BRITISH COMICS

(Wizard Homepage)

“I SAW THE END OF THE WORLD”

Final episode taken from The Wizard No. 1332 - August 25th 1951.

The Noah’s Ark of the twentieth century arrives on Venus.

The peoples of earth have begun to colonise the distant planet.

 

THE SHINING HILL

Night fell on Venus like the dropping of a curtain as the expedition from the spaceship, Thunderbolt, of which I was a member, hacked its way through thick jungle. We could not see even six inches in front of us. We were afraid to switch on our torches in case the light should attract unwelcome visitors, and, after trying to continue our advance for half an hour, we came reluctantly to a halt.

We clustered round the whippet tank that was the spearhead of the expedition, talking rapidly to keep up our courage, but breaking off at frequent intervals to listen fearfully in the silence. It was such a heavy, oppressive silence, full of menace and the terror of the unknown. Already on Venus we had encountered giant spiders, voracious, outsize ants, and a snake over a hundred feet long, and we could only imagine what new horrors the night might bring. My name is Peter Howard, and I am a forestry worker. Just over three weeks before, I and seventy seven other technical experts and scientists had left Earth in the Thunderbolt, and after conquering the unknown dangers of space had landed on Venus—the first men from the Earth to reach the planet. It was our duty as scientists to explore Venus with a view to finding out if the peoples of the Earth could live there, for the Earth was doomed. The accidental explosion of a cargo of hydrogen bombs in San Francisco Harbour had started a tremendous fire which could not be put out. When we had left the Earth the fire had already spread over most of the American continent. By now much more of the Earth would be in flames. Eventually the fire would spread right round the world and destroy it. After landing on a plateau near a sea on Venus, the spaceship with half her crew had been left behind while the rest of us had gone on a fact finding expedition into a nearby forest area, for we had a great deal to find out about Venus, and very little time to do it in. As a forestry worker I knew that the night temperature was always warmer in woodland areas, and I was certainly glad we were in a forest and not out in the open, for, as the night deepened, the cold struck like a sword through the thin rubber of my space suit. By day the climate in the planet had been hot and sticky, not unlike conditions round the Earth’s equator, but as soon as the sun had gone down, it had begun to freeze on Venus.

We dare not light a fire for the same reason that we dare not flash a torch, and there was no room for all of us in the whippet tank. I groped my way forward, and suddenly noticed that the darkness was less thick. I stopped, looked right and left, and then I realised that I had come right out of the forest into open country. Then I saw that in front of me the ground rose to a cone shaped hill, and that the whole hill seemed to be luminous with a strange, greenish glow. I went back for the others, and we stood gazing in astonishment at the phenomenon, then my brother Tom said in excited tones, “It looks as if it’s radio active.” The two mineralogists in our party had gone forward to inspect the hill more closely, and one of them said, “That’s right. There’s pitchblende there. Must be thousands of tons of it.” “Pitchblende!” I exclaimed. “A source of uranium.” “Yes,” said one of the mineralogists. “The most radio active element there is. If we fly the proper equipment up here we can bring the atomic age to Venus in a few months.” We camped some distance away from the hill till daylight, then called up the Thunderbolt by radio. In a few minutes the spaceship skimmed gracefully down from the clouds and came to rest a few yards away. When Captain Townsend heard of our find he said, “We’d better confine ourselves to an aerial survey for the next few days. We can obtain valuable data that way, and radio the results to the Earth via Starlight.” The Starlight was the Thunderbolt’s sister ship, cruising in space to receive radio messages and relay them to the Earth, and our radio operator lost no time in calling the Starlight. It answered right away, and told us that there was little change in the situation on the Earth. The fire was still gaining. Many spaceships had already been completed, and a system of priorities was being evolved by the Government as to who should be the first to leave. We dispatched the news about the uranium deposits, and then the Thunderbolt took off. The news from the Earth had set me thinking about dad and mother and grandpop. How high would they stand in this system of priorities? Dad and mother as experienced farmers might have a good chance, for food producers were bound to be high on the list, but it did not look rosy for grandpop. He was too old, and although the one desire of his life was to make a flight through space, it looked as if that ambition would never be realised. The Thunderbolt flew low over Venus, its powerful atomic engines throttled down to their lowest, while photographers with cine cameras took colour films of the scenes below.

The aerial survey lasted six days, and in that time we flew over almost the whole of Venus. We found that in the polar regions there were ice and snow, just as on the Earth, that around the equator there were jungles, volcanoes and steamy heat, but elsewhere there were more temperate zones. There seemed less ocean and more land than on the Earth, and there was abundant room for all the inhabitants of the Earth who could reach Venus, to live there side by side in peace. There were three large oceans on Venus, all of them well studded with islands, and in one ocean, which we christened the New Atlantic, we found two large islands fairly close together. They were beautiful islands with rich, red soil that would be wonderful for agriculture, broad rivers, soaring mountains, and luxurious forests. Together they were somewhat larger than the British Isles, and the Thunderbolt having landed on the larger of the two we set out to explore. We found signs that the island was rich in minerals, including coal and uranium, and with due ceremony we planted the Union Jack. Then Captain Townsend said in solemn tones, “I hereby name this island New Britain.”

