6. The Fighting Begins.
Woking, England, 1898.
“William!” gasped Dawn as she started awake.
“Miss?” came a puzzled, sleepy voice out of the half dark.
Sitting up Dawn found herself in bed in a strange room, the curtains were drawn but light shone in around the edges. Looking down at herself she found someone had put her into a nightdress and folded her clothes neatly over the back of a chair next to the bed.
“I undressed you,” Amy came and sat on the edge of Dawn’s bed.
“What?” Dawn looked around in something approaching panic, “Where? I…”
“You’re alright now,” Amy placed a cool hand on Dawn’s forehead, “you’re fever’s gone.”
“Fever?” Dawn thought she was asking too many questions and wasn’t getting any answers; she took a deep calming breath, “What happened?”
“After you,” began Amy, “y’know did wot you did you fainted or sumfing. Mr ‘erbert an’ me waited ‘til some o’ the fires went out. Then we dragged you off the common, then Mr ‘erbert got us a couple o’ rooms at the pub dahn the road a ways, I put you to bed an’ I’ve bin watching you ever since. Who’s William?”
“Thank-you,” Dawn was still a little confused; she looked at the girl, “William?”
“Yeah you said ‘William’ all worried like, is ‘e your ‘usband or sumfing?”
“’usband?” Dawn frowned, “Oh, husband. I’m not married, William’s my little boy.”
“Oh!” Amy frowned a little then brightened, “I s’pose fings is dif’rent where you come from.”
“You’re not joking,” Dawn pushed back the covers and swung her legs onto the floor, “what time is it?”
“Gettin’ on for midday,” Amy got up to help Dawn stand.
“It’s Saturday?” Dawn swayed slightly as Amy rushed to steady her, she felt as weak as a kitten. “Darn-it I must have been out for twelve hours or more.”
“About eleven,” Amy agreed as she gingerly let go of Dawn’s arm; when she didn’t fall down she took a step back, “’ere let me ‘elp you get dressed ‘n’ that. Then we’ll go and see Mr ‘erbert.”0=0=0=0
“Miss Summers!” Herbert sprang to his feet and rushed across the small dinning room to take Dawn’s arm, the other one was being held by Amy.
“I wish you’d stop fussing,” Dawn made patting gestures in the air as she tried to rid herself of the helping hands, “I’m not an invalid, I’m just hungry and thirsty.”
Ignoring her protests Herbert helped Amy steer Dawn to a chair; sat her down and poured her a cup of tea.
“Amy, my dear,” Herbert turned to his slayer once Dawn was seated and settled, “find Mrs Prior and ask if she could make Miss Summers a light meal…”
Lightning fast Dawn held on to Amy’s arm preventing her from going anywhere.
“Screw the ‘light meal’,” she said urgently, “I starving, I need bacon, eggs everything and plenty of it…a pizza would be nice too.”
“Pizza?” frowned Amy, unfamiliar with the word.
“Never mind,” sighed Dawn, “just get me some food.” Picking up her teacup she drained half of it and caught the look Herbert was giving her, “What?” she demanded defensively, “Magic takes it out of you, you know? And that was some pretty major mojo I did yesterday…I don’t usually do stuff like that.”
“What ‘stuff’ do you do?” Herbert asked quietly as he refilled her cup.
“Portals mainly,” Dawn spooned sugar into her tea and stirred, “and ‘word power’ stuff, but I don’t like doing that…it has a bad effect on me…” like making me want to rule the world, she added to herself silently, aloud she said, “So what’s been happening since I passed out?”
“Ah, yes,” Herbert sat back in his chair and sipped his own tea. “After you saved our lives, for which I’ll be forever grateful, if you hadn’t cast your spell that heat gun thing would have literally cooked our goose!” Herbert smiled, but seeing Dawn’s serious expression decided to get on with his story without any more puns.
“We got off the common by crawling through the heather and dragging you along behind us,” explained Herbert, “I’m afraid the jacket you were wearing took a bit of a beating, Mrs Prior, the landlady here said she’d do what she could to save it, in the mean time…”
“Mr Wells!” Dawn gave the watcher a pained smile, “The Martians?”
“Oh! Yes, sorry,” Herbert straightened his tie, “yes the Martians. Well, at about eleven last night a company of soldiers arrived and took up position on the south side of the common. I’ve heard tell that early this morning another company arrived and took up positions on the north side,” Herbert paused as Mrs Prior arrived with Dawn’s breakfast.
“I wired the Council for instructions,” Herbert watched as Dawn started to demolish her meal, “they told me another two companies, a field gun and a couple of Maxims will be arriving here shortly.”
