Not long after Pierce returned from this trip he stated that he wanted to quit. He said that he was aggravated from constantly butting heads with me and Tesla, Harding offered a compromise of sorts, that he could set up his own company back home in New Zealand. He assented and took the Heron 2 prototype and 50 pounds of gold as his severance, but not before he oversaw the construction of another Heron 2.
I must admit I wasn’t terribly sad to see him go, he was an eccentric, he could never be happy with any design. He was the living incarnation of that old refrain, “there comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineers and begin production.” There was always at least a dozen more things that needed to be fiddled with before he would sign off on a design. Tesla was much more pleasant to work with, he and Browning had the rational minds of practical engineers. Not the brain of a wannabe wizard.
With Pierce gone we needed another aerodynamicsist, we hired a couple of bike mechanics from Ohio to fill the job and we also invited Browning to join us as a part time consultant. He had grown tired of the stifling atmosphere at Winchester. He and Tesla immediately started work on weapons which can best be described as horrifying.
By now I.E.C. had well outgrown the makeshift facilities of the old Harding manor. So I oversaw construction of an entirely new factory outside Frederick Maryland. I moved into a small but clean townhouse nearby and enrolled my daughter in the best school I could find. But she spent as much time as possible with me, and I with her, I showed her everything at the I.E.C. in detail. By her twelfth birthday she probably had a better understanding of mechanics than the average college graduate.
Tombaugh and I took over the job of test flying, the nimble Herons were an absolute joy to fly, every day they grew more sophisticated until finally it was time to test the completely integrated weapons systems Tesla and Browning had come up with.
I took off with Katy in the back seat, she knew more about these weapons than anyone except Browning and he was afraid to fly. Pierce had taken him up for a flight and scared the bejesus out of him, flying the bird faster than the speed of sound, at 70 feet above the ocean.
Once we got well out to sea we came upon an old fishing boat and some small rafts which Harding had paid to have moored near an rock out on the ocean. Selecting the cannon I shot up a couple of the rafts, those worked, selecting the disintegrator I aimed at the fishing boat, that worked. So I told my daughter to fire the guided missile at the rock. It dropped away and she guided it in, then it exploded, with an absolutely insane detonation. The blast was so big it caused quite a bit of turbulence around the Heron, after my heart climbed down from my mouth I looked down into the Atlantic to see the sea rushing in to fill where there had once been an ugly shipping hazard. Tesla had loaded the missiles warhead with something he called a disintegrator bomb. A horrifying concept that used his disintegrator technology to render the molecules of the target area into a chemically unstable mass. In layman’s terms, it turned everything around it into a bomb.
I looked up and saw a beautiful full moon, I asked Katy if she had ever been to outer space, she had not, so I pulled the Heron up into a steep climb and pushed the turbine to full power. The Pierce-Tesla antigravity turbine was so powerful that you never used it on its maximum power setting unless you intended to break the surly bonds of earth. Or travel through the vacuum of the cosmos, using them on full power in level flight in the lower atmosphere would cause the craft to heat up and tear itself apart.
The sky turned from blue to black, once we were outside the earths atmosphere I turned the ship upside down to get a good look at our planet. Katy mumbled over and over, “oh my god!” I asked if she had any small objects on her and she said she did, a magazine from Browning’s auto pistol. I told her to take it out and hold it, it levitated in her hands, through my rear mirror I could see that she was reduced to tears by this. She stripped out a cartridge and spun it around in the air, then I pointed the Heron back towards the ground and brought it in for a landing, coming back into the atmosphere.
As we streaked in over Virginia I noticed an electrical ship was coming alongside. I waved at the crew and they did something I was not expecting. They trained their battery of disintegrators at us. I immediately took evasive action, Katy asked what were they doing and I replied that they might be trying to kill us. Dropping altitude and increasing speed I noticed a small lake suddenly disappear in a puff of vapor, okay, they were trying to kill us. But we were going too fast for them to catch, we outran them and I brought the Heron in for a landing back at the factory. It was only then that I noticed that a chunk of the wing was missing, blasted off by a disintegrator, what the heck just happened?
