tagNonHumanThe War to End all Worlds Pt. 02

The War to End all Worlds Pt. 02


Father, Tjen and I sat in the smoking room. Father had gotten the good port out – as good as could be found these days – and Tjen was sniffing the amber liquid curiously. Father tugged on his mustache with one finger, his other hand resting against his knee to keep it from shaking from his persisting nerve damage.

"Foretelling the future is not as impossible as one might think," he said. "There's some fascinating papers coming out of the German Republics – this one by a fellow named Einstein – states that time is relative, not absolute. Tesla says that most of the Martians-"

Tjen coughed.

"Ah, please, forgive me," father said. "The Tripod Builders. Their power sources draw on energy that appears to emerge from the luminescent aether without any source."

"They call it the t'kenth'ak, I don't know if there is a translation your human tongue has." Tjen said, quietly as she took a sip from the port. The face she made was missed by father, as he was heaving himself to his feet and hobbling to the bookshelves that were his true pride and joy. He pulled down a dictionary of Martian languages by Abdul Haq.

"Haq was held captive by a Tripod research team during the Great War," Father said, noticing Tjen's curious look – her disgust having been smoothed away by an almost British level of manners, though I had noticed her quietly pouring her glass of port into mine. This left mine nearly overflowing and I had to hold it gingerly and sip around the ice clinking in the cup. "He made a study of their language while they...processed the other humans." Father coughed, using the bloodless word, rather than describing what we all knew had happened. He shook his head. "Let me see if he has... anything..."

As he flipped the pages, I got my port glass to merely half and was feeling the warm glow of it, nestling in my belly. I rubbed my hand along my smooth shaved face, feeling the beginning of stubble under my palms.

"Ah, here it is," Father said. "Haq writes the word 'kenth' means negation, nothing, absolute vacuum." He chuckled. "And here, I thought nature abhors a vacuum."

"This is all very interesting," I said, setting my glass down. "But I'm slightly more concerned not with the fact that she can tell the future, but rather, what she's seen." I looked at Tjen. She looked back at me with those astounding, blue within blue eyes. Then she tossed her hair. Her voice became flat.

"I do not wish to state my visions again."

I didn't want to hear them. Just the descriptions – the men and women in striped clothing, labeled like cattle, marched past stern faced men in field gray uniforms and helmets like coal miners. The vast tread-clad machines, pushing corpses by the hundreds, by the thousands, into mass graves, while men crawled spiderlike through the mounds, ripping gold from fillings with pliers. I shuddered convulsively.

"It reminds me of the Tripod Builders," father said. "To think humans might do that to their own kind. It..." He shook his head. "It is tragically not unthinkable."

"Father!" I exclaimed.

"What is such a vision but the slaughter of the red indians compressed to a few years, rather than a slow century?" Father asked, with that appalling calmness of his. He spread his hands. "The pogroms of Russia, the excesses of our own shattered Empire in India and elsewhere. The Tripods merely performed what we were already doing to ourselves with mechanical efficiency." He sighed. "If I believed in God, I would say that this was his way of showing us how to better consider ourselves." He sipped his port, looking grim.

"Well..." I clenched my jaw, then exploded. "Well, then, we can stop it! We can see the future, we have a name!"

"A single name of a man who we've never heard of. A German of some kind – meaning he could be anywhere from Delaware to the Moon." Father pointed out. "Though if you do begin on Siber See, at least it will be a relatively swift search."

I snorted.

"I could foretell once more-" Tjen started – causing my heart to skip, as her foretelling required her to, well, make love to me. But my excitement shattered with the sound of a window breaking in the second story of our flat. My brow furrowed and I sprang to the coat closet, flinging it open. There, I yanked the pistol from my coat, the heavy bore revolver that was designed to kill squids – to kill Tripod builders. Tjen followed me up the stairs, my father remaining behind, his aged limbs unable to carry him swiftly.

We came to my room, to find a brick resting on my bed. A note had been attached to it by a bit of twine. I stepped forward, half expecting it to explode. I frowned and undid the twine, then opened it. The note had been pounded out on a typewriter, so there was no chance of me identifying the handwriting. It had been creased and folded and even stained with sweat in some places – signs of hard use. The words were to the point...and utterly baffling.


I looked at Tjen. She looked just as mystified as me. But then, as I pocketed the note, another crash rang out. This from the front door. My father cried out: "What is going on here!?"

