Friday, October 2, 2009

"The War of the Planets" by Harl Vincent, part 12

This is the twelfth 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 eleven installments can be found here, 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 capture one of the Venerian ships, bringing it back to earth for study. The Venerian ships reach earth 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. Over the next twenty-four hours, all but twenty-seven of the attacking ships are destroyed. The survivors gather together for a final assault on New York City, and the Pioneer races to meet them . . .


The enemy fleet had been sighted by the time the Pioneer reached New York and the roof-tops of the city swarmed with millions of people who had assembled to witness the last great battle. The three New Yorkers aboard the Pioneer were greatly concerned at seeing this, since they feared their own loved ones might have joined the throng and would be subject to danger in case any three of the enemy vessels succeeded in producing one of the atomic storms while the defenders were engaged elsewhere. This fear was further increased when two hurried videophone calls made by Walter resulted in no answer, either at his own home or that of the professor.

But the enemy was coming and they had little time to consider the danger. Advice from the Bureau showed that there were now eleven of the beam transmitters set up at various points in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. In addition, four huge air liners had been fitted out and were in their berths prepared for instant flight. The Thomas Energy people had provided special beam energy for each of these liners, the individual beams being so arranged that each could follow its own ship in any direction through any complicated maneuvers it might be required to make, and still furnish uninterrupted power.

The Pioneer, being invisible, was enabled to rise straight up through the enemy fleet and take its position about ten thousand feet above them.

Mador's plan of action was immediately apparent. He first dispatched nine of his ships, in groups of three, to the altitude of four thousand feet. One group centered over Manhattan, one over Brooklyn, and one over Bronx borough. No sooner was this accomplished than each group of three was backed up by three more at an altitude of five thousand feet. The idea was evidently to start two arcs at each point simultaneously, hoping to successfully produce an atomic storm with the upper group in case the lower group was broken up from below by the defenders. Mador did not reckon with the Pioneer! But the Pioneer would indeed be kept busy if it hoped to upset Mador's plan, since it could not possibly be in more than one location at a time.

"Walter," said the professor, "your young eyes are quite evidently superior to my old ones in sighting our weapon. So I am going to appoint you our gunner for the rest of the fight."

"Thanks, Professor," said Walter, "I'll do my best." His heart pounded madly at the thought of the responsibility which was to be his. But he did not flinch. He felt sure he could duplicate his previous success at Scranton.

"I shall maneuver the ship," continued the professor, "and you, Roy, will please man the high frequency switch and provide current to our little beams when Walter gives the word."

"Righto, Nils," responded Roy. He was nearly as enthusiastic as was his son.

At that moment the two arcs were simultaneously started by the six ships beneath them.

"Now Walter," said the professor, "get one of the upper ones. We shall have to depend on the defenders of the city to get the lower ones."

"Right, sir," said Walter as he peered through the shining length of the telescopic sight, manipulating the two control wheels as he spoke.

"Shoot, Dad," he called breathlessly, as the cross hairs intersected the exact center of one of the spheres ten thousand feet below.

Roy closed the switch and all watched eagerly. Less than half a second intervened. Then the great ball with its sputtering electrode went crashing into infinitely small bits. At almost the same instant one of the lower ships went the same way -- then a second one. The defenders below were on the job, too! Both arcs were broken before they were well started.

As rapidly as he could sight the beams, Walter shifted to the second of the upper spheres. It went the way of the first and immediately afterward the third of the lower ones exploded also.

* * *

Walter was just about to train his sight on the last of the six when one of the Research men gave a startled exclamation:

"Look!" he shouted, "Staten Island is in trouble!"

It was true. Two groups of three globes each had gotten into action over the island. One of the lower ships had already been destroyed from below but the arc from the upper three was widening in scope as they retreated from each other. The survivors of the lower group were scurrying out of range of the down-sweeping arc. The flare of the rapidly spreading vortex hid from view of those on the ground the three ships producing it. But not so the Pioneer. Her crew had an unobstructed view of the three upper ships. There was no time to lose so the Pioneer was kept in its position and Walter trained his sight on the nearest of the distant spheres. By the time he shouted, "Shoot!" to Roy the storm had commenced below and a gaping hole appeared in the roof structure of the city where the tip of the funnel had contacted. This was exactly like a Kansas twister, magnified in intensity a thousand times.

But once more Walter's eyes were good and the atomic storm ceased as abruptly as it had begun. One of the ships producing it was gone. The second and third followed at once as the clearing of the air gave those below a clear view.

The Pioneer again turned its attention to the nearer boroughs of the city. Manhattan was clear of the invaders, but over Brooklyn there appeared a new formation of six ships, with the upper arc well started and the lower one just broken up by the destruction of one of the three ships producing it, which was accomplished from below as they watched. Walter had already trained his sight on one of the upper ships when a shout came from the stern compartment:

"Look!" called one of the Research men from his look-out at that point, "The air liners have taken off!"

