Friday, September 25, 2009

"The War of the Planets" by Harl Vincent, part 6

This is the sixth 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 five installments can be found 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 proposes to use the Pioneer to travel to the invasion fleet on a scouting mission . . .


When the novelty of rising from the earth’s surface at tremendous speed and of watching it change gradually to a huge bowl with the horizon as a rim, had somewhat worn off, Walter made for the videophone. “NY-14-328,” he called.

Soon the voice of Zora answered and Walter spent several minutes apprising her of their plans. She took it all stoically and was particularly pleased that they would be able to keep in touch with the voyagers by videophone. After a few minutes conversation with the mother, Walter shyly requested that Dorothy be called to the instrument. When he viewed her sweet face in the disc, he experienced a sinking sensation and had his first doubts as to whether he quite liked this trip after all. His conversation with Dorothy will not be recorded, but be it said that he was a more solemn youth when he returned, albeit his eyes shone with an excitement other than that of adventurer.

When he rejoined the rest of the Pioneer’s crew they were more than three hundred miles from the surface of the earth and the speed had accelerated to nearly two thousand miles an hour. The upper limits of the atmosphere had long since been passed. No one spoke – all eyes were glued to the screen of the periscope. The only sounds were the slight hissing of the oxygen apparatus and the ever increasing whine of the revolving sphere. The needle of the speed indicator moved steadily to the right. Within ten more minutes it pointed to the figure 8 – eight thousand miles an hour was their speed. And, less than an hour out, they had traveled 3,500 miles of their journey. The earth beneath them now showed as a true globe, a tremendous sphere showing the vast expanses of continents and oceans in splendid relief. When one and a half hours had passed, the speed of the Pioneer had increased to the incredible rate of eighty thousand miles an hour – more than twenty-two miles a second! Their journey was half over and the change in the whine of the sphere told the watchers that the professor had started the deceleration of velocity. The interior of the craft was uncomfortably warm, though the refrigeration apparatus was working to full capacity.

At this point the professor requested that Roy make a report to the Secretary and to their families. Walter followed his father in to the saloon, where the videophone was installed. It required but a few seconds to obtain the connection with the Department and when the Secretary’s face appeared in the disc they saw he was smiling broadly.

“Well, I certainly am relieved to hear from you,” he said. “We have been somewhat anxious, as we are all aware that the Pioneer has never actually traveled at the speeds necessary in this case. How are things going?”

“Fine, Mr. Secretary,” was Roy’s enthusiastic reply. “Professor Nilsson asked me to report that we are now 28,000 miles from the earth and that all is well.”

“Excellent, Mr. Hamilton. And you may report to the professor that he video is spreading the news to the four quarters of the globe. The effect on the population has been electric. Rioting, which had reached serious proportions in some localities, has now entirely ceased. The people are clamoring for news from the Pioneer and I wish you would speak to them through the News Bureau. I will transfer the connection from here.”

Almost at once the view in the disc changed, the face of Secretary Miller giving place to the view of a large room where sat several operators at control boards and where multitudes of microphones were grouped about a receiving videophone instrument. This was the first time Roy has spoken to the entire world and he was considerably embarrassed. Mastering his feelings, he was able to speak a few words:

“People of the world,” he began, “I am speaking from the Pioneer, about thirty thousand miles from you. We are speeding towards the enemy at the rate of nearly twelve hundred miles a minute. Professor Nilsson is at the controls and if you could all know him as I have known him for twenty-five or more years, you would have the same confidence in him that I have. Remember, he saved the world once before. I was with him in Munan and have seen him at work on as bad a problem. I know he has the determination to win this time too and wish to assure you that if there is a man in the world who can ward off the impending calamity, he is the man. Keep up your courage as we are keeping up ours. We shall advise you of developments. Thank you.”

The operators applauded in that control room thousands of miles away and immediately the scene shifted to again picture the smiling countenance of Secretary Miller.

