"Thanks. But, er--haven't you considered what your position here will be if you aid us to escape? Saranoff doesn't deal kindly with traitors, I fancy."
The girl spat on the floor.
"That swine!" she hissed, "I would like to kill him. I would have done so long ago had not the hope of the people rested on his genius. When the people finally triumph, I will feed his heart to my cat."
"Nice, gentle, loving disposition," murmured the doctor. "All right, my dear, we're ready for anything. What's the first move?"
The girl whisked the covers from the food cart and displayed three pistols and belts of ammunition.
"Put these on," she said, "and take this food with you. I will take you to a hiding place outside the walls where you may safely stay for a few days. I will bring you fresh supplies of food. As quickly as possible I will arrange for you to escape from Russia. When you have left Russia safely, my debt is paid and you are again my enemies."
"But, listen here," said Dr. Bird persuasively, "why don't you come with us? You know the object of our coming here. We aim to destroy this plant and let the earth take its normal tilt. You hate Saranoff, although I don't know why. If you'll help us to destroy him, we'll guarantee you a welcome in the United States and you can join your brother. I'll take him back into my laboratory."
"My brother is dead," she said bitterly. "After he left you, he fell into more evil times. His wife died and he swore revenge upon the society which had murdered her. An opportunity came to him to join Saranoff, and he did so. Saranoff hated him and distrusted him, although he was the soul of loyalty. As a reward for his genius and aid to Saranoff in constructing the black lamp, Saranoff abandoned him to you. It was your men who killed him when you blew into nothingness the helicopter he was piloting in your state of Maryland, near Washington."
"All the more reason why you should revenge yourself upon Saranoff," replied the doctor. "We will give you a chance to do so and aid you. We also give you an opportunity to be received in a free country with honor."
An expression of rage distorted the girl's features.
"I am a woman of the proletariat!" she cried. "I hate Ivan Saranoff for what he has done but I am loyal to him. He alone will force the bourgeoisie to their knees and establish the rule of the people. I hate your country and your government; yes, and I hate you. I aid you because I must pay my just debts. Come, the way is clear for your escape. Don't ask how I cleared it."
"Come on," said Dr. Bird with a shrug of his shoulders. "There is no arguing with convictions. She must act according to her lights, even as we must act according to ours. Grab your guns and let's go."
The three buckled on the weapons and belts of ammunition and followed the girl from the cell. Once outside she touched her lips for silence. A door barred their way but she opened it with a key which she withdrew from her dress. Outside the door, a guard slumbered noisily. At a motion from the girl, Carnes rolled him over on his face to quiet his snoring. He moved and stirred, but did not wake.
A few feet from the door the girl paused and faced the wall. She manipulated a hidden lever and a panel swung open in the wall. She led the way silently into the dark. As the panel closed behind her, a beam of light from an electric torch stabbed the darkness. Down a sloping tunnel they followed her for half a mile. The tunnel turned at right angles and led upward. At length they paused before another door. The girl opened it and they stepped out into the night. As they did so, a dull booming struck their ears. The girl paused.
"The ship!" she cried. "Your ship! It is attacking Fort Novadwinskaja. The factory will be awake in a moment! Run for your lives!"
Even as she spoke a pair of twinkling lights appeared far down the tunnel through which they had come. She turned as if to return down the tunnel. Dr. Bird caught her about the waist and clapped his hand over her mouth.
"Quick, Carnes, your belt," he cried. "Tie her up. She meant to go down that tunnel and give her life to delay them while we escaped. We'll save her in spite of herself."
Carnes and McCready quickly bound the struggling girl with their belts. They laid her on the ground beside the door and watched the oncoming lights.
"You two hold them back for the present," said the doctor. "I'm going to take Feodrovna away a bit and argue gently with her. If I can make her see the light, we may accomplish our mission yet. If I can't, I'll come back and help you."
He picked up the girl in his arms and disappeared into the darkness. Pistol in hand, the two men watched the oncoming lights. The men behind the lights could not be seen, but from the sound of their footsteps it was evident that there were quite a few of them.
