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The First double episode taken from The Rover issue: 1362 August 4th 1951.

Read about the R.A.F. of the future, its wonder pilots and the amazing aircraft they use in their death – or – glory battle against an enemy that threatens to obliterate the earth from 5000 miles away in space!



The sun rose over the town of Harlan, Kentucky, that morning at 4.47 a.m., and by 5 o’clock everyone was awake and gasping for breath. The air was so dry that paper crackled and skin felt like parchment, but all these were minor inconveniences compared with what followed. By 5.15 it was difficult to breathe. People streamed out of their houses which had now become like hot-houses. In the gardens and fields the grass turned brown and the leaves withered from the trees. By 5.25 the water the nearby river was steaming, and ponds around the edge in of the town had dried up. Trees had burst into flame, and fire-alarms came in from the rural areas where hundreds of hay and straw-ricks were afire.

“There’s something wrong—mighty wrong!” gasped a telephone operator who was on the line to Lexington at the time. “It’s not natural. There’s a dazzle in the sky that’s brighter than the sun. It’s impossible to look up without getting blinded and it’s getting hotter every moment. You say it’s a normal sunny morning where you are?” He never heard the reply from Lexington, for at that moment he fainted. The temperature recorded on the thermometer outside the window was 160 degrees Fahrenheit. That telephone-operator was the last person in Harlan to speak to the outside world. By 5.32, more than half the buildings in the town were aflame, and dense clouds of smoke drifted down-wind. Most of the luckless inhabitants were now unconscious. Those who had dived into the river to escape the inferno lived long enough to see the entire town go up in fire, before they too died. By then, all the thermometers in the town had burst. Metal girders sagged and melted. Great buildings disintegrated, leaving nothing but powdered ash. Even the earth turned black. By 5.45, nothing but a black smear of ash remained where the pleasant town of Harlan had been. The river boiled, and gave off great clouds of steam until the river-bed dried out completely. The searing heat moved slowly westwards at the pace of the shifting sun. Only a comparatively narrow belt of country was affected, one about fifty miles wide. North and south of that, the inhabitants felt the unusual heat, but with no ill effects. It was as though all the forces of the sun were focused on that one narrow belt. By 6 a.m., Princeton and Mandesville and all the country between had been blistered out of existence, with every living thing in them. By 6.10 the phenomenal heat had caused a stretch of the Mississippi to boil, and the terror had reached Missouri. The great city of St. Louis was too far north to be affected, but Springfield and all the towns and villages in the southern part of the State were reduced to blackened smears on the landscape. The black belt of smouldering earth spread further westwards as the sun moved slowly across the sky. By that time, the entire United States and most of the civilised world knew that some major disaster had come to the world. Someone noted that the destruction was confined to the 38th parallel, and warnings were sent out to all centres of population on that latitude right across America. In Kansas and Oklahoma there was panic. The sun had not yet risen there, but people feared what would happen when it did. There was a frantic attempt to escape. But the sun won the race. The sky in the east became lighter and the golden orb tipped the horizon, then a few minutes later, along that narrow belt of doomed country, the temperature rose steadily and remorselessly. Oklahoma escaped, but in Kansas a fifty-mile swathe was cut across the State, scarring the earth, destroying vegetation, cities, towns, people, all living things. The sun rose over Hutchinson and Dodge City and these cities died. An hour later, Syracuse shrivelled and became a few smoking mounds of powder. Radio calls flashed out to the west. “Evacuate every town and village 25 miles either side of the 38th parallel!” was the order, but to put this, into practice was well nigh impossible. Form east to west moved the sun, as it had done for countless thousands of years. Usually it brought a new day, new hopes, new life, but along this fifty-mile belt across the United States it brought death and destruction. Colorado was the next State to suffer. Granada, La Junta, Pueblo, and the great mining centres around it, all were seared off the map. The sun moved still further west, and it was the turn of Nevada and of California. Greatest catastrophe of all came to San Francisco. Fortunately, by the time the sun rose over the greatest city on the Pacific Coast, the pattern of the terror had been noted, and more than three-quarters of the people living there had been evacuated either north or south of the Death Belt, as the newspapers of the East were calling it. San Francisco had known a Great Fire once before in its history, but nothing like this. The great city was wiped out in a brief twenty minutes. The great heat passed on, and ships far out on the Pacific sent out frantic radio messages and then became silent as the boiling water swallowed them.


