From the church steeple, Brass could use his electric eyes to gaze out at the surrounding English sunshine. The gentle rolling hills led into the distance, tinged with scraps of early morning fog and curling spirals of smoke. A gentle babbling brook wound through those hills, passing by a stretch of gray, rocky road. It was the kind of bucolic paradise where shepherds would take their flocks, ladies would bicycle, children would play, and games of cricket would crack to life. Now, it was under attack. Brass's eyes zoomed at the horizon. Martian Walkers, a score of the great, three-legged machines, emerged from the morning fog and marched their way along the fields, in the direction of the church. Brass's gears groaned. The invasion was already under way.
He hurried down from the church steeple, scrambled past the pews, and emerged outside, where Lady Foxglove and Ivy waited in the morning sun. They overlooked the British military expedition, sent to meet the Martians. Red-coated infantry, bearing pith helmets that had shaded them from foreign suns, had set up a number of sandbags around a half-dozen artillery pieces. The infantry troopers guarded the artillerymen as they prepared the guns. A few cavalry soldiers rode around the sandbags, sabers at their sides.
Colonel Ranjit Singh approached Brass and his friends. The Sikh soldier had been placed in charge of this force. He stroked his stiff black beard as he approached, one hand resting on the handle of his scimitar. "Well, Mr. Brass?" Colonel Singh asked. "Do you see them? I can make them out as well, but only the outlines. Is it truly them?"
"That's right," Brass agreed. "A score of the Walkers, coming here fast."
Lady Foxglove gripped her parasol tightly. "A terrible thing, for the tread of foreign invaders to fall upon the soil of your homeland."
"Perhaps my father felt the same terror," Colonel Singh replied. He squinted into the distance. "Yes, I can see them. We will load the cannons and give them a volley as they approach, then strike them with rifle fire. I do not know how effective a cavalry charge will be against the Martians, but the Life Guards regiment of Horse stands ready."
Ivy shuddered. "I don't think it will work."
"She's right, colonel." Brass pointed at the Martian Walkers. They seemed like shadows moving against clouds as they came through the fog. "The Martians got rockets that stir up big old explosions. They got some sort of heat gun too, sets everything afire. I seen smoke from the steeple, so they've been using it. They've got flying machines too and God only knows how many other confounded unholy weapons. Your cannon and rifle won't make no different against them."
"That is most disheartening, Brass Sahib," Colonel Singh replied. "What do you suppose I do?"
"Retreat. Fall back to a place you can truly defend – and think of a scheme that'll work. You need a hammer to help with nails. We'll need something else to fight the Martians." Brass turned to Ivy. "Luckily, we've got a master inventor right here."
"I suppose I could create something to hold off the invaders." Ivy adjusted her spectacles. "Though I make no guarantees."
"But in the meantime, I agree with Mr. Brass," Lady Foxglove said. "We should flee."
A major of the Life Guards rode closer, the plumes of his gaudy helmet waving in the air. "Are we discussing a retreat? My word." He glared at Colonel Singh. "I would have thought your people were made of stronger stuff, colonel." He removed his helmet and bowed to Lady Foxglove. "Major Barrymore Booth at your service, my dear. And let me just say that I consider it a rare insult to serve under some turbaned Hindu, to say nothing of the earning of White Feathers for cowardice."
"Better a White Feather than a tombstone," Brass replied.
Major Booth adjusted his sweeping moustaches, which connected neatly with his bristly sideburns. "Rot, I say! Utter rot. There are no tombstones in the future of Her Majesty's Empire – only the never-setting sun." He pointed up ahead with his sword. "Let these Martian devils come. My cavalrymen shall sweep them from the country."
Brass turned and looked over the road. The Martian Walkers drew closer, their metal feet stabbing into the earth and kicking up grass and dirt as they moved. Ivy looked them over and moved closer to Brass. He clasped her hand. Now, it was too late to run.
Colonel Singh seemed to realize that as well. The foremost Martian Walker strutted into view. The assembled soldiers gasped as the gawky machine, pointing at its curved top and its jointed, prehensile arms. The infantry dropped into a red firing line, aiming their rifles. Colonel Singh turned to the artillerymen. He nodded and orders rang out to load the guns. "Prepare to fire! Lively now, lads!" Artillery lieutenants shouted the orders. Powder and shell went into the guns. Colonel Singh drew his scimitar and held it up. The first Martian Walker stepped closer, towering over the defenders of England. Its shadow covered the gray road.
"Fire!" Colonel Singh shouted the order. The artillery pieces heeded the command, unleashing their volley into the Martian Walker. Great clouds of smoke burst into the air, joined by the flash and scream of shells. Brass knew that sound well. The three cannons bellowed and hurled their shots into the air. They struck the Martian Walker, one blast walloping the cabin on top, another smashing a leg, and a third grazing the front of the alien machine and falling away in a shower of sparks. The smoke cleared. The soldiers stared at the Walker.
It stood tall for a few moments, frozen in mid-stride. Then its leg splintered and broke. The entire conveyance collapsed, falling into the center of the road. Its legs crashed next to it. The cabin rolled on its side and fell into the grass. The Martian Walker lay still. The soldiers let out a cheer. Some struck up 'The Royal Grenadiers,' belting out the words of the song. "Some talk of Alexander! And some of Hercules! Of Hector and Lysander and such great names as these!" Brass listened to the words, which sounded hollow in the countryside. In the distance, the other Martian Walkers drew closer. The artillery crews struggled to reload to fire again.
Major Booth smiled down from his charger. "You see? Toppled as easily as some heathen chieftain under the display of modern arms. I dare say we shall win this day with ease." He smiled at Brass. "What do you say to that, you silly American machine?"
"You don't understand the enemy," Brass said. "And it's too damn bad, because he understands us just fine." He turned to Ivy. "Get the lizards. Bring them over here right quick." Ivy let out a slight gasp. "Hurry, little sister!" Brass cried. Ivy nodded quickly and hurried away. Brass turned back to the road. The artillery pieces unleashed another volley, firing into the advancing Martians. Their shots streamed down into the earth, casting up torrents of dust and smoke. The soldiers ceased their song and watched. Even Major Booth gripped the reins of his white charger and perched tenuously in the saddle. They stared at the road.
Two Martian Walkers emerged from the smoke, and then a third. Rockets streamed down from the Walkers, glowing inwardly with alien light. They thundered to life before the infantry, blasting up storms of dust and smoke. Brass called to them. "Fall back! Abandon your guns, boys! We'll find another place to make our stand!" The Martian Walkers drew closer. The heat guns glowed at the bottoms of their cabins. Their beams laced the earth, casting up showers of steam. One blast struck an artillery piece, melting the steel and causing the shell inside to explode. The artillerymen dove to the side, avoiding the burst of fire and shrapnel.
