In the year 2197, the first intimation of a strange peril of world-wide scope and gravity came and passed unrecognized for what it really was in the form of a newspaper dispatch from the Sahara, reporting a sand-storm of unprecedented fury. Several oases, according to the report, had been entirely blotted out, and a number of caravans had been lost in the sweep of the tremendous storm, which had towered to a height of twelve thousand feet and had covered many hundred square miles. No one caught in it had come out alive nor had any trace of the missing caravans been found. Subsequent dispatches brought the news that the affected region was full of minor upheavals for weeks after the cessation of the main disturbance, and that a furore of superstitious fear had been excited among the desert tribes, who believed that the end of the world was now imminent. But, in the surge and press of more sensational and apparently more important items then engaging the world's attention, no one, not even the most advanced and alert men of science, gave more than a passing thought to the sandstorm.
Toward the end of the same year, there came a fresh report from the Sahara, this time of so strange and inexplicable a nature that t immediately aroused the curiosity of many scientists, who forthwith formed and expedition to investigate the conditions that had given rise to the report. The members of a caravan from Timbuctoo, the first to venture into the path of the great storm, had returned within a week, half-mad with terror and telling incoherently of unaccountable changes that had taken place all through the disturbed area. They said that the long, rolling dunes of sand had all disappeared, to be replaced by solid earth and mineral forms such as no one had ever seen before. The earth consisted of great patches of a sort of violet-colored day, very moist, and with a noxious odor that had almost overpowered those who ventured to walk upon it.
Also, there were outcroppings, immense ledges, and even hills of singular stone and metals. The stone was mainly crystallized, with red, black, blue and dark-green colors, and the metals were white and irridescent. The members of the caravan swore that they had seen huge boulders heave visibly from the earth before their eyes, and had watched the crystals swell on the sides of these boulders. Over all the changed area, they said, there were vapors that arose continually, forming a dense canopy of cloud that shut out the sun. But, in spite of this fad, the heat was more intense than any they had ever known, and had an intolerably humid character. Another odd thing they had noticed was, that the sand immediately contiguous to this area had become so fine and pulverous that it soared in high clouds at every step of their camels, who had almost been engulfed in it. They all believed implicitly that Iblees, the Mohammedan Satan, had come to establish his kingdom on earth, and, as a preparatory measure, was creating for himself and his subject demons a suitable soil and atmosphere resembling those of the infemal realms. Henceforth, the region was utterly shunned, till the arrival of the investigating scientists, headed by Roger Lapham, the most renowned American geologist of the period.
Lapham and his party, in which were several celebrated chemists as well as some fellow-geologists, had chartered two airplanes, and the trip to Timbuctco, where they paused to interview personally the members of the returned caravan, was a matter of only a few hours.
A new and unexpected angle was added to the strange story, when the scientists learned that eight of the twelve natives whom they desired to see had fallen dangerously ill in the interim since the sending of the last news dispatch. So far, no one had been able to diagnose their illness, which had presented a combination of symptoms no less inexplicable than unfamiliar. These symptoms were quite varied, and differed somewhat in the individual cases, though acute respiratory and mental disorders were common to all. Several of the men had shown a violent homicidal mania which they were already too weak and ill to carry to the point of action; others had tried to commit suicide in a sudden and delirious excess of melancholia and nervous terror; and six of the eight were afflicted with peculiar cutaneous disturbances which would have suggested leprosy if it had not been that the diseased portions, which developed and increased with remarkable rapidity, were of a bright green color instead of being white, and had purplish borders. The Pulmonary symptoms were not dissimilar to those experienced by men who have inhaled some sort of deadly gas, and were marked by a swift eating-away of the tissues. Two of the men died on the evening of the same day that Lapham and his companions arrived in Timbuctoo, and by noon of the following day the four who had been so far exempt were stricken down. They suffered all the symptoms presented by their fellows, with the addition, even during the earlier stages, of a form of locomotor ataxia and a queer disorder of vision which constituted an inability to see plainly in broad daylight, though their sight was normal at other times. They, as well as most of the others, now developed a terrible condition of necrosis involving the whole bony structure of the body, and within two days all were dead.
Lapham and his brother-scientists talked with these men and did what little could be done to palliate their agonies. No more could be learned, however, than the news-dispatches had already proffered in the way of information, apart from the fact that the caravan-members attributed their illness to contact with the uncanny clay and minerals on which they had come in the heart of the Sahara. Those who had ventured the furthest into the strange area had been the first to develop this illness.
It became evident to the scientists that their proposed explorations might be accompanied by grave bodily dangers. One of the planes was immediately sent to England for a supply of gas masks, oxygen, an complete suits of an insulative material designed to protect against everything then known to science in the form of harmful radio-activity.
As soon as the planes returned, bringing the requisite supplies, the journey into the Sahara was resumed. Following at an altitude of one thousand feet the northern caravan route toward Insalab and Ghadarnes, the scientists soon began to penetrate the Juf desert, amid whose golden-yellow dunes the affected area was said to lie.
An odd spectacle now presented itself to them. Far-off on the horizon was a low-lying mass of clouds or vapors--a thing almost without precedent in that dry, rainless region. These clouds or vapors were of a pearly-gray color, and they covered not only hundreds of leagues of the rolling sand, or what had once been sand, but also seemed to encroach upon the rocky, weather-worn terrain to east of the Juf. Nothing could be seen of the geological changes that had taken place, till the airplanes dad approached within a few miles of the vapor.mass. Then the exploring party had a glimpse of the van-colored soil and minerals described by the natives, now dimly discernible through the writhing fumes that still arose from them.
Before landing, the scientists flew slowly above the vapors to deter- mine their extent and density. They found that the mass was circular in form and was at least a hundred miles in diameter. It constituted a level and uniform floor, dazzlingly bright in the sunshine, and with no breaks or variations anywhere.
After crossing and circumnavigating the whole cloud-mass, a landing was made near the southern verge, and the expedition proceeded to encamp. The day was still new, since they had made an early start; and Lapham and the others were eager to begin their investigations without delay. Putting on their insulative suits and equipping themselves with the gas-masks and oxygen-tanks, the whole party set out forthwith.
They had not gone far when they encountered the fine sand or dust of which the caravan-members had spoken. They sank to the waist in this sand at every step, but its inconceivable lightness made their progress not so difficult as it would normally have been. At every footfall, al every touch or movement, the fine powder soared in a huge cloud, which, as they had occasion to observe, took hours to settle itself again. None of them had ever seen such dust before, and the chemists in tht party could scarcely wait to analyze it.
