taken from The Wizard issue: 1108
Here is the story of an astounding struggle to stop a runaway comet from wiping out the world !
The Forbidden Zone
going was hard. I was hot and breathless long before I reached the top of that
thousand foot slope, and the rucksack on my back appeared to weigh a ton. My
lungs were straining and there were burning pains in my calves. I promised
myself that I would take a rest on the ridge. More than a dozen miles ahead,
topping the mist-covered peaks that intervened, I could see
Beyond the valley the hills rose more steeply, entirely shutting out the next stretch of country. I could not see if there was another valley or merely a succession of clefts in the range which I was following. Slithering and sliding I made a rapid descent of the slope. The grass was dry and slippery. Finally I reached the bottom and hastened towards the stream. It appeared to quite deep, but I was a strong swimmer and did not worry about that. Off came my rucksack, then my heavy boots. I was lightly clad, but got rid of all except my shorts, which were of cotton material. Leaving everything piled neatly on the bank, I chose a spot where there was a drop of some four feet to the water and dived in. The shock almost took my breath away for the stream was icy cold. Gasping and spluttering, I came to the surface, and discovered that I was being whirled along rapidly by the current. Turning on my back, I floated contentedly, kicking my feet and working my arms to generate some extra blood flow. I knew I should soon be tingling. The current was swifter than I thought. The high banks seemed to whirl past, and almost before I knew it I was only fifty yards from the spot where the water rushed into the opening in the hill. “Time you got back, my lad!” I muttered, and turned on my side to strike out upstream. To my horror, I discovered that my strength was insufficient to cope with that fierce current. I made no more than a few feet of progress before I was swept back several yards. For the first time I became alarmed. The force of the current was drawing me to that dark hole in the hillside! Desperately I struggled, trying all manner of strokes to overcome the violent urging of the water. It was useless. I turned towards the nearest bank with the idea of getting a hold, but once I came broadside to the stream it snatched at me with renewed force and rolled me under. Then I knew that nothing could prevent me being swept underground. There was a roaring in my ears as I felt myself borne in through a low archway where the water foamed and frothed. One moment I had been in glaring sunlight and the next I was in darkness. Fortunately the channel was fairly wide and I did not get battered against unseen rocks. The darkness was the worst part of my ordeal, that and my Ignorance of what lay ahead. Twice I felt that I was dropping still further, though there were never any actual falls. The speed of the water must have increased considerably since I had gone underground. I tried to calculate how far I had been carried but could only guess. It was easy to imagine that I had been swept on for many miles. There was plenty of air, and that puzzled me until I saw light ahead. My heart gave a great bound and I laughed aloud. “Another opening! I’m going to be carried into the open air again. This is nothing but a tunnel!” Almost before I realised this, I had passed through a space no more than two feet high, and found myself between more high banks with the clear sky above me. I did not make the mistake of fighting against the current or trying to turn round; I let myself go with the swift waters but swam diagonally across one of the banks. Three times I grabbed to get a hold and felt my fingers slip.
The fourth time I gripped a projecting stone which did not come out from the earth in which it was bedded. I flashed my other hand over beside it and drew up my knees. The current tugged and pulled to break my hold, but I hung on, gasping for breath and well nigh spent. The top of the bank was only four or five feet above me, but it took me all of ten minutes to climb up there, so exhausted was I. When I reached the top, I again fell forward face down, and for some moments panted into my outstretched arms. The water drained from me, and the warm sun beat on my bare back, warming me through. I lifted my head, stared and gasped. What sort of a place had I reached? Could this be the Welsh mountains? I was in a valley entirely surrounded by high hills. The valley was cup-shaped, and about half a mile in diameter, but instead of being empty, or occupied by sheep, it contained buildings and things that made me rub my eyes. First and foremost was a huge, dome-shaped building which I recognised as an observatory. The roof was half open, and through it projected the biggest telescope I had ever seen. Alongside the observatory were lines of huts of military pattern, and a little distance away a mountain stream poured through conduits into what was undoubtedly a powerhouse. Current was being generated there in vast quantities, and I could see the overhead cables running towards the strangest things of all. Great steel and concrete stands stood at the northern end of the valley, and on each of these was mounted something which I can only describe as a giant saucer of metal. These saucers were apparently of polished copper, and must have been a hundred feet in diameter. There were three of them, and they were all pointing towards the sky, slightly to the south east. Around their bases I could see huts, sheds, and much complicated machinery. Not far away were the masts for what I took to be wireless aerials. There were many other buildings and pieces of apparatus occupying the valley, but I had no time to study all these, for, as I raised myself on my elbows to get a better look, a voice challenged me from behind— “What are you doing here? Who are you?” I turned and there, a few paces distant, was a khaki-clad figure with rifle and bayonet, steel helmet, and all the other equipment of a British soldier on active service. I saw he wore the three stripes of a sergeant. “What?” I said, somewhat foolishly. “What are you doing in this valley? Didn’t you see the warning notices? How did you get through the wire?
