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Stephen Baxter’s THE MASSACRE OF MANKIND A sequel to The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

To

H.G. WELLS

This Extending Of His Idea and

The H.G. Wells Society

‘If astronomy teaches anything, it teaches that man is but a detail in the evolution of the universe, and that resemblant though diverse details are inevitably to be expected in the host of orbs around him. He learns that, though he will probably never find his double anywhere, he is destined to find any number of cousins scattered through space.’

Percival Lowell, Mars, 1895.
‘Despite a return to war-mongering and greed, still it seemed to me that humanity was on the verge of a deep apprehension of its place in the cosmos. The intellectual world was alive with speculation and hope. But then the Martians came again.’

Walter Jenkins, Narratives of the Martian Wars, 1913 & 1928.

BOOK I THE RETURN OF THE MARTIANS

1 A CALL TO ARMS

To those of us who survived it, the First Martian War was a cataclysm. And yet, to minds far greater than our own and older even than the Martians, minds who regard our world from the cold outer reaches of space, that conflict must have seemed a trivial affair indeed, and unworthy.

Since the First War, and indeed before it, the nebular hypothesis has become familiar enough to the newspaper-reading public, and over time has been amply confirmed by the scientists. The sun is the father and mother of the solar system. From its mass periodically are expelled tremendous blasts of matter, belts of gas and dust and complex elements baked in that hot hearth, which coalesce across millions of years into globes: these are the planets with their retinue of moons, which, cooling, then recede slowly from the central fire. It follows that the further a world is from the sun, the older it must be – that globe and its cargo of life – and cooler. Thus the earth is older than hot, fecund Venus; and Mars, austere and chill, is in turn older than our temperate globe. The outer worlds, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, are ancient indeed and locked in the stasis of time and cold. But Jupiter – king of planets, more massive than the rest combined, and older than Mars as Mars is older than our world – is, must be, host to the gravest intellects of all.

We know now that these minds have long watched us – humanity, the Martians, even innocent Venus. What can they have thought of our War? The fragile sparks crossing the night, the flares of fire on the green skin of our planet, the splash of ink-black smoke – the swarming and helpless populations… They looked on all this as a silent god might regard his flawed creations, perhaps, their reflections disapproval profound.

And yet, claims Walter Jenkins, provides the context within which we, who once believed we were lords of creation, must live out our petty lives. Our petty lives and – as the Martians inflicted when they made their second crossing to this earth – our small deaths.

Walter was right. This mighty context was to shape everything about the Second War, and indeed the most important moment of my own life. On the other hand, I myself, like most people, stay sane by generally not thinking about it.

And speaking of grave scrutiny, as I commence this memoir of my own, I cannot help but acknowledge the long shadow cast by that tombstone of a volume which everyone knows as the Narrative, the history of the First War penned by Walter, my esteemed brother-in-law – if he can still be termed such after I divorced Frank, his brother – a work that, as Walter’s therapist Freud might say, has burned a particular perception of the First Martian War into the public subconscious with the intensity of a Heat-Ray. Let me warn the reader from the off that if it’s the grandeur of the cosmos that you want, all told in the lofty prose of a man who was once paid to scribble such stuff, then it’s another correspondent you should seek out. And indeed if you want the self-portrait of a soul undergoing psychic shock and disintegration, which in the end made Walter’s tome of more value to the bump-feeler than to the historian, go to him. On the other hand if it’s an honest, factual account of my own experience you’re after – a woman who survived the First unimaginable Martian War and had her life pulled to pieces in the Second – then I humbly submit this, history as I saw it.

Although I admit it is an irony that my experience of the second conflict should begin, long before a Martian again set foot on this earth, with a complicated series of telephone calls from Walter himself, emanating from the hospital in Vienna where he was being treated at the time. I, who was patiently building a fresh life for myself in the New World, wanted nothing to do with it. But I have always had a sense of duty. I answered the summons.

A dotty-house, to Jupiter! From the beginning it was a tangled tale indeed.

2 A MEETING OF VETERANS

My first inkling of the impending storm came in fact in New York, specifically at the Woolworth Building, when Major Eric Eden (retired) asked to meet me.

My young colleague Harry Kane insisted on accompanying me. Harry was of that breed of brash American journalists who are always suspicious of all things European – he would have been even before the Schlieffen War, I think. I suppose Harry came as a kind of moral support, but with a morbid curiosity too about a Martian War that to him had been only a distant spectacle of his youth.

So we made our way. It was a brisk mid-March day in the year 1920. Manhattan had suffered what everybody hoped would prove to be the last snow storms of the year, although the main hazard on that particular morning turned out to be the slush piles alongside every sidewalk, ever ready to soak an unwary ankle. I remember that morning: the swarming, cheerfully ill-tempered traffic, the electric advertising hoardings that glowed in the greyness of the day – the sheer innocent vigour of a young nation – in those last hours and minutes before I was dragged back into the affairs of gloomy, wounded old England.

At last Harry and I pushed through the doors into the Woolworth. The air in the lobby, heated and scented, hit me like a slap in the face. In those days the Americans liked to be very warm indoors, and that was one transatlantic cultural shift I had yet to get used to. I pulled open my coat and loosened my headscarf, and we walked across a floor of polished Greek marble that was speckled with melted snow and grit from the street. The lobby was busy, every one of its transient, swarming inhabitants intent on his or her own destination. Harry, with his usual air of amused detachment – an attractive trait in a man a few years younger than me, even if it doesn’t sound it – said to me over the noise of the excited, chattering crowd, ‘I take it your Major Eden doesn’t know the city so well.’

‘You can say that without ever meeting him?’

‘Sure I can. If you don’t know Manhattan, where else do you set up a meeting but here? In London an American would meet you at St Paul’s – that’s the one with the hole in the dome, right? And a British in New York – well, here we are, in the tallest building in the world!’ He pointed. ‘And there he is, by the way.’

The man he indicated stood alone. He was slim, not tall, and wore a morning suit that looked expensive enough but dowdy compared to the peacock fashions around him. If this was Eden he looked younger than his thirty-eight years – six years older than me.

‘And that must be Eden because—’

‘He’s the only one looking at the artwork.’

Indeed, hands in pockets, oblivious to the crowds, the man was staring up at the ceiling, which (had I ever noticed this before?) was coated with mosaics that looked Roman, perhaps Byzantine. That was the Americans for you; in this new monument to a triumphant Mammon, they felt the need to reach back to their detached European past.

Harry strode across the floor, muttering, ‘Could he look more the Englishman abroad? If this is the best he can do to blend into the background, no wonder the Martians caught him.’

That made me snort with laughter as I followed. ‘Hush. You’re terrible. The man’s a hero.’

Hero or not, Eden looked rather nervous as we bore down on him, and he couldn’t help glancing down at the practical trouser suit I was wearing, as was my custom. ‘Mrs Jenkins, I take it—’

‘I prefer Miss Elphinstone, actually, since my divorce.’

‘My apologies. I imagine you recognised me from the posters in the bookshop windows.’

Harry grinned. ‘Something like that.’

‘It has been a well-announced tour. Just Bert Cook and myself for now, but we should be joining up with old Schiaparelli in Boston – discoverer of the canals, you know – in his eighties but going strong…’

I introduced Harry quickly. ‘We both work for the Post.’

‘I’ve not read your book, sir,’ Harry admitted. ‘It’s kind of out of my sphere. I spend my time fighting Tammany Hall as opposed to men from Mars.’

Eden looked baffled, and I felt moved to interpret. ‘Tammany Hall’s the big Democrat political machine in the city. Americans do everything on a heroic scale, including corruption. And they were not men in that cylinder, Harry.’

‘However,’ Harry went on, unabashed, ‘I’ve been known to dabble in the book trade myself. Sensational potboilers, that’s my line, not having a heroic past to peddle.’

‘Be glad of that,’ Eden said, softly enough.

A line which seemed to me the embodiment of British understatement! Eric Eden was, after all, the only living human being who had actually been inside a functioning Martian cylinder – he was captured in the first couple of days in ‘07, as the military, in their ignorance, probed at the first landing pit at Horsell. Having been kept alive, perhaps as a specimen for later examination by the Martians, Eden had fought his way out of a space cylinder with nothing much more than his bare hands, and had ultimately made it back to his unit with invaluable information on Martian technology.

He said now, ‘Miss Elphinstone, Walter Jenkins did warn me of your likely – ah, reluctance to get involved. Nevertheless Mr Jenkins did press on me the importance of the contact, for you, the rest of his family. He seems to have fallen out of touch with you all. Indeed that’s why he had to make such a circuitous attempt to contact you, through myself and Bert.’

‘Really?’ Harry grinned. ‘Isn’t this all kind of flaky?’ He twirled a finger beside his temple. ‘So the man wants to contact his ex-wife, and the only way he can do it is by contacting somebody he barely knows, with respect, sir, on the other side of the world, in the hope that he can talk to his brother’s ex-wife-’

‘That’s Walter for you,’ I said, feeling oddly motivated to defend the man. ‘He never was very good at coping.’

Eden said grimly, ‘And that was presumably even before he spent weeks being chased by Martians across the countryside.’

Harry, young, confident, was not unsympathetic, but I could see he did not understand. ‘I don’t see what favours Jenkins has done you either, Major Eden. I saw the interview you gave to the Post, where you attacked him for claiming to have seen more of the Martians than any other eyewitness, when they were at loose in England. As you said, you certainly saw stuff he never did—’

Eden held up his hand politely. ‘Actually I didn’t say that, not quite. Your reporter rather gingered it in the telling – well, you have to sell newspapers, I suppose. But I rather feel that we veterans should, ah, stick together. And besides, if you take a longer view, Jenkins did me a favour. One cannot deny that his memoir is the one that has most shaped public perception of the War ever since its publication. And he does mention me, you know.’