"Had we better let them emerge from the door and then get them?" whispered Carnes.
"No. These heavy guns will drive a bullet through three men at short range. Level your gun down the tunnel and fire when I give the word. Remember, every one is apt to shoot high in the dark."
The lights approached slowly. When they were twenty-five yards away, Lieutenant McCready spoke. The quiet was shattered by the roar of two Luger pistols. Again and again the guns barked. A volley of fire came from the tunnel, but Carnes and the lieutenant were standing well away from the opening and they escaped unharmed. Their deadly fire poured into the shambles until they were rewarded by the sound of retreating feet.
"So ends round one," said Carnes with a laugh. "I think we win on points."
"They won't try a direct attack again," replied the lieutenant. "Look out for a flank attack or from some new weapon. I don't like the way those bombs failed to explode the other day."
Dr. Bird appeared from the darkness.
"McCready," he said in a voice vibrant with excitement, "we're in luck. We have come out less than a hundred yards from the point where our plane came down. It is still there. If the Denver has approached within shooting range, we will have enough gas to make it. Try to get your motor going."
"If it isn't completely washed out I'll have it going in a few minutes, Doctor," cried the pilot. "I'm going down the tunnel and get those flash-lights those birds dropped when they pulled out. Where's the girl?"
"She's back by the plane," said the doctor with a chuckle. "She is a spit-fire, all right. I took her gag off and she tried to bite me. I couldn't get a word of anything but abuse out of her. Go ahead and get the lights and I'll show you the plane."
In a few minutes they stood before the ship. It was apparently uninjured, but the spark was dead. Carnes went back to the tunnel mouth to guard against surprise while Dr. Bird and McCready labored over the motor. Despite the best of both of them, no spark could be coaxed from the coil. As a last resort, Dr. Bird short-circuited the cells with a screwdriver blade. No answering spark came from the terminals.
"Dead as a mackerel," he remarked. "I guess that ends that hope. Let's get the machine guns out of her. Well have another attack soon and they'll be more effective than our pistols."
It was the work of a few minutes to dismount the two Brownings from the plane. Carrying the two guns, Dr. Bird joined Carnes while McCready staggered along laden down with belts of ammunition.
"Do you remember that rocky knoll we passed just before we landed?" asked the lieutenant. "If we can get this stuff there before we are attacked, we'll have a much better chance than we will in the open."
"Good idea, Lieutenant. Carnes, connect yourself to one of these guns. I'll fasten the other on my back and carry Feodrovna. We can't leave her here to Saranoff's tender mercies."
Through the night the little cavalcade made its way. The thunder of guns from Fort Novadwinskaja kept up and the sky to the north was lighted by their flashes. McCready's bump of direction proved to be a good one for the sought-for retreat was soon located. As they deposited their burdens and looked back, the lights of two trucks could be seen approaching across the plain from the factory. Hurriedly they mounted the machine gun. Dr. Bird straightened up and listened carefully.
"The guns are sounding less frequently," he said. "Possibly the Denver has had enough and is pulling out."
"If I know Captain Evans as well as I think I do, the Denver is not retreating," replied McCready grimly.
"I hope she's hammering the fort out of existence," said the doctor. "However, our main interest just now is on the land front. Gunners to the fore. Carnes, you aren't so good at this, better let McCready and me handle them."
The trucks approached slowly. Presently the American plane loomed up in the glare of their headlights. A powerful searchlight mounted on the leading truck swept the country. Discovery was a matter of moments. Lieutenant McCready trained his gun carefully and pressed the trigger. A rattle of fire came from the Browning. A crash was heard from the truck and the searchlight winked out.
"Bull's-eye!" cried Carnes exultantly.
"Down, you fool!" cried the doctor as he swept the detective from his feet and threw him down behind a rock. His action was none too soon. A burst of machine gun fire came from the trucks and a hail of bullets splattered on the rocks a few yards from them. McCready crawled back to his gun.
