Sacrifice and Hard Work: the Life of Author and Story

I was recently listening to our own Donald Williams give an interview for a podcast. In the course of his talk he was discussing how today we have libraries of information at our finger tips, while in the time of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien they had to work harder to get at things. They had to read books, not just google them.  In doing so, they came to know their books and the ideas in them intimately.  He also mentioned why he thought this resulted in a better education–and this is my paraphrase:

The students I’ve seen who have the deepest insights aren’t necessarily the most intelligent ones. They are the the ones who are moderately intelligent and have to work at things a little more. They get to know what they’re talking about more deeply because they have to spend time with it. Lewis and Tolkien had that advantage, plus they were geniuses!

The more I think about that–this idea of slow, patient, intimate knowledge, acquired through hard work–the more this strikes me.  We have such an emphasis on getting things now and getting them without effort that often times we often resent the idea of having to work for our knowledge.  It comes to us so easily! As a result, we don’t think things through for the simple reason that we’ve been trained to believe that doing so isn’t our responsibility.  Someone else will do it for us.  Information takes the place of understanding and wisdom, and it is supposed to come at the click of a button (i.e. We shouldn’t have to actually read all those books for that paper!  Who does that?!).  We purchase the next big thing just because it’s new and someone said it’s better (Is it? Microsoft Anything, anyone?). We vote for the next politician because he/she promises to give us everything we want (“Trust me!  I have your best interests at heart!  Just don’t ask what you’ll be giving up in return….”).  We are too often satisfied with wading in the tepid, muddy, mosquito filled shallows when, if we pushed farther, we could find the cool depth of a sea the end of whose grandeur we can never see.

It takes work to reach the peak, but the view you find there changes everything!
It takes work to reach the peak, but the view you find there changes everything!

Is it sometimes any different with our fictional worlds?  Are we in such a hurry, so desperately busy, that we just try to reach in and grab what we can before rushing on to the next shiny thing and expect people to praise our work simply because it is our own?  Do we live in our worlds and get to know every rock and pebble like an old friend, as Tolkien did? Do we see them in our mind’s eye so clearly that we get lost in the details of a scene, like Lewis did? If we ourselves don’t take the time to really dwell in our worlds, to speak with our characters, and to understand them as friends and family–if we simply “process” them and spit out fiction as a result–will we ever write anything really worth reading?  Perhaps more importantly, even if it’s worth reading, will it be worth remembering?

I’m afraid not. But therein lies the challenge: Dwelling, abiding, understanding, feeling, etc. on that intimate a level–all of it takes time and is at points uncomfortable. We have to slow down and be willing to work at it. And that is becoming a more and more difficult thing to do. It takes sacrifice. Each opportunity we choose to set aside to write, even if it is just to “live” in our world in a story we know will probably never see light of day, we have to give something else up.

It all comes down to this:  What am I willing to sacrifice so that my world and my creations might more fully live?

Meditations with C. S. Lewis: Further up and further in!

This month LHP is highlighting some of our readers’ favorite previous posts from our authors.  We hope you enjoy them!

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C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.

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I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!
–Jewel the Unicorn, The Last Battle

It is amazing how much of the human experience (and the promise of Christianity) is summed up in these few words.  It encapsulates both the finite, mortal nature of humanity, and it screams out the promise offered to those to whom Christ will one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

To nearly everyone who has taken the time to think about it, the experience of life is summed up by constant motion and perpetual change.  As each moment fades imperceptibly into the next, we learn that nothing remains the same for long.  Bound by the law of entropy as surely as the smallest particle of physical reality, our lives can go only one of two directions:  forward or backward.  We either grow and blossom into something new and different or we degenerate into wasted potential.  In it’s ideal form, the Christian life is a perfect picture of this.  There are always new trails to explore, new knowledge to acquire, new experiences to have, and each is unique from the last.

