Der Luftpirat und sein Lenkbares Luftschiff #1
"The Ruler of the Ocean of the Air"
Translated by Justin Gilbert
A Mysterious Craft
Way up in the sky over the richly blessed landscape of southern France hovered an enormous black sphere.
It was a balloon which, having ascended the night before, was about to start on a long endurance journey.
The balloon was of an extraordinary size and suspended beneath it was a basket, which was large and roomy and apparently equipped for a long trip. The two men in the basket seemed to be experienced aeronauts—this was apparent from the ease with which they breathed at this incredible altitude.
Suspended next to them were strangely shaped capsules with long hoses. These were oxygen containers which were intended to help them breathe if the thin air made them too uncomfortable.
Attached to the immense silk sphere which carried this basket was a strange contraption, a kind of sail, which could be manipulated by means of bamboo poles. This sail made it possible to maintain the desired heading even with unfavorable winds.
One of the men was advanced in years. The other was considerably younger and showed by his military bearing that he had to belong to the military profession. His sharp, piercing eyes were just then examining the instruments.
"We are traveling with the greatest velocity," he said to his companion. "If we continue like this, and if the wind keeps its direction, we will have beaten our competitors in just short while. I bet we have left the twelve balloons, which left Paris last night at the same time as us, far behind us. It is really helping us that we immediately ascended to this great height. The wind blows with greatest regularity up here, here we do not have to deal with all the different air currents which our friends have to contend with in lower regions."
It was still early in the morning. Even at this height the fiery ball of the sun was still seen on the horizon; in regions directly underneath the balloon it was still earliest dawn.
Suddenly the scene started to change.
Until recently the air had been clear and translucent, now it appeared to fill with a light fog. This was from the thin white clouds which float even at these heights and appear miraculously and with great suddenness.
Even so the direction of the wind remained the same, only the view was impaired through these clouds. The mighty balloon still moved on with great speed even though it seemed as if it was standing still.
But someone would only have to take a glance at the instruments in order to see that the giant silk sphere was traveling with the greatest velocity.
"This will be a glorious trip," the younger man shouted with great enthusiasm. "If we continue like this, we will cross the German border in an amazingly short time, we will land deep in the interior of Russia. This will be a trip such as has never been undertaken before, an endurance journey which will secure for us the word record."
The mighty balloon floated on; sometimes the clouds allowed a view into a great distance, then the clouds closed again so that it seemed to the aeronauts as if the balloon were floating through the middle of a milky lake.
Suddenly the older of the two men, who had just been watching the barometer, spun around and stared into the thickening white mass of the clouds.
"Look, there, there!" he shouted to his military companion. "Now it has disappeared—but there it is again! Don't you see that dark object over there in the clouds?"
"That must be one of the other balloons which have set out on the endurance journey," replied the surprised younger man. "Indeed, I would not have thought that we could be overtaken at our fabulous velocity."
"But take a look at it!" the older man started again, "This is no balloon, this is something else, the clouds are distorting it, but I bet my own head that this is not a craft like ours, there—now it is coming closer, just take a look!—"
The speaker stopped, but now the young man had also jumped up, and both of them tried to pierce with their gaze the masses of steam, for as such the clouds appeared at this altitude.
Yes, there it was approaching, something strange, something elongated. It was still not clearly visible, but there was no doubt that it was moving directly toward the balloon.
"They are moving directly into the wind," shouted the younger of the men, "there is something uncanny going on here! This has to have some special significance!"
"A steerable airship," replied the older aeronaut. "A vehicle, I can see it quite clearly. Now it is moving out of the clouds, it is still coming toward us. Indeed, this is a little strange."
The two men stared at each other. Then they looked at the instruments which indicated the altitude.
"Five thousand meters," said the older man, " a steerable aircraft at this height, that is impossible! The two craft which are kept in Paris could not possibly ascend to such a height, nor would they have any reason to. Nor is this the steerable airship of Santos-Dumont, nor even the second one, which the ingenious inventor has created, no, I know them well, and they are much smaller."
"But it has to be one of them." the younger men said with faltering voice. "The fog and cloud masses are making this strange craft appear larger."
But the other man shook his head, his expression was serious. No doubt, this man could barely contain his excitement.
"This is much, much larger, lieutenant," he said after a few moments' silence. "Depend on it. And it cannot be one of the steerables which are kept in Paris, because they are being repaired, they could not possibly have taken off."
"Could it possibly be a German craft?" asked the French officer, in whose eyes could be seen signs of anger and hostility. "The Germans are reported to have aircraft as well. It cannot be ruled out that they might undertake a journey into France."
"No, no, that is not the case," the other shouted, "The only one that could do this and that is as big as the strange vehicle that is approaching us has not left German soil, I am certain of this. And the other steerables are much smaller. No, my dear Lieutenant, we are looking at a strange craft and I have to admit that it is completely unknown to me. Indeed, if you weren't here with me, if you weren't speaking to me, I would have to believe that I am dreaming or that I have fallen victim to a fever attack. There, there it is! Now it is coming out of the clouds again. But look at it, this is positively uncanny!"
I huge object came shooting out of the white, billowing masses. It was moving directly into the wind, and a peculiar roaring sound could be heard, there definitely had to be machinery at work.
The two men in the gondola of the balloon had made many flights in the past. They had been up in the air during storms, they had crossed black cloud masses while there was lightning all around them and the thunder was terrible.
But never had they felt the kind of horror they felt now as the strange craft approached them with such unbelievable certainty. The force which drove it through the ocean of the air had to be extraordinary. The two men looked at each other as if they did not trust their senses.
"No, this is not one of the vehicles that are known to us," suddenly stammered the older man. "Just look, lieutenant, this aircraft is made of metal. There can be no doubt, this is an unusual metal, which has to be filled with an unbelievably light gas. And just look at the huge, sharp point at the front!"
"Just like the ram of a battle ship," replied the officer who was feeling his head and rubbing his eyes. Maybe he thought the strange image would suddenly disappear again.
But it was no mirage, the strange, giant airship came closer, they could hear the roar of the engines, the working of the propellers, but what was strange was that they could not see any people.
The airship was headed directly for the balloon and therefore it could only be observed from the front. But underneath, attached to the surface of the gray metal there were strangely shaped objects, they weren't baskets or gondolas, they were enclosed rooms, which could undoubtedly accommodate a large number of men.
Suddenly the craft reduced its speed, but it was still moving fast, they could see the immense ram, obviously made of metal, and now it was threatening them from close by.
"He is going to ram us," the officer shouted, "he wants to puncture our balloon."
They older man did not answer, he was grinding his teeth while he kept staring at the strange airship.
They could clearly see an attachment or extension underneath the object, they could see windows, but these were all shuttered.
Now the mysterious ship had approached to a distance of five hundred meters. Suddenly it turned, but now, to the great amazement of the aeronauts, it flew around the balloon in a giant circle.
Now it could be seen from the side, and the outline of the vehicle was clearly discernible through the billowing clouds.
In the middle there was a gallery that ran all the way around the craft, and underneath there were the three attachments, in the middle one of which the machines were working.
Six large, strangely shaped propeller wheels, which wire attached to the sides of the obviously metallic airship, were spinning. They could clearly hear their humming sound, and on top of the vehicle was something that looked like a look-out, and the astounded men saw that a thin, iron stair, or rather a set of ladders, led to this look-out and to the gallery.
