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[ Read more about author C. Craig R. McNeil ]

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The discovery of Atlantis has led the British Empire waxing in power in the early 20th century instead of waning. The discovery of enigmatic power crystals allowed the construction of great monolithic dreadnaughts which rule the skies and waves, enforcing the Empire’s will. A British archaeological team exploring Atlantean ruins discover an amazing artefact called the Nucleus, a massive depository for long forgotten Atlantean knowledge. On searching an outpost of Atlantis for power crystals, the elite Nightshade Division are attacked by strange deadly creatures and barely get out alive. The British Empire's top agent, John Murdoch joins forces with the Nightshade Division's Captain John Riley in a desperate race against time to stop unseen evil forces from launching a deadly attack against the greatest empire the world has ever seen......

A Gathering of Storm Clouds

by C. Craig R. McNeil

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Copyright C. Craig R. McNeil

ISBN: 978-1-84728-037-4***A Gathering of Storm Clouds*


*C. Craig R. McNeil*

Dedicated to

Storytellers everywhere

* * * *

Chaos derives from the Greek Χάος and typically refers to unpredictability. In the metaphysical sense, it is the opposite of law and order: unrestrictive, both creative and destructive.

The word χάος did not mean "disorder" in classical-period ancient Greece. It meant "the primal emptiness, space". It is derived from the Proto-Indo-European root _ghn_ or _ghen_ meaning "gape, be wide open".

***1 Old Memories, 1934*

Far beneath the turbulent surface of the mid Atlantic Ocean, thousands of feet down through the dark freezing depths, on the long sinuous underwater mountain range of the Mid Atlantic Ridge, the ruins of the one lost civilisation of Atlantis sprawled. Ancient temples of broken fluted pillars dominated the scene, once white but now stained with black and green algae, covered in ponderous floating waves of dank seaweed. Giant cracked cubes of granite and marble lay scattered in heaped mounds, mere shadows of the beautiful soaring buildings they had once been millennia before. Hulking above the ruins the great underwater peaks arced up to the surface of the sea straining to reach the cold sweet air in which they had once stood proud before the glaciers had melted and the floods poured over their heads.

The imaginatively entitled British colony of New Atlantis hugged the side of the peak of Sao Miguel. Through the murk, tiny specks of light shone through the portholes of squat oval buildings that had been lowered to depths not fit for human habitation. Many thousands of feet above the colony the sun shone on the balmy Spanish islands of the Azores and rich British tourists soaked up its warm vibrant rays. There was no such luxury in New Atlantis where no light penetrated to the depths where sperm whales and giant squid fought for supremacy. One of the loneliest and most isolated of Britain's colonies, New Atlantis was founded by Sir Nicholas Rochester in the late 19th century to allow the further exploration of his historic discovery, the fabled kingdom of ancient Atlantis and, as a result, it had a plain utilitarian look to it, functional with little in the way of vain architectural extravagancies.

Jane Archer watched plankton float by the porthole illuminated by the pale yellow light filtering out into the dark. The darkness was absolute outside the buildings. It seemed to eat any light that got out through the inches thick porthole glass, devouring the brightness that threatened it's domain. Jane shuddered and turned to concentrate on the activity in the large brightly lit room. The laboratory was a tangle of tables, bunsen burners, test tubes of various sizes, pipettes, rubber pipes and jars of coloured chemical powders and liquids. Three men stood around the teak floored room concentrating on packing large rucksacks with equipment.

Jonathon McHarrie, dressed in his eponymous green wax Barbour jacket, was tall and rangy with a tangle of brown hair. He was the sensible one - but only relatively speaking - and the head of the expedition. McHarrie was checking his list of supplies for the trip, muttering loudly under his breath as he ticked items off a long list, one by one.

Professor Miller Hayre was, as usual, sitting on a stool smoking his old pipe and staring meditatively at a bubbling test tube, the purple liquid reflecting on his round glasses. His hair was grey and thinning, lending him the archetypal air of the great distracted professor of archaeology that he was. Miller Hayre was an expert on Atlantean artefacts having studied them both at the Universities of Cambridge and St Andrews. It took a lot to get him excited though and he seemed to be in a constant day dream.

Finally Michael Doyle, the demolition expert, was gleefully packing as many sticks of dynamite into every crevice of his large rucksack as he could. Nobody was quite sure if the small Scotsman was all quite there, but no-one doubted he was a genius at blowing things up.

McHarrie frowned across at Doyle, eyeing up the many protruding dynamite sticks.

"Doyle! I've told you before! You don't need that much bloody dynamite! You only ever need to blow some doors off, not entire buildings."

"Take a hike. You never know when it'll come in use," shot back Doyle, sticking another couple of the red sticks into the deep pockets of his trench coat, just to annoy McHarrie.

"You'll blow us all to kingdom come, by God! One slip and boom! That's us done for. Commit suicide if you want but don't take us with you."

Doyle just laughed wickedly and proceeded to check his Webley revolver.

"Are we ready yet?" Miller Hayre had reluctantly come out of his reverie at the sound of the argument.

"Yes!" said Doyle, snapping the revolver into place on his belt and jumping to his feet, "whether McHarrie is or not."

With a sour look at Doyle, McHarrie slung his bulging rucksack onto his shoulder and walked out of the lab down to the nearby airlock.

With another laugh, Doyle followed with Miller Hayre close behind.

Jane sighed and followed, winding her way through the lab tables muttering under her breath about how stupid men were.

His Majesty's Dreadnaught Renown was one of the smaller submersible dreadnaughts that the British Navy possessed and still its size was breathtaking. Built at the Glasgow Govan dockyards, the two hundred yard long submarine was a frightening example of British sea power, a potent and invisible weapon. So the crew weren't happy at having to babysit four scientists who spent their time rooting about the ruins of Atlantis. However, as Doyle candidly put it they could lump it.

The dreadnaught did not have far to travel, a mere hour or thereabouts, so the party sat in a cramped room near the dreadnaught's air lock with their rucksacks piled untidily in a corner.

A red stick fell from rucksack and clattered noisily around the floor.

"Doyle! That stuff is dangerous! For goodness sake, can't you pack it away more carefully?" McHarrie moaned, as he fed bullets into his revolver.

"It's fine, so long as you don't drop a match on it then it won't explode." Doyle said, as he bent to pick up the rolling tube. "Here! Catch!"

McHarrie dropped his gun with a load clatter, spilling bullets onto the textured metal floor and tried to catch the dynamite stick Doyle had just thrown at him. His fingertips just touched it in time to flip it straight into the wall.

McHarrie and Miller Hayre jumped convulsively as Doyle roared with laughter.

"You moron, Doyle....." McHarrie started before Jane interrupted him.

"Will you two stop mucking about. Michael, stop baiting Jonathon and Jonathon stop rising to him."

McHarrie blushed, muttering apologies and picked up the bullets on the floor, while Doyle gave Jane a hurt glare and picked up his dynamite.

A sailor marched up to the door and, saluting smartly, he informed the party that they should prepare themselves as the submarine had nearly reached the location of interest.

The section of ruins the party wished to explore had been uncovered many years ago. No one had investigated them because they were isolated from the main areas of ancient habitation and looked boring, an uninteresting jumble of blocks and columns much like any other. McHarrie wanted to look further into the ruins as there was speculation that a large air pocket existed underneath the rubble, meaning that Atlantean relics may have survived the millennia undisturbed and untouched by the corrosive sea. One of the more amazing inventions to come out of the study of Atlantean relics and their crystal power sources was that of a shield generator which kept out nothing except pure water. One of the shield generators had been installed at the base of the ruins and, once activated, shone like a beacon, a rusty bubble of light that somehow held out the vast pressure of the ocean, leaving the ruins open to the ravages of the air for the first time since the cataclysm that had taken the buildings deep down to the ocean's bosom.

The dreadnaught shuddered, plates of iron and steel creaking under the strain of being so close to the enormous power source of the shield generator. Wave upon wave of invisible energy radiated out far beyond the limits of the shield itself, pushing metal away like an anti magnet. Only the sheer size and power of the Renown allowed it to approach close enough to send out an airlock tube to penetrate the red shield. It was down this tube that the exploration party descended, McHarrie and Doyle bickering again, this time about how much explosive was necessary to blow a tunnel through the bottom of a mountain which was an ongoing argument between them.

The hard rocky slope was slick with a dampness that even the shield had not pushed out as it grew to encompass the ruins. A short climb ahead over a thin white layer of sea salt, lay the crumbled building which could now seen as a larger version of the Greek Parthenon in Athens.

Jane was more interested in the HM Dreadnaught Renown which could be seen outside the bubble of air. The submarine was even more impressive seen from the outside, a massive iron tube lined with portholes, its huge underwater cannons protruding from the upper deck. At the stern flew an anodised red metal replica of the Royal Navy ensign, brightly lit by four lights. The low rumble of its engines could be felt rising through the ground as the submarine moved to stand off waiting for the green flare that signalled the explorers required a pick up.

It was difficult to see too much outside the shield but Jane could make out the underwater mountain slope as it descended gradually to the ocean depths, while above the slope increased more and more sharply until it probably reached a peak.

Jane turned at an exclamation from Miller Hayre. All three men were crowded under a large outcrop of rock which they were all tapping at with small metal hammers.

"By jove!" Miller Hayre announced excitedly. "I think there's a sort of doorway under here. D'you think it'll lead up to the ruins?"

"Most likely," replied McHarrie. "No use to us if we can't get it open though."

"Ahem," Doyle coughed lightly. "Allow me kind sirs!"

Everyone ran back down the slope, hurriedly looking for some place to hide while Doyle did his best to bring the mountain down on them.

A dull, low boom was felt more than heard and was quickly followed by a cloud of dust rolling down the mountainside. Rising coughing from their cover, Miller Hayre, McHarrie and Jane found a dusty Doyle surveying his handiwork.

"When you three have stopped playing hide and seek perhaps you'd like to do some real archaeology now?" Doyle called down.

Doyle had opened up an entrance that led into an upwardly sloping tunnel, more than tall enough to take a man and wide enough for four men to stand abreast without touching the sides. Despite its age, the tunnel was well lit by glowing orange orbs set into the walls. Some flickered on and off but Jane had no doubt that this was probably due to Doyle dynamiting the entrance more than any failure in their manufacture.

Without another word, the party stepped into the tunnel and, led by McHarrie, they walked slowly upwards, drinking in the age old atmosphere of mystery. The tunnel walls were bare and totally smooth, the tunnel having apparently been cut out of the rock by a machine. No living being could possibly have created such a tunnel by hand.

The tunnel was long and perfectly straight. To Jane's eyes it was boring too. No wall carvings, no paintings, nothing. The only thing of interest was the fact that despite the incredible age of the structure, it was in almost perfect condition. The tunnel ended abruptly, opening up into a small square room. Dust lay on the floor, inches thick, and swirled upwards in choking clouds when disturbed by the explorers heavy boots. The room was bare but well lit by light globes. Moving quickly onwards they walked through an open doorway into another short corridor leading to another plain room. And so it went on.

