فصل 11

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فصل 11

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Earth Under the Martians

In the last two chapters I have moved away from my own adventures to tell of the experiences of my brother. All through this time I and the curate had been hiding in the empty house where we went to escape the Black Smoke. We stayed there all Sunday night and all the next day - the day of the panic - in a little island of daylight, cut off by the Black Smoke from the rest of the world. We could only wait and be bored during those two days.

I was very worried about my wife. I thought of her in Leatherhead, frightened, in danger, thinking of me already as a dead man. I knew my cousin was brave enough for any emergency, but he was not the sort of man to understand danger quickly and do something about it. These worries stayed on my mind and I grew very tired of the curate’s constant talking. After trying and failing to keep him quiet, I kept away from him in other rooms in the house.

We were surrounded by the Black Smoke all that day and the following morning. There were signs of people in the next house on Sunday evening - a face at a window and moving lights, and later the closing of a door. But I do not know who these people were or what happened to them. We saw nothing of them the next day. The Black Smoke moved slowly towards the river all through Monday morning, slowly getting nearer and nearer to us, coming at last along the road outside the house that hid us.

A Martian walked across the fields at about midday, killing the stuff with steam. When we looked out I saw the country covered with black dust, but we were no longer trapped. As soon as I saw that escape was possible, my dream of action returned. But the curate did not want to leave.

‘We are safe here - safe here,’ he repeated.

I decided to leave him. The soldier had taught me well and I looked for food and drink and a spare shirt to take with me. When it was clear to the curate that I intended to go alone, he suddenly decided to come. Everything was quiet through the afternoon and we started at about five o’clock along the blackened road to Sunbury.

Here and there along the road, and in Sunbury itself, were dead bodies of horses as well as men, turned-over carts and luggage, all covered thickly with black dust. As we passed other small towns, we found them unaffected by either Heat-Ray or Black Smoke, and there were some people alive, although none could give us news. Here too, there were signs of quick departure. I remember a pile of three broken bicycles, flattened by the wheels of passing carts. We crossed Richmond Bridge at about half-past eight. Once again, on the Surrey side, there was black dust that had once been smoke, and some dead bodies - a number of them near the approach to the station.

Then suddenly, as we walked north, we saw some people running. The top of a Martian fighting-machine came into sight over the house tops, less than a hundred metres away from us. We stood shocked by our danger, and if the Martian had been looking down we would have died immediately. We were too frightened to go on and hid in a hut in a garden. There the curate lay down, crying silently and refusing to move again.

But my fixed idea of reaching Leatherhead would not let me rest, and in the evening I went out again. I left the curate in the hut, but he came hurrying after me.

That second start was the most foolish thing I ever did. It was obvious that the Martians were all around us. As soon as the curate caught up with me, we saw either the fighting-machine we had seen before or another one, far away across the fields. Four or five little black figures hurried in front of it, and in a moment it became obvious that this Martian was hunting them. In three steps it was among them, and they ran away in all directions. It did not use its Heat-Ray, but picked them up one by one and threw them into a large metal box which stuck out behind it.

For the first time, I realized that perhaps the Martians had another purpose, apart from destroying human beings. We stood for a moment in terror, then ran through a gate behind us into a garden and hid in a corner until the stars were out.

It was nearly eleven o’clock before we felt brave enough to go out again. We kept away from the road, moving through gardens and some areas full of trees. When we got to Sheen, the curate said that he felt unwell and we decided to try one of the houses.

The one we chose was in a walled garden, and in the kitchen we found some food. There were two loaves of bread, a raw steak and some cooked meat. Under a shelf we found some bottled beer, and there were two bags of green beans and some lettuce. In a cupboard there was some tinned soup and fish and two tins of cake. I am listing these exactly because we lived on this food for the next fortnight.

We sat in the kitchen in the dark and had a meal of cold food, and just before midnight there was a blinding flash of green light followed by the loudest bang I have ever heard. There was a crash of glass, the sound of falling walls, and then the ceiling fell down in pieces on our heads. I was knocked across the floor and my head hit the oven. I lay there unconscious for a long time, the curate told me, and when I woke up he was wiping my face with a wet handkerchief.

For some time I could not remember what had happened.

‘Are you better?’ he asked.

At last I answered him. I sat up.

‘Don’t move,’ he said. ‘The floor is covered with broken plates. You can’t possibly move without making a noise, and I think they are outside.’

We both sat in complete silence, so we could hardly hear each other breathing. Outside and very near was the noise from a machine, which started and stopped.

‘What is it?’ I asked.

‘A Martian!’ said the curate.

Our situation was so strange and unbelievable that for three or four hours, until the dawn came, we hardly moved. And then the light came, not through the window, which was filled with earth from the garden, but through a small hole that had been knocked in the wall. Through this we saw the body of a Martian, watching a cylinder which was still red with heat. When we saw that, we moved as slowly as possible out of the grey light of the kitchen and into the darkness of the hall.

