Warning: the following uses language appropriate for the 1890s. Characters express attitudes that the neither the author of this story nor this site endorse.
For how and why this story was created, see here.
An H.G. Wells story for The Navy and Army Illustrated
By J.T. Mulholland
Editor’s note: For the greater good of Her Majesty’s Empire, certain details have been changed or omitted from this text. What you are about to read has been transcribed from the journal of Brigadier Gordon Courtney.
Chapter I: The Explosion
No one would have believed that in the hot August of ninety eight that the jungles of India would play host to a terrible weapon. No one could have dreamed that we’d be studying and scrutinising this machine as if it were bacteria that swarmed and multiplied in a drop of water. Few men even considered the possibility of a weapon capable of such devastation. And yet soldiers immeasurably more courageous than most battled this war machine and, slowly and surely, they won their fight against it.
Five days ago, in the early hours of Monday morning, my regiment and I were woken to the sound of an explosion coming from the Indian jungle, followed by the shriek of our horses. It were as loud and thunderous as a hundred cannon firing into the heavens, shaking the ground as if it were a minor earthquake. We all rushed out of our tents, arming ourselves against an unseen enemy. Instinctively, groups of men made formations, readying their weapons against whoever, or whatever, caused the explosion. I would have felt a sense of national pride for these men had I not been preparing myself for battle.
We surrounded the entrance to the jungle, anticipating the enemy’s charge. And yet nothing emerged from the trees. What greeted us instead was a queer glow of green light, shimmering through the trees. It was pulsating as if it were a heartbeat, humming softly with the low growl of a predator. We were captivated by this unearthly light: it had an almost hypnotic effect on us.
Quickly, we awoke from the daze, sharply gathering our senses back together. I called forth one of my captains, a man by the name of James St. Gabriel. If there were one man who embodied the greatness of the British Army and all it stood and fought for, St. Gabriel would be it. He came from a long line of army captains, was the top of his classes and, in my opinion, had the makings of a truly great general. I knew he was the best man for the task at hand so I ordered him to gather a group of forty artillerymen and lead an expedition into the jungle. After Captain St. Gabriel had selected his best men, they marched off to investigate the explosion.
Had I been blessed with Prometheus’s foresight, I would have lead the entire regiment to face the monstrosity within the jungle.
Chapter II: The Survivor
Despite its thunderous roar, I had deduced that the explosion must have been miles away, as the force required to generate that deafening noise would have obliterated our camp had been near us. It had rained a few days earlier, so I knew that the risk of a widespread forest fire was unlikely. I sent a telegram to my commanding officer General Nicholas Stewart, informing him of the expulsion. His response was for us to hold our position and to keep him updated.
As expected, Captain St. Gabriel and his men were away for hours. To keep up moral, I ordered my regiment to continue with their daily routines such as exercising, target practice, and so on. The afternoon passed and there was still no sign of Captain St. Gabriel. I speculated that the distance between the explosion and our camp must have been great, so at the time it was reasonable to assume that they would be back just after supper. However when night fell and there was no sign of the captain or his troops, I retired to my tent. I began to consider the reasons for the absences of Captain St. Gabriel and his troops. I knew that he was a capable man and that his men were competent, yet I felt some uncertainty over their fate.
In the early hours of the morning, the regiment and I were once again woken by a disturbance. Yet this time we awoke to the cries of a man. I rushed out my tent to find the source, joined by the rest the regiment. Stumbling into the camp was a young artilleryman: he was unarmed, his uniformed singed and his face bloodied. He was taken to the medical tent for examination where he kept frantically repeated “They’re dead, it killed them.” His name was Malcolm Childers, and as soon as he calmed down I began to question the poor devil.
Chapter III: What The Artilleryman saw
Editor’s note: What you are about to read is based on the first-hand account of artilleryman Privet Malcolm Childers. Due to the sensitivity of the material certain details have been changed or omitted.
The night before the explosion we ‘ad a gay ol’ evening, playin’ beggar me neighbour, football, Hoggins playin’ his ‘armomica, it were a nice night. I coulda sworn I even saw a green shootin’ star, though Hoggins though’ I were daft. I was one of the men picked by Captain St. Gabriel to go an’ investigate the expulsion, along with Hoggins, Bates an’ Chalmers. We ventured into that ‘orrible jungle, Captain St. Gabriel leading the way. It were awful. Insects buzzin’ and chirpin’ all round us, beasts ‘owlin’ and screechin’ like banshees: I don’t know ‘ow any civilised man could enter this place, yet Captain St. Gabriel lead the way. We were all talkin’ about that expulsion, loud like the trumpets of Judgement Day. Hoggins reckoned it were the French that gone and did it, Chalmers though’ that the Hindoos an’ the Mohummedans was fightin’. I dunno how far we’d walked – must’ve been miles. Though dawn broke, the jungle were still dark, yet we knew where to go as we’d been followin’ that queer green glow. I dunno much about the locals but I knew that nothin on earth coulda made that glow.