The problem is that everything in the universe tends toward decay.  In fact, we have to pursue constant and intentional forward motion to prevent it.  The older I get, the more apparent this becomes as my body slows down and begins the tiring process of degeneration.  It is also clear in the lives of anyone who, for one reason for another, cannot or does not attempt to better themselves.  To stand still is the surest way to see ourselves slump into sloth, destitution, disease, and want.

Worse, we are born into a reality where this is a losing battle from the very beginning.  From the moment our first cries echo through a harsh, cold world, we are living on borrowed time.  When we are young, we tend not to notice, but as we age the truth becomes inescapable; we say with Frodo (though for very different reasons), “Will I ever look down into that valley again?”  Will I ever hold my loved one in my arms again?  Will this be the last time I cuddle on the couch with my child before she is “too old” for that sort of thing?  How much longer can I perform at this level?  The end, of course, comes eventually.  We die, our bodies broken and wracked with pain, our treasured experiences spent, and the world moves on without us giving hardly a blink.

And that leads us to one of the truly amazing promises upon which Christians stand:  Our story, short as it is, is not over with death.  We will be translated into a new world that has no end.  There will be time to truly understand, to experience, to love, to build, to create…and we will do so basking in the light of the One “by whom all things were made” and the One who loves us enough that He suffered and died to ensure that we have the chance to experience mortal life and what lies beyond it.

Further up and further in, indeed!

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Click here for the entire run of “Meditations with C. S. Lewis” so far.

Fiction Fridays: The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim, Part IV

Last week Hiram Percy had constructed a playback device in the utmost secrecy and finally began listening to the interview between his father and the mysterious Mr. Ru-Kai.  The depth of the conspiracy–against his father and against humanity in general–began to become clear, but at the key moment, Ru-Kai had called out Hiram Percy by name, and the recording had been overwhelmed by some kind of interference.  They knew he would be listening…and could be watching him even then!

Did you miss last week?  Click here to catch up!

Hiram hid behind his chair pitifully as the screeching sounds continued to blare out of the player.  He peeked over the top every so often, expecting Ru-kai to step out of the shadows at any moment. Nothing happened. After about five minutes, the static stopped as quickly as it had begun.

“What…are…you?” he heard his father’s voice gasping. Ru-kai’s voice turned cold and guttural.

“The truth begins to dawn on you then? This is an arrogant age where you are foolish enough to believe in only yourselves. The others have either fled the world or dug so deep as to be lost to you. But my people are a clever people, far cleverer than even your myths remember. We are the children of a greater god who dared to dream his own theme. He drew us out of the weak creations of the other and made something better. We are practical people and we focus on hard reality. We do not need gold and we care nothing for the foolishness the first ones call beauty. Far greater is strength and efficiency. We have passed this age by toying with you—guiding you in the creation of strength and practicality that you otherwise would have twittered away. And we have greater plans for you still. Your grandchildren will live to see it. Your great grandchildren? Perhaps not.”

An eerie chuckling mixed with the gasping wheeze of the dying Maxim. “Good night, dear Maxim,” Ru-kai said, as his footsteps retreated and the door slowly squealed on its hinges.

Hiram Percy stepped out from behind his chair, trembling. He lifted the needle from the cylinder, and his father’s desperate gasps stopped instantly. His breathing slowed, and he leaned heavily on the table. Snatches of the end of the conversation kept echoing through his stunned mind: “fire, death, and destruction;” “will kill their tens of thousands.” Ru-kai had already unleashed his father’s machine gun onto humanity. Could he be guiding some other poor inventor into something even worse? Another war? He steeled his nerves and started the recording again at the point of the static, straining to make out any words, but there was nothing. Just the howl of the electric beast caught on the tube. Somehow, Ru-kai had defeated his father’s final invention with a greater one. Eventually, Hiram stood up and walked out, locking the door behind him. The next day he returned and boarded up the entrance behind a fake wall.

