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 air.

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 bomb!"

"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 message."

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 inside.

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 ? fellow offizers ? 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 the ground.

"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 back."

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 Land.

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 landscape.

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 nodded.

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 fields?"

"Gas," said the Shrike.

Temple considered. "That's bad, but the troopers in the trenches have gasmasks?"

"Yes," the 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 effort."

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 inventions"

"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 inert."

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 - "Wait," Temple 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 sides."

"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."

"What?"

"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 be promoted."

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 car.

"I wanna go with you!" the girl cried, struggling with her door. "Hey, this thing's stuck! Help me out."

"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 General Gauner.

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 outer guard.

"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 that much.

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 job."

"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 demanded.

"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 discovered.

"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 would've taken."

"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.


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