He pointed to the top of the hill behind me, and for the first time I noticed great steel fences bristling with barbed wire. These fences went right round the valley, and here and there were watch-towers with figures on top of them. The valley was entirely surrounded by these defences. I blinked, then sat up and grinned. “I didn’t come through your fences, sergeant, but underground down the stream—and that by accident. I took a bathe in the next valley, and, almost before I knew it, I was here, half drowned!” “You mean to say you came out of the stream—from underground?” asked the soldier in surprised tones, and I saw two other armed khaki-clad figures running towards me. I explained just what happened and who I was. I told them they would find all my identity papers in my clothing on the bank in the next valley. I then looked around me again and demanded: “What on earth is this place?” “Zone X,” said the sergeant gruffly, “and you’ve no business to be here. You’ll have to come along and see the commanding officer.” I shrugged, the soldiers formed up an escort, and we made for one of the bigger huts. I was glad the grass was soft under my bare feet. The three giant saucers at the other end of the valley had now turned through half an arc, catching and reflecting the sunlight in dazzling fashion.
The Threat To This World
the sunshine outside, the interior of the hut appeared to be very dim, but as
my eyes became more accustomed to it I made out, that it was furnished as an
orderly office. A grey-haired man, of distinguished appearance sat behind a
desk piled with papers and forms. I saw he wore the rank badges of a colonel.
“What have you got there, sergeant?” he asked, as I was led forward. “A
trespasser, sir. I found him lying on the bank beside the stream beyond the
power station. He says he was carried into the valley from the other side of
the hill, where he was bathing. That’s all he was wearing, sir.” “Quite true!”
I interposed, with what dignity I could summon in a pair of cotton pants. “My
name’s Clive Warren, and I’m a
I recognised Sir Gavin Hamilton, the leading British astronomer of the day, from photos which had appeared in the papers and magazines. “What is this about an intruder--?” he exclaimed excitedly. “A spy?” “I don’t think so, Sir Gavin.” Patiently the colonel explained my presence. “So I thought it better to ask you what to do with Mr Warren before coming to a decision,” he concluded. The famous astronomer took off his glasses, wiped them, and looked at me as though I was some strange new freak. “You have been unfortunate, very unfortunate, sir,” he growled. “But I don’t understand. What have I done wrong? I was merely the victim of circumstances. I didn’t even know there was an observatory in this valley, and—” “Nobody does, and that’s the point!” snapped Sir Gavin. “The observatory in this valley is a secret one, and the things which you have seen about you are all part of certain—er—secret operations which are going on at the request of the United Nations. Apart from ourselves, and the heads of several Governments, nobody else knows what is going on here. That is why I am afraid we shall have to keep you here until the—er—experiments are over!” “But this is outrageous!” I spluttered. “I am a free man, a British subject with a good character. Even if you are carrying on some atomic experiments here—” “We are not interested in atomic experiments,” came the voice of the astronomer, “but something far greater, something of much more importance to the world. I can assure you that the actual fate of the world—I mean of out entire planet—depends on what happens in this valley.” I stared wide-eyed. He went on: “If the ordinary people of the various countries knew the danger that threatened our planet to-day, there would be such disorder and panics as this earth of ours has never seen before. Terror would spread to such an extent that no law and order would be possible. It is to prevent such dreadful happenings that we are working in secrecy behind barbed wire entanglements. We have a hundred soldiers and many police protecting us, and are cut off from the rest of the world. It was said to be impossible for anyone to get in here. We ourselves are not allowed to leave. You seem to have found the one weak link in our armour.” My head was in a whirl. What did he mean by acute danger to our planet? Was the world going to blow up? “So I shall have to insist that you stay here with us until the vital time is past, Mr Warren,” he continued. “As you will not be able to go out and spread the alarm—” “As if I would?” I said indignantly. “If you wish me to take an oath of secrecy. I will do so. Do you think I am a chattering fool? If it is in the interests of the country to say nothing about this place, I can assure you that I will say nothing.” Sir Gavin shook his head. “I’m sorry, but we cannot take the risk. As I was saying, as you will be remaining here, I feel I owe it to you to give some explanation. You may then be more content with your lot. I might say that the whole thing will be over, one way or another, within a month from