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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK MORALE *** Produced by Greg Weeks, V. L. Simpson and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at

Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from "Astounding Stories", December 1931. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

A Story of the War of 1941-43
By Murray Leinster


"... 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.โ€”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 destructionโ€”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:

"All through?"

"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.

He was running madly, and suddenly the earth bucked violently beneath his feet, and he had a momentary sensation of things flying madly by over his head, and then he knew nothing at all for a very long time. Then his head ached horribly and someone was popping at something valorously with a rifle, and he heard the nasty sharp explosions of the hexynitrate bullets which have remodeled older ideas of warfare, and Sergeant Walpole was aware of an urgent necessity to do something, but he could not at all imagine what it was. Then a shell went off, the earth-concussion banged his nose against the sand, and the rifle-fire stopped.

"For Gawd's sake!" said Sergeant Walpole dizzily.

He staggered to his feet and looked behind him. Where the cottage had been there was a hole. Quite a large hole. It was probably a hundred yards across and all of twenty deep, but sea-water was seeping in to fill it through the sand. Its edge was forty or fifty feet from where he stood. He had been knocked down by the heaving earth, and the sand and mud blown out of the crater had gone clean over him. Twenty feet back, the top part of his body would have been cut neatly off by the blast. As it was....

He found his nose bleeding and plugged it with his handkerchief. He was still rather dazed, and he still had the feeling that there was something extremely important that he must do. He stood rocking on his feet, trying to clear his head, when two men came along the sand-dunes behind the beach. One of them carried two automatic rifles. The other was trying to bandage a limp and flapping arm as he ran. They saw the Sergeant and ran to him.

"Hell, Sarge, I thought y'were blown to little egg-shells."

"I ain't," said Sergeant Walpole. He looked again at the hole in the ground and swore painedly.

"Look at that," said the man with the flapping arm. "Hell's goin' to pop around here, Sarge."

The sergeant swung around. Then his mouth dropped open. Just half a mile away and hardly more than two hundred yards from the shore-line, the Diesel tramp was ramming the beach. A wake still foamed behind it. A monstrous bow-wave spread out on either hand, over-topping even the combers that came rolling in. It was being deliberately run ashore. It struck, and its fore-mast crumpled up and fell forward, carrying its derrick-booms with it. There was the squeal of crumpled metal plates.

"Flyin' a yeller flag just now," panted one of the two privates. "We started poppin' hexynitrate bullets at her an' she flung a shell at us. She's a enemy ship. But what the hell?"

Smoke spurted up from the beached ship. Her stern broke off and settled in the deeper water out from the shore. More smoke spurted out. Her bow split wide. There were the deep rumbles of black-powder explosions. Sergeant Walpole and his two followers stared blankly. More explosions, and the ship was hidden in smoke, and when it blew away her funnel was down and half or more of her upper works was sliding into the sea, and she had listed suddenly.

Sergeant Walpole gazed upward. Futilely, of course; there was nothing in sight overhead. But these explosions did look like the hexynitrate stuff they put in small-arm bullets nowadays. A thirty-caliber bullet had the explosive effect of an old-style six-pound T.N.T. shell. Only, hexynitrate goes off with a crack instead of a boom. It wasn't an American plane opening up with a machine-gun.

Then the beached ship seemed to blow up. A mass of thick smoke covered her from stem to stern, and bits of plating flew heavily through the air, and there were a few lurid bursts of flame. Sergeant Walpole suddenly remembered that there ought to be survivors, only he hadn't seen anybody diving overboard to try to get ashore. He half-started forward....

Then the sea-breeze blew this smoke, too, away from the wreckage. And the tramp was gone, but there was something else left in its placeโ€”so that Sergeant Walpole took one look, and swallowed a non-existent something that came up instantly into his throat again, and remembered the urgent thing he had to do.

"Pete," he said calmly, "you hunt up the Area Officer an' tell him what you seen. Here! I'll give you a report that'll keep 'em from slammin' you in clink for bein' drunk. Grab a monocycle somewheres. It's faster than a car, the way you'll be travelin'. First telephone you come to that's workin', make Central put you in the tight beam to head-quarters. Then go on an' report, y'self. See?"

Pete started, and automatically fumbled with his limp and useless arm. Then he carefully tucked the unmanageable hand in the pocket of his uniform blouse.

"That don't matter now," he said absurdly.

He was looking at the thing left in place of the tramp, as Sergeant Walpole scribbled on one of the regulation report-forms of the Eastern Coast Observation Force. And the thing he saw was enough to upset anybody.

Where the tramp had been there was a single bit of bow-plating sticking up out of the surf, and a bunch of miscellaneous floating wreckage drifting sluggishly toward the beach. And there was a solid, rounded, metallic shape apparently quite as long as the original tramp had been. There was a huge armored tube across its upper part, with vision-slits in two bulbous sections at its end. There were gun-ports visible here and there, and already a monstrous protuberance was coming into view midway along its back, as if forced into position from within. Where the bow of the tramp had been there were colossal treads now visible. There was a sort of conning-tower, armored and grim. There was a ghastly steel beak. The thing was a war-machine of monstrous size. It emitted a sudden roaring sound, as of internal-combustion engines operating at full power, and lurched heavily. The steel plates of the tramp still visible above water, crumpled up like paper and were trodden under. The thing came toward the shore. It slithered through the shallow sea, with waves breaking against its bulging sides. It came out upon the beach, its wet sides glittering. It was two hundred feet long, and it looked somehow like a gigantic centipede.

It was a tank, of sorts, but like no tank ever seen on earth before. It was the great-grandfather of all tanks. It

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