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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 Thirteen: Interesting Times

Jonathan Kahn, struggling to control his aircraft in mounting turbulence, caught sight of the two airships, making fifty knots into a headwind at 11,000 feet. The Machiavelli trailed about a mile behind the smaller Japanese zeppelin—and small, white shapes kept close formation around her flanks. "Tally ho!" Kahn growled over the radio. "Looks like the Japanese have got four...no, six fighters escorting our ship."

For more information see:
Jonathan "Genghis" Kahn

"Flying escort? In this?" Hetty exclaimed. "They're either gutsy as hell or out of their minds!"

"I hope it's the latter," Kahn said. "Let's see if we can bounce these guys and take them down fast, then I'll get aboard the ship."

"You hope," Hetty said, her voice strained with worry. "Of all the schemes you've come up with, this one's got to be the worst."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," he replied. "But it's all or nothing. We've only got about thirty minutes of decent light left, and that's it. It's do or die."

"Yeah. What else is new?" Hetty managed a throaty laugh. "What the hell. Let's get 'em, Red Skulls!"

For more information see:
The Red Skull Legion

The ten planes swooped down on their prey, engines roaring—and at the last moment the white enemy fighters scattered like startled birds. Kahn cursed under his breath. The Japanese planes were fast, pulling tight turns and loops he knew that his captured Devastator couldn't match. "So much for the element of surprise, gang," he called out. "Let's see how well they mix it up!"

For more information see:
Hughes Devastator

Kahn caught sight of an enemy plane in a tight, diving turn to port, and rolled in after him. The pilot saw him at once, and began to pull his lighter plane into ever-tighter turns. He cursed and fought with the Devastator's controls, but watched helplessly as the enemy plane slipped inexorably away. Startled shouts filled his earphones as the enemy planes turned the tables on their attackers.

Not only were the enemy fighters swift and maneuverable, their pilots knew them inside out. Kahn watched as the Japanese plane pulled far enough into the turn that now it was dangerously close to finding itself on his tail. He rolled out of the turn and pulled into a climb, hoping the enemy couldn't follow. Moments later bullets hammered into his wing and tail. "Hetty, where the hell are you?" Kahn yelled.

"Hang on," came his wingman's reply. Her voice was strained as she fought the g's punishing her aircraft. "I can't get a bead on him!"

More hits struck along the Devastator's fuselage. Kahn thanked gods he never believed in that at least the enemy planes had to trade firepower for maneuverability. Still, he could see a half-dozen telltale wisps of smoke seeping from magnesium rounds buried in his tail and wings. He couldn't keep taking hits like this for long.

"Hetty: on 'three,' I'm going to roll right and fly level, like I'm shaken up," Kahn said. "Get in behind him and finish him off!"

"Roger!"

"One...two...three!"

Kahn rolled out to the right and leveled off. Tracers immediately filled the air around him, and hits struck all along his right wing. Then an orange flash lit up the sky behind the Devastator. "Got him!" Hetty cried. "They've got armor like tissue paper!"

"Great...but there's still five more of 'em out here, and we're running out of time," Kahn said. "Break off and help the others. I'm making my run on the Machiavelli. It's now or never."

"Roger, boss," Hetty said gravely. "Good luck."

Kahn pulled the Devastator into a right turn, noting that the starboard aileron and elevator were shot to hell. He settled quickly onto the airship's stern and cut his throttle to ninety knots. So far, none of the enemy planes had noticed him.

The Devastator overtook the airship. Kahn slipped around the zeppelin's giant aft stabilizer then he cut his speed to sixty knots and dropped closer to the airship's gray hull. Fortunately the zeppelin's guns were silent—evidently Hayes didn't have enough men to guard his crew and man the ship's weapons.

The fighter pulled along the length of the huge airship. Kahn cut his speed further, to just over fifty knots. She's a thousand feet long and over a hundred and thirty feet across, he thought. Like hitting the broadside of a barn.

He reached down and slipped a length of rope around the control stick. The rope, one end secured to the seat, held the stick relatively steady. It would keep the plane straight and level, but not for long.

Kahn pulled open the canopy and undid his seat harness. Roaring air slapped at his face and neck. He pulled himself to his feet, and stepped out of the cockpit onto the port wing.

As he exited the cockpit, Kahn could see the red ember glow of the magnesium rounds eating through the armor plate at his feet, less than six inches from the wing tank. A tracer whipped past his head, and Kahn saw an enemy fighter boring in on his tail.

For more information see:
Specialty Ammo

The pilot was one of the best. He roared in on the Machiavelli and streaked down the length of her hull, nearly close enough to touch. Kahn watched the guns blaze from the engine cowling and wings, and bright red flashes of light—more magnesium rounds—slashed across the intervening distance.

One bullet punched a neat hole in the rudder, and another drilled through the canopy, right beside his hand.

