Raiders invisible, p.1
Raiders Invisible, p.1Desmond Winter Hall
Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net
This etext was produced from Astounding Stories November 1931. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
_The body went twisting and turning into the gulf below._]
By D. W. Hall
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Alone and unaided, Pilot Travers copes with the invisiblefoes who have struck down America's great engine of war.]
The muffled, helmeted figure of a pilot climbed down the spiderladder, nestled into the foremost scout's cockpit and pressed thestarting button. The motor spat out a wisp of smoke, then burst intoits full-throated roar: the automatic clamp above loosened: the scoutdropped plummet-like, bobbed to the flagship below, straightened outand zoomed six thousand feet up into the morning blue, where ithovered for a few moments like an eagle on taut wings. LieutenantChristopher Travers, the pilot, glanced around.
Behind and below him was spread a magnificent panorama. Across theplate of scintillating glass that was the sea moved rows of toy ships,tipped by the gleaming, one-fifth-mile long shape of a dirigible, ofwhose three scout planes Chris's was the leader. As he watched, thesecond scout dropped from the plane rack beneath the dirigible's sleekunderside and went streaking away, followed by the third, in responseto the Admiral's order of: "Proceed ahead to locate the enemy'sposition."
A grin relaxed Chris Travers' tanned, boyish face. His narrowed grayeyes swept the horizon. Below it somewhere lay hidden the ranks of theBlack Fleet, complete with its own destroyers, submarines, cruisers,battleships, aircraft carriers and the ZX-2, sister dirigible of theBlue Fleet's ZX-1. Chris spurted the scout ahead and murmured:
"This war game's goin' to be a big affair--the biggest yet!"
It was. The Atlantic Fleet of the United States Navy, termed "Blue"for convenience, had been assigned to guard the Panama Canal; thePacific Fleet, "Black," to attack it. The cream of America's seaforces had been assembled for that week of March, 1935, all the wayfrom crabby little destroyers to the two newly completed monarchs ofthe air, the twin dirigibles, fresh from the hangars at Akron, athousand feet each in length and loaded with the latest offensive anddefensive devices developed by Government laboratories.
The war game around the Canal was planned for more than practice,however. The eyes of the whole world were on that array of America'socean might--the eyes of one foreign nation in particular. Washingtonknew of the policies of that nation, and wished to impress upon is thehopelessness of them. More than a game, this concentration of sea andair-borne fighting power was a gesture for the continued peace of theworld--a gesture strong with the hint of steel.
Chris Travers was vaguely aware, through the rumors of the mess-room,of the double meaning of the game he was playing his part in, but thismorning he didn't give a single thought. He was too wrapped up in hisjob of spotting the van of the Black Fleet, radio-telephoning latitudeand longitude to the bridge of the Blue Fleet flagship, and gettinghome to his dirigible without being declared destroyed by one of thewar game umpires.
Therefore, half an hour later, his heart thrilled as he glimpsed,wraith-like on the steely horizon, a wisp of smoke.
* * * * *
He catapulted forward, eyes steady on that hint of ships. The smokegrew to a cloud of black pouring from the funnels of a V-shaped squadof destroyers, rolling through the lazy swells of the Pacific waters.Behind them came the bulldogs, larger warships, hazy blurs in thedistance.
Chris struck fist in palm to the tune of a gleeful chortle. He wasfirst! He hauled the microphone from its cubby in the dashboard andspoke the code words. Latitude, longitude and steaming direction ofthe Black Fleet he gave rapidly, and the information knifed back tothe bridge of the Blue Fleet flagship, a hundred miles behind, where awhite-haired admiral said: "Ah! Good boy! Get those bombersup--pronto!"
