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The Meeting







From: The Fire People

Professor Newland and his family were living in seclusion in their Florida
home at the time the Mercutian invaders landed in Wyoming. The curious
events in Florida, which connected them so directly with the invasion and
caused Alan later to play so vital a part in it, are so important that I
am impelled to relate them chronologically, rather than as they were told
me afterward by Alan and Beth.

When, on March 9, the news that the Mercutians had landed in Wyoming
reached Professor Newland, he immediately established telegraphic
communication with Harvard. Thus he was kept fully informed on the
situation--indeed, he saw it as a whole far better than I did.

On March 12, three days after the landing, orders from Washington were
given out, regulating all passenger transportation in the direction of the
danger zone. One hundred miles was the limit set. State troops were placed
on all trains, State roads were likewise guarded, and the State airplane
patrols united in a vigilant effort to keep outside planes from getting
in. On the 13th the President of the United States issued an appeal to all
persons living within the hundred-mile limit, asking them to leave.

On March 14 the Canadian government offered its assistance in any way
possible--its Saskatchewan airplane patrol was already helping Montana
maintain the hundred-mile limit. Similar offers were immediately made by
nearly every government in the world.

Such were the first main steps taken to safeguard the people.

By March 14 the actual conditions of affairs in the threatened section of
Wyoming was fairly well known. The town of Garland was destroyed by fire
on the night of the 10th, and the towns of Mantua and Powell--north and
south of Garland respectively--the following morning. On the evening of
the 11th a government plane, flying without lights, sacrificed itself in
an attempt to drop a bomb into the Mercutian camp. It was caught by the
light when almost directly over the Mercutians, and was seen to fall in
flames.

It was estimated that the single light was controlling an area with a
radius of about ten miles. To the south and west there was practically
nothing but desert. To the west Garland, Mantua and Powell were burned. To
the north Deaver and Crowley--on another branch of the C., B. and Q.,
about ten miles from the Mercutians--were as yet unharmed. They were,
however, entirely deserted by the 15th.

During these days the Mercutians did not move from their first landing
place. Newspaper speculation regarding their capabilities for offensive
action ran rife. Perhaps they could not move. They appeared to possess but
one ray of light-fire; this had an effective radius of ten miles. The only
other offensive weapon shown was the rocket, or bomb, that had destroyed
the C., B. and Q. train near Garland and the town itself. Reports differed
as to what had set fire to the town of Powell.

All these points were less than ten miles away from the Mercutian base.
Obviously, then, the danger was grossly exaggerated. The unknown invaders
could safely and easily be shelled by artillery from a much greater
distance. Mercury had passed inferior conjunction; no other Mercutian
vehicles had been reported as landing anywhere on the earth. A few days,
and the danger would be over. Thus the newspapers of the country settled
the affair.

On March 14th it was announced that General Price would conduct the
military operations against the Mercutians. Press dispatches
simultaneously announced that troops, machine guns and artillery were
being rushed to Billings. This provoked a caustic comment from the
Preparedness League of America, to the effect that no military operations
of any offensive value could be conducted by the United States against
anybody or anything.

This statement was to some extent true. During the twenty years that had
elapsed since the World War armament of all kinds had fallen into disuse.
Few improvements in offensive weapons had been made. The military
organization and equipment of the United States, and, indeed, that of many
of the other great powers, was admittedly inadequate to cope with any very
powerful enemy.

Professor Newland telegraphed to the War Department at Washington on the
14th, stating that in his opinion new scientific measures would have to be
devised to deal with this enemy, and that whatever scientific knowledge he
had on the subject was at their disposal at their request. To this
telegram the government never replied.

It was a day or two after that--on the morning of the 16th, to be
exact--that the next most important development in this strange affair
took place. Alan Newland rose that morning at dawn and took his launch for
a trip up one of the neighboring bayous. He was alone, and intended to
fish for an hour or so and return home in time for breakfast.

He went, perhaps, three miles up the winding little stream. Then, just
after sunrise, he shut off the motor and drifted silently along. The bayou
split into two streams here, coming together again a quarter of a mile
farther on, and thus forming a little island. It was just past the point
of this island that Alan shut off his motor.

He had been sitting quiet several minutes preparing his tackle, when his
eye caught something moving behind the dark green of the magnolia trees
hanging over the low banks of the island. It seemed to be a flicker of red
and white some five feet above the ground. Instinctively he reached for
the little rifle he had brought with him to shoot at it, thinking it might
be a bird, although he had never seen one before of such a color.

A moment later, in the silence, he heard a rustling of the palmettos near
the bank of the bayou. He waited, quiet, with the rifle across his knees.
His launch was still moving forward slowly from the impetus of the motor.
And then, quite suddenly, he came into sight of the figure of a girl
standing motionless beside a tree on the island a few feet back from the
water and evidently watching him.

Alan was startled. He knew there was no one living on the island. There
were, in fact, few people at all in the vicinity--only an occasional negro
shack or the similar shack of the "poor white trash," and a turpentine
camp, several miles back in the pines.

But it was not the presence of the girl here on the island at daybreak
that surprised him most, but the appearance of the girl herself. He sat
staring at her dumbly, wondering if he were awake or dreaming. For the
girl--who otherwise might have appeared nothing more than an
extraordinarily beautiful young female of this earth, somewhat
fantastically dressed--the girl had wings!

He rubbed his eyes and looked again. There was no doubt about it--they
were huge, deep-red feathered wings, reaching from her shoulder blades
nearly to the ground. She took a step away from the tree and flapped them
once or twice idly. Alan could see they would measure nearly ten feet from
tip to tip when outstretched. His launch had lost its forward motion now,
and for the moment was lying motionless in the sluggish bayou. Hardly
fifty feet separated him from the girl.

Her eyes stared into his for a time--a quiet, curious stare, with no hint
of fear in it. Then she smiled. Her lips moved, but the soft words that
reached him across the water were in a language he could not understand.
But he comprehended her gesture; it distinctly bade him come ashore. Alan
took a new grip on himself, gathered his scattered wits, and tried to
think connectedly.

He laid his rifle in the bottom of the launch; then, just as he was
reaching for an oar, he saw back among the tall cabbage palms on the
island in an open space, a glowing, silvery object, like a house painted
silver and shining under the rays of a brilliant sun.

Then the whole thing came to him. He remembered the press descriptions
from Wyoming of the Mercutian vehicle. He saw this white rectangle on the
little Florida island as a miniature of that which had brought the
invaders of Wyoming from space. And then this girl--

Fear for an instant supplanted amazement in Alan Newland's heart. He
looked around. He could see back into the trees plainly, almost across the
island. He stood up in the boat. There seemed no one else in sight.

Alan sat down and, taking up the oar, sculled the launch toward the spot
where the girl was standing. His mind still refused to think clearly. The
vague thought came to him that he might be struck dead by some unknown
power the instant he landed. Then, as he again met the girl's eyes--a
clear, direct, honest gaze with something of a compelling dignity in
it--his fear suddenly left him.

A moment later the bow of the launch pushed its way through the wire grass
and touched the bank. Alan laid aside his oar, tied the boat to a
half-submerged log, and stepped ashore.





Next: Captured!

Previous: The Landing Of The Invaders



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