When the news came that Thomas Edison had created weapons and ships capable of fighting the Martians on our terms I was among the first to seek him out to assist in the constructions of whatever weapons he needed. I figured that I had nothing better to do, as did the other survivors of my town.
After I joined the global effort to build ships to battle the Martians I could not help but notice that there was a significant amount of waste during the construction of these ships. Some corruption was perhaps inevitable given that this was an effort undertaken amidst the wreckage of our world but this was all wrong. The future of humanity lay with our labors, and we were consuming a significant portion of the earths wealth to build them, no less than 11 billion dollars.
So I resigned myself to rooting out as much corruption as possible, turning in profiteers and slapping shirkers into shape. When I showed up in the yards outside Washington, D.C. I was already known to the engineers there as the man who had been the first to figure out Martian technology. In a short time I was promoted to foreman in charge of the construction of a dozen vessels. But most of what this consisted of was wasting time talking to bureaucrats of five different nations.
I did my work as well as I humanly could and made sure that the dozen hulls I was overseeing were delivered according to Edision’s exacting standards ahead of time and under budget.
Once this work was complete I joined the fleet at the rank of technical specialist. There were quite a few technical specialists in that expedition there had to be to make sure that everything continued to function. The solders and officers of the expedition were an agreeable lot, some of them were survivors of horrible battles with the Martians. They told me that whatever I may have thought I could have done to prevent the death of my family was fallacious, the only means of survival had been to run. No one had faced a Martian in single combat and lived to tell about it. That I had was considered to be nearly a miracle. I was constantly asked about my capture of a walker. I didn’t like to talk about it, as far as I was concerned I had gotten lucky. We spent quite a bit of the time on the way to Mars talking about the people we had lost in the invasion, that was a therapeutic experience.
The voyage to Mars was incredible, I fell in love with the wonders of the greater universe while we were out there. The various bizarre phenomena we encountered is far better described by the scientists who wrote extensive papers and books on what we found. I became determined that if at all possible I would attempt to build a new life for myself out here in space.
When we finally reached Mars the sheer insanity of our plan suddenly became clear. We had declared war on an entire planet, one that was more technically adept than ours. That had also spent years preparing for alien invasion, unlike ours. In that first battle I noticed that the ships that I had overseen the construction of, and the fleet flagship, whose construction had been overseen by Edison personally, proved themselves to be the most resistant to enemy attack. The better built ships continued to fight while the shoddily built ones went down on flames.
Then there was the spoilage of our food, which well and truly enraged me because it was due entirely to graft and corruption. Which led to some of the members of the expeditionary force meeting the beautiful and charming slave Aina. The last survivor of an unknown number of humans kidnapped by the Martians from Earth countless centuries ago. I never met the woman in person, but I and many others will be eternally grateful to her for providing the key to the annihilation of Martian civilization, the great flood.
After the final battles, while most of Mars was sinking I tried to assist in the rescue of the giant prisoner from Ceres I dangled from a rope a few hundred feet away from her. But we couldn’t get to her before the waters overwhelmed her. For years her beautiful face haunted my dreams, before she died she threw something at me, it looked like a large gemstone. I grabbed it, put it in my pocket and forgot about it.
In all fairness how could we have saved her? She was 40 feet tall! She wouldn’t have fit in our ship and after we rescued her what were we supposed to do!? Lash her to the side of a ship and hope she didn’t die from exposure to the vacuum of space while our expedition took a massive unplanned detour to Ceres? Or perhaps we could have taken her home and hope that our planets gravity did not crush her like a tin can?
The Martian civilization was almost completely destroyed by the flood that Edison had personally unleashed. Many of the survivors from their air corps were vaporized by our disintegrators. Then the emperor did his last, senseless act of aggression, killing one of his concubines after the conclusion of negotiations with him and he was disintegrated on the spot. With their immortal emperor destroyed and their civilization in ruins we packed up and left the planet.
On the flight home I had an odd dream, I met that woman from Ceres, but we were of the same size. She never spoke, she was just smiling, I did not feel like I was sleeping. It was the strangest thing, she was sitting at the side of my bunk smiling with this thankful look on her face, then when I tried to say something she faded away like a ghost. There was no one else aboard the ship and I panicked for a moment, then I woke up with a start. Everything was back to normal, the third shift was flying the ship. I was so exhausted that I instantly went back to a dreamless sleep.
As earth came back into sight the commander of the ship I was on, James Harding. Sat us all down to one last dinner and asked an inevitable question. “So, what do you all plan to do now that the Martian threat is destroyed?”
As the conversation started I was contemplating an odd thing. The blue gemstone the Cerean giant had thrown at me had somehow blended with my watch, a simple little Waltham watch with a golden case. I had picked it up from a small shop outside Washington, D.C. not long after I moved there. Now it was keeping perfect time. The watch also seemed warmer, softer, more alive. The substance that had bonded to the casing appeared to be similar to amber in texture and appearance. I felt it had a presence now, for some reason I did not discuss it with anyone else. I felt that for now this odd phenomenon was my little secret.
