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!
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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.
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.
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