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The Angel Of The Revolution George Chetwynd Griffith

A Skirmish In The Clouds

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"What was that?" asked Natasha.

"That was the car full of explosives striking the earth and going off promiscuously," replied Arnold. "There isn't as much of that aerostat left as would make a pocket-handkerchief or a walking-stick."

"And the crew?"

"Never knew what happened to them. In the new warfare people will not be merely killed, they will be annihilated."

"Horrible!" exclaimed Natasha, with a shudder. "I think you may do the rest of the shooting. The effects of that shot will last me for some time. Look, there's another of them coming up!"

The words were hardly out of her mouth before Arnold had crossed to the other side of the deck and sped another missile on its errand of destruction with almost exactly the same result as before. This second shot, as it was afterwards found, threw the Russian squadron into complete panic.

The terrific suddenness with which the two aerostats had been destroyed convinced those in command of the others that there was a large force of air-ships above the clouds ready to destroy them one by one as they ascended. Arnold waited for a few minutes, and then, seeing that no others cared to risk the fate that had overwhelmed the first two that had sought to cross the cloud-zone, sank rapidly through it, and then stopped again.

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He found himself about six hundred feet above the rest of the squadron. The Ithuriel coming thus suddenly into view, her eight guns pointing in all directions, and her searchlight flashing hither and thither as though seeking new victims, completed the demoralisation of the Russians. For all they knew there were still more air-ships above the clouds. Even this one could not be passed while those mysterious guns of unknown range and infallible aim were sweeping the sky, ready to hurl their silent lightnings in every direction.

Ascend they dare not. To descend was to be destroyed in detail as they lay helpless upon the earth. There was only one chance of escape, and that was to scatter. The commander of the squadron at once signalled for this to be done, and the aerostats headed away to all points of the compass. But here they had reckoned without the incomparable speed of their assailants.

Before they had moved a hundred yards from their common centre the Ariel and the Orion headed away in different directions, and in an inconceivably short space of time had described a complete circle round them, and then another and another, narrowing each circle that they made. One of the aerostats, watching its opportunity, put on full speed and tried to get outside the narrowing zone. She had almost succeeded, when the Orion swerved outwards and dashed at her with the ram.

In ten seconds she was overtaken. The keen steel prow of the air-ship, driven at more than a hundred miles an hour, ripped her gas-holder from end to end as if it had been tissue paper. It collapsed like broken bubble, and the wreck, with its five occupants and its load of explosives, dropped like a stone to the earth, three thousand feet below, exploding like one huge shell as it struck.

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The Angel Of The Revolution
George Chetwynd Griffith

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