8. The Destruction of Weybridge and Shepperton.
Near Woking, 1898
Sunday morning broke clear and sunny, white fluffy clouds sailed across a bright blue sky as if it was just a normal summer Sunday. However, from the windows at the front of the house there could be seen lines of smoke reaching up into the sky, they were nowhere near as bad as the night before. Most of the fires appeared to have been put out by the storm, of the Martians there was no sign.
“Probably gone over to Chertsey,” observed Ponsomby, who seemed to have recovered from his experiences of the previous day; Dawn suspected that dreams of what had happened to him would stay with him for the rest of his life. “They say that another cylinder landed,” added Ponsomby as he pulled on his slightly damp uniform and buckled on his Sam Brown belt.
It was quickly decided that they should leave their shelter, Dawn and Herbert agreed that they needed to get back to London. Ponsomby wanted to rejoin his battery, if any of it still survived, and Amy just wanted to get away from a situation that she felt helpless to influence.
Having been on active service Ponsomby insisted that they took bottles of water and any food that they could find with them. He drew the line at blankets as there were plenty of buildings for them to spend the night in if needs be. After taking everything useful they could find the little party of four stepped out into the sunlight. The trees and grass were still wet and the sun’s rays bounced off the droplets making them glitter and shine like diamonds. They saw no one as they made their way from cover to cover and further away from the scorched common and its scenes of destruction. It would have been a pleasant Sunday morning stroll had it not been for the smell of wet ash and burnt meat that hung in the air.
“I say, sir,” Ponsomby walked briskly along side Herbert as they made their way down a tree covered lane, “your wife and her maid seem very capable. You’re very lucky to have them.”
“Wife?” for a moment Herbert looked at Ponsomby a puzzled frown on his face, then realisation dawned. “Oh, yes I see what you mean. Miss Summers is a…well, I suppose you’d call her a colleague, and young Amy, well she’d my ward, my pupil as you might say.”
“Oh sorry,” Ponsomby glanced over his shoulder at Dawn and Amy who were a few steps behind them, “still, they’re very capable all the same…I say what’s this?”
Coming around a bend in the lane they saw a gate blocking the way across a railway line. There on the rails stood the blackened remains of a theatre train, obviously hit by the heat gun the night before as it made its way to London. Big black crows flapped about the ruined carriages as the smell of burnt and rotting meat hung heavily in the air.
“What’s wrong?” asked Dawn as she and Amy caught up with the two men, “Oh!” she said as she caught sight of the train and gagged a little.
“Maybe we should find a way around?” suggested Ponsomby seeing Dawn’s face go white for an instant.
“No!” replied Dawn firmly, “we’ll cross here…it’ll be quicker.”0=0=0=0
After crossing the line the little party of fugitives made there way along the lane, after no more than half a mile they came to a halt when they saw three soldiers on horseback making their way cautiously towards them.
On meeting the men Ponsomby discovered that they were a patrol of the 8th Hussars sent by Brigadier Marvin to locate the Martians. Ponsomby pointed back down the lane explaining that the Martians were no more than a couple of miles distant. The horsemen clattered off heading towards the invaders while the four refugees made their way on towards Weybridge.0=0=0=0
Very soon they came to the fields near Weybridge, looking off into a meadow between two small woods they could see a battery of guns lined up and facing towards Woking.
“At least they’ll get one fair shot,” observed Herbert as they walked by.
The closer they got to Weybridge the more preparations they saw to meet the Martians. Gunners sweated in the sunshine as they dug in their guns. Men with Maxim guns set them up where they could command the greatest fields of fire; while all around infantrymen dug trenches or helped evacuate the civilians.
“Bows and arrows against the lightening,” muttered Ponsomby when he saw all these warlike preparations, “they’ve not seen that heat gun yet.”0=0=0=0
No one in Weybridge could tell Ponsomby where Brigadier Marvin’s headquarters was, so the little party made themselves comfortable in the market square and ate some of the food they had brought with them. Crowds of people passed them by, some giving Dawn and Amy curious looks as they sat dressed in their male clothing. Others didn’t seem to notice the little group of four strangers; they were too busy making their way towards the railway station. Small groups of infantrymen walked around warning any who’d listen to leave now or take cover in the cellars when the fighting began.
