Part 5 here.
Monday, 8 April 2013
On Top of the World
CAPTAIN JUSTICE, from his vantage point higher in the sky than any building has ever reared-before, wages his battle of Wits and Science with the would-be Emperor of the World!
By MURRAY ROBERTS
From The Modern Boy, 16 June 1934 No. 332, Vol. 13. Serial of the story, The World in Darkness, part 4 of 6, part 1 here. Contributed by Keith Hoyt; digitized by Doug Frizzle, April 2013.
With the speed of a projectile, the strange monocar, with Justice and his comrades aboard, shot up and around in gigantic, dizzy circles. (Picture 1)
"Wonders Will Never Cease!"
“IT'S a pity I didn't arrange for you fellows to join me before the Black Menace arrived!" said Professor Flaznagel, in self reproach.
Captain Justice, the famous gentleman adventurer, Dr. O'Mally, his second-in-command, and Len Connor, the young wireless expert, nodded hearty agreement.
"If I had, this situation would never have arisen," the professor went on "Midge would not have fallen into Marcus' hands, and we should not now be forced to negotiate with the scoundrel for the boy's release!"
"Bedad, 'tis no use crying over spilled milk," muttered O'Mally,
"Not a bit," agreed Justice. "The great thing is, professor, that we're united again, and on our way to Titanic Tower, your headquarters. From there we'll be able to fight this fellow Marcus, and it'll be mighty strange if we can't put a spoke in his wheel!” His jaw jutted aggressively as he spoke, in a manner that boded no good to the man who had captured red-headed young Midge and was holding him to ransom.
"H'm!" grunted the elderly scientist dubiously. "Marcus’ terms are bound to be harsh ones, you know. He plans to take advantage of the Black Menace—this black fog that has descended from outer Space and plunged the whole Earth into total darkness. He has stolen the secret of my infra-orange ray—the only light that can pierce this confounded darkness—and, armed with that, plans to pillage the cities of the world, stealing their gold and treasures. And he demands that we assist him in his scheme to become emperor of the world."
"He would be a fool to do that,” flashed Justice. "We could never adhere to such a compact. But I can understand Marcus' eagerness to obtain your support. Imagine the vise he could make of Titanic Tower as a place of refuge and a depository for the world's gold he hopes to seize!"
He glanced through the transparent side of the subaquaplane—the strange vessel (combination of submarine, tank, and hydroplane) in which Flaznagel had come to their rescue when Justice's yacht Electra had been wrecked on a desolate island in the darkness—towards the colossal tower looming ahead in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
"Titanic Tower is invulnerable," he boasted. "Its defences are proof against any form of attack. No ship or plane can approach within miles without my permission. Marcus knows that; otherwise he would have attempted to storm the place long ago. We shall be quite safe once we reach the tower."
"Bedad, but Midge won't," blurted O'Mally. " 'Tis the boy's safety that concerns us—not our own."
The professor's beard bristled, his eyes blazed behind the big, darkness-piercing goggles he was wearing. The comrades were wearing similar goggles.
"You mean that Marcus may demand that we hand over the tower to him in exchange for Midge's release? The idea is preposterous! I could never consider such terms. Abandon my headquarters, and all it contains, to that fanatical scoundrel! Why—”
"It may not come to that," interrupted Justice soothingly. "Let us wait until we hare heard Marcus' terms. The final decision will rest with you, professor."
Flaznagel shrugged his shoulders resignedly. He knew very wall that if it came to a crisis he would willingly make any sacrifice rather than the missing Midge should suffer any harm.
"There are more ways of killing a cat than one," said Len Connor. "Perhaps we can find a means of rescuing Midge without having to dance to Marcus' tune."
"Sure, the boy's shrewd enough to give him the slip and find his own way home," agreed O'Mally, more cheerfully. "Marcus may soon be regretting the day that he ever set eyes on the red-headed young rapscallion!"
Len Connor gripped the edge of his seat as their strange craft gave a sudden lurch and reduced speed. Their journey was almost ended. Close now loomed the four widespread legs that supported the main column of Titanic Tower.
It was a grand and impressive sight. Justice's brain swam as he tilted back his head, seeking to trace the upward course of the colossal structure that thrust its peak into the darkness thousands of feet above.
