Sunday, September 27, 2009

"The War of the Planets" by Harl Vincent, part 7

This is the seventh 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 six installments can be found 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 Venusian ships . . .


Back in Washington, Secretary Miller paced the floor of his office. About him sat a dozen or more of his men and the videophone had been constantly busy with calls from various other governmental Departments. He hesitated to call the Pioneer as he feared he might interrupt some of the professor's proceedings. But the voyagers were now gone nearly four hours and the world was getting impatient for word from them. The assembled company was almost in turmoil, great men as they were.

The videophone spoke. Professor Nilsson's face appeared in the disc and the company was electrified into close attention. The Secretary answered with relief in his voice:

"What have you to report, Professor?" he asked.

"We have captured one of the enemy ships with all of its crew and will have it in Washington inside of three hours."

"What?" gasped the Secretary. "You have captured one of these huge fliers? How on earth did you do it?"

"Improbable as it may seem," responded the professor, "it was, in actuality, quite a simple matter. After passing the enemy fleet, we found that one of the vessels was somewhat behind the others and we approached this vessel closely. Our craft being invisible, we were able to do this unseen, although there was an enemy observer on a small circular deck on the upper surface of the sphere. To this small deck I dropped a line and a rope ladder from the Pioneer, which was kept in position by Roy Hamilton. It was necessary to do this very carefully so as not to arouse the observer and I was obliged to make away with him before crawling down the ladder and entering the ship through the air-locked manhole from which he had emerged. This was accomplished by means of an ancient weapon -- the obsolete ray-pistol, you know -- and this same weapon later enabled me to get control of the entire vessel."

"But," interrupted the Secretary, "how were you able to pass from one vessel to the other when both were in the vacuum of outer space?"

"I was enclosed in an air-tight suit with an oxygen supply system as was the observer on the deck of the enemy ship," the professor replied, "and fortunate it was too, since I was mistaken for the observer when I entered the ship and mingled with the crew. When I did show my true colors and turned the ray-pistol on the commander and his aides, they were so taken by surprise that I had little difficulty in getting the upper hand. Two or three of the crew endeavored to rush me, but, being entirely unsuspicious of any possible attack from the rear, they were unarmed, and after I had caused several of their number to disintegrate and vanish, the rest were so terrified by the ray-pistol as to be entirely tractable.

"It occurred to me at once that the commander-in-chief of the fleet would undoubtedly expect periodic reports from each of his vessels by radio, so, after locking all of the crew securely in their metal-walled quarters, with the exception of the commander and one of his pilots, I forced the commander to report that his ship was out of control and would be unable to keep up with the rest of the fleet. Fortunately the orders sent back from the flag-ship were to the effect that he should do the best he could and follow slowly, if necessary remaining in position until the fleet could return from its mission and salvage the disabled vessel.

"I then ordered them to slacken speed and the main body of the fleet was soon lost to view. The pilot I left on his own ship, after disabling the radio so that no further communication could be had with the flag-ship and, at the point of the ray-pistol, I forced the commander to return to the Pioneer with me. Leaving him under the guard of Roy Hamilton, I revisited the enemy ship and made steel cable and telephone connections between it and the Pioneer. I strapped the telephone receiver to the head of the pilot, who was so utterly cowed by the ray-pistol that he obeyed my every order, and returned to my own vessel. Then I forced the commander, Kardos by name, to communicate with his own pilot over my telephone connection and order him to proceed to our earth over a different route than that being followed by the rest of his fleet.

"This is now being done and the enemy vessel is towing us earthward. In order that the pilot of the enemy ship should have no opportunity of becoming unmanageable, I have sent your two men to the vessel and have equipped them with ray-pistols which they are keeping trained on him constantly. It is another fortunate circumstance that these spherical vessels of the enemy do not require the attention of the crew at the propelling machinery and can be operated by a single man from a central control room. We have had a little trouble with Kardos, but he has now resigned himself to his capture and is as meek as the rest of the crew.

"We shall arrive at Washington at about two P.M. and I intend to take immediate steps to investigate the construction and armament of the great sphere in detail. With this machine in our possession, we shall be in a much better position and should be able to determine some means of combatting the others when they arrive."

"Wonderful! Professor, wonderful!" Secretary Miller said with enthusiasm. "We shall inform the world at once. And now you had better get in communication with your families. No doubt they are as worried as we have been."

"We shall do that at once. Thank you, Mr. Secretary."

* * *

When the professor's face vanished from the disc, the Secretary turned to the astonished assembage.

"Why, this man is a marvel of courage and resourcefulness," he exclaimed. "He was never adequately honored for his wonderful work in saving our world from the Munanese, but I swear before you all that he shall be given his full measure of recognition this time. I have a feeling he is going to succeed again, too."

Murmurs of approval came from the prominent men present. The reaction from their recent gloom was slow in coming. It all seemed too impossible to be true. But they had seen the professor's face as he told them of his victory. They could not doubt his sincerity and, as quickly as the truth of his statements became impressed on their stunned minds, a great hubbub of triumphant exultation swept the room.

