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Fighters from Mars: The War of the Worlds in and near Boston, part 1, January 9th, 1898

CHAPTER 1

THE EVE OF THE WAR

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as immortal as his own.

With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, dreaming themselves the highest creatures in the whole universe and serene in their assurance of their empire over matter.

No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars - probably inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise.

Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts that perish, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew up their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

The planet Mars, I may remind the reader, revolves about the sun at a mean distance of one hundred and forty million miles, and the light and heat it receives from the sun are scarcely half of that received by this world. It must be, if the nebular hypothesis has any truth, older than our world. It has air and water and all that is necessary for the support of the animated existence. Yet so vain is man, and so blinded by his vanity, that no writer, up to the very end of the nineteenth century, expressed any idea that intelligent life might have developed there far, indeed at all, beyond its earthly level.

And we men, the creatures who inhabit this earth, must be to them at least as lowly as are the monkeys to us. The intellectual side of man already admits that life is an incessant struggle for existence, and it would seem in the final issue the same is the belief of the minds upon mars.

Their world is far gone in its cooling and this world is still palpitating and crowded with life, but crowded only with what they regard as inferior animals.

To carry warfare sunward is, indeed, their only escape from the destruction that, generation by generation, creeps upon them. And before we judge of them too harshly in their attempt, we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its own inferior races.

The Martians seem to have calculated their descent with amazing subtlety--their mathematical learning is evidently far in excess of ours--and to have carried out their preparations with a well-nigh perfect unanimity. Had our instruments only permitted it, we might have seen the gathering trouble far back in the nineteenth century.

The storm burst upon us in the year 1900. As Mars approached opposition, Lavelle of Java set the wires of the astronomical exchange palpitating with the amazing intelligence of a huge outbreak of incandescent gas upon the planet. It had occurred towards midnight of the twelfth; and the spectroscope, to which he had at once resorted, indicated a mass of flaming gas, chiefly hydrogen, moving with an enormous velocity towards this earth. This jet of fire had become invisible about a quarter past twelve.

He compared it to a colossal puff of flame suddenly and violently squirted out of the planet, "as flaming gas rushes out of a gun." A singularly appropriate phrase it proved.

Yet the next day there was nothing of this in the papers, and the world went in ignorance of one of the gravest dangers that ever threatened the human race.

I might not have heard of the eruption at all had I not met Ogilvy, the well-known astronomer, at Concord, Mass. He was immensely excited at the news, and in the excess of his feelings invited me up to take a turn with him that night in a scrutiny of the red planet.

Looking through the telescope, one saw a circle of deep blue and the little round planet swimming in the field. It seemed such a little thing, so bright and small and still, faintly marked with transverse stripes, and slightly flattened from the perfect round. But so little it was, so silvery warm--a pin's-head of light.

As I watched, the planet seemed to grow larger and smaller and to advance and recede, but that was simply that my eye was tired. Forty millions of miles it was from us, more than forty millions of miles of void.

And invisible to me because it was so remote and small, flying swiftly and steadily towards me across that incredible distance, drawing nearer every minute by so many thousands of miles, came the Thing they were sending us, the Thing that was to bring so much struggle and calamity and death to the earth. I never dreamed of it then as I watched; no one on earth dreamed of that unerring missile.

That night another invisible missile started on its way to the earth from Mars, just a second or so under twenty-four hours after the first one.

I remember how I sat on the table there in the blackness, with patches of green and crimson swimming in my eyes and I wished I had a light to smoke by, little suspecting the meaning of the minute gleam I had seen and all that it would presently bring me.

Ogilvy was full of speculation that night about the condition of Mars, and scoffed at the vulgar idea of its having inhabitants who were signalling us. His idea was that meteorites might be falling in a heavy shower upon the planet, or that a huge volcanic explosion was in progress.

Hundreds of observers saw the flame that night, and the night after about midnight, and again the night after; and so for ten nights, a flame each night. Why the shots ceased after the tenth no one on earth has attempted to explain.

Dense clouds of smoke or dust, too visible through a powerful telescope on earth as little, grey, fluctuating patches, spread through the clearness of the planet's atmosphere and obscured its more familiar features.

And, all unsuspected, those missiles the Martians had fired at us drew earthward, rushing now at a pace of many miles a second through the empty gulf of space, hour by hour and day by day, nearer and nearer.

People in these latter times scarcely realize the abundance and enterprise of our nineteenth-century papers. For my own part, I was much occupied in learning to ride the chainless bicycle and busy upon a series of articles discussing the probable developments of moral ideas as civilization progressed.

One night, the Thing then could scarcely have been 10,000,000 miles away. I went for a walk with my wife. It was starlight and I explained the Signs of the Zodiac to her, and pointed out the bright dot of light creeping zenithward, toward which so many telescopes were pointed. For in those days, there was no terror for men among the stars.

Chapter 2 >

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Scan of part 1, January 9th, 1898.


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See also

Books

Fighters from Mars

Fighters from Mars. Published only months after the release of Well's War of the Worlds, this unofficial version of the novel is set in and around Boston.

Edison's Conquest Of Mars by Garrett P Serviss

Edison's Conquest Of Mars by Garrett P Serviss. The unofficial 1898 sequel to The War of the Worlds that sends the inventer Thomas Edison to Mars.

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. The ultimate novel of alien invasion as Martians crash to Earth in Victorian England.

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