McHarrie kept careful notes in a flip notebook whilst Doyle dropped small square orange cubes of painted wood every few yards to keep a track of their path. The complex was large, certainly one of the largest they'd been in yet. However, it was also one of the least interesting they'd explored. The only things present in all the rooms they visited was dust and light globes. There was no decoration whatsoever, no carvings, paintings, writing, nothing. This in itself was unusual as Miller Hayre pointed out, as all other Atlantean buildings discovered were covered with faded frescos, text and pictograms. The building was also in amazing condition. There hadn't been an air bubble at all. The entire complex was airtight and had been since its submersion in the cold Atlantic.

Jane was beginning to despair of finding anything of note and she saw that even Miller Hayre was growing fidgety at the lack of objects to analyse. Doyle was complaining at the lack of things to blow up and tossing a stick of dynamite from hand to hand much to McHarrie's annoyance and concern. McHarrie was in front, as usual, leading the way, barely looking into any of the rooms they passed now due to their similarity. Suddenly he stopped short, Doyle almost bumping into him.

Cutting short Doyle's complaint, he stepped through a doorway on his left, exclaiming "Now, this is more like it!"

Upon entering the large square room, the party almost walked into a large black marble block about five feet high and ten wide, in the middle of which glowed a single blue star shaped button. In the centre of the room was a large circular platform of polished black material. The platform was raised slightly out of the surrounding grey stone floor and was around ten feet in diameter. Everything could easily be seen, as the room was bathed in a bright yellow light that seemed to come from the walls.

Apart from the marble block and the circular platform the room was as bare as the rest they'd seen, much to McHarrie's irritation. Everyone's attention focussed on the star shaped glow.

"Well," said Doyle, not bothering to look around, "who's going to press it?"

Tentatively, Miller Hayre pushed the blue glowing glass button. It clicked and instantly the ambient light in the room dimmed. From the four upper corners of the room, thin beams of blue and white appeared and shone onto the circular platform in the room's centre. A blue line appeared in mid air floating above the black circle, before stretching out into a white rectangle that hung a few feet about the surface and reached up almost to the ceiling. A series of semi opaque pictures formed on the rectangle and text and pictographs flowed back and forth at disturbing speed. As the scientists watched in astonishment, the rectangle melted away and a giant eight foot tall figure formed, surrounded by a faint nimbus of blue. The figure was possibly female but it was difficult to tell. It was slim, its body's contours covered from ankle to neck by a bodysuit upon which flashed and flickered pictures and ancient script. The figure's long delicate face was bare and hairless, very human like but with an ethereal beauty accentuated by shining black almond shaped eyes.

The figure bowed and for the first time in hundreds of centuries, Atlantean was spoken on Earth.

While the four scientists stared in wonder at the astonishing creation before them, the black marble panel which had before only shown the single blue button, had now come alive with flashes of rainbow colour and a myriad of coloured shapes and pictographs now shone brightly in the gloom.

"What did it say?" whispered Jane to no one in particular.

"I've absolutely no idea," breathed Miller Hayre quietly. "Aren't you meant to be the world class linguist?"

The professor took a step forward to the glowing figure. "From the way he, or it, bowed I think it's waiting for instructions."

Doyle strode up to the figure, carefully testing the black raised surface with his booted toe before stepping onto it and walking round the blue giant studying it from every angle.

"D'you think it's real?" he said as he lifted his hand and prepared to prod the giant.

"Don't touch it!" Miller Hayre, McHarrie and Jane all yelled at once.

Doyle prodded the figure's calf and the tip of his finger disappeared before reappearing as he pulled it out.

"Nope. Didn't think so. Looks like this thing here is generated by light. Great stuff don't you think?"

Doyle didn't wait for any response and started waving his hands in the air and hunting for clues as to how the technology worked.

Miller Hayre was examining the script and pictograms on the console.

"Jane, dear, can you make out anything of this writing? Some of it looks remarkably like Ancient Sumerian."

Jane peered closely at the text. The vast majority of the text was obviously intended to label the bewildering array of glowing buttons.

"Jane, any idea what language it was speaking in?" called out McHarrie as he looked up from pencilling down details in a notebook.

"Seeing as this is old Atlantean technology then perhaps it was Atlantean," Jane replied with a touch of sarcasm. McHarrie could be downright stupid sometimes.

McHarrie threw a hurt glare at Jane which she studiously ignored while Doyle laughed heartily.

"Lords and lady of the now future. How may the Nucleus help?" The voice radiated around the room seeming to come from everywhere at once.

The figure bowed again and despite her absolute astonishment Jane thought she saw a hint of a smile on its face.

"By jove! It speaks English! How on Earth....?" Miller Hayre spluttered with astonishment.

"We, the Nucleus, have observed you since you entered the Institute of Knowledge. We analysed your speech and word patterns and we can now communicate. Is this acceptable?" the Nucleus spoke with a perfect Oxford accent, very similar to Miller Hayre's.

"Oh, I say!" Miller Hayre was bubbling over with excitement running his hands repeatedly through his thinning hair.

"What are you? What can you tell us? What happened to Atlantis? Where....?" The questions poured out from Miller Hayre like a never ending torrent.

The Nucleus coughed politely, in such a human way all four explorers stared. Doyle and McHarrie now stood next to Jane and the Professor listening intently to the Nucleus. Even Doyle for once seemed to be in awe.

"Ahem. If the revered lord would like us to answer the first query then we will."

"Erm..... Yes. Sorry. Please do," Miller Hayre stuttered.

"We are the Nucleus. We are a repository of knowledge for the civilisation called Atlantis. We were created a great number of your months ago, long before Atlantis died and its survivors were scattered around this planet."

To Jane's ears it seemed as if the voice held a hint of sadness.

"Our creators were great and wise people and before they fell they realised that one day, if we survived, we would possibly be found by their descendants who could use our knowledge to help the human race scale the great heights of Atlantis and progress beyond without falling into the same traps that they did."

The Nucleus fell silent. Jane felt the silence was foreboding as if old ghosts were watching the proceedings with interest and not necessarily good intentions.

"What happened to Atlantis?" she asked, her voice sounding small compared to the omnipotent tones of the Nucleus.

"My lady," the Nucleus turned its dark eyes onto her and Jane shivered despite the heat of the room. "The story of Atlantis and its downfall is a long one and we shall not attempt to tell it all to you this day. We believe your friends in the submersible may worry if you are too long. We shall tell you a much abridged version and will attempt to provide you with a book copy when you next return."

The giant blue figure of the Nucleus raised its legs and sat cross legged in mid air, hovering three feet above the circle platform.

"Come, my lords and lady. It is customary to sit cross legged when a story is to be told."

Doyle grinned. "Just like being at school again", he said as he walked jauntily round the black marble control panel and sat down in front of the waiting Nucleus. McHarrie, Miller Hayre and Jane followed close behind and sat down next to Doyle.

"The story of Atlantis is a long and glorious one, one that started many, many months ago....."

"In the beginning, six hundred thousand months ago, mankind had already survived the rise and fall of many empires. The continents had begun to settle into their current positions leaving the many separate tribes of man spread over the globe. The continent of Atlantis stood by itself in isolation and it was here that existed the most vibrant and technologically advanced civilisation that this planet has seen. The people of this continent were fair-haired and blue eyed, very different from the peoples of the surrounding continents who were mainly dark haired and brown eyed. The Atlanteans were a tall race, often reaching seven or eight feet in height and they were mighty warriors, proud and fearless in the hunt, running down giant mastodon and sabre toothed tigers with ease.

"There were seven tribes on Atlantis, each proud, stubborn and warlike. There were many wars between them before they were united by the great warrior statesman, Gia Khan. Under his long leadership, Atlantis prospered and the seven tribal towns became seven great shining cities rising high and bright above the surrounding plains. In the middle of the continent, Gia Khan decreed a city should be built, a capital where the heads of the seven nations would meet and decide how their country should be run. This capital was also called Atlantis.

"As the months came and went, Gia Khan passed into the Elysium Fields beyond the starfields of Orion and Atlantis greatly mourned his passing but his legacy continued to bless and inspire Atlanteans. Atlantis thrived and went from strength to strength. Great libraries were built and scientific institutions flourished and the power of Atlantis grew at an exponential rate. One of the greatest achievements was the discovery of how to create great crystals capable of storing and releasing enormous amounts of energy. This discovery led to the Great Age of Creation when the crystals were used to power everything from ships to flying carriages and even vessels that ventured into the great unknowns of space. The population of Atlantis expanded beyond the boundaries of the island continent into the dark unenlightened world beyond. Cities were established in the great mountains which you know as the Himalayas, on the great plains of America and the Steppes and in the jungles of Africa and South America. Trade between Atlantis and the colonies made Atlantis and her children wealthy beyond dreams.

"The enormous power afforded by the crystals allowed sophisticated mechanisms to be created to make the Atlantean way of life easier. Society became stagnant and slothful as the many months passed and, over the generations, degenerated to a sick morass of wanton idleness. As society degenerated, old arguments between the original seven tribes were dragged up and old hatreds sparked and flared. The tribes went to war with each other and great battles were fought, not just across Atlantis, but across the entire planet. Atlantis threw off its lethargy and plunged itself into a self destructive conflict that raged back and forth between the seven tribes. Alliances were formed and betrayed, cities bombarded, towns raped and pillaged, mass murder committed and never was there a victor. In the end, one of the tribes, the Tuatha de Danaan, on the verge of annihilation, sued for peace. The six other tribes ignored the request and joined forces to destroy their weakened opponent. Realising they would never win, the Tuatha de Danaan sent their women and children away from Atlantis and activated a doomsday machine they hoped they would never have to use. This doomsday device melted significant portions of the polar ice caps and the resulting floods poured over the globe causing destruction that was so widespread it passed forever into legend, imprinted on the collective consciousness of man.

"Atlantis was badly affected by the leviathan floods that swept down from the north, but worse was to come. The sudden and extreme melting of the polar ice caps allowed the land trapped under the billions of tons of ice to rise and the reverberations made themselves felt down in the fault line of what you call the Mid Atlantic Ridge on which much of Atlantis was situated. As the polar lands rose, Atlantis sank under the smoke of erupting volcanoes and violent earthquakes.

"The sinking was rapid and much of the Atlantean technology was lost. Survivors of Atlantis were numerous but of the original population many perished, unable to escape the great waves that washed over the doomed continent. Of the colonies that had been established in the dark lands only that in the distant Himalayas survived the convulsions of the earth. Its name is Shangri La.

"The survivors lay the foundations for future empires on Earth, hoping to create a new Atlantis but without the frailties their civilisation had succumbed to in its final days. Civilisations such as Egypt, Sumeria and the Olmecs owe much to the knowledge that Atlantis was able to impart.* * "And we, the Nucleus, watched and stored everything for the generation that would find us."

