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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 Two: In Enemy Hands

John Scales threw himself at the cell door with a shout, but the lock had clicked home and the iron bars wouldn't budge. The People's Collective fighter pilot, Dane, slid a few steps to the right so her back wasn't facing the cage. Her Colt .45 never wavered from Jonathan Kahn's heart.

For more information see:
The People's Collective; "Genghis" Kahn

"Settle down," she snarled, her face pale with rage. "and toss your guns out onto the floor...or your boss has had it."

Kahn was careful not to move. He caught the eye of Pete O'Neil, the Red Skull's resident lock-pick and sneak thief; the wiry pirate had drawn his gun, out of sight behind the hulking forms of Scales and Amos Jones—a former circus strongman-turned-pirate. O'Neil gave Kahn a wink, signaling his readiness—and willingness—to start shooting.

"Do what she says, boys," Kahn ordered. "We don't want to cause a disturbance."

O'Neil's eyes widened in surprise, but after a moment he tossed his pistol through the bars. Scales and Jones followed suit, glancing worriedly from Dane to Kahn and back again. Kahn drew his own gun and set it with the rest.

He nodded to the Deadwood pilot. "That was a nice bluff, Captain. Simple but effective."

"I just needed to see the doubt in your eyes," she said quietly. The color was returning to her cheeks, but her eyes were cruel and cold. "The whole thing seemed a little too convenient: we just happen to get raided when only half our planes will fly, and then there just happens to be a Collective airship close enough to rush in and save the day. When you insisted on leaving with the payroll I knew something was wrong."

Kahn smiled. "I'll keep that in mind for next time."

"There won't be a next time." Dane took a step forward. Her gun hand trembled with restrained fury. "This isn't like the I.S.A. or Hollywood, where the city folk worship you thugs. You're in the Badlands, now, and I'll have you and your crew swinging from a rope by sunset."

For more information see:
The Industrial States of America; The Nation of Hollywood

"My squadron is waiting for me, Captain," Kahn warned, "and they won't like the idea of my being hanged."

Dane shook her head. "Your pilots are parked at my airfield, and there's ten AA guns covering the strip. If they try to take off, we'll shoot 'em to pieces. It's the end of the line for you and your gang." She tossed Kahn the keys to the cage. "Now get in."

Kahn studied Dane carefully. There were bright spots of color at her cheeks and beads of sweat beaded beneath her short-cropped blond hair. "Captain, I think you'd better sit down and catch your breath. You don't look so good."

The Collective pilot frowned. Her free hand went to her forehead, and came away slicked with sweat. Suddenly she swayed on her feet. Her eyes went wide. "What—what did you do—" Her thumb fumbled at the hammer of her pistol, trying to cock the weapon. Kahn rushed forward, grabbing the gun out of her hand moments before she collapsed. Her head hit the wooden floor with a muted thump and she lay motionless, barely breathing.

John and Amos stared gape-jawed at the unconscious pilot. Kahn tossed O'Neil the keys. "Get that door open and start moving those bags," Kahn said calmly, returning to the doorway to peer warily along the street.

Kahn's strongmen each had one of the heavy bags in hand by the time O'Neil got the door open. The thief scooped his pistol off the floor and joined Kahn, shaking his head bemusedly. "Talk about lucky breaks, huh, boss?"

"A wise prince makes his own luck, to paraphrase a certain Italian thinker," Kahn replied. "That whiskey I offered her earlier was laced with laudanum."

O'Neil's thin eyebrows rose. "But...you took a drink, too."

"No, I only pretended to, and Dane was too preoccupied to notice," Kahn corrected. "I wanted a little insurance in case she tried to cause trouble." He stared thoughtfully at Dane's prostrate form. "Unfortunately I was only partially successful. Once she wakes up she'll have the whole town up in arms."

The thief looked long and hard at the unconscious pilot and nodded. "I see what you mean." He holstered his pistol and pulled a small, thin-bladed knife from his sleeve. "You want I should take care of her?"

"Kill her, you mean?" Kahn said, faintly surprised. "Don't be ridiculous. You don't kill an unconscious foe, Pete, especially a woman." He hefted Dane's pistol and took careful aim. "That's my job."

Just then Amos stuck his bald head back through the doorway. "Townspeople down the street, boss," he said. "They got guns and dogs."

