"How long can the things stay up?"
Warren took in the surrounding mountainous countryside. "Indefinitely, sir. A single pilot, as long as he is physically able to operate. If there are two pilots up there to relieve each other, they could stay until food and water ran out."
"How much weight do they carry?"
"I'm not sure. One that size, certainly enough for two men and any equipment they'd need. Say, five hundred pounds."
Cogswell had his telescope glued to his eyes again, he muttered under his breath, "Five hundred pounds! They could even unload dynamite over our horses. Stampede them all over the reservation."
"What's going on?" Baron Zwerdling shrilled. "What's going on Marshal Cogswell?"
Cogswell ignored him. He watched the circling, circling craft for a full five minutes, breathing deeply. Then he lowered his glass and swept the assembled officers of his staff with an indignant glare. "Ten Eyck!" he grunted.
An infantry colonel came to attention. "Yes, sir."
Cogswell said heavily, deliberately. "Under a white flag. A dispatch to Baron Haer. My compliments and request for his terms. While you're at it, my compliments also to Captain Joseph Mauser."
Zwerdling was bug-eyeing him. "Terms!" he rasped.
The marshal turned to him. "Yes, sir. Face reality. We're in the dill. I suggest you sue for terms as short of complete capitulation as you can make them."
"You call yourself a soldier--!" the transport tycoon began to shrill.
"Yes, sir," Cogswell snapped. "A soldier, not a butcher of the lads under me." He called to the Telly reporter who was getting as much of this as he could. "Mr. Soligen, isn't it?"
The reporter scurried forward, flicking signals to his cameramen for proper coverage. "Yes, sir. Freddy Soligen, marshal. Could you tell the Telly fans what this is all about, Marshal Cogswell? Folks, you all know the famous marshal. Marshal Stonewall Cogswell, who hasn't lost a fracas in nearly ten years, now commanding the forces of Continental Hovercraft."
"I'm losing one now," Cogswell said grimly. "Vacuum Tube Transport has pulled a gimmick out of the hat and things have pickled for us. It will be debated before the Military Category Department, of course, and undoubtedly the Sov-world military attaches will have things to say. But as it appears now, the fracas as we have known it, has been revolutionized."
"Revolutionized?" Even the Telly reporter was flabbergasted. "You mean by that thing?" He pointed upward, and the lenses of the cameras followed his finger.
"Yes," Cogswell growled unhappily. "Do all of you need a blueprint? Do you think I can fight a fracas with that thing dangling above me, throughout the day hours? Do you understand the importance of reconnaissance in warfare?" His eyes glowered. "Do you think Napoleon would have lost Waterloo if he'd had the advantage of perfect reconnaissance such as that thing can deliver? Do you think Lee would have lost Gettysburg? Don't be ridiculous." He spun on Baron Zwerdling, who was stuttering his complete confusion.
"As it stands, Baron Haer knows every troop dispensation I make. All I know of his movements are from my cavalry scouts. I repeat, I am no butcher, sir. I will gladly cross swords with Baron Haer another day, when I, too, have ... what did you call the confounded things, Paul?"
"Gliders," Lieutenant Colonel Warren said.
Major Joseph Mauser, now attired in his best off-duty Category Military uniform, spoke his credentials to the receptionist. "I have no definite appointment, but I am sure the Baron will see me," he said.
"Yes, sir." The receptionist did the things that receptionists do, then looked up at him again. "Right through that door, major."
Joe Mauser gave the door a quick double rap and then entered before waiting an answer.
Balt Haer, in mufti, was standing at a far window, a drink in his hand, rather than his customary swagger stick. Nadine Haer sat in an easy-chair. The girl Joe Mauser loved had been crying.
Joe Mauser, suppressing his frown, made with the usual amenities.
Balt Haer without answering them, finished his drink in a gulp and stared at the newcomer. The old stare, the aloof stare, an aristocrat looking at an underling as though wondering what made the fellow tick. He said, finally, "I see you have been raised to Rank Major."
"Yes, sir," Joe said.
"We are obviously occupied, major. What can either my sister or I possibly do for you?"
Joe kept his voice even. He said, "I wanted to see the Baron."
Nadine Haer looked up, a twinge of pain crossing her face.
"Indeed," Balt Haer said flatly. "You are talking to the Baron, Major Mauser."
Joe Mauser looked at him, then at his sister, who had taken to her handkerchief again. Consternation ebbed up and over him in a flood. He wanted to say something such as, "Oh no," but not even that could he utter.
Haer was bitter. "I assume I know why you are here, major. You have come for your pound of flesh, undoubtedly. Even in these hours of our grief--"
"I ... I didn't know. Please believe ..."
"... You are so constituted that your ambition has no decency. Well, Major Mauser, I can only say that your arrangement was with my father. Even if I thought it a reasonable one, I doubt if I would sponsor your ambitions myself."
Nadine Haer looked up wearily. "Oh, Balt, come off it," she said. "The fact is, the Haer fortunes contracted a debt to you, major. Unfortunately, it is a debt we cannot pay." She looked into his face. "First, my father's governmental connections do not apply to us. Second, six months ago, my father, worried about his health and attempting to avoid certain death taxes, transferred the family stocks into Balt's name. And Balt saw fit, immediately before the fracas, to sell all Vacuum Tube Transport stocks, and invest in Hovercraft."