For the next fifteen years, Hiram threw himself into his work with radio and cinema. He did everything he could to remove himself from all thought of his father’s death and the tube he knew still lay undisturbed in his basement. Slowly, though, the thought of the conversation ate away at him. What greater war could there be? How could science, the savior of humanity, create an instrument of death more efficient than his father’s guns? But what could he do? The answers to the most important questions of the century—of the age—had been lost in a sea of screeching static. If it was even real. How could it be real? He passed in and out of depression as these questions and more flowed through his mind, threatening to drive him mad.

As time passed, there was more to worry over. The rise of a former Austrian corporal to power in Germany, once a struggling artist in Vienna itself, could not help but draw his attention. The Communists were arming Russia. The Japanese had risen as a world power. Descendants of his father’s machine guns sprouted from France’s Maginot Line and adorned hundreds of British bombers. The emerging science of atomic energy was both inspiring and also terrifying. Finally, after seventeen years of torture, the dam of his mind broke and the answer, so long sought, came to him.
Hiram had been sitting at his transmission set, relaying messages along the amateur radio network he had created only a few years before his father’s death when two signals began to interfere with each other. He quickly realized that a closer, more powerful transmitter was overwhelming the one he was trying to receive. Hidden deep under the more powerful signal, Hiram found that the other was still present, tangled and hidden by its louder brother. He instantly remembered the screeching static and realized Ru-kai’s game: He had used a transmitter of his own to drown out the one from Hiram’s father’s machine! If the cylinder had recorded both signals together, then he might be able to sort the two out. His father could win after all! Breaking through the wall of the long neglected hiding place, Hiram was heartened to see that everything was how he had left it so long ago. In all those years since, he had received no scrap of paper or other communication, and he now felt emboldened.

Hiram worked on the problem in secret for the better part of a year. He did indeed find both signals intact, but their frequencies were so similar that his equipment simply wasn’t sensitive enough to pull them apart. He was always careful to keep the cylinder near him, and he took to stowing it in a special compartment he had installed in his strong wooden briefcase. As time passed, he became more and more obsessive, and eventually refused to be parted from it. Knowing that secrecy was his best defense—and therefore the world’s only hope of averting whatever Ru-kai promised to deliver—he never spoke to anyone about it.

After more than a decade of waiting, Hiram Percy found his answer suddenly. He was visiting Allan Clark Holden of Lick Observatory in California. He had been in touch with Holden on several occasions through the radio network due to their mutual interest in the subject. Holden invited him for a visit in January of 1936, and Hiram had agreed, traveling with his cylinder in tow.

Lick Observatory in 1944, eight years after Hiram Percy’s visit.

Most of the trip to the observatory was uneventful, and he passed several pleasant days with Holden before Holden had the opportunity to show him some of the latest equipment that had been installed at the observatory to measure cosmic radiation—including radio waves. Hiram had to stop himself from visibly choking when he realized that the new sets would be more than accurate enough to sort out the signals on his father’s tube! Placing a hand protectively on his briefcase, he asked Holden if he might make private use of the machines that evening, to sort out an old but important problem. Holden said he could, but that it must wait until tomorrow, since that night the lab would be undergoing maintenance. He assured Hiram that he could have all the time he needed first thing in the morning. Besides, he added, there was supposed to be a low hanging fog in the valley that night, keeping out the light pollution from below and making it ideal for observation. Hiram swallowed hard, but agreed. It had waited this long, and so it could wait one night more. Better that than mention the tube’s existence to someone else.

That night at 3 a.m., as Hiram mounted the steps to the telescope’s viewing piece, something caught his eye. There was a small carpet at the base of the telescope, where the observer stood, red with black binding. Something brown poked out from under it, near where he was to stand. Thinking it perhaps a wrapper to a piece of candy left behind by some absent minded graduate assistant, he picked it up, stuffed it in his pocket, and forgot about it.

Until the next morning.