Eventually, we arrived at the site of the expulsion: the glow ‘ad gone dim but there were smoke everywhere. The area was ‘ot, ‘otter than normal, the ground charred and the trees scorched. The smoke cleared and what we saw were anythin’ but normal. It were like a giant brass bullet, wedged deep into the ground, with only the tip poking out. What were queer about it were that it were covered in some red dust, like nothin’ I’d ever saw. The tip were slowly turnin’, makin’ a loud gratin’ noise like a stone grinder. Captain St. Gabriel slowly crept forward. We followed. Suddenly, the tip fell off! Crashing onto the ground, it knocked us off our feet, though Captain St. Gabriel quickly got up again. Bates pointed at the giant bullet, shoutin’ at us to look. Something were crawlin’ out of the giant bullet – it were like a walkin’ water tower made from brass. It ‘ad great big red goggle eyes and some long beak on its face. It ‘ad ‘undreds of snake-like arms, writhin’ like an army of worms. One of its arms were long and holdin’ what looked like a giant ‘andgun.
It began to climb down the giant bullet, takin’ only seconds. Its mechanical legs were long enough to step over villages. When it reached the ground it began to walk toward us. We took aim at the brass giant, and the giant pointed its gun at us. Four men approached the brass giant, aiming their rifles at it. Suddenly there was a flash, somthin’, I dunno, some invisible ray leaped from man to man setting ’em ablaze! The machine ‘ad begun its assault.
Chapter IV: The Heat Ray
Captain St. Gabriel ordered us to take cover behind the charred trees. The machine began set the surroundin’ jungle alight; some of the men were consumed by the fire. Bates and Chalmers began to fire at it. A couple other men joined them. They fired a hail of bullets at the machine, but they bounced off the brass giant. The machine pointed its weapon at them, firing its terrible heat ray. Bates and Chalmerss were engulfed in a burning inferno, turning into ash. More men joined in, shooting at the brass giant. It just stood there. Our bullets had no effect on it, like bows and arrows against lightin’. Its round red eyes were movin’, followin’ us as we moved. Suddenly its snake-like limbs shot out, growin’ longer and longer. It began to reach out for some of the other men, grabbin’ them, flingin’ them in the air like they were dolls. Hoggins thought the machine was toyin’ with us, like a child knockin’ over tin soldiers.
The brass giant turned its attention to Hoggins and me, its eyes fixed on us. We were fixed to the spot. Just as the machine was about to fire, Captain St. Gabriel pushed Hoggins and me out o’ the way. The hero shouted to hold our fire and ordered us all to retreat into the jungle. We headed towards the trees but the brass giant fired towards our direction. It fired its terrible heat ray, obliterating a good number of our men. We ran into the jungle but the brass giant wasn’t far behind, knocking down rows upon rows of trees with each step. Only a handful of us had escaped, but the heat ray wasn’t far behind, setting alight the trees that surrounded us. The flames consumed Hoggins, and I couldn’t see Captain St. Gabriel. I thought we’d be goners, that this inferno would be our grave.
I closed my eyes, waiting for either the fire to consume me or the brass giant to finish me off. As I braced myself for death, someone grabbed my arm, dragging me away from the machine’s path. They dragged me through the flames, singein’ my uniform, scorching my skin. I opened my eyes to see that my rescuer was Captain St. Gabriel. Despite sufferin’ dreadful burns on his face and arms, St. Gabriel stood tall. “Childers”, he said “I have a plan”.
Chapter V: St. Gabriel’s plan
We escaped from the burnin’ trees, findin’ safety near a stream. We washed our faces, tryin’ to cool down our burns. “Where do ya think it came from?”, I asked Captain St. Gabriel. He looked up at me, dryin’ his face off. “What do you think, privet?”.
“Do ya think it came from Mars?” I asked him.
“Wherever it came from, we cannot let that monstrosity reach civilisation,” replied he.
I asked him how he planned to stop the brass giant. He walked over to a large tree nearby, ripping off some jungle vine. He began to examine it closely, and looked at me with confidence.
“The machine is a tripod, if we manage to trip up one of its legs, it might fall down and based on its size, it might have a nasty fall.”
The Captain and I began collecting as much jungle vine as we could carry. We followed the path of the brass giant – it weren’t ‘ard ‘cos of the path of destruction it laid in its wake. It took us an hour to track it down.
We came to the outskirts of a village. I could see the villagers frozen in fear as they gazed upon the three legged monstrosity. It began to fire upon the villagers, reducing their homes to ash. As they fled from the brass giant, Captain St. Gabriel and I charged towards it.
