Thursday, October 1, 2009

"The War of the Planets" by Harl Vincent, part 11

This is the eleventh 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 ten installments can be found here, here, 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 Venerian ships, bringing it back to earth for study. The Venerian ships arrive and destroy the cities of Cincinnati, Youngstown, Houston, and San Diego before Walter Hamilton realizes that they can be destroyed by the use of high-frequency energy beams. Using the Pioneer, Nilsson succeeds in destroying the three ships threatening Washington . . .


That night there was great rejoicing in Washington and in every city on the face of the earth. The General News Bureau kept the videophone going all night and, as news of the destruction of the three ships and of the rapid formation of defense plans was spread to the wilderness by fast aeros, the panic-stricken refugees gradually took heart and started a straggling return to their own homes. Shamefacedly they entered the cities, tired, dirty and bedraggled. Stealthily they left the public ways and hid themselves in their own quarters.

The professor organized the forces of the Department of Research. All night long he and his helpers labored to have complete plans for the defense of the world put into effect before daybreak. The Thomas Energy people collaborated to the utmost and by four A.M. reports began to come in from all over the world announcing the completion of the tandem beam transmitters. It was very fortunate that standard apparatus could be utilized; that every single city had the resources and spare equipment of the Thomas Energy Company to draw from. When the first pink of dawn colored the sky every last city had reported the completion of at least one of the defensive weapons and most of the largest cities had prepared as many as ten. An improvement over the apparatus so hastily put together on the Pioneer had been devised by the professor and this, by his instruction, was incorporated in all of those constructed on land and in the aeros that were being fitted out. The two separate beam transmitters were now coupled together so as to produce parallel rays four hundred and seventy-five feet apart, to exactly embrace one of the enemy ships and to permit of one-man directing. A telescopic sight was installed central to the two beams and this was provided with cross-hairs to be centered on the spheres when in the field of vision. All of the high-frequency generators were set to produce exactly the proper frequency as determined in the initial experiment.

No sooner had the sun showed its glowing rim above the horizon than a radiogram was received from the enemy. It was evident from this that the rest of the fleet had no knowledge of the loss of the three vessels over Washington, also that the leader and instigator of the expedition was still in command. The message read:

"This is the great day. Our next blow is to be directed at your City of New York. Remember Munan. Mador."

In rapid succession came other messages advising the cities of Buffalo, Kansas City, New Orleans, and Montreal to prepare for their doom. No foreign cities were mentioned, so it was presumed that the enemy intended to destroy North America first before proceeding elsewhere.

"Now that we are prepared," said the professor in a weary voice, as he arose stiff-kneed from the table where he had worked for eight long hours, "we had better set out in the Pioneer to sort of supervise the defense and give aid wherever it might be required. First we shall go to New York and see what can be done there."

"That is a good idea, Professor," said Secretary Miller. "We will keep in touch with you constantly by video and I will have any instructions carried out that you might deem necessary."

Roy, Walter, and the picked force of the Research men left at once in the professor's ship with him and a very speedy trip was made to New York. They traveled at a high altitude -- about twenty thousand feet -- and in less than thirty minutes were over Manhattan Island. Far beneath them was a group of three of the enemy ships and they were approaching close formation preparatory to starting the atomic storm. Since the conducting beams could not be seen in daylight, the occupants of the Pioneer did not know whether or not any were being trained on the spheres from the city below. To make certain, the professor started his own beam projectors and high frequency generator. With the Pioneer left hovering he directed the twin beams on one of the cluster of three globes, just as the sputtering of the starting arc became visible. As the frequency indicator reached the mark made on its scale the preceeding night, two of the spheres exploded simultaneously. The city defenders had been successful also!

* * *

Those of you who witnessed the destruction of any of these monster ships from Venus will never forget the terrific force with which they were blown to atoms by the high frequency currents set up from above or below. The violence of these explosions was so great that seldom was even the tiniest fragment of vessel or occupant found. This was another piece of good luck, since great harm must have resulted had any portions of considerable size remained to be hurled to the earth.

In this case the explosion of the first two actually blasted the third into the ocean. It landed just outside Sandy Hook with such a splash that the resulting waves swamped a number of seashore resorts along the coast. Manhattan was momentarily obscured from view of the Pioneer by swirling clouds of minute fragments which were all that remained of the destroyed vessels. Dwellers in the city afterward reported that the shock below was so great, though the explosion occurred a mile overhead, that pictures were thrown from the walls and glassware broken on the tables.

"That third one must not escape!" shouted the professor, as he dashed into the control room and headed in the direction in which it had been thrown.

In a few minutes he had reached the great globe, now bobbing about on the surface of the ocean, a few miles off shore near Sea Bright. A giant rubber ball it seemed to be, bounced about by the hands of unseen Brobdingnagian bathers. But, for all its destructive nature, it was a beautiful thing to behold and the watchers exclaimed in admiration as it rose from its watery berth with the multi-colored, polished surface reflecting the light of the morning sun in blinding magnificence.

It was almost with sadness that the professor directed the rays and pulled the switch which sent the high frequency current on its message of death and destruction. The great sphere was hardly five hundred feet in the air when it exploded as had its predecessors. The resulting concussion laid bare the bottom of the ocean for a space several times the diameter of the sphere, and it seemed to the observers that the piled-up waters held their position for enough time to swallow up the powdered remains of the destroyed ship. Then they rushed together with a crash that was heard for miles and the resulting turbulence produced a waterspout which continued for fully ten minutes.

