Tuesday, 27 December 2016

An Interplanetary Rupture

An Inter-planetary Rupture
from The Blue Book Magazine, December 1906.
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, December 2016.
This may be the earliest Science Fiction story by any Canadian author. Frank Packard (February 2, 1877 – February 17, 1942). He is best known for his Jimmy Dale mystery series.

On the Eleventh Day of August, in the year of our Lord three thousand one hundred and two, the city of Washington, capital of the World, was the scene of unusual commotion. Rumors of the rupture with Mercury were current. It was true that Earth’s minister to that planet had not been recalled, and that Mercury’s ambassador was still in Washington; but this in no way disguised the fact that relations between the two planets were strained to their breaking point.
The enormous Edifice of Deliberations, erected at a cost of one billion of dollars, teemed with bustling humanity, and emanated a sense of tremendous activity.
The House of Delegates was in continuous session. Speeches of members from the States of Russia, Germany, France, and South America were warlike in their tone, rising to a white heat of eloquence to lose some of their intensity against the milder and more prudent counsel of the honorable members from England, America, China, and Japan. Yet from all, even to the smaller States of Holland and Belgium, there was an undertone that plainly evidenced the fact that the Assembly of the World would brook no humiliation.
In the circular chamber that occupied the eastern wing of the building the Supreme Council of Earth were seated: twelve men, the clearest, shrewdest brains upon the Globe. The room was bare of decoration save that from the ceiling hung festooned the national banner, the flag of the World, blood red with a white dove in its center, adopted A.D. two thousand five hundred and thirty-two, at the confederation of Earth’s divisions into one vast nation under one government and one Head.
The Head, Mr. Sasoa, was speaking with great calmness: “Gentlemen.” He said. “Interference with the astral Mizar is unquestionably a casus belli. Ceded to us by interplanetary treaty in two thousand nine hundred and seventy, Mercury’s present action cannot be considered in any light but one of impertinent intrusion upon our sovereign rights.” The members of the cabinet bowed their heads in grave assent.
The Most Honorable Mr. Sasoa then continued: “It has never been Earth’s desire to pursue a policy of colonization: to extend her lawful boundaries of empire beyond her own immediate sphere. You are all thoroughly conversant with the conditions that brought Mizar under our government and control. For over an hundred years this dependency has been wisely and prudentially governed, and today I believe we are justified in asserting that our rule has been efficacious, not only to our own commerce, but to the welfare of the universe at large.
“Mizar’s value as a strategical base is incalculable, and realizing this, Mercury has stopped at nothing to possess himself of this astral. The trickery that has at last resulted in Mizar’s petition to Mercury to be received as his dependency, and their coincident refutation of this government’s authority is but the culmination of the despicable policy Mercury has pursued.
“Gentlemen, you are here assembled for the gravest duty that has ever fallen to the lot of an Earther. I hold in my hand an ultimatum from Mercury, received within the hour, demanding that our forces be withdrawn from Mizar ex tempore. It now becomes your solemn duty to pass upon this document. The House of Delegates is awaiting our decision, and I believe I may say without hesitation that they will ratify any determination we may arrive at.”
The Most Honorable Mr. Sasoa resumed his seat in an unbroken silence.
During half an hour no word was spoken. The document passed from member to member, whose lips, as he handed it to his neighbor, set in a hardened line of grim determination. The examination completed and the paper again in the possession of the Head, all eyes were turned upon the Minister of War.
Acknowledging the unspoken request, General William K. Parsons rose from his seat. His face was drawn and haggard from a sleepless night, his voice, though stern, wavered a little from the stress of emotion that possessed him, as he said solemnly:
“Most Honorable Head, and Gentlemen, I vote for war.”
He raised his hand to quell the outburst of enthusiasm his declaration had evoked.
“I vote for war, Gentlemen,” he repeated; “but with perhaps a truer knowledge of exact conditions than is possessed by the majority of those present. Mercury has chosen his time well. At the first glance it would appear that in event of war it would be fought out around Mizarian space. That is not so. The battleground will be our own planet Earth and the space immediately surrounding us.
