Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"The War of the Planets" by Harl Vincent, part 10

This is the tenth installment of "The War of the Planets", the third published story by Harl Vincent and a sequel to his first story, "The Golden Girl of Munan". It originally appeared in the January 1929 issue of Amazing Stories magazine and has not seen the light of day since. The first nine installments can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

As we join our story, twenty years have passed since Professor Nilsson, Roy Hamilton, and the nineteen survivors of the destruction of the island of Munan settled in New York City. Thelda Serano has married Hamilton, while her friend Zora has married Nilsson, and the two couples have one child each, Walter Hamilton and Dorothy Nilsson.

Now word has reached them that over a hundred spherical objects of unknown origin are approaching the Earth. Nilsson, Roy and Walter are contacted by the Secretary of Terrestrial Scientific Research, and the three travel to Washington in the Pioneer, where they learn that the objects are attacking spaceships from Venus led by Mador, last of the Munanese. Nilsson uses the Pioneer to travel to the invasion fleet on a scouting mission, and takes control of one of the Venerian ships, bringing it back to earth for study. However, the earth is still defenseless when the Venerians arrive and procede to destroy the cities of Cincinnati and Youngstown. Meanwhile, Walter Hamilton has gone missing . . .


Zora and Dorothy had remained with Thelda, and were doing their best to comfort her, though Dorothy was in almost as hysterical a condition as the mother. They had just received news of the loss of the city of Youngstown when the videophone again spoke. In fear and trembling Dorothy answered, but her fear changed to joy when Walter's face appeared in the disc. Thelda swooned when Dorothy shouted out the good news.

"Oh, Walter," said Dorothy, with a sob in her voice, "we have been so worried about you. Why didn't you let us know where you were?"

"I'm awfully sorry, darling," he replied, "but I am all right. I am in the Museum of Ancient History here in New York and have been so absorbed in what I was doing that I did not even note the passing of time. And I must rush back to Washington. I think I have found the way to repulse the enemy."

"Oh, Walter dear. That is marvelous. Do hurry. I will advise Washington right away that you are coming."

"All right, darling. I'll rush to the aero terminal while you do that. Tell mother not to worry, won't you?"

"Yes dear. And I'm sure she'll recover now right away. And sweetheart," she continued, shyly, "I'm awfully proud of you. I just knew you would do something wonderful."

Walter laughed boyishly and with a cheerful farewell was gone. Dorothy spread the glad news through the apartment and the tonic effect on Thelda was immediate and complete. She laughed aloud in her relief and joy, as Dorothy returned to the video to spread the news still further.

Secretary Miller sat at his desk in conference with Roy and the professor when the call came from Dorothy. They had just about given up hope of coping with this terrible enemy. Reports had come in of the destruction of two other cities, Houston and San Diego. The whole world was in chaos. All had given up hope. But the videophone system had been kept intact, the operators remaining heroically at their posts. The beam lane aero lines still maintained service, though few cared to travel. Otherwise all business and industry was at a standstill. The cities were gradually becoming deserted, great numbers of the population streaming out into the wilderness with what few belongings they could carry and with no attempt to hide their fear and utter demoralization. Reversion to savage instincts had already begun to crop out in certain sections.

Roy and the professor shouted with joy when Dorothy's sweet face appeared on the disc, and the room echoed with rejoicings when her news of Walter was repeated. The group of scientists babbled excitedly when they learned that Walter was on his way to Washington and claimed to have solved the problem with which the world had been so suddenly confronted.

"But can it be possible that this mere boy is right in his statements?" queried the Secretary.

"It would not surprise me at all," the professor replied. "He is a great student and has a marvelous memory. He has worked with me for some time, you know, and, although still very young, he has already made several important scientific discoveries. What he has done, no doubt, is to pore over some ancient volumes in the museum to see what he could learn of the old arts of warfare, and has stumbled on to something."

An hour and a half remained before Walter would arrive and the group in the Secretary's office waited anxiously. No further news there was of further destructions wrought by the enemy, but a constant stream of Mador's haughty radiograms poured in. All of these referred to the final vengeance of Munan. All pointed to a long drawn out war in which the enemy intended to take their own sweet time and to make the destruction of the earth's civilization as leisurely and harrowing as possible.

Finally Walter burst into the room and, unceremoniously, rushed to the Secretary's desk. The professor rose to his feet and clasped the hand of the flushed and panting youth. Roy hugged him to his broad breast in sheer delight at knowing he was safe.

* * *

"Well," asked the professor, "what have you found, my boy?"

"The secret -- and no mistake," answered Walter, proudly. "Your discovery that the hull of the enemy ship is made from phenol-resin impregnated fibre set my mind to work. I remembered dimly having read something regarding certain old experiments with the material Micarta, so I rushed to New York and started looking for the information. It was necessary for me to read completely through sixteen musty tomes, but I found it. Here it is."

Dramatically he laid a sheet of white paper on the desk.

With trembling fingers the professor picked this up and read aloud the copy made in Walter's careful hand:

"During recent years it was found in the research laboratories of the large electrical manufacturers that micarta and asbestos could be made to explode violently when subjected to high frequency current. The time required varied from one-half a second to about thirty seconds. These experiments were discontinued, since no particular value was attached to the discovery, it being one for which no practical use could be found."

