(Rover Homepage)


Last episode taken from The Rover issue: 1287 February 25th 1950.

The Ice caps of the world of the world are melting. Scientists have 99 days to save Earth from disaster.


Two weeks had passed since the beginning of the air blockade of Hope Valley, but despite the shortage of food the work had not slowed down. The men were determined the job would be finished. Not one plane had got through from the outside, and our only communication was by radio.

We learned that a determined attempt was going to be made to reach us over the ice from the Greenland Sea with a convoy of sledges laden with food, but that might take weeks, and time was running short. My name is Andrew Mann, and I was official reporter with an expedition to the North Pole. The purpose of the expedition was to counteract the effect of a ray from the star, Nimbis. This ray was melting the polar ice-cap and causing flooding throughout the world. If unchecked, this flooding would mean the end of the world as we know it. Recently another ray was operating, a ray that shut off the engines of planes attempting to fly in with food and other supplies. Reports of fresh disasters kept coming in from all over the world. But it was in Europe and America that the greatest effect had been felt. Holland and a large portion of Belgium were entirely under water. London was threatened. The Thames at London Bridge was twice its normal width, and Essex and Kent had suffered badly. Only the success of our operation in Hope Valley could save the world from disaster. Two of the pylons were completed.

These pylons had been erected by the men working under Liverpool Red and The Yorker. During the last few days each team had worked double shifts to try to beat their rivals, but as the last rivet was being driven home on Red’s pylon, the same thing was being done at the top of the pylon which the Yorkshiremen had constructed. The long race had been a draw. Both gangs had worked magnificently. The extra men were at once transferred to the third and last pylon, which was already eight hundred feet high. This was an additional pylon, work on which had started late but which had made progress. Soon the giant reflecting apparatus would be in position. It remained to be seen whether the beings on Nimbis could prevent it

operating. The Artic summer was nearly over. There was no lowering of the temperature, but there was already a period of darkness, when work had to be carried on by artificial lights. We lived on the food we could trap, hunt and fish for. Our bag included mammoths, bear, fish and seals. No further message came through from Nimbis. But the ray which melted even the thickest deposit of ice still beat down on Hope Valley and for twenty miles around in all directions. At the foot of one of the pylons a concrete building had been erected. It had no windows, and was closely guarded. In it a group of international scientists who had arrived before the blockade had started were busy setting up and checking over their intricate apparatus for the attempt to “bend” the Y ray back upon itself. Then one evening the third pylon was finished and the next morning the business of hoisting the cables and reflectors was begun. It was a most delicate operation, and necessarily a slow one. Les Murray photographed the various stages and I watched with growing anxiety, for I felt sure that if the Nimbians were going to strike, it would be now. The reflectors, two in number, were to be slung between the pylons on massive cables. A spider’s web of copper wires was inside each reflector, and across the top of the concave reflectors was a close mesh gauze made of a secret alloy. The most exact adjustment was required before the current could be turned on. Just how the incoming rays could be “bent” I could not understand, but I knew it had something to do with the system used during the War to “bend” the guiding beam that the Germans used for their bombers. The scientists were confident that it could be done if the apparatus could be erected in time. By nightfall the work was not a quarter done and had to be stopped for the time being. We crowded into the underground quarters for a scanty meal. We were discussing the day’s reports from the outside world when there was a crash which shook the ground and caused tons of earth to fall from the roofs of our dug-outs in spite of the strong timbering. We ran for the exits and emerged into the open. Shouts came from the men on guard at the boundary fence and at the foot of the pylons. They declared that an enormous missile had come rushing out of the sky and had crashed into the earth half a mile down the valley. The blast of disturbed air had blown them off their feet and had caused the pylons to sway. Surging air-currents whipped our clothing about us as we ran to investigate.