Remaining in the square until about midday, Ponsomby eventually decided that he’d look for the military headquarters further on. Presently they all found their way down to the river near Shepperton Lock where the Wey joined the Thames. Here the Wey had a triple mouth; at this point boats could be hired and a ferry crossed the river. On the Shepperton side was an inn with a lawn stretching down to the water’s edge and beyond that the tower of Shepperton church rose above the trees.
Here they found an excited crowd of fugitives, not yet panicking but casting nervous looks over their shoulders as if expecting to see the Martians at almost any minute. There were already too many people for the boats to handle; people were panting along under heavy loads and not caring who they bumped into as they barged their way towards the river. Here the party stopped and Ponsomby turned to his fellow travellers.
“Well, I’ll be off,” he said with a smile as he shook everyone’s hand, “I better try and find out who’s in charge and make my report. Good luck and thanks for all your help…I don’t think I could have made it through last night without you all.”
Wishing each other good luck and with admonitions to be careful Ponsomby strode off into the crowd, he paused to wave once then was lost in the sea of people.
“I hope ‘e’ll be alright,” sighed Amy as she stood on tip-toe hoping to catch a last glimpse of the young man, “’e was a bit tasty!”
“I’m sure he will,” Herbert rested his hand on Amy’s shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze, “I’m sure he will,” he repeated.
“What do we do now?” Dawn cast worried eyes over the growing crowds of people.
“Let’s try and find a boat,” Herbert started to push his way towards the river, “once we’re across the river we’ll be able to catch a train back to London, Shepperton station’s not that far.”0=0=0=0
Walking closely behind Herbert as he pushed himself towards the river, Dawn couldn’t help but think that it would have been better to let Amy lead the way. Her slayer strength would’ve soon cut them a path down to the river. However, Herbert’s Victorian sense of chivalry wouldn’t let him push Amy to the front, he’d probably not even thought of it.
Dawn was just about to say something when she felt rather than heard a distant concussion. A dog started to bark hysterically somewhere in the crowd, then the sound came again from the direction of Chertsey. It was a gun firing, the fighting had begun. Almost immediately Dawn saw clouds of smoke rise into the air as guns started to fire heavily from the Shepperton side of the river. A woman screamed at the sound of the firing and the crowd milled about in confusion, unsure whether to press on and try to cross the river or head for the cover of the surrounding buildings as they’d been told.
As if directed by some six sense Dawn turned to see a puff of smoke far up river rush straight up into the sky. The ground heaved under her feet nearly unbalancing her and an explosion shook the air. Several windows in the nearby houses broke as the crowd gave a collective gasp of fear. Once again the guns across the river fired adding their own noise and smoke to the battlefield.
“THERE THEY ARE!” shouted a man in a blue jersey as he pointed to the south west, “Yonder! D’yer see ‘em? YONDER!”
Turning rapidly Dawn saw four Martian machines appear far away over the trees and across the meadows that lead towards Chertsey. They strode hurriedly towards the river with an odd rolling motion at a speed she estimated to be about twenty miles an hour. The guns across the river fired again and Dawn could see puffs of smoke that she assumed must be shells exploding around the Martians. None of the Martians went down; the fire didn’t even seem to cause them to pause in their headlong rush.
Feeling herself being dragged towards the river, Dawn imagined what it would be like if it had been missiles firing at the Martians, like the ones she’d seen on the news or in films. She felt sure that the Martians would soon be falling in heaps of burning twisted wreckage…if only. Dawn started to call up her magic, maybe there was something she could do maybe if…
Turning at the sound of a shout of fear coming from the collective throats of the crowd Dawn saw a fifth Martian advancing obliquely towards the river. It’s armoured body glittering in the sun; it grew rapidly larger as it approached. It raised a canister in its tentacles and the ghostly beam of the heat gun struck the town instantly reducing buildings to burning ruins.
The guns across the river fired again and again at the first four machines, once more Dawn saw the shells explode around the Martians, but this time one of the Martians appeared to stagger, then slow and pull itself out of the line before stopping completely. Dawn cheered at the top of her voice jumping up and down in her excitement, maybe there was hope after all.
