Gaslight Evangelion: Prologue
No one would have believed in the middle years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And late in the nineteenth century came the great disillusionment.
The planet Mars, revolves about the sun at a mean distance of 140,000,000 miles, and the light and heat it receives from the sun is barely half of that received by this world. 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.
During the opposition of 1873 a great light was witnessed spouting from the neighboring planet, first at the Lick Observatory, then by Perrotin of Nice, and then by other observers. The light lingered for days, and in one article in Nature, dated August 2, it was described as having the appearance of a great tree of light. For days the peculiar light remained, until it finally vanished just as suddenly as it had erupted.
In the subsequent six years, the planet was noted to develop a strange red hue, which gradually grew to cover the entirety of the heavenly mass. Mars became a red planet with a red ring. Astronomers were baffled at the time and proposed numerous theories, each more wild then the last. Oh, if only they knew.
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.
That night, too, there was another jetting out of gas from the distant planet. A reddish flash at the edge, the slightest projection of the outline just as the chronometer struck midnight. The next 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.
"The chances against anything manlike on Mars are a million to one," they said.
Hundreds of observers saw the flame that night and the night after about midnight, and again the night after; and so for ten nights, a flame each night. Why the shots ceased after the tenth no one on earth has attempted to explain. It may be the gases of the firing caused the Martians inconvenience. Dense clouds of smoke or dust, visible through a powerful telescope on earth as little grey, fluctuating patches, spread through the clearness of the planet's atmosphere and obscured its more familiar features.
Even the daily papers woke up to the disturbances at last, and popular notes appeared here, there, and everywhere concerning the volcanoes upon Mars. The seriocomic periodical Punch, made a happy use of it in the political cartoon. And, all unsuspected, those missiles the Martians had fired at us drew earthward, rushing now at a pace of many miles a second through the empty gulf of space, hour by hour and day by day, nearer and nearer. It seems now almost incredibly wonderful that, with that swift fate hanging over us, men could go about their petty concerns as they did. People in these latter times scarcely realize the abundance and enterprise of our mid-nineteenth-century papers.
Then came the night of the first falling star. Britain and Germany, locked in a bloody war of dominance over Europe, briefly put down their weapons to examine this new threat from beyond the stars. They came in droves to Earth, searching desperately for a new home, after theirs was drowned in a sea of red. For now, the nations of the world united to fight for humanity's right to exist on their own home planet.
And then came Second Impact, an event that changed the shape of the Earth, swallowing whole countries in natural disasters. For a time, it seemed the world was on the bring of Armageddon, plunging into the end of humanity. This Second Impact was so named for it was said that the invading Martians launched a meteor into the South Pole as a terror tactic to scare the humans into surrender, with more devastating effects than were imagined.
However, humanity has always been a tenacious species, unwilling to go quietly into the night, unwilling to surrender their lives so easily. The loss of Antarctica and others merely hardened their resolve. It was then that humanity, upon the pinnacle of scientific innovation, unleashed its greatest weapon, a weapon of such terrifying power that the extraterrestrial invaders were completely, and utterly defeated.
Now, several years later, it seems the Martians, while surely the most obvious and immediate, were not the only threat humanity faced…