“Instructions?” Dawn asked between forkfuls of bacon and eggs.
“Yes,” Herbert looked around conspiratorially and lowered his voice, “the army have been told to capture the Martians if they can, but they’re to end that menace as soon as possible.”
“And Amy?” Dawn glanced at the girl who’d joined them while Herbert had been filling Dawn in.
“The Council wants her to get in there and slay the bounders!” Herbert patted Amy’s hand as he spoke, “After all they don’t look that formidable…apart from that heat gun of theirs. Amy should have no difficulty creeping into their pit and slaying the so-n-so’s, shouldn’t you my dear?”
“Nah,” Amy smiled impishly, “I’ll sort ‘em right proper I will!”
“Um,” Dawn patted at her mouth with a napkin having finished her breakfast, “I don’t wish to rain on your parade but…what have the Martians been doing?”
“Hmm, yes I see what you mean,” Herbert stroked his chin, “yes we got so wrapped up in our own plans, we mustn’t forget the enemy’s. Well, they’ve been making a devil of a noise in that hole of theirs, great clouds of green smoke, flashes of what looked like lightening and hammering to wake the dead.”
“Sounds like they’re building something,” Dawn pointed out, “I mean anything that could work out how to get here from Mars must have realised that the gravity would be greater here. Maybe they’re building a vehicle of some sort?”
“Yes,” Herbert pondered this new thought for a moment, “like a locomotive or one of those horseless carriages do you think?”
“Yeah something like that,” Dawn nodded, “now, what’s your plan for the slayage?”
“Slayage?” Herbert frowned at the word a little, “Simple really, Amy will sneak up on the crater under cover of night, jump into the pit and slaughter the bar…” Herbert quickly corrected himself, “bounders.”
“Like keeping it simple, eh?” Dawn asked, “Probably best…I don’t think I can help much, I’ll be tapped out of magic for a while, that beam thing really drained me. I honestly don’t think I could float a feather let alone a pencil.”
“Indeed,” nodded Herbert, “do you feel up to a walk? Amy and I thought we’d go and scout out the battlefield as it were.”
“Yeah,” Dawn stood up followed swiftly by Herbert, “the fresh air will do me good.”0=0=0=0
After a certain amount of fussing and tidying, Amy pronounced Dawn to be fit to be seen by the world at large. After being poked, prodded, brushed, tidied and finally having her hair piled up on top of her head in an approximation of what Amy called a ‘proper ‘air-do’, Dawn was glad to get out into the air. Herbert linked her arm through his on one side and Amy’s on the other. At first glance they’d look like a man, his wife and their daughter going for a stroll. Until, of course anyone looked at them closely, Dawn looked far too young to be Amy’s mother and, of course, as soon as Amy opened her mouth anyone would hear things weren’t quite as they appeared. However, as a disguise it was the best they could do.
After the previous day’s bright sunshine Saturday was disappointing with its low dark, threatening clouds and high humidity. Even so there were a fair few people strolling like themselves or riding bicycles here and there along the sandy lanes. In the distance they could see the occasional column of smoke drifting lazily up towards the clouds. Herbert explained that the Martian’s had set fire to several buildings the night before, whether this was by accident or design was unknown.
Here and there they would see parties of soldiers standing about amongst the gorse and heather. Dawn was surprised to see them wearing khaki uniforms, she thought they should be wearing red coats. Herbert laughed and said that was only for parades and home service. These soldiers were wearing their overseas service uniforms, probably on account of the hot weather.
Walking near the railway line they found a group of soldiers having a smoke under the railway bridge where it crossed over the road. To Dawn’s delight these were wearing red jackets, Herbert referred to them as ‘sappers’ and said they tended to be better educated than the average soldier so they might get some useful information out of them. As Herbert and Dawn stopped to chat, Amy broke away from her watcher to question one of the younger looking soldiers in her own way.
As it happened the sappers had little worthwhile information; they’d come up from their barracks near Southampton the night before and had been digging revetments for the field guns all that morning. Herbert explained what he’d seen of the Marian’s heat gun.
“Crawl up under cover an’ rush ‘em, say I,” said one drawing on his cigarette.
“Get aht!” cried another, “What’s cover against this ‘ere ‘eat? Sticks t’cook yer! Wot we got to do is t’go as near as the ground’ll let us, an’ then drive a trench.”
“Blow yer trenches!” laughed another soldier, “You always want trenches; you ought to ha’ bin born a rabbit, Snippy!”
“Ain’t they got no necks then?” asked a short dark man with corporals stripes on his arm; he puffed on a pipe as he spoke.
