Air Bridge (5)
March 2, 2015
HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize Hammond Innes’s 1951 espionage thriller/Robinsonade Air Bridge. Set in England during the Berlin blockade and airlift of 1948–49 (during which time the British RAF and other aircrews frustrated the Soviet Union’s attempt to gain practical control of that city), the novel’s protagonist is a mercenary pilot… but is he a traitor? Hammond Innes wrote over 30 adventures, many of them set in hostile natural environments. Enjoy!
Time stood still for me on Membury airdrome in the weeks that followed. November slid into December and I scarcely noticed it. We rose at six and started work at seven. There was coffee around eleven and we had our lunch and our tea at the work bench. Breakfast and dinner were the only meals we had back at the quarters, dinner anywhere between seven-thirty and nine according to how the work ran. Tempers were short and the working hours long, and though Diana Carter talked about Prince Charles and the fighting in Palestine and the opening of Tegel airport, it meant nothing to me, for I didn’t read the papers. My life was the cold, gray cavern of the hangar; I lived and dreamed engineering and the world outside Membury ceased to exist.
And yet through it all ran a thread of pure excitement. Saeton never gave me a briefing on the engines. He left me to find out for myself and as the Satan Mark II, which was what he called it, took shape under our hands, my sense of excitement mounted.
The difference lay mainly in the system of ignition and the method of fuel injection. High pressure injectors delivered filtered fuel to the combustion chambers. Injector timing replaced ignition timing and there was a complicated system for metering the fuel, the flow having to be adjusted constantly in relation to altitude. It was essentially a compression ignition motor and though it was a long way removed from the diesel design, it was soon clear to me that the man who had made the original design must have been a diesel expert.
It took us just over five weeks to build that second engine and all the time it was a race — our skill against my bank balance, with the airlift date looming ever nearer.
It was a queer life, the four of us alone up on that derelict airfield, held there by Saeton’s tenacity and the gradual emergence of that second engine. I got to know Tubby Carter and his wife well, and they were as different as two people could be. Maybe that was why they had got married. I don’t know. They were an oddly assorted pair.
Tubby was a stolid, unimaginative man, round of face and round of figure with rolls of fat across his stomach and sides that gave him the appearance of a man-sized cupid when stripped. His nature was happy and friendly. He was one of the nicest men I have ever met, and one of the most uninteresting. Outside of flying and engineering, he knew nothing of the world, accepting it and ignoring it so long as it let him get on with his job. What had caused this unenterprising son of a Lancashire poultry farmer to take to flying I never discovered. He had started in a blacksmith’s shop and when that closed down he had got a job in a foundry producing farm equipment. He was one of those men who shift along on the tide of life and the tide had drifted him into a motor factory and so into the engineering side of the aircraft industry. That he had started to fly because he wanted to would have been quite out of character. I imagine it just happened that way and his stolidity would have made him an ideal flight engineer in any bomber crew.
When I think of Tubby, it is of a happy child, whistling gently between his teeth. He was like a fat, cheerful mongrel, something of a cross between airedale and pug. His eyes were brown and affectionate and if he’d had a tail it would have wagged every time anybody spoke to him. But when I think of him as a man, then it is only his hands I remember. His hands were long and slender, and quite hairless like the rest of him — very different from Saeton’s hands. Give those hands a piece of metal and ask them to produce something out of it and he grew to man’s stature in an instant, all his being concentrated in his fingers, his face wreathed in a smile that crinkled his eyes, and his short, fat lips pursed as he whistled endlessly at the work. He was a born engineer, and though he was a child in other respects, he had a streak of obstinacy that took the place of initiative. Once he had been persuaded on a course of action, nothing would deflect him. It was this tenacity that made one respect as well as like him.
His wife was so different it was almost unbelievable. Her father had been a railroad construction engineer. He had been killed when she was seventeen, crushed by a breakdown crane toppling on its side. In those seventeen years she had traveled most of America and had acquired a restless taste for movement and the atmosphere of the construction camps. Her mother, who had been half-Italian, had died in childbirth and Diana had been brought up in a masculine world. She had many of a man’s qualities — a decisiveness, the need of a goal to aim for and a desire for strong leadership. She was also a woman, with a good deal of the hot passion of the Italian.
