Monday, September 28, 2009

"The War of the Planets" by Harl Vincent, part 8

This is the eighth 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 seven installments can be found 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 Venusian ships, bringing it back to earth for study . . .


In Washington there commenced a period of activity, the like of which had not been seen in the world capital for many years. Dense crowds packed the vicinity of the stage where the vessel from Venus had landed. It was necessary to rope off a large area to keep the crowds from interfering with the removal of the crew of the captured ship. These were conveyed by fast aeros to Barranquilla, the sole remaining prison city in the western hemisphere. Kardos, the commander of the vessel, was held in Washington for further questioning, but it was soon found that no information of value could be obtained from him. In fact his replies to the questions of his captors were so misleading as to be of less than no value. The professor therefore decided that personal examination of the mechanism of the space flier was the only means of learning its workings and of discovering what weapons the attackers would employ in warring upon the world.

With a corps of Research Department men and with Roy and Walter as his lieutenants, he set about the difficult task. When the last of the crew had been removed, they entered the vessel and started a minute examination of its machinery and of the materials of its construction.

Measurements showed the sphere to be 481.6 feet in diameter and the thickness of its shell 13.2 feet. It appeared to have been built in one piece from some tough, strong material, a section of which was cut out for analysis. The inner surface of the shell was lined throughout with an unknown metal of the thickness of three-tenths of an inch. The purpose of this lining was not immediately evident, since it was not of sufficient thickness to add anything of strength to the tremendously thick outer shell. At the lowermost portion of the vessel was the control room. This contained a complex arrangement of electrical controls and seemed to be the center of all activities necessary for the operation of the ship and of its offensive weapons, whatever they might be. The crew's quarters occupied the level directly above the control room, the rest of the huge sphere being crammed with floor after floor of electrical machinery and mechanisms of a nature entirely unknown to the scientists now on board.

Though opaque and apparently of the same material as the remainder of the sphere when viewed from outside, the entire outer wall of the control room was transparent from the inside, giving an unobstructed view to the pilot.

Careful tracing of the wiring disclosed which of the mechanisms provided the motive power. These were not examined at once, since the important thing was to determine the means of offensive warfare to be encountered. It was soon apparent that the driving mechanism was but a small part of the machinery of the vessel and this seemed to incorporate some simple means of nullifying gravity in any direction with elaborate control of this effect to provide for steering. The rest of the vessel was a huge power plant for generating electricity at tremendous voltage, but the method of application of this power could not be discovered.

The means of starting and bringing this immense power plant to speed was soon determined but, when the scientists had accomplished this much and found that the voltage generated was of the order of three million, they could not discover how this great potential was handled or applied. True, they traced the output connections but this did not prove of much help, for one terminal connected with the metallic lining of the hull, while the other terminal connected with one great metal cylinder about fifteen feet in diameter. The metal cylinder was solid and was set in the hull through an insulating bushing with its axis mounted radially with reference to the vessel itself. Further examination revealed that this metal cylinder could be moved in or out by means of a motor-driven rack and pinion mechanism. When moved forward to its greatest extent it was found to project some seventy feet outside the hull, exactly at the equator of the immense ball. But when the power was full on there was absolutely no indication of electrical discharge from the electrode, though the voltage differential between it and the lining of the vessel was found to agree with that shown on the meters in the control room. Tremendous power there was here, but neither the professor nor any of the other scientists were able to learn how it could be applied as a means of destroying life or property.

The remainder of the day was spent in futile research along these lines and, late in the evening, the professor left the Research Department experts on board the vessel and repaired to one of the laboratories with the samples of various materials of which the ship was constructed. He was considerably discouraged, and asked Roy and Walter to remain with him during the experiments which he was about to conduct. This they were only too glad to do and Walter eagerly set about to help. As an assistant to the professor he was almost perfect, the carefulness and accuracy of his work having been always noted and approved by that great scientist.

Far into the night they worked and many of the materials had been completely analyzed and classified. The most surprising thing to the professor was the composition of the hull. This proved to be built up of thin fibrous sheets, similar to ordinary pulp paper, impregnated with a phenol-resin compound and united in a solid mass under heat and tremendous pressure. This was nothing more nor less than an insulating material used extensively on earth and designated by various trade names such as Bakelite and Micarta.

* * *

The following morning, with the world clamoring for news, the professor had nothing of interest to report beyond the general details of construction of the enemy vessel. His efforts at seeming cheerful were successful, however, and there was as yet no renewal of the widespread discouragement and alarm that had followed the first news of the approaching enemy.

His next experiments were with available destructive agencies and their effect on the huge bulk that reposed on the landing stage. The world was sadly lacking in such resources, all arms and ammunition of any size having been scrapped and gone these many centuries. However, there were the energy beams by means of which all power was transmitted and these were the first to be tried. Centuries ago, when the transmission of power through the ether had been perfected, it was possible to destroy battleships of the ocean and air by merely directing beams of great energy into their machinery which thereby became parlyzed, making the engines of war useless. This had been one of the primary reasons for abolishing all war from the face of the earth.

It was quite reasonable to suppose that the same procedure might be successful against these warships from another world, but the professor had his doubts. He knew that the Munanese were fully aware of this ancient method of disabling combatants and, as Mador had been one of their best known scientists, he would undoubtedly be prepared for the use of energy beams by the otherwise unprepared peoples of the earth. He was not wrong in this assumption, as the first experiment showed.

From the Thomas Energy Company was obtained the use of the most powerful beam transmitter in Washington and, with all the machinery of the enemy vessel in full operation, the energy of this beam was directed into the ship's vitals. There was no effect whatever, the high speed machinery of the vessel continuing to hum musically -- the many electrical instruments in the control room being unaffected in their indications.

"Just as I feared," the professor muttered. "The metallic lining evidently forms a protective shield, though our ancestors were never able to find a material which would successfully defy these same energy beams. And now, gentlemen, we must get busy in earnest. I must make a hurried trip to New York to bring certain materials from my own laboratory. I shall be gone no longer than two or three hours. In the meantime Roy and Walter will remain with the rest of you and assist in a thorough search through the enemy ship. Possibly you may find printed instructions somewhere among the effects of the officers, and even if they should be in the language of the Venerians, we should be able to have them translated in time to be of some value. We have enough experts here in Washington."

Before he left, he called for Walter to give him instructions as to his part in the work, but Walter was nowhere to be found. Abandoning the search after a few minutes, the professor started for his own laboratory without giving the matter much serious thought.

(continue to part 9)

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