Friday, March 13, 2009

"High-Frequency War" by Harl Vincent, part 3

This is the third and final installment of "High-Frequency War", a 1940 science fiction story by Harl Vincent, a prolific writer of the 1930s who has since fallen into obscurity. I have taken it upon myself to introduce Vincent's work to the (potentially) vast audience of the internet. The first two installments can be found here and here. And now, we return to "High-Frequency War" . . .

* * *

"Buckley, you crook!" Slim screamed, plunging directly into the line of fire. "You traitor! You're finished!"

Momentarily confused, the enemy began blazing away wildly. A searing pain stabbed through Pinky's shoulder as he zigzagged toward his destination. From a corner of his eye he saw Slim fall with dungarees smoldering. Six more feet and he'd be at those controls. One of the squat ones was almost on him. Pinky lashed out with a suddenly strengthened right arm. The man sprawled, mouthing thick curses, his ray pistol clattering to the floor. Pinky grabbed the gun and a control knob in sweeping opposite motions of his two rejuvenated arms. A fluorescent green blazed eerily down from high in th dome as a bank of old, dusty vacuum tubes lighted. There were no further hisses of stab-rays.

Bellowing encouragement to Slim, Pinky brought down the pistol butt on the clipped head of the one who had dropped it. Crack! One of the three was out of the fight. Odds were even. And those radiations from the dome had neutralized the energies of the ray guns.

Pinky catapulted across the floor at Buckley. The renegade scientist was tripping the release of his gun frantically. Disgusted at its refusal to operate, he foolishly flung it away just as Pinky landed on him. That mistake cost him any chance he may have had, for this raging redbeard wasn't fighting by any sporting rules. Not now. Not in this. Pinky was fighting for his country and no holds, or anything else, barred. He smashed down the pistol on Buckley's skill and the man sank down.

Slim had not been so fortunate. His opponent had him tied in a knot on the floor. Pinky went to help.

"Go 'way!" shouted the engineer. "I'll get this bird myself. I'll break his dirty neck."

Slim almost did just that, though he was bleeding and panting when he rose and swayed groggily over the prostrate foreigner.

Pinky chortled and said: "Good work."

"Think I'd let you do everything?" Young Harvey glared, wiping the blood from his mouth. "And now, dammit, you've got to tell me all about everything."

"When we fix them up for a while, Slim." Pinky pointed to one of the three who was stirring. "Where's some cord or wire?"

It didn't take them long to truss up the precious trio and lay them side by side on the floor. When they had finished, they examined one another's wounds. Pinky had a clean hole burned through his shoulder, missing the joint entirely. Slim's burn was horribly deep, a crinkled, white-lipped groove across his middle. Painful, both wounds, but self-cauterized. That was one good thing about the stab-rays; unless they reached a vital spot, there was little real danger.

"Well," said Slim, when they'd finished, "come clean now. All the way. You faked the amnesia, didn't you? And the paralysis?"

Pinky shook his head and Slim could see that his eyes had lost the far-away look and the pallid hue. "No, I didn't fake anyting, Slim. The radiations from that transformer restored by memory and the use of my limbs. That's all."

"It isn't all. How about knowing about this?" He jerked a thumb upward toward the green flare that was still on.

Pinky laughed and went to switch it off.

* * *

"All right," he agreed, when he came back. "I'll come clean."

Slim was goggling at the videoscreen. The enemy fleet, caught between the second and third barriers, was being blasted out of the skies by the reserve American fleet and by the scathing vibro-rays from the ground.

"Too bad their plans went wrong," chuckled Pinky. "Oh, the war'll be over in a week, all right, just as Vardos said. But the victory'll be ours, not theirs."

"Vardos?" asked Slim, blankly.