Seated on hard wooden benches in a sparse, close room on the Renown, each scientist brooded alone, deep in their own thoughts, dwelling on the shattering revelations that the Nucleus had revealed to them. The entire pre-history of mankind would need to be rewritten, the scientific community would be thrown into a turmoil, but above all lives would be changed forever by the knowledge that the Nucleus held within its memory. The Ministry of Science and Engineering would go stark staring mad about this discovery.

Miller Hayre gloomily imagined the droves of scientists that would now descend on New Atlantis, all demanding to see his discovery, all demanding precious time to test their own theories about Atlantis, all impinging on his own time with the Nucleus. And that's if Ministry of Defence didn't close the area off and declare it a state secret which was very likely. Bugger. But they had to let people know because this discovery was just far too big to hide.

McHarrie's mind was racing. The possibilities for constructing new weapons powered by the Atlantean power crystals was now within his reach. For too long they'd been limited to using the crystals only to power vehicles, being unable to channel the energy efficiently enough to power a weapon. The Nucleus had hinted at crystal powered weapons. He was sure of it. His friends in Germany would be extremely interested when he reported back to them.

Doyle was not in a good mood. He'd only been allowed to blow up one thing and that had been it. What a waste of time the trip had been. He wondered if the Nucleus would have anything to say on the matter of explosives and thermodynamics. Now there was a thought.....

Jane's thoughts were her own.

*2 The War Factory, 1935*

The silence of millennia echoed through the corridors of ancient stone. Once, many generations ago, long before the supposed dawn of modern civilisation, the corridors had rung to the sounds of scientific and military endeavour. The clash of metal and grating of stone still hung in the air, a tinkling that could be heard if you listened hard enough. Once there thrived a civilisation that reached the four corners of the Earth whose people lived in prosperity and freedom, people that were giants eight feet tall. They sailed the oceans bringing peace and prosperity wherever they went and were treated like gods. But they became complacent and complacency bred contempt for each other. Hatred. These mighty people split into factions and fought. The mighty energies they had harnessed for good they channelled into creating mighty war machines. And they fought. And fought. And now they fight no more. But the war factories they created still stood, although they were now many hundreds of fathoms beneath the waves. Silent, dark and lonely, they remained undisturbed, monuments to the evil excesses of a long gone people.


Until now....

Water hung from the high vaulted ceilings stretching, fighting the inevitable force of gravity before dripping down splashing loudly into cold black puddles. Lonely howls of unknown creatures wound through the miles of darkness sounding like lost souls stranded on the banks of the Styx.

Suddenly, there was a deep low, bass thud that resounded far down into the hidden depths of the ancient mausoleum of war. Dust trickled down from crumbling joists, scaring skittering creatures away.

The dripping of water continued its reign of the silence, dripping constantly, unceasingly.

Once again the air was assaulted, this time by a shrill whine which slowly increased in volume before screaming to a halt. There were more low thuds, followed by a sharp crack of stone and a huge bang, as a huge two foot thick chunk of granite fell into one of the corridors. Blinding light streamed in, slicing through the thick dank darkness, shredding the gloom. Motes of dust spiralled in the sudden draft, the smell of oil and grease permeating into the violated sanctity of the temple of destruction.

From beyond the light source came a deep menacing tread. Something was coming. Something heavy. The light flickered as a bulky squat humanoid shape loomed into view at the newly cut doorway. The figure was heavily armoured with rounded plates of iron and steel covering every aspect of its seven foot tall body. Tubes ran from the legs and arms, interfacing with the carapace. The mighty right arm held an enormous cannon like weapon. Steam and gases rose from gaps between the armour blowing away in the oily breeze. Above the mighty carapace a tanned face stuck out from the protection of the power armour, taking in all that was lit by the lights shining from the shoulder pads. Captain James Riley had arrived.

In the depths, something stirred and sent out commands to its children.

Riley's team moved smoothly into action like the well oiled machine it was. Hand picked from the British Empire's regiments, the soldiers underwent months of gruelling training and conditioning before they were considered good enough for Nightshade. The elite Nightshade Division consisted of the best infantry troops in the world.

Quickly the five soldiers scanned the immediate area, power armour creaking and steaming as weapon barrels swept around. Then without a word, Riley lead them deeper into the building.

Torchlight flashed over the intricately coloured wall murals that were etched and painted on every corridor and room wall. Bright reds, blues and greens swirled in the yellow light, huge sea scenes dominating and drawing the eye at every turn. Here and there, small globes threw a minty green luminescence into the close surrounding area but beyond there was only darkness. Riley led them deeper and deeper going over the plan he held in his mind's eye as he did so. Find the power crystals. Escape. It was simple. Neat. Easy. Except for one thing. Two previous expeditions had failed to return to their home submarine Dreadnaughts. Twenty men were missing - more than likely dead if the garbled radio messages were to be believed. The messages consisted of screams, cries for help, savage snarls, the rending of flesh and had shocked everyone who dared listen to them. The British scientific colony of New Atlantis appealed for help and the Nightshade Division were sent in, supposedly on a training mission to test out the new power armour the boffins at Bletchley Park had designed. In reality the Ministry of Science and Engineering at Whitehall in good ol' Blighty was nervous about finding opposition to their continued acquisition of the Atlantean power crystals.

A solid metal door appeared out of darkness ahead of the soldiers, shining an unnatural silver hue. Complex symbols and writing were embossed at head height on the door. Riley pulled out a piece of paper and checked the symbols and complex lines written on it with those on the door. They matched. Their objective had been reached. With a sigh of relief he turned to his men and.....

..... screeches and howls raced down the wide corridor they had just come down. Screams from the very depths of hell itself were raised in a cacophony of hatred against the intruders.

"Quick. Inside now," Riley shouted.

The door squealed open on protesting hinges.

Sergeant Miller turned, covering the squad's rear as it slowly squeezed through the doorway, hulking frames outlined against a soft blue light from within the large room they entered.

Something moved ahead of him, caught in the green wall lights. White fangs dripped and yellow claws scraped against the granite floor and night black bodies swarmed over each other desperate to kill, screeching with rage.

Miller raised his Gatling cannon and flicked the safety off.

"Miller! Move it! Get in here!"

"There's hundreds of them. I'll hold them off. Get the crystals and get out of here. Now." Miller was glad his voice didn't betray the icy fear that gripped his heart with hard fingers.

Armour clattered and creaked as Riley appeared behind him and swore profusely.

The two men looked at each other, a mutual sense of understanding passing between them. They had no choice.

"Victory or death, Miller," Riley said has he turned away.

"Victory or death, Captain," Miller returned as he heard the metal door and his only escape clang shut. He could hear bars being dropped behind it. He could feel Death at his shoulder, waiting.

The black horde had stopped, seething. Heads turned and focussed on the soldier, standing massive and immovable, all alone against them. They could feel other warm living bodies nearby, behind this one. Kill, kill, kill! As one they surged forward.

Miller took an involuntary step back as night descended screaming upon him. He pressed the trigger of his gun, the barrels span creating a shrill whine which drowned out the screaming which in turn was drowned out by the roar of bullets hurling themselves through the air, thirsting for lives to end.

The torrent of night paused and swirled as body after body fell shredded, bright blue ichor splattering and dripping from the walls. But as the waters of the Amazon are relentless so was this tide of hell and the sheer mass of bodies pushed the fiends on.

Brass bullet cases span and bounced away from Miller, collecting in small piles. The roar of the spinning cannon deafened him and the flickering glare of cannon fire blinded him but still he stood, seeking new targets with unerring aim, protecting his squad, a King Canute against the sea.

Suddenly the rage of firepower stopped, the Gatling cannon whining uselessly, out of ammunition. Miller clicked a switch and the gun fell to the floor with a clatter. His power armour complained as the flexed his arms preparing for unarmed combat. Victory or death. His would be a good death.

The dam burst with a howl of victory. Fangs flashed and talons reached for flesh to rend. And Death prepared to take the life of a hero.

The metal door began to buckle under the ferocity of the creatures' attacks, bulging and groaning under the sheer weight of bodies behind it.

Power crystals secured, Riley and his remaining unit members were scouring the cavernous round room for escape routes. At the north of the room directly opposite the buckling door was a set of double doors, encrusted in rust and green deposits but Riley was searching for a route back to their submarine mothership. He was having little luck. A further set of double doors led to a comprehensive cave in with no way past.

"Rafferty! Black! Get those doors down. We're going to have to go north."

The two soldiers tramped heavily over to the rusty doors, vapour steaming into the damp air from their suits.

"Johnston, contact the Renown. We need another route out of here."

The sound of metal on metal reverberated around the room like a bell tolling a doom and Rafferty and Black battered the doors down.

The silver door was holding against the relentless assault of the unknown creatures, bending as it was but it wouldn't hold for much longer. Time was running out and they would die soon if they didn't get out.

"What did Renown say?" asked Riley as he moved to follow Rafferty and Black through the open doors.

"Couldn't contact them, sir. We must be too deep in the complex."

"Damn. Johnston, how deep down are we in here?"

" I reckon about two hundred fathoms sir."

"And the North Atlantic Fleet is close isn't it?"

" Last I heard it was operating on exercises about twenty miles away. Are you thinking about going for the surface, sir?"

"Got any better ideas?" growled Riley. Things were bad. This was turning into a suicide mission. And what the hell were those things out there? Miller had carried enough firepower to level an army and that hadn't done him any good.

Going for the surface wasn't the best plan but it was the only one. Escape back to the Renown was cut off and they were lost with a horde of hell beasts baying for their blood. Fear crept down Riley's spine as he heard echoes of screams all around him in the dark corridors. The darkness was oppressive, a living creature pressing on the men trying to devour them. The only light now was from the soldier's torches but the shadows just seemed darker, the light less stronger, weakening as they strode ever deeper into the warren of corridors.

They were taking a well deserved break, eating chocolate from foil wrappers and sipping water from canteens. The huge low ceilinged room was sparse, coated in dust as was normal in this place. Broken pieces of stone littered the floor and the walls were lined with rusted cracked tubes of metal. Great shards of clear crystal lay in heaps under holes in the ceiling. Nothing remained to give a clue as to what the purpose of the room had been.

"Johnston, anything from the Renown?" asked Riley.

"Negative, sir. Not even a directional signal."

Still nothing. The building must be linked to others within the Atlantean city complex and they'd managed to find those tunnel links. Fantastic. So much for coming out on the other side of the building they'd originally entered.

There was a blur at the edge of Riley's vision and Rafferty screamed in fear and surprise as a long black creature leapt at him, sparks flashing as its claws scraped his armour, fangs glistening in the torchlight.