A huge flagpole stuck out from the end of the mysterious craft and at the stern the mighty rudder could be seen.
But the flagpole carried no flag. As the strange ship approached the two lone men in the gondola were overcome by a horror such as they had never felt before in their lives.
Twice the vehicle circumnavigated the balloon while its occupants felt completely powerless.
They felt that they were completely at the mercy of the people who had to be in the enclosed cabins. One touch of the iron ram would be enough to tear the balloon to tatters and send the two men hurtling towards the ground as shapeless masses.
Now the unusual craft had flown around the balloon for the second time, when suddenly it came up from behind and hovered next to the balloon.
It was barely fifty meters away now, and this distance was decreasing with each second.
"We are gong to collide!" shouted the officer, instinctively reaching for his revolver, as if he were able to defend himself with this weapon against the occupants of the hostile vehicle.
But the collision did not occur, the craft seemed to be guided by some strange power. It was inching closer and closer, but a collision did not seem to be intended.
"There—there, a man!" shouted the older aeronaut. "Look at him, there, in the foremost cabin! Indeed, now this affair is getting downright frightening."
He was right, a kind of door had been pushed open, and now the figure of a man was standing on the gallery which connected the cabins with each other.
It was a tall, proud figure in the plain, dark blue uniform of a captain, on the dark brown hair was a cap with a gold band. He was standing on the gallery, which he must have stepped onto with lightning quickness, with his arms folded. But for some strange reason his face was covered, a domino mask of black silk allowed only the energetic mouth and the bearded chin to be seen.
But from the mask glared a pair of eyes, so awful, so glowing, that the two men in the gondola fell back bewildered.
Silently the man in the blue uniform was observing the gondola of the balloon from which he was now only twenty meters distant.
"Where do you come from?" he suddenly shouted with stentorian voice.
"From Paris," the older aeronaut replied mechanically.
"So, from Paris," they heard the caustic reply. "Well, then take a message back from me. Over there in the capital they are busy trying to conquer the ocean of the skies, building vehicles with which to dominate the aerial seas. But, tell these men, that I have become the master of the skies and that I intend to remain so. Tell them that they should not attempt to compete with me. This would prove their undoing. I am the ruler of the sky, I want to remain the ruler. I have been driven from the earth, have been declared an outlaw, like a wild animal I have been hunted to death, but up here I will tolerated no one else.
Give this message to those who are trying to accomplish that which I
have succeeded in doing a long time ago. And woe to them if they should
dare to cross my path up here! Woe to them, they shall get to know Captain
The Ruler of the Air
These last words sounded like thunder, but in the same instant the mysterious man disappeared again into the interior of the cabin, and they heard a sound, as if a trapdoor had fallen shut.
Immediately afterwards the giant airship changed its direction again and at the same time the two men covered their ears, appalled at the terrible sound which they heard.
This sound came from the vicinity of the iron ram, this had to be one of the so-called sirens, one of those giant fog horns with which ships signaled each other in fog. But this sound was completely different, it was so terrible, so penetrating, that the two men thought their eardrums would burst.
This sounded like a mysterious warning, as if the sinister masked man wanted to say, "Beware! Don't come too close to me, me, the owner of this strange aerial craft!"
For a second, a third time this awful sound resounded, then the two men reached for the valve lines with shaking hands.
They wanted to go downward, quickly downward, just away from this terrible proximity. The hissing gas escaped from the valves and the proud balloon, which until moments before had sailed along majestically, descended quickly through the mass of the clouds.
But the mysterious airship remained up there by itself way up above the clouds. For a moment it remained motionless, then the engines began to roar again, with fabulous rapidity the propellers started to spin, and then the remarkable craft shot away like an arrow.
It was headed northwest, as if it were gong straight to Paris. To the capital, in which bold, brilliant men were the first to construct aircraft.
But the balloon sank with great speed through the clouds and after just a short while it landed in the French countryside.
The people there were more than just a little amazed to see this giant balloon, for it was one of those designed for long journeys, one of those which are meant to cover immense distances. No one had an explanation for this premature landing, since the weather was so favorable.
People asked, if some disaster had struck, if the balloon had been damaged, but the two aeronauts were unwilling to give a straight answer.
They had only one thought, they wanted to return to Paris as quickly as possible and report their strange observation. They wanted to report exactly what it was that they had seen up there in the clouds.
The two men barely took the time to arrange for the recovery of the balloon. After they had given orders for the balloon to be packed and shipped back to Paris they made their way as quickly as possible to the nearest railway station. Soon they reached Paris, where their sudden appearance created the greatest surprise.
This surprise was mingled with anger, for many had placed bets on this balloon, many had been convinced that this mighty aircraft with its sail would defeat all the other competitors.
People reproached the aeronauts, they wanted to know why the balloon had broken off its trip. But their curiosity was not to be satisfied. Instead the two men rushed to the balloon depot which also contained military balloons and a few of the so-called steerable airships.
Here also the appearance of the two men created the greatest surprise and much shaking of heads. But this surprise was only increased when the two men reported their strange adventure to the committee, on which there were also a few military officers.
Silently their story was listened to. Then people started to exchange knowing glances and a look of incredulity could be seen on everyone's face.
"Gentlemen!" This was spoken by an old officer with silver hair. His military bearing could be seen at a hundred yards distance, and his button hole was decorated with the colored ribbons of many different orders. "Gentlemen, you have just told us a fairy tale, probably in order to explain the completely inexcusable interruption of your journey. But I really think you should have been able to come up with a better excuse. Both of you are experienced aeronauts. Don't take this personally, but I consider your story to be nothing but a fairy tale."
The young officer was about to make a heated reply, but he was held back by the older man.
"I have been an aeronaut for over fifteen years," he said not without some pride. "I have lost count of my flights, and no one has ever, in my entire life, accused me of being a liar. Even less am I, a serious scientist, capable of inventing fairy tales. I knew from the start that our report would be doubted. Still, it is the truth. I have made many dangerous trips in my time, but never in my life have I experienced such horror as I did this morning when we met the mysterious ship. I can't help it if you still consider out report a fairy tale. We have neither dreamed nor imagined it—we really met this mysterious craft, we have seen the masked man with our own eyes. People may call us liars now, but the future will show that we are telling the truth."
He hastily bowed toward the silent committee and then dragged the hot-blooded young officer with him. The latter only followed his friend reluctantly.
But the members of the committee remained behind, and there instantly ensued a heated discussion. Opinion was divided.
Some of the members took the part of the two aeronauts and claimed that these two serious men who lived only for their inventions and adventures were completely incapable of telling a falsehood.
But the other members shrugged their shoulders; there was a lively commotion until the Colonel, the head of the committee, demanded silence.
"Gentlemen," he said with this stentorian voice. "I have to admit that I may have been hasty with my reply when I first heard this story. Yes, I believe I may have even insulted these two esteemed members or our committee. Please forgive an old soldier, who was already fighting many a battle in 1870. I am a little rough around the edges, but I did not mean to offend anyone. I think it would be best if we observe silence regarding this affair. There is a strange affliction which is known as altitude sickness, and I believe that our two friends, for as such I consider them, saw things up there with their impaired senses which did not really exist. Hallucinations such as even the bravest heroes fall prey to sometimes. This is what I believe. But should I be wrong, should there really be a craft which surpasses everything which the human mind has dared imagine, then we will surely hear more about it. So for now I ask you gentlemen to remain silent on this subject, indeed, I order you to be silent. You know how quickly the superficial masses rush to judgment, and I do not want to expose our two friends to ridicule."
