The Rugged Explorer
Jack shielded his eyes from the bright sun as the Amazon led him out onto the roof of the coliseum. By the time he had found a corner from which to look down onto the ancient city he was able to see that the Nazis were not about to allow the chaos to spread outside of the arena.
The fire team had set up the machinegun nest behind a low wall of sandbags, a hundred yards away from the coliseum’s main exit. Another fifty yards beyond their position, they were rounding up all the slaves in the city and herding them into a roofless stone longhouse, no doubt to keep them out of the way during the crisis. From his high vantage point, Jack could see that the slaves were being chained by their ankles and held under guard to keep them out of trouble during the crisis. The scout plane had also launched from its mother ship’s belly and was buzzing angry circles around the city, ready to strafe anything that gave the ground troops a hard time.
The zeppelin was burning. As Jack watched, the flames crawled up from a hole in the cabin towards the black canvas body of the blimp. It was a wonder the ship hadn’t yet exploded, but it couldn’t be much time before the fire found its way into the bulkheads and ignited the highly flammable hydrogen gas that kept the ship aloft. The crew must have known they had no chance fighting the blaze, because they were frantically sliding down the cargo bay’s winch-line like firemen down a pole. Jack studied the small swarm of gray-suited air-sailors, but he saw no red dress and no flowing golden hair. That meant Celeste was still up there, inside the burning blimp.
Panic gripped Jack by the spine—even without that machinegun, the biplane, and all those soldiers blocking his way, he could never get up into the zeppelin before it immolated itself and every soul still aboard.
“You and your friends have proven to be quite a nuisance,” said a cold voice with the slightest hint of a crisp German accent.
Jack wheeled around to see Von Wartenburg standing at the mouth of the stairway. His trenchcoat and uniform were torn into scraps on his left side, but he did not appear injured. In one hand he held a black skull, its shadowy eye-sockets seeming to drink in the light around it. In his other hand he held a luger pointed steadily at Jack’s heart.
“It is time,” von Wartenburg said, “for you to die.”