In Hoc Signo
The groaning of yielding steel and the thunderous roar that I knew to be the rupture of the locomotive engine echoed down the valley, and tongues of yellow and orange flame spouted around the bend, igniting the trees on the hillside. It was in this ghastly light that the corpse of the train came into view, still barreling forward under its gigantic momentum. The hurtling wreck was pursued by a brace of the Martian war machines striding athwart the incline, their hideously pulsing, spindly legs mastering the terrain with unnatural grace.
“God save their souls! Let’s go! Let’s go! Oh, it’s too late for them!” McDonald urged me, for stout and dedicated though he was, the hopelessness of the sight unmanned him.
But I could not heed his words. It was as if my body was petrified, and I had no choice but to watch the slaughter unfold. I was beyond the reach of fear or rage. It was the sheer spectacle of the thing that held me, mute and transfixed, mesmerized by the dance of the fire light, the wall of heat, and the cacophony of death.
“What is that?” I pointed to a new source of illumination on the hillside, a roiling ball of blue-green light hovering above the flaming train. It seemed to be darting fire at the tripods, and the machines alternated their volleys between it and the slowing locomotive. The bursts were as bright as lightning, shifting the rainy night into daytime brightness with every crackling burst. The tripod on the left groaned and collapsed under this attack, its leg sheared off at the pivot as its pilot housing released great gouts of fire. The machine on the right seemed to be mortally wounded too, spewing copious amounts of smoke. Belatedly I realized that the inky cloud that oozed out was not smoke, but the lethal chemical these machines belched out to inflict the widest possible havoc on the concentrated masses of helpless city dwellers. I knew, somehow, that this was an act of desperation.
The combatants continued their duel until a swarm of buzzing, explosive bomblets burst from the remaining Tripod and overwhelmed the fighting nimbus. It crashed to earth well in front of the train, smashing the timber and rails of the track until it tumbled down the embankment. The blue-green light faded and the embers of the burning forest were hid by the veil of the Black Smoke.
“Good God, Doyle, hurry before they get us!” McDonald warned, but again I did not heed him.
As I instead headed toward the carnage, toward the poisonous smoke, I heard him call, “Where are you going, you damned fool!”
I myself wondered what had possessed me. I admit now that it was desperation and hopelessness. I was sorely tired of running, hiding, and waiting for death, and I damned those vicious creatures to do their worst. I was enlivened by the fight that intrepid phantasm had given them. Whoever it was – for at the time I thought it was a man, some scientific promethean with the ingenuity and boldness to harness electricity into a weapon great enough to put fear into these unstoppable foes – had reminded me that I had a duty to carry out, and carry it out I should, even though it meant my death. I resolved to see to the safety of any survivors, God willing, starting with that valiant Icarus.
I, too, had electricity at my command as I soon remembered, and lifting it above my head, I ignited the electric signal beacon to give light to my steps and, in a feeble way, to challenge the Martians. How vain! How foolish! And yet this futile gesture gave me inspiration and courage.
I followed the trail of the crash several yards down the hillside, grimly eyeing the viscous folds of the approaching cloud at the margins of my lantern as I descended. The trail of destruction ended abruptly and it seemed that there was nothing left of the wondrous flying machine and its pilot. But then I heard a voice call out; no, not in my ears, but between them. It was like a thought out loud. How else shall I describe it?
“Hasten to me!” it commanded, and I obeyed, somehow able to track this silent voice to its source.
In a pit gouged into the earth amid the scorched and smoldering leaves reposed a being not easily viewed and less easily described. It was neither man nor machine as I had suspected. Its form exceeded by far the alienness of the scrambling, spiderish bodies of the invaders – or of anything else that might conceivably arise in the wildest diversity of the natural world!
(This last observation was formed quite apart from rational evaluation. It was a truth comprehensible only to that exalted part of man’s mind not made of the rude stuff of dust and ash, but that divine organ that perceives all things in perfect clarity, and this knowledge is as terrible and majestic as the thing before which I now cowered.)
It seemed, at first, a pattern of light, like the illusion one sees on the back of his eyelids after the flashbulb, only it was not disordered, but a regular, discrete pattern, like an unfathomably complex snowflake. Nor was it monochrome, but a riot of colors, especially warm shades of amber and crimson, with splinters of the stark blue of electric arcs.
As I stared at this wonder, my whole attention and thought seemed to be drawn into it, and with this new focus I began to discern a form more definitely animate and more terrible...
The Martian onslaught has crushed earth’s mightiest empires and reduced the great achievements of civilization to poisoned rubble, but mankind still endures. From the ruins of England to the desolate American west, unexpected champions arise to confront a foe that has never yet known defeat, and the stakes are nothing less than the survival of the human race.
- Stories include:
- In Hoc Signo: In earth’s darkest hour comes its greatest hero, the Signalman
- The Lost Boy: A fairy tale for the end of the world
- The Devil to Pay: A cursed western vigilante takes his vengeance on the Martians
- The Lights Go Out: As a new Dark Age descends, the Void Knights rise to ensure mankind’s survival
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Meet the Characters
After the shock of the initial Martian victories in Britain, the quiet and steadfast Jamison Doyle was one of the few railway workers to remain at his post. While trying to alert a train to danger, he was trapped by attacking Tripods. He should have died. Instead, he would emerge as the greatest hero of the age.
Possessing unerring aim, the strength of twenty men, and forever followed by hellacious weather, the Cyclone Ranger is a legend of the southwest. Some say that he is the revenge-seeking specter of a betrayed lawman, while others say he is the Devil's own bounty hunter. When the Martians and their bandit allies enslave a small Arizona town, the Incarnate of frontier justice turns his burning eyes in their direction.
Neither man, nor beast, nor divine, the soulless and capricious Fey are bound by fate, and their fate was to be dispossessed of the Earth by humanity. From the aetherial realms in which they hide, they watch as men are themselves dispossessed by the invading Martians. But by returning, will they reclaim their birthright or merely seal their own destruction?
What the Readers Say
"I grew up reading a good deal of Victorian adventure fiction, and so I felt immediately at home in this book. But Population of Loss also seems to improve on that style."
-Richard Rohlin, author of Archers and Ronin
"A taste and a tease!"
"Particularly impressive in the collection is The Lost Boy. Won't spoil it, but it's a great origin story of a particularly beloved character--and a very creative one, considering the amount of material already written on that particular subject."
"Awesome, awesome, awesome!"
"I simply cannot say enough good things about this book. Expertly written...The characters are memorable and to top it all off the world is open source!"
-Brannon Hollingsworth, author of H2O and Skein of Shadows
Perfect For Fans Of...
War of the Worlds
If you loved the style and texture of H.G. Wells' original, but can't get enough Tripods, or you always wanted to see the Martian invasion on a worldwide scale, Population of Loss will satisfy your yearnings.
Not only is the entire Martian War Chronicles series littered with your favorite characters from the classic literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Population of Loss is your gateway to the Ascension Epoch, a world of open source fiction.
Steampunk and Victoriana
If thoughts of secret societies of techno-wizards charting the aether, ghostly vigilantes, mischievous fairies, and superheroes with great big goggles make you giddy, we have you covered.
Crunched for time, but looking for a fresh bit of excitement? Population of Loss is only 43 pages, so you can finish in an hour. Just don't complain if you end up hungry for more!