now.” “A month, but—” “Within a month this world of ours will either have ceased to exist altogether, or the danger will have been averted,” he said. “Then what’s threatening the world?” I asked hoarsely. He put one foot on a nearby chair and leaned on his knee. “I don’t know how much you know about astronomy, Mr Warren, but I have no doubt that you already know that the earth of ours is the only one of the sun’s family, and that this family which revolves around the sun consists of the Earth, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and the recently-discovered Pluto?” I nodded agreement. “You also probably know that the sun’s family is only one member of the Galactic System, and that the Galactic System is only one member of the system of star-cities in space?” “Yes, I know that,” I admitted. “The general arrangement of the stars in the sky was the same five thousand years ago as now, but the planets, the name of which means ‘wanderers,’ are always moving. Our little family of planets is held in its place by the attraction exerted between themselves and the sun. This attraction is what we sometimes call gravity, and but for it the planets would go whirling off in different directions. Even if only one planet changed its position, all the others would also move. To try and simplify things, I will say that our nine planets are like nine magnets all attracting each other and holding each other always in the same relative place.” “Yes, yes I know all this,” I interrupted, “but what has this got to do with—” “Excuse me if I insult you by thinking you ignorant of astronomy,” interrupted Sir Gavin, “but so many people are. I will be brief. Apart from the nine planets, the sun’s family contains a number of smaller objects called comets. These also spin around the sun, but their paths are such that at times they are far out in the cold depths of space, and sometimes quite close to the sun. Usually they are too small to worry us, for, when they reach our atmosphere, they are rapidly burnt up, and anything that hits the earth is too insignificant to do much damage.
Gavin removed his foot from the chair and adjusted his spectacles before
continuing. “Yes, you see we believe the earth can be moved a matter of a
hundred thousand miles or so, which would put it out of the danger zone and
allow the comet to go past us,” he said. “The cleverest scientists in the
world, and the greatest mathematicians, have been engaged on this. You will
remember I mentioned that we are only kept in our relative place because of the
attraction between the planets?” “Of course.” “Well, we are trying to control
that attraction. Those reflectors out there” –he pointed to the gigantic metal
saucers—“are for this purpose. I shall not go into details, for there is no
need, but we have discovered a system of exerting a definite pull on our two
nearest neighbours in the planetary system, Venus and Mercury. We are trying to
pull ourselves one hundred thousand miles nearer to Venus, which would put us
out of danger.” I gasped. The idea was stupendous, almost beyond the range of
imagination, but, when I remembered some of the things modern scientists had
done, I saw that it might be possible. “So all you have to do is to—er—range on
Venus and draw us toward it? Given the apparatus, that seems simple.” “Not so
simple as that. If we move ourselves even a little we upset the balance between
all the other planets. If we overdo things we may cause other collisions and
the destruction of some of our neighbours. For that reason we have to balance
the pull in various directions, by pulling on Mars on the other side of us, and
to a limited extent on Jupiter. That is where the mathematicians come in. I
have the aid Professor Jarman, the world renowned American mathematician, and
of Hiram Locke, as well as a host of other American, French, and Russian
experts, so you will realise we are doing our level best to save the
situation.” I was still dizzy with wonder. “But I should have thought it would
have been better to have established this Zone X in some more remote part of
the world, in the American deserts, or in Siberia,” I ventured. “No. It was
worked out that the
As he finished speaking, two soldiers entered. They carried my clothing and my rucksack. I at once produced my wallet and proofs of my identity. Colonel Quarrier nodded. “I did not think you were lying, Mr Warren, but that does not affect the issue. You will be our guest until the vital day. We will do our best to make you comfortable.” “But my friends and relatives—they will believe something has happened to me! Some word must be got to them,” I protested. “That can be done. You will write them letters saying that a sudden whim seized you, and that you have gone off on a month’s cruise. At the end of the month, if things go as we hope, you can go home and tell the truth. If Sir Gavin and his experts fail to save the earth—well, what you say in your letters won’t matter at all, because there will be nobody left to worry!” The colonel smiled as he spoke, but I felt an icy chill in my veins. I had not got accustomed to