Later in the day that same electrical ship landed nearby, they claimed that they had no idea who we were, they thought the Heron was an alien attacker. I found that highly unlikely, we had been flying around electrical ships for months, they knew who we were. Then they pointed out that we had been flying around the ships on patrol near the east coast, those flying around the center of the country had never seen us. So with that we decided to make sure that this wasn’t going to happen again, Harding made an appointment with several congressmen and the president to have some kind of standards to make sure that a war in the air wouldn’t accidentally break out.
The meeting with President Roosevelt was quite odd, he had only come into the job after the assassination of president McKinley but it looked like he was going half mad with power. There were rumblings of secession in the western states and the south over the absurdly high taxation rates, there was already massive noncompliance with these laws. After the president we had a meeting scheduled with the junior senator from Maryland.
We begged the senator for some kind of exemption or waiver to continue working on our machines and he said he would do everything he could. In the meantime we ignored the new regulations and continued on By this time we had four Heron 2s and we were working on a third type, we also had our very own spaceship.
It looked like an overgrown Heron, it was a little smaller than Edison’s ships but much more efficient, faster, stronger and more heavily armed. With a large crew compartment just aft of the cockpit and just forward of the intakes for the engines. We sat around for hours debating what we would call this new craft, in the end we settled on calling it the Thomas Knapp, after one of our comrades who died during the battle of Mars.
Our destination was going to be Ceres, Graves, Tombaugh, Franks and myself had been itching for a voyage to this mysterious planetoid for years now. Harding decided that crew should be kept to a minimum, seeing as we were on a voyage of exploration, not combat. The ship was provisioned with canned goods and a form of the Martian cake made in a bakery in New Jersey. We were also equipped with new spacesuits made by a company in San Francisco. The old ones that one of Edison’s assistants had created were useable but far from perfect. These new ones were made of much better fabrics and had a much improved helmet not unlike that of a diving suit as opposed to the awkward and terrifying looking leather/rubber things we had previously used.
The crew consisted of myself, Tombaugh, Graves, Franks and Tesla. Harding wanted to go along, but this was considered to be putting too many eggs on one basket. Tesla especially was anxious to see what the worlds beyond ours looked like. We departed from Earth on the fourth of march 1905, as we entered orbit we stopped to take some pictures of the earth Graves noticed a ship approaching. At first it looked like an electrical ship, but it wasn’t, it was not as cylindrical. As it came alongside we could see the name on the side, Richelieu, it also displayed a tricolor on the tail assembly.
It was a handsome ship, a streamlined hull with outrigger engine pods with classic Gallic lines, at least twice the size of a typical electrical ship. We communicated to it with a signal lamp, they identified themselves as French and that they were testing their entirely native spaceship. Tombaugh pointed out that their ship had huge engines, not turbines but some kind of rocket. Tesla theorized that they used an antigravity drive to propel it most of the time but when escaping earths gravity or in combat they probably utilized the rocket motors.
We were not informed what kind of weapons that the Richelieu carried, but we could see a battery of rockets and what looked like a 75MM cannon mounted in the nose. There was a small disintegrator bank, but it looked vestigial, an add on from a cannibalized electrical ship most likely. During the invasion 17 Martian walkers had been knocked out of action by the use of high explosives and heavy cannon. It looked like we were not the only ones who hit upon the idea of having a very fast vehicle armed with large weapons. I had no idea what the French intended to do with that ship, I was not optimistic.
The Pierce-Tesla antigravity drive was spooled up to 95 percent of it’s power capability. Driving us onwards through the celestial firmament at a greater speed than the old electrical ships. Electrical ships used their resistance to the gravity of the planets like a springboard to travel through outer space. Our new turbine drive used a similar principle but more efficiently. Though if we were ever going to travel anywhere outside the gravitational effect of the planets and the sun something else would have to be used.
