Text - "The War of the Worlds" H. G. Wells

close and start typing
It must be, if the nebular hypothesis has any truth, older than our world;
and long before this earth ceased to be molten, life upon its surface
must have begun its course. The fact that it is scarcely one seventh of
the volume of the earth must have accelerated its cooling to the
temperature at which life could begin. It has air and water and all
that is necessary for the support of animated existence.

Yet so vain is man, and so blinded by his vanity, that no writer, up to
the very end of the nineteenth century, expressed any idea that
intelligent life might have developed there far, or indeed at all,
beyond its earthly level. Nor was it generally understood that since
Mars is older than our earth, with scarcely a quarter of the
superficial area and remoter from the sun, it necessarily follows that
it is not only more distant from time's beginning but nearer its end.

The secular cooling that must someday overtake our planet has already
gone far indeed with our neighbour. Its physical condition is still
largely a mystery, but we know now that even in its equatorial region
the midday temperature barely approaches that of our coldest winter.
Its air is much more attenuated than ours, its oceans have shrunk until
they cover but a third of its surface, and as its slow seasons change
huge snowcaps gather and melt about either pole and periodically
inundate its temperate zones. That last stage of exhaustion, which to
us is still incredibly remote, has become a present-day problem for the
inhabitants of Mars. The immediate pressure of necessity has brightened
their intellects, enlarged their powers, and hardened their hearts. And
looking across space with instruments, and intelligences such as we
have scarcely dreamed of, they see, at its nearest distance only
35,000,000 of miles sunward of them, a morning star of hope, our own
warmer planet, green with vegetation and grey with water, with a cloudy
atmosphere eloquent of fertility, with glimpses through its drifting
cloud wisps of broad stretches of populous country and narrow,
navy-crowded seas.

And we men, the creatures who inhabit this earth, must be to them at
least as alien and lowly as are the monkeys and lemurs to us. The
intellectual side of man already admits that life is an incessant
struggle for existence, and it would seem that this too is the belief
of the minds upon Mars. Their world is far gone in its cooling and this
world is still crowded with life, but crowded only with what they
regard as inferior animals. To carry warfare sunward is, indeed, their
only escape from the destruction that, generation after generation,
creeps upon them.

And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless
and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon
animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior
races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely
swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European
immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy
as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?

The Martians seem to have calculated their descent with amazing
subtlety-their mathematical learning is evidently far in excess of
ours-and to have carried out their preparations with a well-nigh
perfect unanimity. Had our instruments permitted it, we might have seen
the gathering trouble far back in the nineteenth century. Men like
Schiaparelli watched the red planet-it is odd, by-the-bye, that for
countless centuries Mars has been the star of war-but failed to
interpret the fluctuating appearances of the markings they mapped so
well. All that time the Martians must have been getting ready.

During the opposition of 1894 a great light was seen on the illuminated
part of the disk, first at the Lick Observatory, then by Perrotin of
Nice, and then by other observers. English readers heard of it first in
the issue of Nature dated August 2. I am inclined to think that this
blaze may have been the casting of the huge gun, in the vast pit sunk
into their planet, from which their shots were fired at us. Peculiar
markings, as yet unexplained, were seen near the site of that outbreak
during the next two oppositions.

The storm burst upon us six years ago now. As Mars approached
opposition, Lavelle of Java set the wires of the astronomical exchange
palpitating with the amazing intelligence of a huge outbreak of
incandescent gas upon the planet. It had occurred towards midnight of
the twelfth; and the spectroscope, to which he had at once resorted,
indicated a mass of flaming gas, chiefly hydrogen, moving with an
enormous velocity towards this earth. This jet of fire had become
invisible about a quarter past twelve. He compared it to a colossal
puff of flame suddenly and violently squirted out of the planet, "as
flaming gases rushed out of a gun."

A singularly appropriate phrase it proved. Yet the next day there was
nothing of this in the papers except a little note in the Daily
Telegraph, and the world went in ignorance of one of the gravest
dangers that ever threatened the human race. I might not have heard of
the eruption at all had I not met Ogilvy, the well-known astronomer, at
Ottershaw. He was immensely excited at the news, and in the excess of
his feelings invited me up to take a turn with him that night in a
scrutiny of the red planet.

In spite of all that has happened since, I still remember that vigil
very distinctly: the black and silent observatory, the shadowed lantern
throwing a feeble glow upon the floor in the corner, the steady ticking
of the clockwork of the telescope, the little slit in the roof-an
oblong profundity with the stardust streaked across it. Ogilvy moved
about, invisible but audible. Looking through the telescope, one saw a
circle of deep blue and the little round planet swimming in the field.
It seemed such a little thing, so bright and small and still, faintly
marked with transverse stripes, and slightly flattened from the perfect
round. But so little it was, so silvery warm-a pin's head of light! It
was as if it quivered, but really this was the telescope vibrating with
the activity of the clockwork that kept the planet in view.

As I watched, the planet seemed to grow larger and smaller and to
advance and recede, but that was simply that my eye was tired. Forty
millions of miles it was from us-more than forty millions of miles of
void. Few people realise the immensity of vacancy in which the dust of
the material universe swims.

Near it in the field, I remember, were three faint points of light,
three telescopic stars infinitely remote, and all around it was the
unfathomable darkness of empty space. You know how that blackness looks
on a frosty starlight night. In a telescope it seems far profounder.
And invisible to me because it was so remote and small, flying swiftly
and steadily towards me across that incredible distance, drawing nearer
every minute by so many thousands of miles, came the Thing they were
sending us, the Thing that was to bring so much struggle and calamity
and death to the earth. I never dreamed of it then as I watched; no one
on earth dreamed of that unerring missile.

That night, too, there was another jetting out of gas from the distant
planet. I saw it. A reddish flash at the edge, the slightest projection
of the outline just as the chronometer struck midnight; and at that I
told Ogilvy and he took my place. The night was warm and I was thirsty,
and I went stretching my legs clumsily and feeling my way in the
darkness, to the little table where the siphon stood, while Ogilvy
exclaimed at the streamer of gas that came out towards us.

That night another invisible missile started on its way to the earth
from Mars, just a second or so under twenty-four hours after the first
one. I remember how I sat on the table there in the blackness, with
patches of green and crimson swimming before my eyes. I wished I had a
light to smoke by, little suspecting the meaning of the minute gleam I
had seen and all that it would presently bring me. Ogilvy watched till
one, and then gave it up; and we lit the lantern and walked over to his
house. Down below in the darkness were Ottershaw and Chertsey and all
their hundreds of people, sleeping in peace.