The gates were opened, and carrying torches, we moved down the valley towards the spot where the object was thought to have fallen. There was a cry from the men in front and we crowded forward to them. A stupendous crater lay before us. It must have been a quarter of a mile across, and of unknown depth. The displaced earth had been thrown up for hundreds of feet around the edge. Everything within the quarter-mile area had been blotted out. I had seen craters made by the biggest bombs, but never anything like this. It reminded me of the mouth of Vesuvius. Loose stones and rocks were still rolling down into the depths. We were silent for a few moments. Then someone spoke. “They’ve started!” he exclaimed. The Nimbians missed the camp that time, but if it had landed squarely on us -!” “Nonsense!” exclaimed one of the scientists. “It is nothing but the crater made by a giant meteorite. Some star has broken up, in collision or through age, and this fragment still survived after passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. Such things have happened before. But the coincidence was too great for most people. They felt sure that the Nimbians had in some way sent this giant missile hurtling through space to destroy us. A few of us climbed the edge of the crater and looked down into the depths. We could see nothing, and before long we had all returned to camp. We watched the riggers making final adjustments. One of the scientists had been taken to the top to give directions. He was an elderly man, with a fear of heights, and the riggers blindfolded him before taking him up. Once up there, a thousand feet from the ground, they strapped him in position and carried out his orders. Not even I was allowed to enter the control-room at the foot of the pylons. I saw pale-faced men come out from there after spending hours in intricate calculations. I heard the hum of an electrical instrument and saw that a main cable had been layed from the power-station direct to the building. When the time came the current would be switched over from the fence to the reflectors. Now that the actual construction work was completed, and only technicians were at work, the riggers and engineers were at a loose-end. The crack of a ball on a bat, and a cheer from a number of men, caused me to look towards the pitch where the Great Cricket Match was being fought out. It had gone on for weeks, and had now reached a critical stage. The Lancashire team, skippered by Liverpool Red, had been all out for 552. The last two Yorkshiremen were now at the wicket, and one of these was The Yorker himself. The score for Yorkshire stood at 546 and it looked as though that rugged pair would be in for ever. They were stealing one run at a time, never more. They dared not take any risks with so much in the balance. Liverpool Red was watching anxiously, tight-lipped and grim, his red hair standing on end where he had run his fingers through it. He changed bowlers frequently, but it made no difference. Every now and then The Yorker or his companion would score another run. From 546 the score rose to 547, 548, 549. Excitement was now at fever-heat. For a few minutes we even forgot the menace that threatened the world, and the more immediate menace that some of us believed threatened ourselves. A fast ball slipped past The Yorker and grazed his off-stump, but the bails did not fall. The wicket-keeper deftly caught it in his gloves, but The Yorker had not even moved his bat. The last ball of the over was a leg break, and The Yorker cut it into the ground no more than three yards away. He was not going to risk being caught. The bowling switched over, and Liverpool Red put on his fastest bowler, whose first ball came up sharply and zipped past the batsman’s head. The batsman blocked the second and third balls, and the fourth bounced into the hands of the wicket-keeper. The fifth was slashed away to mid-field, and another run was taken. The Yorkshire supporters cheered. They now wanted only two to equalise and three to win. The Yorker looked like a gladiator facing a lion in the arena as he faced the last ball. It came down temptingly enough, and he opened his shoulders, seemed about to slog with all his strength, then resisted the impulse and drove it along the ground for another single. The Yorkshiremen now wanted only one to equalise and two to win. There was dead silence as Liverpool Red himself took the ball and started a long run. The ball left his hand with the force and speed of a shell from a gun. The Yorker calmly blocked it, but we saw his arms quiver as his bat was almost driven out of his hand. The ball was returned to Red, on whose face was an expression of the most concentrated determination that I have ever seen. Again he took his long run, and the ball flashed through the air. It was almost as though he was trying to get through to the wicket by main strength. “Click! The Yorker had chopped it nicely, and again the men were running. The ball was fielded before they had completed their run, and was thrown in from a good fifty yards. It missed The Yorker’s wickets by inches only, and there was a groan from the Lancashiremen and a wild cheer from the Yorkshire contingent. The Yorker was safe, and that run had equalised. They now needed only one run to win. There was sweat on Red’s face when he sent down his third ball to The Yorker’s partner. It was not quite as fast. The batsman, a square, dour-looking man, decided to hit it. At the last moment something in the flight of the ball made him change his mind and he played back. But as he did so his foot hit his wicket and the bails dropped. A tremendous roar came from the crowd. The Great Match had finished with a score of 552 for both teams. It was probably the hardest fought draw in the history of cricket, and had certainly been played in the strangest of surroundings. I found myself wiping my brow, then another roar of cheering made me look up again. Liverpool Red and The Yorker were shaking hands in the middle of the pitch for the first time in their lives!