The quarters aboard the Knapp were spartan, later models of our ships were going to have to be bigger if only to keep from constantly bumping our heads on the ceiling. We slept hanging off the walls like coats, once I was in zero gravity I started having those weird dreams about the alien woman again, though they were much more intense. She materialized as I was running to my home she annihilated the Martian walkers in my nightmare by shooting them with a weapon I did not recognize, looked like a black fire hydrant. Then she walked up to me, discarding her bizarre weapon and kissed me, I would rather not say what happened next. But I never had nightmares about Martian war machines after that.
On the way out Tesla’s mind was racing as he contemplated what technologies would be needed for future human colonization of the solar system. He was constantly taking notes and asking all sorts of questions, which to be frank got kind of annoying.
Now and then we would use his radio device to contact home, it was very reassuring to hear my daughter and everyone at the factory over the horn. But as we got further out communication became ever more difficult. Signals grew weaker and there was some kind of time lag. As we drove on to Ceres we were starting to pick up all kinds of odd signals. Random numbers being broadcast in the clear, what sounded like morse code signals. Strange whistles and pops, the further out, the stranger things got. Tesla commented that he had heard many of these signals before, he had theorized some time before the invasion that they had been radio communications from Mars, now he was not sure. Tombaugh used a telescope to observe various celestial bodies and quickly claimed that he had discovered several new objects out there in the universe.
Finally we neared Ceres, as we drew to within 20,000 miles we sent one final transmission to Earth. But as Tesla fiddled with the radio a voice materialized, speaking a language which sounded vaguely familiar. After listening to it for about ten minutes Franks identified it as a derivation of the ancient aryan language spoken by the slave Aina. Franks had spent a little time with her and found her to be quite beguiling. He got out a big thick dictionary of Aryan words and cautiously stated over the radio that we were from Earth and that we came in peace, also that anyone on the other end had to speak much slower.
As we drew closer to Ceres the voice identified itself as a scientist, some kind of astronomer. They needed to tell everyone about the strange ship from Earth and that he would be right back. But that we should continue on towards his home, we were most welcome there.
We got examined the dwarf planet, the reports of a Martian punitive raid looked accurate, the place looked like it had taken some serious damage. The surface of the planet had been blown open on parts revealing what looked like massive construction works under the surface. Most of the surface of the planet was covered in what at first looked like water, but on closer examination was water within some kind of a thin membrane. The Cerean giants looked to be an even more advanced race than the Martians, but if that was so then how was it that they had been defeated?
The radio came to life again, slowly a different voice that identified himself as the chief scientist of something requested that we land at the something port. Franks replied that he had no idea where that was, suddenly all the lights went off all over the planet except for one flashing strobe. The voice politely asked if we could land near that light, so we did.
As we came down we found ourselves amid a large, but heavily damaged shipyard. The Cerean ships were big, larger than the Richelieu, but of a completely different architecture than anything I had ever seen, Graves was hastily taking pictures of everything we saw.
More flashing lights guided us into something which resembled a dry dock. When we landed a thin membrane pulled over it and the audible hiss of air coming in could be heard. Shortly after this the giants came out, 2 armed men, the Cerean’s were just as tall and handsome as I remembered. Somewhat recklessly I exited the Knapp and breathed the Cerean air, it was good and pure. As I walked up to the giants I felt a bit of trepidation, they were carrying weapons, some kind of handheld heat ray, even if they had been unarmed they could still easily crush me like a bug. I extended my hand in friendship, but then I realized that there was no way that they could recognize or match this gesture. So I simply bowed before them, they reciprocated and started talking, but I didn’t recognize a word they said.
By now they were within feet of me, they knelt down and took out a device that looked like some kind of crystal, it was glowing. They swept it around me and it glowed brightest near my watch pocket. They started talking excitedly and motioned me to empty it, I held up the watch to their device and their crystal was glowing brightly. They were becoming quite animated, Franks exited the ship, knuckles white on a disintegrator in a holster. He asked, “everything okay?”