Hiram stood in the lobby of his hotel, his briefcase in hand, nervously waiting for the cab that would take him back to the Lick Observatory. He had not been able to sleep even the hour or two that had been available to him, spending the time instead obsessing over what he might find on the recording.  He had not even bothered to change clothes. To keep his hands busy, he shoved one of them into his pocket, where he found the slip of paper from the night before. Without any apprehension, he pulled it out and glanced at it. His gasp of terror was plain, and several of the hotel patrons looked at him in curiosity. Hiram looked around the room wildly, hugged his precious briefcase to his chest, and sprinted from the room. A curious bystander picked up the paper that Hiram had dropped in his haste. On it was written, in flowing black script, just the words, “We are coming.”

A short article ran the following week in the Hartford, Connecticut Courant:

Hiram Percy Maxim fell ill on his return trip to his home after having visited the famous Lick Observatory in San Jose, California. He felt unwell on the train and was quickly transported to the hospital in La Junta, Colorado, where he passed away on February 16, 1936. His luggage was missing from the train, and the hospital claims it was never delivered to them, causing the family to consider legal action to force its return. An inventor in his own right, he was the son of Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, the inventor of the machine gun.

A contemporary article from the Knickerbocker Press on the death of Hiram Percy.

We hope you’ve enjoyed The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim!  Check back next week for more from a different LHP author, and don’t forget to check out our eZines for more unique content!

The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim, Part I
The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim, Part II
The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim, Part III

 

Fiction Fridays: The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim, Part III

Last week Hiram Percy Maxim discovered that his father, the famous inventor of the machine gun, had been dogged by a mysterious acquaintance, Mr. Ru-kai, who had manipulated the creation of the gun and then taunted Maxim with knowledge of the sheer number of deaths caused as a result.  But Maxim intended to win in the end, and had laid a trap of his own–a recorder that would capture the truth in a last interview.  The results of that trap now awaited Hiram Percy’s discovery….

Did you miss last week?  Click here to catch up!

Hiram Percy sat in place for a few moments more, letting the enormity of what he had read sink in. He spread the documents out on the desk in front of him. They were all as his father had described. He turned to the wall where he now recognized the death chart, pinned in place with roofing tacks. Saying nothing, he put everything in the box, tucked it under his arm, and left the room. He went straight to the third floor bedroom where he faced the mantle—an ornately carved monstrosity bedecked with a hundred years of knick-knacks and keepsakes from several owners. He ran his fingers along the underside of the bottom molding and felt a small bump about one inch in from the corner.

Hiram paused, then shook his head, and pushed the button. There was a light cracking noise and a space appeared where some laurels in the mantle’s design contacted the wall. He reached up and gently opened the hidden cabinet. It was about three feet tall, two across, and one deep. The chimney apparently retreated back into the wall at a sharper angle than it appeared, making it possible for the builder to reserve this secret niche. Inside, Hiram saw the promised drum, still rolling quietly, though the recording needle had slid off one end. The cylinder was about four inches in diameter and about a foot long, marked with the one, revolving line that meant it had performed its intended duty.

A drum recording device, similar to what Maxim may have used.

“A wireless recording device,” he mumbled. “Brilliant!” There must have been a short circuit after the device had been activated, because much of it was burnt and blackened by a small fire. The insulated metal box it had been built in had contained the fire, protecting not only the drum from damage but the house as well. Gently, Hiram reached up and brought the tube to a stop. There was a small click and he removed it from its housing. He carried it to the nearby bed and wrapped it carefully in a pillowcase. He then examined what was left of his father’s last invention before shutting the cabinet and making his way into the hall.