For the first time Len Connor realised that the four sides of the square of water forming the base of the tower were confined within towering metal walls, that stretched from pylon to pylon, rising to a height of several hundred feet.
The subaquaplane was hurtling straight for one of these formidable barriers, like an infuriated bull charging the side of a house. Dr. O'Mally uttered a yell of dismay and closed his eyes in anticipation of the crash that seemed certain to come.
Bingley, the pilot, crouched over the controls, made a gesture of reassurance, and gave a gentle forward thrust to the steering column. Justice felt the floor tilt beneath his feet as the craft ducked its sharp bows like a diving seal, and plunged smoothly beneath the surface, with no sound save the purr of the motors, and the hiss of foaming waters against the vessel's sides.
"We have submerged. There is no cause for alarm," said Professor Flaznagel calmly. "A craft of this type saves the trouble of opening the gates to the inner harbour. That is only done to admit big ships."
FOR no longer than it took to count up to twenty, the sub-aquaplane continued her downward plunge towards the ocean bed. Then she straightened out to a level keel, lifted her nose, and commenced to ascend.
She broke the surface, bobbing up as buoyantly as a cork. Bingley throttled down the motors and discarded his infra-orange ray goggles. They were no longer necessary, and the comrades and Ham Chow, their Chinese cook, followed his example. It was almost as light as day. A soft, golden glow shone through the tranzelonite hull of the turtle-backed craft, which was rendered transparent by the Q-ray. Captain Justice was struck speechless with amazement as he jumped to his feet and stared wonderingly around.
They were afloat in a basin of calm, clear water that covered an area of a square half-mile. It was bounded on all sides by the lofty metal walls that joined up the four spreading pylons, like flying buttresses, that supported the main structure of Titanic Tower.
There was ample room for hundreds of ships to lie at anchor. Wharves, piers, and spacious quays were built out from the inner sides of the towering walls that screened the harbour from the open sea. Justice noticed all the paraphernalia of a busy seaport—electric cranes and winches; overhead carriers, grain elevators, lines of storehouses, and huge oil-tanks.
Almost within a stone's throw, two big cargo boats were warped alongside one of the piers. Out in the centre of the basin lay a handsome white yacht, almost a sister ship to the ill-fated Electra. There were numerous other craft scattered about, including a whole flotilla of lean, speedy-looking subaquaplanes, similar to the one in which they had made their journey across the dark ocean.
Illumination was provided by an ingenious system of concealed floodlighting that projected soft, clear, infra-orange rays to all parts of the harbour. There were no shadows. The impression of sunshine was faithful to a degree.
O'Mally's eyes bulged as he lumbered to his feet, glaring wonderingly in all directions.
"Faith, 'tis a miracle ye have worked, professor!" he gasped.
"By gosh, it's a knock-out!" agreed Len Connor.
"I will admit it is a fine harbour," the professor smiled. "Ships can enter in all weathers. There are electrically controlled gates in each of the four walls, through which the biggest liner afloat could pass. What do you think of your new headquarters, Justice?"
The captain laid a firm hand on the old scientist's shoulder.
"A great achievement, professor!" he said warmly. "You have created a new world; something that we have never seen before. I shall appreciate its wonders when our party is complete, and we have disposed of this fellow Marcus. You understand—"
"To be sure—to be sure! The boy, Midge. Yes, he must be our first thought. We will be in communication with Marcus within the next few minutes."
Flaznagel snapped a curt order to the pilot, and the subaquaplane skimmed like a water-beetle to a landing-stage at the base of one of the four great pylons.
"Keep your goggles handy," warned Flaznagel, as they left the boat and crossed the landing-stage. "You will need them in a few moments. Later we will be able to dispense with the infra-orange ray entirely."
He slid open a door, revealing a spacious lift that ran up one side of the latticed pylon.
"Bedad, wonders will never cease," muttered O'Mally, as he stepped inside and plumped himself down on one of the rubber-cushioned seats. "And who would think that we were right out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, submerged in darkness that covers the whole of the world?"
"My hat, I'd almost forgotten the Black Menace," admitted Len Connor, as the professor pressed a button and the lift shot up wards.
