They came out of the great abyss which lay around the Earth, from the planet of a star so distant that it could not be seen with the naked eye. Their purpose was survival and the conquest of Earth. They were alien and possessed a mysterious force which lay at the very origin of human comprehension; the ability to enter into a man's mind, to make him think the thoughts they chose, to make him hear and see and feel the things they wanted. Against such a force there seemed no defence; for who could say that the man or woman by his side was not motivated by one of these creatures? Who could say that his own thoughts and senses belonged to him and not to some 'thing' seated in some alien way inside his brain?
Release date: December 22, 2014
Print pages: 113
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John Stephen Glasby was born in 1928, and graduated from Nottingham University with an honours degree in Chemistry. He started his career as a research chemist for I.C.I. in 1952, and worked for them until his retirement. Over the next two decades, he began a parallel career as an extraordinarily prolific writer of science fiction novels and short stories, his first novels appearing in the summer of 1952 from Curtis Warren Ltd. under various house pseudonyms such as ‘Rand Le Page’ and ‘Berl Cameron’, as was the fashion of the day. Late in 1952, he began an astonishing association with the London publisher, John Spencer Ltd., which was to last more than twenty years.
Glasby wrote four novels for Spencer’s first SF series under the house names ‘Victor La Salle’ and ‘Karl Zeigfried’ (1953), an in 1957, John Spencer’s commissioned Glasby to write a new SF novel called This Second Earth, the success of which prompted them to recreate a line of new SF novels, along with a ‘Supernatural’ series, featuring alternatively novels and new short story collection of Supernatural Stories. The vast majority of both these long-running series were written by Lionel Fanthorpe and John Glasby under a plethora of pseudonyms. Glasby quickly became Spencer’s main author, writing hundreds of stories and novels in a bewildering array of genres, including SF, supernatural, Foreign Legion sagas, Second World War novels, hospital romances, crime novels and westerns.
Interested in astronomy since childhood, Glasby had joined the variable star section of the British Astronomical Society in 1958, and was made Director in 1965. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1960, and he published numerous textbooks and encyclopaedias on astronomy and chemistry, the first being Variable Stars in 1968.
Following his retirement from I.C.I., Glasby returned to writing supernatural stories in the Lovecraftian vein, appearing in American small press magazines and Mythos anthologies. New science fiction and supernatural novels and collection followed. In recent years new stories appeared in original collections edited by leading horror anthologist Stephen Jones, and in Philip Harbottle’s Fantasy Adventures collections.
John Glasby died on June 5, 2011, following a long and courageous battle with illness, during which time he continued to write with undimmed power.
Into The Abyss
THEY built the ship, the first and last of its kind, and launched it up into the black abyss of space. Once outside the atmosphere, the automatics took over from the initial thrust. A slender metal tape slid beneath an electronic eye. The impulses were fed directly into the intricate mechanism behind the tiered banks of instruments.
The moon, a massive hunk of rock and dust, slid by at a little over seventy thousand miles; acceleration soared, the planet behind the ship dropped into the black vastnesses as it fled towards the stars.
When its green image had faded from the circular faces of the tracking screens, the technicians went outside, congratulated each other and stared up at the sky. It was late dusk and a few stars, the brightest ones, were already visible. Neither the technical nor the military staff spoke much, their minds were too full for that. Somewhere out there, among the foaming trillions of stars, the ship was moving at an unthinkable speed through a dark night that had no beginning and no end.
While the starship fled through the darkness, while those on board came out of the long, chemically-induced sleep and took over control from the automatics; those behind on the planet began the building of another ship to follow the first. But it was never used.…
The bomb which fell less than five miles from the take off site, although it destroyed virtually everything within a radius of twenty miles, razing every installation above ground in a blaze of atom-heat, merely touched the metal of the ship as it rested in its deep, sunken pit, with a smattering of hard radiation.
