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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 Five: Caught in the Act

The soldiers swept around the Japanese officer like an angry tide, leveling their bayonet-tipped rifles. The metallic sound of rifle-bolts cycling echoed menacingly in the normally quiet hallway.

Jonathan Kahn, still carrying the unconscious daughter of a Chinese diplomat over his left shoulder, roared like an angry bull and charged right at them, blasting away with the .45 in his right hand.

For more information see:
Jonathan "Genghis" Kahn

Three of the soldiers fell, knocked from their feet by the heavy slugs, and the rest opened fire, spending shots wildly. Bullets cracked and whined down the corridor as they ricocheted off the concrete walls in the elevator room. Two more of the soldiers fell, possibly struck by their own bullets; another shot flattened against the steel fireman's helmet Kahn wore and knocked it from his head.

Kahn fired twice more and the remaining troops panicked, bolting for the relative safety of the elevator car, forcing their officer back along with them.

Kahn staggered into the room, followed closely by Hayes. His head felt like it had been kicked by a mule. There wasn't any other way out of the room, and it would only take a few moments before the troops got their courage back and tried again.

"Now what?" Hayes asked shakily. Blood flowed down his cheek from a cut above his eye.

A glint of metal on a dead guard caught Kahn's eye. He put away the pistol and crouched, plucking out a small, dark cylinder.

"Tell those goons to throw out their weapons and come out with their hands up or I'm throwing in a grenade," he said, hefting the small bomb in his hand.

Hayes blurted out an order in Japanese. Moments later, the remaining soldiers slid their rifles out onto the floor and emerged one at a time, their hands held high.

The Japanese officer came last, stalking into the room like an angry panther, sword in hand. He glared defiantly at Kahn. "You won't escape, Mr. Kahn," he said in flawless, unaccented English. "There are a dozen more men waiting in the lobby. Surrender now and I promise you a quick death."

"I think I'll hold out for a better offer," the pirate replied dryly, motioning Hayes towards the elevator. They circled around the guards and stepped into the car. Hayes grabbed the car's operating lever.

As the doors closed, the officer fixed them with a malevolent stare. "We will meet again, Genghis Kahn," he hissed.

Kahn glanced conspiratorially at Hayes. "He doesn't know me very well, does he?" The pirate pulled the pin on the grenade and tossed it into the officer's face as the elevator doors slid shut.

Hayes rolled his eyes. "Johnny, you big oaf, their grenades don't work like ours. The pin's just a safety—you have to knock the end against something to strike the fuse!"

"Now you tell me," Kahn replied sourly. "Don't just stand there...get this crate moving!"

"He said there's a dozen men waiting in the lobby," Hayes protested.

"Who said we're going to the lobby?" Kahn pushed Hayes aside and grabbed the lever. The car started to move. "We're heading for the roof."

"The roof?" Hayes echoed. "The roof is probably on fire right about now."

"If we're lucky," Kahn agreed. "Keep your fingers crossed."

The air grew steadily hotter as the elevator rose towards the roof. Smoke seeped through the ventilators. Hayes stared worriedly at Kahn, but the pirate simply shrugged.

It seemed like an eternity before the car lurched to a stop. The doors opened, letting in a furnace-like blast of air, and Kahn dashed out into a scene straight from hell.

Flames writhed and roared from the embassy's fourth-floor windows and sent cyclones of heat and smoke curling up over the edges of the roof, washing back and forth like angry tides with every shift of the wind. Hayes snatched a handkerchief from his jacket and pressed it to his face; Kahn narrowed his eyes, coughing harshly, and tried to make out the embassy's taxipad.

"Find some way to jam those doors," he shouted to Hayes, and then staggered towards the center of the roof.

He couldn't find the taxipad in the smoke and the darkness, so he got as close to the center of the roof as he could and set the girl down. Kahn pulled the flare gun from his overcoat pocket and broke the pistol open to remove the spent shell inside. There were two spares in his left pocket; he quickly reloaded the gun.

Squinting through the dense smoke, he lifted the gun high and fired. A flare hissed up and vanished through the swirling haze; a moment later, there was a muffled report as the flare ignited.

Kahn pulled off the heavy overcoat. It was getting harder and harder to draw breath. Waves of heat beat at his face and hands. He wondered how long it would take for the Japanese officer to figure out where they'd gone, and whether he'd even bother to come after them; another few minutes and the fire would probably do his dirty work for him.

The smoke was getting thicker. Hayes ran over and joined him, shaking his head. "No way to jam the doors," he said, his voice muffled by the handkerchief. "What do we do now, jump?"

"No," Kahn answered. "We fly."