"Quiet, gentlemen, quiet," spoke the Secretary. "We have work to do. The peoples of the world must be appraised at once of the eventful happenings. It will keep them from further disorder and rioting, at least until the Pioneer returns with its war prize."

Immediate connection was made with the General News Bureau and the Secretary spoke to the world audience. He told in glowing terms of what had been done in the skies, fifty thousand miles away. So great was his own confidence now that, when he had warmed to his subject, he was able to communicate much of it to his billions of listeners. Where hope and despair had previously alternated, carrying the populace to hitherto unknown heights and depths, now only hope remained. Possibly he made them too optimistic, but the general result was excellent.

Thelda still entertained Zora and Dorothy in her apartments and the three women had also spent a very anxious three hours. The two mothers were calm through these trying hours, but Dorothy was inconsolable. After two hours had passed with no word from father or sweetheart she had buried herself in a divan and wept unrestrainedly. Time and again she begged permission to use the videophone and to call "Special 85-A" but the older women restrained her, fearing, as had the Secretary, that some serious plans of the adventurers might be interfered with. Just as they were about to give in to Dorothy's tearful pleading, having become more and more worried themselves as time passed, their own call was repeated and all three rushed to the videophone.

Dorothy was the first to reach it and she laughed and cried in turn when the cheerful visage of her fathr appeared in the disc.

All three listened in wonder to his tale, as had the listeners in Washington a short time previously. Roy and Walter were called to the instrument of the Pioneer and the conversation took on the gladness of a reunion.

Dorothy's conversation with Walter was frankly that of a maid deeply in love. Neither seemed to care whether their elders overheard or not. Walter rather shamefacedly admitted that he had, so far, taken absolutely no hand in the "big doings," as he called them. But Dorothy would have none of his self-belittlement and assured him that he would yet be the hero of the whole affair. How near she was to the truth none of them realized at the time. When the connection was broken, the three women joyfully set out for one of the public squares. They felt the need of rubbing elbows with the people of the crowds which packed all such places, watching the public video for reports.

They found the southbound moving ways unusually jammed for the time of day and a holiday spirit prevailed. Everyone wore a smile and the names of Roy Hamilton and Professor Nilsson were on the lips of all. They left the moving platform at 125th crossing and mingled with the crowd in Square T-17 on the sixth level. Here was a huge videophone screen, fully thirty feet in diameter, and the voice of a news announcer filled the entire area with natural distinctness, but amplified to such an extent that it completely overcame the crowd noises. Still it was not painful to the ear, but seemed rather to come from a point immediately adjacent to the individual listener in ordinary speaking volume. The scene in the disc was again that through the Castle Mountain reflector and the three women thrilled with secret pride as they watched the drifting, weaving convolutions of the approaching fleet and realized that their men had recently left the vicinity of the menacing mass with a victory to their credit.

After a while the scene shifted to Washington, where the watchers were afforded views of the buildings and laboratories of the Research Department where preparations were being made for the arrival of the Pioneer and its prize.

Occasionally the view of a threatening radiogram from the enemy was flashed on the screen. Mador still persisted in his efforts to terrorize the world in advance. But these messages, all signed by him, were greeted with hoots and jeers. The world simply refused to be further terrified since receiving the news from the Pioneer.

Impatiently as the crowd awaited the arrival of the adventurers in Washington, the time passed all too quickly for those most immediately concerned -- Thelda, Zora, and Dorothy. The reactions of the crowd interested them more than the news. Their pride knew no bounds, though they remained unrecognized by those about them. This was a new experience for Dorothy and thrilled her to the depths of her girlish being. She had never been this far downtown in a public place and, to her, it symbolized her parents' recognition of her grown-upness. No longer was she the school girl, to be pampered and sheltered, but a grown woman with a sweetheart, who was out there in the skies helping to make history.

Eventually the great moment arrived and the crowds in the square grew hysterical with excitement. The great sphere, behind which the tiny Pioneer was known to be trailing, had been sighted! The view in the screen was now that of an immense landing stage and soon the watchers could make out the approaching enemy vessel. The Pioneer was of course invisible but a brilliantly scintillating soap bubble seemed to be drifting in toward the stage. Larger and larger it loomed until its hugeness in proportion to the buildings and human figures in the scene became evident.

A resounding cheer rose from the crowd when the sphere settled to a landing and was blocked into position by scurrying figures of men who seemed like bees around a hive in comparison with its great bulk. Then, when a close-up was shown of the professor and his companions being greeted by the Secretary and his party, the crowds went absolutely insane with joy.

The three women had had enough. Elbowing their way through the crowd, they made for the northbound moving way and were soon following the news in the comfort of the Hamilton apartments. The excitement had been almost too much for them and, womanlike, they indulged in a good cry together. But they were happier than they had been in many hours.

(continue to part 8)

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