Johnston was nearest to the Irishman and, armour clattering, he grabbed the beast's arm and yanked. Power armour motors whined as the man's strength was enhanced ten times. Bones snapped, blue ichor spurted and Johnston staggered back as he wrenched the right arm off the nightmare animal. It barely seemed to notice continuing its relentless attack, its head shaking back and forth as its jaws gripped flesh. Rafferty's screams of pain rang on as he desperately tried to fight his attacker, staggering back into a wall. He slumped to his knees but as he did so he managed to gain purchase on the animal and throw it away from him. Black and Riley who were running over to help fired their guns, the automatic shotgun shells blasting into the black body, spraying fountains of blood into the air as it jerked back under the impact of the large calibre bullets.

The threat disposed of, Johnston scrambled over to Rafferty. He took one look at Rafferty and promptly vomited. Unable to break through the armour, the attacker had gone for the only prominent weak spot. His face. Only a bloody ruin of muscle, tendons and smashed bone remained.

Rafferty's left hand spasmed, his clattering armour breaking the unnatural silence and spurring the shocked men into action.

"Johnston, get a grip man. Keep an eye out for more of those animals."

Johnston moved away wiping vomit from his mouth leaving Black and Riley kneeling next to the badly injured man.

"There's nothing we can do for him," Riley said to Black as he struggled to remove the forearm sections of Rafferty's armour. Succeeding, he felt for a pulse. It was weak which wasn't surprising. The man was probably in acute shock and pain. His breathing was ragged, coming in bubbling gasps of pain.

"Will you do it or will I?" asked Black.

"I'll do it," said Riley injecting a syringe of morphine into Rafferty's bloodstream. It would help dull the pain and give him some peace.

Black got up and walked away. A seasoned veteran, he had no stomach for what Riley had to do.

Riley pulled out his service revolver, the dark metal weapon cold and heavy in his hand. Holding it to remains of Rafferty's temple, he paused as Rafferty reached out and gripped his free hand. He knew what had to be done. They couldn't take him with them and to leave him alive would be an abomination. Mercy had to prevail.

Riley pulled the trigger.

Johnston leaned against the doorway leading out of that room of death. He was pale and obviously in shock. He was young compared to the rest of the veterans and he wasn't totally battle hardened. Rafferty was... had been... a good friend of his. This should only have been a recon mission, scout the area out, grab the goods and get out. They were getting picked off one by one as easily as they themselves could take out a normal civilian. They were being played with, mere toythings to be picked up and discarded after being broken, beaten, shredded, pulped, destroyed. Johnston began to think they weren't going to get out of here. Taking deep breaths of damp air he tried to compose himself, tried to suppress the mounting panic he could feel pushing its way up from his stomach to his chest clutching for his heart.

"Are you OK, boy?" asked Black as he scanned the wide corridor for movement.

"Could be better," replied Johnston cursing himself for the tremor in his voice.

"We'll get out, don't you worry. We'll find a way out soon. These corridors can't go on for ever."

"Do you think?"

Black smiled grimly, staying silent as Riley approached.

"Let's go. No point hanging around..." Riley paused. "Did you hear that?"

The three men stood silently, ears pricked for the slightest sound.

A rumble could be felt vibrating through the stone floors making dust dance in the torchlight.

Johnston's radio crackled into life making all three soldiers jump in their armour causing the interlocking plates to jangle loudly.

"...shade, can you hear us? Please respond. Renown calling Nightshade, are you receiving? Please respond."

Grabbing the radio hanging from Johnston's back, Riley almost yelled with relief at the sound of the Renown's radio operator.

"Renown, this is Nightshade. Repeat, this is Nightshade."

"Captain Riley! Good to hear from you! What's happened down there?"

"Will tell you when we get on board. We are two men down and require instant evacuation."

"Riley, we've triangulated your position. The Renown has been able to dock with a doorway two hundred yards north north east from your current position. Proceed with all possible speed for evacuation."

"Roger that Renown. See you in five minutes. Get the tea on. Over and out."

Replacing the receiver Riley looked at Johnston and Black.

"Well, you heard the man! Let's get moving."

The evacuation point was probably at the far end of the corridor they were in. The roof of this wide corridor was tens of feet high, the ceiling barely visible in the darkness. Fluted pillars and buttresses soared gracefully meeting overhead supporting the frescoed ceiling. Once this had been a place of beauty despite its ancient use. Now...

Moving three abreast, the soldiers hurried as fast as their heavy armour would allow. They were nearly out of this nightmare world, nearly back to the warm and bright submarine, nearly home. The thought of this spurred them on, sweat trickling down their faces, ragged breathing catching in their throats. Nearly home.

A sharp hiss split the air curling and lashing its sibilant caress against the ears of the men. Ahead of them, what had once been a dark night was now ablaze with stars which supernovaed into long, white and deadly fangs. Ahead of them lay a seemingly insurmountable obstacle beyond which lay their only escape. Uncountable numbers of filthy, glistening night coloured creatures swarmed over each other, scaling the walls and pillars like living oil. Harsh hisses and screeches sprang from their foul mouths as they waited for a silent command from their parent, the command that would finally destroy these interlopers.

They knew there was no escape. Hope had fluttered and died in an instant, blown out like a candle in a hurricane. They would be caught before they had run five yards. The three men knew there was only one thing to do and that was to fight their way through to the escape beyond. Weapons clanked as they were hastily checked and firing bolts pulled back into place. Three large calibre weapons swung up at once. This was it.

Victory or death.

"Straight through them men," ordered Riley. "Don't stop until we're clear. Let's move."

With those final words the three men charged, automatic shotguns pumping out round after round. Small splashes of blue appeared in the living wall which seemed to contract for an instant before surging forward, the creatures moving as one, a single entity of rage and loathing.

The deadly wave crashed into the three soldiers knocking Black off balance despite the weight of his armour. He continued firing as he fell, blue fountains of ichor splashing out over the swarm.

Despite his own orders Riley turned to the mass of shapes that had smothered Black when he fell. He could feel claws and teeth scraping over his armour setting his own teeth on edge. He reached back with his left hand and grabbed something which squirmed in his iron clad grip. He felt pressure around his wrist as a barbed mouth gripped it. Black was down. Riley could see flashes of gunfire from within swarming mass that covered Black. Where was Johnston? Riley pulled with all his strength and threw the creature in his grasp down to the ground with one smooth movement. He crushed its skull with his foot feeling bone crack and splinter as he pushed down. Riley felt bodies thudding into him. Black. He pulled the trigger of his gun and night skin parted as he fought his way to where Black was. Left and right, up and down he swung his gun, hitting out at any creature that got in his way. Riley could feel himself being weighed down by the sheer number of bodies that clung to him scrabbling for a way into his armour. He stumbled, tripping over the gutted remains of a creature and then suddenly he was lying face down on the ground. Screams of triumph pierced his head making him dizzy. Desperately Riley fought to push himself up, fought to free himself from the slavering jaws and curving white claws that squealed over his armour. A sharp pain stabbed through his right knee and Riley felt a claw dig its way into the cartilage.

Staccato gunfire. Small calibre bullets. Lots of it.

Riley couldn't get up. The weight pressing on him was far too much. He was exhausted. He'd failed. Victory or Death. Death called, holding out a bony hand for him to take. Riley growled, deep down in his throat and pushed up hard, getting one foot on the ground while ignoring the pain from his right knee. His gun was out of ammunition so he used it like a club battering the blunt weapon to his left and right, bodies giving way to his onslaught, teeth and bone shattering into shards under the force of Riley's blows.

Riley turned his head, puzzled. He could hear more gunfire, totally unlike the boom of the large calibre weapons Nightshade carried. And then he saw them.

The Royal Marines were pouring out the opening in the wall beyond where the Renown had docked, firing as they came. The CO had several Bren guns providing covering fire to his squads as they engaged the creatures. Caught by surprise the creatures were falling back under the withering rain of fire the Marines were exposing them to.

Riley despatched two more creatures who snapped at him and then they were all gone, vanishing as fast as they had appeared called away by an unknown force.

Ignoring the urgent calls of the Royal Marines, Riley limped over to the shattered body of what was once Sergeant Black. He was definitely dead. His limbs stuck out at unnatural angles, his amour scratched and clawed, prised off in places where the creatures had slipped their long claws through the gaps in the armour plates. A pool of dark red blood was forming under the body.

"Sir, I think we better go now before those creatures come back with reinforcements."

It was Johnston. Battered but in far better shape than his commander.

"I'll take Black onboard the Renown, sir. There's a medic waiting for you."

Riley was too exhausted, mentally and physically, to argue with Johnston who was breaching every rule on the chain of command by telling Riley what to do.

As he limped back to the Renown, Riley was glad for his all enclosing helmet. He didn't want anyone to see him crying at the savage loss of his men.

*3 The Launch of the Queen Victoria*

The crowds had been gathering since the day had dawned bright and sharp over the sooty grey industrial city of Glasgow, still Second City of the Empire in 1936. A chill February wind whistled and whined through the cobbled streets and avenues blowing in the salty smell of the Atlantic from the west, whipping colourful banners back and forth and snapping the blue, white and red bunting strung between lampposts.

The River Clyde waterfront, opposite the Govan shipyards, resounded to the calls of street hawkers selling everything from souvenirs of the momentous occasion to meat pies and roasted chestnuts, their voices soaring above the roar and tempered pandemonium of the swirling masses, competing loudly with each other trading lively and sometimes sharp banter. Balloon sellers with masses of bright balloons in a rainbow of colours did a roaring trade. Nearly every child had a balloon on a string with the string wrapped around their wrists to stop it blowing away. Union Jack flags were tightly gripped in mitten clad hands, fluttering in the wind.

On the dull melancholy Clyde itself an armada of small rowing boats hovered in place against the slow meandering current, carrying everything from individuals to large families all regaling in the occasion of the launch of the mighty new dreadnaught, a new pride of the British Royal Navy, a further protector of the British Empire and all who lived in it.

Six years in the making, the mighty battleship stood in the dry dock of the Govan shipyards of the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company. Constructed of the finest steel and iron available in the Empire by the best ship builders, the six hundred yard long behemoth filled the horizon, a cliff of sheer steel soaring high above the ground to the huge decks on which bristled the barrels of the finest weapons to come out of the armament factories of Birmingham and Sheffield. And looming above these minor weapons, dwarfing them all, were the five primary batteries. Each battery sported four 32 inch cannon, each cannon more than capable of destroying an enemy battleship with a single hit, their long, deceptively slim, barrels giving the dreadnaught the ability to pound a target into oblivion from over forty miles away. The dreadnaught was Britain's mailed fist on the seas, a potent and visible symbol of the power wielded by the Empire and a warning to all its enemies; Britannia rules the waves.

Down the many decks leading to the engine room, deep in the bowels of the ship, hung a spherical red crystal magically suspended in mid air surrounded by copper pipes and great brass flanges. The crystal pulsed constantly, casting a strange alien light around the unlit room. In a way this was the heart of the dreadnaught, the source of its mighty power, the reason that a six hundred yard long, half a million ton vessel could rove the seas at will. The ancient power of Atlantis.

