ON TO THE NORTH POLE – ALMOST
—/.-. .–/./.-../.-../… …/./-./-../… …./../… –./.-./././-/../-./–./…
“We shall find a way or make one,” was the response Navy Commander Robert Peary gave when asked how he would push his way to the North Pole. He had to show such confidence even though it was only considered a 1 in 5 chance he would make it all the way on the first attempt. As far as Commander Peary was concerned the odds were getting even slimmer after he received his briefing on the recent Tunguska situation.
Nevertheless, on 6 July 1908, Peary set sail with a team of 23 men and one teenage girl named Nova Terra (Nova, known at the time as the only “full human” to have made her way ‘back home’ to Earth during the First Martian War, had since added a new last name “Terra”, which now fully translated as Exploding Star of Earth), from the now fully restored new Port of New York aboard the SS Roosevelt. The Roosevelt was under the command of arctic veteran Captain Robert Bartlett. It would be a smooth trip north as the ship moved this way and that sailing around the great icebergs of the northern seas. Before long they were “docked” near Cape Sheridan on Ellesmere Island. (Docked was a relative term as they were in reality completely iced-in for the winter, which was of course part of the plan.) They had spotted no craft in the air or any other signs of Martians up to that point.
They would stay iced-in from that time until 28 February 1909. During this iced-in period the team sent out several patrols to conduct scientific research as well as always keeping an eye open for any Martian craft. The new primitive radar device on board ship seemed to work at times (after a rather swift kick in the side of the damn…) and at other times it did not, so no one was really depending on it. The team would make a lot of recommendations about that new device when they returned to warmer climates, which at the time was damned near any other place on Earth. When it did seem to work, usually after the operator gave it a ‘swift kick’, it picked up some “unidentified targets in the sky” but there were no visual confirmations made by any member of the crew during that long dark winter. But then again this was 1909 so who or what else could have been flying anything this far north other than a Martian or two? Not even Earth based balloons or dirigibles could successfully fly that far north at the time even though there had been several attempts. We had lost several people attempting to fly balloons and dirigibles that far north testing the waters so-to-speak, as far north as we could go.
There was however, one ‘kind’ of confirmation – Nova said in her later report that she “could feel they were near!” The team had no reason to discount her feelings. Even without absolute confirmation there were no doubts in the minds of any of the crew that “the interplanetary enemy” had been detected. Word however, was not sent back to headquarters. There was no need to alert the Martians of what we were up to – at least not yet. We needed visible proof. If an emergency did occur, such as an attack on the ship by the Martians, the radio operator had already been instructed to radio a single sentence as many times as he could to let the Committee know the Martians had been contacted. If they were spotted he was to radio – “Mr. Wells sends his greetings!” I must confess that the words of the message were my idea.
On 28 February after setting up several cashes of food and other supplies the “ground team” began the long and arduous final trek towards the Pole. The air was clear and crisp and with their rather unlimited view, no aerial craft were spotted as they moved north on the ice. The ice seemed eerily quite – too quite. As they got closer to the Earth’s geographic North Pole, team members dropped off supplies from the sleds and returned to the ship. By the time they had made it to Camp Bartlett on 1 April 1909, there were only ten people left in the advance party. It was 87 degrees 47 seconds’ north latitude and it was a cheery 39 degrees below zero. It was perfect Martian spring weather!
As the party moved north they took a series of ice readings which would conclusively show that the North Pole Region, at least where his team had investigated, was all open ocean. There was no north polar continent – it was all ice – and not very thick, estimated at 10 to 20 feet. Peary and his team also made soundings. On one attempt he did set out a wire to test the depth of the sea a few miles from the pole but it broke at 1,500 fathoms before being able to touch the bottom. He and his team were standing over a very deep ocean! This was valuable information to military planners.
Pressing on to complete the final push to the pole were Peary, Matthew Henson, Eskimo team members, Egigingwah, Ooqueah, Ootah and teenager Nova Terra who seemed to be having no problems whatsoever in the frozen landscape. In fact, she was enjoying it. None of the men could say as much. The only problem Nova had was with the brightness of the sunlight reflected off of the pure white snow. But the dark lenses of her goggles did help somewhat. She also had one other adapted advantage that the men on this mission did not enjoy. For a while now it had been noted by doctors that hybrids and humans born on Mars (Nova was the only one we had contact with at the time) had developed a resistance to periodic starvation. When there was less food available their bodies seemed to slow down and use a great deal less energy than “normal people”. Naturally, on a mission such as this having this adaptability certainly was a plus.