It took far longer than Hiram expected to listen to the contents of the drum. He considered sending his family home and playing the recording then and there, but then he remembered how closely his father had been under observation. If the recording was genuine, here might be a chance to smuggle it away from London without their enemies realizing it. He was certain that no one knew of the existence of the drum but himself and his father. So, he had bundled the drum and the box into separate bags of his luggage. They made it safely to Connecticut, apparently unmolested. It had then taken several months of quiet, clandestine work to assemble his own player from scratch, since he did not want to risk buying one outright. Finally, one night a little over a year later, while the world breathed a sigh of exhausted relief at the news of Germany’s surrender and the end of the war, Hiram locked himself into a room in his basement and snapped the precious tube into place. He sat down, wound the mechanism, and it began to play. The static was effervescent, and at times it almost washed out the conversation entirely, but Hiram could hear most of what was said.

A click opened the recording and there was the sound of a door closing quietly. Footsteps slowly moved across the floor.

“Hello, my dear Maxim,” said an unfamiliar, strained voice, speaking loudly enough for Maxim to understand in his deafness. Hiram heard his father reply, weak and obviously ill.

“Mr. Ru-kai, I presume? I must say that you look no different than you did in Vienna all those years ago.”

“I cannot say the same for you, Maxim. I often must remind myself how fragile you have become. The old blood wanes as we near the end of this age.”

“I am not dead yet,” Maxim replied.

“No indeed. But so many others are. We have nearly bled this continent dry with our little invention, have we not?”

“My invention! It is mine!” His father could be heard ruffling sheets as he degenerated into a fit of coughing. The interview must have taken place in his bedroom, not long before he died in November of 1916.

“If you wish to say so. You and I both know better,” came the scratchy reply. “If you admit it, then you can blame all the deaths on those who have so expertly manipulated you fools into this amusing war. Then again, for a proud member of an arrogant race, that wouldn’t be much comfort would it? Is it better to be remembered as a killer than forgotten altogether? ”

“I have done good to humanity. I have! And I still will. The Maxims will be remembered for more than this.”

“Would you like to see the latest figures from our accounting department? The undersecretary is most pleased with our work.” There was silence for a long moment before his father, evidently staring at another slip of paper, responded.

“Are they now so many more?”

“You have not been following the papers? There has been this little matter of the Somme….”

“My God!” the old man gasped helplessly.

“Maxim! You told me you were an atheist. I hope for your sake you are right. Any god would hold you to serious account.”

“But humanity must stop you. We will stop you! I will stop you!” It sounded as if his father was trying to rise, but he apparently collapsed back into his bed in another fit of coughing.

“My dear sir! You have earned your rest for a job well done! Don’t waste your remaining energies on something so futile. Even at your best you were no match for me. Despite our refinements, my people have not forgotten the ancient ways even if yours have.” His voice fell to a threatening growl. “Our blades are curved and sharp.”

Hiram Stevens, c. 1900

“But where will it end? How many must die?” Maxim’s breathing became more labored.

“End? Fie. You foolishly call this the ‘war to end wars.’ It is only a beginning. Ideas have been planted in just the right minds, technology is developing along just the right lines…. It is a pity you will not live to see it, but you can rest assured that your legacy will still play a worthy role in an achievement that will soon eclipse you.” Ru-kai’s voice trailed off thoughtfully. “I think, though, that you deserve more. I will give it to you. I will tell you about what is coming: fire, death, and destruction the likes of which will make your descendants look back to this war wistfully. You have killed your thousands, and those who come after will kill their tens of thousands. Yes, you do deserve to know, but I don’t think Hiram Percy does. He has yet to earn the privilege.”

Hiram gave a terrible start at the mention of his name, falling over backwards out of his chair. How could Ru-kai know I would be listening?! A different kind of static poured off of the recording tube as it played on, snarling out of the speakers like a wounded animal. It completely drowned out all traces of the conversation between Ru-kai and his father.

To be continued next Friday! 

Want the full story without having to wait?  Download the 2012 All Hallows’ Eve edition of The Gallery of Worlds from Amazon.com here.

