II: What Fear We, Flame?

You were there just as we were. Those strikes across our world: London, Paris, New York, maybe places so far unreported or unrecorded — we do not trust the press nor our fellow Aethernauts to not conceal the facts from us — they took you by surprise, but they really should not have. After we found a way of changing our own body beyond the realm of physical dimensional limits, somehow with it finding a way to return to our original body mass without an excess of stretched skin, broken bones, or loosened ligaments… well.

Let us say we were beyond surprise when the Martians started their attack.

That’s not to say we were not interested. We know others, especially among the Blood of Gog and the so-called “Immortals” who have manipulated, changed, utterly broken what we know of space science. Physics. What is physics to us? A child’s understanding of the way the world works is of no more use to us these days than mustard spread on the chest of a man with tuberculosis. No, we were interested. Intrigued. There had been rumors of Aethernauts encountering alien creatures, some prehistoric (you’ve heard the tale of the hollow world within our own, no?), some from a distant future where humankind rides metal carriages into the sky, but our Explorers of the Unknown had yet to experience the pleasure.

When news reached our chambers of the New York landings, we were quick to pack our devices and drugs and made haste to the site. We wore a face of civility en route, but panic among the unenlightened was fierce, caused in no small part by Edison’s Unwinders attempting to suppress the imaginations of the ignorant. One of those imbeciles confronted us as we climbed from our carriage and declared our intentions to seize the landing vessel. “Return to your labs, Dr. Jekyll!” the old fool shouted. It was enough to make us reveal our true face to the man, and bring a club down upon his head, neck, and shoulders.

Jekyll / Hyde strikes an Unwinder, by Charles Raymond Macauley

“Unwind those breaks and bruises,” we spat at the coot as he mewled on the stones. We stepped over his shaking body and went to confront the visitors from outer space.

Our enthusiasm made it terribly challenging to keep our other self in check, but we know when to spin and when to withhold. For the time being, we cautiously approached. Some civilians, fellow Aethernauts, even a police officer, we noticed, skulked dangerously close to the glistening cylinder half-buried in the muck of the public waste site. Hardly an auspicious landing place, we thought.

We took this opportunity to hold back. If others were prepared to play the role of sacrificial lamb — and we were sure whatever emerged would be less than civil — why expose ourselves? Explorers of the Unknown we may be, but when test subjects offer themselves to the scientist, we let them take the medicine first. In most cases, anyway.

It would be a lie to deny the thrill of watching that cylinder twist open from the inside out. We both felt it, I’m sure. The anticipation. A little dread. There was hunger there, too. Some of the civilians backed away in fear of what they might see. Was God about to emerge, or one of His servants? Would it have been so farfetched for this to be an angel as described in the Bible, all eyes, hooks, spirals, and gears? “Be not afraid,” it might say, as it strode from its carapace, a hunting monster in a world of sheeplike prey.

We smiled when we saw the truth of it. No marching titan, winged and haloed, was this. It was more aquatic, primordial even, in its appearance. It slithered and slurped, squirming and crawling on pseudopods to pull itself free from its hot metal shell. People screamed and some fell back. Others attempted to flee.

Now, in honesty, we cannot say what made the Martian fire upon us. Perhaps it did not want witnesses to its true form (a feeling we occasionally have cause to empathize with). Maybe the screaming and hollering alarmed it, for it looked so bestial and ancient as to be simple-minded and easily provoked. Regardless of the thing’s nature and what could make it assault a dozen men and women in such a rapid, merciless way, assault them it did. From a weapon that remained unseen but has since been named commonly as a “heat ray,” a beam of intense temperature emerged and vaporized human after human, reducing their bodies to ash so fine it no longer resembled any kind of cadaverous remains.

The Heat Ray, by Henrique Alvim Corrêa

We too were caught in the blast, but naturally (and as mentioned) we anticipated an attack. We had already taken the tonics required to produce Aether within our own inner well, protecting our form and preventing our meeting a fate similar to those around us. By the time the heat ray died down, our clothes had disintegrated — and our other face had emerged, our body braced and altered for war. The intensity of this heat and the capacity for its use struck us immediately. It hadn’t harmed us significantly because we had prepared, but against the simple human form it had proven a more devastating weapon than any bullet or bomb. We were not afraid, but awed.

Had we been of a more political or military mind, we may have sensed this as a moment to capitalize and steal the technology, but we leave such thinking to Her Royal Highness’s Planetary Defensive Pact. As the only living witness to this thing’s arrival, we felt it more prudent to retreat and record our observations than engage in some grapple with the Martian.

Other Aethernauts have since whispered with the temerity to propose we fled out of cowardice or that had we tackled the Martian there and then many lives could have been saved. To that we invite you to make such claims to either of our faces. We always welcome discourse among Dr. Jekyll’s Explorers of the Unknown. You may even leave with your head screwed on facing forward, albeit loose around the spine.

From The Disputed Annals of Dr. Henry Jekyll


Trinity Continuum: Aether Serial Part II, by Matthew Dawkins

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8 responses to “II: What Fear We, Flame?”

  1. Corey Reynolds Avatar
    Corey Reynolds

    Very cool! I can see now some modern person finding the writings of some long-dead Aethernaut and figuring out how to manipulate the Aether within them. This one is going to be a wild ride!

    1. Matthew Dawkins Avatar
      Matthew Dawkins

      I certainly hope people integrate some of the Aether material in their Adventure!, Core, Assassins, Aberrant, and Aeon games! It’s definitely possible with some jiggery-pokery.

  2. Mateus Luz Avatar
    Mateus Luz

    Was it just me or anyone else thought about the Smiths when the thing opened?

    1. THE Donnie Avatar
      THE Donnie

      I thought more of They Came From when the description of the alien showed up

      1. Matthew Dawkins Avatar
        Matthew Dawkins

        I can’t escape these aquatic bastards!

    2. Matthew Dawkins Avatar
      Matthew Dawkins

      Because Morrissey should be blasted with a heat ray, or something else?

      1. Mateus Luz Avatar
        Mateus Luz

        I meant Felicia and Francis Smith

  3. […] been reading our TC: Aether Journal teasers – the second one went up last week here: https://theonyxpath.com/ii-what-fear-we-flame/ – and look at the above cover illustration, there is a LOT more going on in the book […]