“Fine, Mr. Hamilton,” he said. “You could not have said anything more appropriate. Why, you have even instilled confidence in me. Good work.”

“Thank you,” answered Roy. “And now I should like to get in touch with my family.”

“That’s the thing to do,” agreed the Secretary. “Don’t let your wife worry. Good-bye.”

* * *

The next connection established was with Roy’s own apartment and they found that Zora and Dorothy had joined Thelda there to keep her company during these trying hours.

“Hello, Roy,” spoke Thelda’s golden voice as the connection was completed and her loved face appeared on the disc. “Is everything all right with you and Walter?”

“Everything is fine,” answered Roy, drawing Walter over so that he could also be viewed by his mother. “So far the trip has been a great experience, more particularly for Walter. He is enjoying every minute of it. And you know there is absolutely no danger in this expedition, since we can not possibly be seen by our foes.”

“How long will it be until you reach them?”

“About an hour and a half, according to the professor’s statement. The sensations when traveling at our terrific pace are very novel and almost breath-taking. The effect of gravity has decreased so that we are moving about the ship like feathers in a breeze.”

“It must be very interesting. But when you near the enemy fleet, be sure and keep close watch over our Walter, won’t you?”

“You know I will, dear. And you folks take good care of yourselves while we are gone, too.”

Walter then spoke to his mother and to Dorothy, after which the two returned to the control room and reported to the professor. There were no further calls and finally they sighted the enemy fleet far ahead. The Pioneer was slowed down and the professor made a wide detour to allow the mass of rapidly traveling enemy machines to pass on their earthward journey. They passed so quickly that none of the voyagers had a chance to get a good look at then and it was not until they had completely circled about and headed earthward in the rear of the fleet that they were able to examine the attacking craft closely.

The speed of the Pioneer was reduced to but slightly more than the of the huge spherical ships and they approached the rearmost of these very slowly. Each globe reflected lights of ever shifting hue and the similarity to immense soap bubbles became more apparent. The motion was absolutely steady and, for all its rapidity, seemed almost deliberate in comparison with the speed at which they had been traveling. No sign of life was visible at the distance of something less than a mile but, as they drew closer, the observers were able to make out a flat, railed-off sort of platform atop each of the globes. Aside from these the surfaces were absolutely smooth, showing no demarcations which would indicate that they were built up from separate sections. They appeared to be cast solid from some iridescent, highly polished material of unknown nature.

When they were within five hundred feet of one of the huge spheres which lagged somewhat behind the rest of the fleet, the professor carefully adjusted the speed of the Pioneer so that they seemed to be hovering directly over the observation platform below. All members of the party now clustered about the glass covered porthole in the floor of the control room, examining the curious craft closely. While they watched, a black spot appeared in the center of the platform. This immediately resolved itself into a circular opening and from it emerged a strange looking creature. At first they took it for some monster of inhuman mold, but it was soon apparent that this was a man, or a living being greatly resembling one, clad in a heavy suit of armor like a deep sea diver’s equipment, even to the huge helmet surmounting the ensemble and the knapsack to furnish oxygen to the helmet.

Upon observing this, the professor grunted an exclamation.

“Roy,” he said, “take the controls, will you? I have an idea.”

“Sure thing, Nils,” agreed Roy, nothing loath. He took the seat just quitted by the professor.

Without further explanation, the professor disappeared into the rear compartment of the vessel and the group looked at one another inquiringly.

“Whatever he has up his sleeve,” remarked Roy, “you can be sure it is going to be good. I have seen him work before, you know.”

Walter’s excitement was contagious. Fred and George Bacon could scarcely contain themselves either.

* * *

Soon the professor returned and the group let out a chorus of astonished exclamations when they saw him. He was accoutered almost exactly like the creature on the platform beneath them, excepting that he had not yet screwed the helmet to the top ring of his air-tight suit.