“Through pretext of extended maneuvers, Mercury has assembled within instant striking distance of Mizar four hundred of the heaviest ships in his aerial navy. Opposed to which are fifty of our vessels at present awaiting orders at Mizar’s capital.
“Roughly speaking, Mercury’s navy comprises 2,000 ships against our total available force of 1,000. He will not, however, dare to send against us more than 1,500, as the balance he will require for the protection of his astral colonies and his own planet. With this superior force arrayed against us, we cannot hope to defend both Mizar and Earth.
“I said that he had chosen his time well. We must bear in mind the fact that this year Mercury makes his transit, during which he will pass not only between the sun, and ourselves but equally between Mizar and ourselves.
“While I am of course aware that Mercury is greatly inferior in size to ourselves; still we must remember that the large number of colonies be­longing to him, coupled with his huge navy, make him a most formidable opponent In this respect I might liken him to your ancestors, Mr. Cham­berlain,” he said, bowing gracefully to the honorable member from the State of England, “when before the confederation England was a nation.
“I have but one more word to say. Should we declare for war our ships must be immediately withdrawn from Mizar until the transit shall be accomplished. Our fleets abroad at Saturn, Mars Jupiter, Venus, Uranus and Neptune have already been aerographed rendezvous with all speed at Tokio, St. Petersburg, London, New York, and San Francisco for supplies.”
As General Parsons ceased speaking, the honorable member on his left, and after him in rotation each member of the council, rose, and in solemn tones repeated the General’s formula:
“I vote for war.”
“The decision is unanimous,” announced the Head. “It but remains to transmit the result of our deliberations to the House of Delegates.”
With a mighty shout that body passed the vote. Members standing upon their desks in a frenzy of patriotism sang the national anthem. The die was cast—the Earth at war.
The Secretary of State, in his official aerocar and attended by his suite, landed upon the residential roof of the Mercurian ambassador to acquaint him with Earth’s reply to his government’s ultimatum. That astute diplomat suavely expressed “his unspeakable regret” at the unfortunate termination of the affair; turned the business of his embassy over to the Minister from Saturn, and left the Earth with all speed. Meanwhile the Earth’s ambassador to Mercury had received his instructions to transmit to that government the World’s emphatic refusal to comply with their demands; that duty accomplished to repair at once to Washington.
At the expiration of two days, the admiral commanding the Mizarian squadron had reported at the war office in Washington. Closely following him within a few hours were the fleets from Venus and Mars. That of Jupiter might be expected in eight days, while the few detached vessels doing duty in far Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune had their return orders countermanded as their combined strength would not be of material aid, and it was feared that they might fall into the hands of the enemy; besides, as their voyage would consume from three to six weeks, it was hoped that ere then the crisis would be passed.
On the morning of the 15th, reports had reached the war office from every officer commanding squadrons that his respective detachment was ready for duty. At 10 a.m. of that day orders were issued for immediate mobilization of all fleets at Washington. At 3:30 p.m. General Parsons entered the assembly hall in the House of Delegates, where the admirals were awaiting him. They rose respectfully as he took his place upon the dais.
“Gentlemen,” he said abruptly, “you will be seated. I have called you together that you may understand the general plan of campaign. We have reason to believe that the enemy’s attack will not be made before the 24th of the month, perhaps not until the 25th. In other words, at a time immediately preceding that period when his base is in closest proximity to Earth, thus placing him in a position to utilize every available unit of strength of which he is possessed. At his transit then, we must expect the crucial stroke. Should that fail him, he must be obliged to withdraw as his base recedes. This will leave us free to turn our attention to Mizar, as we in turn shall have the advantage in respect to distance with our stellar dependency, whose position relative to ourselves does not, as you are well aware, change.
“I desire to caution you on no account to risk unnecessarily a single unit that we can ill spare. You may rest assured that in any event you will have an opportunity of measuring strength with the enemy.
“You will at once take up position and governing yourselves by atmospheric conditions, maintain an altitude that will enable you to observe the enemy’s planet to the best advantage. By cruising at the same rate of speed as the Earth’s axial velocity, but in the opposite direction, you will, making such corrections as Mercury’s movements demand, preserve a position which will of necessity intercept the enemy’s attack. You will report at frequent intervals to the war office and final orders will be issued to you when the enemy’s approach has been signaled from the observatories. To your stations, gentlemen, and may the Supreme Power guide you.”