Everyone agreed with these words and as the gentlemen left they promised each other not to speak about what had happened.
But the very next day there was news which amazed them even more. Another one of the balloons entered in the competition had been forced to land near the French border because of faulty valves. The crew of this balloon returned to Paris the next day, and they, too, had stories about a strange occurrence.
They reported that at first light they had seen a long, gray object which was speeding along at great altitude and seemed to be moving directly into the wind.
The men had only had a fleeting glimpse of this strange object and since it moved very fast they assumed that it had to be a meteor which was passing through the earth's atmosphere.
Of course this explanation was not very plausible, for such an object would have had to glow. But then one of the men thought he had seen a bright glow, which disappeared again after a few moments.
"It was not glowing red," he reported, " but it glowed white, it almost looked like the beam of a searchlight, but it only lasted for a brief moment, then it was gone again."
The gentlemen of the committee exchanged puzzled looks, for now this matter was getting more and more mysterious. They no longer believed that they were dealing with a hallucination or a fairy tale. They were taken aback at the thought that there might be such a giant airship in existence.
But to which nation could it belong? Who had built this ship?
It could not come from Germany, or the papers would surely have carried stories about it. Nor from England, because even with all possible secrecy such an important invention could not have been kept hidden.
Other countries did not possess steerable airships, only America, the United States, was a possibility. Could it be possible that such a strange vehicle had been constructed there in all secrecy?--
But why was the man in the blue captain's uniform wearing a mask? Why did he call himself by the horrible name of Captain Mors? This name of death, why had he shouted the mysterious warning to the aeronauts? These were riddles upon riddles.
A few hours later secret inquiries were passed through diplomatic channels, mainly to the United States, transmissions were sent back and forth, but the answers did not solve the mystery. In the United States nothing was known about a steerable airship, and what experiments had been made there were still in their infancy.
So now people had to wait and see if the other balloonists would have anything to report.
They had to be patient, since the winds were favorable and the balloons would be carried over Germany to the cities of Russia.
A few landed in Hungary, but their crewmembers had seen nothing unusual. So now people had to wait for the return of the remaining balloonists. But due to the poor transportation in Russia they could not be expected to return for at least another week.
The committee was waiting for them with feverish excitement, and so were the two aeronauts who had had the mysterious encounter.
The latter had been mollified and had been convinced to keep their strange encounter a secret.
This was not hard to do. They were afraid of the ridicule and contempt to which they would expose themselves. They knew that their story would never be believed, that it would be considered a fairy tale, that they would be considered mad.
At last the hoped for news arrived, transmissions came in which the endurance balloonists reported their adventures.
Most of them had landed deep within Russia, and one of them barely missed landing in the Black Sea. Only one of them was still missing. This one appeared to have traveled the farthest.
The next day the telegraph machines were active. A transmission came from the most distant Russia, from the Ural Mountains, close to Asia's borders.
It was from the missing travelers, and when informed of this the committee made all haste to the telegraph office.
The wire seemed to be defective. The transmission continued for a long time, but with several interruptions of half an hour's duration.
First the aeronauts triumphantly proclaimed that they had certainly broken the world record. They said that they had started on their journey home.
The committee had already concluded that the transmission had ended, when the machine started ticking again.
"Well, I don't understand this at all," said the clerk in the telegraph office as he looked at the characters which the machine was printing on the paper ribbon. "This is meaningless nonsense, the wire in Russia must not be working right. Either that, or the telegraph operator is drunk."
"No, no," said the old man as he rushed to examine the message, "this is the cipher of our society. Let me have it, this is a special message."
The apparatus kept on ticking, the apparently meaningless words continued. Finally there was the signal which indicated the end of the transmission. Shaking his head, the clerk handed the strip of paper to the old man.
The old men left the telegraph office with obvious haste, followed by the other gentleman who crowded around him in the hallway.
"What does it mean?" several impatient voices demanded. "You have read the cipher? What is in the secret last part of the message?"
The old man had a serious expression.
"Gentlemen," he said softly. "We have wronged our two members who reported their strange adventure. This is the third confirmation that there really is such a strange craft. One moment, I will read it to you."
And with voice barely audible with excitement the old man read the significant words:
"Six hours before we landed we saw a strange aircraft which looked like it was speeding along at a great height. It was flying southeast, it was headed for he southern steppes of Russian, apparently in order to reach the Caucasus.
This craft was very strange, its appearance mystifying; we will give you further details in our oral report."
The old man folded the message.
"Here we are dealing with a profound secret," he said. "Here is a man in possession of a vehicle such as even the boldest flights of fancy would not have dreamed of. Gentlemen, let us hope that this mysterious masked man does not use his ingenious invention for evil purposes. If he did, it would be absolutely horrifying, I do not even want to think of the consequences. Let's be honest, gentlemen, the possession of such a craft makes its owner the master of half the world. There is no doubt, this mysterious masked man who calls himself Captain Mors is the ruler of the air!"
At the site of Former Bliss
The crew of the balloon which had covered many thousand kilometers before landing at the edge of Asia had also seen the wonderful airship.
Nor were they mistaken when they said that it had flown in the direction of the Caucasus. This was the direction the airship had taken, toward Georgia, toward the regions between the Caspian and the Black Sea.
It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining on a wonderful landscape, one could almost believe that this was the German Alps.
Coniferous trees covered the slopes of the mountains, here and there were meadows, and lower down in the valleys foamed crystal clear streams. Up high were mountains, the highest of which were covered with snow and ice, but there was not a human being to be seen in this glorious region.
It was as if this wonderful valley was shunned. There were only a few birds above the forest, carnivorous birds looking for prey.
Suddenly the birds paused in their regular flight. They flapped their wings and disappeared in the lower reaches of the canyons.
What was this disturbance which drove off these sailors of the sky? It must have been that gray, strange object which suddenly came shooting out from between the white tips of two sky-high mountains.
Like an arrow this strange phenomenon moved through the sky, but now it was turning, now it was flying through the air along the side of the mountain.
It moved above the pines and fir trees and now it approached the green meadows.
Yes, this was the strange airship which the Frenchmen had seen, the strange craft which had appeared so suddenly that people thought they were looking at a phantom.
Directly over a rocky plateau, over a clearing in the forest, it stopped. The propellers stopped turning, but a strange force seemed to hold it in place. It remained motionless, about twenty meters above the surface. Then a strange banging was heard, and a silk ladder fell to the ground.
This ladder had barely touched the ground when a man climbed out of the ship, the same man in the blue uniform, and even now he was wearing the mask.
He was followed by a second figure, which also presented a strange appearance. No, this was no son of the white race. The colorful clothing that covered the lithe, sinewy figure covered brown limbs. This young man had to have grown up under a tropical sun.
He followed the man in front of him with great agility. They quickly reached the ground one after the other.
This second man did not wear a mask. His young, brown face wore an unusual, dreamy expression, almost gentle, feminine. It was only when his eyes lit up that one could see that this man too must he possessed of an indomitable spirit.