On 6 April the team established Camp Jesup only 15 miles from the geographic North Pole at –50 degrees below. As fate would have it that was as far as the Martians would allow the team to go. At that point Peary, following secret orders from the Committee, began to rewrite the history of what had actually happened. The first thing he needed to do was enter Camp Jesup as only five miles from the pole. (He did this by later changing his original log entry.) He then set up a tent and flag to photograph himself and the team noting,
“Have made good; the Pole at last!!! The prize of three centuries: my dream and ambition for twenty-three years. Mine at last.” It was a fabrication of course to be released to the world at large, and as amazing as that would have been the actual story was much more dramatic than that.
A SURVIVOR ON THE HIGH ARCTIC ICE
They had seen nothing at all to indicate that the Martians were anywhere around, but to be honest, to a man (and women) the entire group later stated they could definitely “feel” their presence was very close at that point. Checking his sun line Peary and his team headed north to the pole, but they did not get much further than this final camp. They had literally gone only a couple of hundred yards from the camp when they spotted a dark slowly moving figure clearly outlined against the white sheet of ice and bright blue sky. The entire team threw themselves to the ground as Matthew Henson grabbed his small hand held telescope to check out the situation. “I grabbed my glass, extended it open and took a look. What I saw took my breath away. It was the figure of a man, clearly an Eskimo, walking directly towards us. He had no gloves or hat, just a coat made of skins used by these northern people to very good use. Clearly the man seemed dazed.”
As he told the rest of the team what he was seeing Peary jumped up and said, “For god’s sake let’s get that man.” Peary did not need to say anything as the entire group were soon running towards the man who upon seeing them coming towards him dropped to his knees. He had gone as far as he could. A hat was soon found and gloves were put on the man even before he could speak. In broken English he informed the team he had been captured by the Martians along with several others who had been on a hunting trip near his village. What he showed them next was truly terrifying.
Escorted back to Camp Jesup the Eskimo named Wagwa informed the team, now speaking in an Eskimo dialect, he was one of several men and women held in a ‘compound’ exactly at the North Pole as far as he could tell by the stars (“Pole star up!”). He reported the Martians had constructed several domed structures at the Pole, and held three or four surface fighting machines and at least ten Martian Flying Machines. He also told his rescuers that the Martians were using him and the other humans to grow Martians! With that he opened his fur coat and revealed a large growth on his left side about the size of a large softball, and it was moving. The Martians had implanted a Martian ‘budding’ into his body and it was growing. Wagwa had decided the only way to destroy the Martian inside him was to walk out onto the ice and die. He next informed the shocked team that several other people, he guessed 18 to 20 all from Eskimo villages, had also done what he had done and were presently on the ice having gone off to die in many directions. They knew the Martians could not possibly find them all. The Martians were learning how much we humans were willing to do to defy them. Humanity was teaching the Martians a thing or two about courage and determination on Earth’s high polar ice.
As he continued to tell his amazing story the weather began to change and the winds began to howl. The team would need to stay inside the tents to stay alive as long as the winds kept up. This was just as well as the team had some critical work to do. They needed to save Wagwa and take that ‘thing’ out of his body.
Wagwa had asked to be laid outside to die so the Martian inside of him would not live. Commander Peary would have none of it. The only other option was to cut out the ‘budding’ and attempt to save Wagwa. And that was exactly what they did. The Arctic team had some medical equipment that had been brought along in case they had to amputate an arm or leg, so in reality they were about as prepared as they could be for this type of emergency. This would be the most northern operation ever attempted on Earth. Ooqueah got the job. Ooqueah was a healer in his village, but he was just a bit more than that. He had real medical training he had used to help save more than a few lives during the war so he was prepared to do the work. So with a couple of drinks of strong whisky and a shot for pain Wagwa said he was ready. Ooqueah decided on a unique method of operation. He placed Wagwa on his right side and covered him up with furs. He then exposed Wagwa’s left side where the budding was to the cold Arctic wind. This very cold wind soon froze the budding area and the Martian inside soon stopped moving. Now Ooqueah could begin. Held down by Egigingwah, Ootah and Henson, Ooqueah began to cut away aided by Nova acting as a nurse.