"Wait a minute, Lieutenant," counseled the doctor. "A burst of fire from here will give them our location and probably do them little damage. Wait until they try to rush us."
They did not have long to wait. A guttural shout came from a point a few yards away and the sound of running feet came to their ears. The rush was directed toward a point a few yards to the left of where they crouched. Dr. Bird swung his gun around. As the rush passed them, he released his trigger. A volley of screams and oaths from the plain answered the crackle of the Browning. McCready's gun joined in with a staccato burst of fire. The attack could not live before that rain of death. A few running feet were heard from the darkness and a few groans. Presently the roar of a motor came from the direction of the parked trucks. It retreated into the distance and all was quiet.
"Round two goes to us on a knock-down," said Carnes jubilantly. "What will they do next, Doctor?"
"Probably nothing until daylight, now that they know we have machine guns. I wish that we could make that thicket, but it's too far to try. It'll be daylight in an hour or so."
The night was normally short in Archangel at that season of the year and the unnatural lengthening of the day which Saranoff had accomplished made it shorter still. In an hour red streamers in the east announced the approach of daylight. Hardly had they appeared than a dull drone of truck motors came from the direction of the factory.
"Round three is about to commence," announced Carnes. "I wish that I could do something."
"You can as soon as our ammunition runs out, which won't be long," replied McCready. "It will be a matter of pistols at close quarters."
The trucks approached to within a half mile and stopped. The distance was too great to warrant wasting any of their scanty store of ammunition at such long range. In the dim light they would see the Russians working at the trucks. Presently a flash came from the plain. A whining sound filled the air. With a crash a three-inch shell broke behind them.
"No fun," remarked the doctor. "We'll have to get better cover than this."
A second shell whined through the air and burst over their heads. A third burst a few yards in front of them.
"They have us bracketed now," said McCready. "We'd better slide back a piece before they start rapid fire."
Dragging their prisoner with them, the three men made their way to the reverse side of the knoll. A short search revealed an overhanging ledge under which they crouched in comparative safety from anything but a direct hit above them.
"We're all right here except for the fact that they may rush us under cover of the fire," said the doctor. "One man will have to keep watch all the time and it will be a dangerous detail. I'll take the first hitch."
"You will not!" exclaimed Carnes emphatically. "I have done nothing so far and I am the least important member of the party. I'll do the watching."
"Let's draw straws," suggested McCready. "I'm willing to do that, but if it's a matter of volunteering, I refuse to yield to the civilian branches of the government. The Navy has traditions to uphold, you know."
"McCready's right," replied the doctor. "Get straws, Lieutenant, and we'll draw."
McCready picked up three bits of grass and held them out.
"The shortest goes on watch," he said. Carnes and the doctor drew, McCready exhibited the remaining bit of grass. It was the shortest of the three. He waited until the next shell burst above them and then stepped out from the shelter.
"I'll relieve you in fifteen minutes," said Carnes as he left.
When the lieutenant had left, Dr. Bird removed the gag from Feodrovna's mouth and tried to argue with her, but the Russian girl only glared her hatred and refused to talk other than to abuse him. With a sigh, the doctor gave over his efforts and talked to Carnes. The time passed slowly with a constant rain of shells on the knoll.
"It's time for my relief," said Carnes at length. As he spoke the hail of shells on the knoll ceased.
"What the dickens?" cried the doctor.
He and Carnes jumped from their shelter and ran over the knoll. On the plain a few hundred yards from them, a straggling line of Russians were advancing with fixed bayonets. McCready was nowhere in sight.
"Where the devil is McCready?" cried the doctor. "He must have been killed. Hello, one of the guns is gone, too. There's only a belt and a half of ammunition left. I'll try to break that attack up."
He advanced to the gun and trained it carefully. When he pressed the trigger a dull click came from the gun.
"Misfire!" he cried. He drew back the bolt and inserted a fresh cartridge. Again the gun clicked harmlessly. Dr. Bird ejected the shell and examined it. A deep indentation appeared on the primer. Hurriedly he tried a half dozen more cartridges but they refused to explode. He turned a keen gaze toward the trucks. On the ground was set a tube-like projector pointing toward them. Dr. Bird swore softly and jerked his pistol from its holster. The hammer clicked futilely on a cartridge.