Retaliation on the aggressors was swift and sure. Around the curve of the planet the missiles swept, hugging the surface, reaching up out of the atmosphere, only to slide in again as they neared their targets. The billowing mushrooms of deadly heat and radiation spread themselves over the face of the planet, the cities crumbled into dust or flowed into lava, the armies were little more than a disorganised rabble on both sides as both they and the civilian population died in their millions, destroyed by the invisible radiation which ate into their bodies.
Four light-weeks distant, the ship was moving at close on light-speed, still continuing to accelerate. For those on board, this was to be the only world they would know for many years. Their lives would be bounded by the great curving hull; their horizons limited, and yet limitless. They had been carefully chosen for the trip. Psi quotients had been checked and re-checked, the capacity for punishment, for endurance, had been raised to abnormally high levels; but above all, they had been chosen for their ability to survive under the extremely difficult environments in which it was expected they would find themselves whenever they reached a habitable solar system. Their mission was simple and straight forward. To locate a planet capable of colonisation, to send back its location, to land there and survive until colonisation from the parent planet could begin.
Each individual had been allotted a routine. In what little spare time they had, there were innumerable relaxations. Everything had been taken care of on board ship. It had been recognised that the greatest enemy during the voyage would be boredom and everything had been done to minimise this. The microfilm library contained over seventeen thousand volumes covering every subject thinkable. Full length feature films were shown every thirty hours star-time.
There were problems to be faced as the months dragged on into years, as they examined solar system after solar system, nowhere finding a planet which could sustain their type of life; but the inflexible routine which had been worked out in detail long before they had left their home planet, solved each problem as it arose and thirty-seven years after they had begun their journey, they were decelerating in the vicinity of a G-type sun which glowed brilliantly directly ahead of them and even from that distance showed a retinue of several planets.
With the aid of charts drawn up during the approach, and multi-stage calculating machines the size of matchboxes, the controls were locked on to a slightly-modified course as the starship drifted inward towards the sun, pausing at each of the planets, examining and scrutinising, checking atmospheres, gravity, density, radioactivity and countless other characteristics which were all fed into the integrating units.
Six days later, they were entering a stable decelerating orbit around the third planet from the sun, moving between it and the solitary moon which stood off on their starboard bow a mere sixty thousand miles away. Analysis of the planet complete, they made the capsules ready to take them down to the surface, the ship itself locked in its orbit. For ten seconds, everything stood ready, then the general alarm bell rang throughout the entire length of the ship and a moment later, the first meteor struck amidships, tearing a gaping gash in the touch metal. There was no chance to turn, to break out of orbit before the main swarm closed around them.…
They all got out of the jeep and walked quietly along the dusty track towards the nearest of the control buildings. In the distance close to the edge of the desert, the metal gantry now stood empty in the thin wind which blew about it in thick, billowing clouds. Doctor John McKenly, pipe in mouth, stood for a moment, staring at it, then shrugged his shoulders with a barely perceptible motion and followed the others inside. There were three men in the control room apart from himself. Healey, tall and straight in his Major’s uniform, standing beside the window, looking out along the road towards the take-off site, only once lifting his eyes to the darkening sky, his face still, but with a trace of the elation they all felt. Near the table, Ellery and Captain Summerfield stood together, conversing in low tones. They stopped as McKenly closed the door behind him.
“Well,” said Healey without turning his head. “It feels good, I suppose. Knowing that for the first time, we’ve beaten them to the punch.”
“Them?” inquired McKenly quietly. He puffed quietly on his pipe.
“The Reds,” said the other shortly. He uttered a sharp bark of laughter. “There’s a ship up there in orbit and a man inside it, out where no ship carrying a human passenger has ever been before. He’s already made half dozen orbits and there’s been no trouble.” He paused, then turned on his heel and glanced across the room at Summerfield. “How long now before we can pick him up again?”
The other checked the chronometer on the wall. He grinned. “He ought to be coming up over the horizon within twenty minutes, Major,” he said quietly, with a touch of understandable pride in his deep voice.
“Good. Then I suggest we go down to the main control room. I want to hear this when it finally comes through.”