At last, after much wandering and floundering in the dust-cloud, through which they could see nothing, Lapham and his companions drew themselves out on a margin of the strange violet soil. The contrast of this wet, steaming clay with the gulfs of atom-like powder that surrounded it was so inexplicable, so utterly amaaing as to baffle and dumbfound all conjecture. The substance was unearthly in its bizarreness, and the heat that emanated from it was almost beyond endurance. The scientists had sweltered in their heavy air-tight suits while crossing the zone of dust, but now they were subjected to actual suffering.
At every step their astonishment grew, for the dim landscape beneath the vapors was such as no human eye had even seen before. Gigantic ledges of crystallized rock-forms arose in the foreground, and about the crystals there was something, even apart from their curious black, blue, red and dark-green coloration, which served to differentiate them from anything classified by geologists. They were prodigious in size, and had innumerable facets and a look of geometrical complexity foreign to all normal rocks. There was a sinister vitality in their aspect, too, and the tale of the natives, who purported to have seen them grow and swell, became almost comprehensible. Somehow, they resembled living organisms as much as minerals. Everywhere, also, were outcroppings of the white and iridescent metals that had been described.
As the party advanced, the ledges grew larger, and towered overhead in cuffs and precipices and crags, among which the explorers found a tortuous, winding way. The crags were horned and beetling, and weird beyond imagination. It was like a scene in some other world; and nothing to which the scientists came in the course of their wanderings was in any manner suggestive of the familiar Terra Firma.
After groping their way through narrow rifts and along the rim of Fantastic scarps where all foothold was prccarious, they emerged amid the crags, on the shelving shore of a lake of blackish-green water, whose full extent was indeterminate. Lapham, who was ahead of the others, half-lost in the coils of the rising vapors, cried out suddenly, and when his companions overtook him, they found him stooping above a queer plant with etiolated fungus-like stalk and broad, serrate leaves of a carnal crimson, mottled with gray blotches. Around it, the pinkish lips of younger plants were protruding from the soil, and they seemed to wax visibly beneath the astounded gaze of the explorers.
"What on earth is it ?" cried Lapham.
"As far as I can see, it isn't anything that could legitimately exist on earth," rejoined Sylvester, one of the chemists, who had made a sideline of botany. They all gathered about the queer plant and examined it minutely. The leaves and stalks were extremely fibrous in their texture and were full of deep pores like those of coral. But when Lapham tried to break off a portion, it proved to be very tough and rubbery, and the use of a knife was necessitated before the branch could be severed. The plant writhed and twisted like a living creature at the touch of the knife, and when the operation was finally accomplished, a juice that bore a startling resemblance to blood in its color and consistency, began to exude slowly. The severed section was placed in a knapsack for future analysis.
Now the scientists proceeded toward the margin of the lake. Here they found some plant-growths of a different type, suggesting calamites, or giant reeds. These plants were twenty feet tall and were divided into a dozen segments with heavy, swollen-looking joints. They had no leaves, and their hues varied from a leaden purple to a leprous white with green shadowings and veinings. Although there was no wind, all of them were swaying a little, with a sound like the hissing of serpents. As Lapham and his confreres came closer, they saw that the reeds were covered with lip-like formations that recalled the suckers of an octopus.
Sylvester was now in advance of the others. As he neared the foremost plant, the thing swayed suddenly forward with all the suppleness and celerity of a python and encircled the chemist in a series of constricting coils. Sylvester screamed in terror as the coils tightened about him, and the others ran instantly to his aid, though dumb-founded and well-nigh stupefied by the strangeness of the happening. Several of them carried clasp-knives, and these were at once requisitioned in effecting his release. Lapham and two of the chemists began to hack and saw at the horrible coils, while the reed continued its constriction about the limbs and body of the helpless man.
The plant was amazingly tough and resistant, and Lapham's knife-blade broke before he had sawed half through the section upon which he was engaged. His companions, however, were more successful, and at length the diabolical growth was severed in two places, one of which was not far from the root. But the coils still clung around their victim, who had gone suddenly pale and limp, and who now fell in a dead faint as his companions finished their task. It was found that some of the sucker-like formations had penetrated his insulative suit and were actually embedded in his flesh. Slowly, in squirming segments, the coils were cut away; but nothing could be done at present with the suckers, for want of the proper surgical instruments; and it was obviously imperative that Sylvester should be taken back to camp as quickly as possible.
Carrying the still unconscious man among them by turns, the explorers retraced their steps amid the crags and ledges of many-colored crystals, along the perilous rim of steaming diffs and gulfs, and found their way through the zone of atomic dust, till they reemerged, altogether exhausted and frightfully shaken, on the shore of the natural desert. In spite of their urgent haste, however, they took with them some specimens of the crystals, of the white and irridescent metals and the violet soil, as well as parts of the python-like reed, for future examination; and they greatly deplored their inability to secure also some of the water in the blackish-greeii lake. After the chemist's experience, no one would have dared to venture among the fringing reeds along its shore. Sylvester required immediate attention, for he was white and bloodless as a vampire's victim, and his pulse-beats were very slow and so feeble as to be almost undetectable. His clothing was removed and he was stretched on an improvised operating-table. It was now seen that the portions of his limbs and trunk in which the suckers had implanted themselves were horribly swollen and discolored; and this swelling rendered the task of removal all the more difficult. There was nothing to do but cut the suckers out; and after the administration of an opiate, which seemed scarcely needful under the circumstances, the operation was performed by Dr. Adams, the physician of the party. It was evident that Sylvester had been dreadfully poisoned by the suckers, for even after their removal, the flesh in which they had sunk continued to swell, and soon turned to a putrescent black which threatened to involve his whole body. At no time did he recover full consciousness, though during the night after the explorers' return, he began to toss and mutter weakly in a sort of low delirium, which presently merged into a coma from which he did not awaken. At ten the next morning, Dr. Adams announced that Sylvester was dead. It was necessary to inter him at once, for his body presented the appearance and all the usual characteristics of a week-old corpse.
A sense of ominous gloom and oppression was thrown over the whole party by the chemist's fate, but it was of course felt that nothing should be permitted to delay, or interfere with, the work of investigation that had been undertaken. No sooner had the unfortunate Sylvester been laid to rest in a hurried grave amid the Saharan sands, when his fellow-scientists began eagerly their examination of the specimens they had secured. These were all studied under powerful microscopes and were subjected to chemical analysis of the most searching and rigorous order. Many known constituents were found, but all of these were immingled with elements for which chemistry had no names. The molecutar formation of the crystals was more intricate than that of any substance known on earth; and the metals were heavier than anything so far discovered. The cellular composition of the two plant-forms was oddly similar to that of animal bodies, and it was readily ascertained that they were intermediate between the animal and vegetable kingdoms, partaking of the character of both. How such minerals and plants could have appeared suddenly, in a location so obviously impossible even for the fostering of normal forms, was a theme of endless argument and inconclusive surmise between Lapham and his confreres. For a while, no one could propound a theory that seemed at all plausible Or credible. Apart from everything else, they were puzzled by the zone of fine dust about the changed area: this zone was found to consist of sand-particles whose very molecules had been partially broken up and disintegrated.