After her father’s death she became a nurse. And when Pearl Harbor came she was one of the first to volunteer for overseas service. She had come to England as a Waac in 1943 and had been stationed at a B17 station near Exeter. That was where she had met Tubby. They had met again in France and had been married at Rouen in 1945. Later she had worked for a short time in the Malcolm Club Organization, while Tubby was flying with Transport Command.
I have said that she was a hard, experienced-looking woman. Certainly that was my first impression. But then I had expected somebody altogether younger and softer. She was several years older than Tubby and her life had not been an easy one. Her brother had been working for the Opel people in Germany, and with no family and no friends, she had been very much on her own in the big hospital in New York. She would never talk about this period. She had endless stories to tell of the railroad camps and of her service life in Britain, France and Germany. But I never heard her talk of her life in that New York hospital.
Tubby she treated rather as a child. I learned later that she had had an operation that had made it impossible for her to have any children of her own. Whether this had anything to do with it, I don’t know. But I do know this, that right from the start she was fascinated by Saeton. She breathed in the atmosphere of drive and urgency that he created as though it were life itself. I had a feeling that in him she found all the excitement of her girlhood again, as though he recreated for her the life she had led with her father on the railroads of America.
But though I got to know these two well, Saeton himself remained a mystery. What his background was I never discovered. It was as though he had sprung like a phoenix from the flames of war complete with his looted engine and the burning dream of a freighter fleet tramping the airways of the world. He’d talk and he’d conjure visions, but he never talked about himself. He had been a test pilot before the war. He knew South America, particularly Brazil, and he’d flown for an oil company in Venezuela. He’d done some gold prospecting in South Africa. But as to who his family were, what they did and where he’d been born and brought up, I still have no idea. Nor have I any knowledge of how he came to be a pilot.
He was the sort of person that you accept as a finished article. His personality was sufficient in itself. I felt no urge to rummage around the backstairs of his life. He seemed to have no existence outside of the engines. He even slept with them after that scene with Randall as though he were afraid an attempt might be made to steal them. When he had warned me that his temper would be short until we were in the air, it was no understatement. His moods were violent and when nervous or excited he used his tongue like a battering ram. I remember the day after I had promised to finance the company he came up to me as I was working at the lathe. “I think you agreed to cover us over the building period.” His voice was angry, almost belligerent. “I want some money.”
I began to apologize for not having settled the financial details with him before, but he cut me short: “I don’t want your apologies. I want a check.” The rudeness of his tone jolted me. But it was typical of the man, and if I expected deference on account of my financial standing in the company he made it clear I wasn’t going to get it.
He wanted the money right away to meet some bills and I had to go back to the quarters for my check book. That was how I first came into real contact with Else, the fifth character in this extraordinary story. She was standing at the entrance to the quarters, calling for Diana.
“She’s just taken coffee up to the hangar,” I said.
The girl turned at the sound of my voice. She wore the same brown overall that she’d worn the previous day when Diana had brought her to the hangar and in her hands she held four very still but sharp-eyed fowls. “I have bring these,” she said, making a slight movement of her hands that caused the one cockerel to beat his wings angrily.
“I didn’t know we were having a feast tonight,” I said.
“No, no. Mrs. Carter starts to keep chicken for you, I think.” The girl’s voice, with its marked foreign accent, was like a breath of the old life, a reminder of brief meetings in bars and hotel bedrooms that is all in the way of memories that most pilots take out of the cities where they touch down.
“She’ll be back in a minute,” I said. “If you and the chickens can wait.” I started to move through the door and then stopped and we stood there for a moment smiling at each other, not saying anything.
“You are partners with Mr. Saeton now?” she said at last.
She nodded and her gaze strayed to the trees that screened us from the hangar. Her face was rather square, the cheekbones high, the skin pale and dappled with freckles. Her nose tipped up slightly at the end as though she’d pressed it too often against windows as a kid. She wore no make-up and her eyebrows were thick and fair, like the untidy mop of her hair that blew in the wind. She turned to me slowly and her lips parted as though she were about to say something, but she just stood there looking up at me with a frown as though by staring at me she could resolve some riddle that puzzled her. Her eyebrows were dragged down at the corners and her eyes shifted from the adhesive tape on my forehead to meet mine with a direct, level gaze. They were the color of mist in a mountain valley — a soft gray.