Summerfield nodded. He opened the door which, from that upper room, led down into the bowels of the earth beneath the building. Major Healey led the way, down the long flight of steps and into the vast chamber at the bottom. Here was the heart of the building, where the four-year programme had been initiated and where it had finally reached fulfilment. The end-product was up there now, orbiting the Earth in a roughly circular orbit, three thousand miles above the surface.
One of the men seated behind the nearer bank of instruments turned and saw them. He pushed himself roughly to his feet and walked towards them. His pale eves were troubled behind the thick lenses of the spectacles. His features were a trifle more fixed than usual.
“What is it?” Healey demanded, sensing something of the puzzled bewilderment in the other’s mind. “Has something gone wrong with the satellite?”
The technician shook his head. “Nothing wrong with that, Major, as far as we know. But there was something puzzling which I think you ought to know about. So far, we’ve been able to find no explanation for it.”
“Go on. What is it?”
“Less than an hour ago, the scanners picked up something in an orbit outside that of the satellite. Something big. How big, we’re not sure. It was only by the merest chance that we caught it at all. We can say that it was larger than the satellite and that it seemed to be in a stable orbit around the Earth.”
“But that’s impossible.” expostulated the other. “Can you still pick it up?” He glanced at one of the scopes on the wall, but there was nothing there.
Anderson, the technician, gave the Major a cold look. “It isn’t there now. Why, we don’t know. In all, I’d say we had it under observation for a little over seven minutes.”
Major Healey bit his words off short. “And then what happened?”
“It vanished. Quite suddenly and inexplicably. If it was a ship, then the only explanation I can offer, for what it’s worth at the moment, is that it was destroyed.”
“In other words, you’re saying that the Reds have a satellite up there in an orbit exterior to our own, but that something happened to it—what, you aren’t sure—and it’s been destroyed, just like that?”
The other shrugged unhappily. “That’s all I can say at the moment, Major.”
Out of the corner of his eye, McKenly noticed that the Major was preparing to make another bitter comment and hurriedly, he interrupted. “Isn’t it possible that there was some fault in the scope itself? It seems unlikely that the Reds can have beaten us to the punch again.”
“A fault could have developed in the scope,” confessed the other uneasily, “although I doubt it. Naturally, I checked that point. There’s nothing wrong with it now. To all intents and purposes, it’s working quite normally. See for yourselves if you wish. It’s just possible that——”
He pursed his lips as a new thought struck him, then went on quietly: “It could have been one of the moon shots we saw. Several of those, in the past, missed the moon by a few thousand miles and went into orbit around the sun. We know that their orbits were such that they would make periodic close approaches to Earth. I’m afraid I’ve lost track of most of them completely. It’s highly probable what we saw was one of those satellites.”
“And the reason for its disappearance from the scope?” asked McKenly, sucking on the empty pipe for a moment before putting it back into his pocket.
The other spread his hands helplessly. “That’s a little more difficult to explain. All I can suggest is that it ran foul of a meteor swarm. There are such things between here and the moon on occasions. Encke’s comet made an extremely close approach to the Earth less than a month ago. It could have been something to do with that I suppose.”
Healey turned his head to look around the room. Where there had been silence a few moments before, there was now a babble of voices. Within minutes, the satellite was due to rise above the radio horizon and McKenly knew that it was essential they should contact the man in the sky as soon as possible. For the past one hundred and forty-six minutes, contact had been broken due to the vast hulk of the Earth itself, intervening between them and the ship in orbit. Anything could, theoretically, have happened, during that time.
“Major Philips. Major Philips! Base calling Mercury One. Base calling Mercury One.…”
Mercury One, pondered McKenly. That was the code for the satellite. The voice of the operator droned on in the near distance. In spite of himself, McKenly felt the tension beginning to rise within him. The others were feeling the same way, he thought slowly. Wondering if, this time, the loudspeaker set on the wall at the end of the central aisle, could break into hissing, uproarious life, as Phillips answered the call, or whe. . .
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