the fact that the days of the earth’s life might be numbered! Sir Gavin had now gone back to his observatory. Sergeant Ritchie touched me on the arm and indicated an inner room where I could dress. It was not surprising that my fingers trembled as I did so. The whole thing seemed fanciful and unreal. I had been on a pleasant holiday, without a care, and suddenly I had been told that in all probability I would not be alive in four weeks’ time. It was enough to shake any man. Somehow I got into my clothes, and, trailing my rucksack in my hand, went through into the colonel’s office again. Sergeant Ritchie was still waiting there, and said he would take me to my quarters. These proved to be a partitioned room in one of the huts which were housing the experts and other staff. There was a military type bed, a locker, and a chair in the room. Ritchie hung about as I unpacked my few things. There was a glint of humour in his eyes when at last I looked up. “Not where you expected to spend the night, sir!” he said. “It certainly isn’t!” I replied. “Like to look round nor?” asked Ritchie, and because there was nothing I wished for more, I nodded. We passed round the observatory, where a hundred-inch lens searched the sky, passed what appeared to be a distributing point for current and approached the three mighty saucers which faced the sky. They fascinated me. They were something unusual, something which had not existed in the world of yesterday. I realised that the total resources of several Governments must have been used to produce such things. They were pointing directly upwards, and it seemed to me that some interior mechanism, not unlike that used on a celestial telescope, was slowly turning from right to left.
shrill whining noise came from the buildings alongside. From time to time I saw
grave-faced men running to and fro, and everywhere there were khaki-clad
guards. Some of them had Sten guns, and the others had rifles and bayonets. All
this was going on behind barbed-wire fences in one of the loneliest parts of
and equipment for the two hundred men inside Zone X were brought every day. I
noticed machine-guns mounted on all the high points, and saw that most of the
guards had hand-grenades at their belts. Was it from the population of
Men From Venus
After tea there was nothing to do but go back to my quarters and pen the letters which Colonel Quarrier was going to allow me to write. I guessed he would censor them, so was careful to write them along the lines that he had suggested. By the time I had finished it was dark, and as I walked over to his office I noted the red lights on the highest points of the wireless aerials and the absence of lights from the other buildings. Everything was well blacked out. The stars were rising, and as I looked up at the pin-points in the sky I wondered which of them was the runaway comet which was likely to solve all our problems by blotting out the earth. Colonel Quarrier was not in his office, so I left the letters with an orderly, and strolled out again. There was a winding path running up the side of the valley towards the north. I guessed it led to one of the raised platforms which I knew to be a vantage point for sentries, but it looked as though it might offer me a chance of a good walk and I stepped out briskly. It was steeper than I expected. Halfway up, I turned and watched the huge saucers gaping at the sky. It was hard to believe they were exerting some sort of force which could be felt countless millions of miles away. I wondered if it was some form of magnetism or radio-waves. It was nerve-racking to think that the entire earth was being moved from its normal orbit. I realised that this must be done gradually, and that time must be given for our atmosphere to move with us, for more harm than good would be done if there was any violent change. As I turned to continue my climb, something hurtled through the air behind me, and a clump of bushes on my right was flattened as though by a blow from a colossal hammer. Then came the shriek of something flying through the air and silence. I turned at once. As I did, a shower of earth and stones descended on me. One fragment cut my cheek. I staggered, turned to run, then thought better of it. The earth and stones had come from amongst the bushes, where something fairly big had landed with great force. “Some more of the star-dust!” I thought. “That accounts for the whistle which I heard after it landed over there.” It was sheer curiosity which made me run across to the spot and peer into the crater made by an unknown missile. It was about twenty feet deep and some thirty feet across. In my pocket I had a torch which I always carried when hiking. Now I shone it into the crater and saw something spherical and metallic at the bottom. It shone in the reflected light and appeared to be twelve or fifteen feet in diameter. More than half of it projected from the bottom of the crater. “Gosh, what on earth’s that?” I muttered, and scrambled down to get a better view. I arrived at the bottom and innocently put out my hand to see if this sphere was metal or stone.