The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim, Part I
The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim, Part II
The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim, Part IV

Fiction Fridays: The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim, Part II

Hiram Percy Maxim had discovered a letter from his late father, the inventor of the famous machine gun.  It promised to tell him the truth, finally, about how his invention came to be.  The letter continues this week.

Did you miss the first installment?  Click here to catch up!

Vienna, Austria, in 1882

It was in the year of 18 and 82 and I was in Austria—that much is true. I had been invited to Vienna on retainer to examine the possibility of installing the first electric lights in some of the government buildings there. It had not gone well (some there had wanted Edison for the job) and I was left sitting in a small pub on the edge of town eating and drinking on their coin while the royals debated.
On my second day of waiting the stranger walked in and sat down in my booth without as much as a please. He was an odd looking fellow, thin and scrawny but at the same time wiry and strong. His back was slightly bent and he had one of the ugliest faces I think I have ever seen. It was broad with a flat nose and sunken, squinty eyes. His hands were large and his fingers looked unnaturally long. At first his skin seemed somewhat tan but there was something off about it. It had a tint to it, though I could not clearly see what it was. We were seated next to a large piece of stained glass, and it made everything seem slightly greenish, like the tea they serve from China. I wasn’t surprised to see him try to keep it all hidden with an almost medieval looking, fur-lined cloak.

I don’t remember much of the beginning of his conversation now, and he never gave me a name. His accent was very strange, certainly not German and in fact hardly European at all. His voice was deep, and a little scratchy. I remember being very impressed with his mechanical knowledge and I have used some of what I learned in that conversation in my attempts to build a flying machine. We chatted about the growing science of electricity and improvements to steam engines and he ordered beer for both of us. We spoke of religion for some time too. I don’t remember how long we talked before he brought up the subject of war. The first words I remember with crystal clarity are these: “Hang your chemistry and electricity, Maxim! If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each others’ throats with greater facility!”

There was something in that I found compelling. I had of course heard much about the move toward rapid-fire weaponry that had been occurring since the 1850s. Gatling had produced his gun, as had others, but all had significant drawbacks. Particularly, they all required outside energy to operate. I made a remark about the possibility of an electrically fired gun. He responded that there was something simpler: guns produce energy from both ends, after all. Why not use some of the excess to produce a mechanical solution?

And yes, this does mean that the story told in histories about me is a complete lie. I did not, in fact, get the idea of a gas operated machine gun from a childhood memory of being knocked down by recoil. I made it up to cover the fact that I took my inspiration from this man and his conversation. I remember thinking what a fool he was to have said such a thing to me when he obviously had the technical ability to create it himself. It was late in the evening when he took his leave.

After this conversation, I found that I could not rest until I set about work on my new gun design. The Austrians did not employ me to teach them the science of managing electrical systems, but that hardly mattered to me now. I returned here to London and set up a workshop dedicated to making someone else’s idea a reality. After all, as Edison had taken from me, why should I not take from another?

But it was more complicated than I had at first imagined. I had to find a way to delay the ejection of the shell until the bullet had left the barrel. If I did not, the pressure could explode the shell in the chamber, destroying the gun and killing the user. (I have explained the technical details to you before.) I tried a number of different solutions with no real effect.

I was just about to give it up entirely when a package arrived on the doorstep of our workshop. It was postmarked from Austria, but contained no return address. I opened it in private, and found the first of the schematics contained in this box. At first I was alarmed at their accuracy! My correspondent seemed to know as much of my gun as I did! Aside from the unique paper on which they were written, they had only one distinguishing feature: the word “Ru-kai” had been inscribed in red at the bottom corner of each page.

I stood up to storm from my office to order all the doors barred and the windows shuttered when I noticed that not all was as it seemed. There was something different about the recoil mechanism schematic. I found that my correspondent had drawn something—what I later called a “toggle”—that solved the problem of keeping the casing in place until the bullet had fully exited. What was more, a closer examination of the box revealed that he had sent an exquisitely crafted example! I could hardly contain my excitement! I quickly copied over the plans, had a new toggle constructed, and the original gun modified to accept it. It worked beautifully and our project leaped forward.