And I heard the thumping of footsteps and a drawling, Southern voice: "Why, Mr. Wells. I believe it's a book review."

"Uh, Mr. Sinclair, we're not here to review a book, we're looking for that Soomie girl, ain't we?" the familiar sound of that idiot goon – Torg, that had been his name – made my brow furrow.

I could almost hear Mr. Sinclair's clenched jaw as he responded to Torg, his voice genial and genteel. "God bless you, Torg. Why, I don't even know what I'd do without you."

"Uh, neither do I," Torg said, sounding honestly confused.

"Of course you don't," Mr. Sinclair said. By that point, I had gotten to the edge of the hallway leading to the narrow stairs that led to the lower level of the flat. I had moved silently, my heart in my throat every step of the way. Looking down, I saw that the foyer had two men – both of them nasty customers, wearing flat caps and rough jackets. One of them cradled a clunky, humming Tesla gun, the bulbous tip crackling with thin fibers of electricity. The other one simply had a club, which he twirled casually. They were both barring the door, while the shadows from the living room showed Torg, my father, and Mr. Sinclair – he was the tall, lean one. And he was holding a pistol, visible in silhouette.

Four men, all armed. I carefully undid the catch on the revolver and opened it as slowly and quietly as I could. It had two large bore shells in it that hadn't been fired. Built to punch through the rubbery skin of a Tripod builder, it was as ill suited to this kind of fight as I was. I had been in brawls, nothing as deadly serious as this.

"Are you from the Prussian General Staff?" my father sounded more curious than scared. "The Austrian Empire? Panslav?"

"Mr. Wells! You insult me!" Mr. Sinclair drawled. "But of course, you wouldn't recognize good white folks if they walked up and spat in your face, would you, niggerlover?"

"Ah." My father sounded deeply unruffled by Mr. Sinclair, who had brought out that word as if he had expected it to strike my father like a Catholic being called a heretic. "So, you're a distinctly Yankee kind of vil-"

The harsh smack made me want to leap forward and begin shooting, but Tjen's arms grabbed me and held me back. My father's shadow hit the ground, and I could hear his wheezing gasp. Mr. Sinclair's casual calm had shattered – his body moved in juddery, quick motions, made all the worse by the shadow-puppet view of his movements. "I will not be called a damnyankee by some limey socialist. I know what you are, Mr. Wells, you are a traitor to our kind, to our people, to our way of life. And I. Will. Not. Tolerate. It." The shadow lifted its pistol – and I clenched my jaw as Tjen's fingernails dug into my skin.

Don't, her voice echoed in my mind. They'll kill you.

"Where. Is. The. Girl?"

My father coughed. "Ah. Violence..." he wheezed. "The first tool of the coward."

A stomp sounded out. My father did not scream – but he drew in a ragged gasp. Tjen's fingernails were drawing blood.

"Tell me where the Soomie bitch is right now, or so help me, in our Lord's name, I will shoot you dead right here and now!" Mr. Sinclair's voice had become as high strung and screechy as it had formerly been genteel.

"How...Christian...of you," my father rasped out.

The gunshot was harsh and obliterated the shadows in a single flash of light. Then three more followed, two after that. A series of clicks came – and I choked back the urge to scream. Tears blurred my eyes, and I barely heard Sinclair snarling: "Bastard, goddamn sonofabitch, fucking niggerloving piece of shit. Jesus Christ!" He stopped. "Ah, please, forgive me for taking the lord's name in vain. Torg, search this place. The girl's been here, she'll have left some clues somewhere."

I breathed in a shuddering gasp.

The man with the Telsa gun looked up. He took a step forward and I lost control. I sprang from around the corner of the hallway and fired a shot, screaming in fury and rage. The revolver bucked in my hands and wood exploded from the wall to the man's left. He jerked to the side, smashing into the banister, a shower of splinters peppering his face. He howled in rage and pain and – one handed – swung the Telsa gun around. The drum shaped electrodynamic container flashed as the barrel sparked, and bolts of energy shot from the tip. Tjen saved me – dragging me backwards as the blazing projectiles peppered the wall. The wood and wallpaper caught immediately. Flames roared along a decorative tapestry. The pictures of my family which hung on the wall burned and the frames cracked as Tjen dragged me away.

"Let me go, let me at them!"

"No, Gipp, we have to get out!"

From the first floor, I could hear Sinclair's shriek. "You idiot! We need them alive! Torg, up there!"

