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Episode Studies by Clayton Barr
The Chicago Conversion

Written by Geo. W. Proctor

(The page numbers come from the 1st printing, paperback edition, published January 1985)

On V-day in Chicago, a cadre of Visitor soldiers gets its hands on a stash of red dust antitoxin and plans are put in place to maintain control of the city.

Story Summary

The novel opens in Chicago on V-day, with thousands and thousands of children's balloons being released into the air, carrying the toxic-to-Visitors red dust. Just before the release of the balloons, High Captain Gerald led a couple hundred shock troopers in an attack on a Chicago area Resistance base at Lake Zurich. They find it almost deserted due to the V-day attack about to begin; only 8 rebels, quickly dispatched, left to guard one building containing a box full of antitoxin pills against the red dust. Finally beginning to succumb to the red dust drifting down from the sky, Gerald realizes what the antitoxin is and dispenses one pill to each of his troopers until they are all gone. Gerald and his soldiers are now immune to the red dust, but the fleet is about to leave Earth without them. They pull out and return to the Chicago mothership as it leaves the planet.

Five days later, former military chopper pilot Samuel Walker and Kathleen Wagner are still living at the abandoned Arlington Park Race Track in the empty suburb of Arlington Heights. Empty because the Visitors had kidnapped all the residents of it and several other suburbs months ago. In hiding and mostly out of communication with the rest of the world, the two are unaware of V-day, expecting the missing mothership to return from some Visitor convention any day.

On board the Chicago mothership, hidden behind Earth's moon with the rest of the Visitor fleet, Commander Alicia berates Gerald for his stupidity in giving all of the antitoxin pills to his men on V-day. If he had left some samples, Visitor scientists could have reproduced it and made every member of the fleet immune to the red dust. But she also believes it is only a matter of time until those scientists replicate the antitoxin on their own and she gives Gerald a chance to redeem himself by leading his immune troopers in quietly retaking Chicago with the help of converts she already has in place among the local government and Resistance members.

A Resistance scout and messenger named Janus makes renewed contact with Walker and Kathleen, explaining the events of V-day and the retreat of the Visitors. The leader of the Chicago Resistance, Paul Nordine, is helping to slowly organize the city and its government again. The world is still in rough shape, trying to recover, with food, medical supplies and transportation being a problem in the war-torn city; Chicago got it worse than most cities during the occupation, with more human abductions and a higher number of Resistance battles.

Planning to return to the city soon, Walker and Kathleen decide to get married at the earliest opportunity. They decide to celebrate in their smelly stable quarters at the race track. While Kathleen is out in the middle of the track oval to pick some wild flowers, Walker suddenly gets a pain in his jaw that always indicates the presence of a Visitor gravity-drive ship! Running outside, he sees a shuttle land in the parking lot to meet some humans in a vehicle. The Visitors happen to spy Kathleen in the field and shoot her down. Then the shuttle and car both vacate the track, leaving a heart-broken and angry Walker.

The next day Walker buries Kathleen on the field with Janus' help. Then they drive into Chicago to meet with Paul Nordine at the Resistance's new headquarters in the Art Institute of Chicago, which had been the Visitors' Security Headquarters during the occupation. Walker explains what he saw to Paul and they determine that this group of Visitors must have gotten their hands on some antitoxin tablets and may be planning to use the abandoned suburb as a clandestine base. Paul sends Walker and his second-in-command, Steven Tyford, with some men to hide out around the track to try to catch the Visitors off-guard when they return. But a week passes with no Visitations, so the men are ordered back to the city. Walker and Janus decide to remain behind and continue the wait. The following day, the Visitors do return but they seem to know what is waiting for them and they instead get the drop on Walker and Janus, capturing them and taking them to Commander Alicia on the mothership.

Walker and Janus suffer a session in the conversion chamber and then are thrown into a cell. During their sleep, a fifth columnist named Jennifer knocks out the guards and smuggles the two humans out, disguised in Visitor uniforms and helmets. All three escape the mothership in a shuttle. During the flight, Jennifer shows Walker how the shuttle is piloted. Unfortunately, it is pre-programmed to take them from the mothership hiding at the far side of the moon to the new race track headquarters of Gerald and his troops, but it's a better chance than remaining on the mothership. Jennifer explains that Alicia had hoped to use the two Resistance fighters in her plan to capture Paul Nordine and convert him, thus gaining significant control of Chicago's restoration.

