To whom it may concern—and it should concern every living soul left on the planet:
By now you will have read the news of the Battle of the Somme and the tens of thousands of poor souls that died there, gunned down in the killing fields and trenches turned graves.
I am writing to tell you that news is a lie.
The good soldiers are indeed dead, I am sorry to say. But they were not killed by the enemy, or at least not the enemy from the newspaper accounts.
I know this because I was there.
I know this because I was the one who killed them all.
I will spare you the details of that carnage, for they are more horrific than you can imagine, given what I have become.
I swear to you I had no choice, though. We are in a war.
But it is not the war you think we are fighting. It is a secret, far more insidious war. And I am not your enemy, despite all those loved ones of yours I was forced to slaughter.
I am fighting to save humanity and even the world itself.
The real enemy is already among us, and it is not me.
Now that I have your attention, dear reader, allow me to introduce myself. I am the scientist once known as Archimedes Smith. I am afraid I am no longer Archimedes Smith and have not been since my death. But more on that later.
You have, I trust, heard of me—thanks to the newspaper reports of my passing, if not my work on genetics. My scientific career was what would politely be called unremarkable, but my death was decidedly spectacular.
Let me assure you, however, that those tabloid stories are exactly that: stories. They bear no more similarity to the truth than the tales invented to cover up what really happened at the Somme. I most certainly did not die in a bumbling act of espionage, carrying a top-secret weapon to the Hun headquarters, in Berlin, as some of the reports of the day had it.
Such tales are as fraudulent as the accusations that the League of Knowledge, which I was head of at the time of its demise, was some sort of gang of super-villainous scientists. I can say with the utmost conviction that the league was nothing of the sort. It was merely an organization dedicated to the advancement of the sciences—an organization famed writer H. G. Wells once called the only hope left for the future. In light of recent events, I fear he was being overly optimistic about our prospects.
But the accusations against the league and myself were delivered by none other than Alphaman, and there is not a newspaper editor alive that would dare question him.
I am not a newspaper editor, nor am I still alive in the conventional sense, so consider this my letter of correction.
I will admit the news accounts were accurate in one regard. I was indeed killed because of a secret technology, but I was nowhere near Berlin, or the trenches of any front for that matter. No, I did not die on that Prussian train when the “secret weapon” exploded. I suspect there was nothing secret at all about whatever blew up that carriage and whoever was inside. It would not surprise me to learn it was little more than dynamite, and the victims probably just poor travellers, perhaps even sedated prisoners.
Instead, I died deep in the forests of the Siberian wilderness, in an area so remote few humans had ever set foot there. And I died alone and unnoticed, except for Alphaman and one other being.
I know what you are thinking: how am I able to speak to you now if I am dead? The short answer is because of that second entity present at my death—a mysterious and mechanical creature from another world. The longer answer will require a great deal of explanation. I will undertake to do the best job I can of clarifying events, but you must forgive me if some of the details are less than clear. My mind is not what it once was.
I travelled to Siberia not on a mission of treason, but on a quest to save us all. I went in search of starseed. And I found the greatest cache of the alien substance ever discovered. It was a discovery worth millions of dollars, but it was not wealth I pursued to the end of the world. It was knowledge.
I admit I kept my mission a secret, but I had valid reasons for doing so. I dared not tell my superiors in the government what I planned, for I knew they would quickly put an end to such a venture. Or they would send their own men to secure the starseed and hide it away where it couldn’t harm Alphaman.
As you know, Alphaman is our nation’s best weapon in the battle against the Hun. He has demonstrated himself to be not just a hero but a superhero, immune to the enemy’s bullets, capable of burning a hole through the metal armour of the Hun’s new tank weapons with his heat vision, or flying far above the battlefield and dropping bombs to terrorize the enemy in their trenches. He is like a character from the comic books come to life, and his superpower is death itself.
I knew the generals would never allow the starseed, the one thing that could harm him, to fall into non-military hands. I also knew they would never accept any challenges to Alphaman’s story that he was the last of an alien species, come to save us from the mistakes that had doomed his own race. Just as I knew the public would not accept a rebuttal of the growing belief that Alphaman was something more than an alien, a belief that had caused many to rechristen him the Alpha and the Omega.
But my expedition called into question everything we knew about Alphaman. It was a mission of science and reason. And a mission of investigation. As it turned out, I discovered far more than I had ever anticipated.