Feeling something tugging at her arm Dawn turned to see Herbert holding on to her arm and trying to drag her across the little shingle beach towards the river, while Amy pushed people away who threatened to knock them down in their rush to get away. Herbert’s mouth was moving, but over the sound of the guns, the cries of the crowd and the burning buildings she couldn’t hear him properly.
“HEAT…!” yelled Herbert at he pulled her towards the river, “GET IN…WATER…GUN!” he pointed frantically at the river, then looking up he screamed, “OH MY GOD!”
The foot of the fifth Martian slammed down on the little beach sending people and pebbles flying in all directions. All around her people screamed and ran in panic; the Martian didn’t appear to see or care about the creatures under its feet. It raised its canister in its metal tentacles, pointed it across the river and fired. Watching, frozen in horror Dawn saw the trees burst into smoky flame, she heard the ammunition belonging to the guns explode and the faint sound of screaming men and horses as they died in that fiery hell.
Dawn stood transfixed as she stared up at the Martian war machine, there must be something she could do. Here she was with all sorts of magics at her finger tips and there seemed to be nothing she could do to affect the events around her. If only…a thought entered her mind like ice cold water washing her fear and anger away. If only she could open a portal, maybe she could...
Starting to say the words of the spell, it was more of a wish really, she looked around for something sharp. By chance she saw a broken bottle lying on the shingle, still chanting determinedly she stepped towards the broken glass and picked it up. Above her the Martian stood secure in its superiority over the creatures that swarmed all around it and fought against it so ineffectually.
As she came to the end of the spell Dawn slashed her hand with the glass and sprayed blood up into the air in a fine red fan. Two hundred yards in front of the Martian a small portal opened. From within it flashed a black object that trailed smoke as it sped towards the Martian. The missile flew towards its target almost too fast to be seen. The Martian didn’t even react until it was too late. The missile hit the war machine in the open front of the hood that sheltered its controller.
There was a loud bang, a flash and the Martian’s hood seemed to bulge before it shattered into a million pieces scattering the Martian within to the four winds.
“GOT YOU! YOU FREAKING BASTARD!” screamed Dawn as she felt hands once again drag her towards the river, “THAT’LL TEACH YOU TO MESS WITH ONE OF THE SUMMERS’ SISTERS!”
She felt water seep into her boots as Amy and Herbert pulled her further into the river. Dawn, however, only had eyes for the Martian. It didn’t fall, although its driver was most definitely dead. It stumbled on across the river staggering like a drunken Scotsman on Socky Hall Street at New Year. Dawn almost laughed out loud at the machine’s antics as it pirouetted on one foot and radically changed direction. It looked like a man who had almost lost his balance as it staggered through the smouldering trees on the far side of the river. It tried to regain its equilibrium but tripped over its own feet and crashed into Shepperton Church reducing the Norman tower to rubble.
Bouncing off the ruin of the church it appeared to regain control of itself for an instant before collapsing like a felled tree into the river. As the heat gun projector hit the water it exploded in a roar of instantly boiling water and gravel from the river’s bed. Frantically people started to struggle from the river trying to escape the wave of boiling hot muddy water that raced up and down stream. Most didn’t make it and screamed in agony as the wave hit them and dragged them under.
“QUICK!” Amy yelled pointing, “INTO THAT BOAT!”
She headed towards a small rowing boat half a dozen yards away; she pulled Dawn and Herbert behind her as she ploughed through the water. Above them two Martians appeared, they didn’t fire as the strode across the river and stopped by the downed machine. The wave of death was almost upon them now as Amy bodily threw Dawn and Herbert into the boat before clambering in just as the wave hit and pushed the boat further up stream.
As the boat drifted behind a small island in the choppy steaming water, they gasped trying to catch their breath as they watched the two Martians pick up the third and carry it back across the river towards Chertsey.0=0=0=0Royal Armoured Corps Firing Ranges, Lulworth Camp, Dorset, 2012.
The missile sprang from its launcher and flashed down the range towards the sea. It left a trail of white smoke behind it as the bright glow of its motor accelerated it to nearly the speed of sound. Just as it was about to hit its target something like a hole appeared in the air in front of it; the missile went through the hole and vanished. The men operating the launcher looked up in confusion while officers on the firing point raised their binoculars to their eyes and searched for the wayward missile. It had vanished as surely as if it had never existed.