‘He does?’

‘Oh, yes. Book I, Chapter 8. Although he does describe me mistakenly as “reported to be missing”. Only briefly!’

I snorted. ‘The man’s in the dictionary under “unreliable narrator”.’

Eden laughed, not very sincerely. ‘But he never related my own adventures, as he did Bert Cook’s, say, and so I got the chance to tell it myself – and my publishers to label it as an “untold story”.’

Harry laughed. ‘It’s all business in the end? Now that I sympathise with. So what’s the plan, Major Eden? We gonna stand around gawping at frescoes all day?’

‘Mosaics, actually. Sorry. Miss Elphinstone, Mr Jenkins wishes to make a telephone call. To you, I mean.’

Harry whistled. ‘From Vienna? Transatlantic? That will cost a pretty penny. I know we’re all excited by the new submarine cable, and all, but still…’ The cable had been planned as part of a global alert system in the aftermath of the Martian War – although in the event the cable was not laid in place before the Schlieffen War had broken out, that entirely human affair.

Eden smiled. ‘As I understand it Mr Jenkins is not short of pennies, thanks to the success of his book. Not to mention the rights he has sold for the movie versions.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘Anyhow, Jenkins will make the call to our hotel suite – I mean, mine and Bert’s. If you wouldn’t mind accompanying me there—’

‘Which hotel?’

Eden looked faintly embarrassed. ‘The Plaza.’

Harry laughed out loud.

‘I myself would have been content with more modest accommodation, but Bert—’

I said, ‘No need to apologise. But—’ I looked Eden in the eyes, and I recognised something of myself in there – something I could never share with Harry, good-hearted though he was. The look of the war veteran. ‘Why would he call? Could it be they are coming back? And why now? The timing’s all wrong, isn’t it?’

Eden only shrugged, but he knew what I meant.

I was never an astronomer, but since the Martian War we had all picked up a little about the dance of the planets. Mars and the earth chase each other around the sun like racing cars at Brooklands. The earth, on the inside track, moves faster, and periodically overtakes Mars – the Red Planet is lapped once every couple of years or so, in fact. And it is at these moments of overtaking, called oppositions (because at such instances sun and Mars are at opposite poles as seen in the earth’s sky), that Mars and the earth come closest to each other. But Mars’s orbit is elliptical, and so is the earth’s to a lesser degree – that is, they are not perfect circles. And so this closest approach varies in distance from encounter to encounter, from some sixty million miles or more to less than forty million – the closest is called a perihelic opposition. Again there is a cycle, with the minimal perihelic approaches coming by once every fifteen years or so: in 1894, and then in 1909, and again in 1924…

I recited from memory, ‘The next perihelic opposition is still four years away. The 1907 assault came two years before the last perihelic. Surely they won’t come, if they come at all, for another couple of years, then. But if they were to break the pattern and come this year, they may be already on their way. This year the opposition date is April 21—’

‘And as every paper trumpeted,’ Harry put in, ‘including our own, that would work back to a launch date of February 27.’

More grim, memorised logic. In 1907 the opposition’s date of closest approach of the worlds had been on July 6. The landings had begun precisely three weeks and a day before that, and the firings of the great guns on Mars had begun four weeks and four days before that.

But we all knew that if the astronomers had seen anything untoward on Mars, none of us would have heard about it. Since the Martian War the astronomers’ work had been hidden, even internationally, under a blanket of secrecy by the governments. Supposedly this was to stop the panics that had been witnessed during the oppositions of 1909 and 1911 and 1914, witless alarms that had caused damage to business confidence and so forth, even some loss of life, without a single Martian peeping out of his cylinder – but it had led, in Britain at least, to the possession of an unlicensed astronomical telescope being a criminal offence. I could see the logic, but in my eyes such secrecy only induced more fear and uncertainty.

So, even now the cylinders might be suspended in space – on their way! Why else would Walter summon us all so? But Walter was Walter, never a man to get to the point; I knew that I faced hours, days of uncertainty before this sudden tension was resolved, one way or another.

Eden spread his hands. ‘I know no more than I’ve told you.’

‘Well, let’s take the call,’ I said, as bravely as I could. I linked his arm; Harry took my other arm, so we walked, as three, out of the lobby. ‘I think I can stand an hour or two of luxury in the Plaza.’

‘And I,’ Harry said, ‘look forward to meeting this Cook guy. Quite a character, if half of what he says is true!’

Eden, who seemed loyal to fellow veterans to a fault, looked embarrassed. I gave Harry a sly dig in the ribs with my elbow, and we swept out of the doors into the grey March day.

3 AN ARTILLERYMAN IN NEW YORK

We took a cab to the hotel, which is on 58th and 5th. The main entrance, if you don’t know it, faces Grand Army Plaza, which used to commemorate feats of the Union Army in the Civil War. Since ’22 this has of course been supplemented by memorials to a different conflict. But it was a grand sight to see, in those times.

Eden’s suite contained the pampered luxury I expected, with overstuffed furniture and a magnificent view of the Plaza outside. A bottle of champagne stood on a low glass table, uncorked. The air was filled with the tinny tones of a ragtime band, emanating from a wireless set – not the compact government-issue People’s Receivers you would have found in every British home in those days, and known universally as Marvin’s Megaphones, but a big chunk of American hardware in a walnut cabinet.

And in this setting Albert Cook, in a housecoat, lounged on a sofa, idly glancing through a colour supplement. In my own first experiences with American hotels I had been all but overwhelmed by such luxuries as a private bathroom, a telephone in the room, and cereals for breakfast. But Cook evidently took to it all like a duck to water.

Cook was a little older than Eden, aged perhaps forty; he had neatly cut black hair peppered with grey, and a livid scar on his lower face (though I later heard gossip that he would touch this up for effect). And while there was no sign in the room of Eden’s work save a single, rather battered reading copy of his book on a side cabinet, the room was dominated by a poster on a stand, a photograph of Cook in ragged uniform and wielding a kind of club, and emblazoned:

MEMOIRS OF AN ARTILLERYMAN
Eden briskly introduced us. Cook did not stand. He grunted at Harry, and eyed me up and down, evidently disappointed to see a woman decently covered up in a trouser suit. For myself, I hope the look I gave him was withering. Since the First War my choice had been to reject any clothing in which I could not comfortably cycle – and not the prettied-up fashionable versions either, but the sturdy suits worn by the munitionettes and others – and Cook could like it or not.

He turned back to his magazine. ‘So a ’alf-hour until this blessed telephone call, Eric?’

Eden lifted the champagne bottle from its bucket; it was no more than a third full. He glanced apologetically at me. ‘If you’d like me to order some more—’

Harry and I both demurred.

‘Please, sit down, let me take your coats…’

‘And don’t let me embarrass yer,’ Cook said lazily. ‘I’ll get out of the way when the Prof calls from his foreign nut-’atch. I’ve nothing to say to ’im. I’ve had nothing to say to ’im since Putney, when ’e drank my booze, beat me at chess, and ran out afore the work was barely started.’

Harry laughed. ‘We’ve all read the book, man. What work? You’d barely started whatever grand scheme of tunnelling and sabotage you dreamed of—’

‘That’s as how ’e tells it. Pompous over-educated toff. I shoulda sued ’im.’

‘Just as you’ll be suing Charlie Chaplin, I suppose.’

Cook scowled, for this was a well-known sore point for him. Chaplin had built much of his cinematic fame on the success of one character, the ‘Little Sojer’, a comical, good-hearted gunner in ill-fitting uniform, who forever dreamt of being a general while his guns exploded in clouds of sooty smoke. You would have to be a lot thicker-skinned than Albert Cook not to have seen the source of that.

But it was an irony that Walter’s portrayal of Cook in his Narrative had rather damaged Walter’s own reputation, with Cook’s vision of a utopia of human rats coming across as a bleak, if comic, caricature of the lofty arguments for spiritual unity that Walter himself had tried to make in the wake of the War. Cartoons in the likes of Punch had often paired them, two inadequate dreamers, much to Walter’s chagrin – not that I would have expected Bert to grasp such subtleties.

Seeking to cover over Harry’s lack of tact, I interposed quickly, ‘I’m not sure any of us came out of Walter’s book very well. I’ve never quite lived down the way he introduced me to the world.’ The words Walter had used, as he described how his brother had helped my sister-in-law and myself fight off robbers during our own flight from the Martians, were burned into my very soul. ‘“For the second time that day this girl proved her quality.” Girl! And so on. I could have been drummed out of the suffragettes, before they were banned.’

Bert Cook was not listening, a trait I was to learn was typical of the man. ‘Should ha’ sued ’im, no matter what the lawyers said.’

Eden shook his head. ‘Don’t be a fool. He made you a hero! Inadvertently, granted. I’ve seen you talking in public – you know how folk respond to the detail – how, when the mob fled from the Martians, you alone ran towards them, calculating that was where the food would be…’

I remembered the passage, of course. ‘“Like a sparrow goes for man.”’

‘That’s me.’ Bert looked at me now, as if seeking to impress. ‘Though I ain’t no sparrow. I thought it through, see. As then, so now. And today, out the blue, ’e wants a nice chit-chat with you, does ’e? And what is it ’e wants to discuss? How ’e feels about getting a daily enema from Sigmund Freud, because ’e’s ’ad the wind up ’im since 1907?’ He looked more intent. ‘Or is it about Mars? Another opposition coming up, everybody knows that. What is it – does ’e know something? He’s in a position to find out I suppose.’

I faced Cook. ‘You despise him for his learning and erudition, and his weakness as you see it, yet you want the information he possesses?’