"The Darkness is Lifting!"
THE lift stopped on a level with an open platform that formed the roof of the harbour. It was the aeroplane landing-stage the professor had spoken of—a vast level expanse supported by the four converging pylons at a height of five hundred feet above sea-level.
Big hangars at each corner provided accommodation for scores of aircraft. Half a dozen small scouting helicopters were grouped about a huge air-liner. There were wind-indicators, floodlights, and a wireless directional station.
The professor allowed them only a few seconds to take in this further evidence of his state of preparedness for all emergencies. Then they continued their ascent to the point where the four pylons met, joining together to form the main column of Titanic Tower that now reared above them, straight and graceful as a sword-blade.
Here they left the lift, stepping into outer darkness that demanded the use of their infra-orange ray goggles. Though they had reached an altitude of over a thousand feet, the Black Menace was as dense as ever, ringing them with a wall of darkness.
"We'll take the outer route," said the professor briskly. "It is just as quick, and will prove more entertaining."
"Entertaining, bedad!" muttered O'Mally. "And what the dickens does he mean by that? And what kind of a contraption is this?"
Directly outside the lift stood a queer-looking motor vehicle, with a saloon body and seating accommodation for a dozen passengers. It was mounted astride a single metal rail, raised three feet from the floor of the platform jutting out from the sides of the gigantic round tower that lost itself in upper Space.
Glancing overhead, Justice observed with astonishment that the platform was unending, sweeping on and upwards in the form of a spiral runway, that wound round and round the sheer, tapering sides.
The platform was wide enough for a couple of ordinary motor-cars to drive abreast. At the outer edge was a metal parapet, four feet in height, beyond which loomed a dizzy gulf of empty Space.
The whole lay-out reminded Len Connor of a helter-skelter lighthouse, such as he had seen at fairs and fun cities. But instead of slithering down a spiral course, seated on rope mats, they were about to be transported to the top of the tower in the professor's strange mono-rail car.
"Begob, I'm game to try anything once," declared O'Mally, wedging his bulky form in one of the narrow seats that had not been built for a man of his size. "Sure, 'tis a queer way of travelling, like a fly climbing up a corkscrew, and I hope ye'll be remembering to put on the brakes when we reach the top."
There commenced one of the strangest journeys Justice and his companions had ever made. Scarcely had they taken their seats when the professor jerked a lever, and the mono-car shot upward and round the first curve with the speed of a projectile.
Up, up, and up. Round, round, and round in dizzy, narrowing circles, with the sheer wall of the tower on one side and a hideous drop to the sea below on the other.
The winding ascent seemed unending. Thousands of feet of space piled up beneath them as they mounted higher and higher into an infinity of darkness.
" My gosh, this gives you some idea of the height of it all!" gasped Len Connor, wedging himself securely in the padded seat, with his eyes fixed on the professor's hands at the controls, "We must be nearly a mile above sea-level. Get a wonderful view from here on a clear day, I should say."
A slight jolt as the car swung round another bend suddenly dislodged the infra-orange ray spectacles Captain Justice was wearing. Instead of replacing them, he sat for a moment rubbing his eyes and blinking puzzledly around, while a look of astonishment spread across his face.
"By James, it's getting lighter!" he exclaimed at length. "The darkness is lifting! I can see without these goggles. Look! If that isn't the sun over there I'm a Dutchman!"
HIS hand indicated a huge luminous sphere, like an illuminated orange, that loomed faintly through the curtain of black gloom that enshrouded the earth below.
It grew brighter and clearer as the monocar pursued its flashing, spiral ascent. A sea of golden flame spread slowly across the darkness that gradually faded to sullen grey, shot with patches of pale blue.
Then, with a suddenness that dazzled their eyes, and wrenched a gasp of pain from Len Connor's lips, the darkness seemed to drop away beneath them, and they emerged in broad daylight, like a train roaring out of the blackness of a long tunnel.
Justice clapped his hands to his face, protecting his eyes from the unaccustomed glare that seemed to sear right into his brain.
"By the beard of St. Patrick, sure and the blessed sun is shining again!" boomed the elated voice of O'Mally. "Justice, my boy, we're sitting right on top of the world!"