“What were you doing up at the hangar the other night?” I had asked the question without thinking.
Her lips moved slightly at the corners. She had a very mobile mouth. “Perhaps I ask you why you run away, eh?”
For an instant I thought she had connected me with the police inquiries in the neighborhood. But then she asked, “Are you an engineer?” and I knew it was all right.
“Yes,” I said.
“And you work on the engines with Mr. Saeton?”
“Then perhaps we meet again, yes?” She smiled and thrust the birds into my hands. “Will you please give these to Mrs. Carter.” She half-turned to go and then hesitated. “When you do not know what to do with yourself, perhaps you come and talk with me. It is very lonely up here sometimes.” She turned then and walked across the clearing and as I watched her disappear amongst the trees I felt excitement singing through my blood.
The story of Else Langen was a jig-saw puzzle that I had to piece together, bit by bit. I asked Saeton about her that night, but all he’d say was that she was a German D.P. “Yes, but what’s her story?” I persisted. “Tubby says her father died in a concentration camp.”
“Well?” I asked.
His eyes narrowed. “Why are you so interested in her?” he demanded. “Have you been talking to the girl?”
“I had a few words with her this morning,” I admitted.
“Well, keep clear of her.”
“Because I tell you to,” he growled. “I don’t trust her.”
“But you had her cooking here for you.”
“That was —” He stopped and his jaw stiffened. “Have
some sense,” he added. “The girl’s German and this engine we’re working on was first designed in Germany.”
“Is that why you’re sleeping up at the hangar now?” I asked. “Are you suggesting that the girl —”
“I’m not suggesting anything,” he snapped. “I’m just telling you to keep clear of her. Or is it too much to expect you to keep your hands off a woman for five weeks?”
The sneer in his voice brought me to my feet. “If you think —”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Neil. Sit down. All I’m asking you to do is not to get talking to anyone outside of the four of us here. For your sake as well as mine,” he added pointedly.
I might have taken his advice if the monotony of our life hadn’t got on my nerves. Perhaps monotony is the wrong word. It was the tension really. The work itself was exciting enough. But we never relaxed. The four of us were cooped up together, never leaving the airdrome, always in the same atmosphere of pressure, always in each other’s company. Within a fortnight the strain was beginning to tell. Tubby ceased to whistle at the bench and his round, cheerful face became morose, almost sulky. Diana did her best, but her chatter was hard and brittle against the solid background of long hours in the hangar. Saeton became impossible — tense and moody, flying into a rage at the slightest provocation or at nothing at all.
The atmosphere got on my nerves. I had to find some relaxation, and automatically it seemed I began thinking of Else more and more often. It is very lonely up here sometimes. I could see the lift of her eyebrows, the smile in her eyes and the slight spread of the corners of her mouth. When you do not know what to do with yourself…. The invitation couldn’t have been plainer. I brooded over it at my work, and particularly I brooded over Diana’s suggestion that the girl had been a camp-follower. Saeton hadn’t denied it. In the end I asked Tubby about it. “I wasn’t interested in her, if that’s what you mean,” he answered. “I don’t go for foreign women.”
“What about Saeton?” I asked.
“Bill?” He shrugged his shoulders. “I wouldn’t know.” And then he added almost viciously, “They all fall for him. He’s got something that appeals to women.”
“And she fell for him?”
“She was always around before Diana came.” He glanced up at me from the fuel pump he was assembling and his eyes crinkled. “The monastic life getting you down? Well, you shouldn’t have much trouble with Else. Randall used to take her out in his car when he visited us up here.”
It was a warm, soft night despite a clear sky and after dinner I said I’d take a stroll. Saeton looked across at me quickly, but he said nothing and a moment later I was striding through the still dampness of the woods, my heart suddenly light with the sense of relief at escaping at last from the atmosphere of the airdrome. A track ran from the quarters down to the road and a little farther on I found the gates of the Manor. A light shone through the trees and the gentle putter of an electric light plant sounded across the silence of the lawns. An owl flapped like a giant moth to the shelter of the trees.
