Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"The War of the Planets" by Harl Vincent, part 5

This is the fifth 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 four installments can be found 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 . . .


Next morning Walter rose far earlier than was his wont and rushed into his father’s room. There he found Roy already in the shower and in much better spirits.

“Walter, my boy,” spoke Roy, after their good mornings had been exchanged, “I have already talked with the professor and he seems to be hatching a plan. He has not slept at all and has been working that wonderful mind of his to some advantage, I am sure.”

“Oh, that’s great, Dad,” enthused the boy. “Won’t it be marvelous if he can figure out some way of repulsing them?”

“It sure will,” sputtered his father from the midst of the shower. “And somehow I can’t help having confidence in good old Nils. Things looked just as black in Munan, but he solved the problem there. He is a wonder.”

By the time Roy was dressed, they heard voices in the sitting room and they entered it to find the professor in conference with the Secretary and two of his aides. The professor had taken full control of the situation and a relieved expression on the Secretary’s face had replaced his gloomy one of the night before.

The professor was speaking:

“Yes gentlemen, we are going to meet the enemy and see if we can discover the nature of their craft and the means of offense they are going to use.”

“But how will you go?” asked the Secretary.

“In my aero, the Pioneer, the one from which we destroyed the island of Munan.”

“But you may be shot down by the enemy before you can learn anything of value,” the Secretary objected.

A mysterious smile wreathed the face of the professor. “I think not,” he said. “And if you gentlemen are ready, let us go to the landing stage on the Research building and I will show you why.”

They left at once in the little aero atop the roof of the Secretary’s house. Soon they landed on the spacious stage on the Research building.

Walter cried out in astonishment when they landed, “Why, the Pioneer is gone!”

“Steady, boy, steady,” said the professor, with a triumphant laugh. “It’s not gone. Don’t worry.”

He walked a few paces forward and stopped, beckoning the others to follow. When they reached his side he said, “Stretch forth your hands.”

All did so, and reacted with alarm as their fingers encountered a solid metal wall directly before them – a wall that could not be seen, though all objects on its other side were plainly observed, as if nothing intervened.

“This is the Pioneer,” announced the professor dramatically.

“But we saw it last night,” spoke Roy and Walter as one.

“Not its exterior,” replied the professor. “If you remember, it was in darkness that we entered the craft. We felt our way to its manhole and it was not until we had lights inside that you saw anything. It was just as invisible last night as it is at this moment.”

“Wonderful! Incredible! Astounding!” were the remarks of the Secretary and his aides.

“And now, let us enter,” spoke the professor. “I will explain when we reach the control room.”

He felt along the invisible hull of the ship with his fingers until he located the manhole, through which, one by one, he assisted the other members of the party. As soon as they were inside, they could see all details of the vessel as clearly as if there was nothing out of the ordinary about it at all.

“Now about our trip to meet the enemy,” the professor began, when all were gathered in the control room. “As you have observed, this ship is absolutely invisible to the eye of man when viewed from the outside. Likewise, nothing that it contains can be seen unless you are within. Under such conditions I am sure we can safely go out to meet our attackers without their knowledge.”

“But how on earth was this marvel accomplished?” asked the Secretary.

“You have undoubtedly read The History of Munan by Toros, one of the Munanese I brought back from the island?” queried the professor.

“Yes – years ago,” was the reply.

“Well, in this book, as well as in my own writings, mention was made of the fact that the Zar’s aeros could be made invisible. This was accomplished by constructing the hulls from the metal munium, which was then coated with a secret substance applied like paint.”

“Correct,” the Secretary agreed in chagrin, “I had completely forgotten. That goes to show how soon one forgets the really important things in life. It is not very complimentary to your efforts, is it?”

“Merely human nature,” commented the professor. “And to accomplish the same result as they did I have reconstructed the Pioneer since our return from Munan, making her hull from the same metal and coating it with the same compound. I had no particular reason for doing this, so must have been guided by good fortune. But you see I had brought samples of the metal and the coating compound with me, and I found that I was able to duplicate them in the laboratory. So here we are – fully prepared for our journey, excepting that we have no means of attacking our enemy. Unluckily, I have never been able to duplicate the liquid with which the crysinum bombs of the Munanese were filled. Some of its constituents were evidently available only on their island. Had we some of those bombs now, we could demoralize our foes in a few hours.”