The monocar had stopped. Len Connor opened his eyes and stared round like a blind man miraculously restored to sight. Beneath him was a rolling, tumbling sea of inky-black clouds that spread from horizon to horizon, covering the earth like a sable mantle.
Overhead was blue sky—clear, cold, and cloudless—in which the sun shone, bright and warm.
Professor Flaznagel leaned against the parapet of the wide platform that encircled the superstructure of Titanic Tower, rubbing his hands together and chuckling in his shaggy beard.
"Yes, we have reached an altitude that is beyond range of the Black-Menace," he declared, adjusting his big horn-rimmed spectacles that had been substituted for the infra-orange ray goggles. "We are now considerably above the belt of impenetrable darkness that is still wrapped about the Earth. Here we can enjoy the light and heat of the sun, while our less fortunate fellow beings are still plunged in gloom."
Despite their long journey through thousands of feet of Space, they had not yet reached the extreme top of Professor Flaznagel's amazing edifice. The platform on which they stood encircled the exterior of a dome-shaped building with many windows, and a diameter of fully thirty yards.
From the centre of its roof there projected still higher a metal mast, at the top of which floated proudly and bravely the huge, silvery shape of Professor Flaznagel’s wonderful airship—the Flying Cloud!
"Bedad, 'tis a treat to be seeing the old gas-bag again," remarked O'Mally, gazing affectionately at the great dirigible.
Then, reminded of the missing member of their party, he stared grimly at his friends.
"And now that we're here, what'll wc be doing about young Midge?" he demanded fiercely. "Sure, and there'll be no rest for any of us till we've rescued the boy from that spalpeen Marcus!"
"Midge shall be back with us within the next hour," declared the professor confidently. "Marcus' ship can't be many miles away. It won't take me five minutes to get in wireless communication with the man. Whatever his demands, they will have to be met!"
Captain Justice nodded as he peered down into the sinister depths of the Black Menace, where Midge was held to hostage by the would-be Emperor of the World—Marcus the Mysterious.
They were safe; but the diminutive, red-headed youngster was in great danger. Any sacrifice that had to be made in his behalf would be willingly undertaken.
News of Marcus!
CAPTAIN JUSTICE hung over the rail at the top of Titanic Tower, staring moodily into black Space. A storm had sprung up since their arrival, and great waves were hurling themselves impotently against the base of the gigantic edifice.
The roar of the raging sea came only faintly to the captain's ears. It was doubtful if he heard it at all. He was thinking of Midge, wondering how long it would be before Flaznagel and Connor established communication with Marcus.
O'Mally was pacing restlessly round and round the platform.
Suddenly a door in the rounded wall snapped open. Len Connor stepped into view, his fair hair tousled; a tired, disgruntled frown on his tanned face.
"I managed to get in touch with Marcus," he said, in answer to the captain's quick, eager question. "The howling cad had the nerve to send a message saying he was busy just at present, but he'd attend to us in ten minutes' time!"
O'Mally snorted indignantly, and Justice smiled coldly. There was no mirth in the quirk of his tight lips.
"So that's the fellow's attitude," ho said grimly. "He thinks he can make us dance to his tune, confound him!"
"And so he can—up to a point," declared Len Connor meaningly. "He holds the whip hand. We can't take the aggressive so long as he's got Midge with him. Otherwise it wouldn't take the professor long to blow him and his ship to blazes!"
"He's in a position, to dictate terms, but he can't make us eat dirt!" snapped the captain, with a flash of his old dauntless spirit. "Marcus is top dog at present, but when it comes to a final reckoning I'll have him yelping like a yellow cur with a tin can tied to its tail."
O'Mally nodded his bald head approvingly. Justice on his mettle was as dangerous to deal with as a stick of dynamite!
"Justice—Connor! Where on earth have you fellows got to?"
It was the querulous, impatient voice of Professor Flaznagel. The old scientist sat alone in the vast, circular chamber at the summit of his gigantic tower, surrounded with strange instruments, machines, and electrical apparatus that enabled him to control and command powerful, almost uncanny forces that were known only to himself.