Kahn let out an exasperated sigh and reluctantly stuck the pistol in his waistband. Squeezing past the strongman, he stuck his head outside and could see twenty or so men—armed with shotguns and rifles—leading a pack of leashed hounds down the street a couple blocks away. As he watched, they pushed open the door of a building to their right and rushed inside, weapons ready. "Looking for downed pirates, I imagine," Kahn wondered aloud. "If it isn't one thing, it's another."

He turned to O'Neil. "We're going to have to take the good captain with us. If nothing else, she might make a useful hostage. Find something to tie her up with and stuff her in a mail sack. The boys can carry her out with the rest of the bags."

"Sure thing, boss," the thief said, and went to work.

Kahn left the doorway and went to lean against the Packard's rear fender, tossing his cigar stub into the street and pulling a fresh one from his leather jacket. It took two minutes for John and Amos to get another set of bags into the car. He lit the cigar and puffed at it methodically. Two bags every two minutes. How many bags had there been in the cage? He couldn't remember. Kahn shook his head disapprovingly. He was getting sloppy.

The search party emerged from the building and moved to the one on the opposite side of the street. They weren't inside the smaller building more than a minute, then went to the next set and repeated the procedure. Only a block away, now. Kahn noted that the group moved with a certain amount of precision. They'd obviously practiced their routine many, many times. He wondered if they'd ever caught anyone before, and whether they'd just pass on a trial and proceed straight to the executions.

O'Neil stepped outside. "All taken care of, boss."

Kahn nodded. "Think you can drive this car, Pete?"

The thief grinned. "My mama had one just like it. I stole it for her last Christmas."

"Then get behind the wheel. We may be leaving in a hurry."

The search party worked their way down the street. John and Amos still weren't done. The townspeople were close enough now that the hounds could smell Kahn and his men; they lunged and barked, straining at their leashes until the searchers hauled them back to the job at hand.

"How many more?" Kahn asked Amos as the strongman loaded another bag into the car.

"Just a couple," the pirate answered, a little out of breath. "You know, we could've gone faster if we'd brought more guys."

"Remind me the next time we rob a payroll."

Amos grinned. "Right, boss."

The search party was only a block away. John and Amos got the last bags out in record time and hurried back for Dane. Kahn was just about to climb in the car when he saw the leader of the townspeople wave the party away from the next building on the street and start walking over to the Packard, shotgun at the ready.

Kahn took a few steps forward, away from the car. He smiled broadly around his cigar as the townspeople approached the Post Office. "Seen any pirates, Comrades?" he asked cheerfully.

The man in charge of the party evidently didn't have a sense of humor. He looked Kahn over sternly. "We saw two chutes during the fight," he said, and spit a stream of tobacco juice onto the ground. "They're holed up here somewhere, but the dogs'll get 'em right enough." The man cradled his shotgun in both arms and squinted warily at him. "Heard you're taking the grain payment back to Tulsa."

Kahn kept smiling, watching for his men out of the corner of his eye. "That's right," he said. "No sense getting Deadwood bombed again if we can help it."

The man frowned. "But how are the pirates supposed to know the money's gone? Seems to me they'll still think it's here, and hit us again anyway."

John and Amos emerged from the Post Office, carrying a large mail sack between them. Instantly the dogs lunged at it, barking furiously, and the men broke into shouts, leveling their guns.

The pirates froze. The man with the shotgun shouted down the rest and glared balefully at Kahn. "What you got in that bag, mister?"

Kahn summoned up his nerve. "Letters and packages, Comrade," he said carefully. "We figured as long as we were headed to Tulsa we might as well carry the post, too."

One of the townspeople, a short, round-bellied farmer, lowered his rifle and shook his head in disgust. "Dang it, I told Alice not to send her sister those jerky strips! We just about blew our mail to kingdom come."

The rest of the men laughed, pulling back the dogs. Kahn remembered to smile and waved at his men to finish loading the car. "Sorry about the scare, fellas," he said with a laugh. "I think that's the last of the bags, so if it's all the same to you we'll be getting out of your way." He went to the Packard's passenger door as John and Amos piled into the back. "Good luck with those pirates," he said, giving the men a salute.

