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Chapter One:
Raiders from the Sky

Chapter Two:
In Enemy Hands

Chapter Three:
Old Debts

Chapter Four:
Under the Gun

Chapter Five:
Caught in the Act

Chapter Six:
Old Friends

Chapter Seven:
Making the Cut

Chapter Eight:
The Cut

Chapter Nine:
The Shell Game

Chapter Ten:
Serpents In Paradise

Chapter Eleven:
Into the Storm

Chapter Twelve:
Owning Up

Chapter Thirteen:
Interesting Times


"Genghis" Kahn & The

Manchurian Gambit

—A Tale of the Red Skull Legion—

By Mike Lee


Chapter Ten: Serpents In Paradise

"You're a fraud, Kahn."

Jonathan "Genghis" Kahn looked over his shoulder. Angela Dane stood with her arms folded and a smug grin on her elfin face. The boss of the Red Skull Legion quirked an eyebrow. "If I had a nickel for every time I heard that one, I'd never have to steal again," he said with a snort. "What, precisely, am I being accused of now?"

For more information see:
Jonathan "Genghis" Kahn; The Red Skull Legion

The bridge of the Machiavelli was bathed in the crimson glow of battle lanterns as the pirate zeppelin made her way south by west across the Nation of Hollywood. The night before, they had slipped out of Sky Haven under heavy overcast and worked their way through a little-known canyon route that allowed them to reach the Utah border by midnight.

For more information see:
The Nation of Hollywood; Utah

The next day found them holed up in a canyon in Arixo, a hundred miles from nowhere, where they were able to put some of their newly-acquired spare parts to good use. Now with a freshly repaired hull and six working engines, the airship was high and quiet, keeping close to the clouds as the Red Skulls crept carefully through Hollywood's air defenses. Lookouts strained to peer through the moonless night, and the officer of the watch kept one hand pressed to the headphones he wore, listening intently for any reports.

The Red Skulls rarely found themselves so far west, and not even the well-traveled Dugan knew what to expect. There were rumors that Howard Hughes had secretly installed a network of huge listening devices in the Hollywood hills that could track zeppelin movements hundreds of miles away. Conversely, another source had it that the Hollywood Knights, the nation's premier fighter squadron, had been destroyed in a pirate attack several months past. It was all taken with a healthy pinch of salt, but the crew remained vigilant nevertheless. Kahn had stood watch with the bridge crew ever since crossing the Hollywood border.

For more information see:
The Hollywood Knights

"You didn't rescue Chiang Liu-Mei from the Japanese because of a personal debt to Hayes—you did it because she's sitting on half a million bucks in gold." She stared intently into his eyes, as if she could read the pirate's thoughts. "What I want to know is how you figured out she had the gold to begin with?"

Kahn chuckled, a low rumble from deep within his broad chest. "My reputation for omniscience grows," he said, half to himself. "Comrade, I didn't have any idea about Miss Chiang's secret mission. She's here on this ship because I made a promise to Artemus Hayes, and that's it. Why is that so hard for everyone to understand?"

"Because you're a liar and a thief," Dane stated. "People like you don't put much stock in personal honor."

Kahn studied Dane carefully. "A comment based upon your vast knowledge of human nature, I suppose," he said. "Well here's a curious little anecdote for you: I keep my promises. Always. If I give you my word, it's iron."

"Yet you'll cheat old folks out of their life savings peddling fake influenza cures," she shot back.

"Of course. I don't give my word to just anyone...and, if folks are dumb enough to fall for my pitch, they deserve it," Kahn answered. "Get down off your high horse, sister. You're afraid to accept that I might have a shred of integrity. In fact, you can't bear to think that we're even a little bit alike. That's hardly a Christian attitude...Comrade."

He expected her to fly off the handle, but Dane surprised him. Instead, she coolly met his stare. "So why did you make the promise to Hayes in the first place. It obviously wasn't out of any sense of compassion." Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Was it guilt? I bet that's it. Once upon a time you were in over your head and Hayes bailed you out. He even saved your life. You'd screwed up, and he felt sorry for you, and it's eaten at you ever since."

Kahn's expression darkened. He stepped closer, looming angrily over the diminutive pilot. "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, Comrade," he said quietly. "You'd do well to remember that."

Before she could reply, he gritted his teeth, collecting himself, and turned to Dugan. "Deadeye, why don't you take the good Comrade here to the galley and scare up some coffee? You could stand to have a break...and so could I."

