Help via Ko-Fi


ONE of the greatest sources of misfortune to the race is the fact that so many million square miles of the earth's surface must remain desolate arctic wastes, while the habitable portions of the globe are overcrowded. Many scientists have spent a good deal of time and energy in the attempt to find a means to transform what is now barren into a place fit for human use. One such scheme for example would dwelt the Gulf Stream from its course across the Atlantic in order that it shall warm our north Atlantic seaboard. There is no doubt that any scheme that could make Alaska, the arctics, northern Canada, Greenland. etc., places of moderate climate, would be of the greatest benefit to the human race. But such n gigantic plan could not succeed before many disheartening and often tragic experiments were made. We can thus sympathize with our poor professor in this original and exciting story, for we know that his motives were of the beat.


I HEARD about it from one and another of a mystified populace; the radio bulletins had called it the "Uncontrollable Destroyer", newspapers had referred to it as a natural phenomenon and had created an alarm, it seemed, over nothing. It turned out to be one of the most astounding things that even this modern world of 1975 had been privileged to see.

The people were filled with both awe and terror long before I knew of the existence of the so-called "Hot Spot", the chemical phenomenon that appeared over the North Pacific and startled airmen and operators of aircraft throughout the world.

Having gleaned from news bulletins nothing more than the fact of its existence—ofter discrediting the usual traditional newspaper tales—I was determined, as an aeronautical engineer, to learn more about it.

I was seated in the lounging room of the Cosmopolitan Club at the Grand Central Air Terminal in Los Angeles when Joe Blaine set down from a freight hop to Vladivostok. The minute I saw his great sesqui-amphibian trundle up to the loading dock I knew she had weathered an unusual storm. Her great wings were all but limp, and one of the tips of the upper surface had been torn away as neatly as if it had been cut with a huge pair of scissors. Her motors died quickly, as if the mechanics were in great haste to stop their vacuum-cleaner-like whirr. She sat there in silence for hut a moment, and then the door of the control mom opened and Joe Blaine's rirst mechanic came down, followed by his assistant.

They were greeted by an anxious dispatcher who waited there at the ladder until Captain Blaine emerged from the control room, and I joined them there, wondering what could have taken place. Blaine, stolid, immaculate and young, came down to gaze steadily at that torn wing for a moment before turning to us and heaving a long drawn out sigh.

"Such heat I have never seen," he said to the dispatcher, after having nodded to us a hurried greeting. "The telephones went out the minute I got your orders to swing north, and that was all that saved me. That was six hours ago. Had I waited to change my course I would have flown directly into the path of the thing. It was a phenomenon beyond my comprehension—a ray of light that boiled the ocean below us; and when I turned and flew away from it the plane was lifted several thousand feet in the heavy updraft that came from that furnace-like spot on the surface of the sea. We did not find clearance for five miles north of there. Look at the plane—you know the rest!"

GASTRO, the dispatcher, as well as the rest of us, were astounded. We searched each other's faces for an answer to this strange mystery, but no manner of speculation would solve it. We went into the office where Captain Blaine sat down to write out his report, all the time being interrupted by Gastro.

"But there wasn't any report on it from the weather bureau," objected the dispatcher. "If it is a sunspot—"

"Sunspot! Ridiculous!" Captain Blaine looked up from his reports. "Do you think a sunspot would affect an area of only five miles square? Do you think a sunspot would melt off the end of one wing of my plane—a few feet at the tip — and boil the water of the sea? I feel fortunate, Castro, to have flown out of it in the face of such Terrific heat. Look at the sides of my plane. The varnish is in melted away. Why, even the wing covering is shriveled!"

While I waited anxiously for the captain to finish his reports, Castro stepped from the room into the offices of the weather bureau. He returned, presently, to shake his head doubtfully and pace the floor. "Hang it all, Blaine, can't you tell me something more about this hot spot? Wasn't there anything above or below it that might have caused the trouble? Can't you give me a faint idea of what caused it? The officials of the company are too much disturbed about this for a mere report."