Then the enemy plane seemed to fly through a fan of greenish sparks, as cannon fire raked along its starboard side. The enemy plane exploded, less than two hundred feet away, and Kahn caught a glimpse of a PR-1 Defender flying through the cloud of debris as he launched himself into space.

For more information see:
Marquette PR-1 Defender

The wind flung him like a chip of wood as he dove from the wing, hurtling towards the zeppelin below him. The thick layers of armor fabric gave a little, but the impact still took his breath away and sent him tumbling end-for-end along the length of the ship. His shoulder slammed into something hard and unyielding, and he flung out his hands, desperately scrabbling for something to halt his tumble. His right hand closed on the armored lip of the dorsal gondola, and he held on for all he was worth, pulling his battered body over the lip and onto the steel deck.

He was only dimly aware of the Devastator exploding moments later, as the magnesium rounds found their way into the fuel tank.

Kahn crept through the zeppelin's central passageway, biting back the pain in his shoulder. It didn't appear to be broken, but he was definitely injured and the mobility in his arm was restricted.

There was no one about. Evidently Hayes had a skeleton crew at the bridge and everyone else under guard. Kahn worked his way to the hangar deck. If he could get the hangar doors open and the docking hook deployed, he'd have reinforcements fairly quickly. Provided anyone survived the dogfight.

He reached the hatch to the hangar bay. The metal door was slightly open, and he could hear worried voices inside.

Kahn peered through the hatchway. The hangar deck was one of the largest spaces on the ship, with two large hangar doors at either end—one for receiving planes, and the other for launching them. The planes themselves were parked in between the two. At the far end of the hangar, close to the receiving door and in the shadow of the huge crate of debris left over from the battle in the Empire State, three guards stood an uneasy watch over the Chinese gold.

For more information see:
The Empire State

The pirate leader shook his head. Can this get any worse? He reached inside his coat for his pistol. Then he remembered he'd given it to Dane and never got it back.

All he could hope for was to live long enough to be embarrassed about it later.

Kahn pushed the hatch open enough to slip through and ducked inside. There was plenty of cover as he moved among the parked planes and over to the portside bulkhead, where most of the tools were kept. He quietly picked up a large wrench, stuck it in a pocket, then carefully grabbed a heavy, five-gallon drum.

He crept aft, using the planes once more to conceal his approach, then dashed the final few feet to the other side of the large crate of parts. The troops paid little attention to their surroundings, speaking to one another in low, apprehensive tones. They never saw him come around the corner and bring the drum down on the first soldier's head.

The drum flew out of Kahn's hands—and doused the other two men with five gallons of motor oil. They staggered and sputtered, the rifles slipping from their hands, and Kahn pulled out the wrench and dispatched them with a few quick, deliberate blows.

There was an emergency release latch for the hangar door on the aft bulkhead. Kahn tossed the wrench aside and limped over to the latch. He paused to catch his breath—

—and was spun around by the impact of a bullet, and a pain like a hot poker jabbed through his arm.

Kahn let out a yell and clapped his left hand over the wound. Echoes from the gunshot rang in the cavernous space. "Get away from that latch, Johnny-boy," he heard Hayes say.

Artemus Hayes stepped from the shadows of the parked planes and walked over to the downed guards, stepping carefully through the oil. He checked them quickly, and shook his head. "Murasaki ain't gonna be happy about this," he said. He looked at Kahn. "I gotta tell you, Johnny, I knew you'd show up. I didn't know how, but I just knew you would. And here you are. Now step away from that latch."

"Or what?" Kahn said, wincing in pain. "You'll shoot me again?"

"I surely will," he said evenly. "And the next one is going to be between the eyes." He watched Kahn for a moment, then he smiled. "You know, we could make an arrangement, you and I."

"How's that?"

"Nobody but me knows you're alive right now. And we've got the gold right here...thanks to you," he indicated the crates with a nod. "We can wait 'til it gets dark, then slip away from Murasaki. Head south. Hell, maybe buy an island and live like kings. You sure wouldn't have to worry about DeCarlo any more." He winked. "Just like old times, eh, Johnny-boy? What do you say?"

Kahn took a deep breath. "I've got people still outside. What about them?"

Hayes laughed. "Don't worry about them. If the Japanese don't get them, the darkness will. Then we're home free."

The pirate thought it over, and nodded. "Yeah, that's what I thought you'd say. No dice, Hayes. No way in hell."

Hayes frowned. "I do believe you're getting soft, old son."

Kahn grinned. "Think so?" And he leapt for the latch.

The move caught Hayes by surprise. Kahn grabbed the handle and pulled down for all he was worth.

Behind them, the hangar doors fell open, letting in the howling wind. For a brief second, a wind filled the hangar deck. Invisible hands yanked at Hayes, and his feet slid out from under him in the oil. He hit the deck—and slid over the edge.

Kahn could hear Hayes' screams even over the raging wind. He walked carefully to the edge of the hangar door. The con man clung to the lip of the door with one, white-knuckled hand. Hayes looked up at Kahn, his eyes pleading. He knew that look of helplessness well.

