Sunday, September 20, 2009

"The War of the Planets" by Harl Vincent, part 2

This is the second 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 installment can be found 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 have 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 . . .


When Roy Hamilton left his studio that night he started for home with grave misgivings. He too had seen and heard of the strange happening that had suddenly been forced upon the attention of a peaceful and happy world. He had none of the confidence he had displayed when conversing with his family. But he resolved that he would do all in how power to keep Thelda from worrying. His son, he knew, would be intensely interested and no power on earth could keep him from learning all about whatever was going on. But Thelda, his “golden girl” these twenty years, he would keep happy and contented – would shelter her from all harm with his own life, if need be.

During the swift trip uptown on the moving way, he considered some of the possibilities of the situation. What if these strange manifestations betokened the destruction of his world? If that was the case – well, they would all go together and probably nothing could be done about it. But, suppose the approaching objects were some sort of engines of warfare from another planet? This possibility had been suggested by the professor during their conversation a few minutes before, but Roy had scorned the idea. Why, scientists and astronomers were almost universally agreed that life on any planet in the solar system, other than the earth, was impossible. But, if they were wrong – then what? If it were conceivable that some such beings did exist and that they could make war on the world, what a defenseless planet they would find! Since 1950 all efforts of his world had been expended in peaceful pursuits. All weapons of warfare had been scrapped, all organized armies disbanded. It had been a happy period of four and a half centuries and more.

He could not convince himself that such a thing was possible or even probable, but he had a vague uneasy feeling that could not be shaken off. And, for some unaccountable reason, he kept associating with the present happenings the event of twenty years before – the destruction of Munan and his own part in its accomplishment. But that was absurd! What possible connection could there be in the two circumstances, so widely separated? Resolutely he threw off this mood as he left the moving way and proceeded to the entrance of his own apartments.

“Hello, dear,” he cheerily greeted his wife, as she welcomed him with a warm embrace at the door. “Have the Nilssons arrived yet? They should be here by now.”

“No, they haven’t. But Zora just spoke with me and she said they would be over in a very short time. I am awfully glad they are coming.”

“So am I. Nils and I have not had a talk for a long time now and I am anxious to discuss Walter’s future with him. By the way – where is Walter?”

Thelda smiled and pointed to the boy’s own room. “He’s in there, fixing himself up,” she whispered. “And, do you know, Daddy, I shouldn’t be greatly surprised if he proposes to Dorothy tonight. I have been watching them for some time and the signs are unmistakeable.”

“Well, nothing would please me more, dear. Of course they are quite young, but that is no objection in this day and age. They are undoubtedly in love with one another – have been since childhood – and their Board of Eugenics records are perfect. Between Nils and myself we could fix them fairly well to start their home and Walter could carry on with his studies as at present.”

“Yes, Roy, I agree with you. In perhaps a year they should marry. But I must hurry and make my arrangements with the community commissariat so we can have our dinner in time.”

She patted him on the arm and went into the next room to place her order over the videophone.

* * *

Roy looked grave for a moment, then stepped to the door of Walter’s room and tapped on it softly.

“May I come in, son?” he asked.

“Sure thing, Dad,” sang out the voice of the boy.

He entered, closing the door softly behind him. Walter was before the mirror, putting the finishing touches on his sleek black hair. Roy grinned understandingly as he crossed the room and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“Gee! I’m glad to see you tonight, Dad,” said Walter, taking his father’s hand in his own equally capable ones, “I’m much worried about this thing that’s being reported by the General News Bureau.”

“So am I, son. That is what has been bothering me too, and is the very thing I came to talk with you about. We mustn’t speak too loudly, as I do not wish to alarm your mother.”

“Neither do I, Dad. I hate to think of her worrying over so intangible a thing as this. And you know she will worry, not about herself but about you and me.”

“That’s just it, Walter, my boy. And, for no good reason at all, I have a strange feeling about the whole business. I fear it bodes no good.”

“Me, too,” said the son. “But how are we going to keep mother from getting the news as it comes out?”

“I have thought of that and have already spoken with George Cox, who is president of the New York Theatres Company. He tells me that all news will be barred from the places of amusement in the entire city. So we are going to send your mother to the theatre tonight with Zora and Dorothy. You and I and the professor shall have the place to ourselves to talk things over.”

Walter’s face fell in disappointment but brightened at once as he realized the necessity of this move.

“That’s a good idea, Dad,” he said, “and while they are out we can listen to the reports and discuss it with Professor Nilsson. He may have some theories himself.”

“Yes, I believe he has,” replied his father soberly. “But, let us join your mother now.”

The two men – the son as tall and straight and handsome as the father – left the room and engaged Thelda in light conversation. She was in excellent spirits and evidently had forgotten all about the discomforting news of the early evening.

Dinner had been prepared by the servants from the commissariat, and soon their guests arrived.

Zora and Thelda embraced as only two such dear friends could greet each other. Roy took his old friend’s hand in his and gazed deep into his solemn gray eyes. They gripped hard; harder than they had since the days of Munan. Dorothy and Walter were shy with the shyness that comes up suddenly between childhood sweethearts when they learn that love has come to them – real, grown-up love. Immediately the rooms echoed with the pleasantries and laughter of the six.

During dinner, at the first convenient lull in the conversation, Roy spoke up. “Well, girls, I have a pleasant surprise for you. My friend, George Cox, presented me with three passes for “Thunder,” the best show in town. Nils and Walter and I wish to have a little talk tonight about Walter’s work in the laboratory, so you three are to take the tickets and enjoy yourselves in the theatre while we three discuss details that would be very dry and uninteresting to you.”

The announcement met with instant approval by Thelda and Zora, though Dorothy blushed and stole a sly glance at Walter, who was staring fixedly at his plate. The two mothers observed this and exchanged meaning smiles.

(continue to part 3)

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