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by Murray Leinster
Category: Science Fiction/Alternate History
Description: Originally published in "Astounding Stories" in 1931, here is Leinster's tale of the coming war--the war of 1941-1943!
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 1931 Astounding Stories
eBookwise Release Date: April 2007
7 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [51 KB]
Reading time: 29-41 min.
"...The profound influence of civilian morale upon the course of modern war is nowhere more clearly shown than in the case of that monstrous war-engine popularly known as a 'Wabbly.' It landed in New Jersey Aug. 16, 1942, and threw the whole Eastern Coast into a frenzy. In six hours the population of three States was in a panic. Industry was paralyzed. The military effect was comparable only to a huge modern army landed in our rear.... "(Strategic Lessons of the War of 1941-43.--U. S. War College. Pp. 79-80.)
* * * *
Sergeant Walpole made his daily report at 2:15. He used a dinky telephone that should have been in a museum, and a rural Central put him on the Area Officer's tight beam. The Area Officer listened drearily as the Sergeant said in a military manner:
It spouted a flash of bluish flame.
"Sergeant Walpole, sir, Post Fourteen, reports that he has nothing of importance to report."
The Wabbly, uncombatable engine of war, spreads unparalleled death and destruction--until Sergeant Walpole "strikes at the morale" of its crew.
The Area Officer's acknowledgment was curt; embittered. For he was an energetic young man, and he loathed his job. He wanted to be in the west, where fighting of a highly unconventional nature was taking place daily. He did not enjoy this business of watching an unthreatened coast-line simply for the maintenance of civilian confidence and morale. He preferred fighting.
Sergeant Walpole, though, exhaled a lungful of smoke at the telephone transmitter and waited. Presently the rural Central said:
"Sure, sweetie," said Sergeant Walpole. "How about the talkies tonight?"
That was at 2:20 P. M. There was coy conversation, while the civilian telephone-service suffered. Then Sergeant Walpole went back to his post of duty with a date for the evening. He never kept that date, as it turned out. The rural Central was dead an hour after the first and only Wabbly landed, and as everybody knows, that happened at 2:45.
* * * *
But Sergeant Walpole had no premonitions as he went back to his hammock on the porch. This was Post Number Fourteen, Sixth Area, Eastern Coast Observation Force. There was a war on, to be sure. There had been a war on since the fall of 1941, but it was two thousand miles away. Even lone-wolf bombing planes, flying forty thousand feet up, never came this far to drop their eggs upon inviting targets or upon those utterly blank, innocent-seeming places where munitions of war were now manufactured underground.
Here was peace and quiet and good rations and a paradise for gold-brickers. Here was a summer bungalow taken over for military purposes, quartering six men who watched a certain section of coast-line for a quite impossible enemy. Three miles to the south there was another post. Three miles to the north another one still. They stretched all along the Atlantic Coast, those observation-posts, and the men in them watched the sea, languidly observed the television broadcasts, and slept in the sun. That was all they were supposed to do. In doing it they helped to maintain civilian morale. And therefore the Eastern Coast Observation Force was enviously said to be "just attached to the Army for rations," by the other services, and its members rated with M. P.'s and other low forms of animal life.
Sergeant Walpole reclined in his hammock, inhaling comfortably. The ocean glittered blue before him in the sun. There was a plume of smoke out at sea indicating an old-style coal-burner, its hull down below the horizon. Anything that would float was being used since the war began, though a coal-burning ship was almost a museum piece. A trim Diesel tramp was lazing northward well inshore. A pack of gulls were squabbling noisily over some unpleasantness floating a hundred yards from the beach. The Diesel tramp edged closer inshore still. It was all very peaceful and placid. There are few softer jobs on earth than being a member of a "force in being" for the sake of civilian morale.
* * * *
But at 2:32 P. M. the softness of that job departed, as far as Sergeant Walpole was concerned. At that moment he heard a thin wailing sound high aloft. It was well enough known nearer the front, but the Eastern Coast Observation Force had had no need to become unduly familiar with it. With incredible swiftness the wailing rose to the shrillest of shrieks, descending as lightning might be imagined to descend. Then there was a shattering concussion. It was monstrous. It was ear-splitting. Windows crashed in the cottage and tinkled to the sandy earth outside. There was a pause of seconds' duration only, during which Sergeant Walpole stared blankly and gasped, "What the hell?" Then there was a second thin wailing which rose to a scream....
Sergeant Walpole was in motion before the second explosion came. He was diving off the veranda of Post Number Fourteen. He saw someone else coming through a window. He had a photographic glimpse of one of his men emerging through a doorway. Then he struck earth and began to run. Like everybody else in America, he knew what the explosions and the screamings meant.
But he had covered no more than fifty yards when the third bomb fell from that plane so far aloft that it was not even a mote in the sky. Up there the sky was not even blue, but a dull leaden gray because of the thinness of the atmosphere yet above it. The men in that high-flight bomber could see the ground only as a mass of vaguely blending colors. They were aiming their bombs by filtered light, through telescopes which used infra-red rays only, as aerial cameras did back in the 1920's. And they were sighting their eggs with beautifully exact knowledge of their velocity and height. By the time the bombs had dropped eight miles they were traveling faster than the sound of their coming. The first two had wiped out Posts Thirteen and Fifteen. The third made no sound before it landed, except to an observer at a distance. Sergeant Walpole heard neither the scream of fall nor the sound of its explosion.