Air Bridge (15)

By: Hammond Innes
June 6, 2015

innes air bridge

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!




The next quarter of an hour was a nightmare. I started hy trying to convince the Intelligence Officer that the Russian report was nonsense. It was a mistake. He believed the information the Russians had given him. What!s more, the lieutenant who had driven me to Gatow had reported to him after dropping me at the Malcolm Club. He knew that I’d held a German orderly up with a revolver. “You don’t know what you’re saying — or what you’re doing, Fraser,” he said. His voice was cold and practical. “Better come up to my office and then I’ll take you along to the sick bay.”

I thought of the little patrol of Red Army men in the woods near Hollmind. They knew damn well the plane hadn’t dived into the ground. “Can I see this report?” I asked him.

“It’s up at my office now.”

“Does the report give any details?”

“Oh, yes. It’s quite detailed. No question about it being your plane. They’ve even got the number—Two-five-two.” He turned to the medical orderly who had returned. Take Mrs. Carter back to her quarters.”

“Wait,” I said. If I couldn’t convince him, at least I might be able to convince Diana. I pulled myself out of my seat and went over to her, catching hold of her shoulders and shaking her in my desperate urge to get her to concentrate on what I had to tell her. “You’ve got to listen to me, Diana.” She lifted her head and stared at me through tear-dimmed eyes. “I was with Tubby yesterday. He is alive.”

The desire to believe me was there in her face. Hope showed for an instant in her eyes, but then it died and she clenched her teeth. “Take him away from me, please,” she said in a whisper.

The I.O. pulled my hand away from her shoulder. “The Russians wouldn’t say he was dead if he wasn’t.” He pushed me gently back into the chair. “Just take it easy. 
You’re a bit upset — but it’s no good raising Mrs. Carter’s
 hopes. Carter’s dead. No question of that. Now all I want
 from you —”

“He’s not dead,” I cut in angrily. “He’s badly injured, but he’s alive. He’s at a farm —”

“Stop it, Neil!” Diana screamed at me. “For God’s sake stop it! Why do you keep saying he’s alive when you know he’s dead? If it hadn’t been for me,” she added in a lifeless tone, “he’d never have taken the job. He’d still have been with Saeton. Bill wouldn’t have crashed him. He’d have been all right with Bill. Oh, God!”

She was beside herself and I sat there staring at the misery which made her face look wild and wondering how the devil I could convince her that her husband was alive. I turned to the I.O. “I want to see the station commander,” I said. “I want a plane put at my disposal tonight. Do you think he’d do that?”

“What do you want a plane for?” His tone was the sort you use to placate an excited child and I saw him exchange a quick glance with the medical orderly.

“I want to fly to Hollmind Airfield,” I answered quickly. “If I can land at Hollmind I can get Carter out.”

“Is that ambulance still here?” he asked the medical orderly.

“Yes, sir. Mr. Fraser told me to send it away, but I thought I’d better —” He stared at me without finishing the sentence.

“Good! Come along, Fraser. You need a good, hot drink, warmth and a bed. We’ll soon have you fixed up.” His hand was on my arm, gently but firmly raising me from my seat.

I flung him off. “Can’t you understand what I’m trying to tell you? Tubby Carter is alive. He didn’t die in any crash.” It was on the tip of my tongue to say there hadn’t been any crash, but I knew he wouldn’t believe that, not unless I told him the whole story and I wasn’t going to do that until I had seen Saeton. “He’s at a farm, being cared for by the local doctor. He’s got a broken arm, several broken ribs and a pierced lung and he needs treatment.”

“Now, be reasonable, Fraser.” The I.O.’s hand was back on my arm. “We all understand how you feel. But it’s no good pretending he’s alive just because you’re worried that you jumped when he was still in the plane. We’ll get all that sorted out later. Now come on up to the sick bay.”

So they were going to pin that on me! I felt the blood rush, hammering, to my head. Damn them! At least that wasn’t the truth. I’d gone back for him, hadn’t I? I felt a sense of utter frustration taking hold of me.

And then Diana’s hand was on my arm. “Why do you keep on talking about a farm?” she asked. The desire to believe me was back in her face.

I told her about the Kleffmanns then and about their son Hans. “Tubby is lying in Hans’s old room,” I said. I half-closed my eyes, forcing to my mind the picture of that room. “The wallpaper has butterflies on it and it’s littered with faded photographs of Hans. The bedstead is of iron and brass and the single dormer window looks out on to the roof of a barn.” I seized hold of her shoulder again. “You’ve got to believe me, Diana. You’ve got to help me persuade Saeton to fly in to Hollmind tonight. Please — please, for God’s sake believe what I’m trying to tell you.”