All over the world, men ceased work to listen to the dread news. This happened at Breacon Hill, in Sussex, England, where the R.A.F. had a secret experimental station high up on the downs. Deep down in the earth, in their rest room, the pilots of Britain’s most secret planes were discussing the amazing occurrence. These men, numbering no more than forty, were unknown to the public in these days of peace, but each was playing a vital role in the development of aviation for it was at Breacon Hill that some of the greatest experiments were being carried out in advanced flight design, in radar, in anti-aircraft guns, and in weather observation. Breacon Hill was the centre of a forbidden zone that was shut off from the rest of Sussex by barbed-wire and mine-fields. A formation of the R.A.F. Regiment always kept guard there. All visitors were carefully screened. The hangers and the living quarters of the airmen, the workshops and the laboratories, were all underground, for the hill itself had been hollowed out. It was here that the devices to counter atomic weapons were being developed, and from here that the fastest experimental plane in the world, the ST2, was sometimes flown out beyond the limits of the Earth’s atmosphere. The men collected in that comfortable rest-room were probably the most advanced fliers in the world. From Wing-Commander Elmhurst, who was in charge, down to L.A.C. Jon Baker, they were all specially picked men. As the news came in from the United States, they consulted a great illuminated map which had been flashed upon a wall screen. At first, when the horror of Harlan was first made known, most of those at Breacon Hill put the blame on freakish sun-spots. Sun-spots about which little was known, could black out entire countries for radio or radar. Abnormal weather was known to arise from the presence of sun-spots, and it was natural that they should now be suspect. But as time went on, and the Scorching Terror spread from east to west all across the American continent, doubts arose. “The area affected is too clearly defined and too narrow to be caused by sun-spots,” said Squadron-Leader Cory, who was in charge of the meteorological survey branch. I have been looking at the map. It is as though someone had drawn a line across the map 25miles north and 25miles south of the 38th parallel and said: “Burn that up!” “Surely you’re not suggesting that someone is doing this on purpose!” exclaimed another officer. “Nothing like this has ever happened before,” said Elmhurst. “That last report says that the earth itself is melted and fused after the heat had passed. It may be weeks before anyone is able to go into the destroyed area.” “It might have been caused by a series of atomic explosions in the atmosphere right across the country,” suggested someone else. “The Yanks are always carrying out atomic experiments.” “But not down in Kentucky, and that’s where the business started,” put in Flight-Sergeant Dobie, a short, red-headed young man, one of the most dare-devil pilots in the group. Dare-devil was scarcely the right description to apply to John Dobie for there was nothing reckless about him. Everything he did was a calculated risk. He always said that he had never yet made a mistake when flying, and that the first he made would be the end of him. He was prepared to fly any machine that he considered practical, but nothing freakish or cranky would ever be taken aloft by John Dobie. “There’s another thing,” said a plump Flying-Officer with graying hair. “Three different reports coming out of the danger zone before total destruction came, said that the sky was too dazzling to look at, and mentioned something about it being even brighter than the sun.” Several heads turned towards the grave man in civilian clothing who sat near the television set as though lost in thought. Gregg Lawrence was the greatest living radar expert, but although he had been given the rank of Squadron-Leader since he had been attached to the R.A.F. he still considered himself a civilian. It was he who was responsible for the invention of the new ME Detector. It was a super-radar system, and had been found necessary when the first experimental planes had gone beyond the Earth’s atmosphere into space. There they had run grave risks of collision with showers of meteorites and other celestial wanderers. The ME Detector had been designed to detect these, so that warning could be given to the pilots. “Hear that, Lawrence? Several of those poor devils reported seeing something in the sky, brighter even than our sun, before they died. Have you detected a runaway planet or anything like that recently?” asked Pilot-Officer Smith. Gregg Lawrence shook his