Next to the vast ship was a raised platform decorated with imperial purple and crimson red sashes. Large Union Jack flags with the king's coat of arms in the middle fluttered from flagpoles in each corner. The platform was thronged with the important people of Scotland, the lords and earls and their ladies, all dressed in their best silk and tweed finery, diamonds and jewels glittering in the weak winter sun. The King of Britain, Emperor of the British Empire, Edward VIII was present to launch this feat of ingenuous engineering. A hub bub of conversation wafted across the water, a symphony of idle chit chat, talk of holidays in India, big game hunting in Kenya with a dark undercurrent speaking quietly of the unsettling events in Europe and the continuing rearmament of Nazi Germany.

"I doubt it'll make any difference to us no matter what Germany does," a well fed city councillor was saying to the king. "It's not as if the Hun have the firepower to compete with the Grand Fleets or the Air Arm."

"No, no, that's true but this Hitler chap could cause problems with our trading routes to India. Our airships pass directly over Germany on their way there," interrupted a moustachioed man, dressed in a black tailed coat, a bright blue silk cravat protecting his neck from the cold wind.

"He's not going to attack our airships, especially when the Air Arm can bombard anywhere in Germany with impunity. No one would dare to strike against the Empire," returned the councillor.

King Edward listened politely, sipping from a crystal flute of champagne while nodding in agreement. It was a bitter day and very exposed on the bare platform. The side of the dreadnaught was a bleak grey metal cliff face that made the platform seem even colder. He'd be glad when this engagement was over and he could go back to the deer stalking at Balmoral. Personally, he doubted Adolf Hitler would do anything rash. He'd met him and he seemed a thoroughly decent chap, if a tad hard on the Jews. And the blacks. Gays too. Nothing to really worry about.

"What about America?" interrupted a new speaker. The voice was gruff and commanding as befitted the military upbringing of General Barker.

"What about America?" said the councillor pompously. "Should take the bloody colonies back if you ask me!" he harrumphed. "Should keep an eye on that country, you know. Wouldn't surprise me If they tried to invade Canada one of these days. You watch them!"

"I do agree," said General Barker as everyone nodded sagely in agreement with the councillor. "America is easily the biggest threat to world peace at this moment. American warships have been shadowing our shipping lanes in the Caribbean and our men in the Pacific say the US naval bases at Hawaii and Pearl Harbor are being rebuilt and reinforced. It's not us that needs to worry though. I would say the Nipponese would be under threat."

"Oh, yes. Their war against the Middle Kingdom of China will sap much of their resources. Big place China. Been there and it just goes stretches forever. But what does Nippon have that America needs? The Nips are in China because they need the resources. Nippon has nothing that America needs."

"Taking over Nipponese interests would consolidate US power in the Pacific," said General Barker launching into a detailed analysis. Edward allowed Barker's voice to fade into the background while pretending to listen politely. Edward had heard all this talk of an expansionist United States before. It was a frequent topic of conversation at the dinner parties he'd been to in the past month. One could get bored of hearing the same topic again and again. He wondered when it would decided to slap down the US before it decided to turned an eye on British interests.

Edward's butler approached him deftly threading his way through the crowd before carefully whispering to the king that it was now time to launch the ship.

Making his excuses to his companions, Edward handed his champagne glass to the butler and, the crowd parting in front of him, walked to the podium facing the dreadnaught where a magnum of champagne stood ready to christen the new ship. A range of microphones stood in front of the podium from Pathe News, the BBC, the World Service and others, wired up to broadcast to the people crowding on the docks and the river front and across the Empire.

The breeze stiffened as Edward cleared his throat and mentally shuffled through his speech. There was a hint of snow in the air, a bite that went straight through his clothing, chilling him to the bone. He wished he was on the river front with the common folk, next to all the glowing braziers and with something warmer than a glass of champagne to keep the cold at bay. Still, not long now. He had asked for the speech to be short and short it was. He jumped as a voice suddenly blared out from speakers along the Clyde.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the British Isles, citizens of the British Empire. His Majesty, the King."

A roar of appreciation and excitement rose up into the air along with the steam of thousands of breaths. Cheers and whistles resounded along the riverbank which was a riot of colour as thousands of Union Jack flags were waved by adults and children both.

Edward smiled and waved hesitantly. Despite Wallis, the people still loved him. Or maybe it was just the excitement of seeing a ship they'd worked on for six years being launched. He eyed the soon to be Queen Victoria. She truly was gigantic, a massive leviathan of steel and iron. He coughed politely before beginning his speech.

"As I stand here in Glasgow on this great day I understand why this is truly the second city of the Empire. Only here in the shipyards of the Clyde can be found the skill, determination and industry to produce this great leviathan, this great symbol of British sea power that stands before me today."

The cries and cheers of appreciation had started before he'd finished his last sentence and continued for a good minute before dieing down.

"This mighty ship will roam the waves protecting our Empire and all who live in it from the aggression of our enemies and their allies. The world we live in today is a dangerous world, a world of jealousy, hate and evil. A world that conspires to overthrow our solid British values and replace them with their foreign ways. This ship shall help ensure that the day when that happens shall never come."

Edward placed his hand on the lever that would release the champagne magnum.

"I name this ship Queen Victoria. May God bless her and all who sail with her."

He pushed the lever down and the champagne magnum swung down in a slow graceful arc to smash against the side with an enormous boom that echoed through the air as if coming from a distance.

There were cries of consternation and alarm.

"What was that noise?" someone said.

"No idea. Was it not the dreadnaught ship launching?"

There was another enormous boom. And another. And another. A shrill shriek sounded overhead and Edward heard General Barker exclaim, "Shells! We're being bombarded!"

A huge explosion erupted in the River Clyde just a few hundred yards from the podium. A fountain of water shot high into the air, higher even than the Queen Victoria, before crashing back down again and splashing in a wave over the river banks. The many rowing boats in the vicinity were reduced to less than match wood, their occupants shredded in the massive blast.

"The King! Save the King!" Edward heard someone shout seconds before another shell whistled in down through the air and crashed into the crowded river bank across from the podium. The explosion was truly enormous, a huge gout of yellow and red that engulfed the tightly packed men, woman and children like an evil dragon's flame. Bodies were thrown about like rag dolls with missing limbs. Nearby a building collapsed under the shock of the blast, crushing many more people and sending a cloud of choking brown and grey dust rolling up the river.

On the podium the quiet chatter had turned into screams of panic and pandemonium reigned as the great people pushed and shoved to get off the platform crushing underfoot those that fell. Edward's butler grabbed his arm and pulled him.

"Sir, hurry! You've got to get off here now! It's not safe!"

Edward looked uncomprehendingly at the man, his face blank with shock. Who on earth could possibly be attacking the greatest nation the world had ever seen?* * A shell landed a hundred yards in front of Edward, right in the midst of the people who were running to escape the bombardment. The blast blew Edward and his butler backwards off their feet onto the wooden floor of the podium and Edward could feel where his face had scorched in the heat. His head throbbed where it had banged painfully against the wood. The flagpoles at each corner of the platform had snapped and fallen to the ground trailing their proud banners in the black scorch marks.

A series of explosions blossomed along the docks like deadly flowers, blooming bright mixtures of red, orange and yellow, destroying the four vast blue dock cranes that stood by the wharf. They toppled slowly and gracefully on to the stone wharfs, metal limbs bending and grinding, before smashing into bits like ugly works of art.

The shrieking whistle of a shell pierced the air overhead and Edward's legs finally obeyed the orders his brain was screaming at them. Running jerkily, his hands over his head to protect himself from the debris and shrapnel that was shredding the air and anything in its way, he hastened towards the steps leading off the podium, his faithful valet supporting him. Ahead of him he could see a scene of carnage. At the bottom of the steps lay the councillor he'd been talking to minutes previously, his plump body punctured by jagged stones and metal. Bodies lay in disarray, some cut in two either by the blast or the resultant shrapnel. Blood flowed red on the blackened concrete.

But it was too late for Edward. The whistle of the shell grew louder and then the podium erupted in a vast gout of flame. Edward VIII, King of the British Isles, Emperor of the British Empire, sovereign of four hundred million people, died.

The attackers finally found their range and His Majesty's Dreadnaught Queen Victoria, abandoned in her launch bay, never felt the lap of water on her keel before she died under an onslaught of shells and bombs. The first few shells exploded harmlessly against her foot thick armour plating but heavier guns were deployed and the plating shattered exposing the unprotected insides. The shelling was merciless and explosions racked the dreadnaught from bow to stern until finally, deep in the bowels of the mighty vessel, a shell exploded in the engine room. The wind ceased it's cold moaning as if catching its breath, the shelling slackened as if the aggressors sensed that their prey had been mortally wounded and the Queen Victoria erupted in an explosion that was heard as far away as Belfast, many miles away across the waters of the Irish Sea. The stern disappeared in an expanding fiery sphere of roiling orange tinged with eerie flashes of green lightening. The explosion funnelled up to the front of the ship and blew out the graceful curve of her bow with a violence that threw pieces of the ship tens of miles away.

The shelling stopped completely. The wind resumed its ghostly moan as if lamenting the dead - and of the dead there were many. Bodies lay around blackened craters in the river side. What had been a lively scene of colourful joviality just mere minutes before was now a harrowing scene of death. Families lay together, parents covering their children as they'd tried to protect them from the death that rained down from the skies. Blood pooled in black puddles. Body parts lay scattered around, the flesh turning cold and blue.

A bright red balloon floated up in to the sky, high and far away from the death and destruction and ruins that lay below.

"Good morning and welcome to the BBC News. The Empire is in mourning as the search continues for the body of King Edward VIII, murdered along with many hundreds of innocent people in the sneak attack on Glasgow by forces of the German Empire.

"Today, in the aftermath of the attack, people are asking `What now?' We can reveal that the Ministry of Defence at Whitehall has already prepared a declaration of war on the German Third Reich and that Prime Minister Baldwin will officially make an announcement in an emergency session of Parliament later on today. We now go across to Mr James Harker, our correspondent in Glasgow."

"Thank you Mr Duncan. I can easily see the giant shattered hulk that is the remains of the dreadnaught that was to be the Queen Victoria. Many fires are still burning as fire crews struggle to contain a blaze that reportedly reached four hundred degrees fahrenheit. The only thing we can be grateful for is that the warship had not yet taken on any munitions otherwise the devastation would have been even more severe.

"Witnesses said the ship that was to be the latest addition to the British Fleet came under heavy shellfire as it prepared to launch. It is believed that King Edward VIII died instantly when a shell hit the platform on which he was standing. Simultaneously, Glasgow's docks on the Clyde came under a sustained bombing attack from planes flying at extremely high altitude. The bombing killed many thousands as they thronged the streets to celebrate the launch and maiden voyage of the Queen Victoria.

"Hospitals throughout Glasgow are at maximum capacity as they attempt to deal with the injured and maimed. Emergency trains are transferring the less severely wounded to hospitals in Perth and Edinburgh.