She stared at me and then she nodded slowly, half-dazed. “I must believe you,” she said half to herself. Her eyes searched my face. “You do know what you’re saying, don’t you? You aren’t lying — just to protect yourself?”

‘To protect myself?”

“Yes — so that we’d think you didn’t leave him to —” She stopped and bit hold of her lip. “No. I can’t believe you’d do that. I guess you mean what you say.” She looked up quickly at the I.O. “Leave us a minute. Do you mind? I’d like to talk to him.”

The I.O. hesitated and then turned away to the coffee counter.

“How did you know Bill was here?” She was leaning forward and the unexpectedness of her question nearly caught me off my guard. I was feeling wretchedly tired. The warmth of the stove was making me sleepy. I pushed my hand over my face. “One of the air crews, a fellow from Wunstorf, told me,” I answered. I shook myself, trying to keep my mind clear. I mustn’t tell her what really happened. If I did that Saeton wouldn’t help me. “Can you find out when he’ll be in?’ I asked her. “I’ve got to speak to him. Once I get up there in the terminal building they’ll start questioning me and then they’ll push me off to hospital or something. Saeton must take me to Hollmind. Tubby’s got to be flown out tonight.”

“Why are you so set on Bill going?” she asked.

“He was a friend of Tubby’s,” I said. “It was Tubby who got those engines made for him, wasn’t it? Damn it, he owes Tubby that?”

“There’s no other reason?” She hesitated, staring at me hard. “You say you jumped, leaving Tubby in the plane?”

Again the quickness of her question almost caught me off my guard. “I said nothing of the sort. Don’t try and pin anything like that on to me,” I added angrily.

“Then why was he hurt and not you?”

“Because —” I dropped my head into my hand, press
ing at the corners of my eyes with finger and thumb, trying
to loosen the band of strain that was tightening across my 
forehead, “I don’t know,” I said wearily. “For God’s sake 
stop asking me questions. All I want you to do is to get
 Saeton for me.”

Diana caught hold of the lapels of my German greatcoat. “You’re lying!” Her voice hissed between her clamped teeth. “You’re lying, Neil. I know you are. You’re hiding something. What is it? You must tell me what it is.” She was shaking me violently. “What happened? What really happened?”

“Leave me alone, can’t you?” I whispered. If only she’d leave me alone, let me think. “Get Saeton,” I added. “I want to talk to Saeton.”

“Something happened that night. Didn’t it? Something happened. Neil — what was it? Please tell me what it was?” She was kneeling beside me now and her voice had risen hysterically. I could feel the sudden silence in the room, feel them staring at me — the regular air crew boys, men who knew nothing about my story, who would be judging me in the light of Diana clinging to my greatcoat and crying out, “What happened? What happened that night?”

“Wait till Saeton comes,” I said wearily.

“What’s Bill got to do with it? Was he the cause of it?” She looked wildly round and then swung fiercely back on me. “Will you talk if Bill is here? Will you tell me what really happened then?”

“Yes, if you’ll get him to fly out to Hollmind tonight. He can land at the airfield and then we’ll get Tubby out. Tubby will be all right then.”

“Hollmind is a disused airdrome. I checked that yesterday when I got the news. Are you sure he’ll be able to land there?”

“He’s done it once.”

“What do you mean?”

I pressed my head into my hand. “Nothing,” I said. If I didn’t get some sleep soon I’d be saying the first thing that came into my mind. “I didn’t mean anything,” I murmured. “I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m very tired, Diana. Get Saeton for me, will you; and stop asking me questions.”

She hesitated as though on the brink of another question. But all she said was, “Bill isn’t here yet.”

The I.O. was back at my side now. “You want Saeton? He’ll be here any minute now. The first Tudor has just come in. You worked with him on these engines of his, I understand?”

“Yes.” I didn’t want to talk any more. The idea that the authorities wouldn’t help me was firmly fixed in my mind. Saeton was the only man who could help me. I sat there, stupid with the warmth of the stove and the fatigue of my body, feeling the blood drying in a crust on my temple, watching the door. Air crews moved in and out and as they passed they stared at us silently as though we were some queer tableau entirely divorced from the solid, everyday routine of flying in and out of Berlin.