THE STREAM OF SPACESHIPS

The sun had broken through the clouds, the air was moist, and it was very much like a summer day at home. With Tom’s help I marked out an area that would be suitable for a small experimental plantation, and planted three rows of oak, three rows of pine, and three rows of Scotch fir. In three days’ time I had young trees two feet high, much to the astonishment of everyone, and, indeed, the quality of the soil was a constant source of wonder.

We had sent off another courier rocket to the Earth filled with scientific data and canisters of film, and on the fifth day after our landing on Venus the Starlight arrived. When her crew emerged to greet us there was a great deal of handshaking and backslapping, and we showed them the wonders of Venus with the knowledgeable air of old inhabitants. They told us that other spaceships were already on the way, bringing members of the Government, a newly created Land Settlement Committee of the United Nations Organisation, building plant, and scientific machinery. Two spaceships had been fitted out to take domestic animals—and already they were well on their way. Soon spaceships would be arriving, bringing people from every nation, discharging their cargoes and going back for more. For the next four days we busied ourselves marking out sites for towns, setting fire to miles of rank jungle, planning the lines of new roads and generally surveying our new country. Then in the late afternoon of the fourth day, another spaceship arrived, coming in low from the west. Its name was Ararat, and I remembered that that was the name of the great mountain where Noah’s Ark had come to rest after the great flood. I was quite prepared then for the noise I heard when the spaceship landed—the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle—but I was not prepared for the sight I saw when the hatches opened—my father helping my mother down to the magic soil of Venus. Tom and I rushed forward, scarcely believing our eyes, but it was true all right. When the first excitement of the reunion was over I said to dad, “I knew you’d be well up on the priority list as a farmer, but I never expected to see you again so soon.” “Your mother and I didn’t expect it, either,” said dad, “but the Government thought you and Tom were due a reward for having helped to make all this possible. We’re the reward.” “They couldn’t have thought of a better one,” I said. “But what about grandpop?” Dad’s face sobered. “I’m afraid he’ll have to stay behind. I’ve tried everything I could think of to get a place for him but without success. It’s women and children first, just like a sinking ship at sea, and members of the priority classes laid down by the Government.” “Is there no chance at all?” I asked, swallowing a lump in my throat. Dad shook his head. “The fire’ll be into Britain before they can get everyone away. They’re working night and day on the spaceships, but there just isn’t enough time.”

An hour later the Noah’s Ark arrived with more domestic animals, then both the Noah’s Ark and Ararat took off again for Earth. From that day on spaceships began to arrive every hour, bringing fresh news from the stricken Earth. Almost two thirds of the Earth’s surface was now ravaged by the fire, and the surviving population was concentrated in the remaining third, building spaceships like mad. Our little colony began to grow, and with the arrival of building plant, houses began to spring up and villages to dot the landscape. Spaceships came and went almost unnoticed, and then it was the Thunderbolt’s turn to make the journey back to the Earth. Most of the scientists who had made the original flight were to remain behind, but I received orders from the Forestry Commission, a unit of which was now functioning on Venus, to accompany the Thunderbolt back to the Earth and supervise the loading of equipment required for forestry work. Tom, of course, as a member of the Thunderbolt’s crew, had to go also. We took off that evening, pierced the steaming envelope of cloud that surrounded Venus, and raced on into the outer darkness of space. Once more our world was confined to the long, cylindrical cabin of the spaceship, with the hum of the air plant in our ears, but this time, instead of seventy eight passengers, there were only six, besides the crew—all scientists going back to obtain equipment for their particular branch of science. We were a silent little company, for we dreaded what we would find when we reached the Earth again, if we ever did reach the Earth, for the dangers of the flight were now even greater than before. Our first hint of the changed conditions was when the spaceship, Venus bound, travelling at least fifty thousand miles an hour, just missed us and went by like a streak of light. A collision at that speed would have blotted us out in a fraction of a second, and we knew that our navigators would have to exercise the utmost care. Spaceships were coming in from all directions, some of them much larger than the Thunderbolt. Fortunately the Thunderbolt, like the other spaceships, was equipped with an improved form of radar, and this gave us warning of the approach of a spaceship in time to alter course. Hour after hour we hurtled through space. Soon we would reach the Earth. Already we could see the shadowy surface of the Earth in the television panel and mark how different it looked. It was cloudy with a smoke pall, beneath which the fire glowed redly, and it was at that moment that something went wrong with the Thunderbolt’s gyroscopic compass. We had had a spot of bother with it on the outward journey, but after Tom had put it right it had given no further trouble. This time, however, it refused to yield to his efforts, and we knew that it would be difficult to find our landing ground at Harelaw Field through the thick canopy of smoke. All we could do was to fly above the smoke, looking for a break, but as far as we could see in any direction there was no break visible. For mile after mile we flew horizontally above the smoke cloud, and then Captain Townsend decided to take the grave risk of diving through the smoke in the hope of ascertaining our position.

