Chapter One       Chapter Two

Chapter Three       Chapter Four       Chapter Five

Chapter 2

BATTLE OVER THE ATLANTIC

GAZING ahead, Macklin and Hilliard and I stood together in the bridge-room of our cruiser.The squadron which we headed was at the lead of one of our fleet’s great columns. Far behind us stretched its ships, flashing forward at uniform speed.Then from the distance-phone before us came the First Air Chief ’s voice. “Squadrons 1 to 6 take up scouting positions!” he ordered.

Instantly the first six squadrons of the two columns, our own one of the first, leapt forward and out from the two great lines of the main fleet. Our own and another squadron moved straight ahead, past the silver-striped flagship of the First Air Chief, until our two hundred ships had spread out into a great, thin fringe that was flying forward miles before the main body of our fleet. Two of the other four squadrons drove to right and left of the fleet, spreading there in the same way, the remaining two taking up positions high above and far beneath our two great columns. Thus, with its great lines of scouts fringing it and protecting it from surprise on all sides, our great fleet drove on toward the east over the gray and endless plain of the Atlantic, holding atYarnall’s orders a speed of eight hundred miles an hour.

The crimson descending sun flaming in the heavens behind us, the great gray ocean stretching endlessly beneath us, we rushed on through empty sea and sky. By then Hilliard had gone down to take up his position with the crew beneath, but Macklin and I still stared into the great empty vista before us.With the drone of our great motors and those of the scouts flying beside us, we seemed like a great flight of bees. Beneath there was no sound now from the crew, a silence that told of the tenseless, of expectancy. But still before us was no sign of the great fleet that we had come out to meet, and almost it seemed that in spite of our certain information as to its course we had missed it, since already we were some hundreds of miles out to sea.Then suddenly, as I gazed ahead, I caught my breath, and the next moment had turned swiftly to the distance-phone.

“Squadron 1 reporting,” I said rapidly. “The scouts of the European Federation fleet are in sight and are heading toward us!”

For there ahead a great line of dark dots had appeared suddenly in the empty sky, a great fringe of dark dots that were rushing toward us and that were becoming quickly larger! With each moment that they raced toward us they became larger, until they had come plain to our eyes as long torpedo-shaped cruisers like our own.They differed from our own only in that their bridge-rooms, instead of being raised like our own, were sunk flush with their upper-surfaces, only their transparent forward-windows showing.They were the scouts of the European fleet, and at the same time I saw them they must have seen us, for they changed their course slightly. So racing straight toward us were five hundred cruisers opposing the two hundred of our far-flung line. On and on they came, and I saw momentarily far behind them a great cloud of other cruisers, the mighty main body of the European fleet. I shouted the information into the distance-phone.Then the next moment the speeding line of cruisers before us had rushed straight into our own onrushing line!

The next moment all the air about us seemed filled with whirling, striking cruisers, as the two scouting lines met and crashed. In that first moment a score of our cruisers crumpled and collapsed in headlong collisions with European cruisers.And then as Macklin threw the wheel up at my hoarse cry, our own ship heeled over with sickening speed to avoid two European cruisers hurtling straight toward us.Then as we rushed by them there came the swift sharp detonations of their great heat-guns and a storm of shining cylindrical heat-shells rushed from them toward us.At that moment Macklin swung our cruiser back upward and over the two rushing European ships, and as there came a word from Hilliard to the crew, our own keel heat-guns rained down a score of heat-shells upon the two ships. One of those ships the heat-shells missed, but the other was struck squarely by three of them.

Instantly there was a blinding flare of white light as the striking heat-shells burst, releasing upon the luckless European ship all the terrific heat contained within them, the vast vibrations of radiant heat. For this was the most deadly weapon of modern air-warfare, these shining shells in which, by special processes, the vibrations of intense radiant heat could be concentrated. And as those shells struck and burst upon the luckless ship below we saw the ship hang motionless for a moment in the midst of that blinding flare, its metal sides glowing and fusing.Then we saw it plunge downward like a great meteor toward the gray Atlantic!