When the shuttle lands it is night and the three get out and run towards a barn but Gerald's guards see them and begin shooting. Jennifer is killed in the fight. Shortly after, Janus sacrifices himself to buy time for Walker to escape into the deserted residential neighborhood of Arlington Heights. Walker seeks to hot wire one of the many abandoned autos but most of the car batteries are dead from lack of use. Finally he finds a working Caprice, hot wires it, and speeds off into the dark.

Walker's jaw again throbs with pain and he knows Visitor squad vehicles are searching for him. One catches up and begins strafing him. By driving into an underpass and stopping, he tricks the pilot into landing on the other side, then he guns the Caprice directly at the craft before ditching. The car slams into the Visitor vessel and both vehicles go up in an explosion.

Nursing an injured shoulder from the jump, Walker continues on foot until he is stopped by a police officer and his two helpers. After some misunderstandings, he is finally taken to the Resistance headquarters at the Art Institute. Paul is away in a city meeting but Walker is able to recount the details of his adventure to second-in-command Tyford and warn him about the plan to capture and use Paul. Tyford promises to inform Paul and bring him back to the Institute to see Walker within the next hour. Walker gets some sleep while waiting.

Walker wakes up 1 1/2 hours later and learns from some other Resistance members that Nordine and Tyford were there briefly but just left for another meeting. Walker runs outside and sees the two get into a car. He recognizes the license plate as the one on the vehicle that met with the Visitors the night Kathleen was killed. Putting the pieces together, he realizes that Tyford is a convert or traitor working for the Visitors.

Assuming that Tyford is taking Nordine to Gerald's base at the race track, he takes a truck from the Institute and speeds to the location. He sees Tyford's car there and, in his Visitor uniform and helmet, manages to approach it, seeing a drugged or unconscious Nordine slumped in the passenger seat. He spies the keys still in the car and quickly decides to suddenly jump in and race off, hoping to avoid the gunfire that was sure to follow. But, before he can implement his desperate plan, Gerald shows up and orders all troops into the shuttle with the prisoner. Having little choice, Walker continues his charade and boards with the rest of the troops.

They make the four-hour flight all the way back to the far side of the moon and Alicia's waiting mothership. Luckily, no one talks to him throughout the trip to reveal his human voice. After disembarking from the shuttle, Walker remains close to Nordine and is picked by the sergeant as one of the guards ordered to escort the prisoner to Alicia. Soon, he finds himself standing helplessly by as Alicia subjects the Resistance leader to a session in the conversion chamber.

Afterwards, Walker is left as one of two guards on Nordine's cell. He knocks out the other guard and escapes with Nordine in a Visitor fighter. Thanks to Jennifer's earlier tutorial, he is able to pilot the craft away, but they soon find themselves pursued by three more fighter craft. With Nordine's help on the guns, one of the pursuers is destroyed, but the chase continues all the way back to Earth. Flying into a cloud bank, which confuses the ships sensors, Walker and Nordine are able to destroy the last two fighters, but the debris also strikes them and they make a crash landing on Lake Michigan. Luckily they are rescued by the alert Coast Guard. Tyford is picked up at the Institute and will be held in the psychiatric ward of a hospital for treatment to try to reverse the conversion he'd undergone.

Meanwhile, having lost communication with the pursuing fighter craft, Alicia is forced by her fellow Commanders to admit defeat in Chicago and Gerald and his troops are ordered to withdraw back to the fleet. But Nordine's Resistance force, along with three police choppers, attempt to stop the Visitors' retreat and in the battle Gerald's shuttles are destroyed on the ground with his troops aboard. And Walker has a face-to-face showdown with Gerald, killing him in rage.

Having now lost all their immune troops besides the overall failure of Alicia's plan, the other Commanders remove her from command and place her in isolated holding to face the Leader's wrath upon their eventual return home.

Back on Earth, Walker decides to assist in the rebuilding of Chicago, positive that the Visitors will eventually return to take Earth's resources.


Didja Know?

The moon image on the cover of this edition of the novel is of the Earth side of the moon. Don't you think it would have been cooler to have a photo of the far side considering that's where the Visitor fleet is hiding? There are existing images of the far side taken by satellite probes the U.S. and other countries have sent to the moon.

Didja Notice?