"I'd be glad to tell the board of directors what I have told you. If in my haste I have neglected to mention something, I am sorry; but it is just as I told you: I was flying three hundred miles per hour at ten thousand feet when I saw a shimmer on the ocean and felt a draught of hot air through the ventilator. As the heat increased I called you to report it, and before we could finish our conversation the radiophone went out. I swung to the north, and barely escaped complete destruction."

"How do you know it was five miles across it?"

"I only approximated it by the distance I flew to get around it. It may have traveled north as I did."

* * *

That was all I learned of the "Uncontrollable Destroyer" that day. The radio bulletin carried the news to the world, and astronomers and meteorologists throughout the globe speculated upon the possibilities of this strange phenomenon.

Passenger traffic had long ago ceased to travel the great circle route to Siberia. But the freight planes had found better flying conditions up there. Dozens of great planes flew through this area weekly. Not one of those that came in a few hours either before or after Captain Blaine had seen any indication of what had been reported by this young airman and his crew. But it was assumed at the meeting of the board of directors, where. Captain Blaine told his story, that hardly any two planes that flew out to Vladivostok over this route would strike exactly the same latitude. This was a point in Captain Blaine's favor, for he was known among his fellow flyers and the directors of several air lines as having always cut down the regular schedule by hours, wherever he flew.

THE investigation consumed but half an hour, but two more hours were spent in speculation. As the aeronautical expert of the company, I was of course invited to attend. It was when President Fred Brettner, the young and adventurous airman who had become an official of the company, arose to speak in the midst of rampant discussion that all eyes were turned to him. As always, in the face of sudden and unexplained danger, men's fears were overcoming their judgment and it was evident that effective leadership and determined action was necessary. Unless that action came, the meeting would degenerate into the heated squabbles of panic-stricken and fear dazed men. Brettner spoke quietly.

"Joe Blaine and I are going to retrace his course, in a fast plane this afternoon," he announced.

"We won't have it!" said the chairman. "We cannot afford to take chances on losing you. Let me suggest that you send an engineer, a man who is familiar with geology, astronomy and meteorology. I think Thomason will he the man."

My heart leaped to my throat. Blaine turned to me and smiled as if pleased with the suggestion. Several members of the board nodded. I arose to thank them. Two hours later we were making preparations to fly hack over the North Pacific mid mto the territory that had already become known to airmen as the "Hot Spot", and to the news bulletins as the "Uncontrollable Destroyer". Some poetic intuition must have given the phenomenon that name, for it seemed to have certainly justified it even before a day had passed.


The "Hot Spot"

OUR plane was the latest thing in speedy aircraft. From her great Rickman-Conroft motor to her telescopic wings she was an innovation. It might he mentioned here that her wings were, as the name implies, capable of being "taken in" after the ship loft the ground, thus decreasing resistance as the motor "revved up" and she straightened out. We needed all her wiir; surface to lift the heavily loaded little ship off the ground, hut once in the air the powerful motor pulled her along with such force that only half her maximum wing surface was needed.

The work of telescoping the wing was done with a tiny crank in the control cabin. That accomplished the plane shot forward with the speed of a bullet. Within six hours we had covered the distance to where Captain Blaine had last seen the "Hot Spot".

At first we found no trace of the phenomenon. We flew for hours through all kinds of weather, from rain and wind to heavy snow and sleet. And all that time I was trying to arrive at some conclusion as to the cause of this supposed ray of heat, wondering if it were the work of experimenters, or a natural result of changes in the atmosphere, or if it was a distorted sun ray.

Once we lifted through a maze of clouds to look down upon a storm-torn strip of land that we found to be one of the Aleutian Island chain. ll was then that we decided to turn to the northeast and fly slowly to the coast of Alaska. Thus Captain Blaine extended the wing surface of the plane and cut the motor down to a few revolutions below cruising speed. We settled back in comfort to study the skyline. The sun was setting.