‘If it is the Martians ’aving another go, ’aven’t I, of all people, the right to know? Of all people? Eh? Oh, I’ve ’ad enough of this.’ He got to his feet, a little unsteadily, grasped the champagne bottle by the neck and lumbered to a door. ‘Show time is – what is it, Eden?’

‘Six o’clock. A bookstore on Broadway which—’

Cook belched loudly. ‘Time for a kip, a crap and a wash, not necessarily in that order.’ He winked at me, lasciviously. ‘And then we’ll see what’s what after the show – eh? Plenty of ’ealthy young American women drawn to a proven survivor like me – survival of the fittest, eh? “Like a sparrow goes for man.” Hah!’

I think we were all relieved when he closed the door behind him.

There followed an awkward interval for us all, as we waited for Walter’s call. We allowed Eden to order coffee for us, which came with a heap of sugary cakes on a tray.

‘So, Miss Elphinstone – Julie.’

‘Yes, Major, that’s my name.’

‘Short for Julia? Juliet?’

Harry snorted.

‘Short for nothing. I was christened Julie. I was born in ’88, and in that year Strindberg had his “Miss Julie” in the theatres, and my mother was taken by it.’

He nodded. ‘Then you were nineteen in ’07, when the Martians came.’

I shrugged. ‘I was an adult.’

‘I was but twenty-five myself. Many of my men were older than I. In the Army they follow their sergeants, not their officers. Just as well! But there were much younger recruits in the Schlieffen War, you know, called up by the Russians and indeed the Germans as the fighting dragged on.’

I wondered how he could know that. There had always been rumours of British ‘advisors’ at the side of the Germans in the great killing fields in the east, exploring new weapons – some, it was darkly hinted, based Martian technology.

Eden went on, ‘We did well to stay out of that – a quick knock-out defeat for the French.’ He actually mimed a one-two punch combination. ‘I was a fair boxer at school. Never kept it up, of course…’

Harry burst out laughing, then apologised quickly.

But our conversation rather dried up. Evidently Harrow, Oxford, and officer training in the British Army (for such had been Eden’s career), and indeed a thrilling adventure aboard a Martian space-cylinder, do not necessarily inculcate a talent for small-talk.

At last, to our mutual relief, the telephone rang.

Harry and I let Eden speak to the chain of operators, from the hotel’s own switchboard through to the new transoceanic exchanges, and finally the handlers in Vienna with their ‘strong German accents but beautiful articulation,’ according to Eric. At last he passed the handset to me.

I was surprised to hear, not Walter, but another English voice,strong, cultivated. ‘Mrs Jenkins?’

‘Actually I prefer Miss Elphinstone.’

‘Ah… Yes, I see the detail from the note in your brother-inlaw’s file. My apologies, then. A heroically long connection to make such an error!’

‘To whom am I speaking? Where is Walter?’

‘I apologise again. My name is Charles Samuel Myers. I am one of the specialists who have been treating Mr Jenkins for his neurasthenia for the last several years.’

I frowned. ‘Neurasthenia?’

Eric Eden pulled a face. ‘The privates who faced the Martians – they called it heat stroke. Or the hots, Bert says. Or, the sweats…’

Once again Harry twirled a finger by his temple. ‘Julie, you’re talking to a bump-feeler!’

4 AN UNRELIABLE NARRATOR

Heat stroke. The hots. The sweats. Ghastly soldiers’ slang for a ghastlier condition.

Later I would learn that my brother-in-law had encountered such terms when he had been referred for his first consultation with Dr Myers at a military hospital at a house called Craiglockhart, near Edinburgh. This was in the autumn of 1916, already nine years after the War.

In a dusty office that might once have been a smoking room, Myers had had a series of books with him, like exhibits, Walter had thought: all of them memoirs of the Martian War, including Walter’s own, and the first of Bert Cook’s self-glorifying pageturners. But the desk was heaped too with records from another conflict, mostly in German: despatches from the eastern front of the still-current Schlieffen War.

Heat stroke,’ Myers said. ‘A word coined in those brief days of our Martian War – days long enough to inflict grievous psychic shocks on those who fought in it. But the condition had in fact been tentatively identified before; British Army surgeons reported the after-effects of shellfire on the men during the Second Boer War, and even before that it was noted during the War Between the States. And of course since ’14 the Germans in the east, and their Russian foes, have been coming up with their own labels – Kanonenschrecken. I myself have been phenomenon in a peer-reviewed publication, the Lancet.

‘Good for you,’ said Walter, uneasy. At that time he was fifty years old, and by his own admission had not felt strong, robust, since the War. Indeed, he still suffered from his burn scars, especially to his hands. Now he was already feeling trapped, he would tell me later. ‘I don’t see what this has to do with me.’

‘But I’ve told you,’ Myers said patiently. ‘I believe that the Germans’ Kanonenschrecken is a similar phenomenon, psychologically, to Cook’s sweats. And what it has to do with you, sir, is the contents of your memoir.’

Walter bridled. ‘I have suffered much criticism for my “unreliability”, as Parrinder has called it. I meant the book as an honest account of my own experience of the War, and my reflections since, for I believed I was in a unique—’

‘Yes, yes,’ Myers said, cutting him off, ‘but what’s actually unique about it, man, is that unlike some accounts of the War that you read – Churchill’s stiff-upper-lip boys’-story heroics, or else the self-aggrandising of the likes of Cook – what you have delivered is a desperately honest account of your own psychological affliction. Can you not see? An affliction from which to some extent you already suffered, even before the experiences of the War. Even after the fighting you have clearly had problems: the fracturing of your relationship with your wife-’

‘I admit that my experience of the War troubled me. No one of intelligence or sensitivity could fail to bear such scars, surely. But – some psychological disjoint before? I cannot accept that, Doctor.’

‘But it’s all here, man. In your own words. Book I, Chapter 7. “Perhaps I am a man of exceptional moods.” Yes! Exceptional indeed. You describe a sense of detachment from the world, even from yourself, as if you are an outside observer… You spent your life before the War dreaming of utopias, did you not? The perfectibility of a world looked at as if from outside, and of a mankind to which, even then, you felt only a peripheral attachment.

‘But when the Martians came – look at your own account of your response to the War, from the beginning. You say you fled from that first Martian pit, at Horsell, in panic, only to snap back to equilibrium in a trice.’ He clicked fingers and thumb. ‘In a trice! You showed a peculiar mix of curiosity and dread; you were consumed by fear, and yet could not keep away from the spectacle, the mystery – the newness. At one point you describe yourself actually circling a Martian site, at a constant distance – ha! A circle, a locus imposed by two forces, perfectly matched, warring in you. As for your detachment from humanity, you could be ruthless, could you not? To save your wife you took the dogcart of, of—’

‘A local publican.’

‘Yes! Leaving the man, who knew less than you about the situation at that point, to die. And later you killed directly, did you not? The clergyman you called a curate – did you ever trouble to learn his name, his position? He was called Nathaniel—’

‘There is no value in my knowing it! And I believe that, in the course of a dark night of the soul, even at the height of the War, I came to terms over that – action.’

‘Came to terms with who? God? Yourself? The curate? Even that “dark night” line is a quote from a mediaeval mystic. The truth is you called on God, whose existence you once spent a whole book demolishing!’

‘So I did,’ said Walter, increasingly uneasy. ‘And yet I was brought up within the great carcass of that antique religion. I was even forced to accept confirmation to take up my first post, a teaching position. And when faced with the unimaginable, that which lies beyond familiar categories, perhaps the mind reaches for the trappings of familiar myth—’

‘Was murder unimaginable to you, afore you did it? I suppose you’d say the Martians drove you to it?’

‘Drove me to it, yes, that’s it. For it was not pre-meditated.’

‘Was it not? Are you sure? You are a man of detachment of mind, remember. And a man of detachment of consciousness altogether, at times.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I refer to the later passages of your own book. You describe the great existential shock of the Martians and their weaponry, imposed on the English countryside: “a sense of dethronement”, I think was your term. Very well. But at the end of the War – when, as you admit, you were not the first to discover the Martians’ extinguishing through the plagues – you had a threeday blank, man! Classic fugue. And even later – you wrote this book in ’13, six years after the War was done – you describe visions, memories still intruding even then. You saw living people as ghosts of the past – “phantasms in a dead city”. And so on and so forth.’ He looked at Walter with more sympathy. ‘Your relationship with your wife broke down, Jenkins. Why do you suppose that is?’

This cut Walter to the core. ‘But I spent much of the War seeking her out.’

‘That’s what you say.’ He tapped the memoir. ‘That’s what you say in here. But – look what you did! You went to Weybridge and London, never to Leatherhead where your wife was sheltering: north to the Martians, not south to your family. That’s what you did. And are you aware that you don’t refer to your wife by name in this book, not once?’

‘Nor do I name myself. Nor, for that matter, my brother. Or Cook the artilleryman. It was a literary affectation which—’

‘A literary affectation? You name the Astronomer Royal, man. You name the Lord Chief Justice! And you don’t name your own wife? How do you imagine she would feel about that? And didn’t your hair turn grey? In a matter of days, during the War.’

‘But – but…’

‘There could hardly be more striking a sign of physical as well as mental affliction.’ Myers sat back. ‘I put it to you, sir – and I have already penned a paper for the Lancet on the case – that you are suffering a form of neurasthenia: the sweats, heatstroke, gun-dread. Symptoms of this include tics, mutism, paralysis, nightmares, tremors, sensitivity to noise, fugue, hallucinations. Do these sound familiar? The difference with you, compared to the common soldier of the eastern front, is your articulacy, your intelligence, your self-awareness – even your greater age. Which makes you a fascinating reference point. Sir, our own government, in particular the military authorities—’

‘Ha! What’s the distinction, under our blessed Prime Minister Marvin?’