Pinky indicated the unconscious one Slim had known as Buckley. "He's not Buckley," he averred. "Name's Vardos. He was assistant to the real Buckley a couple of years ago. Started just before the war did. And he knew the real doctor had something that would make this country invincible in warfare. His job was to get the dope on Buckley's weapon. And he rayed Buckley with the same frequency radiated from the regular bombs. Left him to die in the swirl. Once Buckley was out of the way, he tried to discover the secret of the weapon. But there were a few things Buckley had kept in his head, so it took Vardos until only recently to learn the important activating tie-in. That's why he demanded and got the isolation. It took time -- for him. He doesn't know a thing about the rest of the apparatus here. That's why he didn't know what I was up to when I ran for those controls. None of the other stuff in here has been used since Buckley, himself, went out of the picture, only the main thing -- the multiple frequency propagation mechanisms."

"But how could --"

"There was enough similarity between Vardos and Buckley so he could get away with the impersonation. It was easy, with a little make-up -- even with the military. Also, on account of the reputation of the real Dr. Buckley, who was always a staunch patriot."

Slim's brown eyes seemed about to pop from their sockets. "But you -- then you --"

"Yes, I'm Francis Xavier Buckley, if that's what you're driving at. Naturally, I knew about the things here when I remembered. And, incidentally, Vardos rayed me right here and sneaked ou, leaving me in the ray swirl. But I managed to crawl out of it and away before it could kill me and consume me, as it always does if given enough time. He thought that was what happened. But I wa the wandering, mentally lost, partly crippled Pinky you first saw. You see, the frequency used by him and in what we call freak bombs, acts first on brain and nerve cells. Electric charges are built up in individual cells, first producing unconsciousness, then paralysis, by implantation in the nerve ganglia. A definite multiple wave harmonic will release those charges and cure the sufferer. That's what happened to me behind the transformer. It took two shots to do it. But it's done. It was sheer luck I stumbled into the old cottage. Luck, or a buried remnant of familiarity and memory."

Slim was dancing around him, trying to hug him. "Gee!" he kept repeating awedly.

"Ouch!" yelped the man who had been known as Pinky. "Keep away from that shoulder. And let me finish. Might as well get it off my chest now."

"I'm just a punk operating engineer. I wouldn't know," apologized Slim.

"Yes, you will. It's simple, the principle of the multiple frequency propagation. You know that all the modern weapons and defenses are dependent for their effectiveness on some sort of radio frequency projection. Various high frequencies produce various results. And for many years man tried to neutralize various destructive effects by superimposing frequency upon frequency. It was done in some cases -- like the stab-ray. But to bring stratoplanes down or to stop fan barriers or trench moles, complex radiations were required. That's how I developed the multiwave apparatus. It produces a great number of individual frequencies separated in definite multiples between which there are heterodyning effects which result in an almost infinite number of beat notes to cover any result desired. Vardos only found the one combination which could close down the fan barriers and permit the Q.A. fleet to drive through the space where formerly an electronic wall had been erected. It happens to be the same combination which will release the cell charges in a sufferer such as I had become. Simple enough, isn't it?"

"It isn't," Slim said decisively. "But it'll have to do. So now what?"

"So now we can produce any combination of harmonics we want. We can render powerless the enemy fleets and their ground forces and blank out their defensive barriers. We have them licked."

"You mean you have them licked." Slim looked his companion up and down with approval. "You sure are a different man, Dr. Buckley."

The real Buckley grabbed his arm. "Listen," he laughed, "until I get these whiskers off, you call me Pinky. You hear?"

"All right -- Pinky," chuckled Slim. "And what do we do next?"

"We go down to your bailiwick and feed me those sandwiches you told me about. I'm hungry. Then we audio Regional Headquarters and have these babies picked up for quick trial. I imagine they'll look nice under the cone swirls they use on spies."

Vardos was stirring, groaning, muttering curses. His eyes widened with horror as the rested on the man who was the real Buckley. Even with the pink disguise, he recognized him.

Pinky turned away and said to Slim: "Let's go downstairs. I want to juggle a pair of shears and your razor before we get the military on the job."

"O.K., Pinky," grinned the engineer. "And the eats."

THE END

(continue on to "Taking aim at High-Frequency War")

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