The parts of the Maxim gun….

My next major hurdle—the problem of how to make the casing move back faster than the barrel—was solved in a similar way. I had hardly begun to work on the problem when another parcel arrived in the mail containing more schematics and another part. This one became known as the “accelerator” and it solved the reliability problem. From then on, my anonymous acquaintance, Mr. Ru-kai, solved all other issues almost before I even knew they presented a problem. While at the time I could willfully ignore what was happening and even now I still loathe calling the gun by any name but mine, I am forced now to admit that it would not have been completed in the time it was without his help. I received a congratulatory note from Mr. Ru-kai when I successfully demonstrated the gun before her majesty Queen Victoria and again on the day when I received my knighthood in 1901, but never again any designs.

What I received instead was much worse. As I sold my gun to all the countries of Europe, I started finding notes in various places. They were unsigned, but they all contained numbers of some kind—you see the collection in the locked box—each one with a larger sum than the last. I found them everywhere and in the most impossible places. The first was affixed to my mirror in a hotel. I found others tucked into my clothes when they came from the laundry, in my wallet one morning, and even in a letter I had forgotten to address that was returned to me with the original seal unopened! I lived for several years in fear of the people who were obviously dogging my steps. Several of my early trips abroad were made with the ulterior motive of throwing them off my track. When I abandoned your mother, I hoped to leave these people behind too.

It took years before I was able to divine what these papers were and their meaning. I had collected a number of them and noted their dates and locations. I made a chart of their progression and looked for patterns. I saw none other than the fact that each one was larger than the last until I happened upon a newspaper account in November of 1893 about the Battle of Shanganai in the British imperial war against the Matabele tribe in Africa. It said that fifty soldiers armed with four of my guns had held off 3,500 Matabele warriors, inflicting 1,542 casualties on the enemy. The next day I found another note under a napkin at my favorite restaurant. When I charted it, I had a moment of recognition! The number had increased by exactly 1,542. I folded up my chart and rushed to the library where research confirmed my suspicions: Whoever was leaving me the notes was updating me on the number of souls my invention had snuffed out.

I have tried to atone for this. I have returned to the study of electricity and moved on to human flight. I created the captive flying machines for the amusement of all. Ye gods! I have even created medical equipment to alleviate human suffering, but no one seems to care or notice. They only know me for the people I have helped kill.

As the numbers grew, so did the weight upon my conscience. How many lives have I wasted by now? With this war, with my guns being used on all sides, how much worse has it become? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? I wish I didn’t know, but the notes still came, each one with a new figure. Each one falling upon me now with the weight of a hundred suns. Until a week ago. A week ago I received a note that was different from all the others. It simply said, “We are coming.”

I know there are others like me out there. I can see it in the eyes of other great military inventors. I have heard hints of it in snatches of their conversation. I have come to believe that many of the scientific advancements we’ve seen deployed so brutally in this war were facilitated by Ru-kai and his ilk, whoever they may be. Humanity is cruel enough by itself. We need no further encouragement.

Hiram, my son, I do not know how long I have before that dreadful interview. I have taken steps though, and we may yet have the best of them. I am not arming myself. They will expect that. Instead, I have created something wholly new. Using your radio technology, a drum recording device, and my knowledge of electrical systems, I have created a transmission process that will make a remote copy of everything that is said when they come to me. We will know them for who they are and, with luck, we can warn off others. You will find the drum of the interview in a hidden compartment above the fireplace in the second guest room on the third floor. There is a button hidden in the right corner of the mantle.

I only hope it is enough. Succeed where I have failed.

Your Father,
Hiram Stevens Maxim

To be continued next Friday! 

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The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim, Part I
The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim, Part III
The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim, Part IV