Blaine turned to me and said, "We'll never find it today—it follows the sun. I'm sure it's a ray, otherwise it would have remained somewhere near the latitude in which I first saw it."

I was still speculating as to this possibility, and hardly answered him. We were running down the Aleutians and an interesting stretch of islands lay before and beneath us. Then I saw something off to the left that froze my eyes to the spot. Just where the water met the land there was a stretch of burned-over ground across a tiny peninsula. It ended in the water again, and began on the other side—just a burned path that extended farther and was lost in the distance. I pointed it out to Captain Blaine.

Calm and cool, he did not speak, but immediately kicked in the throttle, took in some of the wing surface, and banked over until the nose of the plane was pointed at the spot. We came down upon it within a few seconds and were following it out into the northern wastes when I saw something else that immediately caught and held my attention. Ahead of us. and just over the end of the wide path of fire and destruction, was a bright ray of light that seemed to extend up into the heavens until its source was lost. And where it moved comparatively slowly toward the east it left on the ocean a trail of boiling water and on land a wake of charred surface. It seemed moving in the direction of Nome.

WE were horrified, and yet we knew that immediate action was necessary. The heat left the air bumpy and rough, and the plane was unsteady and hard to handle. Captain Blaine was fighting the controls as if he were steering an ocean liner in a hurricane. We were soon wiping perspiration from our brow.

"Got to get up and above it—find some reason for it," he mumbled. "I think it drifts with the wind. You'll notice that every tailwind we get follows the path. Currents. Might miss Nome by a few miles."

The air about us was getting hotter and hotter. It became stifling. We could hardly breathe. I thought Captain Blaine would turn and run away from it, but instead he gained altitude until we were at twenty-three thousand feet, from which distance the bright ray of fire took on a different aspect» It seemed to be about a mile across; from bottom to top it did not vary more than a few yards. It continued to move with the wind like a huge cylinder, being blown along. The radiation of heat was such that we had to remain several miles away from it. Sometimes we circled it, only to come around again behind it and watch it cross the tiny islands and leave the surface a charred mass, dip into the sea and boil it with the suddenness of a red hot iron being dropped into a glass of water.

Captain Blaine ordered me to inform the weather bureau and the officials of the company of what we had found. Fred Brettner was on the telephone when I called the offices of the International Airlines. No sooner had I described the strange phantom of destruction than he began making suggestions, in spite of the static. "Fly above it if you can—your plane is good for thirty-six thousand feet, and she's all metal. Pull on your oxygen masks and dive into it as far as you can. Bring back some idea as to what causes it—I'll have the government patrol to your assistance if that will help."

I thanked Brettner and hung up. Informing Blaine of his suggestion that we fly above the cylinder of flame, the captain immediately extended his wing surface and kicked the throttle open. A few minutes later we were at thirty-live thousand feet. Our oxygen masks were adjusted and the tanks were turned on. It was then that Captain Blaine slowly edged into the path of the cylinder, and we discovered that the top of it was on an elevation of about thirty thousand feet. He kept the nose of the plane clown in the direction of the ray until the heat stifled us and shot the plane several thousand feet up into the sky, almost before we realized it. He fought with the controls and he was nearly exhausted before they responded. I looked at the altimeter; forty-three thousand feet! And directly below us was the fiat top of that cylindrical ray that so astounded us. It was moving with the wind.

"A—chemical—compound of some kind!" gasped the pilot at my side. "A freak of nature—or an experiment of some sort running wild. Well—!

The Moving Destroyer!

HE pointed off to the right, just over the edge of the "ray". A great plane hung there, weaving in and out of the cloudy edge of it, her motors full out, her nose pointed downward into the face of the terrific pressure of heavy air that came from the hot spot.

"Why doesn't he run away from it?" screamed Blaine over the whirr of the motor to which he had given full throttle. He nosed the plane downward into the face of the pressure, and despite the great power that pulled our plane, despite the fact that our nose was pointed straight down, we found difficulty in descending. We sweltered under the heat and gasped for breaths of air from our oxygen tanks as we dived straight into the top of the thing.

