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Authors: Robert Hart Davis

The World's End Affair

BOOK: The World's End Affair
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The World's End Affair

 

By Robert Hart Davis

 

May 1966

Volume 1, Number 4

 

Prologue: "Who Turned Off the Sky?"

Act I: Green Is the Color of a Deadly Place

Act II: World's End This Way, Two Miles

Act III: So Sorry, Mark Twain

Act IV: "It Never Rains But It Pours…"

 

 

 

Prologue: "Who Turned Off the Sky?"

 

IT WAS A splendid way to end a dangerous mission. Splendid, at least, until the jarring moment when some madman or other repealed the laws of nature. But until that moment, it was a splendid way:

 

First-class compartment seating. The porcelain-smile attentions of three fetching stewardesses. Iced champagne at 35,000 feet. The day was clear. The sun had a sharp crystalline brightness. It blazed in a serene, cloudless sky, and glared blindingly from the silver hide of the great jet engines of the commercial airliner.

 

Far below, the South China Sea glowed like a fine old painting. Mr. Napoleon Solo studied it, trying to recall what the pilot had just said over the speaker system about their ETA Hong Kong.

 

Solo was dressed in his usual dapper style. Except for the pieces of sticking plaster on his chin and neck, there was no evidence that he had been down on all fours the night before, fighting for his life against a pack of THRUSH uglies in a foul Bangkok slum.

 

One of the girls hovered, for a second time in sixty seconds. "More champagne, yes?"

 

"Yes," said Illya Kuryakin from the aisle seat next to Solo. He held up his glass, smiling.

 

"No," Solo said. His face was serious, but not his eyes.

 

"Come now, Napoleon. We're entitled to a bit of celebration. With that Bangkok cell -" Illya made an expressive gesture, which effectively transmitted the idea: dead and buried.

 

Solo smiled at the stewardess. "I just don't want to cost these sweet young ladies their jobs. I don't know what it is about you, Illya, but you do draw them."

 

The stewardess stared straight into Solo's eyes, rapt. "Yes. Oh, yes."

 

"I happen to be very thirsty," said Illya.

 

"All right," said Solo. "Fill us up, dear. But fast, before the other passengers notice."

 

He passed his glass. Immediately, several people who had been craning around to see who was getting all the attention buzzed their service buzzers. The stewardess fled as the great Air Pan-Asia jet hummed down the sky toward Hong Kong.

 

Solo sighed, content. "You know, Illya, l was just thinking. This is a splendid way to end an exciting -"

 

Up at the front of the compartment a lady screamed. The cockpit door thudded open.

Simultaneously there was an explosion, like a muffled gunshot. A man cried out.

 

The entrance to the sacrosanct cockpit was a confusion of blue-uniformed arms and legs. Solo's midsection chilled. He slipped his right hand beneath his faultlessly cut jacket. THRUSH had attacked in stranger places.

 

But even as Solo tried to untangle the visual pretzel-puzzle of struggling men in the cockpit entrance, he was bothered by the realization that THRUSH would hardly launch an attack with this sort of fanfare –

 

Abruptly a man came hurtling out of the tangle at the cockpit entrance. His mouth hung open. His eyes were large, round, brown. His black hair and his airline uniform were mussed. He was an Indian or a Thai, Solo judged.

 

Illya tensed forward on his seat, his hand now buried in his coat too. The flight officer stared, baffled, blank-faced, out over the passengers. Then his left hand flew out. He caught the curtain which screened off one of the lavatory doors.

 

It was not enough support. Down he went, twisting slowly. A dreadful silence had fallen over the compartment.

 

As the flight officer twisted around, the back of his shirt became visible. A wet, spreading color swatch stained it.

 

"Shot in the back," Illya breathed. The cockpit door slammed and latched loudly.

 

For a moment more the stunning effect of what had happened gripped the compartment. A stewardess from the rear economy compartment came running up. Two of the forward compartment girls were on their knees in the aisle beside the gunshot man.

 

The new stewardess ran halfway to them, saw what had happened, and fainted on top of a passenger.

 

"That helps a ton," Solo said grimly. "Illya?"

 

The slightly-built, pensive-faced UNCLE agent needed no further suggestion. Illya moved from his seat and started down the aisle. Napoleon Solo came right behind him. All at once the starboard wing of the giant jet dipped toward the South China Sea.

 

The Air Pan-Asia plane went into a sharp banking turn. Solo and Illya steadied themselves on the headrests of two seats.

 

"Changing course," Solo said. "Very fast – probably without authorization."

 

"An air kidnapping," Illya whispered. "It has happened before."

 

One of the girls kneeling beside the wounded man was going into hysterics. "Help me get her out of the way," Solo said over his shoulder to Illya. The younger agent picked up the girl bodily, deposited her on the lap of a stout, middle-aged Japanese woman who was blinking rapidly as tears of terror streamed down her cheeks.

 

"Help her," Illya said to the Japanese woman. "Keep busy. You won't worry so much."

 

Napoleon Solo was already kneeling next to the semi-conscious flight officer. The man lay on his side in the plushly carpeted aisle. He gripped the leg of the passenger seat nearest him. Solo glanced over at the other stewardess.

 

She was the one who had intended to serve them the fresh champagne. Thank God she was able to control herself. Her pretty Eurasian face had whitened and her hands shook, but she had a grip on herself.

 

"Who is this?" Solo asked. "The pilot?"

 

"No. Mr. Han, the co-pilot," the stewardess said.

 

Solo gently probed the man's shoulder. "Mr. Han? We'll try to get this plane back on course and get you medical attention." Han signified that he heard.

