The Unknown Enemy
From: The Fire People
When, in February, 1941, Professor James Newland issued this remarkable
statement, my paper sent me at once to interview him. He was at this time
at the head of the Harvard observatory staff. He lived with his son and
daughter in Cambridge. His wife was dead. I had been acquainted with the
professor and his family for some time. I first met his son, Alan, during
our university days at Harvard. We liked each other at once, and became
firm friends--possibly because we were such opposite physical types, as
Alan was tall, lean and muscular--an inch or so over six feet--with the
perfect build of an athlete. I am dark; Alan was blond, with short, curly
hair, and blue eyes. His features were strong and regular. He was, in
fact, one of the handsomest men I have ever seen. And yet he acted as
though he didn't know it--or if he did, as though he considered it a
handicap. I think what saved him was his ingenious, ready smile, and his
retiring, unassuming--almost diffident--manner.
At the time of the events I am describing Alan was twenty-two--about two
years younger than I. It was his first year out of college. He had taken a
scientific course and intended to join his father's staff.
Beth and Alan were twins. I was tremendously interested in Beth even then.
She seemed one of the most worth-while girls I had ever met. She was a
little wisp of femininity, slender and delicate, hardly more than five
feet one or two. She had beautiful golden hair and an animated, pretty
face, with a pert little snub nose. She was a graduate of Vassar, and
planned to take up chemistry as a profession, for she had the same
scientific bent as her father and brother.
I called upon Professor Newland the evening of the day his statement was
published, and found all three discussing it.
"You want me to talk for publication, don't you, Bob Trevor?" the
professor asked suddenly, after we had exchanged a few pleasantries.
He was a wiry little man, about sixty, smooth-shaven, with sparse gray
hair, a rugged face of strong character, and a restless air of energy
about him. He was an indefatigable worker; indeed, I am confident that,
for any single continuous period of work without sleep, he could have run
Alan and me into the ground and still have been comparatively fresh.
"You want an exclusive follow-up story from me to-night, don't you?" he
I admitted that I did.
"What you'll get won't be just what you expect. Look at this."
He pulled one of the evening papers toward him vigorously. "They think it
is humorous. There--read that."
The item to which he pointed was a sprightly account of the weird beings
that might shortly arrive from Mercury.
"They think it's a joke--some of them. There's another--read that."
The attitude of the press was distinctly an inclination to treat the
affair from the humorous side. I had seen indications of that during the
day at the office.
"Look here, Bob"--the professor swept all the papers aside with his hand.
"You put it to them this way. Make them see this is not a prediction of
the end of the world. We've had those before--nobody pays any attention to
them, and rightly so. But this Mercutian Light is more than a theory--it's
a fact. We fought it last November, and we'll have to fight it again next
month. That's what I want to make them realize."
"They'll think it is worth being serious about," Alan put in, "if one of
those lights drop into Boston or New York--especially if it happens to
play in a horizontal direction instead of vertical."
We went into the whole subject thoroughly, and the professor gave me a
second signed statement in which he called upon the nations of the world
to prepare for the coming peril.
The actual characteristics of the Mercutian Light we had discussed before
several times. A good deal had been printed about it during the previous
December--without, as I have said, attracting much public attention. The
two meteors had been examined. They were found to be of a mineral that
could have originated on Mercury. They were burned and pitted like other
meteorites by their passage through the earth's atmosphere.
Of the light itself Professor Newland had already given his opinion. It
was, he said, some unknown form of etheric vibration. It radiated heat
very slightly, but it had the peculiarity of generating intense heat in
anything it touched directly.
"You'd better explain that, father," said Beth, when we reached this point
in our summary that evening.
"Heat is the vibration of molecules of matter," the professor began.
"Make it clear when you write it up, Bob," Alan put in. "It's like this.
All molecules are in motion--the faster the motion, the hotter the
substance, and vice versa."
"And this Mercutian Light," Beth added, "has the power of enormously
increasing the molecular vibration of anything it comes in contact with--"
"But it doesn't radiate much heat itself," Alan finished.
Professor Newland smiled. "The old man doesn't have much of a show, does
Alan sat down somewhat abashed, but Beth remained standing beside her
father, listening intently to everything he said.
"This light I conceive to be the chief weapon of warfare of the
Mercutians," the professor went on. "There has been some talk of those two
meteors being signals. That's all nonsense. They were not signals--they
were missiles. It was an act of aggression."
I tried to get him to give some idea of what the inhabitants of Mercury
might be like, for that was what my editor chiefly desired.
At first he would say nothing along those lines.
"That is pure speculation," he explained. "And very easy speculation, too.
Any one can allow his imagination to run wild and picture strange beings
of another world. I don't predict they will actually land on the
earth--and I have no idea what they will look like if they do land. As a
matter of fact, they will probably look very much like ourselves. I see no
reason to doubt it."
"Like us?" I ejaculated.
"Why not?" said Alan. "Conditions on Mercury are not fundamentally
different from here. We don't have to conceive any very extraordinary sort
of being to fill them."
"Here's what you can tell your paper," said the professor abruptly. "Take
I took out my notebook, and he dictated briskly.
"Regarding the possible characteristics of inhabitants of Mercury, it is
my conception that intelligent life--let us say, human life--wherever it
exists in our universe does not greatly differ in character from that of
our own planet. Mars, Venus, Mercury, even Neptune, are relatively close.
I believe the Creator has constructed all human life on the same general
"I believe that, being neighbors--if I may be permitted the expression--it
is intended that intercourse between the planets should take place. That
we have been isolated up to the present time is only because of our
ignorance--our inability to bridge the gap. I believe that migration,
friendship, commerce, even war, between the inhabitants of different
planets of our solar system was intended by Almighty God--and, in good
time, will come to pass.
"This is not science; and yet science does not contradict it, in my
opinion. Human life on Mercury, Venus or Mars may need bodies taller,
shorter, heavier, lighter, more fragile or more solid than ours. The
organs will differ from ours, perhaps, but not materially so. The senses
will be the same.
"In a word, I believe that nearly all the range of diversity of human life
existing on any of the planets exists now on this earth, or has existed in
the past, or will exist in the future through our own development, or at
most the differences would not be greater than a descent into our animal
kingdom would give us.
"Mercutians may have the sense of smell developed to the point of a dog;
the instinct of direction of the homing pigeon; the eyes of a cat in the
dark, or an owl in the light; but I cannot conceive of them being so
different that similar illustrations would not apply.
"I believe the Creator intends intercourse of some kind, friendly or
unfriendly, to take place between the worlds. As China was for centuries,
so for eons we of this earth have been isolated. That time is past. The
first act was one of aggression. Let us wait for the next calmly but
soberly, with full realization of the danger. For we may be--indeed, I
think we are--approaching the time of greatest peril that human life on
this earth has ever had to face!"
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