But now our own cruisers were whirling up and backward, back toward the struggling ships that hung now in a mighty, struggling line. Like swooping hawks our own craft flashed, diving down upon that battling line with bow and keel guns raining heat-shells upon the European ships below, racing down at a giddy angle into that wild mêlée of struggling ships and heat-shells that the combat there had become. So wild and fierce had been the combat in the few moments since we had met the European scouts that already scores of ships had plunged down in white-hot destruction toward the ocean. But we had, I saw, well accounted for ourselves in those moments, since almost twice as many of the European cruisers had fallen as our own, and they seemed staggered.Then as our ships leapt like angry birds of prey after them, there came a quick order from the distance-phone that abruptly halted us.

“Main body of European forces approaching! All front and side scout-squadrons rejoin our fleet!”

 

TRAPPED!

INSTANTLY Macklin whirled our cruiser again up and back, and as the rest of our scout squadrons turned and leaped back through the air after us, we saw that the battered European scoutlines were receding also, racing back toward their own main fleet. That mighty fleet was in full sight to the eastward now, its five thousand great cruisers advancing majestically toward us in the familiar battle-formation of the European Federation—a great ring or hollow circle of ships. On they came, the scouts taking their place within that circle with the rest. Then we, too, had fallen back into place at the head of our own two great columns, the silver-striped flagship of the First Air Chief before us, and slowly now, with ten miles more of clear air between them, the two giant armadas were advancing toward each other.

Standing there with Macklin, heart pounding, I gazed watchfully ahead as our fleet and the European one swept nearer toward each other. We came each withholding our fire for the moment, since the heat-guns have but a short effective range. Although outnumbered two to one, we were moving steadily toward the oncoming giant circle of the enemy.Then suddenly the ships of the great European fleet, still holding its circular formation, had leapt steeply upward with sudden tremendous speed, to slant above us!

As they did so, a quick order rang from the distance-phone and the two great columns of our fleet had leapt upward also, up to the level of the other until a split-second more would have seen us crashing headlong into that oncoming circular fleet. I saw the air before me filled with gleaming ships rushing lightning-like towards us, heard another order ring out, and then Macklin had swung our cruiser to the right and our whole great fleet had divided, one column flashing like light to the right of the oncoming European fleet and the other column to the left of it. Before they could change formation or slant down to escape that swift maneuver of ours, we were flashing past them on both sides, and then to right and left of them our heat-guns were thundering and loosing a storm of swift heat-shells.

As those shells struck, as our passing column loosed a hail of them upon the European cruisers, the air about us seemed filled completely with blinding bursts of light and heat. Scores, hundreds, of the enemy ships were withered by that deadly fire from right and left, glowing and melting and plunging downward like chariots of white fire.

Surprised as they were by our swift maneuver comparatively few fired upon us as we raced past them, but even those few shells found their marks among the cruisers of our rushing column. Cruisers of my own squadron were struck and hanging there glowing and fusing from the terrific heat released upon them, unable to avoid the fast-speeding ships behind them which raced headlong into the white-hot wrecks. Then our columns were past them and as behind us their ships fell thick in white-hot melting ruin, I turned toward Macklin, exultant.

“We’re beating them!” I cried. “Another blow like that one and—”

A cry from the second officer cut me abruptly short, and quickly I gazed back to where he was pointing, toward the mighty ring of the European fleet. Our two columns had converged inward toward each other after that deadly blow, when the great ring-shaped formation of cruisers behind us had halted abruptly its own forward flight, and had shot back a great double file of its cruisers between our own two racing colunms! And then, before we could see and forestall its menace, before we had time to obey the swift command that the First Air Chief shouted from the distance-phone, that double tongue of ships had split, each line moving sidewise with terrific force and speed toward our own two lines, pressing them outward from each other, separating them, rolling them sidewise and backward in two great enveloping motions.

In that moment I felt our cruiser reel madly as a European cruiser shot against it, saw Macklin clinging madly to the wheel as I was thrown down and backward, while about us in that mad moment the heat-shells were speeding forth from ship to ship to burst in flaring destruction about us.Then as Macklin swung our cruiser up to a level keel, our heat-guns beneath detonating now as our gunners worked them like mad beings, we were fighting the remorseless lines of the enemy that swept us back and I was aware that our fleet’s two columns had been swept hopelessly apart, that our forces had been fatally divided and that each division of them was now completely encircled by the outnumbering masses of cruisers of the European fleet!