He was a member of a noble people; the fine, aquiline nose, the regular features proved him to be from India. This young man who was standing humbly next to the masked man in the blue captain's uniform had to be a Hindu, the son of a nation ruled by the English.
Now he looked steadfastly at his noble companion, whose breast was shaken by sorrow. The portions of his face not covered by the mask were pale as death and a deep, hollow groan revealed that this man was struggling with the strongest emotion.
"Sahib," said the young Hindu gently in the mellifluous tones of his native tongue. "Sahib, why have you returned to this place? Oh master, don't you know that it is nothing but pain and suffering for you to come here, that it tears apart your heart? And yet you come to this place from time to time only to torture yourself."
"You are right, my faithful soul," was heard from the bearded lips of the masked man. "No agony of hell is as terrible as the pain I feel when I visit the place where I once thought that I had found the greatest bliss on earth. But I cannot help myself, I am driven back to this place. Maybe in time I will cease to think of the past as much as I do now. But even though I can fly to the ends of the sky, even though the whole earth, the whole universe are open to me, there is a sinister force that brings me back here again and again, to this place where I was once so happy. Come, I have to see the place again."
The masked man took off and made his way through the brush, pushing the branches to the side.
He was armed now. In his belt which girded his hips were two revolvers, ready to fire at an instant's notice. At his left side was a heavy, curved saber in a black scabbard, a weapon that could only be wielded by a very strong hand.
The Indian servant, for such he appeared to be, was also armed. The handles of silver pistols could be seen sticking out from his garments, and also one of those curious Indian swords whose handle was covered with jewels.
Through the pine forest they made their way. Sometimes they heard a rustling sound. Then they stopped, but it was always just a fox or some other wild animal that had been disturbed by them and was seeking safety in flight.
"Master," the Indian suddenly spoke. "Men shun this valley which is home only to animals. You will not find any strangers here."
"Nor would I recommend it," he grunted. "Woe to whoever dares to disturb the peace of the grave. I am no demon, no devil, but here I would destroy anyone who dares disturb the peace. But here we are, everything looks undisturbed."
He took off the hat with the gold band, the Indian servant crossed his arms in front of his chest and bowed deeply, as if he were paying obeisance to someone.
There was a clearing and in this clearing the ruins of buildings.
It seems there had once been a large farm here. Now only its foundations remained. Even these were starting to disappear under the encroaching vegetation.
A high wall which surrounded the property could still be seen, and within it the remains of buildings of various sizes. A terrible fire must have raged here, for its effects could still be seen even on the stones. Here and there were also remnants of burned wood beams.
The masked one surveyed all this with his burning gaze, then he directed his steps toward the edge of the forest.
There were three mounds there, but on top of these were large boulders, so large that it must have taken a number of strong men to roll them up there.
And again a deep groan escaped from the lips of the masked man. In front of the largest of the mounds he threw himself to the ground. And this man, who usually appeared like a piece of iron, was now completely broken and pressed his brow against the cold stone.
"Here they rest!" he groaned. "I had to pile up rocks in order to keep the wolves and bears from digging up the dead. I have fought of the rapacious beasts, but I cannot fight the memories. Again and again they return to torture me! Back then I fancied myself the happiest of men. But how long did it last? A few short years, then it was all over. Oh, the demons, the animals who destroyed my happiness. These wretches whom I will hunt all over this earth. The ones who ruined even me! They accomplished it that I was hunted like a common criminal. I, a man who in his entire life had no other object than to fight for human rights! I was a thorn in the side of these ruffians, but they knew how to get to me. Alas, I can still see it, the night when I returned and saw the fire from a distance, when I raced here like a maniac only to find the corpses of my loved ones. They had been murdered, murdered without mercy. Everything that was mine was destroyed and I, I was declared an outlaw, a criminal, a man to be executed by the hangman. They thought they had finished me, the villains who envied me for my bliss!"
"Compose yourself, master," said the Indian whose usually bright eyes were filled with tears. "You are making yourself miserable."
"No," said the man as he raised himself from the ground. "I can deal with it. They took everything from me, everything, they thought they had accomplished my ruin. But one thing they could not take from me—my genius and my knowledge. This they could not take. And this I have used to construct the vehicle with which I sail the oceans of the air. They have made it impossible for me to remain on earth, the villains. Well, now I am the ruler of the sky!"
Now the man had returned to his usual self. He gave one last look filled with awful pain to the mounds in which the dead were at rest, but then his eyes started to glow with a terrible fire. It was the fire if revenge.
"Yes, at these graves I have sworn," he continued. "Here I made a vow that I would exact vengeance. Vengeance against the knaves who dishonored me, who made me in the eyes of the world a criminal, vengeance against the destroyers of my happiness! This is my first task. But then there will be others. I will appear everywhere where there is injustice. I will appear everywhere, I, Captain Mors, like a bolt of lightning from the sky, I will appear with my wonderful craft which gives me power, I will appear as a terrible avenger. I will travel all over this earth, I will not die until my work is complete. I just had to visit the site of my bliss one more time. Now the time for vengeance is at hand."
He hastily turned around and placed his cap on the brown hair. With firm steps he left this settlement which was now shunned by all humans.
"Master, where do you want to seek for these wretches?" asked the Indian. "You don't even know where to find them. You did not even get a good look at the ones who ruined your happiness. Who knows what might have happened to them. They might have found a bitter end by now."
"No," shouted the masked man in terrible tones. "If that were the case, there would be no justice left in this world. I can feel it, I can still exact revenge. I shall seek them, I will find them. With my craft I can travel anywhere. Back to the airship which shall carry me from here like lightning, up into the highest reaches of the aerial ocean where no man has gone before. Into the unexplored reaches of this planet, and later, if my genius will make certain improvements, maybe into the universe, into the world of the stars. Nothing is impossible to me!"
With admiration the Indian looked upon the proud man who was now walking away with hasty steps. It was as if he was trying to escape from the place where he had once been so happy.
In a great hurry he rushed to the airship, followed by his companion.
They both climbed up, then there was the shrill sound of a bell, the rope
ladder disappeared, the machine roared, and proud as an eagle the steerable
airship rose toward the morning sun.
Slowly the sun was sinking in the west, and its rays were giving a golden hue to the mirror of the Black Sea.
The towers of the port of Odessa were sticking out of the haze. This was the city which played such a great role in the time of Russian unrest.
The sun was shining on the harbor and on the mighty breakwaters, everywhere were the masts of ships which had come into the harbor.
On the piers there were large crowds of people, workers, merchants, soldiers, there was a hustle and bustle such as can always be found in a port.
But still there was something strange about this crowd, everywhere you could see frightened faces. Especially the numerous Jews which could be found here showed a fear which they were trying to hide in vain.
There was something in the air, a kind of doom seemed to hover above this city which played such an important role in the history of the Russian unrest.
The sinister looking characters who appeared in the alleys from time to time cast suspicious glances around them. They disappeared if policemen of groups of soldiers were in sight, but reappeared afterwards. Then they whispered among each other, they made threatening grimaces and in many cases they threatened the frightened Jews with cudgels, upon which the Hebrews took flight.
But even in the harbor something seemed to be not quite right, because there were many people there looking out upon the mighty surface of the water. All of them were looking into the distance, as if they were expecting to see something unusual.
There was much whispering and mumbling, something seemed to be out of the ordinary, but what this was no one could tell. Maybe these curious people didn’t know themselves.