As the brief Arctic dusk began to close down, the rumour went around the camp that the scientists were satisfied that their apparatus was correctly adjusted, and that during the short spell of darkness the attempt would be made to bend the ray from Nimbis back on to the star. I asked Professor Wolkon if this was the case, and he nodded. “Yes, if Professor Hertz is satisfied that conditions are right; he will make the great experiment before another dawn. It is a vital moment in the history of the world.” There was nothing but a few dry biscuits for supper that night, but nobody cared. Nobody thought of trying to snatch a few hours’ sleep. As soon as it was dark we crowded outside the dug-outs and stared at the sky. Nimbis was not visible to the naked eye, but I had a small but powerful telescope with which it could be picked out as a tiny bright speck when the sky was dark enough. I had mounted the telescope on one of Murray’s tripods, and finally got the star in focus. It was little more than a pinpoint in the lens, but hundreds of men wanted to have a look. A constant procession of them knelt behind the telescope. Down at the pylons there was great activity. Professor Wolkon and all the other scientists were there, but we were advised to keep away. There was tension in the air. This was the culmination of all our weeks of intense effort. For this moment we had risked our lives and men had worked themselves to the point of exhaustion. Those three great towers of steel were in themselves triumphs, but they would be useless if the scientists could not do their part. We had no guarantee that the results would be what the scientists expected. Theirs was only a theory, and depended upon the belief that Nimbis was rich in radio-active minerals. Such rays as the Nimbians were using must rely on atomic power. We had no destroying ray that would strike at those beings who wanted to wipe us out. All we could do was to try to turn their own weapon against them. It was a bold idea, and I wondered in my heart if in fact it could be done. The Y ray, as we had called it, was a hot ray. It radiated heat sufficient to melt the Ice Cap. How it was produced at the other end we did not know, but there must have been some colossal plant involved, for there was more than one beam being directed against the Northern Hemisphere. I tried to imagine what could be up there in Nimbis, and visualised some gigantic atomic energy plant set in the middle of a desert, or in the mountains. Steadily, day after day, week after week, that strange force had been directed against us, and to it had later been added Ray R., which had the power to explode all explosives. I watched the faces of the men about me as they stared at the sky. They could see nothing, but they could not help gazing upwards. The strangest duel ever fought was about to take place, and I wondered if the results of it would be altogether invisible. For more than an hour we stood there, and I changed the direction of my telescope many times. I knew that the giant reflectors were also moving, but so slightly that we could hardly notice it. Then all the lights went out, and the camp was left in darkness. A thrill went through the crowd. The current had been switched over to the apparatus. Every ounce of current was needed for the great effort. It meant the experiment was about to take place. I glanced again at that pinpoint in the distant sky, and got it in the centre of the lens. I kept one eye on the telescope and one on the towering pylons. The cup-shaped reflectors were pointing straight upwards. They were now immovable. There was no sound from the hundreds of men about me. Some of them were holding their breath. I was doing the same. Suddenly a succession of vivid blue sparks flew upwards from the reflectors. They must have been fifty feet long. They flashed into space then died out. For about thirty seconds we heard the crackling, and I kept my eye glued to the telescope. That distant speck in the sky was still there. The sparks ceased for about a minute, then began again. This time they were brighter, and illuminated the entire valley. They continued to flash upwards for perhaps a minute, and I glued my right eye to the end of the telescope. Nothing was happening out there in space. Did it mean that our attempt was failing? I had no idea how long it would take to accomplish what the scientists hoped to bring about. My eye began to water, and I hurriedly wiped it. I again moved the telescope to keep Nimbis in the centre, and as I brought the star into focus. I saw a vivid flash. The distant pinpoint of light seemed to swell up to twice its usual size, and then the lens was empty. Nimbis was no longer there. At the same moment the blue sparks ceased to leap upwards. The men in that control-room must have had some means of  seeing as well. They knew their task was over. I leapt to my feet. “It’s finished!” I shouted. “Look for yourselves. Nimbis is no longer there. It must have exploded, or whatever stars do.” Even as I spoke, all the sirens in the camp began to sound. Someone had switched them on. Lights showed down at the control room, where Wolkon and the scientists were pouring out into the open, laughing and shouting and slapping each other on the back. Wolkon called for silence. All the lights had again come on. I had never seen the Professor so excited. “Men, it is done!” he cried. “The experiment has been completely successful. The Y Ray was bent back upon Nimbis, and after it had rested on the star for some time, there was a gigantic explosion, such a hugh explosion that Nimbis disintegrated. Undoubtedly that star was packed with radio-active metal, and they had tapped the source of atomic energy to produce their ray. Nimbis is no more. With your devotion and courage you men have saved the world from annihilation.” The camp went mad. There was no other word for it. I do not remember much about what happened the rest of that short night, but when the dawn came there were beaming faces on all sides. A radio message had come through saying that the destruction of Nimbis had been reported by all the leading observatories in the world. A convoy of planes with much-needed food was already on its way to us. They arrived before mid-day and we had the first good meal for weeks. It was in the nature of a celebration, and went on for many hours, but we knew that all over the world people were celebrating their deliverance. It would be long months before the level of the seas went down and things returned to normal, but as the Ice Cap again slowly formed it was possible that coastlines would be adjusted. There would always be much more water in the oceans than before, and the shape of countries on those oceans would never be quite the same again, but the peoples of the world could be sure that things would get no worse, and that annihilation no longer threatened them. I flew out a week later, taking with me this record, and the last thing I saw when I looked back at Hope Valley was those towering pylons rising a thousand feet towards the sky, testimony to the determination of mankind to survive and live without dictation from another planet. Those masts would be there long after the last man had left the valley, a monument to ninety-nine days of desperate toil.


The 99 Deadly Days 12 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1276 - 1287 (1949 - 1950)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2007