In the year of 18__ the silver man fell from the sky and a horror not of this Earth would have overtaken our fair island were it not for the intervention of Providence and a brave soul sent to us thereby.
I was engaged in currying my sister, the lady Grace, to the Nightingale Training School for Nurses. We had left the home of the good Reverend MacDonald, whom I had prayed talk some sense into the girl, myself having failed. Our father and mother being both far too lenient with their only daughter had encouraged this fascination with the medical profession when she had broached the subject some months ago on her sixteenth birthday. The reverend had been visiting friends in the north and when I suggested a journey to see him the family had readily assented as Father was an old crony of the beloved heretic.
However upon arriving the esteemed reverend had only prayed with the girl and wished her well. It was to me that he spoke long and intently and myself who left with red ears. If I was not entirely convinced that this was as MacDonald put it, the working of the Spirit in the girl, I was sufficient humbled that I determined not to let my own pride stand in the way of my sister’s happiness and education.
I declared that I would drive her myself in the gleaming new carriage I had purchased, pulled by a set of perfectly matched chestnuts. As suspected the proposal pleased her immensely. Her fair soul had a deep appreciation for beauty in every form. The horses prancing before us in the brilliant fall sunlight appeared to fill her with joy and through the windows of her perception myself as well.
We paced easily along the well tended road to London enjoying ourselves immensely. The two of us had always been close, having no other siblings, and Mother and Father often called away by the duties of high society. About halfway along the journey I seized on the notion of leaving the main road and following an old Roman path that ran along the western coast for some ways. Never quite as ready for adventure as I Grace protested weakly but the warm summer air had enlivened her and it took little persuasion to convince my sister to agree.
Other than a very pleasant view of the Atlantic however the old road offered us little in the way of added enjoyment. Grace claimed that the lack of heavy traffic was a relief but I scoffed at that as I knew her to love the rush and press of the London streets. She only laughed at the accusation and leaned easily into my shoulder with a happy sigh. The horses took that as an excuse to loaf and we made poor time the rest of the day.
By the time the sky grew dark we were hard pressed to find a resting place even as a fog rolled in from the water followed by tall cloud banks. Finally we came to an empty house and I determined that this would have to do in the place of an inn. Full dark found us sitting more or less comfortably around a cheerful fireplace while Grace read avidly out of Nightengale’s “Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army”. The thick tome dwarfed her delicate hands and yet did not appear out of place in them. I fancied that I was quite coming to terms with my sister’s little madness.
Just as these thoughts took root in my brain the animals began to call out fearfully from the shed where I had stabled them. Grace gasped and clutched the book to her chest. Without having to even see the word forming on her lips I shook my head firmly.
“It is not wolves dear sister. As I have repeatedly assured you they were all hunted out several years ago.”
“So the hunters say dear brother, but something is disturbing Skip and Hop.”
“Probably some farmer’s dog. I will go scare the dumb beast off and we can get some sleep.”
Grace set the book to the side and rose with a frown.
“I will go with you.” She stated uncertainly. “Something is wrong. Those are two fine and seasoned geldings. They would not show such concern over a dog.”
I smiled inwardly even as I loudly forbade her to go out in the cold. My otherwise brave hearted sibling had always held a mortal fear of the dark and only controlled it by immersing herself in whatever book was handy in the small hours. She pretended to protest but sat down hurriedly with a blush when I suggested she finish reading that romance Reverend MacDonald had gifted her that she thought I was unaware of.
That settled I wandered out to check on the horses who had only grown more restless over the time I had tarried. Truth be told I was not one whit fonder of the dark and what it hid than my sister. We had both been blessed or cursed with imaginations that bordered on second sight and my mind was already conjuring vampyres and reanimated men from the darkness. The darkness in question was indeed thick. The looming clouds had begun to loose heavy drops of rain. The small lantern I carried cast a circle of light in the fog revealing little more that the path at my feet.
Arriving at the shed I was only made curious however. There was no dog in sight. Both horses had worked themselves into a high froth and were straining at their tethers. I quickly moved to stand between them so as to be able to comfort them both. The folly of this struck me almost immediately as the gentle old beasts took me at my word and pressed their great shoulders into me from either side, dislodging my lamp and casting it to the cobble floor.
After finally quieting the geldings, and moving to a position between their heads instead of their shoulders I noted an odd phenomenon. Though it had been invisible in the light of the lantern a strange glowing mist hovered around the left hand horse. It appeared to be this that was worrying the beast and I was quite perplexed as to what to do as I could determine no ready explanation for the occurrence.
Deciding that to be slightly wet was a preferable situation to being terrified out of their wits not to mention standing over the broken shards of glass from the lamp, I resolved to move the geldings to the shelter of some trees. Once there I secured them to the lower branches and was about to return to the house when something caught my eye and chilled me to the bone.
The glowing mist that had hovered in the shed had coalesced into a small thick haze and was drifting slowly but determinedly towards the horses against the direction of the wind. At that moment Grace appeared at the door clutching the romance in one hand and the spare lantern in the other. Her bright eyes and quick mind read the situation in a moment and she gasped and dashed to my side.