Then at last the door was pushed open and Saeton came striding in followed by his crew. He was almost past us before he saw me. He checked, rocking back on his heels as though for an instant he had been caught off balance. Then his features set themselves into a smile of welcome. “Hallo, Neil!” He reached down and grasped my shoulder. “Glad you’re safe.” But I noticed that his eyes didn’t light up with his face. They were hard as slate and withdrawn as though wrestling with the problem of my presence. He had a silk sweat rag knotted round his throat and his flying suit was un-zipped, making him appear more solid than ever. “Well, what happened? How did you get out?”

“I hitched a ride and walked the rest,” I said.

There was an awkward silence. He seemed to want to
 put a question, but his eyes slid to the others and he
remained silent I knew suddenly that he was nervous. I 
hadn’t thought of him as a man who could ever be
nervous, but as he lit a cigarette his hands were trembling.
 “You’ve heard the news, have you? About the engines, I
 mean. They’re proving even better than we expected — 
twenty per cent increase in power and a forty-five per
cent reduction in fuel consumption. They’re going to
 be —”

“Tubby is alive,” I said.

“Alive?” The echo of my statement was jerked out of
 him as though I’d hit him below the belt. Then he recovered himself. “Are you sure? You’re not —” He stopped, conscious of the silence of the others watching him. “Where is he?”

“In a farmhouse near Hollmind Airfield.”

“I see.” He took a long pull at his cigarette. The news had jolted him and I could see he didn’t know what to do about it. He glanced at Diana and then at the I.O. who drew him on one side. I saw the man’s lips frame the words “Russian report” and I could almost have laughed at the thought of an R.A.F. Intelligence Officer giving Saeton the details of what had happened to that plane when all the time it was sitting out there on the FASO apron unloading fuel.

At length Saeton said, “All right I’ll see if I can get some sense out of him. Mind if I talk to him alone?”

The I.O. agreed and led Diana away. Saeton came and stood over me. He was smiling. “For some reason the Russians have been very helpful,” he said. He was quite sure of himself again now. “You’ve heard about this report, have you? They say they found the remains of one of the crew.” I made no comment. His head was in silhouette against the light. It hung over me as it had done that first night at Membury. And he was smiling. “Well, how did you find him?” I told him about the search and when I had finished he said, “So he’s injured. Badly?”

“Broken arm and ribs and a pierced lung,” I said. “We’ve got to get him out. He needs hospital treatment.”

“And if he doesn’t get it?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “There’s a German doctor looking after him. But Tubby is pretty bad. I think he might die.”

“I see.” He ran his thumb along the blue line of his jaw. “What are you going to do about it?”

“I can’t do anything. That bloody little Intelligence Officer doesn’t believe me. I want you to tell them you believe what I’m saying — persuade them to give us a plane.”

“Us?” He gave a quick laugh.

“Tubby won’t talk,” I said quickly. “He promised me.”

“I’m on the very edge of success,” he said and I realized that he had room for nothing else in that queer, urgent mind of his.

“Yes, I heard about that,” I said. “Is it true officials are coming out from England?”

He nodded, his eyes lighting up. “Everything’s gone marvelously. First trip my flight engineer was staggered by the performance of the engines. Within twenty-four hours it was all over the mess at Wunstorf and R.A.F. engineers were flying the airlift with me, checking for themselves. Now the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Ministry of Supply are sending their experts out, including a boffin from Farnborough. By this afternoon —”

“What about Tubby?” I said. “You can’t abandon him. You’ve got to get him out.”

“You should have thought about him before you told me you were going to the authorities as soon as you got back here.”

“I won’t talk,” I said hastily. “Nor will Tubby.”

“It’s too late to say that now.” And then he added slowly, “As far as I’m concerned Tubby is dead.”

He said it without emotion and I stared up at him, seeing the hard line of his jaw, the cold slatiness of his eyes, unable to believe even then that he meant what he said.

“We’ve got to get him out,” I insisted.

He shrugged his shoulders. “You know damn’ well I can’t accept your story. It would be fatal.”

I didn’t believe him at first. “You can’t leave Tubby out there in the Russian Zone.”

“I’ll do nothing to betray the belief of the authorities in this Russian report,” was his reply.

The full horror of what he was saying dawned on me slowly. “You mean —” The words choked in my throat.

“I mean I’ll do nothing,” he said.

All right. If he was as cold-blooded as that… “Do you remember how you blackmailed me into stealing that plane?” I asked.