Lt Farquhar, who was sitting next to me took a small bite out of some of the Martian cake we had acquired and with his mouthful commented. “Get the recipe for how to make this stuff at home, start a business and selling it and become a millionaire. It’s the perfect food.”
We all chuckled at that, almost all of us had become a bit addicted to the stuff. It seemed to make us stronger and smarter, but perhaps that was just a side effect of lower or nonexistent gravity. Captain Harding observed, “this gets to the root of what I want to talk about. We have seen incredible things over these past couple of months we have technologies now that were unimaginable not even 3 years ago, so what are we going to do with them.”
I chuckled and replied, “you want to go and mine that solid gold asteroid we stopped at on the way to Mars don’t you?”
Harding blushed and replied, “well, I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t considered that. But I imagine all of us have considered that, come on, ideas everyone!”
Private Ericsson observed, “first of all transport on earth is probably going to be utterly revolutionized by these new technologies. It seems to me like there is no reason why Edison can’t build a factory to build larger and smaller versions of these ships for personal transit. But I don’t really see why some other company cannot be formed to manufacture these ships. Ryan, is there any reason you can think of why this wouldn’t work?”
I took a swig of water to wash down my cake, pocketed the watch and explained thusly. “If I had complete leadership of this project I would have had it done at a fraction of the cost of $11,000,000,000 we were budgeted. But it would have taken longer, at least 8 years and I would have preferred to build factories to build these ships in several locations. I also would have spent significantly more time working on our handheld disintegrators.”
Sgt. Franks, our designated sharpshooter suddenly blurted out, “damn right! What the heck was Edison thinking when he built these blasted things! Look at this dinky contraption, it looks like a child’s toy, it doesn’t even have a sights on it, it’s difficult to aim and kicks like a mule!” He then proceeded to slam his brand new colt double action revolver on the table. “I shot 7 Martians with this, granted they didn’t always stay down but this is how you build a weapon. Is a set of sights and a comfortable grip impossible to attach to this thing?”
I looked at the Colt and the disintegrator, his commentary seemed totally rational. Lt Farquhar chimed in again, “I don’t think Edison is going to sell these ships to civilians even if they could afford it. Electro gravity confers an indescribable advantage on anyone who possesses it and I don’t think he is going to want to share. He is probably going to be spending the rest of his life rolling around in a giant pile of money. When we get home most of the earths population is probably going to worship him like a god.”
Captain Harding nodded solemnly then he added, “even if we wanted to make more of these vehicles or advancements on these weapons Edison holds the patents on the basic technology. Perhaps he would be willing to grant a manufacturing license but we will have to see about that.”
My best friend on the room, Lt. Wyatt added, “antigravity isn’t the only way to fly. We all saw the airships the Martians have, but Ryan and I know a man who was working on powered heavier than air flight before Edison, he is a technical specialist on the ship Auckland, what’s his name?”
I replied, “Pierce, his name is Richard Pierce, he is from the South Island of New Zealand, interesting guy, a little nutty, but an brilliant engineer. He came up with a list of roughly 2,300 improvements to the basic electric ship design. Some of them probably wouldn’t work, but I freely admit he is much more creative than I am. He filed patents on aircraft before Edison announced his work.”
Harding asked, “is there any way around the patent issue?” I replied, “if someone filed for a patent on the same or a similar invention before Edison did we could start our own company. But this could just lead to a long drawn out court battle.”
Harding hummed a bit and stated, “okay, let’s say I am able to buy this ship from the government as war surplus. What could we do with it besides mining the moon and that gold asteroid?”
Lt Graves stated, “I would like to see Ceres, I imagine that we would get a fairly warm welcome there seeing as we annihilated their nemeses.” Cpl. Tombaugh said, “I would like to see what else there is in the universe, considering the wonders we beheld on this relatively short trip I would love to see what Jupiter looks like, or to behold the rings of Saturn up close.”
There were several other suggestions, some were downright silly, like private Butler’s half joking suggestion that we forget going back to Earth and turn pirate. Predating on whatever other works the Martians may have completed throughout the solar system. In the end Harding took stock of all these disparate ideas and solemnly stated. “Gentlemen, it has been my greatest honor commanding you, every last one of you has delivered far more than any commander can ask. We attacked the enemy facing odds worse than what the Spartans faced at Thermopylae but emerged triumphant. However this is not the end of a story but a beginning, as I said, my family is independently wealthy and I have been looking for a better investment for my efforts. The navy was an important part of my life but I don’t see much of a future there, so it is my intention to form a company to properly exploit the vast new resources at hand, what say you, do any of you wish to join me?”
Sgt. Franks immediately stood up and barked, “if it means building better weapons in case we have to face more cosmic threats count me in!” Several others enthusiastically assented, about 40 declined, having other commitments but they wished us the best of luck. Then it came down to me, there was a voice in my head screaming, “do it, do it you fool!” But I wanted to appear calm, Wyatt whispered in my ear, “why don’t you say yes?”
Finally Harding looked down at me, his expression was one of compassion, he quietly asked. “Come on Hammond, no one but Edison himself knows this technology better than you do, I would really like to have you come along.”
I smiled and said, “okay, as long as I have a position where I can create whatever I want.”