"I have been told that the Dreadnaught Ark Royal and its battle fleet is now stationed off the coast of Scotland near Colonsay. Overhead, I can see the aerial Dreadnaught Merlin hovering high above, casting a long shadow over this burning and injured city. It is too early to say if Britain's military is gathering for a counter attack or if it is simply defending the city from any further attack.

"One thing very clear though is that people are angry and shocked at the destruction, death and carnage caused here. They are asking how such an attack could happen and are demanding revenge.

"Mr Harker, BBC News, Glasgow."

"Thank you Mr Harker. The Right Honourable Winston Churchill has tabled several questions in the House of Commons today asking how there was such a catastrophic failure in Britain's security and how German forces could marshal such military strength so near to British sovereign territory without the knowledge of Britain's intelligence services. He claimed that German ships had been sighted near the Outer Hebridean island of Skye by a fisherman but no action had been taken. The Prime Minister, Mr Baldwin denied that warnings of an attack had been ignored and that the attack would be met with a rapid and robust response.

"At Balmoral, the royal family are in mourning and across the Empire, flags are flying at half mast in respect for the dead king. Prince George, the as yet uncrowned King of the British Empire has already met with Prime Minister Baldwin to discuss the succession and the repercussions of the attack.

"The German ambassador, Freidrich Kohl, has been expelled from the German embassy in London. The Germans have repeatedly protested their innocence. The German Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, in an unprecedented move has contacted the British Government directly to deny any involvement in the attack and said that they had no reason to attack Britain, nor to murder the King. The German ships off Skye had strayed off course during a military exercise and had not in any way taken part in any attack.

"It is uncertain if this will sway the Government's decision to declare war on Germany."

*4* *Our Man in Greenland*

It was cold, bitterly cold. The air was cold, the sky was cold, the water was cold, the ground was cold. There was a total utter absence of any heat whatsoever. And John Murdoch, MI6 agent, felt it. The wind cut like glass splinters through his fur lined parka, numbing his body. What he would give for a roaring log fire and a hot bath.... Murdoch sighed, his breath steaming out into the chill air, temporarily fogging his view of the American campsite down in the rocky valley below.

"Bloody stupid American bastards. Couldn't choose somewhere a bit warmer could they? Had to choose the middle of bloody Greenland," Murdoch cursed, wishing vehemently that something large and hard would fall on the campsite and squish it so he could go back home to Blighty. At least the rain was warm there.

Murdoch's wish remained unfulfilled and the campsite stood unscathed, a collection of tents and wooden huts sprawling over the rocky white valley floor. Peering through the binoculars Murdoch noted the armed guards posted around the perimeter. They carried the M1 Garand rifle which they used mainly for leaning on while smoking or chewing gum. Typical lazy Yanks. God knows how we lost the colonies to that rabble, Murdoch reflected as he scanned the circumference of the camp for any surprises. Not seeing any, he moved a stone that was sticking into his side before focussing the powerful lenses on the tall metal derrick at the centre of the camp dwarfing the surrounding buildings. The derrick stood over a gaping black hole cut deep into the hard earth. Currently nothing was happening but Murdoch had already seen a team of ten men lowered into the hole on a lift barely five minutes ago. He was sure he'd recognised Dr Jonathan Knight, the eminent American archaeologist and also Professor Mitch Melling, an expert on ancient civilisations. This would back up the rumours that had reached the ears of MI6 of the US discovery of ancient relics. Not just any ancient relics, oh no, none of your humdrum ancient Egyptian stuff here. The powerful ones. The really, really old ones, pre Deluge and all that. Atlantean artefacts. Can't have Johnny Foreigner getting their greasy mitts on the likes of them, least of all the bloody Americans. Had to find them here though didn't they, not somewhere warmer.

Murdoch checked his Webley revolver was loaded and oiled before sliding it back into its hip holster. He checked his watch, checked the position of the pale watery imitation of a sun and sighed. It would be a good couple of hours before sunset and only then would he be able to risk sneaking down to investigate the diggings. Murdoch sighed and hunkered down into his parka desperately trying to find some warmth. It would be a long two hours....

The camp was lit in a blaze of white arc lights making the night as bright as day but making the shadows seem darker. Murdoch easily slipped past the pathetic sentries and then he stuck to the sharply defined shadows cast by the many wooden huts and tents. Once past the guards the camp was quiet. Smoke was trickling out of the many tin chimneys and light glowed warmly from the many windows. Animated chatter leaked out from inside the buildings but Murdoch wasn't interested in what they had to say. His orders were to close down the excavation before the US uncovered anything they could use to threaten King and Empire. The dynamite was ready and waiting in his rucksack. Murdoch rushed silently from building to building, sticking closely to the shadows, eyes and ears alert for any sign of danger. Security was lax though as the Americans weren't expecting any visitors and were confident that their "archaeological" dig wouldn't attract any unwanted attention. Within minutes, Murdoch was a darker shadow hiding in the shadow of a pile of steel girders scant feet from the bottom of the derrick that loomed high above.

There was nobody working tonight and the area surrounding the derrick was eerily silent. A series of arc lights attached to the metal structure harshly lit the ground with their unnaturally bright beams exposing frozen mounds of excavated earth, further piles of steel girders, some wooden crates and numerous tracks leading back to the surrounding campsite.

Double checking that no one was around to interfere with his mission, Murdoch pulled off his rucksack and carefully extracted the dynamite. This dynamite wasn't the normal stuff though. The boffins at Bletchley Park had done them proud with this improved explosive which was double the power of normal TNT. It was a tad unstable though so it paid to be careful. They'd also come up with an improved acid based timer much like that used in a grenade but more stable and allowing more precise timings to be set. Murdoch set the timers to ten minutes which he calculated would be more than enough time to allow him to get away.

Somewhere in the camp the coarse note of a truck's diesel engine starting up destroyed the cold silence. Murdoch paused, waiting to see where the truck went. Hopefully it was going on an expedition somewhere but night time was a funny time to have an expedition into the frozen wastes of Greenland. Maybe the driver was just turning it over to stop the engine freezing. Both hopes died as Murdoch heard the truck slip into gear and the engine get louder as it made its way towards the derrick. Murdoch heard voices from his left and he cursed silently as he saw a line of men walking towards the derrick flapping their arms to keep out the deep chill and complaining about the beer they'd had to leave behind. He shrank deeper into the shadow he was crouched in knowing that it was unlikely he would be spotted unless someone stumbled right into him.

The man in the lead turned round and whistled.

"Right! Listen up!" he yelled over the constant complaining.

"OK boys, Hank is bringing the truck up and I want all these crates loaded up in the next half hour."

The men groaned loudly and started complaining again.

"Hold on! That's the bad news. The good news is that we're going home tomorrow."

It took a second for the announcement to sink in before a cheer resounded into the air.

"Yeah, yeah. I know. We're going back home! But until tomorrow we've got to work our butts off clearing the site. So as I said, crates on the truck for the Iceberg and be goddamn careful with them. Dr Knight will have our hides if we break anything that's in them. Come on! Let's go!"

And with that, he clapped his hands and the navvies went to work. The truck had appeared by now, one of the big ten tonne Fords the Americans favoured and the men began to load it up with the crates. The crates didn't appear to be heavy but the navvies handled them gingerly, almost as if they were scared by the contents.

Murdoch huddled in the precious darkness. Thankfully the truck was parked some distance away and the various stacks of crates weren't situated anywhere nearby so he wasn't likely to be discovered. He loosened the strap holding his serrated dagger in place on his belt. It never caused any harm to be prepared for all possibilities. Old Baden Powell had it right there Murdoch reflected.

Murdoch's mission had changed. He was too late to scupper the dig. The Americans had found whatever they were looking for and were now preparing to leave by the sound of things. What was the Iceberg though? Murdoch was fully briefed on US military vehicles and the ridiculous names they called them. Iceberg wasn't one he was familiar one. Maybe it was an icebreaking ship moored off the coast nearby. He was going to have to find out what was in the crates before he destroyed them. If the Americans had got their hands on Atlantean technology then MI6 needed to know.

Once again Murdoch cursed. The roaring fire and hot bath had just receded further into the distance.

The nights were long in Greenland but Murdoch gave up a silent prayer of thanks that the navvies finished their job quickly. He obviously wasn't the only one feeling the cold. One by one all the men including the truck driver walked back to their warm and cosy wooden huts and their beers leaving Murdoch alone.

He shivered violently. The cold was intense and he hadn't been able to move for nearly an hour. His thighs ached as blood started to flow properly through the cramped muscles but his feet and fingers had nothing to give him but a painful numbness. Murdoch hoped he wasn't going to get frostbite. Once he'd investigated the truck and planted his dynamite he was going to have to evacuate quickly.

Quickly scanning for any patrolling soldiers, Murdoch hoisted his rucksack onto his shoulder and ran across the frozen ground towards the silent truck. The crates were stacked three high in two rows with a canvas tarpaulin pulled tight over them. Murdoch pulled himself over the tailgate of the truck and in between the tight gap between the rows of crates. He groped through his rucksack for his flashlight and, covering it with his gloved hand, he turned it on filtering out just enough light to examine the crates by. There was nothing special about them, being normal wooden cargo crates. As far as he could see they were all stamped US Army in large black capital letters. One crate was stamped " 143 of 150". Murdoch quickly counted the crates on the truck. There were only thirty crates there.

Using his dagger Murdoch prised out one of the panels on the side of the crate nearest to him. The crate was filled with straw which almost hid the multi coloured glows from within. Murdoch reached inside and felt the sharp edges of a crystal. Pulling his hand out he tapped the panel back into place and checked out another crate. More soft pastel glows, more sharp edged crystals

Damn them. They'd found power crystals. Lots of them. MI6's worse fears had been realised. There was no way that he could blow up the truck and its cargo now. Apart from the resulting explosion being a tad larger than what would be deemed safe it would still leave over a hundred crates of God knows what in the hands of the enemy. Murdoch sighed. This mission was going from bad to worse. Time to field test his thermal sleeping bag. The space between the crates was small and cramped but tucked up right at the back he should be able to hide from unkind eyes. Murdoch spread out the black sleeping bag and climbed in feeling warmth return to his limbs as it heated up with his own body heat. It wasn't a roaring fire but it would do. He hunkered down for the night.

Murdoch was jolted awake by the sound and vibration of the truck starting up. It was broad daylight and Murdoch castigated himself for sleeping as heavily and as long as he did. Luckily the truck hadn't been searched otherwise he would've been a dead man by now. He grimaced as the truck bounced along the rutted track and out of the camp. He caught glimpses of frantic activity taking place as the entire camp was dismantled. Trucks were everywhere with tents, cabins, drums, cookers, everything being loaded up onto them. Murdoch wondered how a camp this size was going to be transported back to the United States. His question was soon answered as the truck jolted up a slope and into a huge cavernous opening. For a few seconds Murdoch thought he'd entered a cave but then he saw the metal beams arcing overhead forming a lattice structure. Artificial lights shone everywhere from the ceiling all the way down the sides. Lamps had been set up at ground level to guide the truck and its fellows safely into the depths of airship. At least that's what Murdoch hoped he was in. The Americans couldn't have acquired the expertise to build an craft the size of an air dreadnaught. Not this soon. Could they?