We rushed in and out through its legs, wrapping them with jungle vine. As we tried to pull the machine down, it pulled us along as it moved one of its legs, snapping some of the jungle vine. We pulled and we pulled but the brass giant’s strength was superior. The machine extended its snake like limbs, reaching out to grab some of the straggling villagers, snatchin’ ‘em up into the air like they were fish on an ‘ook. Some of the young men in the village saw Captain St. Gabriel and me tryin’ to take down the brass machine. Suddenly they came running towards us: some were even carryin’ rope. I dunno why they did what they did. Maybe they were inspired by our action. But whatever it was, they came to help. Captain St. Gabriel guided them as they wrapped rope around the brass giant’s legs.
He ordered the villagers and me to pull the monster down together: it were like sommit out of Gulliver’s Travels I read about in school. We pulled at the brass giant’s legs but it struggled. It extended out its mechanical arm that carried its gun: I could hear it turnin’ on like it were an engine. Before the brass giant could engulf us in flames, I saw Captain St. Gabriel charge out, firin’ his pistol at the machine’s right eye. In that moment I realised what he was tryin’ to do: distracted the machine.
As we heard the brass giant’s gun geared up, I feared the worst. I dunno whether it was out of fear for the gallant captain’s life or if his courage inspired us, but whatever it was, it gave me an’ the villagers the strength to pull the machine down to the ground. It crashed onto the earth. Its impact shock us good, like it were an earthquake. I was knocked to ground, face first, cutting me forehead.
In a moment I was up. But I was alone, for the villagers had fled. The machine that wrought death and devastation upon our group was layin’ before me, dead.
I called out for Captain St. Gabriel but I ‘eard no answer. I searched the charred village for him but the area was deserted. Then, at the foot of the machine, I saw the scorched outline of a man. I had to face the terrible truth that Captain St. Gabriel was dead. He’d saved my life but this was not the time to mourn: I needed to get back to the camp. I needed the truth to be told, no matter how fanciful it sounded. So I made the long journey back to the camp where I was taken to the medical bay.
I have told others of what happened, all I wish for now is a chance to close my eyes.
Chapter IV: The Aftermath
Editor’s note: What you about to read has been transcribed from the journal of Brigadier Gordon Courtney.
At the time, Private Childers’ account sounded like balderdash – like something from a student writer. I thought the poor boy had gone mad. Perhaps what he had seen was some phantasmagoria induced by some trauma or drug. Regardless, I led a troop of eighty men to the location of this “fighting machine,” guided by Childers’ description. When we arrived, I felt a sense of defeat, not only for the revelation that Childers’ brass giant was irrefutably real, but for the fact that Captain St. Gabriel and thirty-nine other brave souls had died taking down this monstrosity.
Despite this, I kept to the purpose as is rightfully expected for the British Army. I ordered fifty-five of my troop to stay and guard the machine against the depredations of the natives as I headed back to the main camp to send a telegram to General Stewart.
At first, General Stewart was rightly sceptical of what I told him. Eventually, he agreed to visit the scene where the brass giant lay. He arrived a couple of days later, ready to have me thrown into a madhouse for telling him such a fanciful tale – or worse, demote me. My troops and I led General Stewart and his troops into the jungle. Once General Stewart laid eyes upon the mechanical monstrosity, he ordered one of his men to rely a message back to the Secretary of State for Colonial Enterprise, that the British Army had acquired an “unearthly wonder of potential use.”
Once General Stewart had sent his message, immediate action was taken. For the next month or so, our regiments dismantled the fighting machine, shipping it to England piece by piece. To prevent potential public panic and to ensure the machine never feel into the hands of our enemies, Her Majesty’s Government agreed to keep the incident a secret. The official explanation was that a meteorite had crashed in India and that it was being taken to mainland Britain for the universities to study.
When the machine arrived in London, a select group of our munitions and geography men were brought in to examine it. Having analysed the metal and dirt samples from the machine, they concluded that it could not have been built on earth: a few even theorised that it may have been built on Mars. One scientist named Ogilvy was sceptical, stating that the chances were a million to one.
With the Secretary of State’s permission, the situation was taken off the British Army’s hands as The Royal Society took over the investigation. All parties involved were required to sign some new type of government documentation, a sort of “official secrets act” if you will. Afterwards everything went quiet, though recently I have heard of some new confidence in our dealings with Prussia.
It has been seven months since the incident with the fighting machine. I still think about the men who died because of the mechanical monstrosity, but I know that if it had not been for their ingenuity, pluck and self-sacrifice (that God in his infinite wisdom bestowed upon them) countless more of our lives may have been lost.