Later that day I grabbed my daughter and and we took the Knapp out to England. I had a standing invitation to visit with Eric Mandrake, one of the preeminent experts on the Martian invasion. We had met during the preparations for the punitive expedition, but he had not come along on the mission having come to a massive disagreement with the commanding officers of the British contingent. But we were 2 of perhaps a dozen people on the planet who had seen one of the invaders and lived to tell about it.
I brought the Knapp down in a farmers field not too far from his home in the English countryside, naturally our arrival engendered quite a bit of curiosity among the locals and among the growing crowd I soon recognized Mandrake among them. I waved to him and he came running over, we shook hands and he announced to the locals. “It’s alright they are Americans.”
Some wag commented, “hey, those are the only things worse than Martians!”
They had a laugh at that, I was not amused, I looked straight at Mandrake and explained, “okay, this is my daughter and, um, well this is Berbecki, she is an alien in a robot body.”
He recoiled at this, to him all aliens were violently insane, she firmly stated, “oh relax, if I was dangerous you would be dead already.”
Mandrake took this as a threat, he squared his shoulders, reached down to his trouser pocket and stared at her. Then she did something I wasn’t expecting.
Faster than any human she stepped around me, put Mandrake in a headlock, grabbed his arm and harshly whispered in his ear. “Get this through your thick head monkey boy, I don’t want to hurt you, but if you grab that gun I swear I will break every bone in your fragile little body.”
He choked out, “alright, I’m sorry, that was rude, I shouldn’t have done that, now let me go!”
In one fluid motion she let him go and disarmed him, he had a little pocket model automatic. She dropped the magazine, cleared the chamber and said, “I catch you reloading this thing I break your face, got it!?”
He shuffled away he calmly stated, “so, as long as you don’t make any more threats or sudden moves I see no reason why we cannot be civil with each other.”
To which she said, while staring intently into his eyes, “I don’t make threats.”
I told them both to knock it off.
I paid the farmer who owned the field three dollars to watch the ship, as we walked to Eric’s home he tried to make sure that I and my daughter were between him and Becky at all times. I was uneasy, it was going to be an open question wether we could get past this very awkward meeting. So I tried to ease the tension by asking how things were in his life, things were going well. Sales of his chronicle of the invasion, along with his other works were good, his family was doing as well as could be expected. Though they were still a bit traumatized from the invasion. He stated that he was becoming annoyed by the constant flow of people who wanted to find out more about his time under Martian occupation.
I asked, “really, I thought you went into great detail in your work, what more could someone want to know?”
He replied, “oh don’t ask, I imagine you get plenty of people asking about how you defeated a Martian single handedly, when are you going to write about that?”
Before I could answer him Becky asked, “you did what? How did you beat one of them by yourself?”
I shrugged and clarified, for what was probably the eight hundredth time, “I caught it while it was feeding and shot it right in the eye, it was luck more than anything.”
She whistled and commented, “well mr Hammond you just got a lot more interesting.”
Over dinner we shared our stories, Becky filled us in on some of the finer details of the attack on her planet. Her brother had been critically injured by one of the monsters. The ones that had crashed into Eutopos had apparently been unarmed, without walkers, but had still been quite tenacious opponents.
As the second course came I asked, “so, tell me how are things in this land of lush green fields and whatnot? From what I could see coming in it looks like you have repaired most of the damage.”
He took a bite out of a broccoli floret and stated, “the real truth? The destruction wrought by the Martians has had some unexpected effects. Factories that were annihilated have been rebuilt with new equipment are now producing products in greater quantity and quality than ever before. But something is wrong, you remember all that new world order stuff I told you about?”
“Ah yes, your open conspiracy, thuggish bankers and industrialists who already have all the money and power who want more money and power?”
“A crude way to put it, but yes, they are moving ahead, in their private conversations they talk about how the invasion was a blessing in disguise. It cleared away a few barriers that they had been having trouble with, now, they want to start something, some kind of incident to bring in a level of control of society not seen since the ancient Romans.”
Becky spoke up, “and what exactly will this incident be?”
“Hard to say, smart money is on some kind of global war, a really big one, something to make the Franco/Prussian conflict look like Guy Fawkes day. Could be some other kind of crisis, could be another war with an alien power.”
This got Becky’s attention, “pardon me, but the Martian civilization is dead and my people would no sooner attack earth than we would all fly into the sun, what alien power do you speak of?”
Suddenly he stood up and walked away, I murmured to myself, “oh please don’t come back with a bigger gun.”