head. “How many times have I got to tell you, Smith, that there are no such things as runaway planets?” he said. “If any outsize meteorite came within range of ME, we would certainly have detected it, but---“ He hesitated and frowned. “There is something.” “What do you mean, Lawrence?” exclaimed Wing-Commander Elmhurst. “Recently during the past month, ME has picked up several unexplained objects about 5,000 miles above the Earth’s surface. I’ve sent in my reports already, so there is no secret about it. The most powerful telescopes have been turned on those spots, but nothing can be seen. I hope to make more tests when conditions are better.” “Are these things brighter than the sun?” asked someone. “No, they’re practically invisible, or they have been so far. There may be nothing in it, but—“ An orderly came in with a message for the Wing-Commander. There was silence as he read it, for all could see that it was a top priority message. His face hardened, but his eyes brightened as they always did when there was a chance of action. “This means work for us,” he announced curtly. “Who’s next on duty? Smith? Dobie? . . . Smith, you will take off in an ST2 craft and fly across the United States over the scorched belt. Take no chances, but get down as close as you can and make a full report of what you see. The U.S. authorities have given us permission to send an observer. Keep a particular lookout for radio-activity, for it is just possible that the fires have something to do with that.” Smith saluted and left the room. The Wing-Commander beckoned, to the red-haired Flight-Sergeant. “You’ve got a longer flight Dobie. Take the ST2 with the new long-range fuel-tanks . . . Apparently the effect of the sun is still being felt along the 38th parallel right across the Pacific, and there is no sign of it stopping. What is happening, of course, is that the Earth is revolving and bringing different places under fire—if  that is the right expression—all the time. It is feared that a swathe will be burnt right round the Earth before this horror is finished, which means it will eventually hit Japan, Korea, China, and so on.” Everyone looked at the map of the world. They saw that the 38th parallel crossed southern Russia, Turkey, and the Mediterranean. Fortunately, Great Britain was far to the north of the danger line. “You will fly with all possible speed to Japan, and try to get there before the sun rises there to-morrow. Now come into the briefing room and I will tell you exactly what we want you to watch for.” There was a buzz of excited talk as John Dobie followed his commanding officer out of the room. They all knew that these orders must have come from a high level. Apparently someone in high authority believed that the Doom Belt as the journalists were calling it was the concern of the Special Wing, R.A.F.


The machine into which Flight-Sergeant Dobie presently climbed  was little wider than his broad shoulders, and it had amazingly short wings, swept back to form a sharp arrow-like silhouette. It was set on a ramp that pointed almost vertically towards the sky, which could be seen high above them, for the firing chamber for these planes was inside Beacon Hill. The ST2 combined the advantages of a manoeuvrable rocket with those of a normal plane. It was intended for operation either in the stratosphere or far above that. The craft usually travelled in the rarefied atmosphere 150 to 200 miles above the Earth’s surface, where immense speeds could be attained. To reach this dizzy altitude, rockets using an atomic charge were employed. Only specially selected men could withstand the enormous acceleration involved during the first few minutes of such a trip as Dobie was now about to undertake. He had received an assurance from the ground crew that the craft was in perfect condition. He closed the cover of his sealed and pressurized cabin. A glance to the right showed him a green light glowing. All was clear. He was free to go. In the ST2, the pilot did not sit, but lay flat on his stomach facing the nose of the craft when the latter was on level keel. This meant that when the machine was vertical, John Dobie was upright. He pulled a plunger, and immediately felt as though his legs were being telescoped by the enormous push given the machine from below. No sound of those shrieking, roaring bellow from the exhaust nozzles came to his ears as he was shot into the air with the speed of a shell. He could not see the long fiery trail that the craft left behind as it sped out through the opening in the hillside and headed for the stratosphere. To an onlooker, it was riding skywards on a finger of flame. He watched the instruments. Everything was functioning