The videophone was speaking and while the professor swung the nose of his ship toward Long Island the crew was advised from Washington of the successful repulse of the enemy at Buffalo and Kansas City with the loss of six more of the enemy craft. That made twelve so far -- and one captured!

Another of the atomic-storm-producing arcs had just been started over the western end of Long Island when the Pioneer arrived. But it had not much more than started when one of the enemy ships was blown to bits by impulses from below. Th other two were carried about a mile in different directions by the force of the explosion and the Pioneer headed after one of these just as a huge air liner rose from the shore of Brooklyn in pursuit of the other. These two put on speed and started for parts unknown. But, with their speed retarded by the density of the earth's atmosphere, there was no escaping. A few seconds and all was over with them. That made sixteen!

The crew of the Pioneer was jubilant and the reports coming in from Washington made them even more so. New Orleans saved -- Montreal -- Detroit -- Los Angeles -- Tampico. Fifteen more of the enemy vessels accounted for! Now there remained by seventy-eight, and the morning not half gone!

* * *

But suddenly came a cry for help. The Pioneer was twenty thousand feet up and not an enemy ship was in sight when the Secretary's voice excitedly called:

"Professor! Something has gone wrong with the defense at Scranton and they report three of the enemy craft approaching. Can you get there in time?"

"I hope so. We'll try," answered the professor as he returned to the controls, swinging his ship around and heading westward with maximum acceleration. In five minutes they were within sight of the city and could make out the three spherical shapes in close formation as if about to start their work of destruction.

"Walter," called the professor, "do you think you can get one of them on the fly?"

"I'll try, sir," replied Walter. He rushed to the telescopic sight and grasped the controls, rapidly swinging it around to the proper direction. With his eye glued to the eyepiece he called to his father:

"Give her the juice, Dad!"

Roy pulled the switch. The boy's aim had been accurate, for a cloud of bursting particles obscured the vision of the distant spheres. At least one of them had been accounted for!

Walter was so impatient he could hardly wait until the Pioneer was directly overhead. Then, without further instruction from the professor, he trained the deadly beams on first one and then the other of the fleeing survivors. Three more! And Walter had accounted for these three himself. He felt like a conqueror of old as he arose, shaking, from his position at the sighting control. Thirty-four gone!

"Fine work, my boy," the professor complimented him. "I was afraid we would be too late here. But you saved the city all right."

Walter was no more elated than Roy, who secretly gloated over this achievement of his boy. He was morally certain that he could not have accomplished this thing himself at the speed at which the Pioneer was traveling at the time. A great boy! he thought.

Hour by hour the reports continued from cities all over North America of attacks by the invaders and the destruction of the great globes. Radiograms continued to come from Mador and from the tone of these it was quite evident that he was puzzled, though it was also apparent that he had not the slightest idea of how unsuccessful the attacks of his fleet had been and of the number of his ships destroyed. Evidently these were so completely taken by surprise and so quickly did they meet their fate that they had no time to apprise Mador of what was going on. But he was becoming suspicious on account of the lack of reports and, at five P.M., announced in a message that he was going to tour the North American continent and speed up the work of destruction. By the time this message was received it was calculated from reports received at Washington that eighty-one of the enemy craft had been accounted for. This, with the ship captured, left only twenty-seven with which to cope.

What a surprise Mador was to receive when he made the rounds!

For an hour or so no further news was received other than reports from a few cities that the enemy ships hovering in their locality had withdrawn and were no longer in view. As time went on it appeared that no further attacks were to be made that day, so the professor decided to return to Washington for the time being.

In the Research Building great excitement prevailed. The success of the battles against the enemy had keyed everyone up to a spirit of jubilation that was as intense as had been the previous despair. Reports showed that most of the cities had nearly resumed their normal activities, though there were still missing some of the people who had fled to the wilderness. Many of these would probably never return, since they were unequipped to cope with the dangers of the wild country they had so rashly entered.

No further messages came from Mador and it was beginning to be thought that the remaining twenty-seven of his ships had quitted the earth's atmosphere and started a retreat to their own planet. This theory had gained such credence by six-thirty P.M. that the news announcers were proclaiming it as an almost assured fact. Then it was suddenly upset by the announcement from the observatory of Washington that the remains of the fleet had been sighted about five hundred miles above the earth's surface. The astronomers had counted all twenty-seven of them huddled together as if in close conference. There was considerable of an uproar again when it was determined that the fleet was heading for the earth en masse, but this time it was in anticipation of the complete annihilation of the fleet which all citizens now felt confident would result.

The fleet came at a rapid pace and it soon appeared that they were intending to attack in the hope of overpowering the cities of the earth by sheer concentration of numbers. It was no doubt Mador's idea that the defenders had only a very few of the defensive weapons, since in all cases except one his ships had been destroyed one at a time. The course of the fleet was determined as being directed at the city of New York and, as soon as this was assured, the professor again manned the Pioneer and started for his home city with the same crew as before. Advices to the defense committee in New York started them in full preparation for a decisive engagement with the entire body of the enemy.

(continue to part 12)

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