As we neared the great cylindrical cloud it took on the aspect of a gaseous substance; its color seemed to change as we looked down into it; it was no longer a yellow light ray; it became a cloud of vapor-like stuff, but the temperature was the same. We watched the other plane while our motor strained in its effort to pull us downward, and we saw that the great craft was turning from the mass and flying away, going oil at an angle to escape the center Of that Terrific updraft.

I suggested to Blaine to follow the other plane. He pulled the nose up and shot out toward it. It was apparently trying to escape us, was almost out of sight before we thought to take in some of our wing surface and give chase. However, it was not long before we were gaining on it, and the mass of heat fell over the horizon he-hind us. We were headed in the direction of Seattle, with a strong wind pushing us along.

"Get his number—don't lose it!" Captain Blaine shouted as we sped down upon the tail of the fleeing ship.

"AF3675" I announced as we came alongside the giant monoplane.

"Holy skyhooks! Where have I seen that plane before?" exclaimed the captain. "Do you sec that tube running from the lower side of the fuselage?"

"What has that to do with it?" I asked excitedly.

"That's Professor Edwin Metter's chemical laboratory!"

"What—starting something he can't stop?"

"Met him when he dropped in for supplies at Tokyo on my last run down there. Thinks he has a way to change the climate of the arctic regions. I guess it got away from him."

We flew down upon the other plane. Her five great motors were wide open, but she made little noise. I opened a window and yelled through to a pale little man who stood looking at us through an upper port hole. Shamefaced, he opened the hinged cover and tried to speak.



THE shaky little man was plainly confused. His hands played over the port hole and his face twitched. The slipstream played havoc with his thick shock of white hair. He had all the appearance of a wild man, and yet his appearance was pathetic enough to cause us to laugh in the face of what appeared to be a great danger.

"I'll manage it yet," he screeched. "Got the mixture too rich—too rich—too rich!"

"What does he mean—mixture too rich?" I asked Captain Blaine.

"Ask him!"

My inquiring look brought an answer from the professor.

"I—I—put too much of the—element that caused the heat to form in the chemical— going to Vancouver for more—got to stop it before it gets to the coast!"

We had to think fast. I turned to Captain Blaine. "You have a faster ship—" "But his plane is fitted to handle the stuff—we'll run around and follow the thing until he gets back." And with that Blaine swung the little plane about and headed for the vicinity of the "Hot Spot."

"Better report it to the office", he suggested.

"That's a joke," I said. "The static, even down here, interferes too much. It has he-come useless to try to talk. Hear nothing but a crashing noise. It will rain torrents around the cloud of fire."

My prediction was true. When we again came up with the sweeping, sweltering thing we saw that storm clouds had rushed into its wake. As darkness fell, torrents of rain beat upon the plane. We changed our course and fell in before it. Its speed was slower now, but a breeze caused by the piled-up air in its rear was pushing it along toward the coast. I checked our position and course and found that kind Providence had directed the thing to the south of Nome. We came upon the coast before we realized it, and then what we feared began to happen. Everything within half a mile on either side of the great cylindrical cloud became scorched, and directly beneath it great trees withered, became dry and blazed. A path of absolute destruction a mile wide was being cut across the Alaskan wilderness, and we were drifting toward the Canadian Northwest.

"We must get ahead and warn everybody!" shouted Captain Blaine. He opened the throttle wide and calculated the course of the cloud. I looked back at it in the gathering darkness. It took on a rose-colored hue in the center; its now ragged sides were blue and green and gold like a rainbow. What a magnificent thing it was! And how useful, providing its elements were not mixed wrongly. Knowing that I was not likely to be familiar with the different elements, the nervous little professor had simply explained that "the mixture was too rich."