I went round to the side of the house, and through an uncurtained window saw Else standing over a table rubbing salt into a large ham. Her sleeves were rolled up and her face was flushed. She was a big, well-built girl with a full bosom and wide shoulders. She looked soft and pleasant, working there in that big kitchen and I found myself tingling with the desire to touch her, to feel the warm roundness of her body under my hands. I stood there for quite a while, watching her, liking the capable movements of her hands and the glowing concentration of her features. At length I moved to the door and knocked.
She smiled when she saw who it was. “So! You have become bored, eh?”
“I thought you might like to come for a walk,” I said. “It’s a warm night.”
“A walk?” She looked up at me quickly. “Yes. Why not? Come into the kitchen while I go and dress myself in some clothes.”
It was a big kitchen, warm and friendly, with bacon hanging from hooks in the ceiling and bunches of dried herbs and a smell of chicken. “You like cream?” She produced a bowl full of thick cream, a loaf of bread and some home-made jam. “Help yourself, please. I will be one minute, that is all.”
I hadn’t tasted cream in years and I was still eating when she returned. “You like to take some back with you? Mrs. Eliwood will not mind. She is a very ’ospitable woman.”
“No. No thanks.” I should have to explain to Saeton where it had come from.
She looked at me with a slight frown, but she made no comment. “Come. I take you to the pond. It is very funny there at night. The frogs croak and there are many wild things.”
We went round behind the outbuildings, through the farmyard and out into a grass field. “There are mushrooms here in the autumn. What is your name?”
“Do you like working at the airfield?”
“Yes.” I spoke without thinking, conscious only of her nearness and of the fact that she hadn’t hesitated to come out with me.
“It is going well, I hope?”
“Yes. Very well.”
“When will you have finished the engines?”
I took her hand. Her fingers were warm and soft in mine. She raised no objection.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “What was it you asked?”
“When will you finish? When do you fly?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “In about a month.”
“So soon?” She fell silent. We were in the woods again now on a path that ran downhill. The night air rustled gently among the tall, spear-like shafts of the osiers. I tightened my grip on her hand, but she didn’t seem to notice, for she asked if I were a flier and then began to talk about her brother who had been in the Luftwaffe.
“Where is he now?” I asked.
She was silent for a moment, and then she said, “He is dead. He was shot down over England.” She glanced up at me, her face serious. “Do you think we shall ever be at peace — Germany and England?”
“We’re at peace now,” I answered.
“Oh, now! Now you are the victors. You occupy us with your troops. But it is not peace. There is no treaty, Germany is not permitted to join any international organization. We cannot trade. Everything is taken from us.”
I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t interested in a political argument. I didn’t want to be reminded that she was German. I just wanted her companionship, her warmth, the feel of her close to me. The screen of osiers parted and we were looking down a steep bank to a dew pond. It was fringed with reeds and the still surface in the center was like a plate of burnished pewter reflecting the stars. “It is beautiful here, yes?” The cry of a night bird jarred the stillness and a frog croaked. The stillness and the wintry beauty of it brought the blood hammering to my throat I reached out and caught her by the shoulder twisting her round so that her neck lay in the curve of my arm. Then I bent and kissed her.
For a moment she was limp in my arms, her lips soft and open against mine. Then her body became rigid and her mouth tightened. She fought me off with a sudden and intense fury. For a moment we struggled, but she was strong and my passion subsided with the obstinacy of her resistance and I let her go. “You — you —” She stood there speechless, panting with the effort she had made. “Because I am German and you are English you think I should lie on my back for you? Verfluchter Kerl! Ich hasse Sie!” She turned, tears of anger on her face, and fled up the path. In an instant the screen of osiers had swallowed her and I was alone by the pond with the protesting croak of the frogs.
Saeton was just leaving when I got back to the quarters. “What have you been up to?” he said, looking up at me from under his shaggy eyebrows. “That cut of yours has opened up again.”
I put my hand to my forehead and my fingers came away sticky with blood. Else must have scratched the scab as she fought me off. “It’s nothing,” I said. “A branch of a tree caught me, that’s all.”