‘—have encouraged me to refer you for treatment. At this hospital, and others in Germany where gun-dread is being studied. Are you willing to partake in my study? The treatment should be beneficial for you, and may lead to a greater good: the more effective handling of traumatised soldiers of all nationalities.’

‘Do I have a choice?’

‘But that,’ Walter told me, his voice a whisper punctuated by pops and crackles from the long, tenuous wires that connected us, ‘was the one question he would not answer. Could not, I suppose, for Myers thought himself an ethical man. Of course I had no choice.’

I rolled my eyes at Harry, who was listening in with Eric Eden, their heads together over the room’s second handset. Despite Myers’s attempt to prepare us, the call, when we were finally put through to Walter, was disorienting. It was hard to know what to say.

I essayed, ‘Walter, I wouldn’t take that guff about Carolyne too seriously. Why, I broke up with Frank, remember, and he didn’t even write a book!’

‘Ah, but I think I my brother has too much of me in him for his own good. A sense of purpose that takes him away from his humanity sometimes, even from his nearest family…’

‘And the treatment? How was that?’

‘I wouldn’t recommend it over a spa cure,’ he said dryly.

In 1916, in the midst of their European war of conquest, the Germans were necessarily the pioneers in the treatment of this ailment, the ‘Kanonenschrecken’ as they called it – but their attitude was shaped by their own culture. To be brought down by fear was dishonourable, shameful. And therefore their treatment programme, called the ‘Kauffmann regime’, was a question of psychological pressure and – unbelievable to me – the inflicting of pain.

‘I was referred to a doctor called Yealland, British, a follower of Kauffmann, who used a technique he called faradisation. The use of electricity to combat symptoms directly. If you were mute, for example, your tongue and larynx would be prodded with a charge, and the room locked to keep you in, and you were strapped down in a chair, until you did speak.’

‘Dear God. And does it work?’

‘Yes! There’s a recovery rate they call “miraculous”. What they don’t report is a rather high rate of relapse.’

‘And in your case—’

‘Yealland tried to “treat” the unwelcome memories. You will recall I was badly burned in the course of the War, especially about the hands. And sometimes, when I have nightmares of imprisonment or flight, or when I see the ghosts of the past in the London streets of today, my old wounds ache, as if in sympathy. By provoking pain deliberately in that injured skin, Yealland sought to break the link between the memories and the phantom physical pain, as he saw it, thereby lessening the impact of the former on me.’

‘And the outcome—’

He said only, ‘After a couple of sessions I chose to terminate the treatment.’

Eden said with feeling, ‘Good for you, old man.’

After that Walter had been taken back by Myers and a colleague called William Rivers, who, sceptical of ‘faradisation’ and similar techniques, had become followers of Freud and his school.

‘Now I am in the rather more pleasant environs of Vienna, and instead of volts it is verbiage, from Freud and his followers. We talk and talk, you see, as the doctors try to discover how a trauma deep in a wounded mind connects to the surface behaviour. I can see there is something in it – but I am sceptical of Freud’s claim, as are the British doctors in fact, that every human impulse is at root sexual in nature. For you have the Martians as your counter-example! The Martians, as we know, are entirely without sex – we have physical proof that to reproduce they bud asexually – and so what use Freudian analysis to a Martian? And yet they are conscious beings, they evidently have motivation…’

I rolled my eyes at my companions. ‘Never mind about the Martians just now, Walter. How is your new treatment regime going?’

‘Well, it doesn’t hurt as much.’

Harry laughed out loud at that.

I said, ‘Walter, I’m sorry to hear of your troubles. I do sympathise. You probably know I left Britain after the ’11 election, when Marvin and his strutting bully-boys came to power – soldiers in khaki marching behind King George’s coronation coach… I would not wish to be in their hands, as you have been… But you have called for a reason.’

‘I have become desperate to get in touch. Not just with you, but with Frank, Carolyne… I could think of no other way but through you, Julie. I could not trace you in New York, so I asked Major Eden to bring a personal message. I hope you will help me, Julie. I hope you will see the sense of it. You have always been—’

‘A girl of “quality”, as you said in your memoir?’

‘Sorry about that. Look – my suggestion is that you go back to England. There is still time. Take a steamer – I have the resources to pay. Gather the family, and I will make another call. Perhaps near Woking – the house I shared with Carolyne is long sold, but—’

‘What is it, Walter? Tell me something.’ So began for me an extraordinary journey, one which took me from the lobby of the world’s tallest building in New York to the foot of a Martian fighting-machine in London – and beyond!

For he would say only: ‘I have grave news from the sky.’

5 MY RETURN TO ENGLAND

When I looked for a steamer, I found the Lusitania happened to be readying for a passage. It didn’t take long to arrange tickets for myself, and for Eric Eden and Albert Cook, both of whom decided to cut short their American tour, with apologies to Professor Schiaparelli, after hearing Walter’s dark hints. Their whole lives had been shaped by the Martian War; of course they would come.

Not that I was keen to make the journey at the time. And my brave hero Harry Kane was even less so. ‘England ain’t a place to be an American these days,’ he told me. ‘Brad Green,’ who was a long-standing and hard-drinking European correspondent at the Post, ‘says that when you open your mouth and let out a Yankee drawl, you’re as likely as not to be hauled over by some cop. And meanwhile they got German troopers on guard outside Buckingham Palace. Now where’s the sense in that?’

‘That’s politics for you.’

He grunted. ‘I blame the Martians. You know, I think for a lot of us on this side of the pond your Martian War was a kind of a big splash at the time, and there were false alarms and panics and such here – but when it was all over, well, it was like some remote natural disaster, a volcano blowing its top in Yorkshire or someplace.’

‘Do you even know where Yorkshire is?’

‘You were crowded off the front page next time there was a jumper off the Brooklyn Bridge. And it didn’t stop the Kaiser marching his tin soldiers all over the map of Europe, did it? But for you Brits – sometimes it feels like you never got over it.’

I had to nod. ‘Surprisingly perceptive. So you’re not going to let my brother-in-law buy you a week on a cruise ship?’

‘Some other time, sweet cheeks.’

We said a perfunctory farewell – but as it turned out it would be a very long time indeed before I saw Harry Kane again.


Two days after Walter’s call it was time to go. It didn’t take long for me to pack. I have travelled light since that dreadful early morn in June of ’07, when I was staying with my brother George and his wife Alice in their house at Stanmore, and he, a surgeon, came home from a call-out to Pinner full of news of the Martian advance. He bundled us onto the chaise, promising to meet us at Edgware station after he had roused the neighbours. It was quite an adventure for us, and recorded at second-hand passably accurately by Walter in his Narrative – for we ran into his brother, my future husband Frank, and as a result we were brought under the scrutiny of the wider world. But it is typical of Walter’s carelessness with detail that he did not trouble to complete that part of his narrative with a report of the loss of George Elphinstone, my brother, who we never saw again.

I joined Cook and Eden at the wharf. The RMS Lusitania was a floating hotel, with electric elevators, and a telephone in every cabin. The ‘Greyhound of the Sea’ would fair whip us across the ocean; we should land in less than six days. Of course at that time there was no faster way to do it; the great Zeppelins no longer flew the transatlantic routes, and it was only a year since Alcock and Brown had fluttered across the Atlantic, the first to do so in a fuel-laden variant of the war aeroplanes that had evolved so quickly on the eastern front of the Schlieffen War.

I was irked at the beginning of the show for we had to stay an extra day in dock while the harbour managers arranged the formation of a convoy, twenty or so ships with ourselves as the largest passenger boat, a number of merchantmen, and a brace of US Navy destroyers equipped with sounding gear and depth charges to see off any threat from the ‘U-Boats’. Since the early weeks of the Schlieffen War in 1914, no American ship had been so much as scratched by a German torpedo, but it says a lot for the tensions between the precautions were deemed convenience for us; the convoy would make for Southampton rather than the Lusitania’s usual port of Liverpool, and would deliver us closer to London.

During the crossing I spent much of my time in the onboard library, while Eric Eden habituated the gymnasium and Cook the First Class Lounge, with its stained glass windows and marble pillars and delicate, fluttering women. There was much black humour among the passengers. We were lucky, it was said, that our convoy didn’t include the White Star’s Titanic, thought by many to be a cursed ship since she was almost wrecked by an iceberg on her maiden voyage – saved only by hull armour of high-quality Martian-grade aluminium.


As soon as we landed at Southampton, squads of the Border Control Police in their black uniforms came on board, accompanied by a handful of regular soldiers in khaki. We three British citizens, with our papers in order and checked while still on board the Lusitania, were allowed off briskly, while – just as Harry would have expected – Americans and other foreigners were kept back for closer scrutiny. Once off the ship, the bulky luggage of my two gentleman fellow-travellers was sent on ahead to our hotel in London.

Then, outside the passenger terminal, we three were met by Philip Parris. Philip was Walter Jenkins’s cousin. Then in his fifties, he was a bulky, jowly individual, his grey-black hair plastered to his scalp by pomade, habitually dressed in a heavy suit that generally featured sombre black tie and waistcoat adorned with thick watch-chain. He looked every inch the man of business, the man of substance – and the competent kind to whom a man like Walter Jenkins would entrust the welfare of three transatlantic waifs such as ourselves, just as he had once entrusted his wife’s safety during the chaos of the Martian War, while he followed the Martians around the English countryside as a fly follows a horse. I remember in his memoir Walter dismissing Philip as a brave enough man but not one to respond quickly to danger. Ha! Sooner at my side a man like Parris than one like Jenkins.

Philip led us briskly to the car park, and told us his plan. He would take us to London for the convenience of the hotels, then drive us back out to Woking later, for Walter’s family meeting in a couple of days’ time. ‘I trust you had no troubles with the busy-bodies of the Border Control.’