"It looks," said Lapham, "as if someone or something had blown up all the atoms in this part of the Sahara, and had then started a totally new process of re-integration and evolution, with the development of soil, water, minerals, atmosphere and plants such as could never have existed on the earth during any of its geological epochs."
This startling theory was discussed pro and con, and was finally adopted as the only explanation that contained elements of plausibility. But it remained to determine the agency of the geological and evolutionary changes; and of course no one could propound anything decisive as to the nature of the agency. The whole thing was enough to stagger the imagination of a Jules Verne; and with scientists of such indubitable rectitude as Lapham and his fellows, the fantasies of lawless imagination had no place. They were concerned only with things that could be verified and proven according to natural laws.
Several days were devoted to analyzing, re-analyzing and theorizing. Then a report of the conditions that had been found was drawn up, and it was decided to send a summary of this report by radio to Europe and America. An attempt to use the radios carried by the party revealed a peculiar condition of absolute static that prevailed above the vapor-covered region. No messages could be sent or received across this region, though communication was readily established with points that were not in a direct line with the new area, such as Rome, Cairo, Petrograd, Havana and New Orleans. This condition of static was permanent--at least, many reported efforts, at all hours of the day and night, were utterly ineffectual. One of the planes, carrying a radio-apparatus, soared to a height of nine thousand feet above the encampment and sought to establish the desired connection, but in vain. It was necessary for the plane to cross the whole cloud-mass, to the northern side, before New York and London could receive and return its messages. "It would seem," observed Lapham, "as if some sort of ultra-powerful ray, that prevents the passage of radio vibrations, had been turned on this part of the Sahara. Evidently there is a screen of interfering force,"
While arguments as to the validity of this theory, the nature and origin of the conjectural rays, and their possible relation to the geologic changes, were still in progress, two members of the party complained of feeling ill. Both of them, on examination by Dr. Adams, were discovered to be afflicted with cutaneous symptoms resembling those that had been developed by many of the caravan from Timbuctoo. The characteristic patches of bright green, with purplish borders, were spreading rapidly on their arms and shoulders, and soon invaded the exposed portions of the skin. The two men became mildly delirious within a few hours, and gave evidence of extreme nervous depression. Simultaneously with this turn of their illness, Dr. Adams himself grew conscious of a sudden feeling of indisposition. Obviously, the insulative dothing worn by the explorers had been inadequate for their protection against whatever lethal forces were inherent in the new soil, minerals and vapor. laden atmosphere. It was decided that the party must retum to civilization immediately, before others should be stricken.
Camp was broken up, and the two planes were headed for Great Britain. During the brief journey, all of the scientists began to fall ill, and the pilot of one of the planes collapsed, allowing the controllness air-vessel to plunge into the Atlantic near the coast of Spain. The crew of the second plane, seeing the accident, flew gallantly to the rescue, and succeeded in saving Lapham and Dr. Adams, who were struggling in the waters. Their companions, including the sick pilot, were all drowned. It was a sad remnant of the expedition which landed at London.
In the meanwhile, the summary of the explorers' report, dispatched with so much difficulty by radio, had been published in all the leading dailies of the world and had aroused universal interest amid the scientific fraternity. The press was full of theories and conjectures, some of them extremely wild and fantastic. One journal went so far as to insinuate that the Saharan manifestations were part of a plan for world-domination that was being put into practice by the United Oriental Federation, which then included China, Indo-China, Burma, and Japan; and others were indined to name Russia as the instigator. On the very same day when Lapham and his companions reached London, there came from the United States the news of a terrible and mysterious cataclysm, which had occurred in Missouri and which had involved at least half of this state. Though the time was still mid-winter and the ground was covered with unmelting snow, a tremendous storm of dust had appeared, in which many towns and cities, including St. Louis, had been utterly swallowed up. All communications with these towns and cities had been cut off, and no message, no living thing nor evidence of life, had come forth from the storm. There were great bil- lowing clouds, that soared to a stupendous height, and from which emerged a sound like the rumbling of thunder, or the explosion of un- acountable tons of dynamite. The dust, of unbelievable fineness, settled upon many miles of the adjacent areas, and nothing could be done or determined for days, since all who dared to approach the raging storm were instantly lost and never returned. The terror and mystery of a cataclysm so unparalleled, so far beyond all explanation or imagination, fell like a black pall upon the United States, and horrified the whole cvilized world. The dust from the storm, which was analyzed at once, was found to consist of partially disintegrated molecules; and it required no great reach of fantasy for scientists, reporters and the general public to associate the upheaval with the Saharan sand-storm that had given birth to a terrain of unearthly strangeness.
The news was brought to Lapham and his fellows in the hospital to which they had been taken from the plane. Several of the party were too ill to comprehend intelligently what had taken place; but Lapham and Dr. Adams, both of whom were less severely stricken than the others, were at once prepared to comment on the report from America. "I believe," said Lapham, "that some cosmic process has been instiuted which may threaten the integrity and even the continued existence of our world--at least, of any world which we could call ours, and in which human beings could dwell and survive. I predict that within a few weeks, geological and atmospheric conditions similar to those which we found in the Sahara will also prevail in Missouri." This prophetic utterance, made to reporters from the Times and the Daily Mail, received considerable publicity and added to the world-wide consternation and terror that was being felt. While dispatches announcing the continuation of the atomic storm were still agitating five continents, several of the returned explorers died from the unknown malady by which they had been seized. Their cases were characterized by nearly all the symptoms that had been noted in the members of the unfortunate caravan from Timbuctoo, but lacked the pulmonary disorders, from which, it was evident, the use of oxygen-tanks had saved the expedition. Extreme weakness, melancholia, the green, leprous patches, locomotor ataxia, partial blindness and the final necrosis of the bones were all present, and little could be done to mitigate them by any of the attendant doctors, among whom were the most renowned specialists of Great Britain, France, and America. Lapham and Dr. Adams were the only members of the party who survived, and neither of them was ever wholly well at any future time. Till the end of their days, both men suffered from more or less mental depression and From recurrent outbreaks of the cutaneous symptoms.