"It's burning!" Torg wailed like a banshee.

And then we were in my room. I shuddered and coughed – smoke was already starting to fill the room. The flats that filled the building were tightly packed, and I could already hear the screams. People had been able to ignore or at least question the gunshots. But no one could ignore a flame.

"Gipp!" Tjen jerked my attention to her. She slapped me in the face. The impact did more than just jar me – I felt her thoughts rush through mine...and for a moment, the grief of my father's death was...it wasn't gone. It merely had happened years before, not moments ago. It was as if I could think again, and I managed to gasp out a quick 'much obliged' before I started thinking. We were on the third floor of the apartments. Fortunately, we actually had a fire escape. I scrambled to the window, then helped Tjen through the shattered glass. Once we were on the wrought iron, I could see other families tumbling from their windows. The whole structure groaned – but held.

We scrambled down and came into the alleyway that was next to the building. The howl of fire engines filled the air – and I saw Torg standing at the end of the alleyway, the man with the Tesla gun in his hands next to him. The Telsa gunner snapped the weapon to his shoulder and sighted at us.

"Hands up!"

"Police!" Torg shouted – and I knew he had to have been told to do that, for there was no way that Torg had been smart enough to come up with that. But I gambled. They needed us alive. And so, I grabbed Tjen's hand and charged back through the alleyway, ducking around a pair of dumpsters. A few plasma bolts struck the edge of the dumpster. A woman screamed and then cried out in Yiddish. Then we came to the fence that blocked off the alleyway. I looked back and saw a woman cradling a young girl, who looked as if she had been struck in the chest. I grabbed onto Tjen's foot, pushing her up and over the fence. She scrambled and fell to the far side as the Tesla gunner tried to kick his way past the woman. But she flew at him, screeching and clawing. He shoved her back, shouting back in English.

"You fucking kike bitch, it's on stun!"

And then I grabbed onto the fence, swung over, dropped, and was shot. The projectile struck the edges of the fence as it rocketed through, leaving behind a spiderweb pattern of crackling lightning, then skimmed along my shoulder. It felt as if my entire left side went numb for a moment. I gasped, clutching at my shoulder, and then staggered around the corner. We came out onto the far sidewalk. Two cop walkers had been parked nearby, and I saw a cop in a blue uniform. He was, by hideous coincidence, the same cop I had run into earlier today. By worse chance, he recognized me and Tjen. He reached for his service pistol.

Tjen stepped forward and clocked him across the jaw – using the very same move that I had used in who knows how many tavern brawls. "Apologies, officer of the law!" she cried out as I shook my arm. I felt life beginning to return to it, my fingertips tingling. Behind us, I heard a crackling snarl, almost like a heat cutter. That fence was not going to slow the goons down. Instead, I tossed the squid killer down onto the cop's chest, yanked his much more efficient service revolver, and then rushed to one of the cop walkers.

These ones were heavy duty, multi-purpose two seaters, rather than the paddywagon that I had used...earlier today, it felt like a lifetime ago. It had extendable dual legs, that could make it walk almost as tall as a building. It had no heavy weapons, beyond a pair of search lights mounted where a military version would have held heat rays and missiles filled with explosives. It was in park mode, meaning its cab was an easy jump up to reach, and Tjen had gotten into the driver's seat before I had even finished yanking the revolver.

The other two seater, though, wasn't parked.

"Hands up!" a cop shouted from the passenger seat, revolver in his hand as the pilot made his walker take a step forward.

The two goons from Mr. Sinclair – Torg and Tesla – came around the corner. The search light swung to them and the Tesla gunner opened up. A haze of glowing projectiles swarmed the air around the walker's cockpit, several of them striking the metal armor and creating more arcing lines of lightning. The coppers took a step back and then Tjen had activated the walker we were in and started barreling forward. Her first step knocked Torg and Telsa sprawling. Her second almost sent us pitching to the side – the walker reaching too far to the left, the whole thing going spread eagled.

"What are you doing!?" I shouted.

"I must confess at this moment!" Tjen shouted back over the squeal of metal as she yanked the right leg controls around – bringing the foot crashing down onto a model-T someone had parked in exactly the wrong spot. "I do not actually have the proficiency to drive this vehicle."