“Yeah, I just think they really like my watch, can you talk to them?”
“I hope so.”
He pulled some notes out the dictionary and told them that we came in peace, that we wanted to trade. One of the giants asked for the dictionary and started reading it. Another of the giants, reluctantly gave me back my watch while the third handed me a huge gift basket. Then they motioned for Franks to join them inside, he shrugged and followed them.
While Franks did lord knows what with them the rest of us on board the Knapp examined the gift basket. It contained several mysterious meats and fruits, some kind of pastes and jellies and three books written in what we presumed to be the Cerean script. Not knowing if the foods were toxic we dared not to eat them, the books were a complete puzzle.
Time ticked by, my watch seemed to be running fast, but hours passed while we pensively waited for Franks to come back. Half dreading that the next thing we saw would be armed giants coming to kill us. Tesla was picking up dozens of signals in the local language with his device, we could only guess what they were saying but the tone of their voices sounded happy and excited.
After 7 hours Franks came out with one of the giants, laughing, as I opened the outer door on the hull and I heard what sounded like the end of one of his off color jokes, “with a herring!” Franks looked right at me and shouted, “ah, Hammond, we were just talking about you, give this guy your watch.”
“Just do it already give him your watch!”
The giant stated, in clear but accented English, “now now mr Franks, don’t forget, one doesn’t take without asking.”
I gabbed out some kind of gibberish that I had no idea what was going on and Franks offered something that resembled an explanation. “Yeah, they tell me that your watch is possessed by the spirit of one of their people, they would like to borrow it for a couple of hours and then give it back to you.”
I unhooked the watch from the chain and carefully handed it to the giant, I could easily pay for a dozen nicer ones. The giant placed the watch reverently into what looked like a velvet box and invited us to come inside.
Inside the structure there was what looked like a large terminal facility full of giants. Our escort made an announcement, in his language and also in English, which translated as. “Gentle-beings, it is my great honor to announce the return of our warrior Boudicca Lawarchelt and the assassins of our mortal enemy, the Martian emperor. The great soldiers of the planet Earth!”
The crowd erupted into cheers, not since our return to earth had I seen a sight like this, Tesla leaned over and spoke just above the roar of the crowd. “You know I could get used to this kind of treatment.”
Franks and his escort led us to what looked like a restaurant of some kind. But the tables and chairs were too big for us, so we had to be seated on boxes, on top of a table while the giants spoke to us as one might speak to a cat, slowly and with little confidence that the little fuzzy creature understands or even cares what you say. All the while other giants milled around outside the restaurant taking what I assumed were pictures. Though their cameras were clearly nothing like ours.
Franks started off, “first of all, our hosts name is Whiiaput, he is the head of interplanetary studies at Eutopos information collective, or should I say university? We are invited to stay as long as we want. There are several Eutopians who would love to have us as house guests. Secondly, about your watch, I have been told that it was possessed by the spirit of the giant we tried to rescue back on Mars. I don’t really understand the process, but the Eutopians have developed a technique to transfer their consciousness into machines. She transferred her consciousness into your watch just before she drowned. A good thing too, if she had transferred into one of the ships, or a disintegrator or some other guys watch she would have been stuck there forever.”
I was stunned by this, “you are saying that these beings can possess mechanical devices, like a demon?”
Franks sighed and stated, “that’s a bad analogy Ryan, but yes, these people can possess mechanical devices, now can we get back to the important stuff?”
“These Eutopian’s are fast learners, it wasn’t more than an hour after I gave them my dictionary that they were speaking English. But they don’t want to say too much too fast because they don’t want to sound silly or risk a mistranslation coming out as a threat. Their civilization is based on a simple set of laws, which can best be summed up as critical thinking, balance in all things, respecting the immutable laws of nature and the non aggression principle. Which can be summed up as neither participating or accepting acts of aggression.”