Sure enough, the four great ships had left their berths on the south shore of Long Island and were headed skyward at great speed. Each was a thousand feet long -- their length more than twice the diameter of the enemy ships. But these ships, which normally carried three thousand passengers, were slender cylindrical affairs of great beauty, with blunt noses and long tapering tails.

They had observed the same thing as had been evident to those on the Pioneer -- that the upper group of attackers was obscured from view below by the flaming arc produced by the lower group, however brief its duration. The four were heading toward a point above the attackers now over Brooklyn and three of them soon reached a strategic position for putting their beams into use. The fourth, however, came in a little too close to one of the ships of the upper group where the huge arc had started. Not realizing the tremendous power released by these machines, they did not fear the result of passing so closely. But the professor knew they were headed for disaster and he cried aloud in impotent warning.

Just then, when the liner was not a thousand feet from the nearest sphere, it seemed to halt in mid-air. Slowly it poised a moment, then like a plummet dropped sickeningly for the city far beneath. Swifter and swifter it fell until it plunged with a great crash into the roof structure of the city and disappeared in the midst of falling debris, leaving a great black canyon in he crowded upper surface of Brooklyn. The watchers in the Pioneer almost wept in the realization of the hundreds of lives lost at this point. But nothing could be done about it now. And the three remaining liners had already accounted for two of the upper enemy ships, thus breaking the arc and its threatening atomic storm.

Another group, this time of only three, was forming over Manhattan when the videophone spoke:

"Professor," came the voice of Secretary Miller, "Three of the enemy ships have withdrawn and are leaving. It is believed that one of them contains the leader, Mador. We must get them or they will return to Venus and organize another and more terrible expedition against us. Start for them immediately."

"Very well, Mr. Secretary," he replied, and at once searched the skies for the departing ships.

He soon sighted them and the Pioneer started upward at an angle so sharp and with such an acceleration that its occupants were mostly thrown to the floor. Fortunately the speed of the bulky enemy craft was not so great in the denseness of the lower atmosphere and the Pioneer rapidly drew near enough for the first shot. Walter held to the sight like a leech and was soon rewarded by the great spreading puff that told of the end of one of the machines. Still the speed of the remaining two increased and they were many miles above the earth when the second one was hit. The third was still more difficult and the professor was almost doubtful of success. They had traveled so far that the air wa extremely rare, and, when ionized by the twin beams was a very poor conductor of the high frequency current. But just when Walter likewise had about given up hope -- for the beams had been trained on their mark for a full minute -- success came. With this one, though, there was not the violent explosion that had marked the destruction of its fellows. It was more of a fusing action, the great sphere slowly changing shape and commencing to melt and drip like a lighted candle. Leisurely the hull dissolved and fell away in huge, bubbling streamers. The interior was exposed to view and the crew could be seen rushing about in despair and gasping for breath in the thin air as the ship took fire and lost headway. Soon the great, smouldering, teetering cage tilted sharply and started its earthward descent.

* * *

The Pioneer was close enough for all on board to see the figure of a man on the remnants of the control platform shaking his fists at the earth in a violent gesture of futile rage.

"That's Mador, as sure as you're a foot high," said the professor. "And watch him. He's going to jump."

Jump he did, with a last despairing, strangling gesture. The war was over!"

"Great Scott!" groaned Roy, with sudden realization of the possibilities, "They'll fall in the city and kill many more of our people."

"I think not," the professor reassured him, "for it seems to me that we have progressed in an eastward direction and should now be well out over the Atlantic. But we'll follow them and see."

The Pioneer dropped in the wake of the wrecked ship, which, having reached denser air, was now flaming violently. They arrived at a safe altitude just in time to see the remaining twisted mass of structural metal work and machinery vanish in the depths of the ocean with a cloud of steam and boiling water marking the spot. Sighs of relief were breathed as they headed for New York.

When they arrived over the city everything was quiet and the roof tops were deserted except for groups of workmen who were clearing up the debris around the great gaps in the upper surfaces of Staten Island and Brooklyn.

"Now to see that our folks are safe," said the professor. He headed the Pioneer for his own laboratory and she was soon cradled in her own berth. "Sorry to leave you fellows to your own resources," he apologized to the Research men, "but we simply must find out how things are at our homes. And you can take the next air liner to Washington, so you will not lose much time getting back."

The men assured him that this arrangement was entirely to their satisfaction and, knowing his anxiety and that of his companions, did not delay them further with the congratulations and praise they wished to bestow. The group parted company at the northbound moving way.

(continue to part 13)

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