An odd aftermath of the whole affair was, that similar maladies were contracted in a milder degree by many scientists who examined the mineral and vegetable specimens that had been carefully brought back from Africa by the expedition. No one could isolate or identify the properties that gave rise to such disorders; but it was assumed that rays belonging to the ultra-violet or infra-red ranges, and more powerful than anything hitherto discovered, were being given off by the odd substances. These rays, it was all too evident, were deleterious to human health and life.
While Lapham and Dr. Adams were still lying in hospital, fresh news-items continued to come from America. One of these items was, that two planes, driven by world-famous aviators, had tried to surmount the terrific dust-storm that still raged in Missouri. The storm, like its Saharan fellow, was about twelve thousand feet in height, and it was not thought that any difficulty would be encountered in crossing it at a sufficient altitude. Also, it was believed that some valuable data might be gathered thereby. The planes flew to an elevation of thirteen thousand before approaching the borders of the storm, but on passing above the rim of the involved area, they were both seen to disappear suddenly in a mid-air by people who were watching their flight with field glasses. neither of the planes ever returned to earth, nor could any sign of them be located.
"Fools!" cried Lapham, when he heard the news of their disappearance. "Of course, when they invaded the vertical area of the storm, they were exposed to the same disintegrative influences that are operating on the earth below. These influences, as I surmised, are coming from outer space. The planes and their aviators have been dissolved into sub-molecular dust,"
No more attempts were made to cross the storm, and a widespread exodus of people from the adjacent regions, which had been going on ever since the initial catadysm, became almost universal in the next few days. Hardly anyone remained, with the exception of a few redoutable scientists, who wished to be on the ground for purposes of investigation when the upheaval should subside.
Within a week, the storm began to lessen in height and fury, and the clouds became broken and less dense. But, as in the case of the African disturbance, there were minor agitations and upswirlings for another week or more. Then it was perceived that masses of vapor were replacing the dust; and a solid canopy of pearly-gray cloud was soon formed above the whole region. All around this region, the winter snows were buried beneath a mile-wide zone of the sub-molecular powder.
In spite of the awful fate that had befallen the Timbuctoo caravan and the geological expedition, there wre several scientists brave enough to venture within the St. Louis area when the rising vapors gave proof that the processes of disintegration were at an end. They found the same exotic soil, the same minerals, uxietals and water that had been dis- covered in the heart of the Juf desert; but the alien plant-forms had not yet begun to appear. Some of the water was secured for analysis: apart from the usual constituents of water, it was found to contain an element oddly similar to a certain synthetic gas, more lethal than anything hith- erto devised, which had lately been invented for use in warfare. This element, however, was not decomposable into the separate elements from which its analogue had been formed by American chemists. Still another gaseous component was isolated, but could not be identified or allied with anything familiar to chemistry. Scarcely had the analysis been completed and its results given to the world, when the chemists who had undertaken the analysis, and also the investigators who had obtained the water, were all stricken down with an illness which differed in certain ways from the one that had been undergone by their Saharan predecessors. All the usual symptoms were presented; and co-incidentally there was a falling-out of all the hair on the heads, faces, limbs and bodies of those afThcted, till not even the finest down remained. Then the places where the hair had been were covered with a gray formation resembling mould. The formation, on being analyzed, was proven to consist of minute vegetable organisms which increased with remarkable fecundity and soon began to eat the skin and flesh beneath. No antiseptic could combat the ravages of the gray mould, and the victims died in atrocious agony within a few hours. It was surmised that the water must have given rise to these new symptoms, by some process of infection; but how the infection could have occurred was a mystery, since all manner of possible precautions had been taken in handling the water.
A little before the death of these hardy investigators, two singular astronomical discoveries were made. Lapham's theory that rays of an ultra-powerful type were being turned upon the earth from some ulterior source, had led to an intensive study of the neighboring planets, particularly of Mars and Venus, through the new telescopes with three hundred-inch reflectors, with which observatories in Colorado and the Spanish Pyrenees had been equipped. It was thought that the rays might be emanating from one of the planets. Mars, by this time, was definitely known to be inhabited, but little had been yet learned about Venus, on account of the cloudy envelope with which that world is surrounded. Now, under the close continual scrutiny to which it was subjected, three flashes of white light, occurring at intervals of seventy minutes and lasting for about ninety seconds, were seen to pierce the cloudy envelope, in a region not far from the equator of Venus. The three flashes emanated from the same spot. A little later during the same night, Dr. Malkin of the Colorado observatory, though all his interest was still centered upon the orb of Venus, now almost at meridian, was forced to observe within his field of vision a tiny satellite or asteroid which was apparently following the revolution of the earth. Observations were made, leading to the sensational discovery that this new satellite was no more than a thousand miles distant, and was paralleling the movement of the earth in a position exactly above the state of Missouri! Calculations revealed that it was about two hundred feet in diameter.
Dr. Malkin's two discoveries were announced to the world, and were followed the next day by a report from the Pyrenean observatory, telling of another tiny body that had been located far in the south, directly above the vapor-shrouded region in northern Africa. In size, movement and distance from the earth, this body was similar to the American satellite. The two announcements were the cause of much public excitement, and many conjectures were made as to the origin and character of the two minute bodies, whose very positions made it natural for everyone to connect them at once with the geological phenomena in the subjacent areas, It remained, however, for Roger Lapham to predict that the three flashes on Venus, observed by Dr. Malkin on the same night as his discovery of the first body would soon be followed by the appearance of three new satellites, and also by three more storms of dust in different parts of the world.
"I believe," said Lapham, "that the satellites are mechanical spheres that have been discharged from Venus, and that they contain living beings and also apparatus for the creation and use of the destructive and recompositive rays that have brought about the singular manifestations in Africa and America. The flashes that Dr. Malkin saw were doubtless caused by the discharge of new spheres. And if Venus had been under continual observation by the new telescopes, two earlier flashes would have been seen, one preceding the atomic storm in Africa and the other the storm in America. I am at a loss to understand, however, why the two spheres were not observed long ago, since it is probable that they have been within telescopic range ever since the onset of the atomic storms"
There was a great division of opinion among scientists, as well as among the general public, concerning the validity of Lapham's theory on the origin of the satellites; but no one felt any doubt regarding their problematic relation to the dust-storms and the new terrains. It was perceived that the two orbs were different in color, the African orb inclining to a ruddy tint and the American to a bluish tone. But suddenly, under Dr. Malkin's observation, two nights after the initial discovery, this latter orb took on the reddish hue of its African fellow. Lapham, on hearing of this, went so far as to venture a surmise that the changing colors of the sphere had some connection with the nature of the rays that were being emitted, and that probably the bluish color was associated with a ray promoting the integration of mineral forms, and the reddish with one that had relation to the development of vegetable life.