"That's enough, Nadine," her brother snapped nastily.
"I see," Joe said. He came to attention. "Dr. Haer, my apologies for intruding upon you in your time of bereavement." He turned to the new Baron. "Baron Haer, my apologies for your bereavement."
Balt Haer glowered at him.
Joe Mauser turned and marched for the door which he opened then closed behind him.
On the street, before the New York offices of Vacuum Tube Transport, he turned and for a moment looked up at the splendor of the building.
Well, at least the common shares of the concern had skyrocketed following the victory. His rank had been upped to Major, and old Stonewall Cogswell had offered him a permanent position on his staff in command of aerial operations, no small matter of prestige. The difficulty was, he wasn't interested in the added money that would accrue to him, nor the higher rank--nor the prestige, for that matter.
He turned to go to his hotel.
An unbelievably beautiful girl came down the steps of the building. She said, "Joe."
He looked at her. "Yes?"
She put a hand on his sleeve. "Let's go somewhere and talk, Joe."
"About what?" He was infinitely weary now.
"About goals," she said. "As long as they exist, whether for individuals, or nations, or a whole species, life is still worth the living. Things are a bit bogged down right now, but at the risk of sounding very trite, there's tomorrow."
By Nat Schachner and Arthur L. Zagat
The epic exploit of one who worked in the dark and alone, behind the enemy lines, in the great Last War.
We sat, Eric Bolton and I, at a parapet table atop the 200-story General Aviation Building. The efficient robot waiter of the Sky Club had cleared away the remnants of an epicurean meal. Only a bowl of golden fruit remained--globes of nectar picked in the citrus groves of California that morning.
My eye wandered over the scene spread before us, the vast piling of masonry that is New York. The dying beams of the setting sun glinted golden from the roofs of the pleasure palaces topping the soaring structures. Lower, amid interlacing archings of the mid-air thoroughfares, darkness had already piled its blackness. Two thousand feet below, in the region of perpetual night, the green-blue factory lights flared.
On three sides, the unbroken serration of the Empire City's beehives stretched in a semicircle of twenty miles radius. Long since, the rivers that had made old Manhattan an island had been roofed over. But, to the east, the heaving sea still stretched its green expanse. On the horizon a vast cloud mountain billowed upward from the watery surface, white, and pink and many shades of violet.
"That's just the way it looked," Bolton muttered, as he drew my attention to the cloud mass. "See that air-liner just diving into it? Just so I saw the New York--five thousand men--pride of the Air Service--dive into that mountain of smoke. And she never came out! Gone--like that!" And he snapped his fingers.
He fell silent again, gazing dreamily at the drifting rings of pipe smoke. He smiled, the twisted smile which was the sole indication that one side of his face was the master work of a great surgeon-sculptor. A marvelous piece of work, that, but no less marvelous than the protean changes that Bolton himself could make in his appearance. It was this genius at impersonation that had won Bolton his commission in the Intelligence Service, when, in 1992, the world burst into flame.
"Would you like to hear about it?" The obtuseness of the man!
"If you'd care to tell me." I spoke off-handedly. This was like hunting birds on the wing: too abrupt a movement of the glider, and the game was lost.
This is the story he told me, in the low, modulated voice of the trained actor. He told it simply, with no dramatic tricks, no stressing, no climatic crescendos. But I saw the scenes he described, dodged with him through black caverns of dread, felt an icy hand clutch my heart as the Ferret stared at me with his baleful glance; was deafened, and stunned, and crushed by that final tremendous down pouring of the waters.
I was standing--he began--on one of our rafts, watching the installation of a new ray machine. A storm was raging, but the great raft, a thousand feet long, and five hundred wide, was as steady as a rock. We were 700 miles out; the great push of '92, that drove us back to within 150 miles of our coast and almost ended the war, was still eleven weeks off.
Suddenly the buzzer of my radio-receiver whirred against my chest. "2--6--4"--my personal call. "2--2"--"Go to nearest communications booth." "A--4"--"Use Intelligence Service intermitter 4." The secret of that was known only to a half-dozen men in the field. Headquarters wanted to talk to me on a supremely important matter.
There was a booth only a short distance away. I stepped to it and identified myself to the guard. In a moment I was within and had swung shut and sealed the sound-proof door. I set the intermitter switches to the A--4 combination. Not even our own control officers could eavesdrop now. Then I switched off the light, and waited.
A green glow grew out of the darkness. I was being inspected. Headquarters was taking no chances. Out of the green haze before me the general himself materialized. I could count every hair in his grizzled beard. The little scar at the corner of his left eye fascinated me with its distinctness.
I saluted. "Captain Bolton reporting, sir."
"At ease!" General Sommers' voice snapped with military precision. The general was standing in his private office in Washington. I could see his desk in the corner, and the great operations map on the wall. There were new lines of worry in the general's grim face.