The burly pirate reached down and grabbed Hayes wrist with his good hand, then hauled upward. The con man scrambled back onto the deck, and struggled shakily to his feet.

"Now, finally, we're even," Kahn said gravely.

Hayes looked up at him and grinned. "Absolutely, Johnny-boy. No question." He took a deep, grateful breath. "It's lucky for me you have gone soft—"

That was as far as he got before Kahn shoved him off the deck and sent Hayes plummeting into the ocean far below.

Kahn refused to let Gordon take the gold off his ship until Ambassador Carlyle revoked the $10,000 reward, and he stood over Carlyle's shoulder until the necessary telegram had been drafted and sent.

Rain fell in sheets along the Hilo docks. Kahn and Dane watched Chiang Liu-Mei take her farewell, hustled down the long gangway from the zeppelin and escorted into a Rolls-Royce by Chinese diplomats. She'd expressed the deepest gratitude of her father's government to Kahn and his crew, then wasted no time in getting off the Machiavelli and back to the Chinese embassy. In her wake went Gordon's men, lugging the heavy crates that were now His Majesty's property.

"It sure took you long enough to get that damn landing hook down," Dane groused, watching the British agents proceed slowly down the gangway.

"I had a bullet in my arm," Kahn said with a snort. "I'd love to see you try it, sister." He wore his right arm in a sling; Doc Adams said the bullet went right through the meat, and would heal up just fine in a couple of months. Until then he was going to have a hell of a time lighting his cigars.

The Japanese fighters had put up a fierce fight, but in the end, sheer numbers turned the tide. The Red Skulls and their British companions were circling the zeppelin and growing increasingly worried by the time Kahn had managed to run out the landing hook and start recovering planes. Once they were aboard, Gordon and his men proved remarkably talented at eliminating the remaining Japanese guards.

By the time the Red Skulls and their British allies had seized the Machiavelli, Murasaki had known something was wrong aboard the pirate airship, but it was too late; darkness had fallen like a curtain. After making sure none of Hayes' men were stowed away, Kahn ordered the Japanese beeper rockets—experimental munitions that allowed Murasaki to track the Machiavelli across North America—found.

For more information see:
Beeper-Seeker Rockets

Hetty found them, far back in the stern of the zeppelin, and Kahn tossed into the sea. Then they turned away, losing the Japanese airship in the darkness. Not even the ruthless Japanese agent could risk an engagement at night, and in the teeth of a Pacific storm.

Two days later, after a circuitous route east, the Red Skull Legion made it safely back to Hilo.

Dane, the People's Collective pilot looked up at Kahn. "So, what now?"

For more information see:
The People's Collective

"We head back home and settle up with DeCarlo," Kahn said. "I figure the Japanese will forget about me after a while, but the Don won't rest until he gets his money."

Dane nodded. She watched the crates being loaded into a waiting truck, surrounded by armed guards. "It's got to be tough, watching all that gold slipping through your fingers."

Kahn watched the truck pull away from the dock and shrugged. "I try to be philosophical about such things. Easy come, easy go."

She watched the pirate intently. "I'm surprised you didn't try to switch the gold out with something equally heavy. Like that crate of spare parts."

The pirate looked at her and smiled. "My, my, Comrade...you're starting to think like a pirate. Of course, when would I have had such an opportunity? Gordon always had at least one man watching the crates from the moment they came aboard."

"Maybe. But somehow, if you'd wanted to, I'm sure you would have thought of something."

Kahn chuckled. "Don't go believing everything you hear about me, Comrade. I'm not as clever as the pulp novels would have you believe."

A taxi pulled onto the docks, picking its way carefully through the rain. Kahn nodded at the car. "That would be your ride, Comrade. Here is where you and I part ways."

Dane's eyes went wide. "But...I don't understand..."

"You saved my life," the pirate said solemnly. "That was your Defender who shot down the Japanese fighter over the zeppelin, right?"

"Well, yes, it was...but—"

"Then, I hate to say it, but I'm in your debt." He gestured towards the car. "Think of this as a down-payment."

She looked at the car, then back at him. "I'll never understand you, Kahn. Never in a million years."

"The feeling's mutual, Comrade. Now get out of here, before I change my mind."

Dane started to say something more, then thought better of it. She set off, moving hurriedly down the gangway. Then, at the bottom, she turned. "Hey! Wait a minute! You can't just leave me here in Hawai'i! How the hell do you expect me to get home?"

For more information see:
The Kingdom of Hawai'i

Kahn grinned. "Oh. Good point." He dug in his pocket and fished out a coin. "Here's something for cab fare," he said, and sent it tumbling at her with a flick of his thumb.

By the time she caught it, he was already gone, shutting the hatch behind him. The Machiavelli's engines coughed into life. Dane opened her palm—then looked back at the airship.

"You sneaky son of a bitch," she muttered. Dane laughed and tossed the coin—solid gold, and stamped with a Chinese mint marking—high into the air.

 


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