"Kindly close the door behind you," requested the professor, as Justice and his companions crowded into the strange room of mechanical marvels that was the ears, the eyes, and the very brain of Titanic Tower. "I have succeeded in locating Marcus' ship," continued the lanky, bushy-bearded scientist, polishing his big, horn-rimmed spectacles, and balancing them astride his prominent nose. "It is riding the storm ten miles due south of here."
"Bedad!" exclaimed O'Mally, staring curiously at the speaker. How, he wondered, was Flaznagel able to determine the exact position of a vessel in the pitch darkness that enveloped the world below?
"You shall see for yourselves," invited the professor. "It will give you some idea how I discovered the island where your yacht, the Electra, was wrecked. My telatoscopic radio refractor, worked in conjunction with the infra-orange ray, has a visual range of over fifty miles, with magnification up to twenty diameters. In daylight, both would' be considerably increased."
With a wave of one hand he indicated a queer object in the exact centre of the room. So far as Len Connor could gather, it consisted simply of an opaque crystal sphere, five feet in diameter, poised between two pointed metal fulcrums, one rising from the floor, the other rigidly suspended from the ceiling.
These two points formed a perpendicular axis, on which the dull glass ball slowly and constantly revolved. From the upper arm of the supporting axis numerous branches of insulated cable spread and radiated to various parts of the domed roof.
Click! The professor pressed a switch, plunging the room into total darkness. The movement of another lever produced a low, soft humming, like the drone of a swarm of bees. Gradually the big crystal sphere became visible, glowing like a full moon looming through a passing bank of cloud.
It seemed to be floating in midair, a luminous, silver globe, in which faint shapes and shadows appeared and disappeared, like ghostly fish in an illuminated tank. With the effect of a desert mirage reflected in the sky, a miniature scene suddenly formed in the cloudy depths of the crystal globe.
In the midst of an expanse of bleak grey sea, a lone ship rode gracefully. She was a queer-looking vessel with a sleek, slender hull and turtle-back bows. She was bare of funnels. There was a squat, round deckhouse supporting a lofty, screened bridge. She showed no flag, and her name, if any, could not be seen. Yet Captain Justice recognised the craft at once.
"The ghost ship!" he exclaimed. "The boat we saw anchored off the island where the Electra was wrecked!"
"Bedad, you're right!" exploded the big Irishman.
"Marcus' yacht!" explained Flaznagel, with a dramatic gesture. "The craft in which our young friend Midge is held prisoner. I should know her well enough. She was built to plans and specifications stolen from me by one of Marcus' rascally agents."
Len Connor gave a low whistle of astonishment as he watched the tiny craft gliding through the sea, a white wake spreading behind her stern.
"And you mean to say that boat's ten miles away—down below, wrapped in darkness? And we can see her from here?"
"Yes—thanks to the telatoscope and the infra-orange ray," declared the professor proudly. "It is a form of television that dispenses with transmission. The invisible light beam picks up distant objects, which the telatoscope receives, magnifies, and reflects in this opaque sphere."
"Begorrah, 'tis a wizard ye are '" blurted O'Mally.
"Surely to goodness you can put one over on that fellow Marcus, professor," said Len Connor eagerly. "You have your fleet of subaquaplanes, your squadron of helicopters, and the Flying Cloud—all of them equipped with infra-orange rays. What chance would Marcus' boat stand against that bunch? He couldn't possibly escape."
"Only by blowing himself, his yacht, and its occupants sky-high," answered Flaznagel grimly. "And he's desperate enough to do that!
"No," he added. "We dare not take the offensive, for Midge's sake. Much as I should like to teach Marcus a lesson, we must wait until the boy is back with us before taking action. And we shall soon know the price Marcus demands for Midge's release."
Connor bit his lip. It was becoming increasingly obvious that Marcus held the whip-hand. He was using the kidnapped Midge as a shield to protect himself, while he enforced his own terms on Justice and his companions. He knew that they would refrain from taking any drastic steps that might jeopardise the red-haired youngster's safety.
A buzzer suddenly sounded, and the scene in the crystal sphere faded and disappeared as Flaznagel disconnected the telatoscope, and switched on the lights.
