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The Landing Of The Invaders

From: The Fire People

March 8, 1941, was the date at which Mercury was again to be in inferior
conjunction--at her closest point to the earth since her transit over the
face of the sun on November 11 of the previous year. During
February--after Professor Newland's statements--the subject received a
tremendous amount of publicity. Some scientific men rallied to Professor
Newland's support; others scouted the idea as absurd.

Officially, the governments of the world ignored the matter entirely. In
general, the press, editorially, wrote in a humorous vein, conjuring up
many ridiculous possibilities of what was about to happen. The public
followed this lead. It was amused, interested to a degree; but, as a mass,
neither apprehensive nor serious--only curious.

In some parts of the earth--among the smaller Latin nations
particularly--some apprehension was felt. But even so, no one knew what to
do about it--where to go to avoid the danger--for the attack, if it came
at all, was as likely to strike one country as another.

The first week in March arrived with public interest steadily increasing.
Mercury, always difficult of observation, presented no spectacle for the
public gaze and imagination to feed upon. But, all over the world, there
were probably more eyes turned toward the setting and rising sun during
that week than ever had been turned there before.

Professor Newland issued no more statements after that evening I have
described. He was taken with a severe cold in the latter part of February,
and as Beth was in delicate health and did not stand the Northern winters
well, the whole family left for a few months' stay at their bungalow home
in Florida. They were quite close to the little village of Bay Head, on
the Gulf coast. I kept in communication with them there.

The 8th of March came and passed without a report from any part of the
earth of the falling of the Mercutian meteors. Satirical comment in the
press doubled. There was, indeed, no scientific report of any unusual
astronomical phenomena, except from the Harvard observatory the following
morning. There Professor Newland's assistant, Professor Brighton, stated
he had again observed a new "star"--an interplanetary vehicle, as
Professor Newland described it. Only a single one had been observed this
time. It was seen just before dawn of the 9th.

Then, about 4 P.M., Atlantic time, on the afternoon of the 9th, the world
was electrified by the report of the landing of invaders in the United
States. The news came by wireless from Billings, Montana. An
interplanetary vehicle of huge size had landed on the desert in the
Shoshone River district of northern Wyoming, west of the Big Horn

This strange visitor--it was described as a gleaming, silvery object
perhaps a hundred feet in diameter--had landed near the little Mormon
settlement of Byron. The hope that its mission might be friendly was
dispelled even in the first report from Billings. The characteristic red
and green light-fire had swept the country near by--a horizontal beam this
time--and the town of Byron was reported destroyed, and in all likelihood
with the loss of its entire population.

The Boston Observer sent me to Billings almost immediately by
quadruplane. I arrived there about eight o'clock on the evening of the
10th. The city was in a turmoil. Ranchers from the neighboring cattle
country thronged its streets. A perfect exodus of people--Mormons and oil
men from Shoshone country, almost the entire populations of Cody, Powell,
Garland, and other towns near the threatened section, the Indians from the
Crow Reservation at Frannie--all were streaming through Billings.

The Wyoming State Airplane Patrol, gathered in a squadron by orders from
Cheyenne, occasionally passed overhead, flashing huge white searchlights.
I went immediately to the office of the Billings Dispatch. It was so
crowded I could not get in. From what I could pick up among the excited,
frightened people of Billings, and the various bulletins that the
Dispatch had sent out during the day, the developments of the first
twenty-four hours of Mercutian invasion were these:

Only a single "vehicle"--we called it that for want of a better name--had
landed. Airplane observation placed its exact position on the west bank of
the Shoshone River, about four miles southwest of Byron and the same
distance southeast of Garland. The country here is typically that of the
Wyoming desert--sand and sagebrush--slightly rolling in some places, with
occasional hills and buttes.

The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad runs down its spur from the
Northern Pacific near Billings, passes through the towns of Frannie--near
the border of Montana and Wyoming--and Garland, and terminates at Cody.
This line, running special trains throughout the day, had brought up a
large number of people. During the afternoon a bomb of some kind--it was
vaguely described as a variation of the red and green light-rays--had
destroyed one of the trains near Garland. The road was now open only down
to Frannie.