normally. Velocity was as it should have been. Acceleration was the highest that a normal man could stand. Nothing was exceptional. He had nothing to do yet but watch the time. Five hundred seconds was the time they reckoned it took an ST2 to get clear of the pull of the Earth’s gravity. He did not look behind. If he had done so, he would have seen the Earth looking like a monstrous ball. Gradually the light dimmed, but he knew that was due to his own reactions. Near the end of the period of acceleration, pilots always blacked out. That was why the corrective mechanism, that tilted the ship through an angle of 90 degrees when the right altitude had been reached, was purely automatic. He was unconscious for seconds only, then found himself on even keel, the nose of the craft pointing eastwards. He was lying prone. It was time for him to switch over to the secondary power plant, the one that was used on level flight. He jiggled with his switches, and went hurtling through space at a speed that would have been considered impossible ten years earlier. He needed great speed, for he was trying to race the sun, he wanted to get over Japan before daybreak there. He set his course and switched over to speak to the control station at Beacon Hill. “Okay, Sandy, everything fine!” he reported. “Keep me on the beam. Any warnings of meteorites along my route?” “None as yet, but you’ll receive due warning if any appear on the radar screen.” He was told. Russia, Persia, part of China, all would flash beneath him before he reached his destination, but he would see nothing of them. He was merely a projectile shooting across the sky along a chosen route. Twice he received warnings of large meteoric showers in his path, and changed course accordingly. Not until he was over China, did he see the top edge of the sun far away across the Pacific. He was racing towards that rising sun—he knew he must get to Japan before it rose there. Another message came from Beacon Hill. “Calling D for Dobie! Calling D for Dobie! Reported that the same thing has happened to islands due east of Japan. Sunrise there has been attended by total destruction all along the 38th parallel. It is suggested that you do not descend less than 50,000 feet over Japan.” Very slowly, John Dobie began to descend into the Earth’s atmosphere, and in doing so, lost sight of the sun.


It was still dark when Flight-Sergeant Dobie arrived over the east coast of the island of Honshu, the “mainland” of Japan. He had won the race with the sun. Far out over the sea, he could see the pink glow in the sky that told of the coming of dawn. The ST2 had one advantage over most rocket planes. As well as being capable of fantastic speeds beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, it could be cruised at no more than 600 m.p.h. at a normal altitude. That was about his speed now as he circled the coast. There were no great cities below him, but he knew that the whole of Japan was thickly populated. There were few empty spaces on those islands. He looked at his map, and saw Watari, Masuda, and Murata all within 25 miles of the 38th parallel. Then there was Kakuda and Sakamoto, all towns of fair size near the coast, and on the same railway. He wondered if the folk there realised their danger. He saw the sun rise long before its rays touched the Japanese coast. He blinked in the growing glory of it, and saw there was no cloud between him and the countryside below. Everything down there was still dark. The air warmed at once, as his outside thermometer told him, but in his cabin the temperature was always kept constant. The sun rose higher, and light spread across the sea towards the coast, picking out the red cliffs. Another day had come to Japan. Still the ST2 circled, and through the transparent panels in the bottom of the craft, the pilot saw everything below him with glowing clarity. A slight mist lifted, then he could make out patches of buildings that were towns, and the green countryside between. There was a sudden dazzling flash from away in the sky to his right, but before he could turn his head to look through one of the side windows, it had vanished. It was almost as though something bright in his cabin had caught the reflection of the sun, but he knew that was impossible. All metal parts on the ST2 were dulled. The sunlight spread inland, and he knew that it was full daylight below. Everything looked amazingly peaceful from that height, but he happened to glance at the reflector of the outside temperature and received a sudden shock. The air temperature out there was 92 degrees Fahrenheit, and that at a height of 50,000 feet. “That’s crazy!” he said aloud. “It should be well below