As if on cue, a loud drone cut through the roaring of the flames and an autogyro appeared out of the smoke, flying low and slow over the building. The autogyro, emblazoned with the insignia of the New York Fire Department, swept past and pulled into a sharp turn. A moment later it was bouncing across the rooftop towards them, its brakes squealing as it slowed to a stop a few yards away.

The autogyro was stripped down and fitted out for rescue work, little more than a frame, engine, rotor, and pusher prop, supporting a pilot and a passenger seat, plus a stretcher running lengthwise along each side of the vehicle. The fireman waved, and Kahn picked up the delegate's daughter and rushed her over to one of the stretcher mounts.

"Saw your flare and got here as fast as I could," the pilot yelled over the sound of the engine.

"You're a real lifesaver," Kahn replied. He finished strapping the girl down and pulled out his pistol. "Now get out of here."

The fireman's jaw dropped. "Are you nuts?" he exclaimed. "The fire—"

A bullet ricocheted off the autogyro's frame, then another. The fireman leapt from his seat, and Kahn looked back to see the officer he'd left in the basement leading more troops from the elevator onto the roof.

Hayes was less than ten yards away, pistol in hand, firing slowly and deliberately at the oncoming troops. Kahn leapt into the pilot's seat and fired a few wild shots of his own. "Artemus!" he shouted. "Let's go!"

The pilot looked back and caught Kahn's eye, then fired another careful shot in the direction of the enemy officer. Instantly the soldiers fired back in a ragged volley and Hayes cried out as he fell to his knees, one hand pressed to his gut.

"Hayes!" Kahn cried. He fired another shot at the oncoming troops, and the pistol's slide locked back, its clip empty. "Hang on!"

"No!" Hayes shouted, waving him away with a blood-slicked hand. "Get the hell out of here! His soot-smeared face contorted in pain. "Just take the girl to Hawai'i, Kahn. Do that and you and I are square. Go!"

Another bullet zipped past Kahn's head, smashing into the autogyro. Sooner or later, he realized, they'd hit the engine...or something more vital.

Hayes crumpled onto his side, gamely raising his pistol and thumbing back the hammer as the Japanese troops drew nearer.

Cursing savagely, Kahn released the brake and turned the rescue bird around, then opened the throttle and didn't look back.

He could just make out the zeppelins against the overcast sky, their silvery undersides lit from below by the lights of La Guardia Airfield. He picked out the Machiavelli easily—a prominent red cross had been hastily painted on her flank.

As far as the Empire State knew, the airship was on a mission of mercy, en route to deliver a load of medical supplies up north, into what was once Canada. Her gun mounts were covered with canvas tarps, disguising her true nature from distant observers, but the illusion wouldn't hold up to a daylight inspection.

For more information see:
The Empire State

Kahn adjusted a knob on the autogyro's radio and managed to raise the airship, warning them to get the "flycatcher" ready.

Kahn circled the huge airship twice before he saw the lights on the dorsal taxipad flicker to life. He brought the autogyro around, approaching the zeppelin from the bow and cutting the throttle until his airspeed was eighteen miles per hour, just above stall speed.

He coasted down two-thirds the length of the zeppelin—more than seven hundred feet—gradually losing altitude until his wheels nearly scraped the airship's skin.

The taxipad was a wooden platform ten feet square, the aft end of which was strung with a thickly-woven cargo net. The trick to landing was to bring the wheels down right at the edge of the pad and lean on the brakes hard to kill as much momentum as possible before the autogyro hit the flycatcher.

The light craft touched the wooden platform, bounced slightly, and plunged into the net's embrace with a bone-rattling jar. The pirate cut the rear engine at once, and before he had unbuckled his restraints the Machiavelli's rigging crew were already swarming over the pad, lashing the autogyro down and preparing to lower the little bird down into the ship's small craft hangar. Kahn quickly gave instructions to carry the girl to the ship's infirmary, then left the riggers and made his way to the airship's bridge.

The Machiavelli had once upon a time been the flagship of the Utah Aerial Navy, and her layout and design had more in common with oceangoing warships than her cargo-hauling kin. Unlike civilian airships, her bridge was plated in steel armor and located inside the ship's hull, with plexiglass viewports looking forward from the zeppelin's bow.

For more information see:
Utah

The bridge was bathed in the red glow of battle lanterns to preserve the crew's night vision, and the men at the helm and trim controls were already wearing flak vests and helmets when Kahn stepped through the bridge's after hatchway. "Pour on the coal, Dugan!" he called out. "Turn us west and head for the nearest cloudbank. I want to be in the ISA before dawn."

