By the time we reached Tesla’s home and laboratory, the Martian was already clawing its way from the cylinder, groping through the ruins of the building for its target. We were quiet, careful; we had no comprehension of how this thing might sense, the range of its vision, the sensitivity of its hearing. Was it a creature that could detect vibrations in the air? Was it safe even to breathe?
On any other day, such questions would fill my mind and drive me forward into irrational action. I know there were some — especially of Nikola’s fraternity — who pushed the boundaries of safety to get such answers during the thick of battle. Now though, I was not as interested in knowing what the Martian could think or feel. I was interested in finding my friend and mentor, to extract him from the rubble before it was too late.
Richard made a silent offer with his hands. He had spent years studying the art of sign language after Max was born unable to hear us, and we rejected the theory of oralism as a superior school. I know Richard never felt an idiot, even after I constructed an Apparatus that could allow Max to perceive our words; my husband was always of the view that Aether could be a temporary thing, that just as names, places, and events disappeared from our logs, likely due to the actions of those experimenters in unwinding, the entire use of Aether may one day dry up like an oasis. So, I learned the language too, and by doing so was able to communicate with him silently. He was offering to distract the Martian, lure it away from the house, and allow myself and J——— to pick through the rubble in an effort to locate Tesla.
Be careful, I told him, and off he went. When his hooting and shouting proved ineffective, he started flinging lumps of masonry at the Martian. Even then, nothing. It was when Richard pulled his pen free — what I called his “wand” — and started twisting Aether in the air that the alien finally paid attention and went slithering off in his direction.
J——— and I took the opportunity gifted to us, with my searching the ruins of the building’s rear while he took the front. Despite the wreckage, we were both confident there was no body to be found, and that like most nights Tesla would have been in his cellar, experimenting or studying. We did not pause for breath, finding the hatch and an intact staircase leading into the earth.
It felt foolish then, and perhaps it was, to descend into the blackness while war raged above our heads, but without Tesla who were we? We owed this new science to him. We couldn’t abandon him to these attackers.
It brings me nothing but sadness to write about what we found in that cellar. Tesla was not there, of course. But an Aether Gate was present, and it was active. It had been years since Nikola renounced their creation and use. What could have compelled him to build a new one? We could feel the power resonating from it, the sparks of green energy spitting from its frame, the hum of promise, the vibrating film separating our world from another. What were we to do? J——— whispered that we should pass through, find Tesla, and make an exit with him to another, distant place. I argued that we had no idea whether Tesla had passed through the device, whether he was even in the building when the Martian hit, and what was more, fleeing into another world while Richard was leading an alien around London was absolutely not acceptable.
The decision was made for us. The house wasn’t done collapsing and a part of the cellar ceiling came free. J———, valiant to the last (and I’ll hear nothing to dispute that though his methods are sometimes coarse), pushed me aside. If he had not, I would not be here to write these words.
When the dust cleared and consciousness returned, I could see him half-buried under bricks and planks, though to my great, temporary relief, his tomb was being excavated. Only temporary for the diggers were not humans with shovels and a barrow, but the glistening, solid, merciless claws of one of the Martian machines.
I did not scream. It was my instincts that preserved me. I could have given J——— a chance to fight back, and every inch of me wanted to do so, but I had no idea what had become of Richard, and I couldn’t — I was unable to — make Max an orphan. I should feel ashamed, but instead I feel I had no choice. The Martians took that from me.
I watched — I owed J——— that much — as the Martian carefully picked off the last weight and tossed it aside. It hit my foot, but still I made no sound. I stared as the Martian dragged his body up the stairs. I only squeezed my eyes shut when I heard him return to consciousness and start cursing the Martian with all his usual bombast. Then the tears flowed.
I do not know if J——— survived. I never saw him again. I do know that others claimed to have encountered him on other worlds, in the center of the Earth, in the jungles of the Amazon, but he’s a man of legend and perhaps it’s the legend that lives on while the body lies in state, or in some Martian burial pit. I do wonder if the Martians assumed he was Tesla and that’s why they stopped short of excavating further. I doubt I’ll ever have an answer.
What I do know is J——— saved my life. When Richard finally returned — the Martian he led away was not the same one that came digging into Tesla’s cellar — the Aether Gate had faded, no longer buzzing with power. We slowly returned home to our boy, and we held him like never before.
It was much, much later that I discovered where Tesla had gone and why he left the gate open behind him. This man I admired so much, this great mind…
I sometimes curse him now. I must question his decisions, for how could I not?
I know I will continue to research and use the Aether, because without it we are using bows and arrows against the lightning of Martian aggression. But if a time comes to undo all of this, I know what must be done.
From The Accounts of Anne Mercer
Trinity Continuum: Aether Serial Part VI, by Matthew Dawkins
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4 responses to “VI: Bows and Arrows Against the Lightning”
Very nice story! The use of “J—-“ throughout reminds me of the bleeping of Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill Volume 1.
And curiously enough, J—— escapes the Martians through use of the five finger death punch.
My current pet theory is that J—, based on Anne’s choice of words, is the man “of Mars.” And it would not surprise me at all if he went by the name of “Jack” in some circles. That’s just me, though.
Such a tease at the end! I hope you tell us what Anne discovered about what Tesla did with that gate, Matthew.