Chapter One of War of the Worlds:The Future Attacks
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THE EVE OF THE WAR
These things I write now that it is the eve of my seventieth birthday August 12, 1936.
We have learned of things thought immensely foreign in that time, but they would change the course of our history and also the fate of our time. No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet somehow, as fallible as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency, men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. No one gave a thought to the earth of the future as a source of human danger, or thought of it only to dismiss the idea of life beyond our dimension as impossible or improbable.
It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, Venus, or maybe even Jupiter, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space and time, circuits with an intellectual reasoning expanding vast that are cool running and unsympathetic, regarded this past earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.
The year 2438 is 534 years in the future. This is the year we found inscribed inside the cylinders upon scrutiny after the invasion. We do not know and have no way of knowing what happened in the years between now and that fateful year of invasion into our own space. Our current society cannot be concerned with what will happen in these centuries lapsed nor do we know how our actions today will meld the forms that will become our dominators. We cannot imagine the destruction we will create for ourselves. We simply cannot know that we will create something aimed at our extinction.
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 from our own invention. Nor was it generally understood that since time is bent around itself, with scarcely a quarter of the superficial area known to science, it necessarily follows that it is not only more distant from time's beginning but nearer its end.
And we men, the creatures who currently inhabit this time, must be to them at least as alien and lowly as are the monkeys and lemurs to us. The intellectual side of man already admits that life is an incessant struggle for existence, and it would seem that this too is the belief of the minds of the Hertzians (as we would learn to call them). Their world is far gone in its cycles and this world is still crowded with life, but crowded only with what they regard as inferior animals, needless for pure function. To carry warfare into the past is, indeed, their only escape from the destruction that, with generation after generation of human persistence, creeps upon them.
And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals around the globe, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Hertzians warred in the same spirit? Is this the reason they invaded our time?
The Hertzians seem to have calculated their invasion with amazing subtlety--their mathematical calculations are evidently far in excess of our current capabilities--and to have carried out their preparations with an almost perfect unanimity. Had our instruments permitted it, we might have seen the gathering trouble far back in the nineteenth century. Men like the great scholar Schiaparelli pondered the time continuum but failed to interpret the complex fluctuating mathematics. As soon as they made their initial conquering in their own time, they must have started to calculate the probabilities of dominating their creator’s ancestors in preparation to make their own strengths even stronger to fight the lingering human beings who refused to be eliminated in the spirit of computational logic.
During 1894, a great dark green light hole was seen over Hawksworth, east of Nottingham, first at the Lick Observatory by Dr. Ogilvy, the well known astronomer, then by the Perrotin Observatory in Nice, and then by other observers. English readers heard of it first in the issue of Nature dated August 2.
The storm burst upon us over fourty years ago now. It had occurred towards midnight of the twelfth of August; and the spectroscope, to which Ogilvy had at once resorted, indicated a mass of flaming gas, chiefly hydrogen, moving with an enormous velocity through the hole. This jet of fire had become invisible about a quarter past twelve. He compared it to a colossal puff of flame suddenly and violently squirting, "as flaming gases rushed out of a gun."
The next day there was nothing of this in the papers except a little note in the Daily Telegraph, 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 Dr. Ogilvy by chance at Ottershaw. 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 strange activity in the atmosphere.
In spite of all that has happened since, I still remember that vigil very distinctly: the black and silent observatory, the shadowed lantern throwing a feeble glow upon the floor in the corner, the steady ticking of the clockwork of the telescope, the little slit in the roof--an oblong profundity with the stardust streaked across it. Ogilvy moved about, invisible but audible. Looking through the telescope, one saw a circle of deep green and the little round hole 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! It was as if it quivered, but really this was the telescope vibrating with the activity of the clockwork that kept the disturbance in view.
As I watched, the hole seemed to grow larger and smaller and to advance and recede, but that was simply that my eye was tired. Few people realize the immensity of vacancy in which the dust of the material universe swims.
Near it in the field, I remember, were three faint points of light, three telescopic dots infinitely remote as if stars, and all around it was the unfathomable darkness of empty space. You know how that blackness looks on a frosty starlight night. In a telescope it seems far profounder. And invisible to me because it was so remote and small, flying swiftly and steadily towards me across that incredible distance, drawing nearer by so many thousands of minutes, 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, too, there was another jetting out of gas from the abyss of the hole. I saw it. A reddish flash at the edge, the slightest projection of the outline just as the chronometer struck midnight; and at that I told Ogilvy and he took my place. The night was warm and I was thirsty, and I went stretching my legs clumsily and feeling my way in the darkness, to the little table where the siphon stood, while Ogilvy exclaimed at the streamer of gas that came out towards us.
That night another invisible missile started on its way to the earth from the other earth, 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 swimming before my eyes. 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 watched till one, and then gave it up; and we lit the lantern and walked over to his house. Down below in the darkness were Ottershaw and Chertsey and all their hundreds of people, sleeping in peace.
He was full of speculation that night about the condition of radical occurrence, and scoffed at the vulgar idea of its significance. His idea was that meteorites might be falling in a heavy shower upon earth, or that a huge volcanic explosion was in progress thousands of miles around the globe causing an atmospheric glow.
"The chances of anything coming of the glow are a million to one," he said.
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 they ceased after the tenth no one on earth has attempted to explain. It may be the gases caused the Hertzians an unexpected and uncontrollable inconvenience.
Even the daily papers woke up to the disturbances at last, and popular notes appeared here, there, and everywhere concerning the volcanoes or meteorites. The seriocomic periodical Punch, I remember, made a happy use of it in the political cartoon. And, all unsuspected, those missiles the Hertzians had looped toward us drew to our dimension, rushing now at a pace of many miles a second through the empty gulf and bend of time, hour by hour and day by day, nearer and nearer. It seems to me now almost incredibly wonderful that, with that swift fate hanging over us, men could go about their petty concerns as they did. I remember how jubilant Markham was at securing a new photograph of the electrical disturbance for the illustrated paper he edited in those days. 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 bicycle, and busy upon a series of papers discussing the probable developments of moral ideas as civilization progressed.
One night (the first missile then could scarcely have been 10,000,000 light years 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 Mars, a bright dot of light creeping zenithward. It was a warm night. Coming home, a party of excursionists from Chertsey or Isleworth passed us singing and playing music. There were lights in the upper windows of the houses as the people went to bed. From the railway station in the distance came the sound of shunting trains, ringing and rumbling, softened almost into melody by the distance. My wife pointed out to me the brightness of the red, green, and yellow signal lights hanging in a framework against the sky. It seemed so safe and tranquil.