 

Illya crouched down. "Judging from the location of the bloodstain, the bullet might not necessarily be fatal. Loss of blood, however - that is another matter."

 

What happened up front?" Solo asked. "Han? Can you answer?"

 

"They - without warning - turned on me," Mr. Han breathed. "Men I have known for several years. They had - guns. Without any warning. I asked Captain Loo what was the curious - money belt affair which I saw beneath his flight jacket when - he opened the jacket. They stared at me. I knew something was peculiar - asked again. I reached for the belt, only - only curious - and they had guns -" The co-pilot's shoulders jerked as a spasm wrenched him.

 

"Both of them with guns?" Solo said. Co-pilot Han barely nodded. Napoleon Solo glanced once at Illya. The young agent with the mild face and bowl-like haircut pulled his flat black and deadly looking U.N.C.L.E. pistol from the concealed holster under his jacket. Solo did likewise.

 

"It's probably locked," Solo said, rising slowly. All at once he was moving, stepping across the wounded man. He jammed his shoulder against the cockpit door and

wrenched the handle with his free hand.

 

From inside the cockpit came a low, nasty crack. Solo threw himself back flat against the lavatory wall. Directly next to where he had been standing, the cockpit door showed a small round bullet hole.

 

Solo whipped his head around. The passengers were crying out, weeping, hugging one another. Solo saw nobody with a wound. Had the bullet damaged the pressurization system? What were the damned fools in the cockpit up to?

 

"Well," he said to Illya. "We know one thing."

 

"Yes?"

 

Solo grimaced. "The door's locked."

 

At precisely that second, the new madness began.

 

The interior of the aircraft grew gloomy, as though a curtain had descended. The transformation was instantaneous, from the sun-sparkling brightness of day to murk.

The giant jet gave a lurch, another. The windows streamed with rain.

 

A bluish flare lit the interior. This was followed by the most shattering drum-roll of thunder Napoleon Solo had ever heard. The plane seemed to rocket upward, then drop sickeningly. Passengers rolled in their seats, side to side.

 

"Where did that come from?" Illya said. "Didn't" the pilot announce -?"

 

Solo barked. "Yes. Just before this all started, he announced perfect weather in every quarter of the sky. Not a cloud. Perfect weather." The faces of both men were drawn. Solo expressed it for both of them: "I've never known a pilot to fly into a storm deliberately."

 

"Unless he wanted to destroy an aircraft," said Illya.

 

"Maybe. But I've never seen a storm like this, either."

 

Solo stared past the terrified passengers. There was little to be seen. Great dark clouds boiled past. Another lighting bolt flared. The entire starboard wing seemed to glitter and dance with eerie radiance. The big aircraft shuddered. Thunder pealed.

 

The stewardess who had been kneeling beside the wounded co-pilot had enough presence of mind to find an emergency control of the compartment lights. She turned it on. The lights flickered briefly. There was a whine, a smell of ozone. Another loud thunderclap

rocked the aircraft. The lights went out.

 

Even the relatively calm stewardess began to show signs of breaking. She gripped Solo's arm.

 

"I don't know who you are, carrying those –" The girl's trembling hand indicated the long-barreled weapons the U.N.C.L.E. agents were holding close to their bodies. "- but if you can use them. Do something about those insane men in the cockpit. I tried to call the cockpit from the galley intercom. They have cut off communication."

 

"And they're apparently set on sending this plane down," Solo said.

 

"It can't take much more of this," Illya said.

 

Napoleon Solo sensed this was true, felt it with each great heaving of the great jet. The wings groaned. The compartment ceiling creaked. The ozone smell was increasing as the ventilation system failed. A seam slowly widened in the compartment ceiling, suddenly buckled open for a good eight inches of its length. Up above the paneling there was a display of blue, shooting sparks.

 

"Are we in a typhoon?" Solo asked the stewardess.

 

"Wrong season. And such violence at this height? I've never known it -"

 

"There's something diabolical about it."

 

Solo's head banged against the lavatory wall as the plane gave another sickening buck-and-drop. "The storm came up too fast, all too fast. Almost as though somebody threw a switch -"

 

The moment the words were out of his mouth he felt foolish. It was impossible to control weather that way.

 

An ill-defined, crawling sensation gripped him. Illya's fingers on his arm pulled him back to reality. Already the jet engines had acquired an odd, low-pitched sound, full of ominous groanings.

 

"Napoleon," Illya said, "we hardly have time to stand around beating our gums. There are two men in that cockpit intent on destroying this plane in this storm, whatever the motive. I suggest we suspend meteorological discussion and do something."

 

Solo said, "Right." He bent down, tapped the heel of his left shoe.

 

Its surface slid partially aside. He palmed a small, dough-gray pellet. He kicked his heel on the rug to re-seal the closure. Then, ducking low, he headed into the narrow aisle leading to the cockpit door.

 

He could hear nothing from the other side of the door. The roar of the storm, the sound of the aircraft shaking itself apart were too deafening. He jammed the doughy pellet against the cockpit door and leaped back, shoving the stewardess to one side.

 

Illya had already jumped the other way, gun up, ready. He and Solo had worked together long enough to need next to no communication in times like this.

 

With a boom louder than the thunderclaps the door blasted off its hinges. Acrid smoke billowed into the compartment. Solo barked, "Now!" He and Illya jammed into the narrow aisle and went through the smoke into the cockpit.

 

 

Act I: Green Is The Color Of A Deadly Place

 

 

The Cockpit of the Air Pan-Asia jet afforded little room for maneuvering. Napoleon Solo lunged through the smoke and found himself practically up against the pilot's chair.

BOOK: The World's End Affair
13.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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