Herbert repeated his description, with the occasional comment from Dawn.
“Octopuses,” announced the corporal, “that’s wot I calls ‘em. Talk about fishers of men,” he smiled, “its fighters o’ fish this time!”
“It ain’t no murder killing beasts like that,” observed the man referred to as ‘Snippy’.
“Why not shell the darned, beggin’ you’re pardon ma’am, things,” the corporal apologised to Dawn for his coarse language, “strite off an’ finish ‘em? You carn tell what they might do.”
“Where’s y’shells?” asked Snippy, “there ain’t no time. Do it in a rush, that’s my tip, and do it at once.”
Leaving the sappers to their argument on how best to deal with the invaders, Dawn and Herbert walked on. The sound of boot heels on the cobbled road announced Amy’s rejoining of the little group.
“Any news?” asked Herbert as Amy linked her arm through his.
“Nuffin’ much,” Amy sighed, “they ain’t bin tol’ much…but ‘enry there said there was rumours that the gov’ment is still wondrin’ what to do abaht the Martians. An’ another of them cylinder things has landed near Chertsey ‘e finks.”
“There is, is there?” Herbert gave Dawn a significant look, which was totally lost on her; then he looked down at Amy, “Henry, eh?”
“Yes,” nodded Amy, “an’ ‘e ‘ad wondrin’ ‘ands! Things I ‘ave to do…an’ I’m a good girl I am,” the last was directed at Dawn.
“Of course you are Amy,” agreed Dawn.0=0=0=0
At about three in the afternoon they started to hear the measured thump of a gun from the direction of Chertsey. Obviously the authorities had woken up to the danger poised by the invaders and had decided to destroy the second cylinder before it could open. Dawn expressed doubt that something that had been designed to fly through space and crash land on Earth could be blown up by a field gun like the ones they’d seen earlier.
Eventually the three of them sat down in the garden of a public house for refreshing glasses of homemade lemonade and to discuss their plans. In the distance the gun thumped away as a line of smoke rose from over the low hills in the direction of Chertsey. The clouds seemed to get lower and lower still as the air got heavier by the minute, there was definitely a storm brewing.
“You know,” observed Herbert, “it hardly seems fair.”
“What’s that?” Dawn fanned herself with her straw boater.
“Well, those creatures in their pit, surrounded by the might of the British Empire,” Herbert shook his head sadly; “I fear they have greatly miscalculated.”
Dawn of course disagreed, and pointed out once more that anything that could fly all that way between planets couldn’t be that stupid. They argued in a good natured way until about six in the evening, when they all heard a muffled detonation. Just as they were thinking that the cylinder near Chertsey had at last been blown up the sound of a fusillade of shots reached their ears from the direction of the common.
Barely a moment later came a terrific crash like something landing close by, it shook the ground and broke several windows in the pub. Standing up they saw the tops of trees near a large school-like building, about two hundred yards away, burst into smoky red flames and the tower of a nearby church explode into rubble. Next the roof of the school-like building burst into flames and the side nearest the common collapsed as if hit by an enormous gun. One of the pub’s chimneys exploded as if hit by a shot and clattered down the roof to fall in red fragments on the grass. Several women started to scream as men cried out in alarm.
There was a clattering of hooves on cobbles as several cavalrymen galloped by shouting to people to get away as quickly as they could. Standing in a little huddle of near calm, Dawn, Herbert and Amy started to move so as to put the pub between themselves and the common. As they moved they could see more of the surrounding countryside; it seemed every tree was on fire, smoke billowed in great clouds darkening what little sun there was.
In the distance they could hear the boom of the field guns and the rattle of rifle fire followed by a terrific explosion. For a minute or two silence came from the direction of the common. Suddenly the air was split by the sound of more rifle fire and this time the long stuttering rattle of Maxim guns firing long bursts at the invaders. This firing continued for about a minute more, then once again there was relative silence.
Dawn grabbed hold of Herbert’s arm, he was staring off towards the common.
“We’ve got to get out of here!” she pulled on his arm in an attempt to get him to move; Amy grabbed his other arm ready to help Dawn if Herbert proved stubborn.
“Come-on, Mr ‘erbert!” cried Amy, “We won’t do no good if we gets burnt up ‘ere!”
“NO!” cried Herbert pointing towards the common, “LOOK!”
Turning in the direction of the common Dawn saw it as it moved, seemingly on a sea of flame. It raised a canister in its tentacle like arms and fired a beam of invisible heat into a row of cottages. The little houses burst instantly into flame victims of the Heat Ray and the Martian war machine.