With the walk of a swaggering, belligerent drunk, we thundered down the street. Cars swerved out of the way, horns blaring, while I looked back. The other police walker was sprawled on its back, and I caught a faint glimpse of Torg and Tesla getting into the cockpit. I hoped, prayed even, that Torg was as bad at piloting as he was at everything else. But then the police walker seemed to spring up to its feet and took after us, running with a loping, graceful stride. I swore.

"Ah hell," I snarled. I looked at my revolver, then leaned around the cab, one hand bracing against the edge of the seat. I tried to not think of the length of the drop, nor the dizzying, swaying motion of Tjen's less than skilled piloting. I took aim and fired. I did not know if the bullet even struck home. What I did know was that the Telsa gunner returned fire and his projectiles started to crackle and spark along the back of the walker. My palm jerked away from the metal, feeling stung as if by scorpions. I shook my palm, hissing loudly.

"Where shall we flee too?" Tjen asked.

I frowned. We could search from Delaware to the moon, but...

"The flying machine port!" I shouted back, nodding.

"Of course!" Tjen said, her eyes widening. "We can take a flying machine to Berlin! Or Vienna!"

"As if Adolph Hitler is an Austrian!" I shot back. The Austrian Empire had lost the 'Hungarian' part of their name to the Panslavs in the aftermath of the Great War, and was barely functional, torn between the Tzar and his Panslav cronies and the many warring German Republics. The idea that the kind of authority it'd take to wreak such havoc would come from that teetering corpse of a state was just too absurd.

Tjen shrugged eloquently – and then walked us into a tram's power lines. The cables wrapped around the walker's knees as neatly as a Brazilian cowboy's bola. Tjen yanked on the controls, managing to get the legs of the machine under us. We skidded, swung around, just in time to see Torg still thundering towards us. I grabbed onto the arm-rests. The two machines crashed together and I was almost torn from my seat. Then we were falling backwards. The impact jarred my teeth together and sent my stolen revolver clattering off my lap. The walker we were in skidded a few feet more – and the clanging alarm of a trolley forced me out of the daze I was in. Tjen groaned and rubbed her head as a brilliant light spilled across us both.

I sat up and saw the trolley rushing towards us – brakes squealing.

I grabbed Tjen. She scrambled to her feet, and we both leaped from the walker moments before the trolley plowed into it. It was still slowing, but the two machines squealed and screeched as they contacted. The walker was pushed to the side, and the trolley rocked – but thank God, did not overset. The other police walker was forced to hang back.

"Come on!" I said, gasping – and winced as I ran. Every step sent pain through dozens of bruises that peppered our bodies. Tjen dragged me to the left on a seeming whim. I was about to object, but then I saw the stairs leading down to the basement. We hurried in and a single kick from my boot stove the rusted lock in. Within, we found a rusted printing press, faded posters for the election of Eugene V. Debbs and his running mate, Flora Hamburg.

I shook my head, slowly. We were in an abandoned socialist party headquarters – ceded when the party had lost the funds to keep it up and left to rot. The ceiling had a sprawling infestation of red weed that no one had tended to – tendrils were smothering the windows, and some reached for the doors. There, I felt the artificial distance imparted on me by Tjen fading...and the grief over my father returned.

She held me as I crouched in the corner, back to a rusted printing press, and cried.


Sinclair stood beside a public bounce-phone booth and sweated profusely. He wiped at his forehead with a monogrammed handkerchief – his fine suit was still streaked with soot and sweat. Not fear sweat. He would have struck any man who dared imply that he was sweating from fear. No. He merely had had quite a stressful and busy night. As he stood there, a rapping sound came at the glass. Turning, he saw a fat banker – likely a Jew, Sinclair thought balefully.

"Are you going to take all day, sonny?" the plump man asked, frowning. "Some of us have calls to make too, you know?"

Sinclair put on his best self effacing smile and said: "Pardon me, God bless."

In real America, one could say 'god bless' in the perfect way. Like most damnyankees, the jew banker didn't seem to even realize he'd been insulted. He did step away and give Sinclair a chance to breathe in. Not that he was afraid. Timothy Sinclair, Imperial Nighthawk of the glorious brotherhood of the Klu Klux Klan, was not afraid of some Kraut. He slipped a silver dollar into the bounce phone and punched in coordinates. The two feed captor tubes glowed to life and the projection disk started to spin. Grainy, green shapes formed before him, then started to show the symbols of the Bell Transcontinental Telephone Company. A tinny recreation of Beethoven played while words scrolled along the bottom: Please Hold.

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