The next moment I snatched away my fingers for the thing was almost white-hot. “Whe-eew! I ought to have known that anything coming out of space at such speed would be hot!” I gasped. I stood back on the steep slope to let the thing cool down, and then an extraordinary thing happened. A thing that made my eyes bulge! There was a creaking sound, as though unoiled hinges were in use, and a lid opened in the top of the sphere! This lid was about three feet in diameter, and reminded me of the hatch on top of a submarine. Slowly it came up until it was at right angles with the dome, and, in the opening so revealed, there appeared a head. I knelt down in the crater in astonishment, wondering it I was dreaming or awake. The head rose higher. It was perfectly round and in a few moments I realised that what I was looking at was a head covered with some form of helmet. It was not unlike a diver’s helmet and about the same size. It turned this way and that, as though studying the lay of the land, then ducked down. It was all incredible! I wanted to run, yet at the same time I wanted to see what was going to happen. This metal sphere had come out of the sky, therefore the living creatures inside must have come from somewhere beyond our atmosphere! I was paralysed with astonishment. My mouth dropped open as the head reappeared. The owner of it commenced to climb out cautiously, and a second occupant of the metal ball followed. Both had helmets on their heads, with small transparent windows for their eyes. They were very tall, and I saw that their bodies were covered with some form of opaque substance not unlike asbestos. It was like an armour totally enclosing them, and it made their appearance more grotesque than ever. They stopped abruptly as they saw me. Being unable to run. I gasped: “Good evening!” “Good evening!” came a far-away voice from within one of the helmets, and I realised with a start that the words were in English. “You are an earth man—British?” I nodded. My head was in a whirl. “Then we are pleased to be here alive. What are you doing to disturb space so much? What have you contrived to suck things from outer space? What right have you to deflect us from our course?” The voice sounded angry, and I dazedly wondered if I was dreaming. Speech was beyond me.
could only stare dumbly at those fantastic figures. “We have come from Venus,”
came the voice of the second of the creatures. “We had no intention of going
more than a hundred thousand miles from our planet, but there we got in the way
of some strange force which you are sending out from earth and we were drawn
down here.” “V-Venus!” I stammered, when there was a sudden interruption.
“What’s goin’ on here?” came an angry voice from the edge of the crater, and I
saw that three of the guards had arrived, in charge of a corporal. “Who are
you, an’ how did you get here?” They were pointing their rifles at us. “I’m
Clive Warren, who has been asked to stay here because I accidentally strayed in.”
I said. “You’ve probably heard of me. I was taking a walk when
these-er-gentlemen dropped in from Venus.” “Eh?” snorted the corporal. “From
where?” “From Venus, somewhere up there.” I pointed vaguely. The corporal’s
face was a picture of astonishment. For a moment, he, too, looked dazed, then
the training of years of discipline came uppermost. “Can’t help that, sir,” he
said. “Regulations are regulations. They’ve got no right to be inside this
area. I’ll have to arrest ‘em an’ take ‘em to the colonel.” “Keep back from
me!” snapped the taller of the Venusians. “Where is this colonel of yours? We
will see him.” “They speak English!” exclaimed the corporal. “Of course we
speak English! Almost every educated Venusian knows English in order to listen
to your radio and that of
The Comet Is Coming !
We all went down the hill to the colonel’s office, and when the corporal knocked on the door he was bidden to enter. Sir Gavin Hamilton was there, and another of the scientists. The latter was saying: “I have calculated to the eleventh decimal place. Anything beyond that is without significance, and—” He broke off as the corporal saluted. “Beg pardon, sir,” the corporal addressed the colonel, “we’ve caught a couple of blokes who say they come from Venus, or some such place. That Mr Warren, the civvy, helped to bring ‘em in.” The colonel’s jaw sagged: the two civilians turned to stare as I followed the two lanky Venusians into the office. “We have been insulted!” declared the taller of the pair. “You drag us here against our will and then treat us as trespassers. Is that the way things are done on earth? No wonder we gather that you make a muddle of life! “But—” began Colonel Quarrier. “These two arrived in some kind of spaceship from Venus,” I explained. “It seems they were drawn here by the attraction sent out by the three copper saucers. They are angry at being pulled out of their route.” “More than twenty million miles out of our way!” snapped one of the Venusians. “How are we going to get