blow the gas
toward the enemy lines and when the wind lifts, it will finish the
"Sir, our men cannot have evacuated all
the trenches by now. They will be consumed by the gas - "
"I will see that they all get medals!"
Gauner replied sardonically. "Do as you are ordered!"
The Boche soldiers were trained to obey. Men
leaped to their positions at the nozzles and valves. The heavy rumble
of the Handley-Pages was in Gauner's ears when a viscous cloud of
black gas poured from two of the bunkers behind him. It reached the
uncovered fans and oozed past them.
Gauner gave the order to turn on the fans and
made ready to retreat to the safety of his command bunker. The wind
from the fans caught the drifting black mass and impelled it
Eastward. He was almost to his bunker hatch when he froze. Where was
the second gas? It should have been released from the other two
bunkers by now. The black gas was useless without it.
He stalked instead to the nearest white gas
bunker, where he found men working valves desperately, yelling at
each other, but all to no avail.
"What has happened?" Gauner
"Herr General," the ranking
man stumbled over his words. "There is no gas! The white
cylinders are empty!"
"Impossible!" Gauner started, then
realized sickly; if Leutnant Beller were a spy, after he had
killed Von Geier he must have leaked the white gas out prematurely.
Emptied the tanks. Without the second component, the black gas was
inert - an ominous fog of black ink, but harmless.
He was shaken out of his despair by a droning
in the sky. Looking up he saw a brightly-painted red-and-yellow plane
zooming away from the hillside and going North. He had no more time
to consider that, as the first Allied bombs fell, sending gouts of
earth high in the sky and blasting bunkers and fans into twisted
shards of metal. The Shrike plane landed in the clearing in the
Northern forest. Its flyer leaped out, ran through the wood to the
burnt-out dwelling that hid the Shrike's headquarters. As the masked
form reached the bottom of the ladder beneath the trap door, the big
man with the black cigar stood waiting with a torch in hand.
"How'd it go?" he asked.
The Shrike paused to remove the red helmet.
Her cascade of fire-red hair fell free to her jacketed shoulders. She
pulled off the goggles and unwound the scarf from her mouth and
throat. Deep green eyes met her batman's with concern.
"The menace of the gas is no more,"
she told him. Then, "I had to do a thing I don't like. I managed
to infiltrate the German operation and steal the formula for the gas
so it can never be recreated. Couldn't chance it falling into
Allied hands - no assurance they wouldn't use it! But the formula
existed somewhere else - in Von Geier's brain. I had to kill him.
Worse, I had to kill another man - the guard who was to escort us
away - to cover my identity. I hit Leutnant Beller from behind
so he never knew it was me, dragged him behind the bunkers and
returned to the car and feigned unconsciousness until we were
"Then I sneaked back into the bunkers
under cover of the panic the deaths and the approaching bombers
created, and released the white gas. It's pale enough that it wasn't
noticed in the night. I went back and stole the car and got away."
The big man grimaced. "I know ya hate
killin', kid," he growled. "But Von Geier had to go. He
would've been responsible for more deaths later if you hadn't
scrubbed 'im. Even that driver you shot was part of a war crime
operation. He knew how many innocent lives that damned evil gas
"I had to do it, Mike. But I don't have
to like it."
"Do we hafta pull up stakes, boss? That
guy you brought here can squeal on where our hideout is."
The Shrike settled into a comfortable chair
and began unzipping her leather jacket. "Draw me a tub, will
you, Mike? I need a bath." She reflected for a moment. Her green
eyes looked peaceful. "No, I don't think we'll have to worry
about Major Temple. I made him promise not to reveal what he knows
about us. Their High Command may have betrayed us, but he won't."
"Yeah," Mike grumbled. "Makes
me glad we couldn't join up with the regular forces, though. You a
woman - they wouldn't let ya fly a fighter -"
"And you, Mike, a wanted criminal back in
the States," she smiled.
"A reformed criminal, kid. I seen
the error of me ways."
"But still wanted," she admonished.
Mike kicked the floor with one foot. "I
ain't so reformed that I'm gonna turn myself in an' do jail time when
I can be over here helpin' you!"
"You are appreciated, Mike," the
Shrike nodded. "I can fly, but I don't know how to maintain a
plane. Without you the Shrike would be grounded for good!"
She retreated to her bath, wondering what new
menace the next day would bring ?
and which side the Shrike
would have to take up arms against then.