freezing point---” He paused, for he had just noticed that there was no frost on his wings, no sign of icing. Again there was a dazzling flicker away on his left, and again he just missed seeing whence it came. Down below him was one of the small towns which he had already identified, and now smoke was rising from it. When he picked up the powerful glasses that he had brought with him, he saw that hundreds of the flimsy houses were alight. Flames licked along the narrow streets with the speed of race-horses. Thousands of black dots, like ants, moved in the streets, then were suddenly still. “It’s happening!” gasped John Dobie, and for the first time in his life he felt scared. The flames rose higher. Something was happening to the landscape. It was turning brown, then black. More and more smoke clouds drifted north with the wind. It was only on the southern edge of the Death Belt that he could see things clearly. Suddenly there was a great explosion as an explosives factory blew up. The white haze over the sea was undoubtedly steam. He again looked at the outside thermometer and saw that the mercury had gone up to the top. It registered over 200 degrees Fahrenheit – boiling point – which was the limit for that instrument. The temperature of the air might be much higher than that. He tried to use his radio, but it would not function. He was cut off from the rest of the world, an eye-witness of one of the most ghastly horrors of all times. The world was turning black beneath him, and he knew that where it was black there was no life. The same thing was happening here in Japan that had happened across the width of America. “It is almost as though someone was turning a giant burning-glass on the world!” he said to himself. By now, the clouds of smoke had drifted a hundred miles to the north. Away to the south, John Dobie could see a calm, unharmed countryside. The Doom Belt was confined to strict limits. He guessed it would be the same to the north. That smoke would be drifting over untouched country. It was remarkable how quickly the horror spread. First there was smoke, then flame, then more smoke, then nothing but blackness. John Dobie studied his instruments. There was no radio-activity. That much was certain. The composition of the atmosphere was not changed. It was as it should have been at that altitude, rarefied, but still normal. Temperature outside he could not judge, for his thermometers were broken. He flew south to the extreme edge of the black scar, and a few miles beyond it, he saw life going on normally, if the flight of thousands of refugees along the roads could be called normal. Long columns of them fled south. They had not come from the Death Belt, for none had escaped from there. They had lived adjacent to it, and had fled in blind terror. John Dobie knew they need not have worried. The blistering heat that was cutting a 50mile wide swathe across the country was still moving westwards. It did not spread north or south beyond its original boundaries, but as sunrise came to one region after another so the great heat came, and there was total destruction. John Dobie followed westwards. At maximum speed he was able to cut ahead of the oncoming sun, and to see the same thing happed again and again. Three times in all he had detected flashes in the sky, well clear of the sun, and the last time, when he had got more than a glimpse of this, he had been blinded for quite two minutes in spite of the special goggles that he wore. He turned the nose of the ST2 upwards, and climbed steadily until he was able to see again. About then he found he was again in touch with his home station, and he sent the signal: “Am returning. Please guide me back.” Up went the nose of the rocket plane until it was climbing almost vertically, then Dobie pulled the lever that fired the booster charge that returned him to the outer space in which these machines had been designed to fly at speeds far greater than sound.


That evening, there was a conference in the briefing room of the Beacon Hill station. More than twenty-four hours had elapsed since the first little town of Harlan, in Kentucky, had wiped out of existence, and since then the belt of destruction had girdled the Earth. High ranking officials from London had joined that little group of airmen at Beacon Hill, and were listening to the reports of Flight-Sergeant Dobie, Pilot-Officer Smith, and others. All the information collected from numerous sources was being coordinated. The atmosphere was grim. In times of war many such conferences were held, but never before had so much been at stake. This time it was not the fate of a country that was being discussed, but the possible fate of the