Ivy came back, riding on her lizard. Lady Foxglove and Brass's lizard followed, the obedient mounts hurrying straight through the blazing heat beams, panicked horses, and clattering rifles. Brass and Lady Foxglove hurried to Ivy. Behind them, more blasts from heat waves slashed into the ground. The woods burned, along with the grass before the road. One heat blast struck the church steeple, cutting it in half. Blazing chunks of stone clattered onto the soldiers as they struggled to retain their ranks.
Brass hopped into the saddle of his lizard. "Ride on back!" he cried. "Hurry – down the road." He called ahead to Colonel Singh, who stood by the artillery pieces. "Colonel, tell your boys to retreat! I'll try and hold off the Martians so you can limber up them guns and get them out of here."
"Are you certain, Brass Sahib?" Colonel Singh asked. Fire blazed around him, reflected in his outstretched sword.
"You should run with us, Mr. Brass." Ivy leaned over and gripped his hand. "You can't simply stay here. How do you intend to prevail against all these Martian Walkers? And there are more of them marching in down the country road every moment."
"If we try running now, they'll catch up to us and cut us down," Brass said. His eyes rested on Lady Foxglove. She knew as well as he did what they had to do. "But I can buy you some time. As to my plan – don't you fret about it none. I've got me a fine welcome for these Martians." He tugged at his reins, pulling away from Ivy. "Colonel, get your men moving now." Brass cracked his heels. "I'll catch up with you a ways down the road."
Ivy started to ride after him, but Lady Foxglove grabbed her arm. "Trust him, Miss Armstrong," she offered. "Now come along."
Colonel Singh raised his voice. "Pack up the guns!" he ordered. "Fall back down the road. Keep your order." He turned on his heels, waving for them to come with him. The artillery crews raced to lash their guns to their teams of horses, while the infantry stood up and shouldered their rifles. The Life Guard cavalry even formed an orderly column, with Major Booth avoiding protest. The soldiers moved back, heading down the road and away from the advancing Walkers. The red-coated infantry fired a few remaining volleys, then turned to depart.
That was fine for Brass. He rode past the soldiers, heading straight for the Walkers. Heat rays burned past him, casting up curtains of flame. The lizard's nimble claws weaved through the fire as Brass drew closer. He reached to the sling at the side of his saddle. An elephant gun rested there, taken from the armory Brass had visited before joining up with Colonel Singh's expedition. The heavy elephant gun, with an ivory stock and a long barrel, seemed unwieldy and uncomfortable in Brass's arms. He still managed to aim it, preparing the gun with both hands as his lizard galloped closer. He turned to the legs of the first Walker and fired.
The jolt of the shot raced through him, banging against the metal and making his gears spin. The heavy bullet – big enough to kill African wildlife – flew from the gun and struck the Walker's leg. The steel creaked and sent a spray of sparks into the air. Then the leg snapped, broken like a thin twig. The Walker teetered for a few steps on the remaining two legs. It collapsed, the platform on the top smashing down into the road on its side. It rolled toward Brass and he moved his lizard back as the cabin spun past him.
He reloaded, sliding another shot into the breach and bringing it to his shoulder again. Brass swiveled to face the next Walker. The elephant gun thundered again, the shot echoing over the crackling fire in the woods and on the grass. Another leg shattered and another Walker went down. The other Walkers now turned their attention to Brass. Their heat guns glowed pale blue, preparing to burn him into ash. He had bought the soldiers enough time. Now, he had to flee as well.
"So long, fellows." Brass slid the elephant gun back into its sheath. He turned and cracked his heels against the lizard. It released a panicked grunt and broke into a gallop, racing ahead of the heat rays. The light from the rays rushed down, blazing after the lizard's trail. Walls of flame rose on both side of Brass. One cut through the stone of the road in front of him, and he gave the lizard some spur. Hissing madly, the lizard leapt through fire. Heat blazed against Brass. His gears hummed and the hems of his frock coat caught flame.
Another heat beam cut down, stabbing past Brass and striking his arm. Brass pulled his arm to the side, imagining the metal melting away and dripping down his chest. His arm gleamed red hot under his sleeve and the gears inside screamed. Brass clutched at his sleeve, trying to still the growing heat. He slipped in his saddle. Brass reached to the reins to steady himself. His fingers brushed past them and he tumbled back. He would fall from the saddle, strike the dust, and be burned into nothingness by the Martin heat rays.
Another arm caught him. "Mr. Brass!" Ivy had ridden back. She reached out and grabbed his arm, steadying him and keeping him in the saddle. Sweat poured down her cheeks from the blazing fires growing in the grass and road. "Hold on, Mr. Brass – we need to flee." Another glowing rocket struck the earth next to them, showering them in dirt. Brass's electric ears could scarcely hear Ivy's panicked cries. But she was right. They needed to flee.
He steadied himself, pulling himself back into the saddle and grabbed the reins. Brass reached into his pocket. He had grabbed more weapons beside the elephant gun. Candles of dynamite, their wicks tied together, rested in his pocket. Brass grabbed the bundle and tossed it back, hurling it almost blindly in the direction of the Martian Walkers. He didn't bother to light the fuse. The fires started by the heat rays would handle that.
"Come on, little sister." Brass reached out and grabbed Ivy's hand. "Salvation awaits."
They rode ahead, galloping straight down the road. Behind them, the bundle of dynamite exploded. Dirt and smoke flew into the air, tinged with fire. The blast struck the legs of another Walker, shredding the steel and bringing it down into a squat before it crashed onto the ground. Brass and Ivy rode ahead, galloping their lizards to safety.
The expedition hurried ahead of them, Lady Foxglove waiting at the back. She perched on her own lizard, her parasol extended to protect her from the rain of ash. The infantry, Life Guards, and horse-drawn artillery walked ahead of them, trudging together through the growing smoke. The roar of fires grew behind them, the flames moving to the woods and the meadows. Brass glanced over his shoulder, looking back at the countryside. The peaceful stretch of country road had been turned into an inferno, presided over by the devilish outlines of the Walkers. The expeditionary force had failed completely. Now, they were on the defensive. Brass patted out the flickering flames clinging to his coat and continued riding ahead, joining Ivy and Lady Foxglove. Earth wasn't licked yet. Hopefully, they would still have a chance for victory.
After several hours of retreat, they reached a place that seemed perfect for the defense – a countryside residence of some noble family called Mimblegate Manor. The vast manor house, a rectangular hulk of austere gray stone behind wrought iron gates, provided cover, while the garden behind the main manor offered place for the artillery to prepare. Flowers bloomed in the garden and servants stood in their livery along the road, watching the bedraggled troops approach. It seemed strange that this peaceful manor could be so clam, while smoke from the Walkers curled up into the sky from further down the road.