"What I think is," he went on, "that the people of Venus are trying to establish in certain parts of our world, the geological, botanical and meteorological conditions that prevail in their own. The establishment of such conditions is no doubt preliminary to an attempt at invasion. The Venusians, it is likely, could no more exist under the conditions that are favorable to us, than we could under theirs. Therefore, before coming to earth, they must create for themselves a suitable environment in which their colonies can land. Certainly, the hot, steaming soil and vaporous atmosphere, found in the Sahara and in Missouri, are similar to those that characterize the planet Venus."
Though some were still incredulous, or unable to realize imaginatively what was taking place, a wave of terror inundated the world at the promulgation of this surmise. Hence-forward, the cool theorizing of Lapham and other scientists went on side by side with outbursts of frantic fear and of old-time religious hysteria on the part of the multitude. No one could know when and where the weird, extra-planetary menace would strike next, nor the possible scope of its operations; and the dread anticipation of this menace became a demoralizing and paralyzing force that affected more or less the field of nearly all human activities. The men of science, the astronomers, the chemists, the physicists, the inventors, the electricians, the medical brotherhood, were the only classes of society who, as a whole, went about their usual work with a quickening rather than a slackening of their faculties. Researches were rapidly begun in laboratories all over the world, to find medical agents that would be efficacious in fighting the new diseases caused by contact with the Venusian minerals, air, water, and vegetable forms; and in spite of the certain danger, many excursions were made into the vapor-hidden terrains to procure the needful substances for study in the various laboratories. The tale of resultant death and suffering was long and sad, and testified to the undauntable heroism of human scientists. Also, a number of inventors, who had long sought the secret of a process by which molecules and atoms could be broken up and re-integrated on a large scale, now redoubled their efforts in the hope of enabling humanity to combat the probable conversion of wide areas of the earth into foreign atomic patterns.
Four days after the publication of Lapham's latest prophecy, there caine the news of the three fresh storms he had predicted, at intervals of little more than an hour. The first storm was in Mesopotamia, and Baghdad and Mosul were both lost in the towering columns of infinitesimal powder. The Tigris continued to flow into the area of the storm, but on the southern side it instantly ceased to run and soon became a dry bed till its junction with the Euphrates. The second storm occurred in the Black Forest, in Germany, and the third on the huge pampas of the Argentine. A new satellite, of a sulphur-yellow hue, was located above Germany by the Pyrenean telescope, as well as by those of many other observatories. The satellite above Mesopotamia was too far east to be within range of European astronomers; but the astonomers of two observatories in the Andes were successful in locating the Argentine body, which was also of a sulphur-yellow hue. This color, it was thought, might be associated with the production and use of the disintegrative ray.
The progress of a growing international panic was of course accelerated by the announcement of the new storms and satellites. People fled in numberless hordes from the neighborhood of the three disturbances, and grave social and economic conditions were created by this exodus. Certain industries were well-nigh paralyzed, traffic by air and land and water was seriously disordered; and the stockmarket of the world was thrown into dire confusion, many standard stocks becoming suddenly worthless. Even at this early stage of the Venusian encroachment, there were many consequences of a far-reaching and oftentimes unexpected order, in all realms of mortal existence and effort.
All of the visible satellites were kept under close observation. On the night following the discovery of the sulphur-yellow orb above the Black Forest, it was found that the ruddy Saharan satellite had disappeared from its station; and no clue to its whereabouts could be obtained till the arrival of rumors from Timbuctoo and Ghadames, telling of a strange meteor that had fallen in broad daylight upon the region of massed vapors in El Juf. It had been watched by many desert tribesmen, by several caravans, and had been visible at a great distance, falling with preternatural and deliberate slowness, in a vertical line. It had seemed to descend for nearly a minute before dropping into the vapors. Its color was a bright silver, it was round in form, and had not left the usual trail of flame that is made by a large meteor. The desert peoples looked upon it as a portent, foretelling the advent of Iblees and his demons.
"The first Venusian colony has landed," exdaimed Lapham, when these rumors were brought to him. "They have no doubt completd their evolutionary process, or have carried it to a degree that would render the African terrain inhabitable from their viewpoint."
While ablect fear prevailed among the multitudes of humanity, and while scientists were engaged in eager speculation as to the nature of the Venusians, the rays employed by them, and the manner in which their spheres had been propelled through space and held in suspension above the earth, a number of new flashes were perceived on Venus by the vigilant astronomers of Colorado and Spain. No less than nine of these flashes were detected at the customary intervals on the same night, and on the following night there were nine more. Others, however, must have occurred during the daylight hours, for within five days, in no less than thirty additional storms of atomic dust were reported from all over the world.
The areas of many were conterminate with the regions already affected, and were destined to extend enormously these regions; but many others were remotely scattered, and were to form independent neuclei for future manifestations. There were three storms in Australia, seven in Africa, six in Europe, six in Asia, five in the United States, and three in South America. Many more satellites, all of a sulphur-yellow hue, were located by astronomers above the realms of devastation that were being established. The destruction wrought was appalling in its scope, for a dozen great cities and hundreds of towns in thickly peopled in regions were turned into cosmic powder by the disintegrating force. Berlin, Vienna, Florence, Teheran, Jerusalem, Kabul, Samarkand, Chicago, Kansas City, St. Paul and Pittsburgh, had become in an instant no more
than memories. The Argentine tract was lengthening toward Buenous Aires; and the ravages in northern Africa had been extended as far as Lake Tchad, which had contributed a cloud of fine steam, twenty thousand feet in height, to the whirling tempest of minute sand-particles. Even amid the universal horror and confusion, it was noted that nearly all the storms were in regions remote from the terrestrial seaboard. Lapham, on being appealed to for an explanation of this fact, made the following statement:
"The process that is being carried on must inevitably be slow and gradual, on account of its tremendous magnitude; and many years will doubtless be required for its completion. The Venusians have selected inland areas for the nudei of the geological and climatic metamorphosis, because the new atmospheres created above such areas will less readily be subject to immediate modification by the terrene oceans. However, if I am not mistaken, the seas themselves will eventually be attacked and will be vaporized and recondensed with the addition of elements favorable to the maintenance of Venusian air. The full extension of this latter process, on account of the lethal gases inherent-in such air, will prove fatal to all remaining animal, or perhaps even plant, life of terrene origin, even if the geological changes are left incomplete."