I was not the only one who questioned the stories of Alphaman’s origins, of course. There were others in the scientific community who were suspicious from the moment he fell burning from the sky and crashed into that neighbourhood in Detroit, then rose from the wreckage and flames like a phoenix.
The famed aeronautical engineer Winston Finch, for instance, who apprenticed with the Wright brothers and then helped develop the military’s air fleet. At the league conference in Washington shortly before the war broke out, he told me in confidence that he believed the story of Alphaman’s origins to be suspect.
I trust you all know the official mythology: that Alphaman was on his way to help and enlighten us when his spacecraft, the Starseed, suffered a mechanical defect and broke up while entering our atmosphere, scattering fragments for thousands of miles across the globe. Every treasure seeker in the world sought out that debris for the sums of money governments—all governments, not just ours—were willing to pay.
But Finch told me the story was just that: mythology. I remember the day clearly, for it was such a revelation. We were smoking cigars and enjoying a snifter of brandy on the hotel patio. Finch looked up at the heavens and said the dispersal of starseed—the remnants of Alphaman’s spacecraft—did not match such a claim. He told me the various elements of the debris field would have followed a more or less predictable trajectory. “Like a cloud on the wind,” he said, and blew cigar smoke up at the stars. It should have been relatively easy to find the mass of it once the first individual pieces had been found. But the starseed was scattered all over the globe, in every direction, as all the treasure seekers knew. It could be found anywhere, so there was no pattern. The starseed finds to date resembled more the debris field of a massive explosion, where fragments of the originating craft had been sent flying every which way with great force. Thus Alphaman’s story had to be a lie, Finch said with another long exhale.
“But why would Alphaman lie about how he had come to our world?” I wondered aloud. For surely the rest of his story had to be true—he was an alien, that was clear no matter how much he resembled us. Yet we saw no sign of others of his species. He truly did seem alone.
I remember clearly what Finch said next, for it chilled me to the bone.
“I am certain we do not want to know the truth about Alphaman,” he said.
But I was a scientist. Truth is what I had sought all my life. The search for truth had led me to become head of the league. And it was the search for truth that killed me.
And perhaps killed Finch, for not long after our conversation his ship sank on a voyage to London, where he was to meet with British military officers about the expansion of the fledgling British air force. The official account of the event held that the Lusitania was sent to the bottom of the ocean by a torpedo from one of the Hun’s new submarine fleet. But what of the rumours that the vessel’s telegraph officer reported the ship was under attack by men erupting from the water? Of course, people get confused in such trying circumstances. Perhaps it wasn’t men. Perhaps it was just a single man. Or not even a man at all.
At any rate, when I heard the news I wondered who else Finch had told his theories over brandy.
There were others who believed Alphaman was hiding something. Part of my duties as head of the league meant meeting scientists and researchers of all kinds, and I often travelled to their laboratories or facilities to glean an understanding of their work. So it was I found myself in Miss Ellen Saint-West’s starseed research compound, in New Mexico, which was surrounded by barbed wire and trenches full of soldiers. It was an odd contrast to the starseed itself, which came from what Alphaman said was little more than an interstellar life raft that carried no weapons. The craft’s only danger was it had been made of elements from his home planet, which offset the superpowers our yellow sun gave him and made him merely human again. Alphaman offered no convincing explanation for why he wore a band of smooth starseed on his left wrist, other than to say it reminded him of home and wasn’t large enough to affect his powers.
But Miss Saint-West told me that day her team in the research facility had, in fact, studied starseed fragments that seemed to have potential to be weapon parts. While most pieces of starseed treasure seekers turned in to the government were simple scraps of the strange black metal or those indestructible glass wires, others appeared to be functioning devices. Miss Saint-West showed me an artifact that looked to be no more than a smooth, polished cube of starseed. But when she dropped it to the floor of the laboratory, I suddenly felt weak, as if I could barely stand. Miss Saint-West had to lean against a table to support herself. I thought I might faint before she finally picked it up and shook it in a way that made the effects cease.
I remember very well the words she spoke then, for they were the last she spoke to me.
“It appears to be some sort of containment field that incapacitates whoever is in it,” she said, staring down at the artifact in her hands. “But why would the last survivor of his race, adrift alone in an interstellar life raft, need such a thing?”
