Lord Crosswhite checked the hose running from the observation balloon to the gas generator on the back of the truck beside it. He’d overfilled the generator’s feed hoppers with enough foul-smelling chemicals to get the balloon aloft without further attention, so he yanked the activation lever. The generator made a horrid sound, and then chugged away as it pumped hydrogen into the balloon. Crosswhite climbed into the basket, set down the sack holding the keris, and drew his revolver.
The Nazis did not disappoint. God knew they had heard the gas generator start often enough during the mapping of the city to know the sound, and a disorganized gang of them rounded a corner and charged the balloon. Crosswhite fired four rounds over their heads, and most of them stopped cold.
One did not. Cursing up a storm, he came to within ten feet of the basket before Crosswhite shot him twice in the chest. He keeled over, eyes wide and disbelieving, and Crosswhite opened his revolver, reloaded, then snapped it shut with a practiced flick of his wrist. The other Germans stared at him dumbly.
“Don’t just stand there, you imbeciles, get up the ridge!” Crosswhite said. “The balloon will barely lift even me, much less the lot of you. I shall send help once I have been rescued.” The Nazis didn’t move. “Go!” he shouted, pointing to the hillside, and finally they understood, running for their lives. Quite literally, in fact, Crosswhite thought.
Over his head, the balloon took shape, and the basket scraped over the ground before lifting off. He was fifteen feet in the air before he considered the implications of a lava flow coming near the flammable tether line of his hydrogen-filled balloon. He felt for his knife and cursed. He couldn’t remember having dropped it.
His eye settled on the sack in the bottom of the basket. Quickly, he unwrapped the keris, and leaning over the basket’s edge, sawed through the tether. At the same time, the gas fill hose popped free from its valve, flashing past in the corner of Crosswhite’s eye on its way to the ground.
The balloon had gained several hundred feet now, and Crosswhite could track the leading edge of the lava flow by the line of fires in the jungle upslope from the city. That blasted Cannon’s zeppelin winged away.
The keris, which to his surprise he’d been holding out over the side of the basket, wrenched violently in his grasp. He very nearly dropped it. The thing thrummed with a power beyond his ken, and he shuddered. He rewrapped it and dropped it into its sack, but he could still feel its presence.
After a moment, he snorted. He’d certainly seen eerier. No use getting himself worked up; it was, after all, only a paycheck.