UES Thunder Child, Earth Orbit
November 23rd, 1963
Admiral of the Fleet Sir James Tranter stood upon the Thunder Child’s quarterdeck and gazed upon the heavens. They were, he concluded, rather boring. Space was space; the endless starfield was the same from here as it was anywhere else in Earth orbit. The same as seen from darker places on the surface even. The same constellations, the same planets, the same comets hurtling on their errant paths.
James sighed. Every time he looked out upon the stars, he was drawn inexorably to one pinprick of light. A dot that was actually a disc; a red, burning disc that through even a small telescope seemed to glow with malevolence. The planet Mars, avatar of the God of War, had held the interest of mankind for decades. Ever since That Day; the day the great Cylinders had fallen from space.
He hadn’t even been born then; he had been born and raised in the aftermath of the months of hell. His father had been there though. A journalist, he had lived on Maybury Hill with his wife. He had been there with Ogilvy the astronomer for the first of the great green flashes from Mars. He had been there when the first cylinder fell on Horsell Common. He had seen the deputation incinerated by the Heat Ray, and the frantic efforts of the army to cordon off the area. After that came the great fighting machines; more and more of them as further cylinders fell. He’d fled for London, seeing along the way the artillery scoring a fleeting victory, only to be struck down by the black smoke.
His father’s voice had always broken when he reached this part of the tale. His eye’s always glistened as he recounted in pained tones what he’d seen of the burning of Weybridge and Shepperton. London had followed, and the massed population had fled. James had read his father’s and his uncle’s accounts of the nightmare; they had in later years become required reading in the schools and rebuilt universities.
James turned and walked to the far side of the quarterdeck, looking out the windows down towards Earth this time. Even today, 68 years after the nightmare ended, the Earth still bore the scars of it’s temporary occupation. Areas of the once-green lands where scarred red and black, the effects of the black smoke and the red weed that had spread in the Martian’s wake. The weed and smoke was long gone, but the earth remained stained like a blood-soaked cloth; a constant reminder of what Man had endured.
What still shocked him was how many scarred areas there were. In the first days after the Martian’s defeat, remaining ships had set sail for other countries to seek help, under the impression that only England had been savaged so. Those ambassadors found out just how wrong this assumption had been. England had been only the first to fall: the Martians had struck and defeated the most powerful nation to eliminate resistance. The second wave of cylinders had landed worldwide, everywhere the fell bringing more fighting machines that slaughtered and scoured the lands before them of humans. Humans had been massacred everywhere and the butcher’s bill numbered in the hundreds of millions. The United States, Europe, Russia, China, Japan, Africa, South America. Nowhere was spared.
But then the Martians had lost. His father’s voice had always resumed its strong authoritative tone at this point: the day the Martians died. They had long before eradicated disease from their world, which was clean and sterile and ultimately inhospitable. In doing so the raised a generation of Martians with no immunity to illness at all. And it was their own instincts that killed them, their own need to feed. They fed, in their most disgusting fashion, on the living flesh and blood of men and women. And this was their undoing. One of them caught a bug.
James half-smiled and half-grimaced at the thought. A simple bacterium doing what Man with all his wonders could not. But once again David slew Goliath. The Martians died, and Man crept out from the shadows, stepped back from the precipice and began to recover what he had lost. In the process, the scientists had inspected the leftover fighting machines, and just as that delusional young artilleryman had said to James’s father, Man had built a heat-ray of its own. From the cylinders came all manner of technology for space travel, something that only fiction authors had dreamt of before. Humanity had hauled itself upright again, battered and bloodied yes but triumphant once again.
And as James looked down towards Earth, one of the results of that triumph drifted past his ship. The UES Westminster cruised passed in a lower orbit, trailing its companion ships the Shepperton and the Weybridge in a neat and proud formation. Looking further down, he saw more ships forming up for this great and momentous day. The American Spirit of Savannah and Ghost of Memphis, the Russian Moscow’s Vengeance and Kiev's Justice and the Japanese Kobe Ascendant and Nagasaki Rising. Just a handful ships of the fleet assembled for this great expedition. As with the British ships, they all bore the names of cities and towns completely destroyed by the Martians in their campaign. But his flagship was different. His ship bore the proud name of Thunder Child, the ironclad ram battleship that fought a desperate last stand to allow passenger ferries to escape. James had vowed upon his arrival on board that the Martians would once again fear the name.
And now the time had come. James activated his radio and began his speech to the troops, which was also broadcast to all of Mankind on the planet below.
“68 years ago, civilisation as we knew it came to an end. Invaders from another world came to earth, intent upon seizing it for themselves. They were brutal. They saw us as little more than vermin to be crushed. They brought their mightiest weapons and deadliest machines to exterminate us all. But we fought back. All over the world, soldiers and sailors fought valiantly to the last, buying time for the populations to escape. But we were overrun.
And then the Martians revealed their true purpose. We were not vermin but cattle; food for their monstrous bodies. But in consuming us they killed themselves; a humble bacterium killed them all. Since then we have seen no more of the Martians or their Cylinders. And so we rebuilt. We recovered. Humanity ascended from its own ashes. But our world was forever changed. Before we were divided, now we are united. Before we were weak, now we are strong.
The time has come at last for mankind to claim justice for the crimes committed against us. Today is the day when this great fleet will leave for Mars, to eliminate the Martians as a threat once and for all. The Empire of the Red Planet has seen its last peaceful dawn.
The Martians will resist, of that there can be no doubt. They will fight with every ounce of strength they have and every weapon at their disposal. But we shall triumph. Humanity will stand tall at the end of the fight and we shall banish our would-be conquerors into the abyss.
We are prepared, and so the order is given: All squadrons break orbit and make best speed to Mars!”
The crews of the ships cheered as they had never
cheered before. James could hear them from the lower decks, he could hear they pride and their determination. To him, it was fuel for the fires burning bright in his heart. He could not resist one last comment:
“Yesterday, we feared them. Tomorrow, they will fear US!”
"I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams" - Hamlet
Last edited by Eternal_Freedom on 2011-01-03 06:21pm, edited 1 time in total.