I could hardly contain myself for laughter at this pathetic little man who was so frantic over the loss of control of his great discovery. I could imagine him screeching orders at airport attendants in an effort to rush some of those strange chemicals abroad.

WE preceded the chemical cloud about two miles, but saw no sign of habitation. Yet we knew that in our wake was 8 strip a mile wide and many miles long lying desolate because of this wild dream of the little scientist. We hoped he would return quickly. Before three hours had passed we were far inland. The cloud seemed to be disintegrating very slowly, but when we flew near it still cast off a sweltering heat that drove us away again. We could do nothing but watch the progress of this fool thing as it passed onward into the interior.

Then came anxious moments. We were coming upon a Canadian town. Blaine flew over, his siren open. yelling through the cabin window to the people in the streets below. The cloud was only three or four miles away, and headed directly for the center of the village. They only half understood, and yet they called others, and looked oh" to the west. One family after another took to planes, some of them crowded and overloaded, but all of them managed to lift from the tiny airport in the edge of the town.

"Something must be done immediately!" said the captain as we watched the planes take off. The cloud was approaching the town, destroying everything in its wake. We flew about until the last plane had lifted and then waited. The thing came down upon that village like a cyclone, burning through it and after leaving it a desolate wreck veered off to the south toward a more thickly populated area. We dreaded to think of what might happen next.

We were flying about, helpless, fighting the terrific air currents that resulted from the heat. We raced down over farmhouses and opened the siren. We rushed to homes on both sides of the apparent path of the thing and made all the noise possible. We landed at a village presently, some fifteen miles ahead of the cloud. and found the place deserted save for a single police plane that sat on the tarmac at the village port.

"We got it by radio," explained the officer. His red coat that had been quickly buttoned reassured us, and we hurried onward. We turned to follow the cloud once more. Just as we came upon it Professor Metter's plane came burning the wind up from the south. We recognized the ship by the number we saw as we played our floodlight over it. And then we saw the brave little professor's giant plane edge into the top of that cloud, saw a stream of liquid come from the tube and tall into the densest part of it, saw it change from its rosy-hue into a mild yellow, from that into a haze, and finally into a bluish tint. We knew he had brought the cloud under control.

It is like getting ahead of the story to have told you all this, but it is the way it happened to us. Professor Mater explained it to us later as we ate a welcome supper in a nearby roadside hotel.

"I had that idea for years. but it was difficult to get the correct compound. The correct mixture of hydrogen and oxygen and the other chemicals that go to the making of this artificial atmosphere are cohesive. as you have seen. I had a volatile alkaline base, but I couldn't mix the elements in the plane—there'd be an explosion. I had to release one at a time from the different containers in the plane. The idea is all right you'll agree. Why, wherever the wind blows that cloud for the next thirty days people will have warm weather."

An important looking man followed by a crowd came up to our table and stood before the little professor.

"You have brought ruin upon farmers across the entire country. There are reports of houses being burned—"

"Was any one killed?" asked the excited little man.

"No, but you're going to face some big damage suits." said the man.

The professor pondered a minute. Then he looked up at the man and said, "Not far east of here lie the trackless wastes of the Canadian wilds. The Canadian government was the first to become interested in my experiments. Canadian statesmen are responsible for what I have done thus far. They were interested because I promised an Eden f tropical lands where now glitter the snowy stretches of the great Northwest. I am sure we can repay all losses in land."

There was a moment of stunned silence.

A shout went up from the crowd, cheers shook the house. They stopped when the professor's lips moved again.

"I can make a jungle out of the arctic, a land of steaming forests and banana plantations. There is no limit to the number of chemical compounds. Don't you agree that it's a wonderful discovery?" He twiddled his thumbs and smiled upon the speechless throng.

"It's an astounding invention, all right," drawled Blaine. "But how about that plane of mine? How did the stuff happen to cut into that wing like a pair of scissors and leave the rest of the ship intact?"

"I'll—I'll pay for that—I'll make it right!" said the nervous little professor. "I got the mixture too rich!"