The professor looked up solemnly.

"He has found it all right," he stated. "This boy has done what none of us have been able to do and the world surely will owe him a debt of gratitude. But we must hasten. There is still much to be done. We must experiment this very night on the three enemy craft now hovering so menacingly over Washington. Have I your permission to proceed, Mr. Secretary?"

"Indeed you have," replied that official wearily, but with new hope evident in his voice. "Go the limit."

The professor again became the human dynamo,. He issued his orders with celerity and decision. The scientists started on their several missions eagerly. None questioned the superior knowledge and ability of this man, who had once before saved the world from as great a disaster as now threatened.

The Pioneer again was the scene of activity. The professor with Roy, Walter, and Secretary Miller, reached the staunch craft just as one of the aeros of the Thomas Energy Company landed on the stage of the Research building. From this aero two of the Secretary's men emerged and with them were half a dozen of the Thomas men carrying between them two small but complicated electical mechanisms. These were installed into the Pioneer and placed in accordance with the professor's instructions. While supervising the work he talked incessantly, as was his habit when working out the details of some problem.

"These, gentlemen," he commenced, "you will recognize as standard beam transmitters. We shall place one in the stern compartment and one in the control room. With these we shall be able to project two beams in any desired direction, each beam capable of ionizing the air for a distance of at least ten miles. Since we have no collector on the enemy craft tuned to the proper frequency we shall have to set up our own current in the material of their shells. We do not even know the exact frequency required, but that will be easy to ascertain.

"We are soon to receive a generator capable of producing supersonic frequencies as high as half a billion cycles per second, and we shall simply run it through its range of frequncies until we find the proper one. With our two beams of ionized air we have two electrical conductors over which we can transmit the high frequency current and with both beams in contact with one of the spheres we shall have a complete circuit. When the proper frequency is determined we shall be able to subject the micarta-like shells to a continuous current of this frequency. The very dielectric losses of the material will prove its undoing. Molecular friction. You see, the molecules become charged first positively, then negatively, with the reversals of current and shift their positions in the mass correspondingly. When the frequencies of the reversals becomes so great as to set up a terrific internal heat due to the friction between the rapidly shifting molecules, the resulting expansion is so sudden that disruption is bound to occur. I hope that a tremendously violent explosion will result."

He was like a boy in his enthusiasm and when the high frequency generator arrived he personally supervised its installation. By nine that evening all was in readiness and the Pioneer took off. The moon was very brilliant and they could plainly see the three menacing blobes hovering high in the sky. One of these they passed so closely that they were able to hear the throb of its machinery. But they continued straight up until about ten thousand feet above the nearest of the invaders. Here the professor stabilized the Pioneer and left it hovering while he proceeded to the business at hand.

* * *

The enemy ship, though nearly two miles beneath them, still appeared as a great ball, reflecting the moonlight in myriad hues and tints. It was with keen satisfaction that the professor observed Walter's excitement as he was given charge of one of the beam transmitters and was instructed in its use. This one was tested first and the faint purple haze marking its pencil-like beam was observed to move over the landscape below at the will of the operator. The second one likewise tested out satisfactorily and Roy was stationed at this.

At the professor's direction, both rays were trained on the globular ship below and two small purple spots felt their way over the upper surface until they reached opposite sides of the ball somewhere near the equator. There they rested, all unknown to the beings within.

Not until then did the professor start the high frequency generator and impose its current on the two conducting beams, but when this was accomplished to his satisfaction all on board held their breath in eager anticipation. What if the experiment were to prove a failure after all?

The hum of the generator increased gradually in pitch, gliding smoothly up the scale of musical frequencies until it became a thin, fading scream. Then it disappeared entirely and the silence was so intense that each of the watchers became aware of the throbbing of his own pulse. The frequency indicator mounted to greater values and still there was no result below. As time passed and nothing happened, one of the men groaned. At that moment Walter exclaimed excitedly:

"Professor! The purple spots are changing color. Hold the frequency at this point."

The professor adjusted the control to maintain constant frequency and he marked the spot on the indicator so as to be able to return to it again. All watched breathlessly as the two tiny purple spots changed to a bright orange, spreading rapidly in size. In less than ten seconds the great ball was a beautiful pyrotechnic display. Silently, majestically, it spread into a magnificent sunburst, lighting the countryside for miles around and showering it with numberless incandescent fragments. Seven seconds it took for the sound to reach them -- then the Pioneer was rocked by the force of such a detonation as had never been heard by any of the passengers. The sound was as of a terrific thunderclap, close by, and the commotion in the atmosphere threatened to upset the vessel. Then all was again silent.

Cheers shook the Pioneer anew and its occupants behaved like so many school children, capering and slapping each other on the back in their glee.

But the professor proceeded immediately to the control room and set out after the other two spheres. One by one these were done away with in the manner of the first and it was a triumphant party that returned to the landing stage of the Research building. They had been away but thirty minutes.

(continue to part 11)

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