world. “The heat must come from the sun, that much is certain,” somebody was saying. “There can be no other source, but even in the hottest parts of the world such temperatures have never been known. Astronomers can suggest no possible cause for the sun’s rays to be concentrated like this.” “Even in a comparatively cool climate like our own, the sun’s rays can be used to scorch and start fires if they’re focused through a burning-glass,” John Dobie suggested. “Could there be anything in the atmosphere to form a natural burning-glass? I have heard rain-drops forming miniature lenses and being the cause of small fires. If there were millions of particles of moisture in the air—like a million little lenses—this might be causing the fires.” “Raindrops or moisture of any kind could not exist in the heat that was present.” Pointed out Squadron-Leader Cory. “Neither do gasses act as lenses. The burning-glass theory won’t wash.” “Yet that was exactly what I was reminded of as I looked down and watched that black belt spreading across Japan,” persisted Dobie. “It was as though someone was slowly moving a giant burning-glass and—” He broke off and ran his fingers through his unruly hair as he always did when excited. “Those flashes I saw in the sky might have come from a giant glass or giant mirrors!” There was silence in that underground room. Everyone was trying to cope with this new idea. “Giant burning-glasses in the sky!” muttered Wing-Commander Elmhurst. “The idea is absurd!” “Yet we have detected at least three strange objects out there in space recently,” put in Gregg Lawrence, the radar expert. “ME, shows them to be there spaced around the earth at regular intervals and about 5000 miles away from us.” Again there was silence. Everyone knew that Lawrence was not given to wild statements. Everyone knew that the ME detector could even pick out an asteroid or meteorite 5000 miles away. Yet it was hard to make the human mind accept such things. The silence persisted. It was Elmhurst who broke it by saying: “gentlemen, if there are platforms out there in space, with giant burning-glasses mounted, they must have been created by outside forces, No power in this world to-day could construct such things. But to descend to more practical things for the moment, we have received a report saying that the only areas along the 38th parallel which escaped destruction were those which were thickly overcast by cloud, or by industrial smoke. There is a new manufacturing centre in Southern Russia—in Armenia—which lay right in the path of destruction, but was unharmed because there is always a pall of smoke over it. They felt a great and suffocating heat there for about half an hour, and many people fainted, but the rays of sun could not pierce the smoke. That city survived,” “Thank goodness it is quite often cloudy over Britain!” said someone else. “And some cities are covered by a smoke pall,” another put in. “But—here is an idea! To be on the safe side, why should we not have an artificial smoke-screen to reinforce the cloud and haze? Our people would rather live in semi-darkness than be scorched to death.” It was certainly a startling idea, but startling ideas were wanted at this time. “The chances are that we’re all butting our heads against crazy theories when the whole affair was a freak of nature which will never recur,” snorted another scientist. “Some combination of sun-spots, of particles of matter in the atmosphere, or both, could have been responsible, and—” Wing-Commander Elmhurst suddenly held up his hand for silence. He had just received another priority message from an orderly. “Gentlemen, more bad news. Those of us who hoped this might be some natural freak will be disappointed. News has just come through that Cape Town, South Africa, has been totally destroyed. Two hours after sunrise this morning there was a rapid rise in temperature. The only report comes from those in an airliner which had left the town a few minutes earlier to fly north to Johannesburg. They say that every building in the city caught fire, collapsed and crumbled in ashes. Everyone and everything in Cape Town was destroyed.” There was a stunned silence for a moment. “Then it is no natural freak?” cried Squadron-Leader Cory. “Some friends are doing it purposely, some friends are focusing the sun’s rays on the earth and burning us up like ants.” “Why did they pick on Cape Town? Groaned a South African. “Why do they pick on anywhere—whoever they are?” demanded the Wing-Commander. There seems no reason in any of this. A swathe was burnt right round the earth, then a city in the Southern hemisphere is blotted out. It looks to me as though somebody—something is experimenting.”