He nodded slowly, that cold smile back on his lips.

“Well, I’m going to blackmail you now,” I said. “Either you fly me into Hollmind tonight to pick up Tubby or I tell the I.O. here everything — how I pinched the plane, how I nearly killed Tubby, how you altered the numbers and we strewed the wreckage of our old Tudor through the Hollmind woods and how you set fire to the hangar at Membury so that there would be no trace.”

“You think he’d believe you?” There was almost a sneer in his voice.

“Get him out, Saeton,” I whispered urgently. “If you don’t, I’ll bust the whole game wide open. Understand?”

His eyes narrowed slightly. That was the only sign he gave that he took my threat seriously. “Don’t think I haven’t taken care of the possibility of your reaching Berlin,” he said quietly. He glanced round at Diana and the I.O. and then in a louder voice: “No wonder you get scared when it comes to jumping. You’re about the most imaginative flier I ever met.” He turned and nodded to the I.O. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I can’t get any sense out of him.” He drew the officer to one side. “I’m afraid he’s pretty bad. Concussion or something. He keeps on talking about pinching a plane and having a fight with Carter. I think he’s all mixed up in his mind with that escape he did from Germany in 1944.” They began whispering together and I heard the I.O. mention the word “psychiatrist.” Diana was staring at me dully, all hope gone from her eyes, her body slumped at the shoulders in an attitude of dejection. Saeton and the I.O. came back towards me and I heard Saeton saying, “… if we knew what happened when the plane crashed.”

“You know damn’ well it didn’t crash,” I jerked out. Sudden, overwhelming hatred of him swept me to my feet. “I know what it is. You want Tubby dead. You know damn’ well the credit for those engines is his. You want him dead.”

They stared at me like humans looking through bars at a caged animal. “I’ll get him away,” the I.O. whispered quickly to Saeton and Saeton nodded.

I turned to Diana then. She was the person I had to convince. She knew Saeton, knew the set-up — above all she was the only one of them that wanted to believe that Tubby was alive. “Diana, you must listen to me,” I implored her. “You’ve got to believe me. Tubby isn’t dead. I saw him yesterday afternoon.” My head was swimming and I pressed my hands to my temples. “No, it wasn’t yesterday. It was the day before. He was badly injured, but he could talk. I promised I’d come back for him. If you love him, Diana, you’ve got to help me. You’ve got to make the people here believe —”

A hand grasped my shoulder and spun me round. “Shut up!” Saeton’s face was thrust close to mine. “Shut up, do you hear? Tubby’s dead. You’re just saying this to cover yourself. Can’t you realize how Diana feels? Until you 
turned up there was a good chance he was alive. Every
body thought the body the Russians found in the plane
must be yours. You were the skipper. But you turn up. So
 it’s Tubby who is dead, and now you try to raise false
hopes in an effort to —”

I flung his hand off. “You devil!” I said. “You’re the
 cause of all this. It’s your fault he’s out there in the
 Russian Zone.” I turned to Diana. “The plane didn’t crash 
at all,” I cried. “I flew it back to Membury. Saeton forced 
me to do it. Tubby tried to prevent me. There was a
 struggle and —” I could see they didn’t believe me.

“Get him out of here,” I heard Saeton say. “Get him out before he drives Mrs. Carter crazy.” Hands closed on my arms and I was dragged across the room to the door. I screwed my head round and saw Saeton standing alone, his face gray and tired looking, and Diana was staring across at him, her lips trembling. Behind them the air crews stood in silence looking on. Then the door closed in my face and I was out in the gray dawn of Gatow Airfield with the roar of planes and the deliberate, operational movements of lorries and German labor teams.
I had a brief glimpse of the FASO apron, gleaming dully in its leaden mantel of slush. Close by a German labor team was hauling sacks of coal from the belly of a Dak and beyond it another Dak was swinging off the perimeter track and an R.A.F. corporal was signaling it into position. A lorry rolled past us to meet it. A sergeant of the R.A.F. Police had the ambulance doors open and I was bundled in. The Intelligence Officer climbed in beside me. The sergeant saluted stiffly and the doors closed, boxing us into a dark little world that shook with the roar of planes. A slight vibration of the stretcher bunk on which I had been sat told me the engine was running, and then we moved off, slithering on the wet surface as we swung round the fuel standing at Piccadilly Circus. “Where are we going?” I asked the I.O.

