Although Divine intervention in human affairs passed into the realm of the mythical toward the end of the twentieth or at the dawn of the twenty-first century, one is almost inclined to give thanks to the Supernatural for the marvelous efficacy of Dr. Rutledge’s discovery and stratagem which so recently freed us from the Oriental menace.
A year ago only the Mississippi and the most severe winter in many generations was staying the complete invasion of the United States. In an unbelievably secret manner our enemies had for five decades been developing a scientific offensive against which our laboratories could not in a short interval protect us. The vast and fundamental discoveries made during the past hundred years by the Orientals (and now the heritage of the whole world) can only be compared to the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century. Without warning, through the discovery of the cause of gravitation, the Mongols practically lifted their Nangsi metal transports (which were built of a material combining the lightness of aluminum with the strength and hardness of steel) out of the sea; and in five days skimmed across the surface of the Pacific. The whole West lay at their mercy, though we know with what gallantry their forces were held in check from summer until winter, when the enemy had reached the Mississippi.
[Illustration: They were planning details of the final campaign.]
Of course, one of the surprises which the Orientals had not counted on was the providential inspiration of Dr. Mernick of the Hopkins, who devised the now famous Mernickian transformer by which light from the sun, received through a series of grates, is stepped from the wavelengths of light into those of electricity. This gave us a sudden limitless source of power on which the enemy had not counted. It virtually lifted our forces off the ground and made them almost the equal of an enemy who had succeeded in neutralizing the gravitational drag.
The final and most disastrous card our subtle enemies played was dealt on the prairies in Nebraska. They themselves were afraid of their weapon and wanted plenty of space to try it in. I was personally present at its debut, being at the time in General Sanford’s stationary observing helicopter which, through the agency of the power supplied by a Mernickian transformer, hung motionless as a bee fifteen thousand feet in the air. Only the treble hum of the air turbine could be heard faintly through the transparent walls of the observatory constructed of the annealed clersite, which has taken the place of the unsatisfactory glass used by our forefathers. The toughness and tensile strength of this element, comparable to the best chrome steels, combined with its crystal clarity, made an ideal warfare observation unit. It was practically invisible and likewise quite bullet proof. The great strength of the material in our machine, and the rapidity with which we could rise and fall, indeed made us difficult prey. In addition to this we were hanging behind the great electric field that the Radio Defensive Corps had spread like a screen before our forces, greatly to the embarrassment of the enemy in the use of his anti-gravitational machines.
As we stood at our posts, we saw the great degravitated bombs hurtled against our lines suddenly come into contact with the fan-like electric field, somersault a few times and fall. At the edge of the electric screen the ground was excavated to an enormous depth by the bursting of these intercepted degravitated bombs, most of which had been projected from stationary batteries three or four hundred miles behind the enemy lines. The local batteries bombarding with the old fashioned Sangsi steel shell were still effective. On the whole, however, from our own observation of the local front and from the television reports we were constantly receiving, we judged that the American and Allied Caucasian forces were more than holding their own.
General Sanford, the Chief of the Signal Corps, who stood by my side, grasped my arm, and pointed to the west. Everyone crowded to our side in excitement. Before we could gasp our amazement, the incandescent spot which our Chief had mutely indicated on the distant horizon, zoomed in a blazing arc across our zenith and plunged into the terrain of the English forces which were occupying the little town of Ogallala about six miles to our south. We held our breath. What next?
Only a faint throbbing seemed to pulse in the air above the spot where the missile sank. I was about to pronounce the diagnosis of “a dud,” when someone cried, “My God, General, they’ve turned hell loose this time!” The whole atmosphere for a quarter of a mile radius about the fatal bomb quivered as over a heated griddle. Even as we remarked this, the area began to glow cherry red. A deafening thunder assaulted our ears when to our horror the earth on which had stood the now burning town of Ogallala, rose a gigantic incandescent ball and shot like a meteor into the heavens. Our car was a feather tossed in the ensuing hurricane, but even while we bobbed back and forth there was an ear-splitting explosion as the land that was once an American village burst into a blinding blue flare of hydrogen flame twenty-five miles above us.
The swaying of the car gradually subsided in the tortured atmosphere, and a gentle rain began to fall. Ogallala had been chemically “stepped down” into the most primitive element, combined with the oxygen above and was condensing back to earth again as a few globules of HO. That day was a sort of crisis; the enemy had discovered and turned upon us the power of atomic degeneration! And I, as assistant chief chemist of the American Army, felt my heart become heavy within me as I soared back to the Central Laboratory.