It turned out to be a relatively simple, albeit somewhat painful procedure. The now dead budding had des-attached itself from any organ or other cell mass inside its host. It had simply moved to a position under the skin where it could absorb fluids. Ooqueah worked surprisingly fast as he opened up the patient. Cutting around the budding it nearly fell out by itself along with a good deal of gray fluid, which drained, from Wagwa. The entire procedure took less than three minutes as Ooqueah was soon disinfecting and sewing up the wound. He used a goodly amount of alcohol and antiseptic to clean the wound. Because it was a local area which had not spread too far there had not been a great deal of blood lost. The budding itself was taken by Peary and placed into a sealed container for transportation back to the ship. He had his proof and he could report on the number of enemy forces as well as their equipment expected to be found at the North Pole along with a close estimate of the number of captured humans. Wagwa had given him those numbers. Naturally, that information was classified Most-Secret CoT.
THE WAY BACK HOME
Two days later as Wagwa fought a fever the team took down Camp Jesup and began the trip south. Sadly Wagwa did not make it. He died on the seventh day south and was buried on the ice prayed over by his new Eskimo friends and the rest of the North Polar Team. It was now up to the team to make a dash back to the base and bring his hard fought and incredible story back to the Committee.
Arriving at the ship Peary immediately made his way to the radio room and a message was sent out twice. —/.-. .–/./.-../.-../… …/./-./-../… …./../… –./.-./././-/../-./–./… “Mr. Wells sends his greetings.” The team then went radio silent for the voyage home. As long as the trip went well Peary felt there was no reason to broadcast his location to the Martians. If they were spotted the radio operator had a 30 second spot report to send detailing what equipment and how many Martians were at the pole. He was also to report that humans were being held prisoner on the high ice of the Arctic. The message did not need to be sent by wireless.
In his report to the Committee, given in closed session upon his return to headquarters, Robert Peary titled his classified (Most-Secret CoT) document The Wagwa North Polar Report in honor of the man who had given the team enough information on the Martians to bring back what they needed so they could plan the next series of operations against the Martian Northern Polar Base. Moreover, we now had absolute proof the Martians had not left the Earth’s surface and were still very much working on plans to conquer our planet. (Why else would they need a Polar base and human hostages?) We did not however get close enough to verify the location of any homing beacons at the pole. The general public was not informed of any of these developments even though some sketchy and unauthorized accounts did make their way to the popular press. These reports however, did not generate much public concern as there was not much solid evidence the general public knew about to indicate the Martians were still here other than scattered reports of strange aerial craft and strange lights in the night skies.
AN INTERVIEW WITH NOVA
When we first found Nova she was small, frail and dirty, but she had an inner strength that was undeniable. By the time the Committee had gotten around to interviewing her she was an older, taller and very confident young lady with a rather charming smile. She appeared by her presence to be much older than her years and certainly much wiser. It was no wonder she had survived on Mars and made it all the way to Earth hiding onboard a Martian spacecraft. She had soon captured the hearts of all who met her. We were of course very interested in just about anything she had seen on Mars as she was virtually the only uncontested source of information we had about life on Mars. Over a period of ten months a small group including medical personnel interviewed Nova. After her time at Lower-London she was moved to Finland and lived for a few years with a family connected with the Committee as the weather conditions there seemed to be better suited for Nova. She would later move back to Lower-London after adapting to our warmer climates on Earth and begin working for Directorate H.
My pen had big ones and small ones. Many of us [were] in one of the large pens. The big ones would show the small ones how to do things and they told us stories of the other place where water ran around almost everywhere. We would mostly work and eat and sleep. Sometimes there would be new big ones and sometimes there would be fewer big ones. They would go to the other pens or to the feeding pen. When they went to the feeding pen they did not come back. Two times a day the big tray would be pushed into the pen by the gray ones and all would eat. Big ones first and then the small ones. There were also containers of water to drink and rub over ourselves to remove the red dust. We all had covers to sleep on and dried weed stock under that. I would help take care of the very new little ones. One of the big ones would tell everyone what to do after he would go away and come back. No one liked him. He smelled like a Martian – very bad and he never used the water to take away the red dust.