The Thunderbolt’s nose tilted downwards. We came through the smoke clouds into a red inferno of flame stretching unbroken to the horizon. It was a terrifying sight, and, although the flames were some distance beneath us, they licked hungrily upwards as if longing to pluck us down out of the sky. We saw black, ravaged country and a waste of rock and sand where there had once been sea. On our port bow a huge rock stood up, black and solitary, with flames licking round it. Tom said in a tight voice, “That’s Gibraltar.” We looked again, and realised that Tom was right. There was no mistaking that grim, formidable shape. The sight of Gibraltar had given us our position, and after flying north-east for a short time, we came to the end of the smoke and soon we were over Britain. The sight of the green fields, as yet untouched by the fire, was good to see. As we descended we saw that Britain was no longer an island. A few shallow pools among the rocks were all that remained of the English Channel, for the vaporising of the oceans had caused the waters of the channel and the seas around Britain to flow out and be vaporised in their turn. We radioed our position, and as we swooped low over Southampton we saw that almost every field held one or more spaceships. Spaceships were taking off every minute, and we had to wait quite a time before we were signalled in to land at Harelaw Field.

THE UNWANTED PASSENGER

It gave me a queer feeling to be back again so close to our farm, the farm that must soon be swallowed up by the flames. The Airport Commandant at Harelaw Field had orders ready for Captain Townsend.

This time he was to travel with a full passenger list of one hundred and fifty scientific personnel and a cargo of scientific equipment, most of which was ready for immediate loading. He was expected to be ready to take off again next day, and the Thunderbolt would be one of the last spaceships to leave the Earth. There was no time to be lost, and, borrowing a jeep, I drove to my plantation to supervise the loading of my laboratory equipment. My assistant, Benson, was to fly back to Venus with me, and I found him waiting with almost all the equipment packed and ready. We loaded it into the jeep, returned to Harelaw Field, and saw it safely stowed away in the Thunderbolt’s cargo hold. Tom and two mechanics were busy fitting a new gyroscopic compass, and, while I was waiting for him, I managed to get a look at Captain Townsend’s passenger list. On it I saw the name of Sir Manfred Kane, who had done his best, at the instigation of his nephew, our neighbour, Reuben Kane, to have someone else appointed to make the first flight in the Thunderbolt instead of me. He had failed, however, but I did not think he would make a very pleasant travelling companion. I wondered what had happened to Reuben Kane. As a farmer, he had probably been able to secure a place on one of the other spaceships. Tom could not be spared because there was other servicing work to be done after the fitting of the new compass, but I found myself with some time on my hands, and, having obtained Captain Townsend’s permission, I drove off in the jeep to our farm in search of grandpop. I found the farm deserted, however, the doors locked, and barred, the byres and stables empty. I drove on to the village, and, passing Reuben Kane’s farm on the way, I noticed smoke coming from one of the chimneys. There was no one in sight, however, and I wondered if Kane himself was still in residence or if someone else had taken over. In the village I learned that grandpop had been staying with some elderly friends who had also been unsuccessful in obtaining a place in the list of colonists, but he was out, and, bitterly disappointed, I drove back to Harelaw Field. There the first person I saw was grandpop. He was standing in the centre of a pathetic little group, gazing longingly over the fence at the Thunderbolt, and when I hailed him he fairly ran towards me. “Pete, lad,” he said, “you look tremendous. You must tell me all about your flight. What you found on Venus—everything.” I knew his passion for astronomy, and told him in full detail the story of our flight to Venus, the wonders we had found there, and the manner of our return. He listened in an entranced silence, and when I had finished he shook his white head and said in longing tones, “I wish I could see it all.” “I wish you could, too, grandpop,” I said. “Another week and we might have got everybody off, but we just haven’t got a week.” He nodded resignedly. “I know, lad, I know. My life’s almost over anyway.” He paused. “I’ve got a pill to take when the time comes. There will be no pain. I’ll see you off tomorrow, and then I’ll take it. How are your father and mother?” I told him they were well, and that they had already selected a site for their new farm, and he seemed to brighten. Then Tom, having finished his work on the Thunderbolt joined us. “By the way,” I said, to grandpop, “what happened to Reuben Kane? His uncle, Sir Manfred, is to travel with us tomorrow, but there’s no word of Reuben, and when I passed his farm I saw one of the chimneys smoking.” “Reuben’s had it,” grandpop said. “If he’d behaved himself he’d have been safe on Venus by now, but first he tried to jump his place in the queue, and then he was caught looting. He was tried in the local court and sentenced to stay behind on the Earth.” “It serves him right,” I said.