Within the hour 883 mighty engines of destruction rose like gigantic birds, and for an instant steeped the city in a dim twilight as they hung suspended over it; then forming in parallel columns they were swallowed up in space.
Immediately following the departure of the fleet, General Parsons made a rapid inspection of Earth’s fortifications. Surrounding each city of the World at regular intervals of the sixth part of a circle were the batteries, stored with ammunition, capable of throwing their enormous missiles of deadly destructiveness with equally deadly precision a distance in the perpendicular equal to the space governed by the law of gravitation; within which range the enemy must of necessity approach to make their attack effective.
On the 20th, General Parsons reported to the council that every method of defense was in perfect condition and that the result was in the hands of a Higher Power.
On the 22nd, a tramp freighter badly battered, her two forward aeroplanes shot completely away and her hull riddled like a sieve, reported herself from Mizar after an almost miraculous escape. Her captain, in his statement to the authorities, said that the enemy had occupied the entire astral and were busily engaged in erecting new fortifications. Private authentic advices via Venus and Hecklon, on the next day confirmed the report and added that Mercury was massing his entire fleet together with an enormous number of transports, preparatory to an extended and decisive movement.
Daily the excitement had grown, tremendous in its intensity, until it reached its height; gradually giving way to a patient and calm state of fortitude to accept the future as it should unfold itself. The thought transmitters of the great journalistic syndicate, with precision and dispatch, kept every Earther informed of each minute detail leading up to the momentous crisis soon to be experienced.
So by this means the world learned that on the 23rd the observatories had reported the face of Mercury obscured for a time as if somebody had come between it and the Earth’s line of vision. This could only be con­strued as signifying that the Mercurian fleet was in its way. Immediately following this announcement; the admiral commanding the World’s fleet reported a decided and increasing attraction of his polarity needles towards Mercury, indicating an immense aggregation of metallic bodies in space rapidly approaching.
General Parsons received this dispatch with a grim smile. All that man could do he had done. Massed aboard 5,000 transports, distributed at the different World centers and capable of being mobilized at a few moments notice, was an army totaling ten million men. Should the enemy effect a landing they would at least experience a stubborn resistance. He ran the various details rapidly over in his mind, then in a few sharp, clear sentences he dictated his final orders to his chief of staff for transmission to the admiral commanding.
At 3 a.m. on the morning of the 25th, reports began to pour into the war office. At 4 a.m. it was established beyond question that the invading host would make contact with the Earth’s boundary of gravitation at a point directly over the city of New York. Obviously it was the enemy’s intention to make that the point of attack.
For the first time in many weary, anxious hours General Parsons permitted a smile of satisfaction to light up his countenance. To attack New York would bring the Mercurian fleet within range of all batteries bounded by Boston, Providence, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. No more auspicious move could be made for the defenders of Earth.
Messages were instantly dispatched to the transport fleets to mobilize on the Jersey shore, and there General Parsons, accompanied by his staff, at once repaired to assume personal command.
At ten minutes before five, a dispatch from the admiral commanding stated that he was within striking distance of the enemy, whose fleet consisted of close to 1,400 men-of-war, convoying an enormous number of transports.
The first gray streaks of dawn were suddenly obliterated. The chief of staff swirled from the instruments.
“The enemy is within range, sir.”
The next instant General Parsons pressed the key connecting with the district batteries. A moment later and the World trembled as if in the throes of a mighty earthquake. The batteries of twenty cities had opened fire, launching one hundred thousand tons of vast explosive full in the face of the advancing host. For two minutes Earth’s miniature volcanoes belched forth their deadly hail.
“What is the effect of the fire?” Demanded the General.
“Observers report heavy damage, sir,” replied the chief of staff, “a number of vessels sunk and many in apparent distress. The enemy is seeking refuge in a lower altitude and is already out of range of all batteries but New York’s.”
One by one the batteries had ceased firing as their range was exhausted, until only the guns from New York continued the bombardment. General Parsons from the deck of his dispatch boat swept the scene before him with his glasses. The enemy had changed their formation. Their battleships were now above to cover their transports as they landed beneath them.