* * *

The mechanism of the vessel was explained in detail and Walter drank in this information with as avid an interest as did the Secretary’s party. The fact of the stray electrons filling all space for thousands of miles around the surface of the earth impressed them all greatly – stray electrons lost from the energy systems of the world for centuries and available for use only by the professor’s vessel. His invention of the peculiar metal alloy that made it possible to collect this lost energy and put it to work, gave them such a high opinion of his ability that their confidence in him increased each minute. As the crowning proof, came the clever adaptation of the principle of Flettner of the twentieth century – the collecting of streams of electrons and directing them on the surface of a rotating sphere, instead of using the winds on rotating cylinders as had Flettner.

“There is one feature of this attack which puzzles me,” the professor continued, “and that is the comparatively slow rate of speed at which the enemy is approaching. I have not checked the position of Venus with the astronomers but I do know that it is about 26 millions of miles from us at inferior conjunction and 160 millions of miles at superior conjunction. If we assume that it is now, say 80 millions of miles away, the speed of 1000 miles an hour would make the journey one of nearly ten years in length. This is obviously out of the question, so I assume that these space fliers are capable of much greater speed, probably as great as one hundred thousand miles an hour, or even more. Why then they are approaching at the slower speed is beyond me, unless it may be that they have figured on terrorizing our world pretty thoroughly before actually attacking. The radiogram seems to bear out this theory. What they probably did was this: they made the major portion of their journey in fifteen or twenty days; then, when within sight of our largest telescopes, they slowed down to their present speed with the idea of giving us four or five days in which to become utterly demoralized. And that is just about what we have become, judging from the reports of the General News Bureau – thoroughly demoralized.”

“I believe your reasoning is sound, Professor,” said the Secretary. “But now, if I may interrupt, what are your immediate plans?”

“Well, Mr. Secretary, I should like to leave at once with my two companions and some of your men and make a quick trip to look over this fleet. Possibly we can learn something of value. At least we shall know something of the nature of the approaching craft. We have provisions aboard, a videophone with the call ‘Special 28-A’ and a beam transmitter – the one with which Munan was destroyed. The last will probably be of no value against this foe since it was designed to emit the proper frequency for setting off the crysinum bombs. However, we may just be fortunate enough to make a landing on one of the enemy craft, when our ancient hand weapons might be of some use. The main purpose of the trip though, is to reconnoiter.”

“But can you make the trip quickly enough, and do your stray energies extend far enough into space?” the Secretary interrogated.

“Yes, indeed. Our maximum speed, after leaving the earth’s atmosphere, is terrific. We should be able to meet them in about three hours and will then be something like fifty thousand miles from the earth. As far as the storage of stray electronic energy is concerned, I have calculated that this has now extended to a distance of no less than 300 thousand miles from the earth. In other words, it has filled space to a point some fifty thousand miles beyond our moon.”

“Very well then,” the Secretary decided. “Go ahead, Professor. And you may take my two aides with you. Will that be enough, or shall I send more of my men?”

“They will be quite enough,” said the professor. “And I thank you, Mr. Secretary. We will keep in touch with you by videophone and report whatever of interest occurs. In the meanwhile, it is my suggestion that the general news reports be censored in order that the confusion and disorder now spreading over the earth be kept down to a minimum. You might even order the news people to use my name and that of Roy Hamilton. Spread a little propaganda. Recall the story of Munan and tell them that we are on our way to meet the enemy. I am not so egotistic as to feel that we are bound to be successful, but the effect of such propaganda will be beneficial, anyway.”

“Your suggestion is very good,” agreed the Secretary. “I will have it put into effect at once. Well, I can see you are anxious to be off. Here’s my hand, and good luck to you. The whole world and its resources are behind you.”

They gripped hands and the Secretary hastened to the manhole. When the final farewell was said and the manhole bolted shut, the professor returned to the control room where the rest of the group was gathered. Walter was impatiently awaiting the start. The two aides, Fred and George Bacon, brothers, were examining the machinery of the Pioneer with great interest. Both were scientists of world repute.

The professor’s first action was to call the Castle Mountain observatory and obtain the exact position of the approaching fleet. He then pulled the starting switch, adjusted the controls, and headed the Pioneer skyward.

Again they were off!

(continue to part 6)

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