Tom and I slept on the Thunderbolt that night, and during the night a high wind rose. I knew that the wind would fan the flames and that time was running out. In the morning most of our passengers arrived early, which was just as well, for the fire had made tremendous progress during the night, and it was now certain that the Thunderbolt would be the last spaceship to leave the Earth. One by one the passengers were checked aboard, and as Tom and I stood on the tarmac watching, we saw grandpop waving to us from the other side of the fence. Our hearts heavy with sorrow, we went over to say our last goodbye. He was very calm and resigned. “I won’t wait till you leave,” he said. “It—it would be too much. I’ll just say goodbye now, and then I’ll take my pill and end it.” We watched him walk away down the road towards the village and he did not once look back. Then Tom and I walked sadly over to the Thunderbolt. Captain Townsend was standing at the centre hatch, checking in the passengers, and I saw him talking to a tall, powerful looking man whose massive shoulders seemed familiar. “I’m Sir Manfred Kane,” he was saying in an authoritative voice. “I think you’ll find my papers in order.” He handed over his identity card and set of documents, glanced casually at me, and I saw his eyes narrow. Then he made to push past Captain Townsend into the Thunderbolt. “Wait a minute,” I said. Captain Townsend gave me a sharp look. “Something wrong?” he asked. “That isn’t Sir Manfred Kane,” I said. “It’s his nephew, Reuben. He’s very like his uncle, and he’s got himself up to look more like him still, but I’d know those shoulders anywhere.” “What nonsense!” said Kane. “These papers prove I’m Sir Manfred.” “He’s Reuben Kane all right,” confirmed Tom. “I’d swear to him. He must have stolen those papers.” At that point Kane went wild. He rushed at me, aiming a vicious blow, but I ducked and hit him full in the jaw with all the strength I could muster. He fell back, his hat came off, revealing his features more clearly. In a second Tom and Captain Townsend had him pinioned. “All right,” I said. “What have you done with Sir Manfred?” “Find out!” Kane snarled. “That should be easy,” said the Airport Commandant, who was standing by. “Sir Manfred stayed at this man’s farm last night. We’ve time to send a jeep to him.” “Much good it’ll do you,” sneered Kane. “He’s dead.” “Then you killed him,” I accused, “and stole his papers to try and get to Venus in his place.” “What if I did?” said Kane. “Self preservation is the strongest law, and it was my life or his.” “Get out!” ordered Captain Townsend. “Quick, or I’ll order my men to shoot you where you stand.” Kane saw that he meant it, blanched, and slunk away like a whipped cur. “Right,” said the Captain. “Get in the rest of you. We’ll have to be off in a minute. There’s no time to lose.” “Wait!” I said. “You’ve room for one more passenger.” “There’s no one left. The Airport staff are coming with us anyway.” “There’s my grandfather,” I said. Captain Townsend shook his head. “Sorry, Pete, others will have to stay behind besides your grandfather. I’ve no authority to choose which one of them can come.” “You can save one more life,” I said, “and for that matter, Venus could manage without me. I’m not forced to go with you.” “Are you trying to tell me that if I won’t take your grandfather you’ll stay behind too?” the Captain demanded. “Yes,” I said. Captain Townsend nodded towards the jeep. “You’ve got ten minutes to get him here,” he said. “And if you’re not back by then you’ve both had it.”

I drove that jeep like the wind. On three sides of me the horizon glowed red with the reflection of the flames, and smoke rose in a sweeping curtain to the clouds. The fire was closing in, and only in the south-west was it still clear. I wondered desperately if grandpop had taken his pill yet. I caught up with him just outside the deserted village, and when he saw me he looked startled. “Get in!” I cried. “You’re going to Venus.” On the way back I told him quickly how the vacancy had been created, but he made no comment. He was struck dumb with joy. We reached Harelaw Field with ten seconds to spare, skidded across the tarmac, and the next instant I was bundled grandpop into the Thunderbolt and climbing in behind him as the hatch slid shut. I heard Tom’s voice in the control room, counting off the seconds, and then, with a furious rush, we were off. The Thunderbolt sped on and on, higher and even higher towards our new home, and as I looked back I saw a red ball blazing in space like a huge exploding star. The Earth was finished, but on Venus a new life was about the begin, and the skies were bright with the promise of the future.

THE END

“I Saw the End of the World” 8 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1325 - 1332 (1951)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd

Vic Whittle 2007