Eric Eden shook his head. ‘Just doing their jobs, I suppose. But when they came crowding aboard – I haven’t seen so many uniforms in one place since I left Inkerman Barracks.’

Philip snorted. ‘Wait until you see London. I blame Marvin – much too pally with the Kaiser, if you ask me.’

We came to his car, which was one of the new Bentleys; its chassis, mostly of aluminium, gleamed in the watery March sunlight.

Cook, whistling, ran a finger along the smooth lines of the bonnet. ‘What a beauty.’

Philip grinned back. ‘She is, isn’t she? English aluminium, or rather Martian, and Ottoman petroleum in the tank, and the best leather from the cut-price French markets. And not entirely an indulgence. Aluminium’s my game these days, and I need to advertise the wares. I’m going to swing east and pick up the Portsmouth Road to London. Keep your papers handy. We’ll pass through the Surrey Corridor, I thought you’d like to see that, but they can be a bit twitchy at the security gates…’

The Surrey Corridor? Security gates? I had been away a long time, but I remembered a time when you hadn’t needed papers or passports even to cross international borders, let alone to move around England.

He bundled us into the car, whose interior smelled of polished leather.

Near Portsmouth, at Cook’s request, Philip turned off the main road and halted at an elevation from which we had a view of the city and the harbour beyond. Portsmouth has always been the main port of the Royal Navy, and that day we could see the English Channel crowded with ships, like grey ghosts in the March mist. Black smoke streaked from their funnels in the breeze.

Cook and Eden, military men both, were fascinated by the sight. ‘Something is afoot,’ murmured Cook. ‘Lot of traffic down there.’

Philip said, ‘Wish I’d brought my bird-watching glasses… Are either of you Army men ship-spotters? Not all those vessels out there are ours. Some are German – and some indeed are French, impounded after the Schlieffen War.’ He glanced back, almost conspiratorially. ‘There are tensions with the Americans. The rumour going round my club – well, it’s this. That the Kaiser, straddling the whole of Europe, is feeling restless again. Just as they launched the European war in the west to knock out France and have a free hand to hit Russia before she mobilised – that was the whole point of the Schlieffen Plan – now the German planners are thinking of taking on America before she becomes too big to handle. America, you know, has a decent navy but a very small standing army, and problems with her neighbour, Mexico. If the Germans can get their fleet across the Atlantic, and if the Mexicans can be encouraged to cross the border…’

‘Madness,’ murmured Eden. ‘Too many damn war rumours. Keeps everyone on edge.’

But Cook said, ‘But you’ve got to ’and it to the Kaiser. He’s winning ’is war on one continent, through being bold. Maybe ’he can do it again. Why not?’

I had watched all this martial drama from afar. In a sense it had all followed on from the Martian War. The British Navy, the best in the world, had turned out to be all but useless against forces that fell on us from the sky. Frank and I ourselves, in our flight to the sea, had seen the Channel Fleet standing useless across the Thames estuary while the Martians rampaged. So, after the War, there had been a drastic rebalancing, with funding for the home Army boosted, and the Navy drastically cut, amid much hand-wringing about the loss of tradition, and bitter inter-service rivalry. Part of the strategy had been, by 1912, our agreeing a rather shabby non-aggression pact with the Kaiser to avoid any naval arms race – and, indeed, to reduce the risk of war with Germany, whose generals were alarmed at the potential of our new, heavily expanded land army for waging a war in Europe. After that we cooperated with the Germans when it came to the oil-rich Ottomans, and we had no fear of German aggression against India – so long as we turned a blind eye to their wider plans.

At home, Marvin was cunning in how he reinforced his new position. Neutrality was popular with the financial markets, and after the shock of the Martian invasion, the general militaristic timbre of Marvin’s regime struck a chord with the populace. It was even good for business, if you were quick-footed enough: clothiers produced uniforms and other military apparel, leathermakers turned out Sam Browne belts and holsters, boots and harnesses, and our munitions factories produced arms and ammunitions to be poured down the great gullet of wars to come…

All this had led, in the end, to the betrayal of our old allies in 1914.

Phillip rubbed his jaw. ‘Whatever you think of the national interest and so forth, I think a lot of us were rather ashamed to allow the Germans to inflict a mechanised war on Belgium and France, rather as we had been subject to just such an attack from Mars. No wonder the Americans were disgusted.’

Cook grinned cynically. ‘We was too blessed busy dishing the Irish, and marching into Mesopotamia to get our ’ands on the Ottomans’ oil, to ’ave time for conscience. But as for the Germans versus the Yanks, maybe the Martians will come again and put a stop to the whole thing before it starts.’

And there you had the paradox of Albert Cook. He was not a conventionally intelligent man, and was certainly poorly educated, but he did have a kind of cunning grasp of strategy, of the big picture. For, of course, in that last playful prediction he turned out to be right.

Philip started the car. ‘Let’s press on. There’s a decent pub at Petersfield where we can stop for lunch…’

6 THE SURREY CORRIDOR

It was early in the afternoon when I discovered what Philip had meant by the Surrey Corridor.

We were passing through Guildford. Just beyond the High Street and before the junction for the London Road, we came to a barrier, like a level-crossing gate. Philip slowed as we joined the small queue of traffic before the gate, which was raised and lowered to allow each vehicle through.

When it was our turn, a police officer came to Philip’s window. He wore a regulation uniform as far as I could see, but he had a revolver in a holster at his waist, and no collar number. George had warned us to have our papers prepared. Our documents were taken into a small cabin at the side of the road, and inspected at length. I quickly grew impatient with the wait, though Eden and Cook, with more experience of the modern England than I, sat it out stoically.

Then came a new adventure. One by one, we three were led from the car and into the cabin. Eden and Cook were released quickly, with Cook returning to the car smiling. ‘Bobby in there ’as a copy of my book. ’Ad me sign it. Ha! Fame can be ’elpful sometimes.’

Which was fine for them. But when my go came, I was detained. The officer in charge was a short, bristling man with a long, mournful moustache of a style I thought of as Germanic – I was to see plenty more examples in London. ‘I’m very sorry, Miss, but I have to hold you here for now.’

I believe I managed to smile sweetly. ‘Who says so, Officer?’

‘Exchange.’

‘Which is?’

‘Big records office, in the British Library.’

‘The Library? I’m surprised there’s room with all the books.’

He shrugged. ‘All the books gone down to a bunker now, Miss.

‘I simply yelled, ‘Philip!’

Philip Parris was a man of substance even in General Marvin’s Britain. Once he was at my side, I asked again why I was being detained.

The moustached officer glanced at his notes. ‘Miss, in 1908 you became a member of a proscribed organisation, the Women’s Social and Political Union—’

Philip barked laughter. ‘So that’s it! You’re a suffragette!’

‘I was,’ I said. Then amended to: ‘I am. What, is that a crime now?’

‘Actually it is, Julie. We’ll sort this out.’

With his knowledge of the bureaucracy of the modern British state, and sheer force of character, Philip was able quickly to establish that there was no record of me having participated in such acts as bombings or assaults – neither the assassination of Prime Minister Campbell-Bannerman at the unveiling of the Tomb of the Vanished Warrior, that great memorial to Heat-Ray victims, in ’08, or even the sporadic protests that had intensified after Marvin’s quasi-legal election triumph in ’11, after which the movement had been banned. In the end, after much telephone negotiation, Philip got me out of choky in return for guarantees that I would present myself at a police station in London, and that Philip himself would be a guarantor of my good behaviour.

Though grateful to Philip I was humiliated to have to rely on the help of a man, given the circumstances.

Thus my introduction to the new Britain. We drove on.

Beyond Guildford, the Bentley passed smoothly along an almost empty road, and we came into the landscape where Martians had once walked.

The maps that have been drawn up of the battle zone since the end of the First Martian War are familiar enough. It begins south-west of Woking, at Horsell Common, where the first cylinder landed at midnight on Friday June 14, in the year 1907. Then you have that sequence of pits, forming loose triangles, laid down by cylinder impacts over nine more summer nights, reaching up through Surrey to central London and beyond. That loose band of destruction and poison had since become known as the Corridor. Now the countryside had recovered from the scorching of the Heat-Ray, at least as far as the naked eye could see, with the green of the grass sprouting in abandoned fields evident even in the grey light of March.

But we saw the ruins of central Woking itself, still unreconstructed, left as a kind of monument to the fallen of the War of which this brave, unremarkable town had been the epicentre. I did glimpse the shining dome of the bravely rebuilt Shah Jahan Mosque. It had become a sad joke that Woking, which had once been notorious as the site of the first crematorium in Britain, had now become nothing but a necropolis itself. We drove on.

Phillip said, ‘Even after the clean-up all this was left undeveloped. Aside from all the physical destruction, the Martians’ use of the Black Smoke, and their vegetable infestations, the red weed, left traces thought to be toxic in the long term. So the land’s unfit for use.’

‘That’s the cover, right enough,’ said Albert Cook slyly.

The closest the road came to one of the Martians’ landing sites was at Pyrford, where we saw a substantial building of corrugated iron and concrete, with barbed wire and watchtowers all around, and armed troops patrolling, and a Union Jack flying jauntily. To reach the site we would have had to pass through another gate, still more massive than the one at Guildford.

I complained, ‘I can see nothing of the Martian pit from here.’

‘That’s not surprising,’ Philip said. ‘It’s the same all over. The pits have become too valuable an asset to be open to Sunday trippers and lemonade-sellers.’

‘More than that,’ Cook said. ‘There’s science stuff goes on in there. Like a labor’try. Scientists and inventors and military men, fiddling with Martian gear– trying to make it work for man, see.’

Philip snorted. ‘And what would you know of all that?’