He grunted and went out into the night towards the hangar. As I passed the door of the Carters’ home I heard Diana say, “All right. But any time I like the Malcolm Club will…” I was back in the tense atmosphere of our own little world and I’d destroyed my one chance of escape. I went to bed feeling depressed and angry with myself, for Else had been right — I had treated her as though she were a piece of occupied territory to be bought for a bar of chocolate.
The next day we had visitors. Diana rang through on the field telephone. “There’s an R.A.F. officer here and a Mr. Garside of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. They want to speak to Bill.” I had answered the phone and I passed on the message to Saeton. He jumped to his feet as though I’d cracked a stock whip. “Tell her they’re not to come up here. I’ll see them over at the quarters.” He searched quickly along the bench, picking up odd parts that lay amongst the junk at the back. “Tubby. Take these out the back somewhere and hide them. Go over the whole bench and see that there’s nothing left of the old engine here. I’ll hold them at the quarters for five or ten minutes.”
“They may only have come to check over the plane prior to airworthiness tests,” Tubby said.
“Maybe. But I’m taking no chances. You’d better keep in the background, Neil.”
He hurried out of the hangar and Tubby searched frantically along the bench, picking up parts and stuffing them into a canvas bag. I stood watching him, wondering whether my identity had been discovered.
Tubby had barely returned from hiding the bag when Saeton brought the two men into the hangar. “These are my two engineers,” he said. “Carter and Fraser. Tubby, this is Wing-Commander Felton, R.A.F. Intelligence, and Garside, Civil Aviation. Well, now, what exactly do you want to look at?” Saeton was forcing himself to be genial, but I could see by the way his head was hunched into his shoulders that he was angry.
“Well, if you did take it, I don’t imagine you’d be fool enough to leave the prototype lying about,” the R.A.F. officer said. “We’d like to have a look at the design you’re working on.”
“I’m sorry,” Saeton said. “That’s the one thing I can’t allow you to do. You can have a look at the finished engine, but the design remains secret until we’re in the
“You’re not being very helpful,” the Intelligence Officer said.
“Why should I be?” Saeton demanded angrily. “A German company complains that an English concern is working on a pet project of their own and immediately they have the support of our own people and you come rushing up here to investigate.”
“As far as I’m concerned the Germans can stew in their own juice,” Felton replied. “But they’ve persuaded Control Commission the matter needs investigating. My instructions come from B.A.F.O. H.Q. Garside here is acting at the direct request of Control Commission.”
“Have the Rauch Motoren sent over the plans of their prototype?” Saeton asked.
“Then how can you check from my plans whether I’ve lifted their design?”
The Intelligence Officer glanced at his companion. “According to my information,” Garside said, “they claim that the plans were looted with the prototype.”
“The plans can be withdrawn.”
“The designer is dead. The fools arrested him in the middle of his work for alleged complicity in the July 20 bomb plot.”
“Then they’ve only themselves to blame,” Saeton said.
“How did you know that it was the Rauch Motoren who had lodged the complaint?” the R.A.F. officer asked.
“I’ve admitted already that it was seeing their prototype that gave me the idea,” Saeton answered. His voice was quiet. He was keeping a tight hold of himself. “The same company has already made an effort to get control of my outfit through a gentleman called Reinbaum who now holds the mortgages on the plane and equipment here.” He turned and faced the two of them. “What exactly are the authorities trying to do? Do they want a German company to produce a new type of air engine in preference to a British concern? Carter and I have worked for nearly three years on this. If we’d pinched their prototype and it was so far advanced that they were ready to go into production with it, surely we’d have been in the air now, instead of mortgaged to the hilt and still working to produce a second engine?”
The two men glanced at each other. “So long as it can’t be proved that you looted the thing…” The R.A.F. officer shrugged his shoulders. “The trouble with Control Commission is that they think in terms of supporting the Jerries. You don’t have to worry as far as I’m concerned, Saeton. Three years ago I was bombing the beggars and if you’d looted the complete article…” He turned to his companion. “What’s your view, Garside?”
The other looked helplessly round the hangar. “Even if it was looted,” he said slowly, “it would be very difficult to prove it now.” He turned to Saeton. “In any case, you’ve done three years’ work on your engines. My advice is, get it patented as soon as possible. Doubtless the Patents Office will compare your design with the German company’s, if they can produce one and if they put in a claim.”