Absolute madness and pandemonium were the concomitants of the thirty new storms. From the vicinity of all the centers involved. unending throngs of people poured in all directions toward the littorals of five continents. The entire shipping of the world, both naval and aerial, was laden with men, women, and children who sought to flee the planetary peril; and those who were not fortunate enough to find room on any of the vessels, leapt into the surf or were driven from piers, cliffs and beaches by the pressure of the crowds behind. Innumerable thousands were drowned, while the streams of refugees came on day by day, night by night, utterly cried with insensate terror, and more of the deadly satellites were appearing and more storms were being instituted. Town after town, city after city, countryside after countryside, was emptied of its inhabitants, hordes of whom were caught in the onset of additional upheavals. Heroic efforts were made by the police and military forces of all the nations, but not much could be done, beyond organizing many of the North American, European and Asiatic throngs for migration toward the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions.
In the midst of all this pandemonium and destruction, however, the laboratories of the world continued their investigations, though one by one many of them were lost in the molecular catadysms. When the progress of the tracts of devastation became more and more extensive, the chemists, inventors, and various other experimenters concluded that it would be folly to remain any longer at their present posts. It was thought, from the general distribution of the storms, that the Antarctic cirde would be the last portion of the globe that the invader would attack; and the scientists of all countries, uniting in a common cause, made immediate preparation to remove their equipments and build laboratories in the heart of the polar plateau. The work of removal, through the aid of giant airliners, was completed in an amazingly short period of time, though there were certain casualties and losses through the passage of planes above fresh regions that were being assailed by destructive rays.
Enough provisions for several years were carried along, and of course the wives and families of the various investigators accompanied them, as well as many thousands of people who were needed for work of a less expert, but essential, order. Whole towns of laboratories, as well as other buildings, were reected amid the Antarctic wastes, while the airliners returned to fetch more people and more supplies. The scientific colonies were joined by the passengers of hundreds of fugitive air-vessels that had been wandering above the seas; and soon a goodly remnant of every nation had found shelter behind the southern barriers of ice and snow. Something was also done to house and provision the hordes that had fled to the north; and as much communication as possible was kept up between the two streams of humanity.
Roger Lapham, who was now in a state of tolerable convalescence, was invited to join the colonies of investigators, and went south in one of the first air-liners. He had wished to lead another expedition into northern Africa, with the idea of again penetrating the Juf, where the supposed meteor had been seen to descend, but was finally dissuaded from this rash plan when word came that the African terrain was now surrounded on all sides by violent upheavals, one of which had destroyed Timbuctoo.
To the colonies about the southern pole, there came the daily news of how the fearful work of planetary destruction and reintegration was progressing, from radio operators who were brave enough to remains at their posts till an unresponding silence offered proof that they had been annihilated one by one with the realms in which their stations had stood. The Venusian soil and air, with outlying fringes of atomic dissolution, were spreading like a series of cancers through the five continents, through regions that were almost emptied of human life by this time. The heavens were filled with the tiny satellites of changing colors, a score of which had descended to earth and had not been seen to rise again. What their occupants might now be doing was a mystery that intrigued all of the scientific fraternity. They felt the need of definite knowledge regarding these alien life-forms, who were obviously possessed of a high type of intelligence, and who displayed mechanical resources and a mastery of physics to which humanity had not yet attamed.
A radio dispatch from a lonely village in southern Florida brought to the Antarctic laboratories the news that one of the silver spheres, had been seen close at hand by human beings for the first time. An orange- grower who had refused to abandon his plantation at the flight. of nearly all his neighbors, with his twelve-year-old son, who had remained with him, had observed the sphere flying toward them within a mile of the earth's surface, in a south-easterly direction. Apparently it had emerged from a partially converted tract involving Kentucky, Tennessee, and the northern borders of Alabama, where more than one of the spheres had already been known to land. The thing was flying slowly, at less than thirty miles an hour when first noticed; and it came gently to earth within three hundred yards of the orange-grower and his son, close to the edge of the orchard. The sphere seemed to be made of some whitish metal, was perfectly round, was at least two hundred feet in diameter, and had no visible projections anywhere. It resembled a miniature world or moon. When it appioadied the ground, a sort of framework consisting of four tripods of the same whitish metal, issued or unfolded from the sphere and served to support it when it came to rest. In this position, the lower part of the globe was no more than fifteen or twenty feet from the ground. A circular trap or man-hole opened in the bottom, and from this a stairway of metal steps was let down to earth. Seven creatures of an unearthly type descended the stairs forthwith and proceeded to examine their environment with all the air of a party of investigating scientists. They were perhaps four feet in height, with globular bodies; and they possessed three short legs and four extremely supple and jointless arms that issued from the side and back of smaller globes that were presumably their heads. These arms were all long enough to reach the earth, and were used to a certain extent in locomotion and the maintenance of equilibrium. The creatures were either equipped with natural coverings like the shards of insects or else they wore some kind of armor or suiting made of red and green metals, for they glittered gorgeously in the sunlight. The orange-grove seemed to interest them greatly, for they broke off several boughs laden with ripe fruit and one of their number forthwith carried the boughs into the sphere, holding them aloft with two of his odd arms. The other six roamed about the country-side and vanished from view for awhile, returning in less than an hour with numerous plant specimens and also with pieces of furniture, human clothing, and tin cans, which they must have collected from the buildings on some deserted plantation. They re-entered the sphere, the metal stairway was drawn up, the trap was closed, and the great orb retracted its four tripods and flew away toward the ocean at an increased rate of speed that would soon bring it to the Bahama Islands. The orange-grower and his son, who had hid them- selves behind a pile of empty lug-boxes and had scarcely dared to move for fear of attracting the Venusians' attention, now hurried to the local radio station, where the operator was still on duty, and sent a detailed report of what they had seen to the Antarctic laboratories.
A little later, the sphere was sighted from the Bahamas, but apparently it did not pause on any of these islands. Still later it was observed from Haiti, San Domingo, Martinique and the Barbadoes. Then it landed near Cayenne, where natives were captured by the Venusians and taken aboard the sphere. Then the thing continued its south-easterly flight and was seen far out at sea from Pernambuco. An hour afterward it was sighted from St. Helena, and then it changed its course and flew directly south. It passed above Tristan de Cunha and disappeared from human observation for two days. Then a biplane, flying from the Sand wich Islands to the Antarctic, found the great orb floating in the sea, and reported this fact to the united scientists. It was at once surmised that the occupants had fallen ill and were perhaps dead, or at least were no longer able to operate the propulsive and levitative mechanism.
"Immediate contact with our soil and atmosphere," said Lapham, "has no doubt proved as dangerous to these beings as our own excursions into terrains formed after a Venusian pattern were dangerous to us. Probably they were a group of scientists who desired to gather data regarding terrestrial conditions, and were willing to chance the bodily peril."