Colonel Singh talked to the servants and they hurried to unlock the wrought-iron gates and let the soldiers inside. He turned back to Brass and the others. "Here, we will make our stand." He pointed to the garden. "The artillery can stand there. We can put riflemen and spotters in the second story. It is easily defensible, even against the Martians."
Major Booth leaned down from his saddle. Since the skirmish on the road, he had lost all of his confidence. Even his helmet's plumes seemed to droop. "My god, man – what are you saying? A defensible position? Against those heat rays? Are you daft? We have lost, colonel. There is no point in battle against the Martians."
"That is not so," Lady Foxglove explained. "We've seen them defeated. On Mars itself, for one."
"And in Nonsense Land," Ivy added.
The soldiers trudged past, following the servants and heading to the grounds of the manor. The artillery pieces crumbled through the open gate, the horses leading them winded from the journey, along with their crews. Brass looked at the soldiers. They already seemed defeated, terrified and awed by the sheer power of the alien invaders.
That seemed to be Major Booth's state as well. "I do not know about those place, but I now see only one chance of our survival – complete surrender and the embracing of the Martian way of life." He removed his helmet and tossed it into the dust. "We must wave the white flag and begin discussing terms of surrender for the whole of humanity. If we surrender now, it may go well for us. The Martians may make us governors or satraps of the planet. Perhaps they will be better at governing things than the current people in power."
"No need of a White Feather for you," Brass muttered. "A yellow one seems more fitting."
"Well, what is your solution, you wretched machine?" Major Booth demanded.
Brass turned to Ivy. "You're the genius, little sister. What do you think?"
"There may be a weapon that will prove useful against the Martians," Ivy mused. "Their Walkers are constructed a very lightweight metal – which perhaps could be an excellent conductor of electricity. If a charge is unleashed upon the Walkers, it may travel throughout the vehicle, stopping the alien machine in its tracks."
Lady Foxglove watched the last of the cannons roll past the gate. "And how would this charge be delivered?"
"I'm not certain. By shell, maybe?" Ivy asked. "I'll have to ride back to London. I can return to the Royal Academy of Sciences and enlist the other scientists in constructing the weapon, then return here and supply the newly created shells." She tapped a polished shoe into the dust. "I will hurry as fast I can to produce the new weapons. But I will have to leave you here, at the mercy of the Martians. I don't know how long it will take."
Major Booth wailed. "Oh, dear God – we are truly lost! We cannot put all our hopes in the hands of this girl ragamuffin." He sank down to his knees and held out his arms, as if he expected the Martians above the clouds to hear his cries. "We must surrender! Welcome the invading Martians! Give in to their wise and benevolent rule and—"
Colonel Singh drew his pistol. "Silence, major – or I will execute you for treason." He turned to Ivy. "Go now."
"Yes, sir." Ivy hurried into the saddle of her lizard. She paused before riding away and looked at Brass. "It pains me that we never found my father. I suppose circumstances have changed. I can no longer search for him across the myriad dimensions. I wish I could."
"He knows, little sister," Brass said. "And he'd be proud of you."
Ivy smiled weakly. "Thank you, sir."
Then she turned away and galloped down the road, racing past the soldiers and the bulky, gray form of Mimblegate Manor. Brass took off his broad-brimmed hat and waved to her as she sped into the distance. The clicks of her lizard's claws faded and then she vanished from view. The hopes of that scraggly band of soldiers – and maybe of the whole world – rode with her. Brass, Colonel Singh, and Lady Foxglove dismounted and headed through the gate, then walked around the mansion and reached the garden. Major Booth crawled after them. The artillery pieces had been deployed, turned toward the forest. The Life Guards had dismounted and joined the infantry behind the hedges and stone walls, turning their guns to the woods. That was where the Martians would appear.
Lady Foxglove held her parasol over her head. "Have your men dig trenches in the woods, colonel," she advised. "They shall trap the Martian's feet, and slow their advance – making them easy targets for the artillery."
"It will be done," Colonel Singh explained. "We load our cannons now with round shot, ready to fire as soon as they approach." He paused and looked at Lady Foxglove and Brass. "Do you think we are truly doomed, as Major Booth says?"
"Oh dear me, no." Lady Foxglove offered Colonel Singh a radiant smile. "And even if we were in danger, we mustn't show it. Why, I remembered when I was a little girl, younger than Miss Armstrong even, and the rebel Sepoys came against us at Lucknow. Though we knew that we would all be massacred if they entered, we showed no fear and expressed no terror, even when we saw the sun gleam on their scimitars. Why, I recall dear mother leading me and the other children in a song. We played games and danced while our doom awaited outside and every feeling of despair was soundly banished." She patted here parasol. "An optimistic disposition is a fine weapon. I think that as long as we have it, we will never be conquered."
"True," Colonel Singh said. "But did not the Zulu and the Pathans and my people have similar dispositions? And were they not conquered as well?"
"That was different," Lady Foxglove replied.
"Jawing about history don't matter now." Brass faced the woods. His electric eyes zoomed in over the tops of the trees. "I can make out the first of the Walkers, coming through the smoke. Setting everything alight as they draw closer. Best get those trenches dug, colonel. You want my advice? Plant some dynamite in the holes as well. That way, when the shells or the flame ignites them, it'll cause a big old blast that might knock some of the Walkers down."
"Very well." Colonel Singh walked toward his men, raising his hand. "Sergeant, take your infantry and begin digging sinkholes within the forest. Plant some explosive charges in the hole, if we have the dynamite or gun cotton to spare. And double-time, if you please!" The sergeant of the foremost squad of infantry nodded to his men. They hurried out into the forest, carrying shovels to prepare the traps. Brass hoped it would be enough.
Colonel Singh turned back to Brass and Lady Foxglove. "I will see to the guns. Stay here and keep an eye on the forest. Let me know when the Martians draw closer."
"Hell," Brass muttered. "When they get close, we'll all know it." Colonel Singh hurried to the artillery pieces. Brass withdrew the elephant gun from the saddle of his lizard. He reloaded the weapon and adjusted the sights, preparing for the arrival of the Walkers. Lady Foxglove stood next to him, her mechanical eye focused on the trees. "That true?" Brass asked. "About you dancing around and playing in India during the Mutiny?"
The sun shone against Lady Foxglove's mechanical eye, as if she had fire trapped in her socket. "No," she admitted. "We wept and cried and prayed for the mercy that we knew we would not receive. There was little hope at all to be found in that cursed place."
Brass released a mechanical sigh. "Hopefully, they'll be more here."
"Hopefully," Lady Foxglove agreed. She pointed over the tops of the trees. "It seems the Martians are sending out an advance force. Those little mechanical flying devils. They're automatons like you, Mr. Brass, and there's rather a lot of them buzzing over the trees." Brass followed her pointing finger. Sure enough, a swarm of the flying mechanical Martian insects buzzed over the neat woods and approached the garden.