“Sick bay,” he answered. “I rang up Squadron Leader Gentry from the Malcolm Club. He’s the M.O. He’s expecting you.”

I was conscious of that sense of helplessness that comes to the individual when he is in the process of being absorbed into the machine of an organized unit. Once I was in the M.O.’s clutches anything could happen — they’d regard any request as prejudicial to the patient’s recovery. They might even drug me. “I want to see the station commander,” I said.

The intelligence officer didn’t answer. I repeated my request. “Take my advice, Fraser,” he said coldly. “See the M.O. first.”

I hesitated. Somehow his voice seemed to carry a note of warning. But I wasn’t thinking about myself. I was thinking about Tubby. “I’ve got to see the station commander,” I said.

“Well, you can’t. I’m taking you to the M.O. Put your request to him if you want to.” In the half-light I could see his eyes watching me. “I’m saying that for your own good.”

“For my own good?” His eyes had turned away as though breaking off the conversation. All I could see was the pale outiine of his face under the peaked cap. “I’m not worrying about myself,” I said. “It’s Carter I’m worried about.”

“I should have thought that was a waste of time now.”

The tone of his voice stung me. “Civil airlift pilots come under R.A.F. for administration and discipline, don’t they?” I asked. The outline of his head nodded slowly. “Very well, then. Take me to the station commander’s office. That’s a formal request.”

His eyes were back on my face again now. “Have it your own way,” he said. “But if you’re fit enough to see the station commander, you’re fit enough to see Squadron Leader Pierce, R.A.F. Police.” He turned and tapped, on the partition separating us from the driver. A small hatch slid back. “Terminal building first,” he ordered the driver.

“What did you mean about R.A.F. Police?” I asked.

“Pierce is very anxious to see you. Some question of an identity check.”

Identity check! “What do you mean?” For a moment the thought of Tubby was thrust out of my mind. Identity check! Had Saeton talked about me? Was that what he meant when he had said he had taken care of the possibility of my reaching Berlin? Was this his attempt to discredit me? “Whose instructions is he acting on?” I asked.

“I know nothing about it,” the I.O. answered in that same cold, deliberate voice.

Before I could question him further the ambulance had stopped and we were getting out. The terminal building was a lifeless hulk of concrete in the cloud-skimmed dawn. The tall windows of the control tower looked with dead eyes upon the runway where a single Tudor was lining up for take-off. There was no outward sign that this was the hub and heart of the world’s busiest air traffic center; beyond it the wings of a Dak widened against the dull cloud-scape over Berlin as it dropped towards the runway like a toy pulled by an unseen string. As we went through the swing doors the Tudor took off with a roar that split the dawn-cold stillness.

The I.O. took me up to the first floor. Little placards stood out from the doors of wood-partitioned offices; Flight Lieutenant Symes, Intelligence Officer — white on blue next to Public Relations. The I.O. pushed open the door. “Wait here, will you, Fraser. I’ll go down and see if the station commander has come in yet. He usually shows up about this time. Likes to have a look around before breakfast.” He turned to the medical orderly. “You wait here with Mr. Fraser, corporal.” He glanced at me quickly, but his eyes slid away from mine and I went into his office, wondering whether he thought I was going to try and escape. The corporal shut the door as I stood there listening to the I.O.’s footsteps fading down the wide corridor.

The office was a big one with two windows looking out across the standing and the hangars to the FASO apron still barely visible in the reluctant daylight of that bleak January morning. The arc lamps had been switched off, but runway and perimeter lights still burned, a complicated network of yellow and purple. The Dak was landing now and another Tudor was moving up the perimeter tracks towards the control tower. I could almost hear the pilot calling his number over the R/T, requesting permission from Traffic Control to taxi, and I wondered whether it was Saeton. Beyond the hangars lorries moved in a steady stream from the off-loading platform, moving slowly and positively towards Berlin with their loads of Ruhr coal.


I turned. The door behind me had opened and the I.O. was standing there, holding it open for a short, burly man in a wing commander’s uniform. “This is the station commander,” the I.O. said, closing the door and switching on the light.