He went straight to the point. "Captain Bolton, we are confronted with a problem that must be solved at once. While our information is meagre, the Staff is convinced that a great danger menaces us. Of its precise nature, or how it is to be combatted, we are unaware. I am assigning you to secure the answer to these two questions.
"A week ago there appeared, ten miles east of the enemies' first line, and directly opposite our raft 1264, what seemed at first to be merely a peculiar cloud formation. It rose directly from the surface of the water, and was shaped roughly like half an egg. The greatest dimension, lying along the water, parallel to the battle line, was about 5 miles; the height approximately a mile.
"When two or three days had passed, and no change in the shape or dimensions of the strange mass had taken place, although wind and weather conditions had been varied, we determined to investigate. This was undoubtedly an artificial, not a natural, phenomenon. It was then that we discovered that there was a concentration of defenses along this portion of the front. Our scouts were unable to find any of the usual gaps in either the ray network in the upper air, or the gyro-knife barrier beneath the surface. At the same time, from scouting parties and deserters at other points we learned that rumors are rife throughout the enemy forces of some scheme now on foot that will overwhelm us within a very short time. No details have been given, but so widespread is the gossip, and so consistent, that we have been forced to the conclusion that it cannot be reasonably dismissed as mere morale-supporting propaganda.
"We have secretly developed a method of so equipping aircraft as to render them immune to the enemy death ray. The device is complicated and requires time to manufacture and install. After careful consideration, we decided that the situation was sufficiently grave to warrant revealing to the enemy our possession of this new device.
"The battle-airship New York has been equipped with the new protective equipment. To-morrow at sunrise she will make an attack in force on whatever lies behind that screen.
"Your orders are these. You will proceed at once to raft 1264. You will observe the attack made by the New York. If she fails, you will then find some way to enter that area, discover what is going on behind the screen, hamper or destroy the enemy plans if possible and report back to me personally."
The general's face suddenly softened. His tones lost their military precision. "I am afraid, Captain, that I am sending you to your death. But--we must know what is going on. If the New York fails, the task will appear impossible, but you have already done the impossible."
The grim mask dropped again over the chief's features; again he became the perfect military machine. "You will call on any officer of our forces for whatever you may need. Here is your authority." He stepped aside, and I heard the low burr of the tel-autograph at the side of the screen before me. A moment, and the general was again visible.
"That will be all." Once more the momentary softening. "Good luck, my boy." A final exchange of salutes, and the screen went blank.
I switched on the light. There in the little machine was a slip of paper. I extracted it. The lines of type, the scrawled signature, burned into my brain like letters of fire.
"To: All Officers of the Military Forces of the Americas.
Subject: Military Assistance. Eric Bolton, Captain M.I.S., M.F.A. is authorized to call upon you for any assistance. You will comply with his requests.
Alton Sommers, Lieut. General Commanding M.I.S., M.F.A.
By authority of the Commander in Chief."
In the corner appeared my thumb-print.
I stood there for a long time, mulling the thing over. The Staff was laying tremendous stress on the enemy's strange cloud formation, even to the extent of disclosing the secret of the new defensive device. The Easterners, too, had something novel, something that would cut off absolutely the transmission of ether waves. Nothing either side had yet produced would do that. What was happening behind that screen? Would they break through our defenses at last?
A vision arose before me. Hordes of yellow men, of black, of white renegades from the nations where the red flag waved dominant, pouring over the Americas. The horrors that Britain had undergone, the last European nation to hold out against the Red horde, flashed into my mind. I shuddered. Never. It must not be.
I was hurled from my feet by an electric shock. A great flood of sunlight burst in on me. A corner of the booth, three-foot concrete, had been sheared away, whiffed into nothingness! I arose and dashed into the open. A raid was in progress. The air was electric with the clashing of opposing barrages. The terrible silence of the pitched battles of that war oppressed me. I saw a squad, caught in the beam of an Eastern ray-projector, destroyed. The end man must have been just on the edge of the beams--half his right side lay twitching on the ground. The rest of him, and the seven others, were smoking heaps of blackened cinders.
High over No Man's Land--queer how those old phrases last--a covey of enemy helicopters hung, waiting for the barrage to lift. A black hulk broke the surface of the water, split open: then another. Enemy sub-surface craft. The fight was being waged under water, too. A green mass spilled its contents as it leaped over the waves and fell back. One of ours.
A huge buzzing came from behind me. A cloud of wasplike forms flew high overhead. It was reserve aircraft, hurrying up from the second line raft, ten miles west.
But this was no affair of mine. I had my orders. I must be in the North Atlantic by daybreak. I looked around. There at the further edge my little Zephyr rested, intact. I hurried to her and sprang into the cockpit. I was off the coast of Chile. Twelve thousand feet would clear the highest range between. I set the height control. Today you don't have to do that, but Mason hadn't perfected his automatic elevator then. The starting indicator was already set for my position. I adjusted the direction disk. The little green light showed that the power broadcast was in operation. I snapped over the starting switch and the whir of the helicopter vanes overhead told me all was well. The machine leaped into the air. Nothing to do now till the warning bell told me I was within a hundred miles of my destination. The battle shot away from me, far below.