Small heat beams glowed between their open pincers, and their jointed legs clicked and waved, each ending in a deadly spike. Brass grabbed his elephant gun and ran closer. The Martian flyers would reach the woods and fall upon the infantry lying out the traps. They had to be warned and helped. Lady Foxglove realized the same thing. She and Brass ran to the woods without a word. He hefted his elephant gun and she carried her parasol. They raced together under the trees as the Martian flyers swarmed down to attack.
"Colonel!" Lady Foxglove called to Colonel Singh, who stood before several infantrymen as they dug the holes and planted the dynamite. "Pull your men back to the gardens before the manor! We'll cover you!" As she spoke, the first Martian machine swooped down past the trees. Its pointed legs sliced into the nearby trees, shaving off sprays of bark. The heat ray inside glowed, preparing to fire down and burn up the first clump of soldiers.
Before it could fire, Brass took aim with his elephant gun. The heavy rifle thundered in his hands, the blast thunderous in the forest. A flock of birds fluttered up from the distant trees, taking to the sky in a panicked cloud. The Martian flyer barreled on for a bit, smashing its way through the branches and shredding wood, and then drooped and descended. It flew down in front of Brass, crashed into the earth, and rolled along – carried by momentum. A thick hole big enough for a fist filled the mechanical insect's forehead. The strange alien automaton rolled to a stop and exploded. White hot and purple fire blasted onto the trees. Brass turned away from the sudden light and heat. He turned back to the sky as more flyers swooped down.
By then, the infantry started to move back. Colonel Singh gave the orders. "Fighting retreat, boys!" He ordered. "Keep the fire onto the flying devils!" He fired his own pistol, cracking away at an approaching flyer. Sparks flew from the machine as the bullets sunk home. A shot to the underside destroyed the Martian machine, causing it to exploded in midair. Chunks of metal spun through the air and rained down, falling hard into the dust.
The soldiers moved back, joined by Brass, Lady Foxglove, and Colonel Singh. Their guns thundered through the forest, aimed at the Martian flyers. Brass fired with his elephant gun, bringing down another Martian flyer. The smashed flyer crashed into a tree and exploded, smashing and folding around the wood. Scattered shots from the riflemen joined in, keeping the flying machines back. Still, the buzzing metal creatures drew closer.
They reached the edge of the forest. A small stretch of grass separated the flowerbeds and gazebo of the garden from the forest. Brass and the others hurried toward the shelter of the garden. The Martian flyers zoomed overhead, preparing to attack. Lady Foxglove pointed to the gazebo with her parasol. "That provides some cover – head there, boys, and hold them off!" She turned around and raised her parasol, taking aim with one hand as she pounded across the lawn. The parasol fired, shooting some manner of explosive projectile into the foremost Martian machine. The machine vanished in a thunderous blast of smoke. Lady Foxglove always seemed to have another lethal trick up her sleeve – and Brass was glad of it.
He didn't have time to reload the elephant gun. Instead, he swung the heavy rifle over his shoulder and went for his revolvers. Brass drew out both pistols and aimed them upwards, pointing them at the first Martian flyer as it swooped downwards. His pistols barked together, punching shots into the nearing flying machine. He cocked and fired the revolvers, smoke bursting from the barrels of the gun as the flying machine tilted downwards. His shots smashed the metal features of the machine, but didn't pierce its shell. It swooped down. Brass stood his ground and kept shooting, even as the flying machine rushed in to attack.
Its jointed legs lashed out. One wrapped around Brass's arm and carried him upwards. Another stabbed for his chest, but couldn't pierce his metal chest. The translucent wings of the flying machine buzzed in an invisible blur, carrying him upwards and away from the ground. Brass struggled to hold onto his pistols. The glowing eyes of the flying insect swiveled to face him. Brass's feet kicked feebly. He had to destroy this machine quickly, before its claws opened him up and ripped him apart. He rammed his pistol against the Martian machine's glowing eye.
"Reckon you'd best put me down." Brass fired, blasting two bullets through the eye. Colored glass shattered and the bullets tore into the machine's brain. Strange shattered devices and green goop – some sort of alien fuel perhaps – sprayed from the wound. The Martian machine dropped and slammed into the dirt. Brass rolled from the wreck, landing hard in the grass while his feet ached. He struggled to stand as more Martian machine buzzed around him. Heat blasts slammed into the dirt, casting flame across the glass.
Lady Foxglove reached him. "Come along, Mr. Brass." She extended her parasol, opening up the folds and providing some cover. "I think we'll take a walk through the garden and reach the gazebo. A fine stroll, don't you think?"
Brass struggle to his feet. Bits of fire flashed around them, flickering on the grass. "Sounds like a right enjoyable time." He joined Lady Foxglove, hurrying back to the gazebo. Lady Foxglove caught fires and sparks against her parasol. The powerful yet lightweight fabric kept them safe as they made their way to the ornate, curling pillars of the gazebo.
The infantry made their stand there, joined by some of the cavalrymen with their rifles. Colonel Singh directed them, shouting orders over the hum of the machines' engines and the crackling roar of fire. "Reload. Make ready. Take aim – fire!" Their rifles thundered together, unleashing a disciplined barrage into the flying Martians. Several machines dropped, their lighter armor pierced by rifle shells. The machines collapsed, falling suddenly into the burning field or amongst the trees of the forest. The infantrymen and cavalry troopers kept up a good rate of fire. Brass joined in, still firing with his pistols. The Martian machines dropped, one after the other. Some exploded, showering fire and metal over the garden. Their pieces lay sprawled before the gazebo.
Colonel Singh lowered his revolver. "Cease fire!" he ordered.
The gunfire stopped. Brass marveled at the discipline of the British soldiers. Even against a fantastic foe, they maintained their ranks and their ordered volleys. A passing breeze brushed aside the puffs of white smoke from the rifles. The Martian machines lay smashed in the grass, mud and turf smashed aside from their crashes. None moved. Fires sparked and grew in the grass and amongst the trees, casting up countless thin lines of smoke.
"Well done." Brass began reloading his revolvers. "That's the way to beat these Martians, colonel. You just dig in and hold your ground. Same as with Johnny Reb in the war. Same as with Apache or Lakota now, more or less." He paused and his gears creaked with apprehension. "Then again, this was just a scouting party."
"A scouting party?" Colonel Singh repeated.
"Aerial scouts, sir," Lady Foxglove agreed. "I'm sure Her Majesty's Forces will have them in time. Right now, we must make do with conventional guns. Have your men hold their position, Colonel Singh. The main force of the Martians will be here presently."