Becky heard that and she whispered, “if he wants a fight…” Then she showed me the flechette gun that was built into her forearm. I reached over and gently placed my finger on the extended weapon, “I won’t say this again, we are in, another persons home, knock it off. Why are you acting like such a dick? this doesn’t seem to be abiding by your precious nonaggression principle.”
Her face became stern, “if you jerks don’t abide by that principle, how can I? You people get rid of your psychotic habits first then we will talk.”
Eric came back with a great leather book, a ledger. He began, “don’t tell anyone about this, I am not supposed to have it, but Ryan, please look through this and tell us what this is.”
It was a record of money spent during the building of the electrical ships. It was familiar, money coming in, parts inventories, weapons made, but something wasn’t right. The numbers didn’t add up, there were too many weapons, this was almost what one could call efficiency, the massive investment had produced a yield of 150 ships along with thousands more disintegrators than were known along with considerable sums diverted for further weapons projects. Including something absurdly called Audacious which consumed quite a chunk of the English commitment to the program.
I looked up, passed the book over to Becky and asked, “this doesn’t make any sense. If we had this level of firepower where was it during the expedition? Was it held back to defend the planet from an unexpected attack?”
Eric looked right at me and stated, “you want to know the real reason why I didn’t go along on the expedition? It was a suicide mission, no one expected any of you to live, you were outnumbered, what? a million to one? I wanted to tell you, but they are keeping tabs on me and you certainly wouldn’t have kept that secret. The battle plan was to send you out there to pound on the Martians, that would enrage them enough into sending another invasion. That would be beaten back, but at great cost and the war would go on for years. Providing corruption, graft, excuses for all sorts of bestial behavior and massive technological advancement. In time we would triumph over the Martians with our superior resources and weapons of indescribable power and complexity. With the Martians defeated humanity would have an empire spreading out into space.”
He exhaled and finished, “but then, in the words of someone whose name I would rather not say because he might appear in the middle of the room and kill us all. You pack of idiots had to go and win the war ahead of schedule.”
Becky announced, “problem, reaction, solution. Thesis, anthesis and synthesis. It’s an old control mechanism but a good one, control the problem, control the reaction and you get the synthesis of the 2 which is probably what the controllers wanted all along.”
I had no patience for all this carry on, I just asked, “what’s project Audacious?”
Eric asked, “ever hear of admiral John Fisher?”
Something tripped in my mind, “Jacky Fisher, I remember meeting him several times, eccentric fellow, liked to dance with himself, but we agreed on quite a few things. I wondered whatever happened to him, he just vanished from the project one day.”
He explained, “Fisher was a hardcore reformist in the Royal Navy, when he came upon the plan to provoke the Martians he was furious. But he was sworn to secrecy, then given a massive pay raise to perfect this.”
He took out a photo of a ship, a big, honking ship, it looked like a naval battleship, but equipped with disintegrator banks and other advanced weapons. “That monstrosity is project Audacious, that is the vessels name. Fisher can’t talk about this without being hung for treason, honestly I can’t talk about this without risking prosecution under the official secrets act. I don’t know what to do with this information.”
Becky picked up the photo and examined it in detail, she nodded, “okay, if that’s the way you devolved maniacs want it, fine.”
Nervously I asked, “um, Becky, what do you mean by that?”
She dropped the photo and stated, “since the Martian attack we have shored up our defenses, your disintegrator tech has probably been integrated into that system by now, thanks for that by the way. If this ship comes within range of our weapons with hostile intent it will be atomized. Shortly after that we will unleash a nightmare on this planet that will make the Martian invasion look like a day at the beach. They wanted you alive as slaves, we will destroy your fleets, then we will incinerate your cities from orbit.” She stood up and leveled a finger straight at Eric’s nose, “you go and tell your little puppet masters that they have no idea what they are in for, they will not be lucky a third time. Now if you will pardon me, I am going to go back to the ship, the rest of you can do whatever you want I need to send a data-burst back home.”
After she stormed out the front door Katy spoke up, “sorry, that’s how those people negotiate, well that’s how they negotiate with others when threats are involved.”
I asked, “how do you know that?”
Katy replied, “we talk, she told me all about the art of negotiation with Martians, they don’t…”
She was cut off by Eric abruptly shouting, “stick a cork in it! Did she just declare war on us?”
I answered, “technically no, they only practice defensive war, but they don’t really regulate their society like we do. I honestly can’t say what might come of this though, they are not exactly predictable. Suffice to say though it would probably not be advised to attack their home-planet.”
I picked up the photo of the ship and asked, “is this the only ship of its kind and is it operational?”
