Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cavern of the Damned: Chapter 16

Chapter 16: Perilous Paths
Operator 5 and Tim Donovan discover agent S-5, who's escaped from the lair of the Black Temple. Having taken a bullet, he's dying fast and is unable to tell them whether or not Diane Elliot is being held in the temple. They discover a hidden entrance to the temple, but Operator 5 is kidnapped by the Zaavists as they penetrate the underground tunnel leading into it. Tim Donovan flees to the surface and tries to contact an approaching plane with a heliograph light signal.
We also learn about Operator 5's watch chain ornament:

He knew, too, that inside the tiny golden skull rested a pellet. A touch on a hidden spring would release the lid and disclose it, a capsule of fragile glass, containing a liquid which turned at once to vapor on contact with air—one of the deadliest poisons known to man, diphenolchlorasine. One pinch of Operator 5’s fingers would crush it and release the lethal fumes. Tim Donovan knew that Operator 5 carried it to use only as a final extremity. The use of it would instantly kill anyone near; and it would also kill Operator 5. “My bad-luck piece,” Jimmy Christopher called it; and at times when danger threatened, his fingers strayed to it unconsciously.

However, diphenolchlorasine, is not so fatal. Used as a substitute for mustard gas by the German army in WW1, it was seldom lethal. Classified as a blistering agent, it is a nasty irritant and exists in powdered form at room temperature. I'm sure the chronic effects on the upper respiratory system would be horrible. Fred Davis was a little too hyperbolic on this material, but nerve gas hadn't been invented when the story was written.

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