“I notified Headquarters at the time I saw the Rauch Motoren prototype,” Saeton said.
The R.A.F. officer nodded. “Yes, I’ve looked over your report. Had the devil’s own job digging it out of its pigeonhole in the Air Ministry. You acted perfectly correctly as far as the authorities were concerned. You don’t have to worry about that. But as Garside says — get your patents. Every day you delay, German pressure is becoming more effective.” He held out his hand to Saeton. “Well, good luck!”
“You’d better come and have some coffee before you drive back,” Saeton suggested and he shepherded them out of the hangar.
“Well, what’s all that about, Tubby?” I asked as the door of the hangar closed behind them.
“Just that our problems won’t be over even when we get into the air,” he answered and went back to the bench.
Saeton was looking pleased with himself when he came back. “What I didn’t tell them,” he said with a grin, “is that the designs are already with the Patents Office. If the German company want to put in a claim they’ll have to get busy.”
“Do you think Randall had anything to do with that visit?” Tubby asked.
“Randall? Of course not. If they got hold of Randall, then there would be trouble.”
At dinner that night he announced that he was going to London. “I want to have a word with Dick,” he said. “Also it’s time I saw the patents people.”
Diana paused, with her fork half-way to her mouth. “How long will you be gone, Bill?” Her voice was tense.
“A couple of days.”
It’s strange how you can live with people and not notice what’s happening right under your nose because it happens so gradually. Tubby glanced at his wife, his face pale, his body very still. The atmosphere had suddenly become electric. In the way she had spoken she had betrayed herself. She was in love with Saeton. And Tubby knew it. Saeton knew it, too, for he didn’t look at her and answered too casually: “I shall be away one night. That’s all.”
It was queer. Nothing of any importance had been said, and yet it was as though Diana had shouted her infatuation from the middle of the runway. She had stripped herself naked with that too interested, too tense query and her repetition of the time as though it were eternity. Silence hung over the table like a storm that has revealed itself in one lightning stab but has still to break.
Tubby’s hand had clenched into a fist and I waited for the moment when he’d fling the trestle table over and round on Saeton. I’d seen men break like that during the war, sane, solid men pushed over the edge by nerves strung too taut through danger, monotony and the confined space of a small mess.
But he had that essential stolidity, that Saxon aversion for the theatrical. The scrape of his chair as he thrust it back shattered the silence. “I’m going out for a breath of air.” His voice trembled slightly. That was the only indication of the angry turmoil inside him — that and his eyes, which showed bright and angry in the creases of fat. His cheeks quivered slightly as he turned from the table. He shut the door quite softly behind him and his footsteps rang on the frozen earth outside and then died away into the woods.
The three of us sat there for a moment in a stunned silence. Then Saeton said, “You’d better go and talk to him, Diana. I don’t want him walking out on me. Without him, we’d be lost.”
“Can’t you think of anything but your engines?” The violence of her emotion showed in her voice and in her eyes.
He looked at her then. There was something in his face I couldn’t fathom — a sort of bitterness, a mixture of desire and frustration. “No,” he said. The one word seemed drawn out of the depths of his being.
Diana leaned quickly forward. Her face was white, her eyes very wide and she was breathing as though she were making a last desperate effort in a race. “Bill. I can’t go on like this. Don’t you understand —”
“I didn’t ask you to come here,” his voice rasped. “I didn’t want you here.”
“Do you think I don’t know that?” She seemed to have forgotten my presence entirely. Both of them had. Their eyes were at grips with each other, face to face with something inside them that had to come out. “But I’m here. And I can’t go on like this. You dominate everything. You’ve dominated me. I don’t care how long you’re away. But I can’t —” She stopped then and looked at me as though aware of my presence for the first time.
I started to get to my feet, but Saeton leaned quickly forward and gripped my arm. “You stay here, Neil,” he said. I think he was scared to be left alone with her. Still gripping my arm as though clutching hold of something solid and reasonable, he turned and looked at her. “Go and find Tubby,” he said. His voice was suddenly cold and unemotional. “He needs you. I don’t.”