The former artilleryman tapped his nose. ‘I ’ave my sources. And my readers, even in the ranks of the military, who agree with me on some points of strategy, they tell me stuff. We ’aven’t ’ad much trouble figuring some of how it works. The Heat-Ray, f’r example, generates a beam of a special light they call infra-red, that rattles back and forth between two little mirrors, getting stronger and stronger, until, bang, out it shoots. Coherent – that’s the word. The big parabolic mirror on the outside of the generator is for sighting, so I understand it, to gen’rate the guide-light that’s barely visible to us. And the Ray itself – fifteen hundred degrees it is, nearly ’ot enough to melt iron. Bet you never knew that.

‘And the flying-machine, they got that working even before the Martians’ corpses were cool. But what they can’t figure is what powers all these gadgets. They all have these little boxes inside of ’em, energy packs… They don’t burn coal or oil, they’re not electric batteries.’

‘He’s right about that,’ Philip said. ‘There are a couple of German physicists called Einstein and, um—’

‘Schwarzschild,’ Eden murmured.

‘That’s it. They have a theory that the power packs are something to do with the energy that’s evidently trapped, so they say, inside every atom. And if only you could liberate it – well, perhaps that’s what the Martians have managed. If so it’s beyond our understanding, for now.’

‘I’ll say,’ said Cook with some glee. ‘But they’d make mighty fine bombs. Maybe you ’eard of the explosions they ’ad at Ealing and Kensington and Manchester, tinkering with those fellows. Boom! Bash! And ’alf a square mile – flattened.’

Walter himself had witnessed this power. In his Narrative you will read how he saw the Heat-Ray camera of a fallen Martian at Shepperton flash river water to steam, and cause a great scalding wave to advance down the river – he still bears the scars of the scalding he received that day. ‘Think how long a kettle takes to boil!’ he once said to me. ‘And imagine, then, the torrent of energy which that generator must have poured into the tremendous mass of the river water…’

Philip said now, ‘But even so we’re working some miracles.’ He slowed the car. ‘Take a look.’

Glancing around, I saw that we were in the vicinity of Esher. To either side of the road stood lines of wire fencing, tall, topped with barbed wire, with here and there a manned watchtower. Buildings were dimly visible within these barriers, and people were coming and going, like spectres in the grey afternoon light, watched over by the soldiers or police on the towers. I did not know who these people were, but I saw one small girl pressed up against the fence itself, peering out, fingers meshed in the wire.

We slowed beside a factory complex. Troops were patrolling the wire here, and Philip made sure a kind of badge was visible behind his windscreen as we paused. We all gazed out.

And, at the centre of a small compound of huts and pits and heaps of clay, I saw a Martian machine.

I recognised it at once, from the reconstructions in the museums of New York. It was a handling-machine, a crab-like vehicle that sat on five stiff, stationary legs, and with articulated tentacles working before it. It had no rider. Compared to the dioramas in the museums, which included model Martians riding the things like pilots, it looked as if it had had its brain scooped out.

Beside the handling-machine was a crude-looking apparatus, an upright cylinder above which a kind of receptacle tipped back and forth. With graceful if unearthly swipes of its tentacular limbs, the machine fed dirt into the cylinder through the tipping device at the top. A white powder filtered out of the base of the cylinder, to flow down a channel to a boxy receiver, from which puffs of green smoke rose into the air – Martian green, an eerie shade that brought back vivid memories to me, if not the others.

Even as we watched, another tentacle snaked out of the handling-machine to withdraw a silvery ingot from the receiving device.

But this eerie industry was only the centrepiece. Around the central drama of the clay and the ingots and the green smoke, lines of people supported the operation. Shuffling they were, in bland prison-like uniforms and soft shoes, men, women and children. They brought dirt to the handling-machine, and took ingots away, and performed other such menial tasks, all under the supervision of armed guards.

Philip, Cook and Eden did not mention the people. They enthused about the gadgetry, what they saw of it as the car crawled past. ‘It is manufacturing aluminium, of course,’ Philip said expansively. ‘That superb material, strong and lightweight as no other metal… We only began manufacturing on an industrial scale, with the Hall process, a dozen years before the Martians came. And we needed a plant with the power of a Niagara Falls, and an input of aluminium-rich bauxite, to achieve such results. But the metal is abundant in the earth’s crust. The Martians could produce aluminium from ordinary English clay!

‘I was keen that you should see this, Julie. You are family, after all. And this is how I have made my, our fortune… And I’ve Walter to thank for it; he showed me an early draft of that book of his about the War, and while everybody else oohed and aahed about the fighting and so on, I picked up a few clues about what was likely to be the real legacy of the Martians for us– I mean their manufacturing capabilities – and got my counters on the game board ahead of the crowd… Some, of course, dream of the military application of the Martian technologies—’

Cook snickered. ‘As the Russians are finding out right now.’

‘And others, like cousin Walter, dream of commerce between the worlds. But I tell you now that this humble gadget, the Martian aluminium-smelter, will do more to transform the fortunes of this country than any of that.

I considered what I had seen. ‘But these fences – the guns – the people working here. Who are they? Criminals?’

‘You know there are a lot of French refugees in England now. Belgians too. Some of them cause trouble: attacks on German business interests, and so forth. And we do have our own home-grown saboteurs—’

‘Saboteurs? What, even the children? Is this a concentration camp, Philip?’

He had the grace to look embarrassed. He said only, ‘This isn’t South Africa.’ He drove us smoothly away.

And Bert Cook laughed. ‘I bet Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald are in that camp somewhere, fighting for the top bunk like true socialists!’

A little further north we passed the burned-out ruins of Wimbledon, to our right. Here the road had been raised onto a kind of viaduct, for the land was flooded extensively – as I was to learn, a result of the choking of the Thames by the Martians’ red weed. Thirteen years after the vanquishing of the Martians, this damage had yet to be corrected.

A hangar-like building stood bold not far from Wimbledon itself, surrounded by levees and embankments. This was the site of another of the ’07 cylinders, the sixth to fall. And here I saw work parties, toiling knee-high in the shallower water at drainage ditches – or, in one place, working in what might have been a paddy field. All of these were watched over by armed police. The low sun glittered on the water. It was almost a beautiful sight, save for the black blemishes of the toiling human figures.

Albert Cook said quietly, ‘I was ’ereabouts, on Putney Hill. Defying the Martians. Apparently the ’ouse I was in has got a plaque on the side now, saying so.’

After that we spoke little until we approached London itself.

7 IN LONDON

Philip brought the Bentley to an extensive car park outside Waterloo Station. The station itself had been rebuilt as a sprawling pile fronted by an edifice of concrete and marble – it reminded me of nothing so much as the Brandenburg Gate writ large.

We were to stay two nights in London; we made arrangements to meet the day after next, for our excursion back to Surrey to meet Frank and Carolyne. Philip, he reminded me, had to bring me to the London police headquarters, relocated to the Barbican, to prove I was no anarchist. Eden and Cook left for the hotel Philip had arranged for us at the Elephant and Castle – and to which our luggage, save for my rucksack, had been directed.

And, with some time before my appointment, Philip and I decided to walk.

As we left the car park I found myself staring up at a tremendous poster of Brigadier-General Brian Marvin himself, arms folded, his gaze fixed sternly on mine:

IN SOUTH AFRICA I FOUGHT THE BOERS: NATIONAL HUMILIATION!
AT SHEPPERTON I FOUGHT THE MARTIANS: ENGLAND PROSTRATE!
NEVER AGAIN! VOLUNTEER NOW!
Philip joined me. ‘Doesn’t get any better-looking with age, does he?’

‘I’m surprised nobody’s improved it. Given him a better moustache, for example.’

Philip laughed. ‘Oh, nobody would dare…’

I mused on the oddities of humanity – of Philip Parris in particular. He was self-evidently a good man, competent, and a support to his friends. He had enough intelligence and detachment to see the corruption of the regime under which he now lived – even its absurdity. And yet he had not turned a hair when faced with the aluminium-factory camp in the Corridor. We are all complex, I suppose, and none of us consistent.

We walked through the train station itself, an echoing hall, half of which was fenced off by wooden panels. Within was the usual chaos of porters and passengers and portmanteaus, with wreaths of steam everywhere, and the shriek of whistles. But I was puzzled by the half-complete aspect. ‘Why all the rebuilding? I don’t remember any Martian War damage here.’

‘Ah, this is another of Marvin’s grandiose dreams. Better communications, that was the promise: more road and rail links, the better to move the guns and men around if the Martians had another go – and he’s done that, to some extent. But he does have a weakness for the grandiose design. Vast naval canals joining Clyde to Forth to Grangemouth: warships sailing down Loch Lomond! That’s the plan; so far, there’s barely a scratch in the Scottish turf. And then there’s the tunnel under the Channel. They actually started one in Gladstone’s day, you know. Again, barely a scratch – and nor has work begun on the big rail links to the London termini that will be necessary. But we’ve got the station! The frontage, anyhow.’

I smiled. ‘It’s just as Walter said of Bert Cook. All dreams and no action.’

Philip winked. ‘He’d be a good fit in Marvin’s cabinet then, along with old warhorses like Churchill, and all those tycoons from the railways and the coal mines…’

There was a W.H. Smith’s near the exit from the station, and I glanced over its stock with professional curiosity. In contrast to the vibrant American press, here on offer there were only what looked like dreary official government rags, and a couple of pro-Marvin tub-thumpers like the Daily Mail. The Mail itself had been the first to resume publication after the Martian War, and had never let its readers forget it: ‘Even The Martians Could Not Silence Us!’ I wondered if there was an underground press.

