While we had been working on the new aircraft the world had gone on. Most people were busy with the work of rebuilding after the damage the Martians had done. There were parades and celebrations for the victors of the battle of Mars, our company joined in them every now and then. Just as Farquhar predicted Edison was worshiped like a god, or at the very least the savior of mankind. There was considerable talk. that in time turned into demands of him running for president.
Meanwhile Harding set about finding Tesla, the last anyone had heard he was somewhere in upstate New York. So he invited me to go along with him and his lawyer to find him.
We found him in a sanitarium, he was in bad condition, he was marginally conscious and appeared to be suffering from a brain injury. We tracked down one of his lab assistants, he told us that Tesla had personally fought several walkers in the invasion. He had killed three walkers with a disintegrator but during the battle he got injured by falling debris and had been in a marginally conscious state ever since.
I tried to talk to him, but he could only make a quiet moaning noise. The doctors had tried everything, brain injuries are very hard, if not impossible to cure. I knelt by his bed, introduced myself and told him, “mr Tesla, we owe you everything. We permanently ended the Martian threat because of your work, I wish I could show you all the wonders we saw.”
Then I remembered something,
“but I can show you this, I was saving this for a special occasion, and I suppose this is special enough.”
I took the last piece of Martian cake I had out of my pack, I crumbled up a bit and offered it to him. He took it like a squirrel and nibbled it, then he took more, and more until it was all gone. He looked much happier, I offered him a quick swig of whiskey to wash it down, tapped him on his shoulder and stated
“Enjoy that little taste of victory.”
We spent the night in a nearby hotel, the three of us seriously discussed taking mr Tesla back with us. He had no next of kin, his only distant relatives were off in the Austrian-Hungarian empire. We decided that once our business was profitable we would do something to take care of him, he deserved far more than what we could give him.
The next morning I was downstairs settling our bill when one of the nurses from the sanitarium came running up to me. Breathlessly she asked, “mr Hammond?”
“Mr Tesla is awake, conscious, lucid and he really, really wants to talk to you!”
I summoned Harding and the lawyer and we walked quickly back to the hospital. Tesla was awake, though he looked a little shaggy. His eyes burned with the fire of consciousness, he recognized me and stated. “Mr Hammond, it seems I owe you my life, what exactly was it you said about you owing me everything? Can I start off with a shave and a fresh suit of clothes?”
I looked back at Harding and asked if we could take him shopping, he nodded, completely speechless.
While he showered the lawyer asked what happened, the nurse replied. “I have never seen anything like it, I was coming in for the morning shift when I heard him mumbling something. I walked up to him and his words sounded almost rational, then he opened his eyes, sat up in his bed and shouted. “Hammond! Where is Hammond?!”
We took him down to the shops for new clothes and a haircut, while he sat there in the barbers chair he asked. “So, I gather that the Martians are not a problem anymore, the last thing I remember was blasting away at them with my disintegrator prototype. I have some flashes of memories from when I was bedridden, but I don’t really understand what happened.”
I told him about the diseases which defeated the invasion, then I told him about Edison claiming his patents as his own. He seemed a little upset about that, his mood improved when we told him about the successful mission to Mars. But when we told him about how Edison destroyed the Martian civilization he almost jumped out of his seat. “A wheel, a simple valve wheel was what wiped them out? and the bulk of their civilization was destroyed by a flood? Unbelievable! What in the name of God possessed you to go on that suicide mission in the first place!”
I had never really considered it until then, but we had been sent on a suicide mission. It was only by the dumbest piece of dumb luck that as many of us lived through it as we did.
We offered Tesla a job and all the assistance we could offer to get his patents back and restore his name. He accepted happily, he had gone through a bankruptcy a few weeks before the invasion and he needed a new laboratory, his old one being claimed by Edison’s and J.P Morgans lawyers.
On the train ride back to Maryland we filled him in on more details, he hungrily read all of my notes and all the newspapers he could. We talked about what could have caused his restoration, partly it must have been that his brain healed. But we concluded quickly that the Martian food must have had some effect. It contained concentrated vitamins and some other substances which had a salubrious effect on the human body.
While we rode I asked him something which had been bothering me. “An electrical ships power source, what is it exactly? I acknowledge that an antigravity drive is far more efficient than any other mode of propulsion I know of but how can so much energy be contained in such a small space.”
He asked, “well, what do you think it is?”