“Roy,” he said to the amazed pilot, “I am going to board that machine and see what I can learn.”

“But Nils,” objected Roy, “you will be killed and then what shall we do? Don’t risk your life. It is the most important life in our world right now. Let me go.”

“Nonsense,” said the professor, somewhat testily, “I can take care of myself. And besides, I have this.”

He displayed a small pistol-like contrivance which Roy at once recognized as one of the little disintegration-ray projectors which had proved so effective at Munan.

“Well, that makes some difference,” Roy admitted, grudgingly, “but you must be very careful. Remember, the safety of the world is in your hands. Why, I am not even sure that I could pilot the Pioneer safely back to earth if anything happened to you.”

“Oh yes you could, my boy. And now, will you please maneuver the ship to a point about twenty-five feet above that deck?”

As Roy complied, the professor gave his final instructions and soon revealed that the Pioneer was equipped with a number of features of which Roy had not previously known.

A light line was dropped to the craft beneath them and a hook at the end gripped the railing behind the sole occupant of the platform. After adjusting his helmet, the professor entered an air lock and the watchers again returned to the porthole. They did not know what to expect next.

For a minute or more they watched the movements of the figure beneath them in anxiety, momentarily expecting him to wheel about and discover the hook and line which to him would appear to extend from the nothingness of space above his head. But the man, for he was undoubtedly that, was busy taking observations with a sextant and suspected nothing.

Suddenly a thin pencil of purplish light shot out from the direction of the air lock and this struck the observer squarely between the shoulders. The travelers on the Pioneer, excepting Roy who knew what to expect, gasped in surprise when they saw the figure in the air-tight uniform wilt and crumple before their eyes. In less time than it takes to tell, the figure was entirely gone – disappeared into thin air, or rather into the vacuum of space, leaving nothing on the platform excepting the metal helmet, the sextant, and the heavy metal shoe soles. Bones, flesh, clothing – all but the metal parts – had been entirely disintegrated by the wonderful weapon aimed by the professor.

In a moment they saw a rope ladder slowly unfurl and leisurely descend to the deck of the great sphere. Fortunate it was for them that the enemy machine was of such huge size, for it had sufficient attraction for smaller objects in the vicinity to give them enough weight to be drawn to its surface. The professor then descended the ladder slowly and carefully, the watchers keeping anxious eyes on the opening into the strange flier in fearful expectation of another figure emerging from its depths.

Soon the professor reached the platform and his first act was to kick the helmet and the metal soles over the edge. These slithered slowly over the smooth spherical surface of the vessel and floated off into space. The professor then picked up the sextant and waved it as a cheerful signal to those above, though he could not see them.

He then peered into the dark circle which opened into the enemy vessel and, after a moment’s consideration, descended into its maw.

“Well,” said Roy, “let’s hope that everything goes well with him. He is, of course, a man of great resource and is armed with a marvelous weapon. The crew of the enemy vessel will undoubtedly be unarmed, since they could not possibly expect an attack from the rear. He should have a good chance, provided there are not too many of them.”

Nevertheless the little group around the porthole spent an extremely anxious half hour awaiting his reappearance. Then came a shock. The Pioneer lurched and careened at a sharp angle. The vessel to which they were anchored had started off in a direction away from its fellows, and at high speed! They were being towed with it!

Not knowing what else to do, Roy threw the controls into neutral and let the Pioneer follow. When they had trialed thus for another twenty minutes and the remainder of the fleet was completely lost to view, the motion gradually decreased until they were floating in space, absolutely stationary. The Pioneer drifted at the end of the light line like a kite.

* * *

“Now what?” said Walter, nervously.

The others laughed. There was not much mirth in those hollow laughs though and, with white faces, they continued to watch the manhole below.

Soon a huge, metal-encased head appeared at the opening and a figure clambered laboriously to the deck. It was not the professor! The watchers groaned as one man. All was lost!