At last the bright red sun set, like an evil omen, and the crowd at the shore began to disperse, probably because the soldiers on patrol began to clear the harbor of this riffraff.
A few well-dressed and respectable looking gentlemen had already left the harbor earlier.
They stood at the pier and kept staring into the distance. Now they were leaving in a hurry, but not toward town. Instead they passed the Alexandrowsky Place and continued towards those park-like areas which are known as Datsches.
This is where the city's botanical gardens were, the cemeteries and also some barracks. But along the road which led through this park area there were a number of large villas.
Most of these had large yards, and they were separated from each other by the park.
The three men, who would have been taken for well-to-do citizens of Odessa, were headed for one of these villas.
They were all middle aged and as they entered the villa their faces, until recently harmless looking, changed expressions. Anyone looking into the eyes of these men would have been frightened of them.
In the villa itself there were people dressed as servants, but these servants addressed the three men with great familiarity.
These returned their greeting with equal familiarity. One of the three men said, "Well, what is it? Nothing to see yet?"
"No, nothing at all," grumbled one of the returning men. "There was no trace of any ship to be seen on the ocean. We are getting very worried. It is possible that everything went wrong, and then our operation would be impossible. Only with the help of these ships can we accomplish anything and realize our far-reaching plans."
"They'll get here, old man," the other replied confidently. "We are dealing with men of iron and steel. Maybe the time just isn't right yet. If any suspicion were created, half our plans would be ruined. The surprise has to be complete, then we will be masters of the Black Sea, then everyone else will be powerless, then we will be able to dictate our conditions, we will demand immense payments of all the ports and our ships will be loaded with treasure."
No doubt, there was a conspiracy being planned here. But the speaker stopped here, and with his two companions he ascended the stairs while the other men remained below.
"Shouldn't we post a lookout?" one of the pseudo servants asked the men as they were gong up the stairs.
"Not necessary," was the answer. "At midnight we will go onto the flat roof. And this night will be dark. Should any ships arrive, we will hear their signals, and will see the searchlights. Just post a guard to watch the street. If any policemen or soldiers should come, give the signal. We are not in a hurry, but we have to be prepared just in case."
A few minutes later the three men were in a room upstairs and locked the door behind them.
"What do you think?" asked one of them who seemed to have some authority. His companions called him Orloff. "Do you trust Matuschewsko, do you think he will be able to carry out his plans? What do you think, Gregor, Wassil, are you still convinced that I picked the right man to be in charge of the ships?"
"Yes, we are absolutely sure," replied Wassil, exchanging knowing looks with his companions. "Matuschewsko is the right man, he has energy and daring, he will seize any opportunity, he is wild as a tiger and will put everyone to the sword."
"Yes, he is wild," Orloff said, deep in thought. "Wild, like a wild beast. I would prefer if he were a little more deliberate. Then he could accomplish more."
"Why are you looking so gloomy?" Gregor demanded of the spooky looking Orloff who was staring into the corner absentmindedly.
"Oh, I was just thinking of the engineer," was the answer. "You know who I am talking about, that fool, the one of whom no one know where he came from. He once said he was a German-American, that his parents were German and that he had been born across the ocean. Possibly he was telling the truth. That was the kind of man, if he had agreed to our plans, with his help the world would have been ours. But this fool had moral hangups and when he found out what our plan was he rebuffed us. He threatened to expose our bold plans to the government."
"But he paid dearly for that," replied Wassil," it is just lucky that we never revealed ourselves to him, that we always were disguised when dealing with him. Otherwise we might be in Siberia by now, or we might have died at the hand of the executioner. He was skilled, though, you are not likely to find another like him. But when we discovered that he wanted nothing to do with our plans, when he demanded that we should give up our ideas which he called 'crimes,' that's when we got even with the fool. He thought he was at the height of his bliss. He had settled at the Caucasus, in Georgia, that's where he wanted to spread his crazy ideas of human rights. He was the kind of man to philosophize about such useless ideas. But we put him out of commission, we showed him what it means to insult us or even to threaten us. We set his property on fire and killed everything that was there. It was just bad luck that he wasn't at home at the time, otherwise his days would have been numbered as well. But even so we had our revenge. Through cleverness, subterfuge and forged papers we caused him to be denounced as the worst criminal, his wanted poster was everywhere, he was hunted like a wild animal. Who knows now, where he might have croaked. But it was too bad. He could accomplish the most amazing things. I was amazed one time when he showed me his plans and designs. It was just a brief look, but I saw some incredible things. I wonder what might have happened to his papers. I think he always carried them with him."
"Forget about that fool," shouted Orloff, "he is burning in hell by now. Now let's think about our plans, our great work which will make us masters of the Black Sea. Bring wine, we want to drink! That fog, that cold, wet air at the harbor left made us cold. At midnight we want to go up onto the flat roof."
Wine was brought and the conspirators, for that is what these men were, began to carouse.
Only when the clock proclaimed the hour of midnight did they rise, put on their coats and leave the room.
There was a flight of stairs leading to the flat roof. This was the kind of roof such as is found on many villas at the Black Sea. The roof itself was rather large and surrounded by a railing, and it also had a kind of garden. This roof afforded a magnificent view of the Black Sea, which was now covered by the shadow of night.
The gaze of the men was directed into the darkness.
They saw the signal lights of the harbor, the lights of Odessa, and also the smaller lights on the ships that were anchored in the harbor.
But on the ocean itself everything was black and dark.
"Just say it!" Gregor suddenly shouted. "It does not seem to have worked out. Maybe the impetuous Matuschewsko has spoiled everything. And we told him to be cautious, we reminded him not to rush anything. Hell and damnation, what if Matuschewsko blew his cover, or what if he got captured?"
"He won't betray us," said Orloff, "I am sure of it, he would let himself be cut to pieces first."
"Well, I wouldn't bet on it," remarked Wassil.
"Matuschewsko is not afraid of the naked steel, but he is afraid of the whip, and it they work him over with that, if they beat the skin of his back, then he might tell them everything. Hell, we have to be careful. Our lives aren't safe anymore."
Orloff had not been listening to the last words.
"Listen," he suddenly exclaimed. "Didn't you hear anything?"
The others said they hadn't.
"It seemed to me," said Orloff, "as if I had heard something, as if there was someone on the roof with us. It was a soft coughing and it was very close."
"Nonsense," Gregor growled. "that was just the wind."
"No, no, that was a really suspicious sound." Orloff said again. "It is so damn dark, but we have to take a look. Just think, what if someone had eavesdropped on us?"
"Quit imagining things," Gregor interrupted the conversation. "Who should have climbed up here? Only a bird could do that. The only way up here is through our room, and we locked the door to that."
But Orloff still wasn't satisfied and was just about to search the flat roof when he was distracted by a loud shout from Wassil.
"Look, look over there," yelled the conspirator. "Look over the ocean, there are the signals, it is them! Matuschewsko has done his job well. Now he is using he searchlights."
And he was right, for now bright flashes of light could be seen piercing the darkness above the ocean, flickering cones of light, gliding across the sky.
And these cones of light could only come from ships which were approaching from the distance.
In instant the conspirators had forgotten everything, they were no longer thinking of the suspicious sound, or of Orloff's strange remarks. They were dancing with joy on the flat roof and acting like maniacs.
Again and again the light from the searchlights could be seen, and this had to come from approaching ships.