Miss Saint-West was called away then by a subordinate to inspect a new shipment of starseed that had just been delivered by army convoy. It was the last time I saw her, as the military ordered the facility sealed off from public access after my visit. I never heard from Miss Saint-West again.
And then there was the matter of starseed pieces that sometimes blew up and killed the treasure seekers who had unearthed them in their hiding spots around the globe. Perhaps they exploded out of mere molecular instability, as Alphaman claimed. Or perhaps they truly were weapons and the treasure seekers had handled them in the wrong way.
The rumours that there was more to Alphaman than met the eye even extended to the public at times. Some of you may remember the reporter from the Chicago Tribune who wrote the story about the parties at the mansion the government had thrown for Alphaman, and the allegations he had fathered more than one child with various society ladies around the city. The detail that the relationships with those society ladies may have been less than consensual was buried in the story, little more than a footnote. You may recall the reporter promised to track down the mysterious children to determine if they were human or alien. But who tracked down the reporter when he disappeared? Perhaps one day we will find out what happened to him. Perhaps.
Mostly, though, people overlooked the questionable aspects of Alphaman. War had long been brewing, and now it had finally come after the assassination of Bismarck on a visit to Madrid, not long after Alphaman had stopped a similar assassination attempt against Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. As is always the case in dark times, we needed a hero. Alphaman gave us a superhero.
And when we held the reception in his honour after the Battle of Ypres, who were we to judge when the generals talked of the hell of the trenches and Alphaman responded drunkenly that we knew nothing of hell, that he was the only one on the planet who had seen true hell? Even superheroes must be offered some leeway.
I finally felt I had to act when I heard whispers of the Detroit Project at various conferences. It was difficult to determine what exactly it was, other than it involved the nation’s top physicists. Everyone was sworn to secrecy, backed by threats of execution. But some mumbled into their drinks that they were building a device to neutralize the starseed, so Alphaman would be forever safe from it. And someone slipped an anonymous note under my hotel room door in New York one night stating that the project involved developing a top-secret bomb designed by Alphaman himself, one intended to split the very fabric of reality. The note said if we allowed it to continue, we might destroy the world and even the universe itself.
I had to act. But I had little to act upon. Until I attended an astrophysics conference in Geneva, which was neutral ground during the war. A Russian named Yuri Kopolev gave a presentation about a strange occurrence in Siberia—a massive explosion that had levelled tens of thousands of trees in an area called Tunguska. He said the authorities had suspected an enemy attack of some sort, because the paranoid regime always suspected enemy action. But why attack a forest in Siberia?
Even more interesting, Kopolev said a survey of the area suggested the explosion had happened in the air rather than on the ground. He said evidence pointed to a meteor that had succumbed to rising internal pressures from its entry into the atmosphere, but Kopolev admitted that was simply a theory to explain an event no one truly understood.
I bought him a Scotch after the talk and asked him when the Tunguska event had happened. He mumbled into his drink that it was hard to determine the exact date, as word had only filtered back to Moscow a few months earlier. But he gave me a range based on what he had read of the accounts and the photos he had seen.
The earliest date was the same year Alphaman had fallen from the sky and destroyed part of Detroit.
I have no qualms mentioning Kopolev now. Those of you who follow scientific news know he was found dead shortly after the newspaper accounts of my own death were published. A heart attack, the official reports claim, even though neighbours said he was pulled from his burning apartment with a hole melted through his chest where his heart should have been.
So I set off to Siberia to see the Tunguska event for myself. It was an arduous journey, and not just because of the daunting landscape. It was also most challenging because of the war. The trenches of the battlefields were thousands of miles away, of course, as was Alphaman, who was single-handedly driving the Hun out of those trenches. But fear and paranoia travel far. I journeyed first to Moscow under the guise of attending a research conference, then rode trains into the interior of the great Russian empire. My fellow passengers stared at each other with suspicion and hostile gazes. Part of that was just the Russian nature. But part of it was because of the war. Who knew which fellow passenger was an infiltrator and saboteur? No doubt it was only the fact I speak flawless Russian as one of my languages that saved me. Although making it through the trip to my destination ultimately condemned me.
It was in many ways a relief when I reached areas where I could no longer travel by train or even road, for it meant I was alone and away from suspicious eyes.
I bought a horse from a local man at the end of the rail line, and a rifle for bears and other Russian threats. I rode the horse where the terrain was forgiving enough and walked with it when the ground wasn’t. The animal complained regardless of my charity. I carried my equipment on my back like a beast of burden, which I was. I carried the burden of science and progress, which is a heavy weight indeed.