We crossed Waterloo Bridge, itself heavily repaired after the damage of the War. At this time of day the smoke pall hung as heavy over London as it ever did, and from here, suspended over the eternal river, I could see Westminster, where the palace, wrecked by the Heat-Ray, was gone – even the Clock Tower demolished – to be replaced by a looming fortress of concrete and glass.

Philip grunted. ‘Behold our rulers. The Mother of Parliaments replaced by a bunker – ugh! And over in the City, around Bank, the Royal Exchange, the Bank of England, Mansion House – the seat of global finance, similarly secured. You still get the swarms of commuters coming in from the suburbs in the morning, and trickling out in the evening, day by day. But they all carry papers and passes, and Black Smoke masks or revolvers depending on which drill is on that day…’

A deep thrumming seemed to make the fabric of the bridge itself vibrate, and a diffuse shadow crossed the river. Looking up I saw a vast Zeppelin, a whale in the sky. The eagle of Imperial Germany was easily visible on its flank.

Once across the river we walked along the Strand a distance, and cut up through Covent Garden. Bunting hung everywhere, and Union flags fluttered, and there were posters of the King and of the heroes of the new military government – Marvin himself, Churchill, Lloyd George. But the streets were grubby, the paint peeling on many buildings, and there were very many beggars. Their hands, open for change, were like grimy flowers.

And I was struck by how many people I saw in uniform, not just bobbies or soldiers. Every public building seemed to have a soldier or two on guard, and even the staff at the hotels and restaurants sported epaulettes and brass buttons. It was the Berlin-ification of London, I thought. And considering that, I seemed to hear an unconscionable number of German accents.

Trafalgar Square looked much as it always had, and I was obscurely pleased to see that Nelson, hero of Trafalgar, who even the Martians had not toppled, had not yet been replaced on his column by a beaming Brian Marvin, hero of Weybridge. We walked up Charing Cross Road which, of all the locations in London I had seen so far, seemed the least changed, still a warren of bookshops and barrows laden with tattered volumes. As a girl I had always loved coming to London, not for the clothes or the cafes or the shows, but for the books, always the books. This feeling, of stumbling upon a fragment of the past, was so strong that I briefly found myself overcome. Philip, always more sensitive than he looked, gave me his arm, and we walked on in silence.

I saw a new book on sale, prominently displayed: General Marvin and Why We Must Fight An Unending War, by Arthur Conan Doyle.

We cut through Oxford Street and Portland Place. On the Marylebone Road we ignored placard-bearers urging us to visit Madame Tussaud’s, where a new diorama showed the ‘true horrors’ of the Martians’ feeding habits. Philip said the exhibit was popular.

It was with relief, for me at least, that we reached the green spaces of Regent’s Park, although the light was fading fast. But even here much was changed; the expanses of grass had been largely given over to vegetable plots, meant as demonstrations for householders urged to grow food in their own lawns. And where once children flew kites and rode their bicycles, now the only youngsters marched in crocodiles or dug at the ground, and even put on what looked like a mock battle.

Later I would learn of the transformation Marvin had inflicted on the education system. The motto of the new movement was an old quotation of Wellington’s, on seeing a cricket match at Eton: ‘There grows the stuff that won Waterloo.’ Well, now Eton and the other schools turned out nothing but officers, while the younger siblings of the scholars were enticed into joining a new movement called the Junior Sappers, organised by Baden-Powell: boys and girls as young as five or six, digging trenches or binding mock wounds. All this was part of a general cleansing of the national moral character, as Marvin’s supporters called it. I was dismayed at what I saw, coming at with unprejudiced eyes from across the Atlantic. Was this the future of Britain – the child soldier?

We passed the Zoological Gardens – now closed up and empty of animals – and crossed the Albert Road to climb Primrose Hill. The view opened up around us as it always had, the hill itself seeming to rise out of the greenery of Regent’s Park, beyond which the great reef of the city was visible, the wounded dome of St Paul’s, the new concrete excrescences of Westminster and Whitehall, the ethereal glitter of the Crystal Palace, and the Surrey hills in the distance.

Here we stood before what had been the landing site of the seventh Martian cylinder, and the nucleus of what had become the largest single Martian construction during the War. This was fenced off as had been the pits in Surrey. But of the three inert fighting-machines Walter had glimpsed here on that hot summer’s day at the end of the War in 1907, one had been left standing, a tripod stark and disconcerting in profile.

A fairground had been set up, a roundabout with cars and horses, a steam organ, coconut shies, balloon races. Thus, around the feet of the ghastly monument, small children played. I looked up at the brazen cowl of the thing, that mechanical component so like a head.

And it was at that moment that I had what Philip described as my ‘turn’.

After I recovered – I sat on a bench for a while, with Philip hovering solicitously – we took a taxi to the police centre at the Barbican, where I was processed with cold efficiency, though it was nine at night before I was released.

I allowed Philip to escort me back to the hotel at the Elephant and Castle, where I retired immediately, taking a cold supper in my room. I slept little, trying not to think of that which had disturbed me, on the Hill.

The next day was free. I felt I needed to see something of the real London, away from Philip’s kind but suffocating embrace, away from the military cynicism of the others. I still had old friends in the city, and I hastily called a couple from the hotel and made arrangements. I left the hotel early, avoiding Philip and the others.

Lunch was at an oyster house in Lambeth. Here I met a school friend who ran a soup kitchen.

For all his grand visions, and whatever he might have done for national security, Marvin had delivered an economy that was faltering at best. I was told that though trade unions and the like had long been banned, there was plenty of agitation, in the mines, the railways – even in Woolwich Arsenal, which manufactured a large percentage of the country’s munitions supply. All of this was brutally suppressed. And at the very bottom, they were opening up the workhouses once again. My friend had plenty of clients. I was lucky to be here in March, in a place like Lambeth, said my friend, for in the summer the bugs came out.

That evening, by way of contrast, I called another old friend, the wife of a banker. We met in a tea shop – I relished the smell of coffee and tea and cigarette smoke, and the rattle of the dominoes – and Hilda loaned me a dress for the evening.

We went to the Savoy on the Strand, which I playfully told Hilda was nearly as grand as the Lusitania. We had caviar and crab and mushroom salad, and a bottle of Hock. The place was full of the usual menagerie, the bounders and the flappers and the roués and the Varsity youth, their cheeks flushed pink with the drink. We danced to the Havana Band, and we let ourselves be charmed by handsome German officers.

There wasn’t much to enjoy in Marvin’s morally uplifted Britain. They hadn’t quite had the nerve to prohibit alcohol, but prices had been sharply increased by tax levies. The government had shut down most sports (none of which I followed anyhow), save for cricket which Marvin regarded as ‘manly’, and football, but only as played by military personnel on leave. But if you had money there were still places in London to spend it well.

The Savoy was relatively uncrowded, I thought, but Hilda reminded me it was not yet the season. For now the upper classes were still mostly ensconced in their draughty country houses, but they would swarm in London during the summer – like the bugs in Lambeth, I thought to myself. The well-to-do had no problems with the new way of things, Hilda told me, unless it was to complain about the reintroduction of wild boar to the English countryside, so the Germans could hunt schwein…

Between dance numbers a kind of dumb waiter was circulated around the room. It had to be pushed around, but fine metallic tentacles curled from it, grasping bottles to pour, even mixing cocktails: Martian technology, of course, and a pretty advanced experiment. A glimpse of the industries of the future, perhaps. It seemed grotesque to me. The beautiful people clapped and laughed in delight…

We went on, deeper into the wilds of London – to a dance hall in Soho, where a band from America played ‘Tiger Rag’, and the dancing was as fierce as the music…

And throughout these foolish adventures I said nothing of what had given me my ‘turn’ on Primrose Hill. In the gloom of that March evening, even as the children of London had played around its tremendous feet, I thought I saw the Martian turn its head.

8 A MEETING AT OTTERSHAW

The next morning, even if I was a little tender, I was ready for Philip and Eden and Cook, and our drive to Surrey. It was March 25, a Thursday.

It was a little after lunch when we gathered at last in Ottershaw, some three miles to the north of Woking where Walter and Carolyne Jenkins had once shared a home – and, though this site was only a couple of hours’ walk from the location of the first Martian landing, it was just outside the Surrey Corridor perimeter.

Marina Ogilvy, our hostess for the evening, had long been a friend of Carolyne’s, though the closest relationship had been their husbands’. Benjamin Ogilvy had been a noted amateur astronomer, with his own small observatory in Ottershaw. In that eerie summer of ’07, he and Walter had watched through Benjamin’s telescope those reddish sparkings on the disc of planet Mars, those gushes of gas, that turned out to have been signs of the firing of a mighty cannon. What a disturbing thrill it must have been for Walter and Benjamin to see it with their own eyes! And the first landing at Horsell, so close to his home, must have been a kind of vindication for Benjamin the amateur – that and the response of the Astronomer Royal himself, who had come out to Horsell: the crowning moment of Benjamin’s life, perhaps. To be followed pretty rapidly by his death, in the first few hours of humanity’s encounter with the Martians.

Despite this grisly outcome, or even because of it perhaps, Marina had kept on the house, and she had maintained her husband’s observatory, neither of which had been damaged during the War. She had even let out the observatory to a local amateur-astronomical group, of which, of course, a profusion had sprung up after the night sky became an arena of threat for all of us. Later, of course, the telescopic observation of Mars by amateurs had been banned by the Marvin government under their Defence of the Realm Act of 1916; now Benjamin’s grand old telescope was without mirrors and eyepieces.

Anyhow, Marina had generously offered to host our telephonic meeting with Walter. Hers at least was one telephone number Walter had retained, even if he had lost contact with Carolyne, his own ex-wife. Carolyne had quickly sold her own house on the Maybury Road in Woking after her divorce. I suppose the reason for the breakdown of her marriage is obvious, if you read the Narrative. But it seemed somehow fitting to be in a location so close to the start of it all.