The town of Byron, I learned, was completely annihilated. It had been
swept by the Mercutian Light and destroyed by fire. Garland was as yet
unharmed. There was broken country between it and the Mercutian invaders,
and the rays of the single light which they were using could not reach it

Such, briefly, was the situation as I found it that evening of the 10th.
In Billings we were sixty-five miles north of the Mercutian landing place.
What power for attack and destruction the enemy had, we had no means of
determining. How many of them there were; how they could travel over the
country; what the effective radius of their light-fire was; the nature of
the "bomb" that had destroyed the train on the C., B. and Q. near the town
of Garland--all those were questions that no one could answer.

Billings was, during those next few days, principally a gathering place
and point of departure for refugees. Yet, so curiously is the human mind
constituted, underneath all this turmoil the affairs of Billings went on
as before. The stores did not close; the Billings Dispatch sent out its
reports; the Northern Pacific trains from east and west daily brought
their quota of reporters, picture men and curiosity seekers, and took away
all who had sense enough to go. The C., B. and Q. continued running trains
to Frannie--which was about fifteen miles from the Mercutian landing
place--and many of the newspaper men, most of those, in fact, who did not
have airplanes, went there.

That first evening in Billings, Rolland Mercer--a chap about my own age,
who had brought me from the East in one of the Boston Observer's
planes--and I, decided on a short flight about the neighboring country to
look the situation over. We started about midnight, a crisp, cloudless
night with no moon. We had been warned against venturing into the danger
zone; several of the Wyoming patrol and numbers of private planes had been
seen to fall in flames when the light struck them.

We had no idea what the danger zone was--how close we dared go--but
decided to chance it. To fly sufficiently high for safety directly over
the Mercutians appeared difficult, since the light-fire already had proven
effective at a distance of several miles at least. We decided not to
attempt that, but merely to follow the course of the C., B. and Q.
southwest to Cody, then to circle around to the east, and thence back
north to Billings, passing well to the east of the Mercutians.

We started, as I have said, about midnight, rising from the rolling
prairie back of Billings. We climbed five hundred feet and, with our
searchlight playing upon the ground beneath, started directly for Frannie.
We passed over Frannie at about eight hundred feet, and continued on the
C., B. and Q. line toward Garland. We had decided to pass to a
considerable extent to the west of Garland, to be farther away from the
danger, and then to strike down to Cody.

We were flying now at a speed close to a hundred and forty miles an hour.
Off to the left I could see the red and green beam of the single light of
the Mercutians; it was pointing vertically up into the air, motionless.
Something--I do not know what--made me decide to turn off our searchlight.

I looked behind us. Some miles away, and considerably nearer the
Mercutians than we were, I saw the light of another plane. I was watching
it when suddenly the red and green beam swung toward it, and a moment
later picked it up. I caught a fleeting glimpse of what I took to be a
little biplane. It remained for an instant illuminated by the weird red
and green flare; then the Mercutian Light swung back to its vertical
position. A second later the biplane burst into flames and fell.

The thing left me shuddering. I turned our searchlight permanently off and
sat staring down at the shadowy country scurrying away beneath us.

Mercer had evidently not seen this tragedy. He did not look at me, but
kept facing the front. We were now somewhat to the west of Garland, with
it between us and the Mercutians. The few lights of the town could be seen
plainly. The country beneath us seemed fairly level. To the west, half a
mile away, perhaps, I could make out a sheer, perpendicular wall of rock.
We seemed to be flying parallel with it and about level with its top.

We were rising a little, I think, when suddenly our engines stopped. I
remember it flashed through my mind to wonder how Mercer would dare shut
them off when we were flying so low. The sudden silence confused me a
little. I started to ask him if he had seen the biplane fall, when he
swung back abruptly and gripped me by the arm.

"Turn on the light--you fool--we've got to land!"

I fumbled with the searchlight. Then, just as I turned the switch, I saw,
rising from a point near the base of the Mercutian Light, what appeared to
be a skyrocket.

It rose in a long, graceful arc, reached the top of its ascent, and came
down, still flaming. I remember deciding it would fall in or near Garland.

It seemed to go out just before it landed--at least I did not follow it
all the way down. Then there came a flash as though a huge quantity of red
and green smokeless powder had gone off in a puff; a brief instant of
darkness, and then flames rose from a hundred points in the little town.
The next second our wheels ground in the sand.

I heard a splintering crash; something struck me violently on the
shoulder; then--blackness.

Next: The Meeting

Previous: The Unknown Enemy

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