In the novel East Coast Crisis, we learn that the Brook Cove Resistance group referred to the red dust as Cherry Tang. Here, page 1 reveals that some additional nicknames given to the red dust by other Resistance fighters are: V-Dust, Lizard Arsenic, V-Con (inspired by the rodenticide brand name d-Con), and Snake Powder (inspired by flea powder).

Page 2 confirms that it is the fourth planet of Sirius that the Visitors come from (as stated by Diana in "Arrival"). Page 3 goes on to describe the planet as one whose landmasses dwarf its tiny seas and rivers are ribbon-like trickles. A desert planet.

Page 3 describes the Chicago Resistance using grenades packed with red dust and also sand-blasters to spray the toxin.

Page 4 tells us the Art Institute of Chicago was the Visitor Security Headquarters for the city during the occupation and has now become Paul Nordine's rebuilding headquarters while the city attempts to return to normal operations. The institute is a real school and museum.

Page 4 also mentions the Chicago Loop; it is the historical center of downtown Chicago.

On page 4, Resistance fighter Jeff Stevenson watches from the ground as an aircraft spews red dust underneath the mothership in the shape of the letter V!

On page 6, Jeff recalls the night the residents of his suburb, Lake Zurich, were taken by the Visitors while he and his wife were away. The two of them were spared because they had driven to Barrington that night to see the latest Steven Spielberg film. Lake Zurich and Barrington are both real world suburbs of Chicago. The film Jeff and his wife saw is not named, but is described as the director's "newest collection of special effects crawlies and beasties." In the timeline of V, this scene would have taken place in 1984, so the film must have been Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I'm not sure I would call it a collection of special effects crawlies and beasties, but there are a number of disgusting insects, bats, snakes, etc.

Page 9 reveals that the Commander of the Chicago mothership was called Alicia.

Page 12 describes the Visitors as having a double row of reptilian teeth! This is also repeated in Proctor's later novel The Texas Run and is stated in V: The Audio Book, an adaptation of the first mini-series for children.

On page 19, Walker reminisces on an Alfred Hitchcock film starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, with Grant playing a former cat burglar. Walker can't recall the name of the movie. Well, just so you know, it's To Catch a Thief (1955).

Page 20 introduces us to the abandoned Arlington Park Race Track which is a major location throughout the book. It is a real horse racing track in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights.

On page 21, Kathleen comments that she wants to go to a bookstore because she's gotten hooked on "MacDonald's Travis McGee stories". This refers to the novels by John D. MacDonald about salvage consultant Travis McGee who recovers others missing or stolen property for a fee. Since this story would take place in 1984, Kathleen may be wanting to acquire The Lonely Silver Rain, which was published that year and became the final McGee novel when MacDonald died in 1986.

Pages 29-30 reveal that the Visitor fleet has not returned to Sirius but is instead hiding behind Earth's moon, unwilling to face the Leader's wrath for failure. This may be why the coded message from Diana's escape shuttle in the novel The Pursuit of Diana was directed toward the moon. The hidden fleet is later confirmed in the first episode of the weekly TV series, "Liberation Day".

On page 30, Commander Alicia dresses down High Captain Gerald in the Visitors' native language. Yet the skin around the mouth of her false face does not tear from the effort as it is described in the V novelization and East Coast Crisis.

On page 31, Alicia says that Visitor scientists could have replicated the red dust antitoxin from one of the Resistance's pills, but can't isolate it from Gerald's men who have taken it and are now immune. But in the novel The Pursuit of Diana, an Earth scientist at Berkeley reports to Diana's cohorts that he has managed to isolate it from the blood sample of a Visitor who had received the antitoxin pill. So, if an Earth scientist could do it, why not the more advanced Visitors?

Also on page 31, Alicia reveals that the hidden Visitor fleet plans to return to Earth once they have found out how to make the antitoxin.

The events of this novel take place over the course of about 2 weeks and the antitoxin taken by Gerald and his troops never wears off in that time! In The Pursuit of Diana, and later in episodes of the weekly TV series, the antitoxin tablets are said to last only about 12 hours each. The 12-hour duration is probably a more realistic way of depicting the antitoxin. Of course, this poses a huge continuity problem for this novel.

On Page 36, Janus informs the behind-the-times Walker that communications on Earth are a mess due to the Visitors having apparently destroyed most of our satellites during their occupation or while fleeing.