I replied, “I honestly haven’t a clue, that was a part of the technology that we were not allowed to examine. The power cells were delivered from a factory in New Jersey under great secrecy. All I know is that when you plugged one into a ship it would have the ability to fly all the way to Mars and back. Gauges would indicate a gradual decline in energy output until, well I don’t know, I imagine the cell would be completely discharged.”
He stood up, closed the door to our private cabin and spoke just loud enough to be heard over the sound of the train. “I worked on wireless energy transfer for quite some time, in the course of this development I created a way of communicating long distances wirelessly. That is probably my most well known byproduct of this research, well that and the tower project that fell apart when J.P. Morgan thought he found out what I was up to.”
“Well, what he believed was that I had come up with a way to transmit power to anywhere on earth and that this would be impossible to meter. Electricity would effectively be given away and no greedy industrialist would willingly cede that much control and profit. What he didn’t know is that while Morgan was concerned about pumping energy into the air I discovered a source of limitless energy all around us. I still don’t know what the source of this etheric energy is, it does not appear to come from the sun, or Earth, it appears to be everywhere.
“While I was still working on the problem of energy transmission I met a mad inventor. Name of Emerson, he had a ship that he believed would be able to navigate through the air, but no way to propel it. He believed that there was energy all around that could be harvested for productive use. So I started investigating this background energy. I believed that if a craft could utilize a source of energy which was essentially everywhere then one could create a ship that could go anywhere. With the help of Emerson I created a series of new experiments and almost by accident I started unlocking the secret of resonance, something which had been vexing me for years. Emerson’s pointing me in the direction of background energy is what allowed me to develop the disintegrator, the antigravity drive and several other wonderful inventions.”
“Emerson was a very odd man, he made his fortune speculating in supplies during the California gold rush. He claimed to have developed several other inventions besides this airship, the most incredible of which was something he called the madness gun, an electrically powered device that when pointed at a person would drive them mad. I saw him demonstrate this weapon once on a cow, it appeared to be effective but I wasn’t about to volunteer to be shot with it.”
“When we installed the antigravity drive in his ship he drove the thing clear out of the atmosphere. We had to land quick because the hull had not been properly sealed. After fixing this Emerson took his ship on a long, meandering trip back to his families home in Virginia, he crashed the ship near Aurora Texas.”
“Now here is where things get a little crazy, I believe that someone, probably minions of Morgan stole the wreckage of that ship, then ransacked my laboratory after the invasion. Put all this technology together and approached Edison with an offer to be the new savior of mankind.”
I asked, “interesting stuff, but you still haven’t explained how these power sources are created.”
He nodded and replied, “I was able to come up with a device, that draws in power from a small enclosure, no larger than a teacup. But the energy in that enclosure is enough to satisfy the energy needs of an entire city for decades. These ships must consume quite a bit of energy to deplete one of these power cells. Anyway it will not be terribly difficult to start manufacturing these cells, once we have a few in hand we will be able to build as many spacecraft as we want.”
Upon our arrival back at the manor Tesla introduced himself to everyone. But after a short while he started off working on reading all of the technical information he could. Within 4 days he was caught up, he was impressed with Franks’ new disintegrators. Franks’s first prototype was simply a disintegrator with a steadying shoulder stock and better sights. His later prototypes had a pistol grip and a replaceable capacitor. They were much better weapons than the original, Tesla explained that those original crude devices were only prototypes never intended for mass production.
Work continued on our craft, but construction was starting to turn into a battle of wills between myself and Pierce. His mind was running off into insane directions, if we were to attempt to create the prototype as he intended it would take years of labor, and might not work. Finally I had to put my foot down and freeze the design as it was. He assented, but grimly.
Tesla created his own notes and improvements, he started work on something that would, in his words be a hybrid of his original antigravity drive and Pierces turbine. But before he could build a prototype he had a court date, he was going to face down Edison and reclaim his ideas. He, the lawyer and Harding departed for Washington, D.C. hopefully to settle this once and for all.
While they waited for their court date we continued work on the prototype. Considering that theoretically all we were doing was inventing a simpler form of an existing technology this was much harder work requiring much more creativity than I anticipated. Perhaps my comment about getting the fleet built at a fraction of the cost was not entirely substantiated.
During this time I lived and breathed the essence of the prototype, I lived in the old house, waking early and working late. It was my entire world, now and then someone would drag me off to a festival or a wedding. But I was not an enthusiastic participant, all I could think about was getting back into outer space.