Franks looked up at Whiilaput and he nodded slowly, then he spoke, in a soft tone. “Our civilization was once a branch of the Martian civilization, set up as a mining colony, back in those days this planetoid was simply known as outpost 5. But there was a revolt, the Martian workers, human slaves and some of the managers grew tired of the old imperial regime and stopped sending refined raw materials back to Mars and after a brief and disastrous attempt to retake the planet the imperials gave up.
By our translations of your measurements this was roughly 500 years ago. Ever since then we have been living here developing our own distinct cultures and technologies. The human and Martian genetic lines melded into the whole we have today. We made a collective decision to not repeat the mistakes of the imperialists, our society is one based entirely on voluntary interactions between individuals and groups of individuals. We also abandoned brain stimulation technologies and a variety of other things which make imperialist Martian society so dangerous.
We have expanded out into the deeper solar system, we have a couple of small colonies on the moons of the planets you call Saturn and Jupiter. Our ships have made it out beyond Neptune but we have found little of value there.
Then roughly six of your years ago our observatories saw the launch of the Martian invasion of earth. There was much debate as to what we were going to do. A few advocated doing nothing, but most concluded that the imperialists were going to use earths resources to commence a massive campaign to conquer the solar system. So with most of their war machines off on Earth, we struck, a force of volunteers landed on Mars. Their defenses were better than we expected and the expedition was wiped out. Then they hit back, not with war machines but by redirecting asteroids at us. We though that we could simply shoot them down, we were wrong, they had been laden with powerful explosives.
We lost thousands of our people, and there are not more than 100,000 of us. We are going to be rebuilding the damage done for many years more, but since you killed the emperor and drowned most of Mars we can continue our work unmolested. We cannot thank you enough for that!”
Tesla smiled and replied, “it is us who should be thanking you, you offered to lay down your lives protect us from the Martians.”
Whiilaput blushed a little and replied, “well, really we were acting in our own self interest. But there are those among us who remember that a significant portion of our ancestors were from Earth. Though all it was was a fading memory we did want to defend our ancient home.”
Tombaugh asked, “so why is it that you never went back to Earth since you have ships that could make the journey?”
Whiilaput sighed and answered, “it had been considered, and several groups had tried to. But they never came back, it was assumed that they had succumbed to the greater force of gravity, disease or something else. It was concluded that after hundreds of years out here among the asteroids that our bodies had transformed so much that we couldn’t return to Earth.”
Franks spoke up, “hey, that reminds me, the first wave of Martian invaders looked like some kind of cursed octopus creatures from the deepest pit of hell. But the ones we encountered on the asteroid and on Mars looked like big brained, bug eyed, human freaks. What gives? Why were there 2 distinct types of Martian?”
Whiilaput started breathing heavily, he took a moment to calm himself then answered. “Those invaders you saw on Earth were the result of genetic manipulation. When the emperor decided to reinvade Earth he had a force of monsters created that would only know how to fulfill his will, because they were cut from his own flesh. Born with all of his technical knowledge and madness. We considered them to be the end of Martian evolution, fast, powerful, resistant to the poisons of alien worlds. They were considered to be the perfect solider, though they were mostly brain. But they had several flaws, they were so utterly ruthless that they had to be kept in a tranquilized state or bound when they were around other life forms or else they would kill, or rape anything that wasn’t one of them to death. Also they only fed by drinking blood, but from what you tell me the failure of their invasion was that despite the efforts of their engineers they had created a creature that was uniquely vulnerable to infection. Without samples of Earth bacteria and viruses to test against the emperor sent these beasts straight to their deaths.
A Martian meteor car crashed into our planet after the asteroid bombardment, we had a heck of a fight trying to kill the 17 monsters that crawled out of it. They disappeared into our plumbing system and wreaked havoc for a month. We captured one and tortured it until it started talking, it gave us some useful information, but died within a week of its capture. The rest we figured out by autopsy.
But all of this is in the past, let us focus on the future.”