Cruisers on all sides of us now seemed to fill the air, enemy cruisers that tossed about us in a great sea of ships and that made our own ships the target now of their unceasing volleys. Our column, rolled together by that irresistible maneuver, had massed into a solid group, the silver-striped flagship of the First Air Chief just beside our own.The air around us was livid with flares of blinding light as the heat-shells broke and burst in unceasing destruction, as the thunder of our detonating guns seemed to drown all other sounds in the universe.

Not for long could we thus remain the target of these masses of cruisers that swarmed about and above and beneath us. Our other column had been swept back and that was surrounded by enemy cruisers and fighting desperately even as we were. Unless we could join them, and reunite our shattered fleet, we must inevitably be destroyed. At that moment the voice of the First Air Chief rang from the distance-phone before me in a high command.

“Triangle formation!” he shouted.“North at full speed!”

Instantly the ships behind and about us, reforming swiftly and smoothly even under the rain of shells shifted into a great wedge-shaped formation, a great triangle of solid ships whose apex was the First Air Chief ’s cruiser, and which pointed north, toward the other isolated and struggling half of our fleet.Then the next moment our great triangle had leaped forward straight toward the north at full speed, into the swarming masses of European ships that surrounded us. Our own cruiser hung just behind the First Air Chief ’s, just behind the triangle’s apex. Then with a terrific crash we had smashed into the solid wall of ships before us.

Our cruiser rocked and reeled beneath me as its sharp stern rammed at full speed into a European cruiser that had swung broadside in an attempt to escape us. Its side crumpled beneath that awful blow and I saw it reel back and downward, I felt other rending crashes that shook our ship wildly as our triangle crashed through the European fleet.Then suddenly we were through it, had smashed our way by sheer force through its sea of ships and had reached the second half of our fleet, joining with it once more. Scores, hundreds even, of our own cruisers and of the enemy’s were tumbling and twisting downward toward the sea, battered wrecks of metal that had been all but annihilated in our mad crash through the enemy armada!

Now swiftly our re-united fleet, still almost two thousand strong, were massing together in a single long rectangle, our flag-ship speeding to its head, and as we moved toward the scattered swarms of European ships about us, that numbered almost four thousand still, they had formed into a similar formation. Then as our own long rectangle or column rushed toward them they were racing sidewise at the same speed as ourselves, so that side by side now our two great fleets sped through the air, our heat-guns detonating again as we held still to the awful struggle. Our cruiser seemed to bear a charmed life, since as we drove headlong through that hail of shining death, behind the First Air Chief’s cruiser, we were sometimes missed by inches only. And now as Macklin, his eyes steady but burning, held our ship onward with those about us in this mad running fight of the two great fleets, I was aware that in that fight they were both slanting steadily downward, down toward the gray Atlantic far beneath!

Fleet hanging to fleet, the air between them thick with shining heat-shells, down we rushed until we were within yards and then feet of the ocean’s tossing surface! But, still firing at each other steadily, they were swooping downward still until we were plunging straight down into the ocean’s depths. For these great air-cruisers could move beneath water as well as through the air. Each opening in them sealed tight during flight, their air-supplies always automatically furnished by great tanks of liquid-air, their great tube-propellers sucking water through them at immense speed even as they did air, and hurling the cruiser on at a speed which while far less than that in the air was still great—with these features our cruisers were now down into the great waters of the Atlantic.

“Hold steady!” I cried to Macklin as we swooped downward, and the waters rushed up toward us.“Keep in line with the First Air Chief’s ship!”

I saw his hands clench upon the wheel, and then the waters were just beneath us, were rushing nearer and nearer, while even then our ships and those about us were loosing their heat-shells upon the European fleet whose great column was plunging downward like our own. Down—down—and then with a shock our cruiser had plunged into the great waters, had rushed beneath the waves, and instantly the light of sunset all about us had vanished, had given way to the green translucence of the waters. Through that green obscurity there shot yellow shafts of revealing light, the under-water searchlights in the walls of our cruiser which I had snapped on. From all the ships before and behind us came other brilliant shafts. Our great fleet still grappled with the European fleet rushing down to our right, our heat-guns loosing their deadly shells still through the green waters toward each other’s fleet! The great battle over the Atlantic was to be carried on in the great ocean’s very depths!

 

 To Be Continued . . .

 

Copyright © 1929 Stellar Publishing Corporation. Electronic edition Copyright © 2014 Haffner Press.