The Master Plan: A Book Review of the Future

T. S. WATT served in the Royal Air Force during the war and has written several burlesques of the war memoirs now coming so copiously into print.

The Space War of 2942-2947 has by now produced by far the greatest mass of literature ever to be inspired by a single conflict. In this huge clamor, only the voice of exceptional power and authority can hope for a hearing, and that Space Marshal Archibald Merrimont of Betelgeuse is the happy possessor of such a voice is amply proved by the unprecedented sales of the second volume of his memoirs, Into Battle.

On the fifth of May, 2943, Space Marshal Merrimont entered the Betelgeuse orbit and assumed control of the Third Battle Fleet, under the supreme command of Space Marshal Whiteley. He immediately went to bed in his private rocket but was soon aroused on the arrival of a message from the British Prime Minister. He was angry at being waked:

“To maintain himself at the topmost peak of physical and mental efficiency, the fighting man needs an ample allowance of sound, unbroken sleep, and I was therefore very angry at being disturbed. The message ran:

1. As you assume your somber responsibilities, the dreadful face of disaster gapes upon us through the smoke of battle. The treacherous pact with the Disembodied Presences to which the enemy has now put his bloodstained hand will unleash a catastrophic holocaust of destruction upon our gallant ally, whose imminent peril and torment gnaws at my bowels hourly.

2. I have every confidence in your ability to deal with this crisis. Where is your main mass of maneuver? Is it not possible that Bailey should make a sudden leap from behind Rigel upon the enemy lines of communication, now extended to more than twenty light-years? Hack me out a scheme on one sheet of paper.

3. Pray let me have a note of the number of boys who leave the national schools at fifteen years and over.

“I had, and I retain, the greatest admiration and respect for the Prime Minister, but I cannot recall that I ever found his messages particularly helpful. In this case, the first paragraph really got us nowhere, the third should have gone to the Minister of Education, and the suggestion contained in the second was valueless, since I had already decided that Rocket General Bailey had been thrust into a position far above his proper ceiling, and would have to go. The main reasons for this were:

“1. He had set up his headquarters a good five light-years behind his front line.

“2. When I had visited him on the previous day, I found the whole atmosphere of the headquarters dreary and depressing. Routine disintegration had been neglected, and immense masses of empty bottles and cigarette cartons were orbiting behind the dull and rusty rockets. So thickly encrusted with dirt was the helmet of Bailey’s space suit that I had to get him to remove it before I could see whether he had the light of battle in his eyes.

“3. A commander’s brain must be ice-clear at all times, but when I suggested that Bailey join me in a quick reconnaissance, he replied, ‘The hell with that. This one’s on me.’

“In view of all this I felt that Bailey was not the man to leap upon the enemy from behind Rigel or anywhere else.”

Space Marshal Merrimont devotes the whole of one chapter to an exposition of his Master Plan and most of another to his disagreement with Space Marshal Whiteley over various details in its execution. Relations between the two were cordial, in spite of divergences of opinion:

“I have always had the greatest admiration and respect for that great and good woman. She bore her heavy burden with patience and fortitude, and her astonishing failure to understand the advantages of my Master Plan never for one moment diminished the strength of our mutual regard. It was on the second of June that I signaled to her:

My dear Lucy,
1. I propose to strike the enemy a heavy blow at the point where he is weakest; viz., between the neutral Betelgeusian planets.
2. Through the hole thereby punched I shall pass No. 2 Telepathic Air Corps, who will engage the Disembodied Presences and knock them bowlegged.
3. Right is on our side, we are all 100 per cent fit, and if we follow my Master Plan and make no mistakes, we cannot fail.
Yours very sincerely,
Archibald Merrimont

“Her reply arrived on the following day and ran as follows:

Dear Baldy,
1. I agree wholeheartedly that a heavy attack must be launched at the enemy.
2. I feel that your main target should be the outermost Betelgeusian planet, from which the enemy is pouring his brainwashing radiations upon our civilian populations.
3. Secondary objective will be the bubonic bacteria reservoir on Venus.
4. All here hope that you will fling yourself into this at the earliest possible moment.
Yours ever,
Lucy Whiteley

“Hardly had I digested this before another signal arrived from the Prime Minister:

1. The baleful glare of the evil man has now turned upon the Saturn stewpot. If he attempts a landing, we look to you to claw him off the planet before he has a chance to nourish his invasion.

2. What is this I hear of dentists’ chairs taking up valuable rocket space?

3. Forward at ten thousand parsecs an hour to victory !

“I immediately decided to ignore all side issues and to concentrate on the Master Plan. To the Prime Minister I replied noncommittally that we were ready to go in the ring and knock the enemy bowlegged, and to Whiteley that I was behind her 100 per cent in any decision she might make, that I regarded her plan as useless, and that there should be a conference between us at the earliest possible moment.”

The conference took place three days later at Whiteley’s headquarters. The Prime Minister attended, and Merrimont brought with him Thinker Captain Johnson, of the Intelligence Staff.

“Johnson had a brain like a knife edge. Though physically frail, he was an indomitable worker, lashing himself mercilessly on among his maps and mathematical instruments, often for twenty-four hours at a stretch. It was to one of these bursts of almost superhuman endeavor that I owed the main idea behind the Master Plan — to attack the enemy where he was weakest, using those forces in which we were strongest. Johnson’s prodigious labors on this conception came near to costing him his reason, and he eventually paid a heavy price for his fanatical zeal, being earthed in the last year of the war, burnt out intellectually at the early age of ninety-two.”

It was Johnson’s power of clear exposition that eventually turned the scales in favor of the Master Plan. At first little progress was achieved. Whiteley made a speech in which she paid a tribute to Merrimont’s devotion to duty. Merrimont promised 100-per-cent support for Whiteley and hoped that in return she would back the Master Plan.

“Then Johnson spoke. For three hours he gave a brilliant exposition of his break-through strategy, illustrating his points in masterful fashion with blackboard diagrams. Whiteley and the Prime Minister still appeared dubious, but when Johnson rose to his feet once more they suddenly capitulated and approved the adoption of the Master Plan. I then said that much precious time had been wasted but that if we all pulled together as a team, success was assured. Meanwhile there was not a moment to lose. I then immediately left the conference and went to bed in my private rocket.”

The book comes to an end as the rocket spearheads are concentrated for the initial thrust, and one cannot doubt that the next volume, Betelgeuse Break-Through, will be eagerly awaited by a host of readers.