"Down, down," Orloff suddenly shouted. "Quickly to the harbor, we have to meet them and give signals. Tomorrow morning we rule Odessa."
In a hurry the three men rushed down the stairs, the trap door fell shut behind them.
On top of the roof it was quiet, but someone was moving about, someone who had been eavesdropping. Behind the orange trees was a dark figure which cold barely be seen.
Again there was the soft coughing that Orloff had heard, and also some whispering.
"It was them, they were the ones," it sounded in strange tones. "I recognized them by their voices, the wretches, who once made me the most miserable of men. But there are more of them, not all of them met here on the roof. There are more of these ruffians and I will neither quit nor rest until I have brought these villains to justice. They are planning the most despicable betrayal, an insurrection, they are planning to murder and rob, but I will destroy these devious plans, I will rid the world of these wretches. I must have them, the ones who destroyed my bliss. I will judge them, and a terrible judge I will be. Cruel, without mercy, for there is no room for mercy here!"
Then the strange man, who must have had a secret way of getting onto the roof, stood still and waited.
He waited until the door of the villa was opened below, until he heard the whole group of men in the street. He heard the sound of their steps as they made their way toward the harbor.
Then something strange happened.
It was too dark to see much of anything, but there were three red flashes of light on the roof, like a signal, and a short while after that there was a rushing sound in the air, as if something was being lowered. There was a muffled roar, as if from a machine.
In spite of the darkness a large, shapeless object could be seen floating
above the villa. It sounded as if something was dropped, a dark shadow
moved upward and disappeared in the large object. Then again there was
the muffled roar, the rushing sound and then the mighty black shadow rose
into the air like some nocturnal apparition.
Odessa's Day of Horror
It was a gloomy morning, dark clouds were hanging in the sky, a cold, icy rain was falling.
But still all of Odessa was up and about, in spite of the weather being of the kind where you wouldn't even send a dog out. Thousands of people with frightened faces were in the streets, thousands were looking toward the harbor with frightened curiosity.
Social order seemed to have broken down, and only a small part of the military could still be relied upon. Drunken soldiers were walking through the streets, singing and yelling.
But on the ships in the harbor there was not a soul to be seen. The crews of the merchant ships had all been frightened and fled ashore.
And this was no surprise, for in front of the harbor in frightening proximity there were black monsters, large and small ships which were all flying the red flag of the insurrection.
There were ironclads, torpedo boats, and a ship which appeared to be designed for the transport of military supplies, and all of them seemed to be in the hands of mutineers.
The uproar in town was tremendous, many families fled on foot, taking their most valuable possessions with them. Carriages could not be had at any price. The trains had stopped running, because the conductors and other workers were drunk in the pubs. Everywhere there were shocked faces.
"Mutineers have taken control of some of the ships of the Black Sea fleet." it was said. "They have killed their officers, they have hoisted the flag of the insurrection, the city is ordered to pay a huge ransom, otherwise these ships will fire upon Odessa."
And this seemed indeed to be that case. The crews of the ships were threatening the city, they had sent an emissary who demanded millions in ransom from the city. Otherwise, they threatened, they would reduce the city to rubble and ruins.
The first messenger was rebuffed, but now the mutineers were getting bold, they sent a large detachment of heavily armed soldiers ashore, and these repeated their demands in an imperious tone.
A catastrophe was looming, it seemed as if part of the military wanted to join the mutineers, others refused orders and staid in their barracks, others still were kept busy just keeping their mutinous comrades under control. The worst had to happen at any moment.
No one dared to offer any resistance to the mutineers who were now coming ashore heavily armed.
There was no doubt that they were acting on the orders of a leader. This had to be some conspirators who were not members of the regular crew. These men were on the transport ship. Orloff, Gregor and Wassil were their leaders, and now they had thrown off their masks.
From on board the transport ship, which was also heavily armed, they directed the mutiny, and they did this from cool calculation.
If the battery on the shore opened fire it would surely shoot at the ironclad first, it would be less likely to shoot at the transport ship, which would be regarded as less dangerous. This showed that the mutineers were being careful to save their own precious skins.
The confusion was getting greater and greater when suddenly a man appeared who made a tremendous impression.
He was wearing a coat, but underneath there was what looked like a blue captain's uniform. This man had pulled his hat down over his face, his left eye [there is a line illegible here, but it says something about an eye patch]
But his right eye was glaring all that much more brightly. When this man, whose high, imperious figure made the most profound impression, saw the frightened faces of the people of Odessa he pushed his way forward.
"Do you want to let yourselves be intimidated by these cowardly assassins?" shouted the stranger whom no one knew with a thundering voice. "Do you want to seal your own doom by paying huge sums to those who have taken control through assassination and betrayal? Forward, throw these mutineers out of the city and answer them with the batteries!"
Men are curious animals. What the officers had been able to accomplish neither through begging nor through threats happened now.
A detachment of Cossacks was the first to attack the bold sailors with lightning quickness and there was a loud cheer as these loud mouthed heroes suddenly took to flight without firing a shot. The man had accomplished it, the man whose mighty voice and imposing appearance had broken the reign of terror. This man had joined the Cossacks for a little while, but now he left them while they pursued the fleeing insurrectionists.
No one suspected that this man, whose magnificent appearance prevented the most terrible outcome, was the same who was wanted by the authorities, who was considered a criminal who deserved death at the hand of the executioner.
Captain Mors, the commander and builder of the strange maneuverable airship, he was the one who by his appearance had saved the city from the most terrible fate.
Now he cast a gloomy look toward the harbor, where the shouting and screaming of the mob could be heard. There were occasional shots, there was the piercing battle cry of the Cossacks with which they encouraged each other.
"The ball has been got rolling," he said.
"I have done it, I have averted the worst. Now I know where to find the wretches who once destroyed my happiness. But the harbor is not the place where I will settle with them. I must drive them onto the blue water, onto the Black Sea, and then the longed for hour will arrive."
Immediately afterwards the man disappeared in the crowd which was moving toward the harbor. Captain Mors had every right to be proud of his accomplishment. He had given hope to the despondent ones, and the resolution which the city's government was now displaying seemed to be deterring the insurrectionists from doing their worst.
But still the threatening, mutinous ships were anchored outside the harbor, there was desultory shooting, and now and then a machine gun could even be heard.
Only a portion of the delegation which had been so bold as to demand millions made it back. Of the others some had become acquainted with the pointed lances of the Cossacks, or they had been captured by the cavalry.
The rest of the delegation made their way to the boats and hurriedly rowed back to the ships.
Now the time had come to make a decision. Those who had returned demanded that the town be fired upon.
But Captain Mors had calculated correctly when he thought that he had averted the worst by his actions. Many of the mutineers were undecided, and arguments and confrontations broke out.
It was true that they had managed to take over some of the ships of the Black Sea fleet, but they could expect that ships that had remained loyal to the government would arrive soon and attack them.
So they became restless, they kept looking anxiously out upon the ocean, at every moment they expected the hostile fleet to appear on the horizon.
Orloff, Wassil and Gregor and their companions who had once been disguised as their servants at the villa were beside themselves with anger.
Gregor and Orloff, who had the most authority, had the transport ship brought up next to the ironclad.
"Let's get to work," they shouted. "Where is Matuschewsko?"
He made his appearance after a few moments, a wild looking, almost Mongolian man in the uniform of a sailor.