“Sit down, Fraser.” The station commander nodded to a chair. “Glad you got back all right. But I’m sorry about Carter.” His voice was quiet, impersonal. He placed his cap on the top of a steel filing cabinet and seated himself at the desk. In the naked lights I saw that the beaverboard walls of the office were covered with maps and charts, a kaleidoscope of color — Russian tanks, Russian planes, survey maps of Berlin, Germany with the air corridors marked in white tape, a huge map of the British Zone dotted with flags bearing squadron numbers and a smaller map of Eastern Germany covered with chinograph on which had been scribbled in different colors the numbers of Russian units. The whole room was a litter of secret and semi-secret information, most of it relating one way and another to the Russians. “Understand you wanted to see me?” The slight rise of inflection in the station commander’s voice at the end of the sentence was, I knew, my cue. But I hesitated, reluctant to commit myself to a line of approach. “Well?”

I gripped hold of the wooden arms of the chair. The walls of the room were beginning to move again. It seemed very hot in there and the lights were blinding. “I want a plane, sir. Tonight. Carter’s alive and I’ve got to get him out. We can land at Hollmind. He’s at a farm about three miles from the airfield.” The words came out in a rush, tumbling incoherently over each other, not a bit as I had intended. “It would only take a couple of hours. The airfield’s quite deserted and the runway is sound.”

“How do you know?”

I stared at him. It sounded like a trap, the way he barked the question at me. His face kept blurring so that 1 couldn’t see his expression. “How do I know?” I moved my fingers back and forth along the dirt-caked lines of my forehead. “I just know,” I heard myself mumble. “I just know. That’s all.” I straightened my body up. “Will you let me have a plane, sir — tonight?”

The door behind me opened and a squadron leader came over to the desk, a thin file in his hand. “Here’s the report you wanted, sir.” The man’s eyes glanced curiously in my direction. “I’ve rung for the M.O. and Pierce is in my office now. Shall I let him come up?” The station commander glanced quickly across at me and then nodded. “All right. Any further news about that threat of ack-ack practice in the exit corridor?”

“No more than we know already, sir. Air Safety Center have lodged protests, but as far as we’re concerned at the moment the Russians will be firing to 20,000 feet in the exit corridor. I don’t think we’re going to give way.”

“I should damn well hope not. They’re just bluffing. They know what it means if they start shooting our boys down.” He gave a long sigh. “All right, Freddie. But let me know as soon as you get any news.” The door closed and the station commander stared for a moment out through the windows to where another freighter was thundering down the runway. He watched it rise, watched it until it disappeared into the low cloud, a small speck carrying an air crew of four headed for base through the exit corridor. His eyes switched slowly to me. “Where were we? Oh, yes. You claim Carter is alive.” He picked up the file his adjutant had brought in, opened it and handed me a slip of paper. “Read that, Fraser. It’s the Russian report on your aircraft.”

I took it and held it in my hands, the print blurring into solid, straight lines. I let my hand drop, not bothering to go through it. “I know about this,” I said. “It’s completely phony. It didn’t dive into the ground. And they didn’t find the charred remains of a body. They don’t know anything about the plane — they’re just guessing. The wreckage is strewn for miles around.”

“How do you mean?” The station commander’s voice was sharp and practical.

I pressed my fingers to my temples. How was I going to make them understand what had really happened. It was quite clear to me — ordinary and straightforward. But as soon as I tried to put it into words I knew it would sound fantastic.

“I think we’d better do it by questions, sir.” The I.O.’s voice seemed oddly remote, yet it rattled in my ears like the sharp, dry sound of a porcupine’s quills. “He’s just about dead beat.”

“All right, Symes. Go ahead.”

I wanted to tell the station commander to let me tell it in my own way, but before I could say anything the I.O.’s sharp, insistent voice was saying, “You claim Carter is alive, that he’s lying injured at a farmhouse near Hollmind. Hollmind is thirty miles from the point where Westrop and Field jumped. That’s almost ten minutes’ flying time. What happened in those ten minutes? Didn’t Carter jump with the others?”


“He stayed in the plane with you?”

“Yes. He knew I didn’t like jumping —” I was deter
mined now that they should have every detail of the thing.

If I told them everything, kept nothing back, they must
 believe me. “We had to jump once before at Membury,
when the undercarriage of Saeton’s Tudor jammed; that’s 
how he knew I was scared. He came back to see me out
Then I got the engines going and started to fly to Membury. He got angry then and —”

“You mean Gatow, don’t you?”

“No, Membury.” I stared at him, trying to force him to understand that I meant Membury. “I was taking the Tudor back to Membury. That’s why I took the job with Harcourt. It was all planned. I was to steal a plane from the airlift and —” My voice trailed away as I saw the look of bewilderment on the station commander’s face. If only they’d let me tell it my own way.



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”


Serial Fiction