"You shall hear Marcus' terms for yourselves," he promised gravely, indicating a six-foot square television screen set in one wall of the room. "That was his signal. He is just about to address us. It should be an interesting interview."
THE cold white television screen was becoming animated with light, life, and movement. The effect was more substantial and vivid than the telatoscope, for there was no suggestion of intervening distance.
The frame of the screen might have been an open doorway leading into a handsomely appointed ship's saloon, where lights were blazing, and a man in immaculate white uniform was seated on the edge of a desk, staring straight towards them, with a microphone held in one hand and a half-smoked cigarette in the other.
Marcus presented an impressive figure with his square-cut, blue black beard, his powerful beak of a nose, and his fierce eyes, hard and glittering. His voice, when he spoke, was softly guttural, like the purr of a great cat.
"I am sorry to have kept you waiting, gentlemen," he greeted, showing his white teeth in a mocking smile as he faced a duplicate television screen, in which the figures of Professor Flaznagel and his companions were projected through ten miles of Space. "Delighted to see you, Captain Justice! I trust I shall find you more reasonable and less pig-headed to negotiate with than our worthy friend, the professor."
The man's arrogance brought an angry warmth to the captain's cheeks. He lit a match, puffed the end of his cigar to a crimson glow, and blew out a thick cloud of smoke that veiled the chagrin in his eyes.
"Cut the cackle, Marcus," he said brusquely. "If you've got anything to say, we're prepared to listen. But it must be to the point. You think you've got a pull over us because you've kidnapped one of my boys; but that remains to be seen."
"Exactly," agreed the bearded man, with an ugly smile that was faithfully reproduced by the televisor. Many things remain to be seen, my dear captain. There are millions of people in the world at the present moment who would be glad to be able to see as far as the end of their noses."
"Bedad, and what's the hairy spalpeen gibbering about?" growled O'Mally impatiently. "Faith, there's only one thing I'd like to be seeing—the impudent face of young Midge himself. Where is the boy, and how are we to be certain that this whiskered half-brother to a bandylegged baboon knows anything about him at all?"
The big Irishman was forgetting that his words and gestures were audible to the distant man. Marcus' swarthy face darkened as he raised one great fist and shook it menacingly in the direction of the doctor.
"The boy's here, aboard this boat," he snarled. "And I'd give quite a lot of money to have you here as well, you bloated, duck-footed, bladder-headed Irish monstrosity. I'd soon get some of that fat off you—by James, I would!"
O'Mally turned purple, and looked as if he were about to charge headlong at the mocking reflection in the screen. Justice's firm hand restrained him.
"Hallo, Irish! How do, blokes? Crumbs, you look like a funeral group out of the old family portrait album!"
It was Midge's voice that came clearly and cheerfully from the loudspeaker. Marcus had stepped to one side, revealing a doorway through which came strutting the diminutive, red-haired youngster, closely followed by a burly ruffian armed with a pistol like a small cannon, that hovered threateningly in the vicinity of his prisoner's right ear.
"Midge!" shouted Len Connor delightedly. "How are you, old son?"
"Not so dusty," was the airy reply. "The grub's not half bad in this dump, but this guy with the heavy artillery's a bit of a nuisance. Follows me about like a blinking lost dog. How's the pow-wow with old Black-beard the Pirate going? He wants to swop me for a couple of secondhand razor-blades or someth—"
"Hold your tongue!" snarled Marcus. "Another word from you and I'll have you gagged!"
"Who—me?" inquired Midge indignantly. "Don't be silly! Crumbs, there's old Fishgoggles! Hallo, professor! My hat, you are a stranger! And how's the old Tower? I'll be along to see you and give it a look-over as soon as old Blackboard gets tired of my company and boots me out."
A brutal buffet sent the youngster staggering back into the arms of his gaoler. Justice paled, and winced as if he were the pained recipient of the blow. O'Mally gulped, making an impulsive, helpless move towards the screen.
"The—the howling cad!" panted Len Connor thickly. "Captain, I can't stand it! We must do something—”
"Take the brat away!" rasped Marcus, shooting a malevolent glance in the direction of the visionary spectators. He was acting to plan. His harsh attitude was partly bluff; but it might enable him to make his own terms with Justice and the professor.
