By THOMAS S. GARDINER
[Transcriber’s Note: This etext was produced from
Comet March 41.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
The big man with the iron grey hair stared morosely out the quartz window and across the roofs of Greater New York. Far down the canyon streets a few motor cars still ran and over the swinging aerial bridges scattered pedestrians carefully wended their way. Their grotesque figures with the heavy metal helmets that reminded the watching man of the half-mythical sea monsters of the past or divers that used to explore wrecks were far different from the jostling crowds that had crowded the ways only a few short days ago. But that was before the plague—the plague of the whispering death.
John Cortland, United Utilities Power magnate, sighed as he turned from the quiet streets below. Somberly he regarded a tiny light beam that came from the mirror of a galvanometer that trembled and danced continually. He mused over the events of the past few days and wondered at their meaning. Like a caged tiger he paced the metal lined room waiting for the word that would spell success or disaster. Five days before it had first appeared. A whispering, a singing and vibrating had manifested itself. It was not local but appeared simultaneously all over the earth. This whispering, as of elfish voices, was not annoying at first; but it changed and alternated from a shrill whine back to the eery murmuring that was first noticed. Young Cavendish at the Black Laboratories had first tracked down the cause of the strange sounds—as to its ultimate origin, that was still veiled in mystery.
At the end of the first day people had become nervous, at the end of the second many were on the point of breaking, and then mankind began to go insane. It was too much for their nervous systems and the vibration seemed to affect the inner ear. Suddenly a well ordered planet became a center of bedlam and chaos. Order could not be restored because there was no one to handle affairs. If Dr. Hankins had not discovered that iron would shield a wearer from the vibrations, mankind would have been doomed. As it was only a few of the earth’s heavy population had been able to get the protecting helmets, and some had lived in metal lined rooms. This discovery of the shielding effect of iron led to the discovery that an electro-magnetic radiation between infra-red and the short radio waves was acting on the ozone molecules to set them into vibration. To cap it all the ionized Heavyside Layer that protected the earth from the ultra-violet rays from the sun was decomposing also. Thus to the plague of the Whispering Death was added the threat of sun burn—a horrible burn that killed the skin and ultimately the patient.
Savagely John Cortland kicked at his chair as he paced across the room. There was one slender hope, a tiny thread that might save them at last. Europe was prostrated, Asia in turmoil, and America in chaos. All depended on the theory that the origin of the destructive vibration that had set their ozone molecules into their dance of death had intelligence back of it. The source of the radiation could not be found at this time, but that was not needed. If they could use the incoming radiation field as a carrier and heterodyne on it a super-imposed vibration perhaps the source could be destroyed. Japan had furnished the formula for the opposing field, and United Utilities Power the energy. All the great power stations on the planet had been connected up into a unit, all the tremendous kilowatts of energy had been flowing for hours into those great reservoirs of bound energy, the artificial space field invented by Minski of Stalingrad; and the great glass globes at Schenectady had taken this power and had built up a voltage unthinkable. The earth was going to hurl the thunderbolts of Jove.
For hours now he had restlessly awaited the signal to release this energy in answer to the Whispering Death. For hours the stunned planet had awaited the moment of decision. When he would release all this pent up energy that Niagara, Victoria, and countless other water falls and many great steam power plants that had been harnessed for man’s use, the carefully pre-calculated voltage would hurl an electron stream at a target, the desired wave length would be omitted by the target, and would automatically heterodyne itself on the invading field. This frightful stream of energy would blast its generators into atoms, but it must suffice. It was earth’s dying stroke.
A bell tinkled and eagerly John Cortland rushed to answer. A quiet voice said.
“We are ready. The potential has reached maximum.”
The zero hour had arrived. Nervously John Cortland looked around the room, at the familiar articles, and once out the window at the sunlight and then back in.
He threw the switch.
Phor, great leader of the once powerful Murians, gazed through the matter shield across space to the planet hanging in the heavens. A great green disk outlined in pearly light with green continents and bluish-green seas pointed clearly to its nearness. The artificial satellite that housed the observatory was circling this planet with incredible velocity. This was just what they had been looking for, an habitable planet with intelligent beings on it to aid them in their problems. Long ages ago they had left their planet just before their sun had become a nova and had exploded. Only a few of their peoples had been saved and at the thought the great goggle eyes filmed in sorrow. The great journey through space had tried them all, generations had been born and some had died. By necessity they had kept their population down until they could come to a system which might support them. They not only needed a habitable planet but an intelligent people on this planet so that they could rebuild their civilization quickly. They were friendly and had no wish to harm the dwellers on this planet.
He did not entirely agree with the council that they should get into communication with these peoples before landing. Phor thought they were wasting time to encircle this beautiful world while attempting to communicate with them. Their atmosphere analysis had shown them small quantities of ozone and they were bombarding the ozone with a controlled radiation. This caused them to act as receivers and converters so that intelligent communication could be set up. It was just like a radio without a receiving set. The ozone molecules did it all just before decomposing. To one side he could see the huge transformers and generators of the tiny moonlet’s driving plant and ray generators. The actual projector hung like a huge mushroom some distance from the generating plant. The inclined buildings, due to the high radius of curvature of the moonlet, looked as if they were falling down all the time. Tiny figures of Murians ceaselessly worked about the great machines that had cared for them for ages.
For days now they had been keeping up the barrage, hoping to get a response. Their electro-telescopes had shown them that this planet housed a people as intelligent as their own. Their great cities, ships, and power stations made them long to be with the planet’s peoples. Together they could do wonders and here they were waiting in space. Why this waste of time? Of course the Council was right in believing that the sudden appearance of unfamiliar beings might start an interplanetary war, and they could not fight a war. Their resources were practically exhausted, their peoples few, and they had no desire to cause trouble. They only wanted peace and a place to live. He shrugged his scaly shoulders and cocked his vertical eye at the meters covering the walls. No response to their messages yet. What could be the matter? Of course the planet had a denser atmosphere than that they had been accustomed to, but no matter. They could adjust themselves to it. Strange about the messages though. They had been exactly within the audibility range of the Murians and their antennae had no difficulty in reading them. Of course the planet’s men would receive them just the same. Still the prediction of Tum-tak that the denser atmosphere would increase the pitch of the ozone molecules had to be considered. However this increased pitch should not harm the inhabitants. Their antennae received them very well tests demonstrated. They had not tested them for an effect on an inner ear structure, for they had never possessed them. Their sound transmission had been direct.
If they did not get a response within a few more revolutions about the planet they would be compelled to go down into the atmosphere. Wonder what that unusual activity about the power plants and the great crystal globes on one of the major continents meant anyway? Perhaps they were preparing to answer their calls. But why so much power as they seemed to be accumulating? What a peculiar field! That was unknown to them. Why these peoples had pumped more power into that one field than the Murians had developed for ages. Great peoples these inhabitants of the third planet. Well, he would take one more glance at the great crystal globes before turning over his place to his aide. There it was now. The crystal globes were surrounded in crimson flame, they disappeared in blinding incandescence, and horrors, simultaneously their projector had been surrounded by a halo of radiation that arced across to the generators. These exploded showering molten metal on the frightened Murians. Phor did not see the full charge arrive, blasting the moonlet into incandescence and destroying the last of the Murians.
“The generators exploded showering molten metal on the frightened Murians.”
A great flare came into being in space between earth and moon. The earthlings were greatly mystified at it, but the Whispering Death had ceased. They were satisfied.