Page 36 also reveals that a former plumber named Paul Nordine is the leader of the Chicago area Resistance.

On page 37, Janus laments that the Chicago Cubs baseball team didn't get a chance to take the National League pennant due to the Visitors ending all sporting events when the Cubs were only 1 game behind the Mets in the National League. In the real world, the Cubs did do well that year, but still lost the pennant to the San Diego Padres.

Page 42 reveals that the presence of the Visitors' gravity drive causes a throbbing pain in Walker's dental work which gives him an interesting way of knowing when a Visitor craft is approaching. Walker compares it to his days of flying a copter in Vietnam; when the rotor's pitch was just right, his jaw would throb. Walker's days in Vietnam is likely a reference to the United States' involvement in the war between North and South Vietnam from 1955-1975.

Page 48 reveals that the following Chicago suburbs are empty due to the kidnappings of the residents by the Visitors: Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect and Des Plaines. Earlier in the book it was revealed that Lake Zurich, 40 miles northwest of Chicago, was also empty. These are all real world suburbs of Chicago.

On page 49, Janus explains to Walker that the Chicago area suffered worse than most other parts of the world under the Visitors, saying, "To get at Lake Michigan, the Visitors had to cut us off from everyone else." Presumably, he means the Visitors wanted to get at Lake Michigan to take the water.

Page 56 reveals that there are food riots occurring in Chicago about 11 days after V-day.

On page 69, Janus makes reference to a past news report about a Visitor who saved a chemical plant worker "in a vat of liquid nitrogen or oxygen or something". He is referring to Willie saving Caleb in "Arrival".

On page 71, Gerald reveals himself to the captured Walker and Janus. Janus exclaims that Gerald was killed at Daley Center on V-day; Gerald tells them it was a double who was killed there. Daley Center is the Civic Center of Chicago and its courtyard is known for a massive sculpture by artist Pablo Picasso.

On pages 71-72, the shuttle carrying Walker and Janus enters the open hangar bay of the (former Chicago) mothership in space. Walker wonders what force is used to prevent those in the landing bay from being sucked out into space while the bay doors are open. In most sci-fi depicting this sort of ingress/egress, magnetic fields are described as being the force preventing the artificial atmosphere of the ship from escaping into space.

In my study of the episode "The Masterpiece", I noticed that some unseen force keeps Julie's feet rooted to her spot in the conversion chamber. On page 77 of this book, it is revealed that the glowing circle in which the prisoner stands allows the chamber master to control the person's body. Here, Alicia makes Walker reach his arms out to her in this way.

On page 86, a fifth columnist called Jennifer helps Walker and Janus escape from the mothership. This is not the same Jennifer fifth columnist who appears in the novel East Coast Crisis. Nor is it the Jennifer fifth columnist from the novel The Pursuit of Diana. I would assume the Visitors have 27 Jennifers.

On page 96, while flying the Visitor shuttle with Jennifer, Walker says, "This thing practically flies itself." This mimics Martin's words when he advises Donovan on flying one in "Plan for Resistance".

On page 97, Jennifer echoes Alicia's earlier comments that Visitor scientists can not be far behind on producing their own antitoxin to the red dust.

On page 102, Jennifer explains to Walker and Janus that the podded humans are safe for now. They are to be delivered to Sirius, not consumed on the ship. She says they have breeding pens for small animals for onboard consumption.

On page 145, while Walker, pretending to be a Visitor trooper, is shuttled with the rest on a 4-hour trip to the mothership, he wonders why the Visitors around him have not smelled the mammal in their midst considering he has not bathed for 3 days! We never get an answer to this. Perhaps the Visitors have a poor sense of smell? Or the false human faces they wear obstruct their sense of smell?

Page 156 reveals that the Commander of the Houston ship is called Lewis.

Page 160 reveals that since the Visitors come from a water-poor planet, their sensors are not equipped to deal with a cloudy environment and do not work well in it.

Page 162 reveals that the Commander of the London ship is called Ian and the Commander of the Mexico City ship is called Maria.

On page 168, Nordine says that the doctors hope that with luck and a lot of work, they may one day be able to undue the mess made of the minds of Tyford and the other converts. If the events of The Pursuit of Diana are to be believed, this may be easier than they think with the help of the fifth columnists left behind and the conversion chamber on the captured L.A. mothership.

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