THE red-haired youngster struggled furiously as he was grabbed and dragged bodily from the saloon, beyond visual range of the television.
"So long, blokes; I'll be seeing you," he shouted pluckily. "Don't you worry about me, and don't you let old Blackboard bluff you into making a swap. He won't dare keep me here. I shall be—"
His voice died away in the slam of a closing door. Justice swallowed hard on a lump in his throat. Midge was as game as a pebble. He had done his best to dissuade his friends from making any supreme sacrifice in order to secure his release. He was prepared to take his chance rather than have them submit to Marcus' extortionate, crippling demands.
Marcus looked not unlike a shaggy black wolf as he resumed his perch on the edge of the desk and bared his strong white teeth behind his dark heavy beard.
"Well, you have seen for yourselves that the boy is safe—up to now!" he said meaningly. "I wish him no harm. His safety rests with you."
"Don't beat about the bush, Marcus!" spoke Justice sternly. "How much do you want for the boy's release? What are your terms?"
"I'm not quite certain," answered the man blandly. "It is not a question of money, captain. I shall be a millionaire a hundred times over before very long. No doubt Flaznagel has told you of my scheme. How would you like to join me in carrying it out? You are a man after my own heart. We would have the whole world at our mercy. Riches—power—"
"No!" said Justice bluntly. "'You can put that idea out of your mind, Marcus. I am still waiting to hear your terms! I warn you not to insist on me joining you in your crazy enterprise as the price of Midge's release. You would regret it. I should deal with you as a mad dog, at the first opportunity."
"Not if you gave me your word to adhere to our compact?" suggested Marcus cunningly.
"Certainly," said Justice frankly. "I should be justified in breaking any agreement made under duress."
Marcus frowned. The captain's candour defeated him. He felt a sudden respect and fear for the gallant adventurer. It was more than he dared do to draw Justice into his ambitious quest of fabulous riches and world power. He would be conniving at his downfall—putting a noose round his own neck. Far better to meet the captain as an acknowledged enemy than as an uncertain accomplice.
"You're a fool to refuse my offer," Marcus said sullenly; and suddenly addressed himself to Professor Flaznagel. "I want the Flying Cloud," he demanded bluntly. "You will hand over the airship to me in exchange for the boy. Those are my final, unconditional terms. Take them or leave them. You have one minute to decide. We have wasted enough time already."
It was a staggering request. Justice stiffened with a low exclamation of dismay.
"Suffering Alexander! So it's the Flying Cloud he's after!" breathed Len Connor in consternation. "It can't be done. He's asking too much!"
"And what if we refuse to accept your terms?" asked Captain Justice.
"You won't do that!" retorted Marcus confidently. "I know you, Justice, and I know the affection you have for the carroty-headed little whippersnapper I'm holding aboard this ship. It's the brat's life against the Flying Cloud. Refuse to hand the airship over to me, and—you'll never see the boy alive again!
"That's no idle threat," he added. "I mean every word of it. If you don't agree to the exchange before my time limit expires, Midge dies! That's final!"
Justice was silent, stunned by the sheer horror of the situation. Had the Flying Cloud been his to barter with, he would not have hesitated for one moment to agree to Marcus’ terms. But it was not. Strictly speaking, it was the property of the old professor.
It was for Flaznagel to say whether or not the airship should be used to save Midge's life.
He knew that the giant dirigible was one of Professor Flaznagel's most cherished and jealously guarded possessions.
It was the last word in modern aircraft, with a speed of close on five hundred miles per hour, and a cruising range that would permit it to travel several times round the world without necessity to recharge the storage batteries or to take aboard great supplies of provisions and water.
And this was the ransom that Marcus demanded in exchange for Midge's life and liberty! It proved his ability to strike a shrewd bargain. Once in command of the Flying Cloud he would have no difficulty in flashing from continent to continent, visiting the great cities of the world, and looting and pillaging to his heart's content under cover of the terrible Black Menace!
The Flying Cloud—or Midge? That's the terrible choice Captain Justice has to make. His decision and its startling outcome is Next Saturday's Murray Roberts Thriller!
Part 5 here.
Part 5 here.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.