Less than a mile and a half away Earth’s merchant ships, swarming with men, were drawn up on the qu vive for action, while, in a huge circle around the enemy, Earth’s men-of-war were sweeping with incredible speed, silently, grimly, waiting only the command that should launch them into a conflict of frightful carnage.
As the Mercurian transports touched the ground preparatory to dis­gorging their men, General Parsons swung sharply round:
“Order New York to stop firing and the fleet to attack from above,” was his quick, decisive command.
Even as he spoke, in execution of his order, there was a lull as New York’s batteries became silent, another instant, and a continuous and steadily increasing roar as the guns of ship after ship of Earth’s navy came into action.
The Mercurian admiral, seeing the damage that his transports would of necessity sustain from the battle raging over their heads, and secure in the belief that they were well able to take care of themselves until he could dispose of Earth’s navy, so heavily outnumbered by his own, fell into the trap that General Parsons had skillfully laid for him. And as if to remove any hesitancy from his mind, at that moment Earth’s fleet broke and fled incontinently. The enemy pursued them in hot haste.
The moment General Parsons had been waiting for had arrived. If the enemy’s navy outnumbered his own, their transports were numerically inferior to Earth’s, an advantage he meant to utilize to the utmost.
From where they had lain hidden in the rear, one hundred of the heaviest battleships of Earth’s navy rose like vultures, and swinging into line swept forward with irresistible ferocity upon the enemy’s troopships. The effect of the maneuver was fearful in its result. The battleships plowed through and through the densely packed transports, their heavy armor plate crushing vessel after vessel, transforming them into hideous, misshapen sepulchers. Once, twice, and again, with pitiless fury, the battleships dashed into the midst of the enemy throwing them into disastrous confusion, leaving behind them a havoc indescribable: a vessel torn in twain; an unrecognizable conglomeration of wreckage, from whose depths emanated the heart-rending shrieks of the dying, shrill out-cries of pain and terror, anguish and horror from tortured souls, and in fearful contrast the awful stillness of the mangled dead
And now General Parsons had ordered a general-advance. The breaches made in the enemy’s ship ranks were speedily filled by Earth’s advancing transport line, so that before any considerable body of the Mercurian army had effected a landing, the Earthers were locked ship to ship with their adversaries, the crews and troops engaging in a hand-to-hand melee. In front and rear, on either flank, swarmed the remainder of Earth’s transports, welding the whole into one compact mass of bloody carnage.
The strategy of the movement was apparent. In response to the urgent appeals for aid from the commander of the Mercurian army, the enemy’s fleet, now hotly engaged by the admiral commanding the Earth’s warships, made back to protect his transports. Finding it impossible to make any attack on his enemy without endangering his own army, the Mercurian admiral signaled his confrere to join him.
In response to this command the vessels not already disabled rose slowly, while Earth’s ships clung to them like barnacles, fighting desperately for a mastery that spelled their very existence.
Above the battling transports as they rose was a scene beyond the power of man to pen. Fighting with unparalleled savagery, Earth’s navy was pressing the attack with splendid brilliancy.
The huge engines of destruction rushed at each other with terrific speed, to recoil from the shock battered and stunned and helpless, to reel and turn and sink in hideous gyrations from the dizzy height, crushing themselves into unrecognizable shapes on the ground beneath.
And above the roaring and flashing of the guns, the wild, hard, pitiful cries of the dying, came the deeper toned note of nature’s protest as peal on peal of thunder shook the air. Across a sky now turned to inky blackness, great forked tongues or lightning leaped and twisted and turned, lighting up in awful splendor a ghastly hell of unutterable chaos.
With the advent of the transports, the Mercurian line of battle was thrown into disorder. General Parsons, with the advantage his superiority of numbers gave him, had cleverly maneuvered to force them into the midst of the enemy’s battleships.