Great excitement prevailed at the news of this find, and three armored planes with heavy guns and a supply of explosives were sent to watch the floating sphere. The huge orb was half-submerged in the water; and no sign of life, no movement other than that of natural drifting, was detectible. At length, after some hesitation, the crew of the planes decided to fire a seven-inch shell at the exposed portion, even at the risk of shattering machinery that might prove of intense interest and value to humanity. To the surprise of everyone, the shell made no impression on the sphere, beyond denting its side a little and increasing the speed of its drift along the waters. Finally it was resolved to tow the thing to land. On being approached, it revealed a number of small circular and oval windows, filled with semi-translucent materials of green, amber and violet. It was beached on one of the South Shetland Islands, After vain attempts with milder explosives, the trap in the bottom was blasted open with thorite, a terriblc ncw compound of solidified gases, with which whole mountains had been shattered. Evidently, the metal of the sphere was stronger and harder than any substance found or invented by human beings, and it was likewise ascertained to be heavier.
When the fumes of the explosion had cleared away, several scientists entered the sphere by means of a ladder. Much damage had been done by the thorite, and certain highly intricate mechanisms around the trap were hopelessly mined, to the extreme regret of the investigators. But the body of the sphere, and its contents, were still intact. The interior was divided into a great number of curious compartments with octagonal walls, and had probably accommodated more than a thousand of the interplanetary voyagers on its trip to the earth. A large room above the trap opened off into three others of equally capacious extent, filled with machinery whose use and method of operation could not easily be determined. In the center of each room there stood an enormous contrivance made of about fifty metal cubes all joined together by means of heavy quadrangular rods. These rods, in turn, were all correlated by single-stranded wires of varying thickness, forming a huge net. Three different metals, all un familiar, were noted in the composition of the cubes, rods and wires in the different rooms. From each of the central engineries there issued great curving tubes that ramified into scores of smaller tubes arching the roof of the room in all directions and terminating in series of no less than ten key-boards with many square and sphere-like knobs that were placed in a sort of elaborate rotation. The key-boards were attached to the walls. Before each of the circular windows, a device resembling a gigantic trumpet, with a hundred-angled lens of some glass-like material in its mouth, upreared from a tube that ran directly to the core of the cube-contrivance. The windows in each room were of a different color; and none of them, as well as none of the other windows in the sphere, was clearly permeable to human vision. On the outside of the sphere, opposite the large apartments, were found three disks that had a vague likeness to radio transmitters. All three were connected with the interior mechanism. It was imagined that these mechanisms were the source of the various rays employed in molecular dissolution and re-construction.
Also it was thought that the machinery wrecked by the thorite had served to propel and levitate the sphere.
After examining the apparatus in the large rooms, the scientist began an investigation of the smaller apartments, most of which had evidently been used as living-quarters. The beds and furniture were truly strange. The former were round, shallow tubs, lined with down-like materials of incredible resiliency, in which the globe-like bodies of the invaders had reposed, with their arms depending over the sides or coiled close to their trunks. There were eating-rooms where, in metal troughs divided into bowl-like compartments, were the remains of bizarre and unidentifiable foods. The ceilings of the rooms were all low, in proportion to the stature of their inmates, and the investigators were often compelled to stoop. Mechanical resource and even luxury were manifest on every hand, and there were many special devices, of unknown use and operation, that had probably ministered to the comfort of these odd beings.
After a number of rooms had been explored, a terrific stench was perceived, emanating through an open door: The bodies of six Venusians were found lying together where they had died, on the floor of what appeared to be a kind of laboratory. The place was filled with test-tubes of unfamiliar forms and materials and with all manner of scientific apparatus that aroused the interest and envy of the terrene investigators. The Venusians, when stricken, had manifestly been engaged in dissecting the body of one of the natives captured in Guiana, which was stretched and tied down on an operating table. They had flayed the dead Indian from head to foot and had laid open his entire viscera. The corpse of his companion was never found; but the contents of a number of tubes, on analysis, were discovered to represent the sundry chemical elements of which the human body is composed. Other tubes contained in solution, the elements of oranges and of other terrestrial fruits and plant-forms.
The dead Venusians were no longer clothed in the gorgeous green and red shards that the Florida planter had reported them as wearing. They were quite naked, with bodies and limbs of a dark-gray color. Their skin was without any sign of hair and was divided into rudimentary scales or plates, suggesting that they had evolved from a reptiliain ancestor of some unearthly type. But nothing else in their anatomy was denotive of the reptile, or, indeed, of any terrene mammalian form Their long, curving arms and round bodies with neckless, globular heads offered a vague hint of enormous tarantulas. The heads were equipped with two small, sucker-like mouths protruding from the lower part, and were without anything that suggested aural or nasal organs. They had a series of short, retractile appendages, arranged at regular intervals about their whole circumference above the beginning of the four arms. In the end of each appendage was an eye-ball with many crystal-like facets, and every eye-ball was of a different color and possessed a different formation and disposition of facets.
On re-examining the mass of wrecked machinery, the seventh Venusian was found. His body had been blown into fragments and buried under a heap of twisted tubes and wires and disks. Apparently, when stricken down by the same illness as the others, he had been guiding the course of the great orb, and, perhaps in falling or in the throes of his culminative agony, had stopped the working of the propulsive mechanism. It was learned that all the Venusians had been slain by certain streptococci, comparatively harmless to human beings, with which they had been infected through contact with the dead Indians.
The finding and opening of the sphere created supreme interest and even aroused much hope among the united scientists. It was felt that if the principle of the disintegrative and reconstructive rays could be ascertained, much might be done to reconquer earth, or, at least, to stem the Venusian encroachments. But the three mechanisms of cubes, tubes and wires, and their manifold key-boards, baffled all ingenuity and all the mechanical science of the investigators for a long while. In the meantime, all those who had entered the sphere were smitten with unearthly diseases, and many died or were incapacitated for the remainder of their lives.
Weeks and months went by and lengthened somehow into a year. The metamorphosis of earth had gone slowly on, though after a term of three months no more of the deadly satellites had appeared from outer space. Lapham and others conjectured that perhaps the invasion from Venus had been undertaken with the sole idea of relieving a problem of over-population and had ceased with the solving of this problem. More than two hundred of the metal spheres had fallen under observation; and allowing only a thousand occupants for each, it was estimated that at least two hundred thousand of the hostile foreign entities had taken up their abode on earth. After partially converting all the continents, many of the spheres, as Lapham had predicted, were now attacking the seas, and immense storms of vapor were reported daily from the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. Even in the polar realms, the inevitable climatic and atmospheric changes were being felt. The air was already warmer and moister, and deleterious elements were invading it at the same time, causing a gradual increase of pulmonary maladies among the survivors of the human race.