We knew that there were several groups of us on Mars. One large group of big ones was used as a labor group mostly cleaning the canals and picking the Red Weed and other foods. This was the largest group. They were also taken to the surface city to remove what the Martians no longer used and clean the sky. After the cleaning the sky (city dome) you could see the clouds better. One time I was moved to a faraway place to take away rocks and we traveled on a machine in a clear tube on the surface. It was half in the ground and half on the surface. It was [100 feet wide] and we moved very fast. These clear surface tubes connect the cities and work areas. Many of them are built alongside the canals.
Sometimes there would be a new group of big ones and little ones in strange coverings (clothes) who said they had been taken from Earth. They would tell us stories about Earth. I wanted to see the Earth so I hid on the big Martian Flying Machine and went to Earth.
One time a strange one came with the gray one. I had never seen anything like it before. It was very tall, blue and seemed to be a female. When it spoke it was very high sounding. It scared many of the little ones. I think it scarred the gray one as well.
Speaking with Nova over the months we were able to verify that the Martians had been abducting humans for centuries and many had been taken not just for food and experimentation. Large groups had been used as laborers on Mars (much of it concerning Martians on the canals), mostly those who had been taken from Earth rather than those who had been born on Mars. Captured humans were said to be stronger than the ones born on Mars so the ‘stock’ was constantly being replenished.
It seemed the Martian As had never been well adapted for hard manual labor relying more on other captured species to do the ‘grunt work.’ It was one more example of their biological weakness (Martian B Interrogation 1908-171). Martian experts would soon come to the conclusion the Martians were coming to the end of the evolutionary trail. Within a few hundred generations it could very well be the Martians would simply no longer be able to reproduce and would eventually die off as a species. Unfortunately for Earth we did not have the luxury of time to simply wait them out.
Throughout 1909 the Martians seemed to be stepping up their reconnaissance activities. In that year we received thousands of reports of mysterious aerial craft over Europe, Asia, and the east coast of the United States, Southern Africa and as far south as southern New Zealand. More than a few of these mostly night sightings were made over New London, New York City and Sydney. Naturally we took special note of these reports. It is also noted that not one of these aerial craft had been intercepted by our feeble air forces even though there had been thousands of them.
Several newspapers in China which had been covering these many aerial reports of late took it upon themselves to remind their readers of several historic reports of flying craft over China. One especially notable sighting occurred on 27 October 1180. An “earthenware vessel” (flying disk), had been spotted flying northeast away from a mountain top in the province of Kii. The object was seen to change directions several times making it clear the luminous object which left a clear trail was no cloud. The object seen at night was reportedly observed by hundreds of people and was recorded in official local government documents. Needless to say, the object flying some 700 years before man knew how to fly was not built by the men of Earth. Whether it was of Martian origin or some other advanced society who had dropped in for a bit of a look-see we shall never know.
One particular series of reports did catch the attention of Committee headquarters only because we were trying hard to keep as much information of that kind out of the newspapers as we could. A letter had been sent to the editor of the Otago Daily Times out of Otago, New Zealand, which made reference to the possibly that many of the local aerial craft spotted over New Zealand were “Martian atomic-powered spacecraft.” “Solid bodies have been seen in the sky and strange lights moving in the skies above.” When there was no follow-up in any other newspapers we relaxed a bit. However, CAIG members were sent to New Zealand to have a “little chat” with the letter writer who assured them his letter writing days had concluded! He was informed this would be best for all concerned, including his extended family! In the meantime, active CAIG files were starting to become large libraries of unidentified aerial reports and missing person’s cases.
MORE REPORTS CONCERNING PLANET MARS
By the end of 1909 Eugene Antoniadi, a truly gifted observer at the glass, was able to bring his 32.6 inch aperture telescope mounted at Meudon Observatory on line to observe Mars during that year’s opposition. His observation work would show there was little observable activity on the surface and no new canals being built as far as he could tell. He also had a hard time detecting any water vapor with his new instruments. It did not look good for those living on Mars. He would be one of the first observers to openly state the planet was far from being able to support any level of higher life form and the entire planet must be viewed as being on its last legs as a habitable world. Life of any kind of higher life form would soon be all but extinct on the surface of Mars. It was becoming easier to understand why the Martians were so desperate to leave Mars. But of course understanding only goes so far.
