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Operation Lorelie   By:

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[Illustration: Illustrator: Wm. Ashman]



It was a new time and a vast new war of complete and awful annihilation. Yet, some things never change, and, as in ancient times, Ulysses walked again brave and unconquerable and again, the sirens wove their deadly spell with a smile and a song.

They came like monsters, rather than men, into the vast ruin of what had once been a great city. They walked carefully, side by side, speaking to each other by radio as though they were in deep space rather than upon solid ground.

The winding way they followed through the ruins was marked by blurred footsteps in the dust and the two men, clumsy in their bulky suits, found the going difficult.

They stopped, and one of them held out an instrument. He studied the dial. "All clear," and both men removed their helmets. They wiped sweat from their faces and glanced at each other.

The blonde man said, "The air's okay, Jarvis. Everything seems all right. I don't get it."

Jarvis, his dark eyes wary, scowled as he looked about. "It seems all right. But we know it isn't. It can't be."

"I'm shucking this suit."

"Don't be a fool, Mark!"

"But the dial read clear , man! And we know nobody is going to shoot us. All life had to be wiped out."

"How about minor power installations?"

Jarvis took a chocolate bar from his pocket, sat down on a piece of broken rubble and began to eat. "You're too careless far too careless, Mark."

Mark laughed. "You've always been cautious enough for both of us. Got me out of plenty of scrapes back in school, too. Don't think I've forgotten." Affection warmed his blue eyes as they rested on the face of his friend.

"Okay! Okay! But what happened to them? Where did they go?" Jarvis took nervous bites from his second chocolate bar. Then he, too, peeled off his suit. He sniffed the air distrustfully, as he wiggled his shoulders to free them from the clinging, damp shirt. Then he took a few experimental steps forward.

"Seems all right, Mark. But how do you explain about Hank and Garland? Never were two more careful guys."

"Probably a simple miscalculation. Or an accident. We know it couldn't have been enemy action. Tests prove conclusively that we wiped them out to a man." He took deep gulps of air into his lungs, and stretched like a cat. "We'll find out soon enough. Boy, I feel great!"

They deflated and folded their safety suits and added the bundles to the other equipment on their backs. Then, with their instruments held before them, they probed their way into the twisted wreckage, still following the faint, dust filled footprints.

Bent and rusted girders rose on all sides like the bones of prehistoric monsters. Nothing stirred. The dust lay ages thick on everything.

"Gives you the spooks, doesn't it?" Jarvis was still tense, poised to respond to the first signal of danger. "Feels like we're the last men alive!"

"Funny about Hank and Garland. There's nothing here to harm anyone."

Jarvis looked at his watch. "Better contact HQ for instructions."

The two stepped off the path, into the shade of a grotesque chunk of broken masonry. Mark set up the radio and twirled the dials. "Team Four, calling HQ. Team Four, reporting!"

"HQ here." The voice from the radio blared loud in the stillness. "Give your report, Team Four."

"Looks like nothing's moved here in a thousand years. Safe as a baby's dream. Rock solid, air morning pure. But " He hesitated, trying not to sound like a scared school boy. "No sign of Team Three. Or of Teams One and Two, either. Over."

"Look here, Team Four. It's your job to find out. The earth didn't just swallow them. Final report from each team placed them well within the city. It's been ten days since the last contact. Probe every inch of the place."


"But be careful. We can't afford to lose any more men! Roger!"


There was only one way now ahead. It lay clearly marked. The dim footsteps never strayed or faltered... Continue reading book >>

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