back?” Before the startled Colonel could reply, Sir Gavin Hamilton leapt to his feet and crossed to the newcomers. He looked them up and down excitedly, then cried: “You are from Venus—from another planet? You must tell me your experiences. What was the journey like? How hot is it on Venus?” In his eagerness to get his questions answered he put out a hand and patted one of the Venusians on the shoulder. The next moment he had doubled up, limbs contorted and twisted, as he was hurled across the room by the kick of the electric current which the highly charged Venusian had given off. The colonel leapt to his feet, and a revolver appeared in his hand: one of the soldiers lowered his bayonet. “Take it easy!” I advised. “Our visitor didn’t do that on purpose. He tells me that he is heavily charged with electricity after his long journey through space. What happened was not intentional. Is Sir Gavin injured?” Apart from bruises and shock the British astronomer was unharmed. He kept well away from the lanky pair when he rose. “How are you going to get us back?” demanded one of the Venusians, bluntly, and his voice came strangely hollow from the depths of the helmet. “What right have you to bring us here?” “None whatever! I very much regret what has happened.” Sir Gavin was adjusting his tie. “But it was inevitable. At the moment we are engaged in increasing ten-fold the attraction that the earth normally has for Venus and Mercury. We have a real reason for doing this—”
proceeded to explain the danger to earth, and finished: That force will draw
any small objects that happen to be in our line of attraction. We have already
had showers of star-dust down on our heads, and there has been damage done. You
must have been very far away from your own gravity pull to be caught like
this?” The Venusian called Argol nodded gravely. “We also have noticed this new
comet that is coming so close to our planetary system, but as we were out of
its path we have done nothing to counteract it. We now see that you were not at
fault, but it is unfortunate. You have guessed well when you say we must have
been far above our planet to be caught. As you may know, Venus has no clear
atmosphere like yours. We cannot see the sun or the stars, for we are
surrounded by a dense mass of clouds and vapour for all the hours of the day
and night. My comrade, Beltair, and myself were engaged on an experiment to
determine how thick this belt of vapour was. We had risen to a height of a
hundred miles when we found ourselves rushing towards earth. It is well we were
in one of the latest sphereoids, otherwise we should have perished.” “Then you
are scientists too?” it was
The telescope was being slowly moved in a traverse from right to left. Never once taking his eye from the telescope, the astronomer jotted down words and figures on a pad with his right hand. After about five minutes he turned to us, and beckoned. “Come and look for yourselves,” he said. “This is the Crimson Comet, and more pieces are breaking off.” The Venusians had the first look, but made no remark. I thrilled with excitement as I climbed on to the seat, and some slight adjustments were made. I had never before looked through a telescope of this size. The glare was dazzling. I winced as I applied my eye to the aperture, and pursed my lips in wonder. How far I was seeing I did not know, but somewhere out there in space was a huge red ball of fire, more egg-shaped than spherical, rushing towards us at seemingly terrific speed. Trailing out behind it was a long trail of light, spreading like the tail of a peacock, brighter in the centre than at the edges. It was impossible to calculate the actual size of the comet, for it nearly filled the object glass. I must have gasped for Sir Gavin said: “The whole world would gasp if they could see that and know what it means. The Crimson Comet is still millions of miles away, but you can guess the speed it is travelling when I tell you that it will strike the earth in exactly—” He peered at his watch. “—in exactly twenty seven days, eleven hours and forty-two minutes.” I continued to watch. I saw what looked like thousands of sparks fly off the comet’s tail to the left. Just within the outer edge of the object glass there appeared a sphere that looked like a miniature moon. What it was I had no idea, but I saw these fragments from the comet rain down upon its surface like shrapnel. For several seconds nothing happened, then came a vivid flash which nearly blinded me through the lenses and the glowing sphere flew apart. The next time I looked there was nothing there, but more of the glittering sparks flew into space. “It’s smashed something!” I cried. “That little world away on the left has blown up!” Sir Gavin moved me aside and took my place. “Mm-mm!” he grunted. “What you saw happen, Mr Warren, is a small example of what will happen here if our earth is struck by the Crimson Comet.” I swallowed hard and looked at the Venusians. They seemed to be unimpressed.