Brass withdrew the elephant rifle. "I'll try and hold them when they come. Might buy you some time and—"
Cries came from the artillery spotters. They pointed over the tops of the trees in the forest. Brass's electric eyes zoomed in – though he didn't need his advanced vision. The Martian Walkers had arrived, far more than the ones who had stalked down the country road during the earlier skirmish. Those must have been merely the vanguard, while this was the main force of Walkers. They came three abreast, weaving through the forest and already preparing their heat rays and rockets. The Walkers stepped around the trees, their legs occasionally extending to carry them over the canopy. Their cabins swiveled about, taking in the grounds of Mimblegate Manor. Brass could see at least two score Walkers closing in, with more hidden by the smoke and mist.
The British soldiers could see the vast numbers of the enemy as well. Some removed their pith helmets, while others sank down and started to pray. Major Booth openly wept. He folded up in the flower garden, rolling about as he cried. Even Colonel Singh seemed taken aback. Brass knew how they felt. Ivy and her miracle weapons were nowhere in sight and even if she did arrive, the Walkers still had them outnumbered and outgunned. Brass didn't know how they would make it out of there.
Luckily, Lady Foxglove took command. "They will soon be in range!" she cried. "We've set the traps. We can hold them here. Fight for your empire, boys. Fight for your queen – but most of all, fight for your families and the whole of the human race." She raised her parasol like it was a general's sword. "Load the guns and fire when ready!"
The cannons thundered, hurling their conventional shells at the Martian Walkers. The cannons aimed low, firing at the traps the infantry had set. Brass's gears hummed as the first shells raced into the forest and exploded. A moment later, the dynamite and gun cotton went off, filling the forest with flame. The blast tore apart the legs of the first Walkers, knocking the great war machines down. They collapsed into the forest, their wrecked forms scarcely visible behind the trees, smoke, and fire. The artillery reloaded and fired again, setting off more explosive traps. One Walker lost its footing and smashed its cabin against a tree, breaking the wood and then impaling itself on the broken trunk. The remaining two legs wiggled madly before going still. Brass didn't know if the New Lords themselves could survive the destruction of their machines. He began to hope that they couldn't – for earth's sake alone.
Despite the barrage, the Martian Walkers drew closer. The first emerged from the woods and stood tall in front of the mansion, a spindly tower with a circular cabin. A pair of rockets streamed from its underside, rushing over the heads of the soldiers and thundered into the manor. The whole earth seemed to rock with the blast. Glass shattered and chunks of masonry spilled down, tumbling onto the grass and the flowerbed. The artillerymen ducked beside their guns to avoid the spill of dust. Another missile hummed toward the gazebo, zooming easily across the grass as it raced toward its target. Brass's gears churned as he watched it approach.
"Get out of here!" He grabbed Lady Foxglove's shoulder. "Come on , your ladyship! This fancy heap of stone and iron ain't gonna survive a hit from that rocket – you too, Colonel Singh. Pull your men out now!"
They scrambled out of the gazebo. Brass and Lady Foxglove hurried down the steps after the soldiers and then the rocket slammed into the center of the decorative house. It exploded in an eruption of flame, shattering the gazebo and spraying steel and marble into the air. Two pillars of the gazebo vanished in the fire and the rest crumbled to pieces and tumbled into the garden. The shockwave from the blast struck Brass and Lady Foxglove, knocking them hard onto the ground. Brass's gears roared as he rolled over and forced himself to his feet.
He reached for the elephant gun. It lay on the ground, next to the smashed gazebo. Brass scooped up the elephant gun and took aim at the Walker, preparing to blast apart one of its three legs and bring the entire machine down. He sighted down the barrel when he realized that the muzzle of the gun had been smashed, ripped asunder by the rocket's blast. Brass dropped the useless weapon into the dirt. He'd have to get another – but the Martians would probably roast them all first.
Already, the Walker's heat rays began to glow. Brass turned to Lady Foxglove. "We've got to bring that confounded machine down. Got any notions on how best to destroy the infernal contraption?"
Lady Foxglove unscrewed the handle of parasol. The curved length of metal popped free. A length of stout cord connected it to the rest of the parasol. Lady Foxglove continued tugging at the handle until she had a good length of rope. She handed it to Brass. "They do this in America to cows, do they not? Lasso them and drag them about? Well, you will now lasso a Martian. Attach it to the leg and pull. Simple enough, is it not?"
"Goddamn, Lady Foxglove." Brass took the handle and the rope. "You are something else."
He swung it around, spinning it over and until the hook and the rope formed a blur. Brass took a few steps closer, still swinging his makeshift lasso. The Martian Walker noticed him, swiveling about and readying its heat ray. That's when Brass let the handle fly. It flew out, the rope extending behind it. The curve of the handle struck the Martian's leg, bending around the thin steel strut. Brass tugged at the rope until it went taught. The cord extended, but refused to break. Brass increased his grip on the cord and started to pull.
Lady Foxglove joined him, grabbing the handle with her fingers and pulling. Colonel Singh waved to some of the biggest soldiers. They joined in, grabbing the rope and pulling. The hook pulled at the Martian's leg, dragging it through the dirt and the flaming grass. "Pull, lads!" Colonel Singh cried. "Pull for your lives!" It was bizarre – a tug-of-war with the fate of earth in the balance. Still, Brass pulled at the rope. The others joined in. The Walker's leg dragged outwards, causing the whole machine to lose its balance. They kept pulling. Brass's gears screeched with the effort and then the leg sloped downwards and gravity did the rest.
The Walker tilted, swiveled and crashed down into the dirt. One its legs snapped clean off while the other jabbed into the air, waving uselessly as the cabin crunched into the burning grass. The cabin lay there, resting uselessly in the ground. The parasol handle flew from the broken leg and retracted, taking the cord with it. Brass and the others fell into the dirt, dropping the parasol. The handle and cord snapped back into the parasol, making the device whole once again.
"There we are." Lady Foxglove gripped the parasol. She stood up and smoothed down her dress. "Nicely done, fellows. I believe that's the only time an alien being has been defeated using a parasol." She glanced back at the woods. "Now, form a firing line by those hedges. More Walkers draw near."
The Martian advance continued. Their spindly forms pushed through the trees, shoving aside branches as they closed in on Mimblegate Manor. A few more rockets streamed out, striking the garden and some of the ornamental trees. Shattered flowers and decorative stones spun into the air, followed by flickering bursts of flame. The artillery pieces fired again, but to little effect. The traps had already been sprung and the Martian Walkers could simply stroll in and use their rockets and heat rays to wipe out all resistance.
Still, the soldiers would fight – and Brass would fight with them. He drew his revolvers, pulling back the hammers and aiming at the Walkers. The guns seemed feeble and useless in his hands, but he had to try and fight. Then, a clear voice called out his name. "Mr. Brass! Mr. Brass!" Brass turned. Ivy Armstrong rode in on a rickety buckboard wagon pulled by a pair of mechanical mules. Two white-coated scientists rode with her.