Chris commanded a superb view of the ZX-2, whose gleaming shape,showering rays of sunlight, hung like a thing in a painting over theBlack Fleet. He stared at the far-off dirigible, lost in admiration ofher trim lines, pausing a minute before returning to his own ZX-1. Atthat distance, the mammoth craft seemed no more than four inches long,yet, through his telescopic sight, he could discern her markings,machine-gun batteries and the airplane rack along her belly plainly.One plane, he saw, was suspended from the rack; the others werescouting for the Blue Fleet, even as he had scouted for the Black. Hewondered if something were wrong with the plane left behind. Somehow,it did not look quite familiar.
But, even as he watched, it dropped from the automatic rack, thenstraightened and soared dizzily up. And, from one of the airplanecarriers' broad decks, he saw two pursuit craft begin to rise. Hegrinned. They'd seen him, were coming after him!
He gripped the stick, prepared to swerve around. He had already raiseda spread-fingered hand for a derisive parting gesture, when suddenlyhe stiffened. The hand dropped as if paralyzed.
"Good Lord!" he gasped. "What--"
The mighty thousand-foot dirigible ZX-2, pride of the Navy and allAmerica, had wobbled drunkenly in her path. She stuck her nose down,and then her whole vast frame shivered like a wind-whipped leaf as thedull roar of an explosion rolled over the sea. A huge sliver of hidewas stripped from her as if by magic, revealing the skeleton ofgirders inside--revealing a tongue of crimson that licked out andwelled into a hell of flame.
Chris's blood froze. He watched the ZX-2 wallow in her death throes,writhe in the fiery doom that had struck her in seconds, that wasdevouring her with awful rapidity while thousands of men, blanched andtrembling, gazed on helplessly. He saw her plunge, a blazing inferno,into the sea beneath....
There were old pals on her--buddies, gone in a flash of time!
This wasn't a war game. This was tragedy, stark before his eyes.
* * * * *
The Black Fleet forgot its mimic battle. Radio telephone messageswinged over the horizon to the approaching Blue Fleet. The Blackdreadnoughts hove to; launches with ashen-faced men in white manningthem dropped overboard; a dozen destroyers rolled in the swells arounda crumbled, charred egg-shell that but minutes before had been anomnipotent giant of the sky.
Chris Travers, aloft in sunlight suddenly bereft of its beauty, jammedthe stick of the scout full over. He could do nothing, he knew. Hecould only return to the ZX-1 and tell the story of its sister as hehad seen it.
But why, he wondered as he flew almost blindly, had the ZX-2 soquickly flamed to oblivion? The helium of its inner bags bad beenuninflammable, as had the heavy oil of its fuel tanks; the ten engineswere Diesels, and hence without the ordinary ignition system andgasoline. Safety devices by the score bad been installed on board;nothing had been overlooked. And the weather, perfect.
It was uncanny. It seemed totally unexplainable.
Swarms of planes droned between sea and sky, all speeding in the onedirection, west, to where the crumpled remnants of a dirigible wereslipping quickly beneath the billows, beyond the sight of man. Planesof war game umpires, of officials, of newspaper correspondents andphotographers. And soon a spectral, gleaming wisp of silver nosed outof the east, and the lone scout flying east dropped in altitude tomeet its mother.
Mechanically, his mind elsewhere, Chris shoved the button which rearedthe automatic clamp behind the cockpit in preparation for affixing thescout to the plane rack beneath the ZX-1. The dirigible, far inadvance of the Blue Fleet, was roaring along at its full one hundred
* * * * *
The air giant roared closer. As the distance between then loosened,Chris's brow wrinkled and he swore softly in puzzlement.
"Now, just what's wrong with them?" he exclaimed, "The darned zepisn't flying straight! She's wobbling in her course!"
It was hardly apparent, but true. Ever so slightly, the snub nose ofthe ZX-1 was swaying from side to side as it sped through the air;ever so slightly, her massive stern directional-rudders were wavering.
She was less than a mile away now. At that time, there were no otherplanes in sight; none flying in that vicinity save Chris's. He gluedhis eyes to the telescopic sight. A moment later, sheer horror swepthis face.
The scout leaped
Raiders Invisible by Desmond Winter Hall / Science Fiction have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on18 votes