Even as I watched the advent of the electronic detonator two days previously the inspiration had come to me. What had happened to the doomed Nebraskan town had been so obvious. Through some unexplained agency discovered by the Orientals, the electronic restraint of the normally stable elements had been removed. In a brief time Ogallala had degenerated through all the steps of the periodic table until it became hydrogen, at which point, owing to the terrific air current and incandescent heat, it had recombined with the oxygen of the air as simple molecules of water.
I thought I had a clue as to how it had been accomplished. The Central Chemical Laboratory was the focus of feverish excitement. The air was tense with the expectancy of tremendous things. Every scientist there felt that we were on the verge of discovering the principle of the Mongols’ new weapon. “Give us time!” “Time” was the plea we sent daily to the Defense Headquarters. “Only six weeks more, only a month,” we begged, “and then we’ll make a boomerang out of the enemy’s invention.” Anderson, Mahaffey, Dr. Spritz--all the great physicists and chemists of the present age--labored at my side endeavoring to trick Nature into giving us that saving secret.
The television ‘phone called my name. I immediately hurried to the booth and saw General Loomis, the Commander-in-Chief of the American and Caucasian Armies, standing in his helicopter headquarters. He seemed haggard and worn. “How much longer, Johnson?” he asked. “The enemy has pretty well eaten out the country and with the advent of winter and lack of food, are bending all their efforts to crush us. Besides, we cannot tell just how long it will be before they begin turning out their new bomb in other than experimental quantities. Two weeks, I should estimate, is about all the longer I can hold them.”
“If that is the case, General Loomis,” I replied, “we may as well give up. Two months will see us ready. But two weeks--!”
I felt a hand laid on my shoulder. Dr. Rutledge, my science chief, had stepped into the booth behind me and overheard the conversation.
“General Loomis,” Dr. Rutledge spoke, looking for all the world like a patriarch of olden times, “until five minutes ago what Johnson has just said would have sealed our fate. But now, I think, I believe, we have one more card to play. I have only this moment completed a series of reactions which have resulted (as I calculated they should) in the production of a new protein, similar in appearance to flour. It should, although of course I have not yet had time to verify this statement, be a practical substitute for flour; and indeed, it is my belief that it will easily be mistaken for that substance. Its particles are laminated similar to starch, of an identical size, and the nutritive factor should be greater than that of bread. It is, in short, a new, a foreign protein never before found in this world of men!”
“Very interesting, I am sure,” replied General Loomis, with a trace of bitterness and sarcasm in his voice. “Your noble efforts will result in feeding the yellow devils an excellent artificial fare. They will be grateful, I know!”
“Exactly my object, general,” Dr. Rutledge replied. He continued impressively: “You have until now relied upon me largely in the waging of this war to save the white race from the menace of the yellow. Since all is lost at any rate, grant me one last effort in behalf of my country. At all costs, Loomis, hold your present lines for two days, preparing to suddenly retire to the west bank of the Mississippi. I leave it to your strategy to make a sudden retreat (which should extend over a period of at least ten days) appear as if enforced by the enemy themselves.”
“There should be no difficulty in that direction,” General Loomis interpolated, smiling wryly on the television screen.
“Once on the west bank,” went on Dr. Rutledge seriously, not noticing the interjection, “make a stand for a day or two and then suddenly retreat across the river to the east bank as if again forced to do so. Now, General, two days from this time--before your retreat begins--I shall, I trust, have your armies all along the lines supplied with my new artificial, foreign protein flour. This you will leave in the enemy’s hands, which, you have intimated, will be much to their delight. You will do the same at the stand which for a while you held on the west bank. But, mind you, let none of your men use any of this perfectly harmless food. I will personally see to it that you will receive it in such containers that none will come in contact with your persons.”
“Doctor,” Loomis said after staring at the old scientist some time in astonishment, “except for years of personal acquaintance, I would say that you were suffering a mental shock. Knowing you as I do, however, I pray to God you’re making no mistake this time. I’ll do as you wish.” His figure faded from the screen.
The next fortnight was one of black despair. I myself doubted on occasions whether or not the old doctor was mentally accountable--even I who had trusted him so long. General Loomis and his staff called up daily to inquire if Dr. Rutledge had any change of plans. As for the army and the populace, they were one in calling on the President to make terms with the enemy. The allies truly were on the point of collapse. All that kept up what morale was left in the chemical division was the unrelenting demands made on us by Dr. Rutledge to continue to ferret out the electronic detonator. Until then, he had scarcely bothered with our work; now he would hear of nothing else. “Today’s the Day!” was the slogan he had displayed above every bench.
Finally the fatal day arrived. The retreat across the Mississippi was consummated. This time it was not feigned. The Mongols were hungry, and their appetites were whetted for more flour such as had sustained them for the past twelve days. Moreover, new electronic bombs were beginning to be supplied them.