His shirt and his uniform were splattered with blood, for this monster had been one of the first to start killing the officers. He had even killed the ship's doctor in the most barbaric manner.
This man looked more like wild beast than a human being. His slit-like eyes glowed like those of an animal.
"What the hell, Matuschewsko, let's get to work," Orloff shouted. "We need to get this money, it will take large sums for us to accomplish anything. Only with millions can we realize our plans. There is enough ammunition on board, start firing on the city! When a few hundred houses have been reduced to rubble they will start cooperating."
The maniac Matuschewsko was grinding his teeth, he was showing his yellow teeth like a beast.
"These people are indecisive," he shouted back. "They refuse to open fire on the city. The sudden attack of the soldiers has confused them. They are especially frightened of the batteries on shore."
Orloff howled and raved, but that didn't help matters any. This was a time to preserve a cool head.
"We can't do anything here," Matuschewsko shouted again. "The men are afraid of the batteries, they want to go to other, unfortified towns and extort money there."
"But no other city is as rich as Odessa," Orloff yelled. "I know this, here there are millions and millions, here we can extort immense sums."
"I will try and see what I can so with the men," Matuschewsko said after a while. "I will talk to them again. Something strange must have happened over there in town, at first there was just an unruly mob, but then some resolute man must have appeared and changed all that. To hell with this guy."
The maniac ran over to the mutineers and it looked indeed like they would start firing at the city.
But then there was a flash from the batteries, a second and a third shot followed, and then there was the sound of the grenades.
Orloff shook his fists when he saw the mutineers turn their ships about. The ironclad was the first to head out to the Black Sea, the two torpedo boats followed, and now the armed transport ship with the leaders of the insurrection followed them.
"The best opportunity has been missed," Wassil shouted angrily. "But now we will attack other ports. And they will have to pay, otherwise we will fire at them and pillage them."
But for now the ships sailed for the high seas by taking a southwesterly course.
They did this in order to escape anyone following them, because there was no doubt that the battle ships of the fleet would be looking for them.
But the men started to regain their courage when no such ships appeared.
Now Matuschewsko came over to the transport ship.
"I don’t think that we have to worry about any kind of pursuit," said the monster when his companions started to question him. "It is true that the crews of the other ships have not joined our mutiny, but they will not act hostile toward us. They sympathize with us, they even cheered us on when we sailed off under the red flag. There is no way they will obey their officers."
"All the better," Orloff smiled, and his good humor started to return. "All the better. We will attack unfortified ports for now and rob and pillage to our hearts' content."
"The men will follow you," Matuschewsko replied. "Once they warm up to it they will be all right, we just have to give them lots of brandy. Let's sail onto the high seas, so that no one will know where we are. Then we will attack a city out of nowhere when they least expect us."
Around noon they were out of sight of the people of Odessa, the coast had faded into nothing more than a gray band.
The sky was still covered by gray, dark clouds. But the rain had stopped, only the clouds remained like a black shroud.
Suddenly there was loud shouting and yelling. Gregor, Orloff and Wassil, who were always together, looked up and saw that all the sailors were pointing at something in the sky.
There, from out of the low clouds, something appeared, something huge,
black, sinister looking. The superstitious sailors made the sign of the
cross when they saw this strange object coming out of the clouds.
Settling the Score
At first the mutineers were completely paralyzed, for most of them were so uneducated that they regarded the mysterious phenomenon as a miracle.
But among the insurrectionists there were educated men who had even attended a university. Orloff, Gregor and Wassil were among these.
"What the hell," the former shouted. "This is an airship of the strangest construction. That has to be one of those craft which you read about in the paper, the ones that respond to a rudder like a ship in the water. But this one is extraordinarily large. Really, it looks like it is falling into the ocean."
The shouts of amazement came from all sides, the mutineers told each other that this strange thing was an airship. Now it was diagonally approaching the surface of the water.
It really looked as if this singular aerial craft was falling into the water, as if it were in trouble, as if it would have to sink into the Black Sea at any moment.
But this was not the case. The craft which had been coming down diagonally was not in trouble, now it leveled out fifty meters about the waves and floated horizontally, guided by the pressure of the wings and the rudder.
Now it was approaching like lighting, with uncanny speed. In a giant circle it sailed around the mutineers.
The crews of the two torpedo boats started to get uneasy. They started their steam engines and left their companions.
Yes, this was the same ship that the French balloonists had seen. This was the mysterious craft of Captain Mors, it sailed around the two large ships, the roar of the engines was clearly to be heard.
And then it started to come closer and closer, it started to approach the transport ship. On deck of this, among other conspirators were Orloff, Gregor and Wassil. Matuschewsko had returned to the ironclad which he, the murderer, was now commanding.
"Watch out, watch out! The strange thing is coming toward us. Hell, we have to fight it, this thing has no friendly intentions toward us."
The tall flagpole of the airship could clearly be seen. There was not yet any flag flying from it. But then, suddenly, a flag was hoisted.
It looked strange, this was not the flag of any country, this was a flag the likes of which had never been seen before.
And outer, red, square surrounded an inner, black one, and on this black square, in large, white letters there was the word Mors, and underneath this a grinning death's head.
Orloff ran over to the sailors who were standing near the rapid fire cannons of the transport ship.
"Shoot at this thing," he ordered, plagued by a bad suspicion. "They have no friendly intentions. Shoot at this thing. One shot will be enough to sink it."
The men hesitated, but obeyed. The rapid fire cannon creaked on its wheels, then there were two shots from the six centimeter gun.
But then the sailors shouted in amazement.
One of the shots missed, the other hit the airship.
There was a strange sound, the missile bounced off and flew off sideways, only to fall hissing into the ocean.
Then the airship turned about and hovered right next to the transport ship, almost touching it.
There was a sharp noise. On one of the galleries which connected the lower cabins there appeared the same man who had led the resistance in Odessa.
There stood Captain Mors, but no longer with a patch over his left eye. Now he was again wearing his blue captain's uniform and the blue hat with the gold band.
He was wearing his mask again. From out of its openings glared his two fiery eyes, he was looking at Orloff, Gregor and Wassil who were shouting at each other.
"I have recognized you," his voice thundered at them. "You know me as well, or have you forgotten the engineer whom you delivered to his doom? You thought that I had perished and died. But now I am here, the hour of reckoning has come."
Orloff was pale as a corpse.
His companions also gave a start. Now they all reached for their revolvers which they wore on their belts. Hastily and without aiming they shot at the proud man, but he only answered their shots with a terrible laugh of contempt.
In the next instant he disappeared in the cabin, the walls of which also had to be made of some impenetrable material. The conspirators could clearly hear their bullets splattering against the walls.
"It was him, it was him," Orloff roared. "The devil must have sent him back from hell. How did this fool get such an airship? Pestilence and damnation, we have to sink it."
Again he jumped toward the cannons, but at the same moment the airship turned, now it was facing them with the terrible ram which was attached to it prow.
"It's coming closer," shouted the sailors. "It is coming right at us."
They were right, the airship was rushing along just a few feet over the water. The crew of the transport ship was shouting madly, the conspirators ran across the deck.
"A collision! A collision!" they shouted. "The weird thing is trying to ram us."
The next moment there was a dull crunching sound.
Yes, it was the airship, with its iron ram it had pierced the side of the transport ship close to the water line and torn a huge hole.