“Currently it is the only one and it is not operational, the engines and the power source for this thing is proving problematic. It is five times the size of one of Edison’s ships and 30 times the weight, it is layered with heavy armor. But they might have the thing up and running soon, they are stripping off much of the armor and are replacing it with something else which will be much more resistant to Martian heat rays. You probably remember as well as anyone how useless armor plate is against those accursed things.”
I asked, “so it is too heavy for an antigravity drive to manage?”
He replied, “it’s too heavy for five antigravity drives, they installed them all through the ship, but in addition to not working when more than one is installed in a ship they resist each other like 2 positively charged magnets. But they are going to figure a way around that sooner or later, it’s quite remarkable that Edison was able to come up with ships that were such an excellent balance between size and power.”
“Yeah, except that it was Nikolai Tesla who came up with this technology.”
“Really? Hmm, most interesting, I suppose that means that at some point your Serbian friend will be paid a visit by the people who lead this project.”
“I suspect they already have, this might explain why he has become such a weapons enthusiast, he doesn’t go anywhere without a disintegrator. Anyone who wants to kidnap him and pump him for information had better be at peace with their creator.”
Eric seemed a little insulted by that, concluding the conversation I asked, “I want to see this thing, I want to know how far along they are with this monstrosity.”
He thought for a moment and replied, “I think it can be done, the project is being worked on at a shipyard owned by the Armstrong-Whitworth firm. I suppose we could sneak in during a shift change.”
We quickly came up with a plan, there was some ruins from the invasion close to the factory where we could land without too many people noticing. We would fly over there in the dead of night, land, then sneak in with the workers. When we explained this plan to Becky, Eric stated that she was going to have to remain with the ship because no women worked on the project. She reacted by doing something I wish I could unsee, she remade her face and chest into that of a man, right in front of us. I felt the bile rise in my gullet, Eric couldn’t keep it down, fortunately when he vomited we were not in the ship.
We flew over with no lights on, navigating by the stars and the lights of the cities and towns of England. Fortunately Eric had an above average knowledge of the local geography. We came down right amidst the charred remains of a bank and a couple of apartment buildings. Wells had one of the workers who had been providing information from Fischer supply us with overalls which would allow us to blend in with the rest of the shift of laborers and we walked right into the massive shipyard facility.
Big as it was it was clearly designed to only build one ship at a time, after passing through a small anteroom we walked right into the main chamber.
It was so beautiful, the pictures really didn’t do it justice, all bright white, shockingly white. A color scheme chosen to be resistant to the flash of Martian heat weapons. As I looked at it I suddenly felt a tinge of jealousy and outright rage, if we had gone into battle with a hundred of these ships, instead of those dinky electrical ships. Something like this would be powerful enough to tow large asteroids for an orbital bombardment. We could have had a decent chance at beating the Martians in a straight up fight. Without having to resort to the dumb luck plan of sabotaging their waterworks.
I just had to stand there breathing in its majesty, suddenly Eric elbowed me and whispered, “stop looking like a rube!” Then he asked Becky, “are you really recording all of this?” She replied, “in crystal clarity, I already see dozens of things that were not in the photos.”
On the outside it showed clear naval influences, it still had lifeboats, anchors, even a mast of some sort. The bridge was perched way too high on the superstructure, it even had a propeller and a rudder in the rear, although it did look somewhat small and vestigial. Probably installed to allow navigation if the ship landed in water, although I don’t know why you would land a sophisticated spacecraft in water if it could be avoided. The main weapons were 12 inch naval guns, which could probably out range a heat ray although it did have a nice oversized set of disintegrators mounted in wing turrets on either side.
We followed Eric deep into the bowels of the ship, it had massive provisions for energy storage, several backup power supplies including a huge Diesel engine, superb communications systems and of course various and sundry secondary weapons. Maxim 37MM Pom Pom guns, explosive launchers and three modified Martian walkers aboard for landing parties. Large elements of armor plate were being removed from this ship, that seemed to be the bulk of the work that was being done today.
The ships antigravity drive was in the approximate centre of the ship, as one would expect. The design of the drive was what was commonly known as an Edison type 6 with one obvious modification, it was bigger, sixteen times the size of an Edison drive. My expertise was in structures, management and aerodynamics, my knowledge of antigravity was somewhat limited, but I couldn’t see how this thing could work, it seemed absurdly crude. Becky examined it in detail, she whispered in my ear that we had to get out of here. “This drive as it is now could never be made to work reliably, but if I had a month to work on another device I could get it to fly. So could Tesla, and perhaps Edison as well, we have got to get out of here.”
