As pain clouded his thoughts, Spy Smasher recalled the first time he had gazed upon the weird environment of the so-called Great Eyrie in North Carolina. He and Jack had made the relatively short trip there a few months after their father’s death. They had been given papers by Dithers that revealed the land near tiny Morganton near the raging Catawba River as their father’s final purchase.
To young men steeped in the lore of aviation and aeronautics, the location was almost as much a place of myth and legend as a restored Atlantis would have been. They had read what a writer named Jules Verne had once spun into a supposed novel of fantasy, and they relished seeing the location and finding that much of what the author had written in his sensational tales apparently had a basis in fact.
“Verne was telling the truth!” said Alan. “I mean, he at least used a real place for his story, although he changed the names. I never connected the land father was looking at during his final business trip with the setting of Jules Verne’s classic tale!”
Jack grinned and said, “Yeah, to think that we own a portion of literary history. But why would anyone connect a place called Molly’s Knob with a made-up setting called the Great Eyrie? Just because the Knob is near the Catawba River like Verne’s setting wouldn’t mean much to casual readers! I wonder what Dad planned to do with it. Dithers said the old man didn’t bother to explain it to him. The surface is too rough for development. Mining doesn’t really come into play here, either!”
“Well, since Dad scorned books like Master of the World, I doubt he saw the land as anything more than an investment,” said Alan. “Still, remember how he said something about the deal might make our fortunes? Maybe there’s more here than meets the eye. Look below! The whole basin almost tips down to what looks sheer, but could possibly lead to a hidden cavern!”
Jack had shrugged as wind swept a lock a hair into his eyes. “Surely the locals would have found any valuables hidden here. Verne’s story was popular, even though Dad dismissed that kind of reading as a waste of time. Plus, if there had really been odd things going on here like the ones described in the book, the papers would have covered it.”
“I know,” said Alan, sighing. “Still, what if Verne’s fictionalized account was based on real events? I don’t mean that a mad genius named Robur really used the area as a base and launched a deadly aircraft from the vicinity, but perhaps there really are hidden caverns down there like the ones in the book! People wouldn’t have found them, because from what I reread last night, the whole scene was different in the book in terms of names and directions. I wanted to try to understand what Dad was thinking about when he came here.”
“You’ve lost me as usual,” said Jack. “What do you mean?”
“Jules Verne wrote a novel about weird events that occurred in these parts,” explained Alan. “He described the mad genius Robur and his wonderful airship as being based within the Great Eyrie. However, the whole thing was presented as a work of fiction. What if the setting was a false location? What if the Great Eyrie wasn’t really the place Verne wrote about? I mean, he could have deliberately moved it or changed the name from Molly’s Knob!”
“Sure, but even that kind of literary misdirection wouldn’t explain why no one ever found this place before,” said Jack. “The locals had to have figured out that their Molly’s Knob near Morganton was the basis for Verne’s Great Eyrie near Morganton. You’re not saying a fictional novel about a world-dominating criminal and his amazing flying machine has a basis in fact, are you?”
“All I’m saying is that, what if something really is hidden down there?” said Alan. “Dad had something in mind when he bragged to us about this deal!”
Later, they began to descend down the steep slope after carefully securing their ropes above.
Jack gasped as he brushed away a patch of heavy moss to reveal a narrow opening into a wide underground cavern. “Good night! Just look at this place!” he yelled.
Alan joined him, and the two brothers slowly descended into the cavern below. They turned on small helmet lights and looked around the cavern in disbelief.
“It looks like the dusty, decaying ruins of a workshop,” said Jack.
Alan cried out, “Machine parts! Blueprints! The framework of a vehicle! Robur’s hidden lab is real, and we’ve found it!”
Jack grinned and gave a wild shout. “Dad must have figured it out. Someone must have told him about it. I bet he thought he could turn the plans left here to rot into a big business!”
“There is a journal here in French,” said Alan. “Water has damaged a lot of the pages, but it does appear to have been written by a scientist named Robur! Maybe he had to give up his plans for the place when Verne turned him into a character in his book. The real Robur never got to use his plans or build an airship, since Verne exposed him!”