“Whatever is it?” she demanded more awe than fear in her voice.
“I do not know, but I doubt it is dangerous.” I stated.
Grace shot me a withering glare as the glowing cloud drew ever nearer through the rain.
“The horses fear it,” she stated firmly, “and Father says that they have more sense than most men. I think it would be best if we quit this place.”
Agreeing readily I untied the animals and was about to lead them to the carriage when a crack like thunder sounded and a bright flash blinded me. Vision clearing I staggered and found myself clutching my sister as we supported each other in the light of the lantern.
While we had been distracted the glowing cloud had descended on the gelding. The other stood nearby, unwilling to leave its mate but clearly terrified. The affected animal was lying on the ground thrashing and writhing and screaming in terror as the golden fog surrounded it. We two stood transfixed in the rain as the strange presence gathered around the animal’s head and flowed into its nostrils, mouth, ears, and eyes. After a moment the horse stopped struggling and lay panting.
Grace gave a small sound of pity and moved as if to approach and comfort the beast but a sound from the house caught my ear and I cried out and pointed. Out of the rubble of where it used to stand stepped a gleaming figure somewhere between a man and a kangaroo in shape. Its reflective hide was studded with gemstones and what appeared to be fine electrical wiring and it had neither hands nor face. It seemed to turn its attention to us and called out in some foreign tongue.
“The poor thing is hurt!” Grace exclaimed.
And indeed I could now see that the creature was damaged about the lower limbs. It called out again more urgently now and began to stagger towards us. Fearing its intentions I grabbed my sister and turned to flee, only to come face to face with the chestnut. He was calm now, standing firmly and glaring at us with wicked glowing red eyes. His forelegs had begun to wither even as his shoulders bulged and contorted. The beast pulled back its lips in a snarl revealing razor fangs and growled.
“I do believe that the silver man was trying to warn us.” Grace stated in an oddly calm voice.
Giving her and incredulous look I snatched her up and darted for the remaining horse. The transformed beast staggered behind us impeded by his rapidly changing body. I was about to toss my sister on the back of the beast and spur them to safety but she leapt out of my arms at the last moment crying out that we could not leave the silver man to the beast.
“It is a mechanism, not a man.” I cried out in frustration. “Look at it!”
But by this time the beast had reached us and we were focused on darting about to avoid its attacks. Suddenly it stopped and reared up on its hind legs. But instead of coming back down it screamed in fury. With a sickening ripping sound two ragged wings spread from its shoulders and the hooves fell away to reveal eagle like talons. The rear haunches only appeared to strengthen and the rear hooves clove in two. The tail thickened and grew to the size and length of a great python with a barbed end.
After the transformation the new creature stood there panting and frothing at the mouth.
“It looks exhausted. Perhaps we should fetch it some water?” Grace whispered.
“It tried to kill us!” I gasped out.
“Well how would you feel it that happened to you?”
Deciding that it was of no use to argue I was about to seize her and run when the beast straightened and turned to glare at its former mate. The chestnut was frozen with terror and confusion and did not move until the beast leapt upon it and began to devour it alive. The battle was fierce but the horse did not stand a chance. We watched in fascinated horror as the beast devoured what had but minutes ago been its closest companion. Finally it lifted its dripping maw from the innards of the animal and turned on us with rage filled eyes.
I know not what would have become of us had Silverman not intervened at that point. The strange reflective machine/man came in with a flying leap and landed on the beast’s back. One arm was wrapped around a length of lead pipe which he used to bludgeon the creature’s head repeatedly. The beast threw off its attacker with a scream and landed a kick that sent him flying across the cobbles in our direction. But when Silverman landed on his feet and stood to face the creature with the pipe it gave an unearthly scream and spun around. It ran across the yard flapping its wings, leapt up to the roof of the shed, and took flight into the cloudy night sky.
Silverman watched in the direction it had left for some time before staggering and turning to us. He voiced some question without a mouth but when Grace asked him to repeat it he simply collapsed on the ground. My sister immediately rushed to his aid and demanded that I assist her. Soon we had hauled the strange man into the carriage and Grace was administering what nursing care she had learned from her personal study which was substantial. She bandaged his wounds and after careful study laid his limbs out in what she took to be the proper order. At one point she pricked her hand on a stray wire and bled onto the prone form. She cleansed her own injury thoroughly and seemed quite disturbed when the silver flesh on the being absorbed her blood before she could remove it. I am afraid I paid little attention to her explanation regarding potential pathogens as the terror of the night and the exertions had exhausted me and I began to drift off to sleep.
I woke with a start when Grace cried out in wonder. The interior of the carriage was filled with a brilliant white light which illuminated my sister sitting perched as alert and bright eyed as any seasoned ward nurse beside her patient. Silverman was glowing and changing before our very eyes. Wires and impossibly small gears began to shift and turn, pulling his body into a more human shape. When that movement had stilled the metallic skin flowed like quicksilver to cover him, taking on the shape of clothing as well as flesh. The gems embedded in his surface retreated under the flow and within moments there lay before us a young man of perhaps twenty five of sound form and clean lines. The only oddity that would mark him as different from any of our race was his gleaming silver hair.