After six months of work it was ready, officially it was called the I.E.C. prototype 1, but we came to call it the Heron after its powder blue camouflage color. It was a strange contraption, the chassis was mostly lightweight steel tubing, the skin was polished aluminum. It had to balance strength against lightness and we were now about to see if we had won that battle.
With the most experience with such things Pierce got the ticket to fly it on its first test. The engine was spooled up, the turbine had to be spun up with a small electrical motor before the main power plant could do its thing. The heron bounced along a wide grass field we had set aside as an aerodrome, I had advised that it should be tested with some short hops into the air before true flight. But Pierce decided to go full bore and took off, the engine whistled, then roared, ferociously. The Heron took off and blasted over our heads.
Then Pierce decided to personally try to undo all of our hard work. He maneuvered the craft hard, turning it, throttling down, throttling it up, he even rolled it. It stayed up in the air for an hour until he brought it down for a slightly bumpy landing. Moments after he landed the engine died, he was out of kerosine.
As the craft trundled to a stop he rolled back the canopy and shouted what had become his personal motto, “speed is life!”
For the next week we worked on improvements on our prototype. It did not take long to figure out that Pierce’s turbine was going to be useless for space travel. It required oxygen to function, it also guzzled fuel at a far more prodigious rate than an antigravity drive. Even worse our turbine, not being built from the same materials that the Martians used was simply was not reliable enough. They would burn out within 40 or so hours of use. The little Heron prototype, as it was could eventually be refined into a useful conveyance or a war machine not unlike a Martian airship, but she would never go to space.
Our labors were cut short by a message from Harding. He sent us an unexpected telegram, “we have met with Edison and his lawyers, we have won.”
When Tesla and Harding returned to the manor they told us that Edison’s lawyers had made a big fuss about who actually developed the technology to effective use. But when the trial actually started the opposing council folded in the opening argument and ceded all patent claims back to Tesla, on one condition.
I asked, “what was the condition?”
Tesla smiled and replied, “ceding of all claims to monies made before the destruction of the Martian civilization excepting a settlement payment of $5,000,000. And also not publicly talking about Edison’s outright theft of Tesla’s intellectual property.”
With that we got back to work on our new prototypes.
A year after our return from Mars we had completed a second Heron. No longer a slightly rickety prototype this was a fully functioning testbed. It flew wonderfully, but more performance was needed to offer any advantage compared to the already built electrical ships. Tesla’s new antigravity engine was installed into the larger Heron 2, this craft mostly made from the very high quality aluminum that that the Martians had such a hunger for. The stuff they had started ripping out of the ground shortly after their invasion. I will never forget the day it first flew, Pierce shook hands with all of us and got into the pilots seat. Then he spooled up the engine and the craft levitated, effortlessly into the air. It did not need a runway like its predecessor did. He spun the craft around and then climbed away rapidly. As the crafts motive energies transferred from the bottom to the rear all of a sudden the energy of the electro-gravity drive appeared to come alive. Discharging a scintillating energy pulse of every color of the rainbow. It was awe inspiring, the kind of thing that could move a brave man to tears.
Pierce had gotten into the habit of flying low over the nearby towns and generally harassing the locals on warm spring and summer mornings. On this day he landed in a park in Baltimore and saluted the local children, then, according to several witnesses he took off vertically, then disappeared into a cloud.
By now we had developed several more of Tesla’s inventions, including his radio. Which we tried to use to communicate with Pierce, but he was having too much fun flying to bother returning our inquiries.
After three hours he finally came back, big chunks of paint had been blasted off the craft by sheer speed and Pierce had the biggest smile on his face you can imagine. He proudly tapped the side of the bird and proclaimed, “this is perfection! there is nothing in the universe that can match it. Add a couple of Tesla’s new weapons and we are ready to go out into whatever the universe might throw at us.”
Plans were made to go back to the gold asteroid and the moon to recover as much gold and other valuables as the craft could carry. If that worked out we could possibly have enough money to pay for all of our labor, build perhaps 3 more Heron 2s and start work on a large ship.
As the year had gone by things had changed on Earth, the initial shock of the invasion and the general sense of camaraderie and global brotherhood that had permeated the globe after we encountered the Martians had cooled. Most people were back to the normal, disagreeable, squabbling lot they were before the invasion. Except for 3 things. Humanity was still reduced in population and productivity, as such the economy in most countries hadn’t entirely recovered. The informal alliance of all the worlds leaders after the invasion had become something called the League of Nations. Which no one seemed to be sure exactly what it was intended to do with the war over. Finally governments all over the world had increased taxes to an absurd degree to pay for the huge debt racked up by the damage done and the cost of the punitive expedition.