However, in spite of all this, the situation had begun to present a few hopeful factors. Invention, beneath the spur of dread necessity, had made new progress, and some valuable scientific discoveries had occurred. Machinery for the direct utiliaation and conservation of solar energy on a large scale had been perfected, and gigantic refractors had been devised, by which the heat of the sun could be magnified and con centrated. With these refractors, large areas of eternal ice and snow were melted away, revealing a rich soil that was now utilized for agriculture and horticulture. With the resultant amelioration of living-conditions, humanity proceeded to entrench itself firmly and with a fair degree of comfort, in regions that had once been deemed altogether uninhabitable.
Another valuable invention was a televisual instrument of range and power beyond anything hitherto devised, by which, without the aid of a transmitting-apparatus, sight-images could be picked up at any terrene distance. The use of a well-known ray in connection with this invention, made it possible to penetrate the vaporous air that enshrouded the new terrains, and to watch the habits, movements and daily life of the invaders. In this way, much astounding knowledge was soon acquired concerning them. Tt was found that they had built many cities, of a peruliar squat type of architecture, in which some of the buildings were septangular and octagonal and others were cylinder-like or spherical in form. The cities were wrought of synthetic minerals and metals, and all the houses were connected by tubes which were employed for purposes of traffic. Passengers, or any desired article, could be shot through them to a given point in a few instants. The buildings were illumined with lamps made of radio-active materials. The Venusians had also begun the growing of ultra-terrestrial fruits and vegetables and the breeding of certain creatures that were more like gigantic insects than animals. The vegetables were mainly fungoid, were of prodigious siac and complicated structure, and many of them were grown in artificial caverns beneath the stimulation of green and amber rays produced from orb-like mechanisms.
The habits and customs of the Venusians differed, as might be imag ined, from those of human beings. It was learned that they required very little sleep, two or three hours being enough for the majority of theni. Also, they did not eat more than once in four days. After their meals, they were very torpid for half a day and did not engage in much activity. This, in the eyes of many scientists, gave support to the theory that they had evolved from a reptilian form. They were bi-sexual; and, in further support of the above theory, their young were hatched from eggs. Apart from the vegetables aforementioned, their foods consisted of a great number of substances formed through chemical processes of a recondite order. They had a sort of pictorial art, of a geometric type resembling cubism, and a written literature that seemed to be concerned mainly with scientific and mathematical problems. It could not be found that any religious customs or rites were observed among them; and their trend of mind was predominantly scientific and mechanical. They had evolved a purely materialistic civilization and had carried it to a point far beyond that of the earth-peoples. Their knowledge of chemistry, physics, mathematics and all other branches of science, was so profound that it seemed well-nigh supernatural. The sundry instruments, tools and engines that they employed were a source of perpetual marvel to human inventors. There were optical instruments with a series of revolving lenses arranged above each other in metal frames, by means of which they apparently studied the heavens, in spite of the cloudy pall that hung forever upon their dominions. It was thought, however, that perhaps their myriad-faceted eyes were more or less televisual and could penetrate many materials impervious to human sight. In support of this theory, the semi-opaque windows of the fallen sphere were recalled.
That which evoked the keenest interest, was the type of mechanism they had invented for the amplification of all sorts of cosmic rays, of solar light itself and even the most delicate and imperceptible emanations in the spectrum of remote stars. By a process of repercussion and concentration, such rays were compelled to afford power beyond that of steam or electricity. The magnified vibrations were employed in the breaking-up of atoms and in their re-construction. The breaking-up, it was soon learned, could be done in more than one way, according to the intensity of the vibration used.
By means of the higher vibrations, a terrific explosion could be caused in destroying one or two molecules and reducing them to their ultimate electrons. But the milder vibrations caused a more slow and incomplete explosion, in which the atom-formation was partially destroyed. This latter process was the one that had been used as a preliminary to the transformation of the world. Smaller mechanisms of a kind similar to those in the silver globe were in common use among the invaders, and all their air-vehicles, industrial machinery and various other appliances were run with power derived from the explosion of atoms by amplified cosmic rays. By watching the actual employment of these mechanisms, human scientists learned how the machinery in the derelict sphere had been operated. Also, the changing colors of the satellites were explained, for it was perceived that the generation of the various rays was accompanied by the production of an aura of color about the transmitting mechanism. As Lapham had surmised, yellow was the tone of destruction, blue the tint of mineral evolution, and red the hue of vegetable growth.
The invisibility of the two first spheres for a long period, was like wise explained, when it was learned that the Venusians could use at will, in connection with the other vibrations, a vibration that neutralized these customary colors. Probably, through motives of natural cau tion, they had wished to remain invisible, till observation had convinced them that nothing was to be feared from the world they were attacking.
Now, with the knowledge acquired from their monstrous foes, human inventors were able to create similar machinery for destroying atoms and for re-constructing them in any desired pattern. Enormous planes were built and were fitted with this machinery, and a war of titanic destruction soon began. The Venusian territories of Australia were attacked by a fleet of four hundred planes, which succeeded in annihilating several of the metal spheres, as well as two cities of the enemy, and turned many hundred miles of vapor-covered land into a seething chaos of primeval dust. The invaders were totally unprepared, for evidently they had despised their human enemies and had not thought it worth while to watch their movemcnts and activitics at any time. Befoe they could rally, the planes had passed on to the shores of Asia, and had inflicted much damage in the Mesopotamian terrain.
At the present time, after twenty years of a warfare more stupendous than anything in human history, a fair amount of territory has been regained, in spite of terrible reprisals on the part of the Venusians. But the issue is still in doubt, and may not be decided for hundreds of years to come. The invaders are well-entrenched, and if re-enforcement should ever arrive from Venus, the tide may turn against humanity. The real hope lies in their limited number, and in the fact that they are not thriving physically in their new environment and are slowly becoming sterile as well as subject to a multitude of maladies, due, doubtless, to the incomplete conversion of the earth and its atmosphere and the tendency of tellurian atom-structures to re-establish themselves, even apart from the re-integration carried on by scientists. On the other hand, the vitiation of our seas and air by the introduction of deadly gases is not favorable to human life, and the powers of medical science are not yet able to cope fully with the unusual problems offered.
Roger Lapham, whose clear, logical brain and prophetic insight have always been a source of inspiration to his fellows, has died lately and is mourned by all. But his spirit still prevails; and even if humanity should lose in the long and catastrophic warfare with an alien foe, the tale of mortal existence and toil and suffering will not have been told in vain.