Dugan took one look at Kahn and hustled Dane off the bridge without another word. The pirate captain stared after them long after they'd gone.

"When am I ever going to learn to stop arguing with women?" he muttered, shaking his head.

The Hawai'ian island shone like an emerald against the sapphire blue of the Pacific, ringed with white sand beaches that shone in the warm afternoon sun. Massive, purple-black thunderheads were gathering behind the dark bulk of Mauna Kea, the island's restive volcano, sending warm, wet gusts of wind down its slopes and through the bustling streets of Hilo.

For more information see:
The Kingdom of Hawai'i

The new capital of the kingdom of Hawai'i had grown rapidly along the shore of Hilo Bay, with modern stone buildings set among stately wood and bamboo structures. As the taxi made its way through a maze of twisting, crowded streets, Kahn watched native Polynesians in colorful local garb brushing shoulders with suit-and-tie Englishmen, Frenchmen and North Americans. It was as if Manhattan or Washington had been dropped into the middle of the garden of Eden; before long Kahn's thoughts turned to what manner of serpents such a paradise would harbor.

The taxi was shown through the gate at the British Embassy, a tall stone building just a few blocks away from King Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana 'ole's newly-completed palace. By the time the car pulled around to the building's grand entrance a gentleman in a somber gray suit was waiting for them at the steps, as though they had been expected. He flashed a dazzling smile as Chiang Liu-Mei emerged from the car, welcoming her to the island with all the respect accorded to visiting dignitaries. She accepted the courtesies graciously, and Kahn could see the relief in her eyes as she found herself back in the embrace of civilization. The gentleman ushered Chiang, Kahn and Dane inside; Hetty remained with the ship under vociferous protest, but Kahn insisted on meeting the British with Dane alone.

They were taken across a marble foyer and up a grand, sweeping staircase built in the best traditions of British Imperialism, and led through a pair of polished teak doors into a richly appointed office. The embassy official crossed the large room and paused at a set of French doors that opened onto a sunlit balcony. "Miss Chiang Liu-Mei and associates," the official announced to the men waiting there.

A wicker table and chairs had been arranged on the balcony, with a view which overlooked the bay. Two men in tailored suits rose to their feet. The first one was a tall, dapper gentleman of middle years with a thick mane of iron-gray hair and blue eyes that shone from a tanned, weathered face.

"Miss Chiang," he said warmly, taking her hand. "What an honor and a pleasure it is to meet you. I am Sir Trevor Carlyle, His Majesty's Ambassador to the islands." Carlyle gestured to his companion, a gentleman not much younger than the ambassador, who gave the impression of a mild-mannered scholar—save for his cold, appraising stare. "This is William Downing, with the Foreign Service. He's been instrumental in working out the details of our arrangement with your father."

"How do you do," Chiang said, smiling politely. She turned to Kahn. "Let me introduce—"

"Jonathan Kahn," Carlyle said with a smile, reaching for his hand. "Your reputation precedes you, Mister Kahn."

The pirate took the diplomat's hand. "Am I to take that as a compliment or an indictment, Ambassador?" he replied.

"I'd say bringing Miss Chiang here safely makes the answer self-evident," Carlyle answered smoothly, refusing to take the bait. "We were just enjoying our afternoon tea. Do join us, please."

The Ambassador nodded towards the table's three empty chairs, and Downing stepped around to pull one out for Chiang. Kahn took one of the proffered seats, and Dane did likewise. The Collective pilot had grown increasingly restless since they had arrived, and now it looked like she was working up the nerve to speak.

Carlyle was quick to take control of the conversation, however, entreating Chiang to relate the details of her capture and imprisonment at the hands of the Japanese. The young woman went on to describe what she remembered of her rescue, and her subsequent journey to Hilo.

After nearly an hour she set her teacup down and folded her hands in her lap. "I do hope you'll forgive my frankness, Sir Trevor, but now I must ask if your country's offer to my people still stands. I learned just before my capture that the Japanese army had surrounded Nanking, and I fear that the situation for China is very grave indeed."

The Ambassador leaned forward and rested a paternal hand on Chiang's arm. "You may be assured, young lady, that His Majesty's Government stands behind the Chinese people in their time of peril. But," he added, "there is the matter of your country's payment. Was it not to be delivered to you in the Empire State weeks ago?"