"Deadeye" Dugan, the ship's captain, nodded curtly and barked orders to the bridge crew. Tall and gray-haired, the former ISA airship commander had been cashiered when he was badly disfigured in a refueling mishap. The left side of his face was a mass of scar tissue, surrounding a glass eye that glittered like a piece of jade. "All engines ahead full," he called. "Helm, come to course two-seven-zero."

For more information see:
The Industrial States of America

A map table dominated the center of the bridge, where a detailed map of New York was currently displayed. Holders lining three of the table's four sides were jammed with dozens of additional maps; Kahn rifled through them as Hetty appeared on the bridge.

"Thanks for letting me know you'd gotten back," she said, eyeing him carefully. "You look like you've been rolling around in a campfire. How did it go?"

"Well enough," Kahn muttered. "The girl's in the infirmary."

"Hayes is with her?"

"No," he replied. "He caught a bullet just as we were about to pull out."

Hetty's eyes went wide. "No kidding? Well, thank God for small favors," she said. "This little 'favor' would have been the end of us. What do you want to with the girl?"

"We're taking her to Hawai'i, same as before," Kahn said flatly. "Nothing's changed."

For more information see:
The Kingdom of Hawai'i

Hetty was dumbfounded. "Have you lost your marbles? Hayes is dead."

"But the debt remains," Khan replied, looking her in the eye. "And now this is the only way I can even the score."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Hetty cried. "You owe money to half the people on this continent! You owed the Purple Gang, and now you owe big money to Giovanni DeCarlo, but you've never lost any sleep over that!

"And what about what you owe us," she continued, gesturing angrily, "your crew, the ones who are going to go down in flames because of some damn fool favor you owe to a dead man?"

Kahn's face went white with rage. He came around the map table slowly, his eyes locked on Hetty, who planted her hands on her hips and stood her ground, ready for a fight.

Before anything could happen, the voice of the watch officer cried out, "Aft lookouts report engine sounds to the northeast! Four, maybe six fighters, closing fast!"

Dugan crossed the bridge in three quick strides and got between Kahn and his wingman. "What do you want us to do, boss?" he asked pointedly.

The pirate leader paused, and took a deep breath. "Battle stations," he said quietly. "Uncover the guns. I'm going topside." Brushing past Hetty, he stormed out the after hatch and headed quickly down the main accessway as the alert klaxon howled.

In addition to the Machiavelli's four main cannon, the zeppelin also mounted ten heavy machine guns for close-in defense—six .50 caliber guns in dorsal and ventral gondolas, plus four .60 caliber guns in port and starboard blisters located amidships. The dorsal gondola was reached via an enclosed fifty-foot ladder covered by a submarine-style hatch. By the time Kahn threw open the hatch and climbed out into the wintry air the gunners were already at their weapons, loading in belts of armor-piercing ammo. The pirate leader leaned against the gondola's armored bulwark and peered into the gloom.

The heavy overcast above caught the lights of the city and reflected them back in a kind of diffuse twilight. Kahn could see clearly for maybe half a mile to port and starboard, and the waters of Hudson Bay gleamed black and silver three thousand feet below. After a moment, he could hear the sounds the lookouts described: fighter engines, loud, snarling radials out in the darkness maybe a mile behind them.

There was a set of earphones and a microphone on a hook by the hatch. Kahn fitted the set over his head, wincing at the feel of the icy bakelite. "All hands, this is Kahn," he called over the ship's intercom. "Everyone hold their fire. This is most likely just a routine patrol, and they won't approach too closely. If we play it cool we can still slip away—"

He heard the engine sounds swell, and one of the gunners gave a shout. Kahn looked back to see four shapes materialize out of the gloom, flying in close formation. They swept down the starboard side of the airship, seemingly close enough to touch. The thunder of their high-performance engines beat against his face and chest.

They looked very similar to PR-1 Defenders, but with a shortened fuselage and small, wing-mounted rudders. Their engine cowlings were painted black, and the rest of the airframes were white. Large, red circles on their wingtips stood out like bright drops of blood. Just as quickly as they appeared, they were gone, leaving the airship behind as though it was standing still.

For more information see:
Marquette PR-1 Defender

"Damn!" exclaimed the gunner nearest Kahn. "What the hell were those things?"

"Japanese fighters," Kahn answered, unable to fully believe it himself. "Here. In the Empire State. Crawford and his Broadway Bomber lapdogs must be slipping."

For more information see:
Loyle 'Show-stopper' Crawford; The Broadway Bombers

Somewhere ahead, the fighters split up and doubled back; the snarling sound of their engines reverberated in the darkness all around the airship. Suddenly a voice cried out over the intercom: "Bandits, nine o'clock high!"

