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´╗┐Title: Operation Lorelie
Author: Salton, William P.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Operation Lorelie" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: Illustrator: Wm. Ashman]


OPERATION LORELIE

BY WILLIAM P. SALTON


    _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."

"Right!"

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

"Roger!"

There was only one way now--ahead. It lay clearly marked. The dim
footsteps never strayed or faltered. Three hours of search revealed no
pitfalls, no dangers, and no trace of the missing men. Then night was
upon them and they bedded down gratefully.

"Strange, isn't it? The war over. The invaders blasted from the earth.
All peril gone. And yet--men disappear."

Jarvis stared at the ruins around them. "I can't take much more, Mark.
Twelve years of war is enough. Are we never to have a life--have our
home and women back, and--_peace_?"

"Sure, it's been tough. But think of the women and children isolated on
that sub-satellite. It's tougher for them--just waiting." Stretched on
his back, Mark stared at the cloudless, evening sky. "But pretty soon
we'll get this planet cleaned up and bring them in. Christ! Four years
without even seeing a woman. I remember the last time--"

"Okay!" Jarvis interrupted impatiently. "Let's get to sleep."

"Sure, pal. Goodnight."

They fell asleep to dream of green hills, corn ripening, apples roasting
over an open fire. Peace, and home, and girls, their firm legs flashing
in the sun.

Soldierlike, Mark was suddenly awake. He lay without motion, sensitive
to some subtle change in the surroundings. From the corner of his eye he
could see Jarvis wrapped in sleep. The silence seemed eternal.

Then, whisper-soft, came a murmur, a sound, a voice. A girl's voice,
sighing and singing, from deep in that devastated spot.

A woman!

       *       *       *       *       *

Instantly, Mark was on his feet. No need to wake Jarvis. Plenty of time
for Jarvis to find out--afterwards. But not yet! A miracle that a girl
had survived in all that wreckage. But a miracle he wanted to savour
alone!

Ahead, the path turned and Mark followed it as it went forward again,
downhill, between the massed walls of rubble. Now the voice swelled, a
melancholy song. Well, she won't be melancholy for long, Mark thought.
Her solitary ordeal was over.

"Mark!" Jarvis stood on an upturned lintel, ten feet above Mark's head.
As Mark jerked to a stop at the cry, Jarvis jumped into his path. "You
fool! Don't you know it's a trap?"

"So that's how you want to play it? The noble friend, protecting me from
myself!" He slammed a fist into the side of Jarvis' head. "Well, I won't
bite! She's mine! I found her!"

       *       *       *       *       *

In silence, in the narrow passage between the rocks, the two fought.
Suddenly, above the sound of fist on flesh, came the voice of the girl
again, clear, young. "She _is_ there," thought Jarvis. He could almost
taste her lips on his. The sensation came as a shock. How did he know?
He'd never had a woman. That's what came from listening to the tales of
Mark's exploits with women. Now he had to have that girl!

The mounting tension of the fighting snapped something in Jarvis'
seething mind. Danger, friendship, duty, all meant nothing. Only one
thing mattered. The girl! Mark had had more than his share of girls. He,
Jarvis, was the one who should have her! He'd been deprived of his
manhood long enough! His frenzied brain hunted a trick to gain his ends.

Mark's superior strength began to force Jarvis to give ground. Then a
final blow sent him reeling, he reached out to break his fall, his hand
closed on a rock. He threw it. Mark crashed to the ground, his knee
smashed, his leg useless. Then the tomb stillness of the dead city took
over. The dust settled slowly. Mark came to his feet.

Jarvis was gone.

Dragging his useless leg, Mark forced himself to crawl forward. Jarvis
had to be stopped.

Ahead, a shadow moved, and for a moment the moon threw the silhouette of
a man against a cavernous opening in the debris.

"Jarvis!"

       *       *       *       *       *

An electric flash shattered the darkness. The jagged teeth of the bolt
spit tongues of fire. Cordite mingled with the raw, nauseant, revolting
smell of scorched flesh and hair. The figure tottered and fell into the
black mouth of the cave. Then, as the flame faded, it lit up small
bundles of charred bones near the fallen body.

There was a whir and a click of a mechanism. Fifteen feet away, Mark
watched as the arm of a phonograph rose, moved slowly back to the
starting point. Then the record began once more to grind out its
death-trap melody.



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Amazing Stories_ March 1954. Extensive
    research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on
    this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical
    errors have been corrected without note.





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