The Amazing Take-Off
In the order to take off their helmets and eat, the two visitors from Venus had to go back inside their sphereoid and seal themselves in for a while. Later they reappeared, and joined us in the long hut which had been fitted up as a recreation hut and library. There they crouched over a roaring fire, and answered all the questions that Sir Gavin and the other scientists put to them. It was remarkable to observe that they knew every language of importance—English, Russian, German, and French. They were never at a loss for an answer, and the scientists got wildly excited over the first-hand knowledge which they were acquiring. Not being able to understand a quarter of what was being said, I thought it best to retire to bed. The sunshine wakened me, as I had left the windows open, I got the scent of the hills. It was glorious, and I had swung out of bed before I remembered where I was and what hung over me. The world was doomed unless the men in Zone X could perform a miracle! The world was in the path of an enormous projectile which would blot it out of existence if they so much as touched! Sir Gavin had said that, even if the Crimson Comet passed within a hundred miles of earth, it would draw away all our atmosphere and leave not a single person alive. Breakfast was a meal with no set time. The scientists and other experts merely dropped in and took what they wanted, then hurried away. I had my breakfast with Hiram Locke, the Californian scientist, and he talked of nothing else but baseball! Evidently he had got the latest results over the radio. But he mentioned that a working party had been sent out already to excavate the spheroid in which the Venusians had arrived. When I had finished eating, I decided to go and see what was happening.
About thirty men were employed, and the two Venusians were issuing directions from the side. Frank Franks, Sir Gavin’s assistant, was there, but the astronomer himself was busy in the observatory, I was told. The spheroid, as they called it, had buried itself very firmly. It must have been travelling at a colossal rate in order to penetrate the hard hillside, and I wondered why it was those inside had not been killed by the impact. At last the globular craft was revealed in its entirety. Except for several circular projections about six inches long on the underside of the spheroid, the rest of the exterior was smooth and polished. The metal was faintly yellow in colour. That the spheroid was light was proved by the fact that a dozen men with ropes hauled it out of the crater into the open, where a recess had been cut in the hillside to accommodate it. Argol and Beltair climbed inside. From higher up the hillside, I looked down through the open hatch, where the sun shone, and saw a mass of complicated apparatus, with barely enough room for the occupants to turn. Those who had done the digging now stood around watching. The Venusians tinkered away inside for some time, and I noticed that the three giant saucers were no longer turned in the same direction as overnight but were pointing another way. We had switched of our attractive force for the time being, but Sir Gavin begged the Venusians to get under way as soon as possible as he dared not choke down his forces for long. The Venusians finally came out to say good-bye. “We hope to get away in the next few minutes,” Argol said. “Do not stand in the open as we take off. In order to lift ourselves out of the earth’s zone of gravity we shall use a neutraliser which will make our weight as nothing. It is possible that other things around will be sucked into our wash and carried upwards. Take care to keep well back, and if you feel a wind, throw yourselves down. Once we are beyond range of your gravity, we shall dispense with the neutraliser.” At the last moment Argol added: “Beware how you use that force 21. There are things out there in space which you would not wish to draw down here. If they come in the path that you wish the earth to take, you are bound to meet them. Beware!” The Venusians again climbed in through the hatch and disappeared from view. We all began to draw away, for we had not forgotten their warning.
I did not know what system they were going to use to lift themselves a matter of a hundred miles or more, but before I could ask anyone, there was a loud rushing noise, as though a giant rocket had been set off, and the ball leapt into the air so swiftly that it was almost impossible to follow its movements. Form the circular projections underneath came a faint vapour, more like ice-vapour than anything else, then all round us the air became wildly active, rushing in towards the void left by the spheroid, rushing in with the speed of a tornado and trying to take us with it. I threw myself flat and so did the others. The air rushed past us, tearing at our clothes, straining to drag us from our holds on the grass. Hats vanished vertically upwards. The tools which had been used for digging, and the loose equipment which the soldiers had put down, all went the same way. The air was filled with objects which seemingly had an urgent desire to follow the spheroid into space. “By neutralising the pull of gravity immediately below the spheroid they caused it to lose all weight. That accounts for its upwards plunge,” said someone beside me. “But the air about that spot likewise lost weight, rushing upwards, and left behind a vacuum into which all these things have been sucked. It is not unlike a waterspout, but fiercer. Can you still see the spheroid?” I ventured to raise my head and twisted round to peer skywards. Just for a moment I thought I saw a speck against the sky, then it had vanished. Our recent visitors seemed to have taken off all right. By now they would be nearing the outer fringes of the earth’s atmosphere, and Sir Gavin Hamilton had promised them that for four hours he would not switch on force 21. As they were taking a different course for their return journey, they hoped that, when we again switched on, they would be out of range. If they were not, I learned that the chances were they would be back in the valley again within five or six hours!
CRIMSON COMET 13 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1108 – 1120 (1946)
© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd
Vic Whittle 2007