This year also saw French astronomer Camille Flammarion turn his new 840 mm telescope at Juvisy-sur-Orge, near Paris on Mars. He saw many more irregular vegetation patterns than had been previously seen and fewer canals which appeared to be active. The Martians seemed to be using fewer surface areas on the planet than ever before (Martian B Interrogation 1908-64). Other astronomers were reporting similar observations. Professor Flammarion was well known for his maps of Mars as well as our moon originally published in 1878 as well as his many well publicized balloon ascensions.
During a discussion with Dr. Antoniadi, Percival Lowell would make note of the slow speed with which the planet Mars may have lost its water.
A planet’s water supply does not depart in a moment. Long previous to any wholesale imminence of default, local necessity must have begun the reaching out to distant supply. Just as our large cities today go far to tap a stream or a lake, so it must have been on Mars. The long effect was to tap the water on the nearest planetary neighbor – Earth. Probably the beginnings were small and inconspicuous, as water at first locally gave out. From this it was a step to greater distances, until necessity lured them even to the poles. The thing was not done in a day.
Professor Wallace would add a note on vegetation.
During the opposition of 1892 and 1894 it was fully recognized that a regular course of change occurred dependent upon the succession of the seasons, as had been first suggested by Schiaparelli. As the polar snows melt the adjacent seas appear to overflow and spread out as far as the tropics, and are often seen to assume a distinctly green color.
It was also noted that the polar caps when they are increasing in size depending on whether it is winter in the north or south are usually covered by white clouds as they form making them rarely visible until they are fully formed. It is usually just before the spring equinox that the clouds lift exposing the polar caps in all their glory. In 1906 Lowell had seen a “badge of blue ribbon about the melting cap.” This band of melting had been originally reported by J. H. von Madler in 1830. Professor Lowell could not help himself as he discussed the canals on Mars.
Instead of running at haphazard, the canals are interconnected in a most remarkable manner. They seek centers instead of avoiding them. The centers are linked thus perfectly one with another, an arrangement which could not result from centers, whether of explosion or otherwise, which were themselves discrete. Furthermore, the system covers the whole surface of the planet, dark areas and light ones alike, a world-wide distribution which exceeds the bounds of natural possibility as we very well know.
After this discussion the latest astronomical information on Planet Mars (much taken from several Martian electric documents) was declassified and published for the general public. Comparisons of the general characteristics between Mars and Earth were presented.
By this same time Belgian born Leo Baekeland, who had been working on back-engineered Martian technology in Lower-New York City since late 1905, had been able to develop a new synthetic plastic he called ‘Baekelite’ (phenol formaldehyde). He had found the Martians had produced the substance by controlling the pressure and heat very closely to avoid explosive chemical reactions. It became the first 100-percent synthetic material ever produced on Earth. The plastic could be used for many purposes, but the Martians had originally developed something close to it as an electric wire and electric device insulator. We would do the same, but Dr. Baekeland assured the Committee many more uses would be found for ‘Baekelite.’ It turned out to be impervious to most acids, electric currents and heat. Naturally the Committee allowed the story to go out that Dr. Baekeland had developed the product from his own work, but we all knew he had merely developed it from Martian plastics. Plausible deniability on all Martian data was still the order of the day. Even more so since we had solid proof they were still here and seemingly keeping track of everything we were doing.
Even with that teams were still being sent around the world to uncover “Martian artifacts,” but we eventually came to the conclusion our most productive work in that area would be in Egypt, not to mention a good many surprises.
It was also in 1909 that we missed, at least for the time being, a grand opportunity to advance our work on rocket propulsion systems. In that year an obscure young professor from Clark University named Rocket Goddard was writing on liquid-fueled rockets. As we were struggling with ‘conventional’ solid-fueled rockets and what combinations to use for liquid-fueled rockets Goddard had already done most of the preliminary work. His paper discussed using liquid hydrogen as the fuel and liquid oxygen as the oxidizer. With this explosive combination his research had indicated he could achieve an efficiency of around 50 percent – far above solid-rockets by a factor of ten. Unfortunately, it would be a few years before the work of Dr. Goddard came to the attention of the Committee. For a while he would continue his work in the splendid isolation of a badly damaged but being rebuilt Clark University as the Committee continued to look towards Egypt for historic new of all things Martian.