Jack whistled softly as they flipped through the worn book. “Verne was invited here to witness what Robur hoped would be the dawning of a new day of science and technological progress. However, in spite of his use of such fantastic devices in his fiction, Verne reacted with horror and saw Robur’s ideas as being insane or dangerous to the very survival of society as a whole! He vowed to expose Robur and hold him up to global scorn. Then Robur died in a freak accident shortly after the first chapters went to publication! He never lived to do anything with his plans, and Verne allowed the world to think of them as pure fiction!”
Alan nodded and said, “Think of the good a gyro-ship like the one in these blueprints could do! Think of how it could be improved upon with the science we have today, which was only in the planning stages all those years ago!”
“Listen, Dad owns the land,” said Jack. “So he owns all this stuff, too. As his heirs, we own it now. We should study it first. Maybe we could build a gyro-ship! We’ve got the money, the land, and the time! We could even hire help and have a bunch of experts work on separate parts of the project! They wouldn’t have to know what we were planning to do with the finished work!”
“I see your point,” said Alan. “We could use the plans here and test them before telling anyone else about them!”
Jack nodded eagerly, and the boys vowed to keep everything they had found for their own secret project.
The project occupied most of their free time for the next several years. The Armstrong wealth helped them to secure expert assistance, and their own ingenuity and Robur’s detailed plans enabled them to gradually create a crude prototype of what would eventually become the Gyrosub, which they had ambitiously decided would be more than the mere airship it was based on. Instead, it would be an incredible super-craft that combined the functions of an airplane, auto-gyro, speedboat, and submarine, allowing it to travel in the air, on the land, and under the sea. As the clouds of war darkened over a changing Europe, the young men soon realized that their creation might be a vital tool to preserve free nations from German aggression.
However, they faced more personal challenges before that option ever came into consideration.
Alan and Jack Armstrong had always been close, and their lack of a true rapport with their father had brought them even closer. However, where strong feelings were concerned, the possibility of being driven apart always existed as well. This eventuality was unlikely until the young men both fell in love with the same woman. Eve Corby was a captivating mixture of the demure and the vivacious. She seemed to be capable of both lingering moments of introspection as well as of wild good spirits. The lovely black-haired girl enchanted the brothers, and they each vowed to win her heart.
She was content to spend time with both of them, and the situation grew more troublesome as each of them began to want time alone with her. The truth of the matter was that, while Eve was far from evil or immoral, she was spoiled and pampered, and she delighted in playing them against each other. It appealed to her ego, and she was, in truth, a vain and very young girl.
The brothers reacted to the situation in different ways. Alan brooded, while Jack tried to deal with the problem through increasingly reckless stunts. He rode furiously across their estate on his horse and began to drink more than he should have done.
Alan finally decided to confront his brother. They had almost given up working on the Gyrosub together, but each of them spent time alone in the workshop.
“Jack, I love Eve,” he said in a breathless tone one day in late 1939. “I want to spend my life with her. I’m that serious about her.”
Jack scowled and said, “Yeah? How does she feel about it? Isn’t it really up to her? See, I love her, too. She may prefer me, Alan. What then?”
“What then?” said Alan. “I guess we abide by what the lady wants, or at least I will.”
“She’ll choose me,” said Jack. “I know it. I don’t say that to hurt you. I just want to prepare you.”
“You’re all heart!” said Alan.
“Listen, I’m sorry,” said Jack. “I’d give up almost anything else for you, but Eve means a lot to me. I’m in love with her, too!”
“We’ve never really disagreed about anything this seriously before,” said Alan. “I don’t like it.”
“Neither do I, but I can’t change the way I feel!” insisted Jack.
That night, Eve Corby heard their respective pleas, and she immediately realized what she had done. “I can’t stand the idea of hurting either of you,” she wept. “I always thought of us all as friends. Maybe it would be better for us all if I didn’t see either of you again! I can’t break up a family!”
“No!” said Alan. “Surely you care for one of us?”
“Choose between us,” said Jack. “We’re adults. We can take it!”
Eve refused to make any decision that might separate them, so she asked them to leave and ran up to her room.
“Your little ultimatum caused this!” Alan said to his brother accusingly.
“I’m in love with her!” said Jack. “I don’t care for waiting around! We have to know the truth. I still think one of us could win her heart, if he was free to pursue her without the other one reminding her of what she’d done!”
“You make sense, for a change,” said Alan. “How do we settle it? I’m not about to step aside for you!”
“I don’t know!” said Jack. “I’m better than you are at riding, or I’d suggest a race. The winner stays with Eve while the loser agrees to take a trip for a while and leave the winner alone with her!”