"Stymied!" he exclaimed. "They have that portable ray mechanism, with them, which disabled our bombs. It's hand to hand, Carnesy, old dear. I wonder where McCready is."
The Russians approached slowly, keeping their lines straight. They were within two hundred yards of the knoll. Suddenly from a point a hundred yards to the left of the end of the land came a rattle of fire. The attacking line dropped in a pile of grotesque heaps.
"It's McCready!" shouted Carnes. A little ravine ran from the knoll toward the trucks. Sitting in the ravine was the lieutenant, playing a Browning machine gun on the line of attackers. When there were no more of them on their feet, he turned his gun on the trucks. Panic seized the Russians and they made a rush for their truck. Their leader leaped among them, yelling furiously. They paused and turned to the projector tube. Slowly they swung it around. The lieutenant's gun ceased firing.
As the Russians rushed the now silent gun, Dr. Bird stepped to the gun on the knoll. He trained it and pressed the trigger. A rattle of fire came from it and two of the rushing figures fell. The attack paused for an instant. McCready had risen to his feet and was running up the ravine with his gun under his arm.
"Good head!" cried Dr. Bird, "Clever work! Watch the fun now."
He ceased firing his gun. The Russians wavered and then rushed the point from which McCready had fired. The lieutenant allowed them to get to within a short distance and then crumpled the attack with another burst of fire from the flank. With cries of alarm, the Russians turned and fled toward their trucks. McCready ran along the ravine until he was within fifty yards of the standing machines. As the Russians approached, one of them stepped to the truck crank. McCready's pistol spoke and he dropped. A second shared his fate. With cries of despair, the Russians climbed into the remaining truck whose motor was running. Rapidly it drove away across the plain. McCready rose from the ravine and ran toward the standing truck. He started the motor and headed for the knoll.
"He's got a truck," cried Carnes. "We can get away in it."
"Where to?" demanded Dr. Bird. "Archangel is between us and the Denver."
The truck came up.
"Come on, Doctor," cried McCready. "Hurry up. We'll take the battery out of this truck and get our plane going."
"Oh, clever!" cried Dr. Bird admiringly. "Load that gun while I get Feodrovna, Carnesy. We'll get away safely yet."
The truck rolled up to the plane and stopped. While Carnes transferred the prisoner and the guns to the plane, the lieutenant and Dr. Bird ripped up the floor boards of the truck and exposed the battery. It was a matter of moments to detach it and carry it to the plane. It would not fit in place but they anchored it in place with wire.
"You'd better hurry," cried Carnes. "Here come a couple more trucks over the plain."
"That'll do, Doctor," said McCready. "Get on the prop and we'll see if the old puddle jumper will take off."
Dr. Bird ran to the propeller.
"Ready!" he cried.
"Contact!" snapped McCready.
The plane motor roared into life. The ship moved slowly forward as Dr. Bird climbed on board. Toward the oncoming trucks they rushed across the plain. A crash seemed imminent. In the nick of time McCready pulled back on his joystick and the plane rose gracefully into the air, clearing the leading truck by inches. The truck halted and hastily mounted a machine gun.
"Too late!" laughed the lieutenant. "Now it's our turn for some fun."
He tapped the key of his radio transmitter. In a few seconds he received an answer.
"They have reduced Fort Novadwinskaja," he reported to the rear cockpit, "but they don't know what to fire at next. Their largest guns will reach the factory easily. Shall I start some fireworks?"
"You may fire when ready, Gridly," chuckled Dr. Bird.
Again the lieutenant depressed his key. From their altitude of four thousand feet, they could see the Denver. From its forward turret came a puff of smoke. There were a few moments of pause and then a cloud of black rose from the plain below them, half a mile from the factory. McCready reported the position of the burst to the ship. A second shell burst beyond the factory and the third just in front of it.