The wagon rolled to the back of the garden, where the artillery pieces stood behind the hedges. Brass, Lady Foxglove, and Colonel Singh raced over to join them. Brass clasped Ivy's hand. "You've got to get out of here, little sister. This here is a battlefield akin to Gettysburg or the Wilderness. Get out of here before you get hurt—"
"I must dispense of my cargo first." Ivy reached back and withdrew an artillery shell from the wagon. It had the general shape of an artillery shell, but had been constructed of some clear material – like glass, but apparently much heavier from the way it drooped in Ivy's hands. Inside the glass, caged lightning flashed and danced in a constant crackle. "Tesla Shells." Ivy handed it to Colonel Singh. "They'll unleash a storm of electricity amongst the Martian war machines, which will hopefully freeze them in their tracks." She glanced at the two scientists, both venerable engineers with white beards. "But I must admit, we didn't test this weapon at all. I am not entirely certain it will even work."
"We have little choice." Lady Foxglove folded her hands. "Prepare the guns."
Colonel Singh repeated the order. "Load the cannons, lads!" The artillerymen hurried to the wagon, grabbed the shells, and raced back to their cannons. They loaded quickly, preparing the guns and ramming the new shells home. The first cannon prepared and turned toward the wood. The crew set the fuse and then grabbed the torch which would touch it off. At that moment, four Martian Walkers emerged from the woods.
The Walkers pushed their way through the trees, shoving aside branches with their spindly legs. They stepped nimbly over the destroyed Martian flyers and the downed walker. Their heat rays glowed, preparing to strike and burn up the assembled troops. Brass watched the cannon. The fuse just had to be lit and maybe the Walkers would be forced back.
But before the fire could reach the fuse, Major Booth sprang out from the flowerbed and leapt for the gun. He pushed aside the gunner and grabbed the torch, then held it aloft and waved it wildly in the air, as if he was summoning the Walkers. "We surrender!" Major Booth wailed. "Come and conquer our planet! I will gladly swear fealty to the Martian overlords, provided you place in a position of power. Let me govern England, my friends from the Red Planet, and I shall bring all of earth under your wise control!"
"Goddamn it." Brass broke into a run. He flew past Ivy and Lady Foxglove and ran to the cannon. "Get that torch from his hand!" Brass cried. "Set the fuse!"
The artilleryman stared back at Brass in confusion. "I can't strike him, sir. He's an officer."
"Fine. I'll strike him." Brass reached Major Booth. The Major reached for his saber, pulling the blade and preparing to strike Brass. The sword hummed down, but Brass side-stepped the swinging blade. He drove his fist into Major Booth's jaw. His metal knuckles connected with Major's Booth chin, shattering a few teeth and knocking him back into the flowerbed. Brass grabbed the torch and tossed it to the nearest artillerymen. The Martian Walkers drew closer, their heat rays aglow. A second more and they'd all be melted.
The torch flew through the air. The artilleryman caught it, then touched it to the fuse. The fuse sparked, sank down, and then unleashed its charge. The electric shell shot out of the cannon, rushed over the garden, and thundered into the ground next to the four Walkers.
Instantly, a flurry of lightning convulsed along the machines. Lightning traveled up their legs and curled into their cabins. Smoke and sparks flew from the Walkers. They shook and danced, reeling like drunken men in a square dance. Brass and the others watched as the Walkers went still. Some keeled over and collapsed in the field. Other simply froze, going still as statues with electric bands still wrapped around their forms. Brass turned to Ivy. She stared at the electricity in amazement and relief. Her invention had worked.
As soon as the first four Martian Walkers went still, more came out of the forest. Colonel Singh turned to the artillery pieces. "Keep firing – send more shells into the forest. We shall trap them all in an electric cage!" The cannons heeded his work. Artillerymen grabbed Tesla shells from the wagon, loaded them, and fired the projectiles at the Walkers. Bursts of lightning resounded through the forest. The Walkers halted, one after the other, as the lightning did its work.
Lady Foxglove stood next to Brass and Ivy. "Well done, Miss Armstrong," Lady Foxglove said. "Well done indeed."
"I think you may have saved the planet, little sister," Brass added.
The Walkers started to rumble and shake. At first, Brass thought they might be readying some new and deadly weapon. The infantry raised their rifles, taking aim at the Walkers. Instead, panels on the cabins slammed open. The cylindrical tanks containing the squid-like New Lords burst free and shot into the air. They flew upwards on bursts of steam, whistling skywards and flying away. Brass craned his head as they vanished into the smoky sky.
"What are they doing?" Ivy asked.
Colonel Singh wiped sweat from his forehead. "They are retreating," he explained. "We've won."
Cheers rang out amongst the soldiers. They tossed their helmets and raised their rifles into the air. Once again, they started to sing 'The British Grenadiers.' This time, Brass, Ivy, and Lady Foxglove joined in. They sang together, filled with the sheer joy of survival. "But of all the world's great heroes, there's none that can compare. With the tow-row-row-row-row-row to the British Grenadiers!" Brass muddled his way through the world. But deep in his mechanical mind, he still had the same sort of anxiety. They had won the battle – but what of the war?
That evening, more soldiers arrived to reinforce the expeditionary force – along with a few unexpected guests. They had make camp in the garden, fortifying the area and preparing for their next move. Brass, Ivy, and Lady Foxglove stayed near the ruined gazebo. Ivy took the opportunity to repair the damage done to Brass, while Lady Foxglove procured him another elephant gun from the armaments carried by the reinforcements. Then, a black wagon pulled by matching horses rolled through the gate and entered the garden. Red-coated soldiers rode alongside the carriage, protecting it with guns and swords. One by one, the other soldiers bowed. Lady Foxglove dropped to her knees as well. Ivy and Brass exchanged a glance, unsure what to do, and the footman opened the carriage door and extended the step. A plump figure in black dress emerged, helped down the footman. Brass and Ivy bowed next. The Queen had arrived.
She looked over the soldiers with a slow smile. "You may rise, my loyal soldiers. You have defended us. You have defended your country and your planet. You have our profound thanks." She examined the soldiers. "Lady Foxglove, please bring your American friends before us. We must speak to them."
Lady Foxglove nodded. "Of course, your majesty."
They walked to the carriage. The Redcoats let them past and then they stood before the Queen herself. Brass felt strange looked at the queen – especially because she was so short and he had to stare down at her. The Queen smiled at Ivy and Brass. "You have helped to protect our kingdom. And our world as well. But there is one thing more you must do."
"What is that, your majesty?" Brass asked.
"Our scouts report that the Martians have made a kind of camp in the quarry, a few leagues north of here. They must be driven from English soil. The Spaniards with their Armada failed, Napoleon and his legions have failed, and now these Martians will fail as well." The Queen pointed through the forest. "Lead my armies against the Martian encampment. Force them back into their portals, so they may know never to invade our planet again."