“The Gyrosub,” said Alan. “It’s working now. I say we each pilot it a certain distance. The one who makes the trip in the fastest time wins a chance to court Eve.”
Jack smiled and said, “I like it. We could even use this for a practical purpose. We wanted to test the ship and see just what it can do. Nothing would make us put it through its paces at a more drastic rate than a race for love!”
Thus the brothers equipped themselves with stylized racing outfits and goggles and prepared to race. Alan wore a brown costume, while Jack’s was a green color. Alan would later convert the durable costume into the garb he would wear as Spy Smasher. They agreed upon a course that would essentially take them across country.
The brothers stood before the finished craft and nodded in agreement as Jack clasped Alan’s hand and then darted into the ship.
“I’ll fly to California and wait on you to join me. You can fly it back here, and we’ll compare times.”
“Sure,” said Alan. “I’ll catch a conventional flight today and meet up with you. No matter who wins the race, our creation will be a triumph! The Gyrosub will be a real miracle! I feel it!”
Jack grinned in something like his old smile and said, “Yeah! Our baby will break every record guys like Hughes set.”
Alan watched Jack fly off and stared into the sky sadly. Good luck! he thought.
But he would never see his brother again.
Jack’s Gyrosub vanished. Alan did not let his own feelings for Eve stop him from doing everything in his power to try to locate his sibling. He even vowed to give up Eve if he could just see Jack again. However, no trace of the advanced ship or of Jack was ever found.
Alan grieved for his brother and finally allowed him to be declared dead. He blamed himself. He blamed Eve. He grew bitter. He wept. Finally, when he thought he couldn’t go on any longer, he found a way to do so.
He avoided Eve Corby out of respect for the lost Jack until finally she forced him to see her, and she managed to get him to admit his own pain and sense of loss. It was a more mature Eve Corby who comforted Alan and gave him the strength he needed to deal with the loss of his twin and the secret circumstances of how he had died.
Alan and Eve gradually became lovers, and they helped one another heal after Jack’s death.
Alan also found renewed hope when an idea came to him one morning in 1939. “The Gyrosub has to live again! I’ve got to recreate it. If I can get it to fly again, it will be a victory for Jack as well. For Jack’s sake, I have to try again.”
Thus the young Virginian returned to the workshop for the first time in nearly a year.
Taking the plans that he and Jack had modified over the years, Alan Armstrong labored tirelessly until, in 1940, the second model Gyrosub was completed. It incorporated every modification the twins had refined over the years. Without having to go through the trial and error of the initial creation, Alan was able to make use of the duplicate parts they had made and finish the ship on his own.
He tested it again and again and even made a trip across country in Jack’s exact course, but he never found any trace of the other ship or his brother, nor did he experience any problem. If the other Gyrosub exploded or crashed in a remote area, there would be no way to track it, he thought. I suppose Jack’s memory will live on through this new ship. Everything I do with it will be dedicated to him!
That vow was a large part of Alan’s motivation to become Spy Smasher. With every meeting with Eve’s father, Admiral Corby, Alan learned more and more about the crisis America was facing. No one really doubted that the Axis powers would eventually threaten America, and that Lend-Lease aid would turn into actual warfare.
Thus Alan Armstrong became the mystery-man known as the Spy Smasher. He started to use his athletic skills and investigative knowledge to fight crime. As a wealthy Virginian with plenty of free time, he was able to establish a D.C. apartment and use it, as well as his family home, to launch a personal crusade against crime of every type.
Why did he do it? What series of ideas moved him from being an inventive pilot and wealthy sportsman to becoming one of the first of a new breed of heroes?
Patriotism played a part in his decision. The need to do something more with his life than live the idle rich scenario so common among his social set was part of it as well. Finally, a desire to make up for Jack’s loss by living more than one life figured into his choice.
“I’ll fight for others with the same courage Jack would have drawn upon. Rather than let his loss diminish what he might have given back to the world, I’ll double my own efforts to make a difference! I owe him that much and more!”
Spy Smasher became something of an urban legend. Admiral Corby learned about him and admired his work, and while Alan did not reveal his secret at first to his future father-in-law or to his fiancée Eve, they both learned the truth in time.
All these memories flashed through Alan’s mind as the cavern crashed down around him, and his quest to rescue Eve from the heir of Robur faded again to black.