At least it was the warm season in that region, if you can say Russia is ever warm. I was able to set up camp in the woods instead of digging snow caves for shelter.
The farther east I went, the more general the maps were. Tunguska became a loose direction rather than a specific site. Again, my grasp of the Russian language saved me. I encountered hunters and trappers from time to time, and I inquired of them directions to where the forest had been knocked down. They pointed me in the right way with a minimum of wasted words, perhaps because I had adopted the guise of a Russian government official looking to inspect the damage to state property. No doubt they deemed it best not to attract too much attention to their own illicit wanderings through that land.
After a time of travel not worth describing here, I found the location of the Tunguska event. I stepped over a hilltop and then there was nothing but fallen trees for as far as I could see. All of them knocked down by some great force that flattened the land. A shock wave, I knew instantly, but a shock wave the likes of which the world had likely never seen. For a time, all I could do was stare at it. Even the horse I led knew something was strange about this, and for the first time since I’d acquired the beast, it stopped complaining and simply stood there quietly.
There was nothing to do but walk down the other side of that hill and descend into the ruins of the forest.
By now you are likely wondering what I found there in Tunguska.
I found the truth about Alphaman.
I found the remains of his craft, the Starseed.
And because of that, I found my death.
I discovered the secret of Alphaman’s origins hidden away there among the fallen trees and charred patches where fires had raged before going out. My eye caught a glint of light on metal from beneath some fallen timber, and I cleared away the branches to discover a long panel of starseed embedded in the earth. This was not a fragment. It was connected to something larger hidden away in the ground.
It took me three days to excavate enough of it that I understood what I had found; three days to understand I had found something that would change the world forever. Something that would perhaps even change the universe forever.
I knew it was the Starseed itself from the moment I uncovered the first porthole, on the morning of the second day. By that time I had dug several yards down into the ground. The ship had buried itself deep, but the soil was loose enough from the impact I could still work it free.
The portholes were covered with metal screens on the inside, so I couldn’t ascertain the contents of the craft. If I’d been able to, perhaps I would have halted the excavation. Perhaps, but likely not.
By the evening of the second day, I had uncovered what I assumed to be the middle section of the vessel, judging from the thin, broken-off platforms that jutted out from the main body. The remains of wings if I had ever seen any in my soon to be short life. They were similar in style to what I’d seen on the aircraft of the day, if not similar in substance.
On the third day, I uncovered the enormous rift in the side of the Starseed. The edges were curled away in a manner metal shouldn’t curl, and scorched a deeper black than charred firewood. The source of the explosion, I assumed. I dug cautiously now, unearthing just enough that I could survey the interior of the craft. And so sealed my fate.
How to describe what I saw inside? The interior of that starship was indescribable by the likes of me. Perhaps Gernsback and his fellow science fictioneers could manage it, but it is beyond me. I will do the best I can, however. You will have to supply your own sense of drama at man’s first encounter with an alien vessel.
It was as dark as a cave inside, but as I peered in, panels of flashing lights suddenly lit up the walls. By their glow I could make out the interior of the craft. It had indeed been ravaged by some sort of explosion.
There was no apparent living space, just a number of chairs that seemed to flow out of the deck of the Starseed itself. The chairs held straps like those I had seen in the cockpits of aircraft, but they were made of a material I had never before encountered. They looked like a jelly form of the starseed material.
There was more jelly on the floor of the craft. It appeared to have oozed out of the broken tanks along one wall. They were vertical chambers spaced evenly along the wall, a dozen or so of them. There were more flashing lights in between them, and strange white panels that pulsed softly with light. The chambers looked as if they were meant to be sealed off from the rest of the craft with glass walls, but the glass had been shattered in all of them, and the jelly they’d contained had leaked out.
But jelly was not all they contained. There were also human remains in the chambers. Or rather, alien remains. For while they looked human, I felt sure they were just as alien as Alphaman himself. Eight of them: five men and three women. Their bodies were remarkably preserved, perhaps as a result of being sealed underneath the earth in this tomb, perhaps by something in the jelly, but they were dead nevertheless, as was clear from the signs of the explosion upon them.
Eight of them, and four empty chambers.
Alphaman was not the only one of his kind, I realized as I peered into the downed spacecraft. So why would he claim such a thing?