People everywhere were chafing under the tax burden, there were income taxes, sales taxes, terrible tariffs, there was even talk of taxes on breathing. And all this was in the USA, things were worse overseas. Enforcing this rule were the electrical ships, they were not decommissioned or sold on after the war. They were crewed by fresh solders and sailors and deployed, at first just to clear wreckage and move large objects. But after awhile it became clear that these ships were an implicit, if not an explicit threat for people to continue working without complaining.
The night after the first flight of the Heron 2 I dreamt of that Cerean giant again. She would appear right in the middle of an otherwise normal dream, then fade away. Sometimes I would see her near my bed while I was in a semiconscious state, smiling, like an angel watching over me. Then she appeared in my worst nightmare, the death of my family. I was running away from the destroyed cannon when I saw her standing next to the ditch. I fell on her, pinned her to the ground and asked, “what are you and how are you in my dreams!?”
She leaned in and whispered in my ear, “save me.”
I pulled away and screamed, “save you how!?! I failed to save you” But she faded away again, I was just yelling at dream dirt.
I suppose that’s when I put 2 and 2 together and figured out that my dreams and my watch probably had something in common. I took it out of my bedside drawer, I was going to hand it over to Tesla for examination, but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. I realized that even if there was a consciousness somehow in it, it was certainly not a malicious one. I put it back in the drawer and had no more dreams of mysterious aliens for the next several months.
All the while we continued work on our new technologies. Pierce was becoming more and more difficult to work with as his ideas became ever more exotic. Now and then he would come up with some absolutely brilliant solution to a baffling problem, but usually at least half of his ideas were utter madness. The rest of the company worked wonderfully together, I had worked with most of them before so this seemed like a much more pleasant continuation of our previous work. After awhile most of the team moved out of the manor into homes nearby, I did not, I wasn’t quite ready to get on with my life just yet. I still ached with the pain of the death of my wife and daughter.
My time around the manor was mainly spent either working or sleeping, with short breaks to choke down some food. Everyone at the I.E.C. had gotten on with their lives, I hadn’t, I was still lost, surviving but not living. Evidently my antisocial tendencies were starting to wear on people.
One night as I was working on a new weapon system Tesla stopped me and stated, “Ryan, I admit that I am not the most social person in the world, but you make me look like a cosmopolitan. I am going out to dinner and a show, and you are coming with me, no negotiation!”
I quibbled a little, but I was in no mood to resist, I got dressed up in my best clothes, which weren’t very good. Tesla looked superb, he really did cut a handsome image, with his sharp suit and his concealed disintegrator pistol. I asked why he carried that thing, he looked me square in the eye and said, “I suppose you have completely forgotten about what happened last year?”
“But no one wears pistols, this isn’t the west.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that, there are more people wearing weapons nowadays than you can imagine. There are thugs and criminals everywhere who can only be deterred by the threat of grievous bodily harm, and threats the likes of which you will never see coming. Now please put a weapon of some kind on, I implore you!”
I went back to my room and put on my handgun, that same Remington cartridge revolver I had picked up off of the baker. I didn’t much care for guns, or weapons in general. As far as I was concerned they were just another tool, but I preferred this tool to a disintegrator. I could fire it comfortably and it wouldn’t vaporize an entire building if I had to pull the trigger.
We took in a show, specifically a short opera, after that we went to a small but fancy restaurant that Tesla often ate at. As we sat down to eat I finally said something to him that had been bothering me for awhile, “anybody ever tell you that you have expensive tastes.”
He chuckled and replied, “what’s the point of having it if you enjoy it?”
“Not just that, life itself, so tell me about your family, we have been working together for months and I don’t know anything about them.”
“Not much to say really, my parents died before the invasion, my father in an industrial accident and my mother from influenza. My wife and daughter got blasted by the Martians, I have a few other relatives, but I haven’t talked to them in years.”
Tesla nodded and asked, “tell me about your wife and daughter.”
I was reluctant, but he insisted, “Diane was smarter than I am, she was a bit older than me. Her hair turned gray around her 20th birthday, she was charming, quick witted and was entirely too good at winning arguments by sheer logic. Katy was about 6 when she died, her hair was like spun gold and she had a smile that lit up a room.”
Tesla nodded and pointed behind me, “a smile like that one?”
