7. In the Storm.
Near Woking, England, 1898.
Stumbling through the dark, Amy, Dawn and Herbert dodged from cover to cover as they tried to avoid the wandering Martian War machines. The rain lashed down in big, cold drops as lightening flashed occasionally illuminating the patrolling Martians. It must have been nearly eight o’clock now; all firing had ceased at about seven, since then nothing had attempted to halt the Martian’s progress.
Cowering in the shelter of a fallen tree Dawn looked up to see a Martian machine pass by glittering in the lightening and rain. The monster stood on three great articulated metal legs, the height of the entire machine must have been about one hundred feet she calculated. It strode over the young pine trees smashing them aside like a man walking through reeds. The controlling Martian (or Martians, she couldn’t be sure) was housed in a hood-like structure open at the front to the elements, which to her seemed odd.
Long steel-like tentacles hung or writhed from beneath the pilot’s hood, one tentacle held the projector for the heat gun while another held the trunk of a young tree which it swung to and fro as it moved. Behind the hood was a large basket like affair made from steel mesh, Dawn had no idea what the Martian might want it for. The machine must have been moving at thirty or forty miles an hour as it past into the storm lashed night.
“We’ve gotta get under cover!” Dawn cried over the sound of the booming thunder.
“Where?” replied Amy, she was holding on tightly to Herbert’s arm to prevent him from wandering off.
Ever since they had first caught sight of the Martian machine by the pub, Herbert had been in some kind of trance. Dawn thought it could be shock, Amy on the other hand was taking everything reasonably well. Alright the girl was a little stunned by the events of the last couple of hours but she seemed to be handling it better than her watcher. It was possible that the Martians were using magic as well as advanced weaponry. That might explain why Herbert, an otherwise capable and intelligent man was reacting so badly. Of course Dawn, being a magic user herself was probably immune; Amy, being the slayer was likely as resistant to magic as Buffy would be.
There was a terrific flash of lightening followed immediately by a boom of thunder that seemed to be ringing the death knell of the old order. However, in the flickering light of the lightening Dawn could make out the shape of an apparently undamaged house twenty yards down the little road.
“There!” Dawn pointed, “Lets go!”
Leading the way, Dawn ran towards the house her long wet skirt trying to do its best to tie her legs together. Amy followed a few feet behind, half carrying, half dragging Herbert across the rain slick road. Pushing open the garden gate they ran up to the front door; Dawn pounded on the door with her fists, there was no answer.
“No one at home,” she said as she started to shiver in her wet clothes, “break the door down.”
“I carnt do that!” replied Amy shocked at the very idea, “This ‘ere’s private property!”
“This is an emergency,” wailed Dawn, “there’s obviously no one home…now break down the FREAKING DOOR!”
Passing Dawn the limp form of Herbert to hold, Amy hitched up her skirts and kicked the door in with her foot. It flew open only to bounce closed again after hitting the wall inside. Pushing the door open with her hand Amy stared into the darkness of the house. Her slayer enhanced eyes could find nothing that looked dangerous, she took Herbert back from Dawn and they stumbled into the house together.
While Amy led the way into the rear of the building, Dawn shut the door and barricaded it the best she could; after all some one else might have the same idea as they had. Turning she followed Amy into the rear of the house. Finding herself in what appeared to be a large kitchen Dawn slumped onto a hard wooden chair, she couldn’t remember the last time she felt so tired, but there would be no time to sleep.
“Shall I light a fire?” Amy asked searching the shelves by the kitchen range for matches.
“No,” breathed Dawn wearily, “we better not risk it, one of those things might see the smoke and come and investigate.”
“Yeah,” agreed Amy quietly, “but we better get out of these wet clothes…if them Martians don’t get us we’re sure to catch our deaths.”
“You’re right,” Dawn climbed slowly to her feet, “I’ll go look, you look after Herbert, maybe find us some food…something to drink eh?”
“’ere,” there was a flare of a match as Amy lit a candle, “if we can’t have a fire we can risk a candle,” she saw Dawn was going to object. “Look, yer carnt go arahn stumbling into fings, an’ if yer see one of them Martians you can blow it out right quick see?”
Nodding, Dawn took the candle and shielded it with her hand.