Colonel Singh lowered his eyes as he spoke. "Such an attack may be difficult, my empress. The Martian weapons are very powerful. If they have fortified their base, it may be impossible for us to enter."
"We will have help," Queen Victoria explained. "We were promised help." She pointed to the sky. "Someone you know very well, Miss Armstrong, appeared in the inner chamber of Buckingham Palace just a few hours ago. It caused no small amount of consternation amongst the guards, but he soon explained that he is there to help. He will ensure our victory."
"Who?" Brass asked. "Who showed up out of the blue like that, your Majesty?"
Ivy pointed upward. "My God," she whispered. A dragon flew there, a green and scaly creature outlined by the setting sun. It descended, its leathery wings folding as its claws settled into the dirt. A tall fellow in a top hat, with square sideburns and spectacles, rode on the back of the dragon. Brass recognized him instantly. Professor Archibald Armstrong had come. He hopped off the dragon. Ivy ran to him. Father and daughter embraced. Ivy sobbed openly as they embraced and Professor Armstrong smoothed down her hair and then knelt next to her, so he could gaze into her face.
"Papa..." Ivy whispered. "Papa. You've come back."
"Oh, my little Ivy. My growing strand of Ivy. So tall and beautiful now." Professor Armstrong shuddered. "But I am not your papa. I'm sorry to say that is not the case. I'm an echo, a shard cast by strange technologies in distant dimension. I have your father's mind, but I will fade away and vanish in time. He travels between dimensions now, but still cannot find a way home. He is very far away from you, Ivy, and it saddens him – and me – greatly."
"No..." Ivy stepped back. "We'll think of some way to keep you around. We'll think of some way to find him. We'll do something." She turned to her friends. "There must be something we can do, isn't there?"
Brass didn't know what to say. Lady Foxglove put her hand on Ivy's shoulder. "At the moment, we have more pressing concerns."
"Yes." Professor Armstrong – or his dimension-hopping echo – prepared to hop back on the dragon. "Professor Armstrong has followed the growth of the New Lords for some time. They've gone from dimension to dimension, stripping it clean and destroying all in their path. They need to be removed before they can get a foothold. But we have no need to worry. The New Lords have made plenty of enemies as well."
The Queen nodded. "So go forth, my brave soldiers – for one final battle."
"All right." Brass turned to Colonel Singh. "We'll ride with you, sir. See this thing through." He nodded to Ivy and Lady Foxglove. "Come on. Let's find our lizards and ride."
"Are you certain help will arrive?" Lady Foxglove asked as they walked to the back of the garden, where their lizards resided. "If it doesn't, I don't believe we can prevail against entrenched Martians with all their fantastic weapons."
"My father promised victory," Ivy explained. "And victory will come."
They walked together across the garden. The other soldiers came to their feet, wearily reaching for their guns and helmets. The soldiers of the Queen were ready to return to war. Brass and his friends found their lizards and scrambled into the saddles. The expeditionary force prepared to leave again. Hopefully, their assault would end in victory. Brass glanced at Ivy as they rode to join the main body of troops. She trusted her father – or the strange, dragon-riding ghost which arrived to help them. That meant Brass did too. He hoped it would be enough to win the war for earth.
The expeditionary force departed from Mimblegate Manor and marched out across the English countryside to the Martian base. The expeditionary force, reinforced with new detachments of infantry, and cavalry, rode together in a neat column down the country road. The horses came first, moving ahead at a good clip. The foot soldiers marched behind, and then came the horse-drawn cannons. Brass and his friends rode up front with the cavalry. Colonel Singh, mounted on a bay mare, led the cavalry column down the road. The soldiers rode and marched on through the night. A full moon bloomed in the sky above England, making the rifle bayonets and cavalry sabers shine. Professor Armstrong's promised allies – whoever they were – had yet to arrive. They drew closer and closer to the site of the Martian base and Brass began to wonder if Professor Armstrong had told the truth.
Colonel Singh used his spyglass to stare up ahead. He folded the spyglass and sighed. "The Martian fortifications lie ahead." They rode further down the path. Colonel Singh pointed at a short, steel wall stretching across the landscape. The steel walls, polished, smooth and small enough to for a goat to hop over, cut through the countryside like a fine blade. "What do we do now?"
"A simple charge, perhaps?" Ivy asked.
"I got a feeling that will end up like the fabled Light Brigade, little sister," Brass said. "Got no desire to join their august company."
"I will dispatch the cannons to cover our advance and begin a measured assault," Colonel Singh suggested. "With more of the electric shells hurled into the encampment, the Martians will have little chance to use their heat rays against the charging soldiers."
Lady Foxglove nodded. "Very good, colonel. Prepare the assault."
The Sikh warrior shouted an order to the infantry and cavalry to advance, and then to the artillery to move further down the field and deploy. The soldiers carried out their orders like a well-oiled machine. Soon, Brass and the others moved ahead with the rest of the Life Guards, their lizards matching the trot of the horses. To the right flank, the artillerymen prepared their cannons. The first shells screamed overhead and thudded into the center of the Martian base. Lightning flew from the blasts, like miniature storms had started behind the metal wall. Brass and the others rode closer, confidence growing. He withdrew the elephant gun and prepared, then glanced at Ivy. She should ride back, away from the coming battle.
Before he could ask her, Walkers emerged from behind the wall. They stood upwards, popping up and turning their heat rays straight toward the attackers. These Walkers seemed to be equipped with heavier guns, great metal coils that crackled and glowed as they fired their heat beams. More flying machines buzzed out from behind the wall as well, swarming down in a great cloud. Behind the wall, a large metal archway pierced the sky. Red energy glowed inside – another Crimson Gate, built to take the New Lords of Mars to other worlds, or bring reinforcements to earth. Hopefully, they wouldn't get the chance.
The heat rays shot into the grass before the approaching soldiers. Brass reined in his lizard, which hissed madly as fire bloomed from the grass. He leaned over, grabbed the reins of Ivy's reptilian mount, and pulled it back as well. The fire panicked the horses and they ended their charge. The riders struggled to keep control of their horses, and the animals whinnied and kicked up their hooves, snorting the air as the flame grew. The charge ended as the infantry came to a stop behind the horses, unable to work their way past.
"Bloody Hell!" Lady Foxglove tugged at her lizard's reins, trying to calm it. A glowing missile thundered to life in front of them, showering dirt over the attackers. "This is all turning out to be far too much like the vaunted Charge of the Light Brigade for me."
Brass turned to Ivy. "Ride on back, little sister! Get on back across the field, away from the fighting!"
"I will not leave you, Mr. Brass." Ivy wiped sweat from her forehead. Then her eyes widened. She pointed to the sides of the battlefield. "He was right." She sounded like she almost hadn't believed it. "My father told the truth. I knew he was right. I knew it. He has summoned the other enemies of these alien lords – and they have come to help the earth."