Fear gripped the world. For three days after the destruction of Cape Town and the countryside around, nothing extraordinary had happened, but the news of those fantastic catastrophes had penetrated even to the remotest corners of Asia. The world was afraid. Astronomers and meteorological experts vainly tried to find some natural explanation for these happenings. Governments were issuing reassuring statements, but this did not stay the world-wide panic. In the United States, millions were on the move. For some reason they seemed to think they would be safer away from the cities and there was a great exodus into the open spaces. In Southern Europe, along the borders of the Mediterranean, there was a movement inland. Those on the coast of Africa fled into the desert. Some cities were almost depopulated. There were stories of riots in Russia, and of frenzied peasants rising and massacring their rulers in China. In Britain, there was fear and horror, but no panic. Almost at once, the Government began to put a great plan into effect, and told the people the reason. The idea was to put a pall of smoke over out country to keep out the sun’s rays. This took great organization. Every factory was asked to produce as much smoke as possible, and chemicals capable of producing smoke were distributed far and wide. From ten thousand chimney stacks, between Aberdeen and Portsmouth, the columns of black smoke went up. For years the smoke nuisance had been one that had been inflicted on those causing too much pollution of the atmosphere, but now in self-defence, everybody was being asked to make smoke, not only occasionally, but day and night. In addition, all sorts of smoke cloud generators were put into action. Fortunately, it was the cloudy season in Britain, and over most of the island there hung low clouds, shutting out the sky and the sun. The artificial smoke barrage could not be built up in a matter of a few days. Much of the industrial activity of the country was diverted to help produce it, and meantime the blistering flash struck again. One mid-day in Switzerland, a flash was seen in the sky, and great heat followed. The pleasant cities of Zurich, Lucerne, and Lausanne were scorched out of existence. The forests caught alight, and the down-rushing water from the melting snows from the mountains fought a battle with the rising flames. All that afternoon there was the greatest concentration of heat ever known on Switzerland, and when nightfall came, an entire country had been wiped out. The Alps were blackened peaks standing like grim tombstones above the graves of a nation. That horror shook Europe. It was so wanton. It was also so obviously deliberate, for the destruction was confined to the boundaries of Switzerland, as though some eerie force had selected the boundaries as the limit of the experiment. Britain had its turn the following day. All that week, the day temperatures had been far above the normal, in spite of the dense clouds and the growing pall of smoke that held back the worst of the sun’s rays. Airmen who had gone up above the clouds reported excessive temperatures, and many planes exploded in mid-air. All but craft of special construction were grounded. Then, over the West Country, a storm came up, and a wind from the Atlantic parted and blew away the clouds over Cornwall. That was about 10 o’clock one morning. The sun was able to shine on the countryside for the first time for a week, but it was not unpleasantly hot until about noon, when startling suddenness the temperature rose to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, then leapt upwards so rapidly that no thermometer could register it. It was as though a furnace door had been opened over Cornwall, and although more banks of cloud were blowing in from the Atlantic, they came too late to save a stretch between Land’s End and Falmouth. The few who escaped told of the now familiar scenes that followed the sudden rising of the temperature. Penzance, Falmouth and the pleasant countryside between were scorched out of existence, and in all those square miles no living thing remained. Half an hour later, the clouds rolled back over the blackened landscape, and the disaster spread no further. All Britain learned of this horror in the evening news broadcast, but it was pointed out that exceptional winds had moved the clouds before any arrangements could be made for a smoke barrage to replace them. There were industrial plants in Cornwall, and the air was free from smoke. All this had made it easier for the scorching rays to burn up the countryside. It was because of this grim lesson that steps to thicken the smoke barrage, and to create artificial clouds, were speeded up. Down at Beacon Hill, Men worked far into the night adapting one of the latest ST2 models for a special purpose. Flight-Sergeant Dobie had been chosen to make a scouting trip into space, and his machine had been adapted for this new task. He was asked to try to find out what objects these were that the new super-radar was detecting at three points around the Earth. The most powerful telescopes in America had failed to locate these mysterious objects and our own were useless because of the belts of cloud that now formed a “ceiling” over the British Isles. John Dobie was being asked to go out and discover the truth, and to do this he knew he would have to fly further from the Earth than any man had ever flown before. His craft was being fitted with one of the new ME detectors and, whilst the work was taking place, he received a course of instruction in the handling of this super-radar by its inventor. “Find out if we’re all crazy in imagining this horror is being caused deliberately by someone,” his Wing-Commander told him the night before he was due to take off. “Bring back some definite information, Dobie. The whole world depends on you.” “If there’s anything or anyone out there I’ll find ‘em, sir!” said the Flight-Sergeant, confidently. “I only wish I knew what to look fro.” “Anything unusual—anything that should not be there—anything in the nature of a spaceship, a floating platform, a—a giant burning-glass! It sounds crazy, but there’s no doubt about it now—the Earth is being deliberately attacked!”