For more information see:
The Empire State

Chiang nodded. "That is correct. I was sent ahead to sign the necessary documents while the gold itself followed in a well-defended airship traveling along a highly secret route. It was hoped that the Japanese would believe the gold was with me, in the event their agents worked up the courage to openly interfere with our mission." The young lady smiled ruefully. "Compared to the arms payment, I was considered expendable.

"Unfortunately, something went wrong," she continued. "The airship made its last report over Taiwan, and then was to assume radio silence until reaching the coast of Hawai'i. We have heard nothing more after that."

Kahn digested the news. "The Japanese couldn't have intercepted the shipment—otherwise they wouldn't have bothered capturing you."

"Your airship might have run into bad weather," Downing said quietly. "There's been a typhoon brewing east of the Phillipines for the last two weeks. They could have been lost in the storm."

"Or possibly they were attacked, but managed to escape pursuit," Chiang countered. "There were a few prearranged locations along the route, where the airship was to take refuge—in the event they couldn't continue to New York—then call for assistance. The captain was ordered to take no chances that might risk the loss of the gold."

She paused, considering her options, then continued: "There is one such location in the Marshall Islands, approximately halfway between here and Taiwan. If the airship survived, that is where we will find it."

"Except that we don't have any zeppelins immediately available to undertake a rescue," Downing said.

"Really?" Kahn asked, genuinely surprised. "I would have thought your forces here would be better equipped."

"Our 'friend,' the good King Jonah, frowns on the presence of armed British troops on his islands," Downing said. "An armed zeppelin would be...a political difficulty for us."

"Even if we had a zeppelin," Carlyle added, "if that typhoon starts to move our way, as the reports indicate it might, we'd be sending the expedition into the teeth of the storm.

"However," the ambassador continued, "we may have another—albeit unconventional—option. I'm certain Mister Kahn and his resourceful crew can recover the gold with little bother."

"He could. However...he won't." Kahn said. "Never mind the fact that I'm short on crew and my ship is damaged—that area is probably thick with pirates and Japanese patrols. Plus there's the typhoon. No way," he said, rising to his feet. "I've got better things to do. Like paying off Don DeCarlo and waiting for the reward on my head to blow over."

"Ah, yes, the $10,000 dollar reward," Carlyle said. "I can see how that would make your professional life rather difficult. We might be willing to help with that."

Kahn paused. "You can call off the reward?" he asked cautiously.

"I don't see why not," the ambassador said confidently. "Who do you think posted it in the first place?"

"You put the reward out on us?" Kahn replied, thunderstruck.

"Of course," Downing said. "We had been watching the Japanese embassy from the moment we knew that Miss Chiang had been captured. We were planning a rescue attempt of our own but you beat us to the punch. The only theory we could come up with was that you'd somehow found out about the arms deal and kidnapped Miss Chiang to demand a ransom."

Kahn leaned forward, looming over Downing and Carlyle. "But now, of course, you know the truth—and will cancel the bounty on my head."

Carlyle's smile turned cold. Completely nonplused, he sat back in his chair and sipped at his tea. "The moment you return with the gold, the price on your head will be a thing of the past, I can assure you. Downing here and some of his men will accompany you to the island and assist in recovering the shipment."

"I must go as well," Chiang said, in a tone that brooked no argument. "So that I can confirm the transfer of the gold from my country to yours."

Carlyle started to protest, but saw the look in Chiang's eye. "Very well," he said with an elegant shrug. "I admire your courage in the face of danger, Miss Chiang." He set his teacup down and stood. "It's good to see such an example of cooperation between our governments...and, of course, concerned 'private citizens' such as yourself, Mister Kahn. You'll no doubt want to leave without delay, so Mister Downing will escort you downstairs and secure a cab."

"Hey! Not so fast!" Dane shot to her feet. The words she'd been working up to came out in a rush. "Mister Ambassador, my name is Angela Dane. I'm a captain in the air militia of the People's Collective, and I'm Kahn's hostage. I request asylum...until I can be returned to my government and country."

For more information see:
The People's Collective

Carlyle looked from Dane to Kahn. "Indeed?" His eyebrows arched. "I'm shocked. Certainly His Majesty's government is sympathetic to your plight. We would be pleased to extend to you our hospitality in this difficult time. As soon as this present crisis with China is resolved."

Dane's hopeful expression froze. "You wouldn't—"

The ambassador tried to look apologetic, but the effort didn't quite reach his eyes. "I must. National interests, you know. Don't worry. The trip will be over before you know it."

Thunder rolled ominously down the slopes of dark Mauna Kea.

 


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