Two massive portals rippled to life at the far ends of the battlefield. The crimson circles of energy rippled outwards from the air itself, sending out sparks and creating a loud ripping noise that made Brass's electric ears ache. He swayed in the saddle, turning to one portal and then the next.
The true residents of Mars – the Brutarks and Murmytes of the Red Lands – charged from one portal. Baronga the Slayer and his Brutarks led them, riding through the portal in a green tide. The Brutarks rode in a thick clump, their ray rifles extended and firing into the Martian base. The beams from the ray rifles blazed as they flew through the darkness, striking the Walkers. Behind the Burtarks, the smaller Murmytes of Mars came with their own weapons. They rode in flat wagons pulled by lizards, with powerful ray cannons mounted and ready to fire. The Murmytes worked carefully on the cannons and then they fired, sending their blasts hurtling into the Martian base. The Brutarks roared as they charged, waving their rifles and scimitars.
From the other portal, the residents of Nonsense Land emerged. A swarm of giant bumblebees buzzed out first, the same variety that had attacked Brass and his friends as they crossed the plains of Nonsense Land. The giant bumblebees flew upwards into the sky and launched themselves at the mechanical Martian flyers. They crashed against each other, trading blows with claws and pincers.
Then Dr. Gryphon himself emerged, wearing his kingly regalia of white armor. He pointed at the Martian fortress with his sword. "Chessmen – take their positions! Capture them! Crush them! Return them to the box!" His chessmen followed. Pawns hopped out, waving their pikes. Knights charged next, their horses bouncing over the grass. Rooks rolled from the portal, slits opening to reveal their arrows. The bishops followed and then the queen. New pieces emerged, cast in shining black instead of ivory white. Dr. Gryphon must have stated his case to the Black King and now both varieties of chessmen came to earth's aide.
Seeing the attacking allies gave the Englishmen new hope. Colonel Singh rode ahead, waving his sword. "Come on, lads! Take the walls – for Queen and Country!" He broke into a gallop, racing ahead of the cavalrymen. They spurred their horses to a gallop and surged across the field. The Brutarks and the chessmen joined them. More electric shells crashed into the Martian base from overhead, providing them more cover. Brass raced along, and there wasn't time for Ivy to go back. Brass could only keep riding and try to make sure she was okay.
They reached the walls. Pawns leapt over, followed by horses and lizards. Brass's leapt easily over the short wall and he gazed at the Martian camp. They hadn't done much to prepare, besides setting up a few squat gray buildings – assembly plants, Brass reasoned, for the Martian machines. At the moment, he was too busy to examine them. The Martian Walkers strode before the portal, trying to make a defense. They fired their heat beams wildly and released more rockets, but it was already too late. Brass brought down the first Walker with his elephant gun, artillery shells slammed among them to upset them further, and then the charging cavalry reached their forms. Sabers chopped into their struts and hacked them down. Brutarks fired their ray rifles into the cabins, blasting thick holes through the steel. Arrows hurtled out from the rooks as the pawns and knights jabbed at the Walkers and brought them down. Storms from electric shells crashed into the clumped Walkers, freezing them before they could fire. Everywhere, the enemies that the New Lords had made took their revenge.
Colonel Singh charged for a Walker alone, waving his scimitar. "Force them back!" he cried. "Into the portal! Remove them from our world!" He galloped toward the Walker and hacked his sword into the metal strut. Sparks flew as steel rang out across the clearing. Lady Foxglove joined him. She bashed the Walker's leg with her parasol until the steel bent and twisted. The Walker keeled over and crashed into the dust. A buzzing Martian automaton buzzed down to attack. Brass rode in front of Colonel Singh and Lady Foxglove. He pulled his revolvers and fired, putting a few shots into the buzzing insect. It exploded in the sky, showering them with chunks of machinery.
All around them, the Martians began to retreat. Their tanks flew from their cabins, shooting through the air and sailing into the portal. Colonel Singh raised his voice. "Let them flee!" he cried. "Let them retreat!" The insects picked up other capsules and carried them into the portal, straining under the weight as they tried to take them away. They vanished into the red field of the portal, slipping away from view in a humming crackle of energy. The abandoned Walkers crashed uselessly to the ground. The British soldiers lowered their guns, letting the Martians escape.
Baronga the Slayer rode closer. "Let us hunt them down. Let us kill them as they flee."
Colonel Singh shook his head. "The soldiers of this empire, the one I have sworn my allegiance to, has found themselves in similar situations. We can forgive these Martians for their imperialist venture and let them leave in peace."
"You're a better man than I, colonel," Brass said.
"You're not exactly a man," Colonel Singh replied. They stood back and watched the last of the Martian capsules escape. Colonel Singh smiled slowly and raised his fist. "We have won. Our planet is safe!" The British infantry took up the cheer, followed by the happy hisses of the Brutarks. The chessmen bounced up and down, hopping over each other excitedly. Brass turned and rode back to Ivy. They stood back and watched as the cannons fired a final time and struck the portal. The portal shook, split, and then vanished completely. Earth was safe. The invasion had ended.
After the battle, Brass stood next to Ivy and Professor Armstrong. They looked over the portals that had opened in the field and watched the Brutarks and Murmytes return to the Red Lands while Dr. Gryphon led his chessmen back to their own world. The lizards went with them. Brass and his friends decided to let them go. The lizards would be much more at home on Mars, and probably better cared for. Professor Armstrong had his arm around his Ivy. Brass stayed back, watching them silently. The dragon flew alongside the Martians, slipping into the portal. Brass didn't know how this strange echo of Professor Armstrong would leave.
"I'll be fading soon," Professor Armstrong said softly. "I wasn't meant to hold together for long. My atoms will stretch away and vanish. I'll drift back into the fabric of reality."
"I could think of something," Ivy said. "Please, give me a chance."
"There isn't time." Professor Armstrong smiled sadly at Ivy. "But your father would be proud of you. He knew you could take care of yourself. I have his memories and the ones of your childhood are those that I cherish the most." He brushed Ivy's cheek, wiping away her tears. "Goodbye, Ivy. Your father always knew you would grow up strong."
"No..." Ivy whispered, but Professor Armstrong had already started to crumble. Cracks spread through his cheeks and his face, racing over his sideburns and glasses. They crossed his clothes too. Dust trickled away, growing into torrents and then vanishing altogether. Ivy tried to hold onto him, but that proved an impossibility. Professor Armstrong melted away. Soon, the dust had seeped into the grass and Professor Armstrong was gone for good.
Brass walked over to Ivy. "He's gone, little sister."
"But you're still here," Ivy said.
"Yeah." Brass clasped her hand. "And I ain't going anywhere. No matter how many dimensions we visit."
They stood together and looked at the remains of the Martian structures. The other portals vanished. Once again, the earth was alone. Brass and Ivy stood together and watched a fierce red sun rising over the battlefield.