Once again the Earth dropped away beneath John Dobie as his ST2 leapt skywards. He was cramped in the long narrow cockpit, for the extra radar set occupied a good deal of space. He was not an imaginative man, so did not try to guess what was ahead of him. Lying there quietly, he prepared himself for a black-out at the end of his upward leap. Black-out! He came out of it to find the craft on level keel. Over the radio he briefly reported that he was all right, then shut off. He could not use his radio when employing the new radar equipment. He set a general course parallel to the surface of the Earth, then switched on the radar. It was some time before he found what he wanted. The direction of these unknown objects in space. Once he had ranged on it with ME, he could set his course on that invisible beam and knew he would reach the object that reflected back the radar waves. His speed was comparatively slow, no more than 2000 miles an hour. He set it as low as this to economise on fuel. His course set, he looked down at the Earth and saw it looking like a huge ball. The side towards him was softly glowing in sunlight. The other side would be in darkness. He scanned the sky in all directions, especially ahead, where his radar screen showed something in space. He was strapped in place, so that alterations in gravity, or the total failure of gravity, would not cause him injury. Under present conditions, everything in his enclosed cockpit was weightless, including himself. All this was no novelty to John Dobie. He had made more flights beyond the range of Earth’s gravity than any other pilot, and to him it was all part of the day’s work. But to-day he was going further out into space than ever before. Half an hour passed, and he sped steadily on towards his target. His radar signals were now much stronger. There was undoubtedly something ahead. This object hung in a fixed position relative to the Earth, and was revolving round it. Soon the screen showed the object was very close in fact that it should have been sighted by now. John Dobie constantly used his powerful glasses to look ahead, but he saw nothing. “This is incredible!” he told himself. “Whatever it is can’t be invisible.” As the minutes passed, he became more and more concerned with his failure to see the target. He tested his eyesight in other ways and found it had not failed. Signals of over-increasing strength were bouncing back from the unknown object, but there seemed nothing but space ahead of him. As his course was fixed on the unknown object, and as that object was circling the Earth, the ST2 was travelling in an arc, but he knew that in time he and the mystery object would meet unless he altered course. Then at last came a blinding flash from straight ahead, the sort of flash a mirror would make in the sunshine. Momentarily blinded, he closed his eyes, and when he opened them again he made out a hazy shape, a shape that made him doubt his eyes. It was straight ahead of him, sailing through space parallel to the Earth. As the distance between the aircraft and the object lessened, the Flight-Sergeant made out that he was speeding towards a floating platform, a platform several acres in extent and obviously of artificial construction. It was a hundred feet of more thick, and there were long cylindrical objects criss-crossing its underside. The top of the platform was covered by a vast transparent dome. Underneath this huge dome was miniature town or camp built on the platform. He could see buildings of fantastic design, towering derricks, what looked like lattice-work aerials, suspended cables, and long, funnel shaped objects pointing in various directions. Outside the transparent dome, on huge projecting brackets which enabled them to be turned in any direction, were mounted four gigantic lenses at least fifty yards in diameter. There was one of these on each of the four sides of the floating platform. So astonished was John Dobie by what he saw, that he forgot to slow down or alter course. At 2000 miles an hour he rushed straight towards this monstrous space-station still automatically guided by the radar control. Only when he was no more than a mile from the amazing craft did he realise his danger and deflect the nose of the ST2 downwards. He shot underneath the space-platform, but not before he had seen running figures amongst those buildings and equipment, figures of two-legged creatures like men, but shorter than most humans, and clad in suits of a metallic sheen. For a second or so he was underneath the space-platform, then he was looking back at it with bulging eyes and tight lips, whilst in his brain the thought was forming: “Those are not men from Earth! Those creatures are from some other planet, and they’re using those giant burning-glasses to scorch up our world!”


THE ARMY OF THE FLAMES 12 Episodes appeared in The Rover 1362 – 1373 (1951)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2005