“Won’t be long,” Dawn left the kitchen and headed for the stairs, upstairs would be the best place to look for clothes.0=0=0=0
By the time she got back down to the kitchen Amy had found some bread and cheese and a couple of bottles of soda. She said that had she been able to light a fire she’d have been able to cook a proper meal, however this would have to do.
“This is the best I could find,” Dawn dumped several suits of clothes and some towels on the table, looks like you and I are going to have to pretend to be boys for a while.”
The prospect of wearing male clothing actually came as a relief to Dawn; she’d been finding women’s clothes heavy and restricting, she’d wondered how Amy managed to slay in them.
“I’m not cuttin’ me ‘air,” Amy observed sorting through the clothes.
“Not to worry,” Dawn smiled as she made her own selection, “I saw some caps on a stand in the hall, we can put our hair up and hide it under them.”
After towelling her hair if not dry then a little drier, Dawn started to unbutton her soaking wet blouse and skirt.
“’ere!” Amy looked at Dawn, shocked to her very core, “you ain’t gonna strip off in front of Mr ‘erbert ‘ere, are you?”
“Why not,” Dawn was down to her underwear by now and she was still wearing more clothes than she did at home, “He’s out of it, he’s not going to notice anything.”
Herbert was indeed still starring glassy eyed at the wall opposite.
“Well,” Amy murmured uncertainly, “if you fink we should?”0=0=0=0
Both women had finished changing and Dawn was just puzzling out how she was going to get Herbert out of his wet things, when the man in question started to show signs of life.
“What?” he looked around the kitchen with fear filled eyes, “Where? Who?” His eyes fell on Dawn, “Miss Summers?,” and then on Amy, “Amy?”
“Yeah, that’s us,” she rested the back of her hand on his forehead, no fever; she breathed a sign of relief before checking his pulse; strong and steady. “I thought it best we changed into dry clothes and take up a disguise.”
As soon as Hebert seemed alert enough Dawn bundled him off into the next room to dry off and change. Dawn and Amy sat down at the table and opened the bottles of soda, they were warm but still refreshing and Dawn started to feel a little better.
“Do they ‘ave machines like that where you come from, Miss?” Amy asked as she picked at her bread and cheese.
“No,” replied Dawn, “well not walking ones. We have all sorts of machines but nothing like that.”
It made Dawn think; although the Martians were certainly frightening and powerful they didn’t appear really that advanced, not in comparison to things in her own time. She wasn’t a great expert on things military, but she had the strangest of feelings that an army from 2012 would have defeated the Martians about five minutes after they’d left their pit.
Just then Herbert walked back into the room, he stood by the table a bundle of wet clothes in his arms.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” there was just a hint of embarrassment in his voice, “I don’t know what came over me…”
“I think they’re using magic,” Dawn observed, “they must have a ‘Course Fear’ spell working or something, now sit down and eat.”
“If they’re using magic on us,” Herbert sat down and started to eat, “maybe we could use magic on them?”
“Don’t look at me,” Dawn shook her head, “I don’t have that sort of power, the woman that taught me might, but afterwards we’d have to fight her to stop her taking over the world.”
Dawn saw Amy’s puzzled look and tried to explain.
“Look,” Dawn began, “magic comes with a price, morally and physically. Now, I can open portals between dimensions and so it seems, times. This just makes me tired. I could throw both of you around the room…for a while. That vamp that attacked me when we first met? Well, she would have worn me down in a few more minutes.” Dawn took a deep breath, “Then there’s the word power stuff, like I could point at something and tell it to burn and it’ll burst into flames…”
“Couldn’t you…” began Amy hopefully.
“Trouble is,” Dawn smiled and shook her head, “as I told H-G, here, it has a bad effect on me. I get angry and I want to hurt and kill. You see the magic works off emotions and anger is an emotion so it feeds off itself until I’d be totally consumed by it.”
“Oh,” said Amy rather sadly, “then how are we going to fight them fings?”
“I don’t know,” Dawn squeezed Amy’s hand reassuringly, “but I’m sure we’ll find a way.”