THE EGYPTIAN TEAM
“…and in the morning watch the lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down upon the host of the Egyptians, and discomfited the host of the Egyptians, clogging their chariot
wheels so that they drove heavily…”
Exodus 14: 24-25
As things around the world began to settle down as far as general recovery was concerned, historic research teams began to explore areas where Martians could or had been in ancient times. The Egyptian team (internally known as the “Mummy Squad”) set out for Cairo to find out why the Martians had been so interested in that sun-baked area so many thousands of years ago. They also wanted to discover why the Martians had not done extensive amounts of damage to several ancient locations in Egypt. Naturally the teams from Directorate I had a general idea of what they were looking for – anything other than the usual ancient Egyptian artifacts – but overall they really had no idea what to expect. The only real expectation was there were Martian artifacts somewhere in Egypt, there had to be, and the Sphinx and Pyramids on the one square mile Giza Plateau were thought to be good natural starting points. (Anywhere in and around the Cairo or Memphis areas for that matter was a good place to start.) Director Professor Arthur Evans gave only one piece of advice to the Egyptian team. “Dig deep and ignore any and all preconceived ideas about the history of these artifacts and find me something solid we can use against these bloody Martians.” What they would eventually uncover in Egypt would not only show the Martians had been interfering with human affairs for millennia, but at a very early stage humans had worshipped them as “gods from the stars.”
The first order of business was to survey and photograph the entire Giza Plateau down to the smallest detail with a small pre-excavation photo team. As beautiful as these photographs were they were not taken for their obvious aesthetic qualities. Rather, we needed a full photo record of as many aspects of the site as we could get. It was thought that with the site survey coupled with the photographic work we would be able to discover new details never before suspected. For this job we would also conduct the first (that I knew of) photographic aerial survey of an archeological site out to nearly four miles distance in all directions. We did not want to miss any large structures on the ground that may become evident from the air that we could possibly miss from the ground level. Later we would begin the work underground.
Before the team set out for Egypt they had sent out requests world-wide for copies of any and all photos that had been taken in and around the Cairo area including the Giza Plateau. With over 2000 photos now in Committee hands the team had assembled a rather good general archive of photos dating from 1855 to 1900. With these “original photos” the team had drawn up their first plans for the ground work ahead. Sketch plans were drawn up to be used as a preliminary drafting document which would be taken to Egypt as a tool to begin the extensive survey and archeological project. Now they would soon be on site for the detailed work ahead expected to uncover some of the secrets left by the Martians in the deserts of ancient Egypt. That initial work would include removing thousands of tons of drifting sands that had covered much of the Giza Plateau including at least one third of the famous Sphinx.
The final pre-Egyptian trip project found the team reading just about every work they could find by explorers who had preceded their efforts in Egypt. They wanted to be very familiar with earlier explorers to not only discover where they had worked, but to understand what their impressions had been of what they had discovered. They had also cataloged a very long list of unidentified aerial objects sighted over the general Cairo area during the past 2000 years and still ongoing at the time! Needless to say, the Cairo area had been a hot-bed of UFO activity for a very long time.
On 10 February 1910, the full team set sail for Egypt on the trail of ancient Martians thought to be deeply hidden in the sun-burnt sands of North Africa. They would soon be hard at work on the plateau and spending some of their free time watching the croquet matches at the private sporting pitch the Heliopplis Club just founded by the British. Back home we were remembering the 8th anniversary of “The War of the Worlds” as H. G. still called it. (He was still selling quite a few copies of his book.) Most other people simply called it “The Martian War”.
THE THUNDER CHILD MEMORIAL
“Surging out beyond the white tumult, drove something long and black,
the flames steaming from its middle parts, its ventilators, and funnels spouting fire.
It was our Thunder Child. She was alive still…”
On the eighth anniversary of the First Martian War members of the new British Navy stood in proud formation at Plymouth, England, as Committee member Admiral George Dewey dedicated a new memorial to the officers and men of the HMS Thunder Child. For the first time in British history the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military honor for exceptional bravery in combat, was awarded to an entire ship’s complement. He would tell the assembled guests that, “No warrior, no crew, no ship, has ever given more of their full measure of dedication, sacrifice and service to all of mankind than the officers and men of the HMS Thunder Child. Their headlong and valiant thrust into the jaws of certain death gave our enemies from Mars pause as well as the understanding that we on planet Earth will do battle no matter what the odds or the danger. Encased within this memorial have been placed the remains of an unknown member of that valiant crew. And as uncovered, we see the ship’s mast has been mounted atop the stand still flying the Thunder Child’s battle standard and duster, somewhat worn, but proudly displayed, exactly as they flew them on that fateful day.”