“He looks like you dear Brother!” Grace gasped glancing between the two of us.
“Rather he looks like you.” I murmured in shock.
Indeed it appeared that my sister had a male twin. Right down to a small birth mark on the base of his neck. I pointed this out and she reached up in wonderment to touch her own. Silverman’s eyes flickered open and he leapt suddenly into a crouch.
“In which direction did the chimera depart?” he demanded frantically. “How long have I been insensible?”
“If you are asking about the beast that our horse became it flew off into the sky and headed west.” I replied.
“That was about three hours ago.” Grace added glancing at her pocket watch. “It is storming out and as you are still injured I would not suggest pursuing it if that is your intention.”
There was strength in her usually gentle voice that astonished me. Looking at her now, in the light of the lantern I had no trouble imagining her as a nurse. The man slumped and nodded mutely for a moment.
“You speak the truth medic. Were I to engage a chimera so soon after injury and reformatting I would surely fall.”
“Are you hungry or thirsty?” Grace inquired courteously.
“I do not require sustenance at this time but thank you.”
“Who, or rather what are you sir?”I demanded after a moment’s pause my curiosity finally getting the better of my manners.
Grace shot me a scandalized look but Silverman seemed utterly nonplused.
“I suppose I do owe you an explanation for your aid.” He began, rising to sit more comfortably on the carriage bench as I assisted my sister to do so as well. “Most directly I am a soldier form a planet outside of your solar system.”
I gaped at him in dumb shock but Grace nodded and indicated he should continue. The soldier seemed surprised at this and noted that it was odd for such an undeveloped planet to have a ready understanding of space travel.
“The concept is by no means well understood,” my sister assured him, “but we are aware of it. I have had several fascinating discussions with our good friend the Reverend MacDonald on the topic.”
This was news to me but I must confess that when the conversation drifted from sporting I generally lost interest. Accepting Grace’s greater understanding the soldier laid out his tale. The story was at once as familiar as the front page of any newspaper and as alien as anything you can care to imagine. A handful of great powers and a scattering of lesser ones were at war in the stars above our heads. This solar system was of little strategic use to any of the powers but chance and great storms had driven two armies into the light of our sun and there they clashed.
One side favored mindless weapons that could be controlled by a central intelligence and the other individual soldiers who could think and reason on their feet and adapt to any situation. Silverman was one such soldier/weapon, bred to do battle for his masters. It was at that point that Grace pressed him about his name and discovered to her horror that he had none. She implored me to think up one for him and the best I could come up with at the time was Silverman. She seemed pleased and he consented to the title with an amused smile. His forces had just soundly defeated the other and utterly destroyed the central mind that controlled the weapons.
“So how was the one that we saw able to do battle?” Grace asked.
“Unfortunately there is a failsafe in the system.” Silverman conceded. “When the center is destroyed the outlying weapons are programmed to find the nearest planet, infiltrate it, and unite to form a new intelligence. They do this by the process you witnessed, gaining control of a local life form and transforming it to meet their needs of travel and protection. They will most likely try to find the lingering remnants of one of the earlier landings so they can absorb knowledge of this world from them.”
“So an unimaginably powerful weapon is forming right here in our home land?” I cried out in shock.
“There are more of those horrible things?” Grace demanded shuddering. “Do I understand you right that this has happened before?”
“Unlikely.” The soldier responded seriously to me. “It had only just made planet fall and chosen a direction. Before I was too badly damaged I was able to get a partial track on the signal it was communicating with. I was unable to get a direction but the distance is nearly a third of the planet’s circumference from here. But yes Miss Grace. There are no doubt hundreds of those creatures forming as we speak; if not thousands, and this is not the first time they have come to your planet. Before there were simply never enough to form the critical mass needed for a central intelligence.” His face turned grim. “It is my duty to destroy them before that can happen.”
I did some quick calculations in my head.
“Devil!” I exclaimed.
“Brother!” Grace snapped. “This is no time for foul language!”
“No, no! The Jersey Devil! The beast that was sighted in New England! It is about the right distance and due west of here.”
Silverman’s eyes lit up, literally lit up with a bright white light, at that and he leapt out of the carriage.
“Where are you going?” Grace called out.
“My self repair programs have completed their work and you have given me a location to begin my search!” He replied standing there in the driving rain. “My duty is clear! Thank you again for you aid.”
And with that the mysterious man/weapon raced off into the night. My sister and I sat there in the carriage facing each other until the lantern ran out. Then she came over to sit beside me. We each knew the other too well to have to ask what we were thinking about. I felt Grace shudder and squeezed her hand reassuringly. Thousands of the beasts that had attacked and devoured a fully grown horse without thought roaming the night, seeking each other in ever growing numbers. We stared out into the darkness and waited for the dawn.