She stared at him, her lips trembling. She wanted to fight him, to beat at his resistance till it was down. But I think the essential truth of his words struck home, for suddenly there were tears in her eyes, tears of anger, and she turned and fled from the room. We heard the door of her room slam and it muffled the sound of her sobs.
Saeton’s fingers slowly released their grip of my wrist. “Damn all women to hell!” he muttered savagely.
“Do you want her?” I had put the question without thinking.
“Of course I do,” he answered, his voice tight as a violin string and trembling with his passion. “And she knows it.” He gave a growl of anger and got to his feet. “But it isn’t her I want. Any woman would do. She knows that, too — now.” He was pacing up and down and I saw him feel automatically in his pocket for a cigarette. “I’ve been lost to the world up here too long. God! Here I am with the future almost within my grasp, with everything I’ve dreamed of coming to the verge of reality, and it can all be thrown in jeopardy because a woman senses my primitive need.”
“You could send her away?” I suggested.
“If she goes, Tubby goes, too. Tubby loves her more than he loves himself or his future.” He turned and looked at me. “And Diana loves him, too. This is merely —” He hesitated. And then almost bitterly, “You know, Neil, I don’t think I’m capable of love. It isn’t a word I understand. Else knew that. I thought she’d see me through this period of monasticism. But when it came to the point, she wanted something I wasn’t prepared to give her.” He laughed harshly. “Diana is different. But she’s got Tubby. She’s driven by nothing more than an urge for excitement There’s that in women, too. The constant craving for novelty, conquest. Why the hell can’t she be satisfied with what she’s got already?” His hand gripped my shoulder. “Go and find Tubby, will you, Neil. Tell him… Oh, tell him what you like. But for Christ’s sake smooth him down. I can’t get this engine to the flying stage. Nor can you. He’s been in it from the beginning. The prototype didn’t work, you know. For months I studied engineering, made inquiries, picked other people’s brains. I produced a modified version, flew it in an old Hurricane and crashed it. Then I found Tubby and with his genius for improvisation we built one that worked. Go and talk to him. He’s got to stay here, for another month at any rate. If he doesn’t, you’ve lost your money.”
I found Tubby in the hangar and I think it was then that I first really admired him. He was quietly working away, truing up a bearing assembly that had been giving trouble. He stopped me before I could say anything. “Bill sent you to talk to me, didn’t he?”
He put the bearing down. “Tell him that I understand.” And then, more to himself than to me: “It’s not his fault. It’s something Diana wants that he’s got. It was there inside her before ever she came here — a restlessness, an urge for a change. I thought by bringing her up here —” He moved his hand in a helpless gesture. “It’ll work itself out. She ought to have had a child, but —” He sighed. “Tell Bill it’s all right. I won’t blame him so long as he gives me no cause. It’ll work itself out,” he repeated. And then added quietly: “In time.”
RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION: “Radium Age” is HILOBROW’s name for the 1904–33 era, which saw the discovery of radioactivity, the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. This era also saw the publication of genre-shattering writing by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sax Rohmer, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Jack London, Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, Olaf Stapledon, Karel Čapek, H.P. Lovecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Philip Gordon Wylie, and other pioneers of post-Verne/Wells, pre-Golden Age “science fiction.” More info here.
READ GORGEOUS PAPERBACKS: HiLoBooks has reissued the following 10 obscure but amazing Radium Age science fiction novels in beautiful print editions: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”), Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt, H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook, Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins, William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, J.D. Beresford’s Goslings, E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man, Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage, and Muriel Jaeger’s The Man with Six Senses. For more information, visit the HiLoBooks homepage.
SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable |
Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire”.
ORIGINAL FICTION: HILOBROW has serialized three novels: James Parker’s The Ballad of Cocky The Fox (“a proof-of-concept that serialization can work on the Internet” — The Atlantic); Karinne Keithley Syers’s Linda Linda Linda (which includes original music); and Robert Waldron’s roman à clef The School on the Fens. We also publish original stories and comics. These include: Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Flourish Klink’s Star Trek fanfic “Conference Comms” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Charlie Mitchell’s “Sentinels” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | John Holbo’s graphic novel On Beyond Zarathustra (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”