We quietly walked out of the ship, it wasn’t until we were sneaking out the back door during the lunch break when a foreman shouted. “Hey, who are you and why are you leaving?”
So we started running, within minutes alarms and shouts could be heard as one would imagine in a prison break. Shots rang out and Becky spun around and opened up with her internal weapon. The flechettes were quiet and horrifyingly effective, they zipped through the timbers of these buildings like they were made of balsa wood.
We had a 2 mile dead run back to the ship, through various ruins of buildings. I was out of shape, Eric was in excellent shape, a legacy of his fleeing from the Martian invasion, he had done daily calisthenics since those dark days. Of course Becky was moving so fast that she would stop now and then, she said she was covering us, she was just waiting for us to catch up.
At about a quarter mile to the ship a group of soldiers appeared around a corner. Becky opened up on them, it was ugly, a burst of flechettes tore them up pretty badly. Modern weaponry is disgustingly brutal at close range.
Before we could make it the last bit of the way an electrical ship appeared, it was painted in that shocking white color with the name Nelson on the side. A loudspeaker announced, “hands up, surrender now! Or we will fire upon you!”
Becky retracted her launcher, Eric raised his hands, I was about to when the sound of weapons fire rang out. It was Katy in the Knapp! she was opening up with the ships internal cannon. Not the ships disintegration missiles, probably because she didn’t want to completely slaughter the men crewing the ship.
However the exploding shells ripped great holes in the ship, one of the shells must have hit the ships gravity drive and it exploded sending out a massive energy pulse. I was knocked to the ground by the blast.
Ships shot down during the Martian campaign fell down to the planet and exploded outside of our sight. I had seen some gravity drive malfunctions before, strange phenomena where nearby objects would either levitate or be pinned to the drive with massive force, but nothing like this. I felt myself floating, I opened my eyes and I saw that I was drifting away, gravity could not decide what to do with me. I saw and felt my body being bent and distorted into a hundred different directions. It didn’t hurt though, I looked over to Eric who was floating beside me, I shouted to him and he replied, “I’m awake, stop yelling!”
I looked down and saw Becky, she was completely out, I grabbed her, her weight, it made no sense. One second she was light as a feather, the next she felt like she was made of lead. I looked around and saw the shattered wreckage of the ship and the ruined city floating, falling and flying around us. The blast radius of the destroyed electro gravity drive looked like a sphere of a thousand foot radius.
While I was thinking about how to get out of this I saw the Knapp descend into the blast zone. Katy was coming to rescue us, I slid open the outer airlock and we tried to grab hold of the ship but it wasn’t easy. The ship was solid, but we were not, our bodies were as if they were made of butter, we were impossibly pliable and the very laws of nature seemed to no longer apply to us.
As we rose out of the blast radius the effect was similar to rising from a very deep body of water. When we broke the surface I involuntarily took a huge breath, we were back in reality, I pulled myself and Becky all the way into the airlock joining Eric. The ship rolled to facilitate this, then we looked back at the blast zone, Katy was angling to get a straight path right out to sea and back to America, for a moment or 2 this gave us a perfect view of the blast area. Suddenly Becky woke back up screaming what I surmised were Eutopian curse words, then she shrieked, “what the hell just happened!?!”
I pointed to the blast zone and asked, “you tell me.”
She climbed to the lower edge of the airlock and stared, she mumbled, “we broke reality, no, your daughter broke reality!”
I replied, “excuse me? But I think you were the one who opened fire on those soldiers. They wouldn’t have called in that ship if you hadn’t slaughtered those poor men.”
She waved her hand dismissively and slid back to the internal door of the airlock. After dropping Eric back at his home we started booking it back across the Atlantic. Becky rearranged her face back to what one could call normal while I sat in the copilots seat next to Katy. She was flying well, she had flown the little Herons before but not a large ship. I stated that I was incredibly proud of her, she had saved our lives, she was very demure about it.
Becky sat in the navigators seat and announced, “I have completed an internal diagnostic, I must have shut down because of the wholesale violation of the laws of nature back there, I am fine now.”
“Good, still have all those photos of the Audacious?”
“Of course, and backups, so what are you planning to do now?”
“Hmm I should be asking you about that, I would imagine you people are going to want to know more about that dreaded ship.”
When we got back to Maryland the first thing we told everyone was that there had been an incident with the English military. This could not be good, hopefully we hadn’t killed anyone but there was no way on Earth that there was not going to be repercussions. As such I began to quietly make preparations to leave, Becky’s suggestion to flee the planet was starting to look downright inevitable.