The truck continued to travel further and further into the giant craft until the entrance was a white speck in the gloom. Murdoch hazarded a look over the tailgate of the truck. The craft was truly gigantic. He could barely see the sides of it. There was no doubt that this was a dreadnaught class aircraft and one at the upper end of the size scale as well.

Murdoch jerked back into the safety of his hiding place between the packed crates as the truck ground to a halt. He heard the driver jump out and slam shut the door behind him. Chains clinked heavily and Murdoch assumed that the truck was being secured for the flight. He couldn't see the driver but he could hear heavy tacked boots sounding off the metal surface of the floor which then receded into the distance as the driver left his truck firmly secured.

Murdoch crept to the tailgate and was about to jump out when he smelt cigarette smoke and held back. It was just as well he did as seconds later two American GIs appeared cigarettes flaring in the half dark as they drew longs drags of smoke deep into their lungs. They carried Thompson submachine guns under their right arms ready for use. Despite their cigarettes Murdoch got a sense that these two men were a tougher proposition than the lax camp guards. And despite Murdoch's best wishes they stayed in front of the truck obviously guarding it specially because of its precious cargo.

Now would probably be a good time to let MI6 know where he was. Working carefully to avoid making any noise and alerting the guards, Murdoch unlaced his left hiking boot and took it off. He struggled to rotate the heel which was caked in ice and hard black muck. Once the heel was rotated he examined the tiny short wave radio transmitter set into the tough rubber. There were no loose connections so he pushed a tiny bare metal wire down into a connector with his fingernail which would complete the circuit and start broadcasting his location to the waiting "fishing boats" which would be able to triangulate his position. It was a crafty thing. The aerial was a wire in the shoelaces.

Still it wasn't going to do him any good if all MI6 would find was a dead body. He weighed up his options as he fixed the heel back in place and put his boot back here. He could wait here in the truck until the airship landed, wherever it was going. The chances he would be discovered then were pretty high because the truck would be under guard from now on. The only other option was to escape from his hiding place out into the airship. It would be jolly good if he could escape before it took off and save him a lot of bother.... The light at the end of the cargo hold closed up and Murdoch could feel the vibrations from the engines as they stepped up a gear. He felt a slight but tangible lurch which told him he was now airborne. Bloody fantastic. He only hoped he wasn't going to America.

Time to escape though. The guards had relaxed visibly once the cargo hold had been sealed and were swapping small talk while leaning against the tail gate of the truck they were guarding. Murdoch unsheathed his knife, the long serrated blade glistening evilly in the half light available. Slowly straightening up to a standing position he reached up to the canvas covering the crates and cut a large `X' with his knife. Four flaps of canvas fell down quietly and Murdoch carefully climbed up the side of two crates and pulled himself out on the top of the truck.

It was difficult to see anything in the gloom of the hold. It wasn't that there wasn't a lot of light. There was, as arclights shone everywhere, all the way down the sides of the hold to the entrance, high overhead and even shining up from the metal floor. It was just that the hold was so enormous that it seemed to swallow up whatever light was present.

Murdoch could see about six or seven more trucks parked in a row nearby. He couldn't see what was in them as they all had canvas covers but there were no guards. The trucks were all parked neatly in a row in front of a huge metal wall that divided the cargo hold from whatever lay beyond. If the Americans had based their dreadnaughts on the British ones then Murdoch reckoned that the arsenal for the main gun batteries lay beyond. Shame he wouldn't be able to lob a stick of dynamite in there. That would wake them up!

Murdoch had half an ear on the two sentries' conversation when he heard something that made his breath catch in his throat almost choking him.

"I heard that the Limeys are blaming Germany for the attack on the Scotch city. Hell! I heard that they're so goddamn riled up that they're going to attack the Nazis!" said a voice with a Southern redneck accent. The same voice hooted with laughter.

In between guffaws, the redneck voice explained to his companion the great joke the US was playing on the Empire. By attacking "the Scotch city", as the ignorant Yank called it, and then beating a fast retreat, the US had got away scot free. The Limeys had seized on the fact that a German fleet was in the area and immediately added two and two together to make a whole mess of it.

"How'd you know all this?" a second voice asked dubiously. "I reckon the Germans have been gagging for a fight for ages and grabbed the chance when they could."

"A pal of mine is in some intelligence group. Me and him got our hands on some good Kentucky bourbon two nights ago and he told me the whole story. I think it's true but I don't know how a whole fleet sailed up to England, blew the place up and then got away. Still reckon it's true though."

Ye Gods! If it was true then the Grand Fleets were on their way to attack an innocent country! Inasmuch as Germany could be called innocent. Murdoch strained to hear more of the conversation but redneck was now boring his companion with a tale of a cock fight he had been to.

Murdoch could feel his heart beating loudly against his chest. He had to stop the British attack on Germany. Despite the machinations of Hitler, Germany was still an old ally, the royal families once connected by blood. It wouldn't do to have the country attacked needlessly.

Taking slow deep breaths, Murdoch calmed himself, quietening his thudding heart and clearing his head. He slipped quietly down the side of truck landing lightly on his toes with only a whisper of a thud easily drowned out by the distant rumble of the dreadnaught's engines.

Murdoch straightened up from his controlled fall and looked straight into the eyes of a shocked sentry who had just walked round from the back of the truck.

"Shit!" the GI swore fumbling with his Thompson sub machine gun. "Jarv! Intruder!"

Recovering from his own shock and embarrassment at such an elementary error, Murdoch leapt forward in a catlike manoeuvre and swing his dagger in an arc. The sentry collapsed with a gurgle of blood as the razor sharp blade sliced through his jugular and windpipe in one fluid movement. His gun clattered to the ground.

"Pete! You OK boy?" asked the second sentry, the one with the Southern good ol' boy accent.

Murdoch saw the shadow of the second sentry edge closer, Tommy gun held high. Murdoch launched himself round the corner and flung his dagger with unerring accuracy straight into the GI's heart. Not missing a step Murdoch cleared the remaining six feet and punched the GI hard in the face while snatching the Tommy gun with his left hand. It wouldn't do to have the dying GI fire off a few shots and alerting the entire ship.

Murdoch retrieved his dagger, wiping it clean on the dead redneck's jacket before hiding the two bodies under the truck deep in the shadows. With any luck by the time they were discovered he would be well on his way out of here.

Murdoch picked up the redneck's Tommy gun. It was well oiled and the bolt action was smooth. He stuffed some clips of ammo into the pockets of his jacket and stashed two grenades into his belt before running lightly to the far wall avoiding the lights set into the floor. Despite the number of lights, the side of the cargo hold was in deep shade. Murdoch made good time as he sprinted down towards the cargo bay doors. There were numerous hatches leading out with the hold illuminated by red lamps but they were all locked.

Upon reaching the massive doors Murdoch gave a sigh of relief. They seemed to be an exact copy of those that were on British dreadnaughts. MI5 was going to have to do something about industrial espionage especially on this scale. The doors were attached at floor level by massive hinges on the port and starboard sides of the dreadnaught. Two sticks should do it he calculated as he carefully placed his dynamite on either side of one hinge. Oh, sod it. Just make it five. And he packed another three sticks around the hinge making sure the red tubes couldn't roll out. He quickly arranged another five dynamite sticks on the second hinge before returning to the shelter of the shadows on the port side and sprinting back down to the trucks.

The dreadnaught's engines changed in tone powering down ever so slightly. Just in the nick of time Murdoch thought. I really hope they haven't brought me to America! He laughed silently to himself. If the dreadnaught was preparing to land then he doubted it very much. At maximum speed they couldn't have travelled more than three hundred miles - barely enough to reach the coast of Greenland.

Murdoch slipped round to the line of trucks, carefully keeping an eye out for sentries. The trucks were chained down to the floor by chains tied through their axles. Using his knife Murdoch quickly broke the padlocks holding the chains together and jumped into the driver's seat.

"Hey you! What do you think you're doing?" someone called out.

Murdoch didn't bother to look up to see who was shouting at him. The keys were in the ignition so he fired the engine up, released handbrake, put the truck into reverse and floored the accelerator.

The wheels span on the slick floor, rubber struggling to grip the metal surface. Burnt rubber fumes filled the air and the truck squealed backwards accelerating rapidly.

Murdoch heard the staccato sound of a machine gun firing and the windscreen cracked into a mass of spiders webs as bullets crackled through into the cabin. Murdoch ducked just in time as a bullet narrowly missed his head but catching his right ear reducing it to a bloody mess.

Ignoring the burning pain he jerked the steering wheel to the right and pulled on the handbrake. The truck creaked alarmingly in protest at the violent treatment but allowed Murdoch to complete the handbrake turn without breaking down.

Bullets were thudding into the truck with alarming regularity as Murdoch stamped on the accelerator and sped towards the cargo doors, slipping and sliding on the slick metal floor.

Time to pray, Murdoch thought. Shame I've no bloody time!

Spinning the steering wheel, Murdoch flipped off the pin on one of his grenades and threw the metal oblong out the broken passenger side window to land near the port side hinge of the huge cargo door. The truck skidded heavily, thudding into the huge door before roaring off to the starboard.

Eight, seven, six, five....

Murdoch threw his second grenade out towards the starboard hinge, skidding sideways as he manoeuvred the truck to face back down the hold. Bursts of machine gun fire showed him the location of the bastards who were firing on him. Couldn't they just let him get away in peace?

.....four, three....

The truck sped down the length of the dreadnaught as a huge explosion blossomed upwards annihilating the port hinge.

Bastard Americans. Their bloody grenades have six second fuses not eight. Nearly took me with them. Dashed bad show!

Seconds later the truck rocked wildly as a second explosion blasted its stationary target to smithereens. Murdoch had to fight desperately with the steering wheel to stop the truck careering out of control, wheels spinning, desperately seeking grip.

There were squeals and protesting cries of tortured metal scraping against itself and the great cargo hold door fell gracefully off the wounded dreadnaught, leaving in its place a gaping shining hole to the outside.

Producing a spectacular handbrake turn, Murdoch hurled the battered truck round again to face the jagged opening to what was hopefully freedom. Murdoch crossed his fingers and hoped the dreadnaught wasn't two hundred feet in the air. He gave it another five seconds, ignoring the shouts of panic and rage, followed by the chatter of machine gun fire. Standard procedure was for a dreadnaught to land immediately when faced with a catastrophic disaster such as cargo bay doors flying open.

He gunned the engine, pressed the accelerator and the truck jerked forward, its back end sliding around as the wheels fought to bring it under control. A loud bang caused Murdoch to look into his side mirror and see that a rear tyre had blown out probably caused by one of the bullets fired wildly in his direction. The mirror shattered as a bullet ricocheted off it, throwing glass splinters into the cabin. By then it didn't matter. Murdoch braced himself as the truck neared the hole to freedom. Nearer, nearer. Blood pounded in Murdoch's head causing his ear to throb even more painfully. He could feel a sticky trickle of blood trickling down the side of his neck.