“Can you do spells from books?” Herbert asked slowly, Dawn nodded her head. “I was thinking if we can get back to London we’d probably achieve more than scurrying about in the countryside here.”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” agreed Dawn.0=0=0=0
Watching the rain through the window next to the back door (the thunder appeared to have stopped) Amy wondered what it was like to live in a nice house like this. She’d been brought up in a tiny two up-two down terrace house near Greenwich. Her father was a building labourer, her mother cleaned house for the wife of a civil servant. Amy was the eldest of three children; she’d left school at twelve and had worked in a factory until Mr ‘erbert had found her when she was fourteen.
Claiming she’d got a position as a back stairs maid, Amy had moved into Mr ‘erbert’s house and started her slayer training. Like the good daughter she was she sent a portion of her weekly allowance home and visited as often as she could. When she went home she was always shocked at how tired her mother looked, while she in comparison appeared fitter and healthier every day. Her mother always smiled and said how the life of a ‘domestic’ must be agreeing with her.
Now Amy stood watching for monsters from Mars, all things considered she wished she was just a ‘domestic’ or even worked in a factory again; her life expectancy there would probably be longer. Mr ‘H’ had pulled no punches over that, he’d said it was best if she knew the truth and he wouldn’t lie to her. Being the slayer was all fine and dandy but sometimes…sometimes, she just wanted to be ordinary.
Movement caught her eye and her heart nearly jumped into her mouth, her wool gathering had let the Martians creep up on her and her friends. Sighing, she realised that had it been the Martians the first thing she’d have known about it was when the house caught fire and they all roasted to death. No, she could see quite clearly now that it was a man and he looked like he was wearing a uniform. A soldier? Maybe he could tell them what had appened earlier in the day. She opened the door a few inches.
“PSSST!” she hissed loudly, “You lookin’ for somewhere to ‘ide?”
In fright the young man turned and pointed a revolver at her, then seeing what he thought was just a local lad, a servant most likely, he relaxed and lowered his weapon.
“Yes,” he said as the rain streamed off his head and onto his soaked uniform.
“Well,” Amy gestured for him to come forward, “you better come in then.”0=0=0=0
Fifteen minutes later they all sat around the kitchen table, the soldier cradled a glass of brandy in his hand and sat huddled in a blanket his uniform having been hung up to dry.
“Thank-you,” he said shivering a little, “this is very kind of you.” He sipped some of the brandy, “I’m Lieutenant Ponsomby, by the way, late of ‘L’ Battery, Royal Horse Artillery…”
“Late?” queried Dawn.
“Yes,” nodded Ponsomby sadly, “I suppose I am…
Amy, Dawn and Herbert waited for the young man to continue with his story.
“One minute it was like a field day,” he began, “the next…wiped out.”
“Why don’t you start from the beginning, old chap,” encouraged Herbert as he poured more brandy into Ponsomby’s glass.
“We started out from Aldershot early this morning…is it still Saturday?” Ponsomby looked at his benefactors his eyes empty of emotion.
“Just about,” Herbert nodded.
“We arrived at Woking station and we spent the rest of the day sorting out the horses and drawing ammunition,” as he spoke Ponsomby’s voice got louder and he became slightly more animated. “By three or four in the afternoon the battery had been put into reserve and we waited for someone to tell us to do something,” he smiled wryly as he took another sip of brandy.
“Then at about six o’clock the firing began up on the common. The Battery Major, Major Clarke, told me to take my section and cover the common from the ridge north of the common. We galloped off in fine style, guns and limbers bouncing along, harness and equipment all polished, glittering, a grand sight,” Ponsomby smiled at the memory.
“We’d just reached the crest of the ridge; this was maybe half past six or so. I remember seeing great clouds of smoke and fires everywhere. I turned in my saddle to signal the guns to deploy and…” he took a longer drink from his glass, “I suppose my horse must have stepped in a rabbit hole or something. I went down…there was a swishing sound, I felt a wave of heat pass over me then the ammunition in the limbers blew up and I found myself buried under a pile of dead men and horses…the smell was the worst, all that burning meat…”
Ponsomby’s voice faded away as Dawn and Herbert looked at each other, both wondering what to do. It seemed obvious to them that the military were completely outmatched by the Martians. Amy sat down on a chair next to Ponsomby’s and rested her hand gently on his shoulder. He turned to look at her with lifeless eyes.
“Stumble, swish, bang!” Ponsomby laughed bitterly, “Then all gone…wiped out.”