The admiral commanding Earth’s fleet, now joined by the detachment that had already done such gallant service with General Parsons, swept down upon the confusion. Above, below, on either side the Earthers swarmed, picking out their antagonists to pour a withering fire upon them. Desperately the Mercurian admiral struggled to withdraw his ships and reform his line of battle. The transports blocked every move. Most of the enemy’s troopships were now in General Parsons’ hands, and in their vast numbers and stubborn disregard for life were hemming in and separating the Mercurian men-of-war from each other. As these huge fighting machines in their fury turned upon their puny antagonists to sweep them from their path, another and ever after that another transport would take the place of its disabled mate; now rising in the air above to allow themselves to fall crashing full across a warship’s deck, now ramming from below and now from either side, until here and there, succumbing to the attack, a mighty battleship, wounded, disabled, battered and stricken, heeled slowly over and pitching forward went hurl­ing Earthwards; a testimony of the indomitable valor of General Parson’s command.
Again and again, with bewildering rapidity, General Parsons would withdraw from the attack to allow Earth’s fleet to dash into the fray. Again and again the same tactics were employed and with each onslaught the savage fury was redoubled, the slaughter multiplied a hundredfold.
All through that awful day and into the still more fearsome night the conflict waged with unabated vigor. In its trail across the American continent the storm-blown fleets scattered blood, tributes to the grim earnestness of war.
There in the drear recess of a mountain canon, or perchance upon a wide and desolate plain, a once proud ship had fallen. And as its poor frame quivered in the throes of death, so its imprisoned dead joined with it as sacrificial offerings upon the dear altar of patriotism.
Here full across a city street, or mayhap upon the roofs of houses, settling where they had plunged in headlong flight, lay queer ghostly shapes well befitting their new use as casements for the dead. Hideously twisted walls of pale phosphorescent metal that in the night-light shimmered balefully; things that once had vaunted proudly their planet’s flag.
The people huddling together in little knots and crowds, exposed to the storm that beat them pitilessly, gazed upon the scene that passed above their heads with a fear that blanched men’s faces to a ghastly white, while women sobbed and moaned in a delirium of fright. The children clinging at their knees sought comfort from the nameless dread that paralysed their very lips, and seeking comfort, found in their mothers’ faces a cause for terror beyond any they had ever known.
And, as if in mockery of the mimic show of man, the battle of the elements grew apace until the watchers drew back with shuddering, soul-sick awe before the manifestation of Almighty Heaven’s wrath, and turning from it, ran, hiding their eyes to shut out the terror that gripped their souls, and with trembling, bated breath prayed God to bring the dawn.
At last the morning broke, and with it came the beginning of the end. The enemy’s last sullen stand was all but over, their resistance almost done. Suddenly, even as the Earthers’ cheers acclaimed the hour of victory, a little dispatch boat rose high in the air, turned rapidly, and made with all speed for Washington. Upon her deck the surgeons were bending anxiously over the unconscious form of General Parsons.
Hours later the weary physicians sighed in relief. The General’s eyes opened to glance questioningly at the faces around him.
“Tell me,” he said.
They took his hands and pressed them. The surgeon-general stooping over him whispered the one word: “Victory!”
General Parsons’ countenance lighted up for an instant with a gleam of joy. Then he turned his head away. The features that had been set in inexorable determination in the battle softened with infinite sadness; the eyes that had so sternly viewed the frightful slaughter, brimmed with tears.
“At what a cost,” he murmured.
“Oh, God! At what a cost.”

Three months later in the circular chamber that occupied the eastern wing of the Edifice of Deliberations, the Council of Earth were seated. Upon the table before them was spread an official document.
The Head, Mr. Sasoa, was speaking:
“Gentlemen,” he said, “you are here assembled to pass upon the proposed treaty with Mercury as prepared by our commissioners. You are familiar with the contents. Those points insisted upon by our delegates have been ceded to us. Will you ratify this treaty? Will you vote for peace or war?”
General Parsons rose slowly to his feet.
“Most Honorable Head, and Gentlemen,” he said, quietly, “I vote for peace.”
The honorable member on his left, and after him in rotation each member of the council, rose, and in solemn tones repeated the general’s formula:
“I vote for peace.”
In the silence that followed, Mr. Sasoa drew the document toward him, then the scratching of his pen proclaimed the ratification of the “Second Treaty of Washington.”

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.