My heart started beating fast, I turned around to see my daughter standing next to my estranged sister. I leapt up from my chair spilling our drinks, Katy ran towards me and we embraced. I started crying uncontrollably. I looked sternly at my sister and demanded, “why didn’t you try to find me!?”
Tesla walked over, cleaning water off his pants and stated, “they thought you were dead. Katy was sure she saw you blown to atoms along with her mother and started walking towards a faintly remembered address in Georgia, the address of your sisters family. I decided to do a little detective work on your family and this is what I found. Now we are even!”
“You save my life, I find your daughter, now we are square.”
“Oh, we aren’t anywhere near square, I didn’t save your life, I probably didn’t even fix your brain. I am the one who owes you.”
We all sat down to dinner, Katy was nine years old now and she was maturing into an upstanding young lady. She didn’t much care for my sister Amalie though, Amalie was a bit slow and very high strung. But for now we just filled each other in on all the details of what we had been doing. Apparently it had never occurred to Amalie to look at the roster of crew of the Martian expedition.
After a delicious repast we continued to talk all the way back to the manor, where I set up extra beds for my family. Amalie wanted to get back to Georgia as soon as possible, she hated leaving home and did so only under extreme duress from Tesla.
I couldn’t sleep at all, I just lay there in bed for what seemed like an eternity, trying to contemplate everything that happened. I looked over at my pocket watch, 12:45, for some reason that watch was still keeping perfect time ever since I got back from Mars. Used to be, it would lose three or six minutes a day, that weird gem thingy must have fixed it somehow. Though I did notice that the blue amber covering was thinning in places.
I heard the sounds of small feet tiptoeing over to my bed, I felt Katy slide next to me. She used to sleep with me and her mother now and then, she stated, “aunt Amalie never let me near her bed, I really missed you dad.”
I replied, “I missed you too, more than I can ever describe, goodnight Katy.”
With that I was out like a light.
I woke up to the sound of gunfire, it was 1:15, Katy was gone, I grabbed my Remington and ran towards the sound of fire. I got out to the backyard and saw Tesla, Rutherford, Katy and 2 men I didn’t recognize firing pistols at a wooden target. Tesla looked back at me and commented, “morning sleepyhead, we didn’t wake you up did we?”
The unknown men were John Moses Browning and Col. Townsend Whelen, 2 of the countries foremost small arms experts. Rutherford had invited the colonel out here and Browning had come on his own volition after having examined the Tesla-Franks disintegrator pistol and carbine that we had contracted to build with the company that Browning was currently working for, Winchester.
They were test firing an automatic handgun that Browning had designed. It was an elegant weapon, not as powerful as a disintegrator though. Browning was a bit disappointed in it, it had been the worlds most advanced pistol not that long ago, he had put a lot of work into it and now it would only be useful as a police or personal defense weapon. Military orders would probably be nonexistent.
Browning was working on something much more potent, heavy machine cannon and electrical flechette guns which would fire a heavy dart at incredible velocities. I cannot even begin to describe my surprise to find out that my daughter had already heard of this Browning fellow. Apparently during her exile she had become quite the firearms enthusiast, Amalie’s husband Roy had taught her how to shoot, she enjoyed shooting Brownings pistol so much that he made a gift of one of his prototypes.
Col. Whelen was also working on a new weapon, he had been working on one of Teslas ideas, specifically a kind of machine that could be guided to its target and he had brought his first prototype around to test.
It was basically a winged rocket with long wires trailing out the back, a signal could be sent up the wires to guide the rocket up, down or side to side. Whelen fired a small prototype of this missile at an old rotten shack on the outskirts of the property and even though he fired it at a 90° angle to the target he hit it square in the middle.
Rutherford was eminently pleased, he asked how it worked and Whelen replied. “What makes it work is those little transistor thingies that Pierce and Hammond came up with. Where is Pierce anyway? I really wanted to meet that guy.”
I replied, “oh, he is off on a secret mission, but he will be back in a few days. I imagine he will want to see this as well.”
Pierce was out there for another three days before he finally came back. In the meantime we continued to work with Browning and Whelen on the new weapons systems for the Heron. If these weapons worked out then a single Heron 2 would theoretically be able to defeat several electrical ships.
When Pierce finally came back he had to wriggle out of the cockpit, he had filled every cranny and crevice of the ship with treasure. When he landed he got out, shook Col. Whelen’s hand and immediately went and took a bath. Now that we had a profit the real work could begin.