Harding laughed heartily and answered, “I wouldn’t have it any other way!” Then he snapped his fingers and signaled his adjutant, “I was going to share all this with you if we were all facing death or victory. There were too many eyes on us when we won, so now let us drink.”
The adjutant brought out 2 sealed bottles of whiskey of great antiquity, filthy with the dust of age. They were uncorked and shares were doled out to everyone. Never much cared for whiskey, tasted too much like paint thinner, but for some reason I developed a taste for it after that happy moment.
Before we landed on Earth we had created the Interplanetary Expedition Company, or just I.E.C.
We were able to contact mr Pierce before he shipped off back to New Zealand. When we told him what we would be doing he leapt at the opportunity. Harding talked a few other scientists from the expedition into joining our operation and put us up in a musty old manor house in western Maryland. While he and his lawyer went to Washington, D.C. to search the patent office. There were about 150 of us at the start, most of us had lost our families during the initial invasion, as such we had few outside commitments. As we set about coming up with ideas how to build new ships, mr Pierce rolled out a fascinating proposal.
“Gentlemen, I don’t need to tell you that our battles with the Martians both here and on their home turf were disastrous! Now why did they go so horribly?”
Wyatt hugged me and shouted, “because our foreman here was the only guy who could build a ship that could both withstand battle damage and preserve food!”
Everyone chuckled at that, Pierce commented, “well that was certainly a factor. But I think the real problem was a lack of speed, when the Martian walkers came we had some weapons which could knock one out. But even if cannon fire was accurate enough, usually it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be long until enemy counterfire knocked out the battery. Now we can clearly build a ship capable of great speed through the celestial firmament. But in maneuvering within an atmosphere or near obstacles our electrical ships were little more than sitting ducks for enemy fire, well when the bastards could get close enough to hit us.”
“Now, I was working on this back when we were building the fleet when we encountered Martian airships I noticed that they were powered by something far different than what most of our technology is based on. Most of our engines are of the reciprocating type, steam or gasoline powered engines which use energy to drive pistons in a rotary motion. Our electrical motors for the most part use energy to spin round and round. The Martians use engines which burn fuel made from some kind of hydrogen rich gel to run large fans, a turbine engine. The Martian walkers used a turbine to provide energy to propel themselves. They also used some kind of computing device to allow these machines to balance upright without falling over. We all saw what their airships could do, so that was my baseline, come up with something capable of beating Martian walkers and airships on their terms, and I like to think I came up with something that might be able to do the job.”
He unfolded a design blueprint, what it depicted was like nothing I had ever seen. The craft was a cylinder with a nose that tapered into a sharp cone and a great triangular wing. The design exuded speed.
“I have been working on this since my government found the sole Martian cylinder that hit New Zealand near Christchurch. Stupid blighters came down in the sea instead of on land and their meteor cylinder exploded from rapid cooling before they could get their technology operational. I am still working on the final product, but we can begin building this right away. Later on we can work on the weapons system, I believe that if we had say 40 of these flying from a larger electrical ship. These craft loaded with bombs containing a powerful virus or bacteria, lets say anthrax or smallpox. We could have attacked the Martians completely on our terms, they would have never seen us coming as our attack craft left a contagion which their race would have never recovered from. Also we could have come in at a later date, decontaminated their cities and taken all of their stuff.”
There was some somber nods as we considered Pierce’s significantly less suicidal plan. He clapped his hands together and stated, “alright, let’s get going.”
Construction commenced in an old barn on the manor property, we were originally going to start with the solid steel construction we had used on the electrical ships. But Pierce nixed that, that construction technique would have been too heavy. Pierce considered the antigravity device to be cheating, the ships had been too heavy to maneuver. “Antigravity technology is like a battering ram, we need something more like a lock pick. Our craft need to work with the forces of nature not blatantly resist them in order to offer any kind of improvement over Edison’s work.”
A month into this work we had a large part of the frame of the fuselage in place and we were starting to work on the turbines. The Martian turbines had been built of some as yet poorly understood material and shaped in a beautiful curving pattern. We would not be able to easily replicate that shape so we were building something similar but significantly cruder.
While I was working on the design of the control system one day I noticed that Harding and his lawyer walk into the barn. The lawyer was a tall, well dressed, eminently smug, self confident man, I had only ever seen him in passing. He was smoking a huge cigar, I asked if there had been any progress on finding an earlier patent than Edison’s. The lawyer smiled and replied, “oh, you could say that, Edison doesn’t hold any patent on any weapon or means of air travel. In fact he issued a press release shortly before the invasion saying he had nothing to do with a mysterious airship seen in 1893. But you are going to love to see who does.”
He got a sly smile and tapped his briefcase, I whistled everyone to stop what they were doing and gather around. The lawyer unfolded a copy of the relevant patents, I was stunned, so were a couple of others who recognized the name. Pierce just asked, “who in the blue blazes is Nikolai Tesla?”
After I explained who Tesla was, he hummed and commented, “makes sense, Tesla once worked for Edison, Edison never did any weapons research, but you are saying Tesla did. So where is he now? And if he was the architect of our salvation why hasn’t he come forward to claim the credit?”
We had to find Tesla