And then the truck was airborne, engine screaming, wheels clutching desperately at thin air.

The white ground rose to meet him. Murdoch had time to thank God before having every bone and organ in his body jarred and mashed against each other as the truck crashed heavily onto the white surface. Ahead was the hulking remains of the cargo hold door, rising high above the flat ground. The truck raced ahead with a clatter of broken components. Gulping in air, Murdoch managed to get his breath back while steering around the giant smashed door. Now he needed to escape from wherever he was. He glanced about hunting for landmarks. There were none. The landscape was totally flat and covered in a thin layer of snow. He was near the sea though as he could smell the salt in the brisk cold wind that worried its way into the truck through all the broken windows and cracks in the truck frame.

The area was crawling with enemy soldiers though. Anti aircraft cannon fringed the locale. Giant aircraft hangers lay to Murdoch's left where he could see fire engines rushing towards the smoking, stricken giant he left behind him. It looked like a permanent base. Damn! He must be in the US somehow! No that couldn't be right. They hadn't been travelling for anything like the time needed to get anywhere near the Americas. Where the hell did the US have a permanent base this close to Greenland? Aircraft were prowling overhead. Murdoch thought they looked like Mustang ground attack planes. Time to move!

Where're the bloody roads out of this place? The truck was running flat out straight for one of the anti aircraft cannon while Murdoch searched for signs of a road. There wasn't even a fence anywhere which was unusual to say the least. Dashed unsporting if they didn't even try to stop a chap from escaping. The crew on the AA gun ahead were jumping up and down waving their arms frantically in the air. Murdoch slammed the brakes on. Never ignore a man panicking as much as these chaps even if they're the enemy. The truck wheels lost their grip on the icy surface and the truck swung round totally out of control smashing straight into the sandbags surrounding the AA gun before crashing to an ignominious halt, smoke pouring from the engine. Grabbing his Thompson machine gun, Murdoch jumped out awkwardly clutching his left side. Felt as if he'd broken a couple of ribs. The three AA gunners were dead having been hit by the out of control truck.

Limping over to the skywards pointing AA gun Murdoch realised he could hear the crashing of breakers on rocks from below. Those American chaps had just stopped him from driving over a cliff! Murdoch briefly saluted the shattered bodies of his saviours. Time to survive! Murdoch's favoured way to survive was to create chaos within the enemy while he escaped their clutches. In the Sudan, he'd managed to start a civil war between two allied tribes by mentioning in passing that the favoured concubine of one of the chiefs had been sneaking out to see to the needs of the chief of the other tribe. Not an ounce of truth in it of course but the fuzzy wuzzies believed it! He shook his head and stifled a chuckle as he thought about that one. The chaps at the Garrick Club loved that story.

Taking aim through the sights of the AA gun, Murdoch pulled the trigger, wincing as the concussion from the rapid firing gun slammed into his side. Good show though. That was one of the Mustangs down with his first shot. The three remaining planes scattered climbing higher skywards. Concentrating as he was on bringing down the remaining planes his subconscious finally put two and two together. No perimeter fence, flat icy surface, the gang leader at the archaeology site mentioning "The Iceberg".... Oh stunning. Absolutely stunning. He was stuck on a floating bit of ice in the middle of God knows where. Murdoch managed to take out another Mustang his shots severing its right wing. As it spiralled earthwards to explode near the beached dreadnaught, Murdoch reached into the bottom of his rucksack for his last hope. Even he was going to find it difficult to escape from a floating military base with no support. The transmitter in the heel of his walking boot was for tracking purposes only. The transmitter he retrieved from the padded bottom of the rucksack was far more powerful and signalled an agent in distress. Murdoch flicked the "On" switch and unreeled the twelve foot long aerial cable. He then piled some sandbags around the delicate device to protect it from the chaos that was sure to ensue now.

While he had been doing this the Americans had finally got their act together and several troop carrying trucks were on their way to harass him. Behind them the fire engines were dousing the blaze that had been threatening to envelope the stern of the dreadnaught. Murdoch swung the AA gun from its skywards position to one pointing directly at the lead truck. The driver realised too late what was happening and tried to avoid the hail of bullets that crashed mercilessly into the bodywork before detonating the fuel tank. Limp bodies flew high into the air tossed high by the resulting explosion before being engulfed in flame. The other two trucks halted in a spray of ice particles and snow before disgorging their cargo of troops. Murdoch quickly turned the gun on the new enemy catching another truck in a pitiless salvo.

The soldiers were all lying flat on the snow crawling forward, weapons before them. The AA gun wouldn't traverse far enough to let him target the soldiers. Taking aim with his Thompson he picked off three of the soldiers before the resulting covering fire forced him to take cover behind the sandbags.

This could be it, Murdoch thought. No more fighting for King and Country. No more gin and tonics at Ascot. No more impressing the ladies with tales of derring do. Dashed bad news. Murdoch spluttered as a bullet kicked a spurt of snow into his face. He stuck the Thompson round the sandbags and let off a brief burst of shots in several directions and was rewarded with cries of pain and shouts for a medic.

Let's see what we've got. Three magazines of ammunition for the Thompson including the one already on the gun, one grenade, a dagger and errr.... that was it.

A metal shape landed at his feet. Murdoch quickly picked it up and tossed it back over the sandbags. The grenade exploded loudly in the air and shrapnel pattered off the sandbags. More yells of pain.

Murdoch almost kicked himself for being so stupid. What weapons did the gunners have? He quickly searched the three bodies keeping low as the covering fire had greatly intensified. A pistol between three soldiers? Murdoch grunted in annoyance at his paltry find. Still, it would do.

Turning to face the blistering hail of gunfire threatening to shred his sandbags, Murdoch saw the top of a GI helmet peering over part of his cover. Pulling a pin from a grenade he counted to four before throwing it just over the sandbag wall. Shouts of panic were drowned by the resulting explosion.

The grenade explosion destroyed much of his cover. Murdoch was going to have to surrender or die or both more likely once the American Secret Service got their hands on him. He threw the last grenade in the general direction of the approaching GIs, fired a quick burst from the Tommy gun before running desperately for the edge of the iceberg. Maybe there were boats moored at the bottom. "It never hurts to optimistic, Johnny," Nanny always said. "Have faith and the good Lord will look after you," was another one. It was hard to be optimistic with the air full of hot lead all looking to bury itself in his body, an entire enemy military base stirred up like a hornets' nest and finally, but definitely not least, a long rocky way down to the sea with no guarantee that there would be any means of escape.

An involuntary scream wrenched its way from his lips as a searing hot pain burned through his upper right leg. He fell heavily, nearly passing out as he landed on his broken ribs. Murdoch gasped with pain, desperately trying to drag himself upright. Wouldn't do to get captured by the Americans. The boys at The Garrick wouldn't think much of that! Murdoch's vision blurred and black spots seemed to flicker behind his eyes. No. Must keep going. A bullet thudded deep into his right shoulder spinning him round causing him to drop his Tommy gun. Fire ran through his mind. He couldn't move his right arm now. His shoulder must be shattered. Looks as if he wasn't going to get out of this one. Blighty was going to have to wait....

Have faith....

Murdoch could feel his blood running out of his body taking his life with it. Darkness was descending, like a curtain being pulled across a window. He couldn't hear anything except a dull roar in his ears, like a waterfall far off across a wilderness. Momentarily his vision cleared. He could see Heaven rising slowly from below the white ice cliff he had intended to throw himself off. Its size was beyond comprehension, a shining white torpedo shaped monolith gilded with gold and brass over a mile long.

Hallelujah, Murdoch smiled as darkness rolled over him.

The GIs' howls of triumph at downing their prey died to croaks of fear as their entire field of vision was filled by the massive warship. Klaxons screamed the general alert and the GIs could feel the iceberg vibrating as planes were brought up from their underground hangers and launched into the air by steam catapults. Behind them came the rumble of Lincoln tanks rolling across the surface to create an artificial barrier between the planes taking off and the threat that loomed across the entire base. Hundreds of GIs ran in chaotic formations across the ice slipping and sliding as they went, following orders bellowed out by their sergeants. There were further rumbles as sheets of ice slid back revealing heavy cannon rotating up into place facing the enemy airship.

There was a collective gasp of fright from the entrenched GIs and the simultaneous click of hundreds of rifle and machine gun bolts being pulled back. A hatch had opened, a tiny square black mark on the glistening white bodywork framed by sheets of water pouring down the concave sides.

Countless unseen motors whirred smoothly as the white warship's secondary weapons rotated to face the enemies of the Empire a multitude of lethal black barrels dotting the spotless whiteness all dwarfed by the sheer vastness of their parent. The ships main batteries were still hidden out of sight below the cliff top.

Private Clancy was scared. Sure they had enough firepower to blow even that thing up, or at least he hoped so, but he didn't want to die while they did it. His rifle shook in his grip and he squeezed his hands tighter to stop them shaking so badly. A shot barked out from his rifle as his fingers clumsily squeezed the trigger and suddenly the world was full of noise.

Machine guns rattled, Lincoln heavy tanks blasted out their shells again and again, the fixed heavy cannon threw in their combined firepower, AA guns chattered as round after round spat out of their mouths. Aero engines screamed as Mustang fighters dived into the attack, cannon and machine guns spitting fire.

Seconds passed like hours, then minutes like days. And then suddenly the deafening outpouring of firepower was drowned out by multiple blasts and suddenly there were no more Lincoln tanks defending the USS Ice Base Independence, no more AA guns, no more heavy cannon.

Many of the GIs survived the demonstration of firepower by the British Empire.

When debriefed, a second lieutenant would note that he had seen movement at that tiny square black mark on the side of the airship, seconds before the Royal Scots Nightshade Division had jumped from the open hatch on to the US sovereign territory of Ice Base Independence. Ten men. Ten seven foot giants totally invulnerable to small arms fire. They'd managed to take out one of them with two lucky bazooka shots if it made any difference. They'd been annihilated. No other word would suffice to describe the effect of the awesome merciless firepower those ten giants had wielded against the GIs. There must have been at least a thousand American soldiers out there. Twenty two survived the battle, with fourteen dying of their wounds. Eight survivors. Merciless.

Once they'd finished their show of power, the Nightshade Division had picked up their dead comrade and the spy and jumped back into the open hatch.

Then the airship had taken off, taking out a few of the Mustangs as effortlessly as if it had been swatting gnats, before heading south east.

Excalibur was the name of the airship. It had never been seen before, a myth whispered fearfully in the corridors of power of Britain's enemies. A bogeyman, a tale to frighten children into doing what they were told, a ghost in the darkness.

* *

* *




Copyright © by C. Craig R. McNeil . All rights reserved unless specified otherwise above.

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