Naturally more than a few of the Committee members were present in the audience, but for security reasons we were not introduced to the crowd. Simply being on hand to remember with the rest of the people was enough. The highlight of the presentation was the reading of the names of the crew members all of whom had been killed during the battle followed by an eyewitness account of the battle read by an individual who had seen the desperate fight from a nearby civilian steamer. He would recall what had brought the HMS Thunder Child into mortal combat with no fewer than three Martian fighting machines – besting two of them before succumbing to their overwhelming firepower. At the time the ironclad was the only warship in the area as it engaged the Martians then attacking England’s shipping. The crew had known from the outset that the odds were long and they could expect no aid from other ships. This fact did not deter the HMS Thunder Child as she sailed “full steam ahead” into history and British naval legend. The account the witness read to the assembled crowd was originally recorded by Committee associate H. G. Wells and later engraved on the sides of the memorial so that none would ever forget the magnificent deeds of HMS Thunder Child.
Big iron upper works rose out of this headlong structure, and from that twin funnels projected and spat a smoking blast shot with fire. It was the torpedo ram Thunder Child, steaming headlong, coming to the rescue of the threatened shipping. Looking past this charging leviathan at the Martians again and I saw three of them now close together and standing so far out to sea that their tripod supports were almost entirely submerged. Thus sunken, and seen in remote perspective, they appeared far less formidable than the huge iron bulk in whose wake the steamer was pitching so helplessly. It would seem they were regarding this new antagonist with astonishment. The Thunder Child fired no gun, but simply drove full speed towards them. It was probably her not firing that enabled her to get so near the enemy as she did. They did not know what to make of her. One shell and they would have sent her to the bottom forthwith with the Heat-Ray.
She was steaming at such a pace that in a minute she seemed halfway between the steamboat and the Martians – a diminishing black bulk against the receding horizontal expanse of the Essex coast.
Suddenly the foremost Martian lowered his tube and discharged a canister of the black gas at the ironclad. It hit her larboard side and glanced off in an inky jet that rolled away to seaward, an unfolding torrent of Black Smoke, from which the iron drove clear. It seemed as though she were already among the Martians.
[We] saw the gaunt figures separating and rising out of the water as they retreated shoreward, and one of them raised the camera-like generator of the Heat-Ray. He held it pointing obliquely downward, and a bank of steam sprang from the water at its touch. It must have driven through the iron of the ship’s side like a white-hot iron rod through paper.
A flicker of flame went up through the rising steam, and then the Martians reeled and staggered. In another moment he was cut down, and a great body of water and steam shot high in the air. The guns of the Thunder Child sounded through the reek, going off one after the other, and one shot splashed the water high close by the steamer, ricocheted towards the other flying ships to the north, and smashed a [sailing ship] to matchwood.
Surging out beyond the white tumult drove something long and black, the flames steaming from its middle parts, its ventilators, and funnels spouting fire. It was our Thunder Child. She was alive still; the steering gear, it seems, was intact and her engines working. She headed straight for a second Martian, and was within a hundred yards of him when the Heat-Ray came to bear. Then with a violent thud, a blinding flash, her decks, her funnels, leaped upward. The Martian staggered with the violence of her explosion, and in another moment the flaming wreckage, still driving forward with the impetus of its pace, had struck him and crumpled him up like a thing of cardboard.
The steam hung upon the water for many minutes, hiding the third Martian, and the coast altogether. When at last the confusion cleared, the drifting bank of black vapor intervened, and nothing of the Thunder Child could be made out.
After the reading a group of naval cadets fired off a 21-gun salute, which was followed, by a second 21-cannon salute fired by members of the Plymouth chapter of the Martian War Veterans Society (MWVS). A final event featured a battle-worn cannon retrieved from the submerged deck of the Thunder Child being fired for the last time. The deck gun was then sealed and bolted to the side of the memorial. With that the ceremonial portion of the event was completed and the visitors went off to an open air lunch and photos. As for the group of us from the Committee – we all had work to do underground and some of that was looking towards rockets and outer space.
[END PART 20]
Copyright © R. Michael Gordon, 2020