But no! Another figure emerged and this figure, for all the disguise of the uniform it wore, could be recognized as that of the professor. In his hand was the ray pistol, which he kept steadily trained on the broad back of the figure preceding him. A cheer went up from the four on the Pioneer as the professor waved his arm to indicate that all was well. He prodded his captive in the back with the pistol and directed him to the rope ladder. Keeping at his heels, he forced him to climb towards the Pioneer and the two made their way slowly upward until they were out of sight of the porthole. Roy rushed to the stern compartment where there were stored a number of the weapons like that used by the professor, and he armed himself with one of these also. The four voyagers stood at the inner door of the air lock and Roy trained his weapon on it when it opened to admit the professor and his captive. He kept the prisoner covered while the professor removed his own helmet and then assisted in removing the helmet and air-tight suit from the now unresisting enemy.

The prisoner was led to a chair in the saloon, where they were astonished to hear the professor converse with him in English.

“And now, my man, what is your name?” asked the professor.

“I know not of what advantage the knowledge is to you,” haughtily replied the stranger, who was a heavy-set, broad-shouldered, blond giant of a man, “but you may call me Kardos.”

“All right, Kardos,” snapped the professor, “you understand that you are a prisoner of war. Mr. Hamilton here, will keep close watch over you while I make the necessary arrangements to take your vessel to our earth.”

“You’re right I will, Nils,” spoke Roy. “Just go ahead with whatever you have to do and I will blow this big boy to kingdom come, if he as much as moves a finger.”

The professor busied himself in the storage compartments while Roy kept guard over the prisoner. The other three passengers sat gazing, with mixed hate and admiration, at the splendid specimen who sat now with his head bowed in his hands.

With a large coil of wire, a fair sized steel cable, and two ancient telephone instruments in his hands, the professor returned. He refastened his helmet and started for the air lock. With the exception of Roy, who remained with the prisoner, all returned to the porthole where they watched the professor make his way back to the enemy vessel.

He now made the connection between the two vessels more secure by means of the steel cable. There now extended the two tie lines and the telephone wires from the hull of the Pioneer to the huge sphere beneath them, and the professor disappeared once more into the interior of the enemy machine, carrying the end of the wires and one of the telephone instruments with him. It was probably fifteen minutes before he reappeared and this time his hands were empty. After he clambered up the ladder it was withdrawn and slowly the great, glistening sphere receded from them as the cables and the telephone wires were paid out from above. The professor continued to let out the lines until some two hundred feet separated the two vessels and not until then did he reappear in the saloon.

After divesting himself of his unwieldy costume, he connected the remaining telephone instrument to the ends of the wires he had brought through sealed openings in the door of the air lock. This instrument was a curio, but the professor had a way of collecting and keeping such things, as he always figured that some time he might find use for them, however ancient their origin. The instrument, which comprised microphone and receiver mounted on one curved handle, he thrust unceremoniously into the hand of Kardos, showing him how to hold the mouthpiece and receiver in their proper positions.

“Now Kardos,” he ordered, “you will command your pilot to proceed earthward, accelerating gradually to a speed of seventy-five thousand miles an hour, then decelerating when further instructed.”

Kardos glowered, but finally started to speak into the mouthpiece in a guttural, foreign tongue. The professor stopped him at about the third word with a sudden jab in the ribs from the ray-pistol, with which he had again armed himself.

“None of that,” he rasped. “Speak English. You and your pilot both know it very well. There are going to be no conversations in your own language.”

There was nothing for Kardos to do but comply, which he did with poor grace. His orders were obeyed at once, as was evidenced by a gentle tug at the Pioneer and a lifting of its occupants from their seats due to the acceleration.

With both the efficient hand weapons trained on the prisoner, who seemed to be taking his position more stoically now, the professor regaled his passengers with the story of what had transpired on board the enemy ship. They listened in amazement and were jubilant over the signal victory he had won, single-handed.

(continue to part 7)

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