The rammed ship keeled over to the side, but then it straightened out again, and now the water came rushing through the hole, so that the ship started list toward this side.
The confusion onboard the ship was terrible. The worst of the rebels, especially the leaders of the conspiracy were on this ship.
They were running about like mad, they suspected that the ship would sink.
More and more the transport ship started to list, it was taking on more and more water. The life boats could not be used in the confusion. Many jumped into the water in order to swim to the ironclad.
Now the strange craft came down even lower, it was just above the water. On the galleries there appeared ten or twelve men in the garb of sailors. There faces were harsh and sinister, they looked like they were carved from stone.
Some of these men, by their dark features, betrayed their origin in other parts of the world.
They held long poled with iron hooks at the end, and with these they were tying to pull some of the swimmers out of the water.
Among these strange looking men was Captain Mors, his burning eyes directed toward the sea. The transport ship was sinking lower and lower, and more men were jumping into the water.
"I must have that one!" sounded the voice of the man of mystery. "And that one over there with the scar on his forehead. And watch that one, the giant one whose head just appeared above the surface. Up here with them, don't let them escape under any circumstances."
The maneuverable airship seemed to be guided by invisible hands. With uncanny precision it moved to all the spots pointed out by the captain.
Then the poles were lowered, the hooks grabbed the men that could be reached. And now the villains were pulled up to the galleries in spite of their shouting and struggling.
Powerful hands grabbed them, the maniacs were dragged onto the galleries, and in spite of all their resistance they were thrown down and bound tightly.
A few moments later they fond themselves in a room that looked like the cabin of a ship, and they were thrown down in a corner.
There were Gregor, Wassil and Orloff, but after a little while five others were added to them. Their brutal feature showed them to be among the worst ruffians. These also had been singled out by Captain Mors, pulled out of the water, bound and thrown down next to the three conspirators.
In the meanwhile the sailors had reached the ironclad. Some of them who could not swim had sunk and perished, but this did not seem to concern the terrible Captain Mors.
He was watching the ironclad. He wanted to see if it was preparing to fire at him.
But this had not been done because the strange airship was directly in line with the transport ship, and also because it was feared that the swimmers might be endangered.
But now there was a splashing in the water, and the transport ship sank like a stone. The waters closed above the ship of the conspirators.
The two torpedo boats were at a great distance by now. But on the ironclad preparations were being made to fire at the airship with heavy cannons.
But this suddenly started to rise and just as the heavy cannons were ready to fire the strange craft was hovering directly above the ship.
The next minute there was a hissing and whistling, then the impact of canon balls, at least this is how it appeared to the crew. They sought shelter, for the effect of the exploding missiles was terrible.
But the destruction of the ironclad did not seem to be intended. The explosion brought the ship of the mutineers into a precarious position. The hole which the explosion had caused filled with water so that the prow of the ship started to sink. The waterproof compartments kept the ship from sinking entirely, but now it was unable to work any further mischief.
And again the figure of Captain Mors appeared on the gallery of the airship. This time it was directly above the ironclad which he had rendered harmless and unable to pillage defenseless ports.
"See to it that you reach dry land," thundered the voice of the terrible man from above. "Only my consideration for all the misled sailors keeps me from sinking this ship as well. But I pity the misled ones, that is why I spare their lives. Head for the coast of Romania, your ship will stay afloat long enough for that. But if you should dare to attack defenseless towns—you know that I will be there to sink your ship to the bottom of the Black Sea."
These terrible words resounded like thunder. The superstitious sailors made the sign of the cross. But the mysterious aircraft rose upwards, up toward the dense clouds which were hanging low above the foaming waves of the Black Sea.
Captain Mors looked down at the humbled mutineers until he saw that the ship was headed west. Then, satisfied, he entered the room with the eight prisoners.
In this room there were also all the men who served on the maneuverable airship. Like statues they leaned against the walls, and greeted the Captain as he entered. They watched his eyes, apparently ready to carry out his commands in an instant.
"Don't bother to struggle," the voice of this mysterious man was heard to say. "Whoever has been bound by my men will not be able to free himself. No one can break these bonds. And now the hour that I have been waiting for so long has arrived. Do you still remember, you ruffians, how you once flattered me with sweet words? How you asked me to serve you with my knowledge and my skill? Back then I turned you down, and for that you tried to destroy me. You took away everything I had, everything, even my honor. You branded me a criminal, and yet I have been able to survive. And now you see me before you in my vehicle, which my genius has created and which has made me into a terrible man, a man to be feared. I am a ruler of the skies, just as others are rulers of the earth!"
The wretches knew that they could expect no mercy. They responded with terrible curses.
"Yes, you have accomplished it," Captain Mors continued. "You made me into a demon and you almost drove me to declare war on all of mankind. But the memory of those whom I once loved and who were killed by you, these thoughts kept me from turning into a devil. Of course, the earth is closed to me, you have accomplished that, but I am a ruler of the air, a buccaneer above the earth and the water. A man, for whom nothing he desires will be unobtainable. I looked for you for a long time before I figured out where you were. I was standing on the roof of your villa in Odessa, that is where I recognized your voices. That is when I knew where to find you to hold you accountable."
Orloff angrily raised his head.
"You've got a few of us," he grumbled, probably aware that a terrible judgement awaited him. "But you haven't got the most dangerous of us, your most bitter enemies. You haven't got them, they are still free, and they will avenge us."
"And where are they?" asked Captain Mors, stepping closer. "I know well that your conspiracy was larger and that there were others who pursued me with such hatred. Where will I find them, answer me!"
"You won't find out anything!" shouted Orloff with a contemptuous laugh. "You won't find out anything, even if you cut us to pieces. No, no, just wait, and the hour will come when our followers will put and end to you and your damned airship. And think of us when this happens."
Captain Mors made a contemptuous gesture.
"I am still a human being and no animal," he replied. "It is true that there is a man whom I hate even more strongly than you, but I will never sink so low that I do the kinds of things that you have done to defenseless and unfortunate ones. You have been condemned, you will receive death at the end of a rope, and just like on a ship you will dangle below the railing with your confederates."
At the same time Captain Mots turned toward his men and shouted some words at them in a language that was unknown to the prisoners. I seemed to be the language that was used on the airship.
"Now go to hell!" Captain Mors said to the condemned men. "But I will continue on my journey. I will look for the other evildoers belonging to your group, I will not rest until I have found them."
Orloff laughed loudly and spat words of contempt at the proud man, but he turned away and stepped outside while the crew of the airship fell on the mutineers like tigers.
Once again there was loud shouting, the villains tried again to burst their fetters, they screamed like wild animals as they were carried out to the gallery one by one.
They wild yelling continued outside, then there were piercing shouts, the death yells of the eight miscreants, and now one body after another could be seen dangling at the end of a long rope underneath the airship.
Gregor, Wassil and Orloff were last. These villains had to feel their fear of death until last. Orloff was the last to feel the noose around his neck.
"Tell your captain that he will soon be keeping me company in hell!" These were the last words of the wretch.
Immediately afterwards a kick propelled him into the air, and the body of the condemned man dangled next to the corpses of his companions.
But the airship rose higher and higher, until it disappeared in the clouds. Then it quickly headed east, toward new adventures, terrible experiences of all kinds, on earth, over the ocean, even in the unknown reaches of space.
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