Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"The War of the Planets" by Harl Vincent, part 9

This is the ninth 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 eight installments can be found here, 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 . . .


That day was a very trying and discouraging one. When the professor returned from New York with a load of his own paraphernalia, he found that nothing of value had been found on board the enemy ship. Not only that, but Walter was still missing. Roy and he were much alarmed but it was necessary to keep on with the work. They could not let up for a minute now -- the time was getting too short. By noon of the morrow the enemy would be upon them and nothing had yet been accomplished.

Roy and the professor spent all that day and night in the laboratory, conducting experiments with the various materials from the space flier, but still had nothing to report on the following morning. When day broke and the News Bureau could tell of no progress, the public again became clamorous. Castle Mountain reported the fleet only six thousand miles away and still maintaining the speed of one thousand miles an hour. They would arrive before noon! And the world was still helpless!

More of the threatening radiograms began pouring in from Mador. Public excitement again increased to a fever pitch and , as the morning wore on, the great cities of the world began to take on the appearance of ant hills. With fear overcoming all reasoning power, the people lost their heads and started a disordered flight to the open country. This was the worst possible course they could pursue, though it was quite certain that the larger cities would be the first points attacked. However, the open country presented no opportunities for shelter or for obtaining food. All population being now concentrated in the cities, and all foodstuffs being synthetically produced therein, the countryside was deserted and wild -- the farms of the ancients gone and now overrun with wilderness and wild beasts. Still the exodus grew in importance and extent, spreading to all the cities of the world.

Secretary Miller had been called to account by the President and soon hunted out the professor to learn what was being done. He found the professor in a state of deep gloom. He had been entirely unsuccessful and was compelled to report that he could hold out no hope. Further than this, Walter was still missing and the professor's heart was also heavy on this account. Thelda had learned of the fact and had just communicated with Roy, displaying great fear and nervousness. In was indeed a trying situation.

In a few hours videophone reports began to come in from all over North America. The enemy fleet had spread out in groups of three spheres each and these groups had appeared over many of the principle cities. They drifted at an altitude of about five thousand feet and showered the various localities with radiograms. Their own radios were unable to rectify the distorted waves of the videophone beams -- they could communicate only in the now little used code radio. Fortunate this was, for they were thus unaware of the capture of one of their ships and had no knowledge of what was transpiring on earth.

But the campaign of terror was effective. The people were absolutely unmanageable and the casualty lists lengthened rapidly. Where Professor Nilsson had, but a few hours before, been a world hero, now curses and invectives were heaped on him by the unreasoning mobs. Roy was unswerving in his loyalty and the Secretary and the entire department continued to back him. Feverishly they worked on board the enemy ship and in the laboratories.

At one P.M. came news of the first hostile attack. Cincinnati had been completely wiped out of existence, inhabitants and all. The few who had escaped to the open country would surely starve or be destroyed by wild beasts. Reports of the catastrophe were cut off short before any details could be given, for the local videos went the way of everything else in the city.

The next radiogram from Mador warned that Youngstown would next be destroyed. The inhabitants of that city fought and struggled to reach the country and many fatalities resulted before the enemy even arrived.

Thelda had been prostrated by the continued absence of news from Walter and it was with dragging feet that Roy followed the professor to the Pioneer. It was decided that they should make a rapid trip to Youngstown to watch the enemy at work and learn how the destruction was accomplished. A dozen scientists from the Research Department embarked with them, as did Secretary Miller.

* * *

Climbing rapidly to an altitude of ten thousand feet, the Pioneer headed for Youngstown with the driving sphere whining in ever-rising crescendo. So rapid was the acceleration that they had not been in the air more than ten minutes when the interior of the vessel became so hot that they could scarcely bear it. Fifteen minutes, and with the persperation pouring from his face and body, the professor reversed the sphere. Ten more minutes and they were stationary, far above the doomed city. This was the fastest trip the Pioneer had ever made in the lower atmosphere and its refrigeration system had been taxed to the utmost. So had the stamina of its passengers.

In silence the professor uncovered the floor ports of the Pioneer and in silence the fifteen passengers knelt about these glass covered openings. Far below them spread the industrial city, with the forms of the spherical ships about half way between. They had huddles together like billiard balls set up in equilateral triangle formation. The hulls seemed to contact momentarily. As they did, from each there slowly projected a dark object, cylindrical in shape. These objects approached each other in the open space enclosed by the three vessels. They contacted and a blinding blue flame spouted at the point of contact. At this, the three ships rapidly receded from one another, but the arc which had formed between the three electrodes continued, spreading to a huge, sputtering, roaring flame as the distance increased.

The roar of the tremendous arc increased to such an intensity that it became audible even through the double hull of the Pioneer. The passengers watched in awed silence as the three enemy ships, still maintaining their triangular formation, receded to three points equally spaced about a circle enclosing the city. Still the terrific arc was maintained between the electrodes. When the outermost limits of the city had been reached, the three vessels started to turn slowly on their vertical axes. This movement continued until the electrodes became tangent to the circle represented by the three, all pointing in the same direction of rotation. The great blue flaming arc now became a whirling vortex, ever curving downward to the doomed city as the spheres tilted slowly, pointing their now white-hot electrodes toward the earth at an angle of about forty-five degrees. The ground below was completely obscured from view, but the din of a roaring cyclone and the rending of solid masonry and steel girders came plainly to the ears of the spectators. It was a white-faced group that stared wonderingly at each other when the arc abruptly ceased and the desolation of a city completely wiped out of existence was presented below. The three enemy vessels rejoined and made off towards the north in a leisurely manner.

The professor jumped to his feet. "The atomic storm!" he shouted. "Why did I not think of it before? It was produced on a miniature scale in the laboratory as far back as the twentieth century, and in an electric arc, too. But what are we going to do to fight it?"

The scientists were still too much shaken by what they had witnessed to even think clearly, much less to discuss the problem. Roy's worries over Walter's disappearance kept him mute and downcast, also. So it was a gloomy party that disembarked from the Pioneer at the Research building in Washington forty minutes later. They repaired to the Secretary's office at once.

(continue to part 10)

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