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The Radiant Shell
by [?]

“And that, gentlemen,” said the Secretary of War, “is the situation. Arvania has stolen the Ziegler plans and formulae. With their acquisition it becomes the most powerful nation on earth. The Ziegler plans are at present in the Arvanian Embassy, but they will be smuggled out of the country soon. Within a month of their landing in Arvania, war will be declared against us. That means”–he glanced at the tense faces around the conference table–“that we have about three months to live as a nation–unless we can get those plans!”

There was a hushed, appalled silence, broken at last by General Forsyte.

“Nonsense! How can a postage-stamp country like Arvania really threaten us?”

“The day has passed, General,” said the Secretary, “when a nation’s power is reckoned by its size. The Ziegler heat ray is the deadliest weapon yet invented. A thousand men with a dozen of the ray-projectors can reduce us to smoking ruins while remaining far outside the range of our guns. No! I tell you that declaration of war by Arvania will be followed by the downfall of the United States inside of three months!”

Again the hushed, strained silence descended over the conference table, while one white-faced man gazed at another and all speculated on the incredible possibility of a world in which there was no United States of America.

“We must get the plans,” nodded Forsyte, convinced at last. “But how? March openly on the Arvanian Embassy?”

“No, that would be declaration of war on our part. The World Court, which knows nothing of the Ziegler plans, would set the League at our throats.”

“Send volunteers unofficially to raid the place?”

“Impossible. There is a heavy guard in the Arvanian Embassy; and I more than suspect the place bristles with machine guns.”

“What are we to do?” demanded Forsyte.

The Secretary seemed to have been waiting for that final question.

“I have had an odd and desperate plan submitted me from an outside source. I could not pass it without your approval. I will let you hear it from the lips of the planner.”

He pressed a buzzer. “Bring Mr. Winter in,” he told his secretary.

* * * * *

The man who presently appeared in the doorway was an arresting figure. A man of thirty-odd with the body of an athlete, belied somewhat by the pallor of an indoor worker, with acid stained, delicate hands offset by forearms that might have belonged to a blacksmith, with coal black hair and gray eyes so light as to look like ice-gray holes in the deep caverns of his eye-sockets. This was Thorn Winter.

“Gentlemen, the scientist, Mr. Winter,” announced the Secretary. “He thinks he can get the Ziegler plans.”

Thorn Winter cleared his throat. “My scheme is simple enough,” he said tersely. “I believe I can walk right into the Embassy, get the plans–and then walk right out again. It sounds kind of impossible, but I think I can work it by making myself invisible.”

“Invisible?” echoed Forsyte. “Invisible!”

“Precisely,” said Thorn in a matter-of-fact tone. “I have just turned out a camouflage which is the most perfect yet discovered. It was designed for application to guns and equipment only. I’d never thought of trying to cover a human body with it, but I am sure it can be done.”

“But … invisible …” muttered Forsyte, glancing askance at Winter.

“There’s no time for argument,” said the Secretary crisply. “The question is, shall we give this man permission to try the apparently impossible?”

All heads nodded, though in all eyes was doubt. The Secretary turned to the scientist.

“You are aware of the risk you run? You realize that if you are caught, we cannot recognize you–that we must disclaim official knowledge of your work, and leave you to your fate?”