Kahn whirled in time to see two of the fighters diving on them to port. Yellow flashes winked from their cowlings and wings, and tracer fire clawed at the airship's side. He could hear the bullets punching through the layered fabric of the hull like hail on a paper roof. "Open fire!" Kahn yelled into the mike, and the Machiavelli erupted in noise and light, sending arcs of tracers after the enemy planes.

"Two more bandits at six o'clock!" one of the spotters called out. The pair of fighters bored in like arrows, closing to point-blank range. The gunner nearest Kahn swung his weapon aft and opened up, sending a short burst of fire lancing at the left-most plane. Hot brass casings, smoking in the cold air, rattled and rolled along the decking at their feet.

Flame streaked from the fighters' wings. The aft end of the zeppelin was outlined in strobe-like flashes of angry orange as the flak rockets exploded in a string of dull thunderclaps. "Number six engine out!" a tense voice exclaimed over the headset. "We've got holes in the ventral rudder and damage to the hangar bay. Looks like two of the rockets penetrated somewhere aft but didn't go off."

For more information see:
Flak Rockets

Lucky us, Kahn thought as the fighters dove beneath the airship and disappeared from sight. He pounded his fist against the bulwark in frustration. They didn't dare launch their own fighters to protect the ship; while the enemy planes could return to a well-lit landing strip, recovering planes aboard an airship in the dark was an invitation to disaster.

He looked towards the bow to see how close they were to the relative safety of a cloudbank—and saw danger instead. He yelled into the microphone: "Bandits, bandits, twelve o'clock high!"

The two planes struck from the darkness like thunderbolts, machine guns blazing. He watched the tracers march along the upper hull towards him. The gunners behind him opened fire as he dove to the deck, shells whizzing back and forth over his head like angry hornets. The fighters roared overhead and were gone before his knees touched steel. When he looked up again the gunner closest to him was lying motionless on the deck in a spreading pool of blood.

"Searchlights to starboard!" one of the remaining gunners cried, pointing with a gloved hand. Kahn raised his head over the bulwark. White beams slashed through the darkness at their altitude, nearly two miles away.

He could just make out the sleek shapes of not one, but two Empire State patrol zeppelins, heading their way. As he watched, there was a bloom of yellow-white fire from the lead ship's port quarter. Seconds later came a sound like ripping canvas as a five-inch shell raced across their bow.

Wisps of mist trailed through the air, obscuring the Empire State warships. Suddenly the air turned clammy, and then the zeppelin plunged into a tunnel of fog as the Machiavelli at last found sanctuary within the depths of a cloudbank. The gunners both let out loud sighs of relief. Kahn pulled off the headset and opened the hatch, disappearing below.

His thoughts raced as he ran to the bridge. Japanese fighter planes were bad enough, but Empire State zeppelins meant serious trouble. He'd never expected the Japanese to yell for help from the Empire State, much less have the whole Navy sent out after him. While there was no love lost between the Empire State and the ISA—especially pirates from the ISA—the military response was far too strong for a simple kidnapping. Something didn't fit.

Kahn made his way to the bridge. Shards of plexiglass littered the deck from where a round had punched through one of the forward viewports. The door to the radio room, just right of the hatchway, was open. The radioman had tuned onto one of the New York radio stations, and the muffled, scratchy sound of a news program traveled out into the room.

"Good evening people of the Empire State and all the ships at sea," the news announcer said. "A fierce battle is raging over our heads tonight as our fair city has come under attack by none other than the infamous 'Genghis' Kahn and his ruthless band of cutthroats, the Red Skull Legion.

For more information see:
The Red Skull Legion

"According to reports from city hall, the treacherous pirate has struck the Japanese embassy on Park Avenue and left the venerable old building in flames. Dozens are feared dead tonight, but worst of all, it has been revealed that the object of this dastardly raid was none other than Miss Chiang Liu-Mei, daughter of President Chiang Kai-Shek—the embattled leader of the Republic of China.

"The motive for the kidnapping is unknown, but President La Guardia has put the Navy on full alert, sending every available airship in the sky to track down and apprehend the pirates. A reward of no less than ten thousand dollars has been offered leading to the capture of Kahn and his gang. Our prayers go out to Chiang Liu-Mei, and to the brave men and women determined to bring these villains to justice."

Kahn felt a finger of ice trace its way up his spine. He saw Hetty step from the radio room, her face pale. Her hands were trembling. She met his gaze, scowling in fear and anger.

"What in the hell have you gotten us into?"

 


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