So here I was, with Philip. Here were Eric Eden and Bert Cook, who had followed us home in my wake, so to speak, both of them alarmed or intrigued by the tantalising promise of Walter’s news.

And of course my own ex-husband had to be summoned to the gathering too: Walter’s brother, Frank Jenkins. Thus the Martians, those interplanetary matchmakers, brought us together once again, for we had first met during the great flight from London. Frank was a medical student then, and I at nineteen a few years younger with ambitions to become a journalist. And for a while it worked. Frank completed his studies, and settled down to what had evidently always been his ambition, to become a general practitioner, and we bought a house in Highgate.

Bur Frank had always had something of his brother’s sense of destiny about him. Though heavily committed to his practise, he would often let himself be called away on what I described as his ‘missionary’ work among the destitute in the East End. And in ’16, when the DORA was passed, Frank surprised me by being drawn to Marvin’s new programmes of military service. He had quickly enlisted in the Territorial Force, a volunteer reserve, which Marvin, with typical cunning showmanship, renamed the ‘Fyrd’, a nod to deep English roots.

‘Oh, for pity’s sake!’ I had protested. ‘I can understand a schoolboy enjoying all the marching about. But you – you’re a man of healing.’

‘I heal humans,’ he said. ‘I would kill Martians. At High Barnet, remember, it was your brother’s revolver that saved us from the ruffians who wanted your cart, Julie, and a bit of my boxing from school, not my nascent medicals skills, or even your high spirits. There are times when one must fight…’

Well, to be a witness to self-assumed greatness was never enough for me. And besides – it is hard to record this so bluntly, but it was a difference between us – I had never wanted children. Not after the horrors of the Martian War; whatever you may read of Walter, that was its lingering effect on my psyche. Other survivors reacted similarly; Eric Eden, for example, never married. It is just as well the rest of the human race doesn’t share that flaw; indeed after the war there was a sharp rise in the number of births in Britain.

Frank understood, I think, but did not share my reluctance. Since we had divorced, Frank had married again, he had a child, and I was happy enough for him. But I wasn’t terribly comfortable to be in his presence again, here in this relic of our calamitous past, and I dare say nor was he.

So the six of us gathered early that afternoon, replete on Marina’s tea and finger sandwiches: myself, Carolyne, Philip Parris, Frank, Eric Eden and Bert Cook. It was a vivid scene, with our six faces glowing like moons in the light of a single, shadowed electric bulb – there are only dim lights in an observatory, of course. The building itself was a cylinder, topped by its hemispherical dome. The telescope sat on a stone pillar, beside the clockwork that enabled it to track the motion of the sky. That sky itself was visible through the open roof, a slice of blue. I remember the smell of oil and furniture polish and clockwork, with the dome over us adding a peculiar echo to the soft sounds of our voices. The main telescope itself, angular in the shadows, had an eerie Martian-like quality that made me unwilling to turn my back on it. It was rather cold, too. I could feel my own tension rising – a tension that had never gone away since Walter had approached me in New York. Of course it was news of the Martians I feared hearing, yet oddly longed to hear, if only to remove the suspense.

It was something of a shock when the telephone finally rang, right on cue.

9 A CALL FROM GERMANY

Bert Cook had some practical skills, and, with odds and ends from the observatory tool box and the remains of a broken Marvin’s Megaphone, he had managed to rig up a small loudspeaker so that we could all hear Walter’s thin voice, relayed from Germany. Though Walter asked to speak to Philip, that good man firmly passed the handset to the man’s former wife.

Her own voice firm, she said, ‘Walter? It’s me. Carolyne. I’m here safe and sound – we all are.’

‘Carolyne? I…’

‘What’s this all about, Walter? And where are you, for heaven’s sake?’

‘I am in Berlin – not in Vienna any more, as when I called Julie in New York. For with the coming emergency they let me out of the nut-hatch and ferried me here.’

I asked, speaking loudly for the pick-up, ‘What “emergency”? And who are “they”?’

‘Julie! I’m grateful you came. “They” are a stellar assemblage here at the Academy of Sciences, drawn from across Germany – indeed across Europe. Drawn to this rather well-equipped bunker under the tennis court, and I can tell you with some authority that many of our crowned heads are in similar bunkers, dotted around the planet: the Kaiser, the Emperors of China and Japan – no doubt the American President – and our own King George with his family is I believe deep in the turf beneath Balmoral.

‘As to who has been gathered here, you might call it a brains trust – with myself roped in on the basis of my Narrative, and I feel as if I am the comic relief. The Buster Keaton of Martian studies. You have Einstein and Schwarzschild and Rutherford, experts on one aspect or another of the atom and its nuclear energy which we suspect the Martians tap for their power. You have Rayleigh and others speculating on novel implementations of Martian technology, and Hohmann and Tsiolkovsky analysing and predicting interplanetary trajectories. They’ve even got the chap – what’s his name? – who once wrote a facetious but provocative essay on the future of humanity, and almost by accident came up with a sort of vision of the Martian form. “The Year Million Man” – it was called something of that sort. You may have heard me speak of him before. No longer young – about my age in fact – an odd, bouncing sort of fellow, but full of ideas.

‘And you have the astronomical exchange wires buzzing with sightings from Hale in Wisconsin and Lick in California and Nice in France – though that’s now under German control all of it organised and marshalled by Lowell’s team at Flagstaff; shame the old man himself isn’t alive to see this. Even the Vatican observatory at Castel Gandolfo has pitched in…’ Philip took the handset and spoke more sharply. ‘Get to the point, Walter. Sightings of what? What are you on about? What is it they are all observing, man?’

Again my own inner tension tightened a notch, and I could see it in the faces of the others.

But Walter named a planet we were none of us expecting: Jupiter. We all stared at each other, confused. But then, Walter Jenkins was nothing if not a wounded oracle.

Jupiter!

Philip snapped, ‘Walter, damn you! What about Jupiter?’

‘Why, a sigil has been observed on its cloudy face.’

‘A sigil?’

‘A mark, luminous and sinuous – entirely contained within the feature we call the Great Red Spot, as it happens, but easily visible from the earth. Indeed Dyson in England claims to have seen similar sigils on Jupiter’s larger moons, but that is disputed.’

Eric Eden said, ‘A sigil? You mean like the marks observed some years after the War, on Mars and Venus?’

‘That’s it, yes,’ Walter said when this was relayed. ‘The Mars and Venus sigils were identical, aside from scale ’

‘Of course they were. They were made by the same agency.’

‘The Martians?’

‘Of course the Martians! Who did not have the time to complete the construction of a similar symbol of possession of the earth back in ’07, though the work was begun.’

‘It was? A sigil on Earth? I never heard of that,’ said Eric, evidently confused ‘And the Jovian sigil—’

‘Quite different in character, obviously – the Jovians’ was a near-perfect circle—’

Frank broke in, ‘For God’s sake, Walter, can you never get to the point? What has all this to do with us, and your brains in Berlin?’

‘Everything,’ said Bert Cook. ‘For ’e’s giving us the bigger picture. Aren’t you, Walter?’

‘Bert?’ said Walter. ‘How odd to hear your voice again.’

‘How’s your poker play?’

‘And how’s your chess? You’re right, though. This is indeed the bigger picture. The context of our petty lives. For, you see, if the nebular hypothesis is to be believed, a kind of migration between the worlds is a necessity if life is to survive…’ As most people knew then, and understand better today, it was Kant who first suggested that the sun had once coalesced from a vast gas cloud – that was in the 1750s – and then Laplace, a great Newtonian, described how the spinning sun would cast off successive belts of dust and gas, expanding like smoke rings, toroids that would ultimately collapse into worlds. It took another century before the followers of the Scot physicist James Clerk Maxwell managed to resolve certain problems concerning the transfer of angular momentum…

The relevant point of the hypothesis, now universally accepted, is that the further a world is from the sun the older it must be, and the older, too, its freight of life and mind. But since life first emerged it has faced challenges. Our best physics has it that as the sun itself ages it is cooling, year on year. That is why the Martians were driven to the earth, as an Ice Age without end crept upon their planet. Some day our own world will suffer the same fate: the oceans will freeze from the coasts, the rains will diminish, the higher forms of life will die out and the lesser shrivel to sleeping spores. Whither mankind?

A mature but doomed civilisation must reach out to the younger worlds for room to live. It is the logic of Kant and Laplace; it must be so.

‘Which,’ Walter said, ‘is why the Martians must come again to our younger earth. Oh, they have made a stab at Venus – and that is the ultimate prize in the far future, for ourselves too.

Within Venus is only Mercury, younger still but a lifeless cinder.

Yes, Venus is the prize.

But –

‘But out on the rim sits Jupiter, largest planet of all – fully seven times as old as Mars, even. And this ancient and enormous planet may be the seat of—’

Frank grabbed the handset from Philip. ‘Into the inferno with Jupiter, Hubble and all! You wouldn’t have dragged us all together, from across the damn ocean, just to talk about Jupiter.

What is it you really have to tell us, man?’

But – typical of the man! – still Walter hesitated, as if gathering his thoughts.

And Eric Eden said, ‘We’re here to speak of the Martians, of course.’

An awkward silence! None of us knew how to respond, and Walter fell silent.

So it was Eric, again, who spoke next. ‘Actually I would say that serious military thinking argues against another invasion. After all, their first shot was a hopeless attempt. The Martians couldn’t stand the different atmospheric pressure, they couldn’t stand the difference in gravitation, our bacteria finished them up – them andtheir red weed. Hopeless from the start.’ ...


All rights belong to the author: Stephen Baxter.
This is a short fragment for review the book. The full version can be purchased in the store.