Suddenly, the truth came to me.

‘The fifth cylinder!’ I whispered. ‘It’s hit this house and buried us under the ruins!’

For a time the curate was silent, then he said, ‘God help us!’

For hours we lay there in the darkness, while from outside came the sounds of hammering and then, after some time, a sound like an engine. Towards the end of the day I found that I was very hungry. I told the curate that I was going to look for food, and moved back into the kitchen again. He did not answer, but as soon as I began eating I heard him crawling towards me.

After eating we went back to the hall, and I fell asleep. When I woke up and looked around I was alone. I crawled back into the kitchen and saw him lying down and looking out of the hole at the Martians.

The noises still continued. Through the hole I could see the top of a tree, turned to gold by the evening sun. I stepped carefully through the broken plates that covered the floor.

I touched the curate’s leg, and he moved so suddenly that some bricks slid down outside with a loud crash. I took hold of his arm, afraid that he might cry out, and for a long time we remained still. Then I raised my head cautiously to see what had happened. The falling bricks had left another hole in the wall of the building. Through this I was able to see into what had been, only the previous night, a quiet road. Things had changed greatly.

The fifth cylinder had not fallen on our house, but on top of the house next door. The building had completely disappeared. The cylinder had gone right through it and made a large hole in the ground, much larger than the pit I had looked into in Woking. The earth all around had been thrown up over the neighbouring houses. Our house had fallen backwards. The front part of it had been destroyed completely. By chance the kitchen had escaped and now stood buried under earth and bricks, covered on every side except towards the cylinder. We now lay on the very edge of the enormous round pit that the Martians were making.

The cylinder was already open in the centre of the pit, and on the furthest side one of the great fighting-machines, empty now, stood tall and unmoving against the evening sky. However, at first I hardly noticed the pit and the cylinder, because of the strange shining machine that I saw working there, and the odd creatures that were crawling slowly and painfully across the earth near it.

This machine was shaped like a spider with five legs and a great number of tentacles. With these it was taking pieces of metal out of the cylinder and laying them on the earth behind it. It was doing this so quickly and perfectly that I did not see it as a machine at first. The fighting-machines were extraordinary, but could not compare to this building-machine. People who have never seen these things can hardly understand how alive they looked.

I had seen the Martians themselves once before, but only for a short time, and then the sight had almost made me sick. Now I was more used to them, and was in a good position with a lot of time to study them properly. They were the strangest creatures it is possible to imagine. They had large, round bodies - or perhaps heads - about a metre and a half across. Each body had a face in front of it. This face had no nose - I do not think they had any sense of smell - but it had a pair of very large, dark eyes, and just beneath these a kind of v-shaped mouth. In the back of the head, or body - I do not really know what to call it - there was a flat surface like the skin of a drum, which we now know worked as an ear. Around the mouth were sixteen thin, whip-like tentacles, arranged in two groups of eight. These worked like hands.

As I watched the Martians, they seemed to be trying to raise themselves on the hands, but with their increased weight on Earth this was impossible. It may be that on Mars they moved around on them quite easily.

Most of the space inside their bodies was taken by the brain. Besides this they had a heart, but they had no stomach because they did not eat. Instead, they took fresh blood from living creatures and used a tube to put it straight into their own bodies. This idea seems horrible to us, but at the same time I think we should remember how disgusting our meat-eating habits would seem to an intelligent rabbit.

In three other ways their bodies were different from ours. They did not sleep, and because they had very simple bodies they never seemed to get tired. On Earth they could not move without effort, but even at the end of their time here they remained active. In twenty-four hours they did twenty-four hours of work.

Also, strange as it may seem, the Martians were absolutely without sex. A young Martian, we now know, was born on Earth during the war, and it was found growing out of the body of its parent, just like some young plants.

A final difference seems very unimportant. Germs, which cause so much disease and pain on Earth, have either never appeared on Mars or they got rid of them a long time ago.

It is generally supposed that the Martians communicated by sounds and by moving their arms. But no human being saw as much of them as I did and lived to tell the story, and I can say that I have seen four, five or six of them slowly performing the most difficult work without sound or any other signal. I know a little of psychology and I am absolutely certain that they exchanged thoughts.

While I was still watching their slow movements in the sunlight, the curate pulled violently at my arm. I turned and saw an unhappy face and silent, moving lips. He wanted to see what was happening. The hole was only big enough for one of us to look through, so I had to stop watching them for a time while he had his chance.

When I looked again, the busy building-machine had already put together several of the pieces of metal from inside the cylinder into a shape that was very like its own. Down on the left a busy little digging-machine could be seen, sending out small clouds of green smoke and working its way round the pit, making it bigger and piling the earth up over the top. This was what had caused the regular heating noise. It whistled as it worked, and no Martian seemed to be controlling it.

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