by Bill Cox
“Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”
— H. G. Wells (1898), The War of the Worlds
My Dearest Miriam,
I write this letter with a borrowed pen and on a scrap of paper in the expectation that it will never be read, at least by human eyes. This statement alone would amaze most back home, but it is the least remarkable aspect of my recent experiences.
I am sure that by now you’ll have received news of my disappearance, along with others of my regiment. I am sorry for the distress this will undoubtedly have caused you, but be assured that the reason was not a matter of a failure of navigation or native insurgency.
I had been leading a company patrol through the South African Veldt. We had just set camp for the night when there was a moment of blinding light followed by unconsciousness. When we came to, we found ourselves in what appeared to be an underground cavern, stripped of our weapons.
Struggling to make sense of our experience, I realised that it was not just the men of the regiment who were present in the cavern. Several other disconsolate souls were there. One fellow, wearing the uniform of a fusilier but of the roughest appearance you could imagine, introduced himself as Campbell.
Keen to understand our predicament, I pestered our unkempt host for information.
“How heavy do you feel?” he asked.
After a moment of puzzlement, I realised that I did indeed feel unusually light. I jumped up and was surprised at the height I achieved.
Seeing the astonishment on my face, Campbell continued. “Yes, you are experiencing a lower force of gravity. This is because you are no longer on Earth. Remarkable as it now seems, you are in an underground penitentiary on the planet Mars.”
Campbell continued to outline the nature of our quandary. “You were abducted by something the Martians call a ‘teleportation ray’, an experimental device not without its limitations. We are prisoners of a race of beings whose technology and intelligence dwarfs our own. I myself was kidnapped with members of my regiment twelve years ago. Most have perished, victims of the vile experiments of the Martians. Only we few remain, kept here no doubt to ‘welcome’ the newest experimental subjects.”
Suffice it to say the following weeks were amongst the most harrowing of my life. Man after man was taken and never returned. Often we could hear the screams of the seized, as unseen horrors were inflicted upon their flesh.
Expecting my own demise to come at any moment, I was surprised and not a little relieved when the abductions ceased. Had the Martians run the gamut of their experiments?
Then the chamber filled with gas and we lost consciousness, awakening in a new metal prison. After several hours in this cocoon, a monstrous roaring pressed us to the floor, unable to move. Eventually this grotesque pressure ended. Like many of the captives, I was relieved, but Campbell looked grim.
“And so it begins,” he explained, “an assault across worlds. The Martians are making their way across the void, ready for a reckoning with mankind.”
“And what of our purpose in this voyage?” I enquired.
“Us? Why, my dear Major, we are the food for the journey.”
So my dearest Miriam, I hear the seal to our chamber turning. We are decided to face our captors on our feet, as men. I expect that I have only moments before I meet my fate. Let me assure you of my undying love, and I pray to God that you will survive the coming conflagration.