"You, too!" one of the townspeople yelled back as the Packard sped away.

They got lost twice working through Deadwood's rubble-strewn streets. By the time Kahn and his men reached the airfield the sun was coloring the hilltops to the west. The AA guns were still fully manned, he noticed, as they sped down the access road leading to the hangars. They weren't nearly out of the woods yet. All he needed was for Dane to wake up and raise an alarm and they were as good as dead.

The Macchiavelli was waiting for them at the airfield's mooring tower, the People's Collective insignia prominent on her prow. Their airship had been lowered to the ground and was ready to take on cargo. Hetty stood nearby with a cluster of Red Skull crew, waiting nervously—uncomfortable in their Collective-issue flight togs—for Kahn's return. Not far away a group of Deadwood ground crewmen were offloading crates from the back of a flatbed truck.

For more information see:
The Red Skull Legion

Kahn told O'Neil to park practically in the zeppelin's shadow. Hetty ran over with the Red Skulls as Kahn emerged from the car. Her long face lit with a sly grin. "Our good comrades are loading us up with steak and potatoes in gratitude for saving the town," she said.

"Good, good," Kahn said absently, motioning hurriedly for the men to start hauling the bags onto the zeppelin.

Hetty's eyes narrowed. "Everything okay?"

"There've been a couple of...complications," Kahn through clenched teeth.

The female pilot's grin froze. "'Complications,'" she echoed. "I knew it." She peered into the car. "Where's that captain you left with?"

Just then one of the Deadwood crewmen trotted over to the car, carrying a clipboard. He looked around, his brow wrinkling. "Um, sir?" he asked Kahn, "I'm looking for Captain Dane. This is her car, isn't it?"

Kahn fought back a sigh. He turned to the man and summoned up a comradely smile. "She asked to be dropped off at the operations building," he said smoothly. "Needed to check on the condition of the squadron."

The man brightened. "Oh, no problem then. I just need her to sign for these steaks. It won't take a minute." Before anyone could reply he turned on his heel and started jogging across the field towards the Ops shed.

Kahn watched the man go, shaking his head in quiet exasperation. "Hetty," he said quietly, "the next time we pull a heist we're just going to come roaring in and blow up everything in sight. Machine-gun everything that moves and bomb them again for good measure. Subtlety is for the birds." He turned to her. "Are the planes ready to fly?"

"Everybody but Emerson's," she said worriedly. "He took a round in the oil pan when we were running off Nesbitt's boys."

The pirate leader shook his head. "We'll have to leave it, then. Get him on the zep and get the planes in the air. Now."

"We can't just leave his bird behind!" Hetty sputtered.

Kahn grabbed her arm and pulled her close. "We've got fifty thousand in cash, Hetty," he hissed. "I'll finish paying off Don DeCarlo and then buy Emerson a new plane, all right? Just get moving. It won't take that yard ape long to figure out Dane's not at the Ops shed."

"Then where is she?" Hetty asked, trying to keep up.

"I'll tell you later," he said, giving her a not-too-gentle push towards the grounded planes. Kahn turned back to the car to find O'Neil, Jones, and Scales holding a mail bag between them. The burlap was starting to shift sluggishly about.

"On the ship!" he said, motioning urgently at the cargo bay. He watched the pirates carry their load onto the zeppelin and made a silent promise to himself that if he survived the next few hours he would take great pleasure in tossing that mailbag from a very, very great height. Then he ran after Hetty, towards the line of parked fighters waiting across the grassy airstrip.

The rest of the pilots were starting their engines when Kahn reached his plane. A few Deadwood mechanics were standing around, several looking a little bemused at what the big hurry was. He motioned to one to pull away the Devastator's wheel chocks and climbed into the cockpit. As soon as the man was clear he jabbed the starter buttons and the twin Allison X-900 engines roared into life. Checking his gauges, Kahn pulled on his flight cap and rigged his throat mike. "Rover, this is Red Leader," he called. "As soon as you've loaded the mail, take off. Forget everything else. Things are about to get hot down here."

The airship acknowledged. One by one, the pirate fighters were rolling onto the strip, their engines revving for takeoff. If no one sounded the alarm within the next few minutes, they had a chance.

Over the thunder of the revving engines came the high, keening wail of the alert siren.

 


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