The wrecked chambers were not the only ruin inside the Starseed. The instrumentation panels of the ship lit up more twisted metal throughout the interior, and there was another rift in the other side of the craft, through which a great deal of earth had spilled in. A spider’s web of silken wires hung from tears in the ceiling, and there were deep gouges in the floor. I knew it was almost impossible to damage the starseed material, so I wondered what sort of force could have wreaked such havoc in the spacecraft. Had it been felled by some sort of enemy instead of the mechanical malfunction Alphaman claimed? If so, where was that enemy now?
I could not dwell on such thoughts for long, however, because it was then that the mechanical spider made its appearance.
Yes, you have read my words correctly. As strange and wondrous as the craft had been so far, there were more marvels still to be discovered.
It came out from behind a shattered chair and ran at me, like I was prey caught in its trap. It was not an enormous creature—no larger than a retriever hound—but it was frightening nonetheless, not only because it was a giant spider, complete with eight quickly moving limbs, metal tentacles for mandibles, and red, glowing eyes, but because it was made of starseed itself.
And because it spoke in Russian.
“What is your command?” it asked me, and then it stopped, a few feet away. But no doubt still within striking range.
I had no thought of fighting the creature. My rifle was still in the tent, and I didn’t believe it would have been of any use against such a monstrosity as this anyway. Nor did I entertain any thoughts of fleeing. How could I flee such a discovery?
“You speak,” I said. I was so stunned I dropped my disguise of a Russian agent and lapsed into my native tongue.
“I have a number of languages available for use,” the spider said, switching to perfect English. “Do you have a preference?” It spoke with an accent that would have made an Etonian proud.
“You are intelligent,” I said when speech finally returned to me.
“I am autonomous,” the spider said. I wasn’t sure if it was correcting me or not. “I exist to serve,” it added.
“How is it that you can speak my language?” I asked.
It was a good question for many reasons. When I studied the spider, I saw no mouth, just those strange mandibles. The sound seemed to come from a black grid on its back instead. I must confess this observation did not make me feel any safer.
“I have recorded all the broadcasts capable of reaching this area and extracted the language patterns,” the spider said. “A simple enough procedure, even in power-saving mode.”
“What are you?” I asked. I admit I dreamed in that moment that it was some sort of alien scientist, one I could bring home to the league headquarters. An emissary of a more enlightened race. A beacon of hope in a dark age. But my hope was quickly snuffed out.
“I am an assistant warden,” the spider said.
“A warden of what?” I asked.
The creature hesitated a moment, as if thinking.
“Perhaps that is the wrong word,” the spider said. “The more appropriate choice may be ‘jailor.’ ”
Another chill ran along my spine then, one deeper than when I had first set eyes on the spider itself. I looked at the bodies in the chambers, and at the empty chambers.
“A jailor of what?” I asked.
“Me,” said a voice from behind us.
I turned to find Alphaman drifting down out of the Siberian sky, like a feather falling to the earth. His skin was smoking and his uniform tattered, the red white and blue mainly crimson and black now. He’d come straight here from the Western front. But how had he found me?
“You don’t know how long I’ve been searching for this ship,” he said, touching down upon the ground. The land shook with the impact. He smiled, but there was no joy in it.
I had never personally been in the presence of Alphaman before. I didn’t know what to say. Especially given my mission here to discover the truth about him.
“I’ve had the warden controller for years,” he went on, perhaps to fill the silence, perhaps to toy with me. He tapped the band of starseed around his wrist. “Found by a miner in Alaska. I’ve been monitoring for signals ever since, but there’s been nothing. I’d thought maybe the Starseed had actually been destroyed, along with all its passengers. But then you were kind enough to uncover it and wake the wardens from sleep. I suppose I should thank you.”
The spider spoke before I could. “Submit yourself to apprehension, fugitive,” it said in a surprisingly commanding voice. Its grasp of our languages was quite remarkable. It scurried toward Alphaman, and I hastily stepped to the side, into the Starseed.
Alphaman, however, showed no fear. He ran his hand along the band on his wrist in a quick pattern I didn’t understand, and the spider stopped in its tracks, as if paralyzed, then backed up several feet.
“I don’t think so,” Alphaman told it. “I haven’t figured out how to deactivate you yet, if there is a way, but I have learned how to keep you away. That will do until I learn all the wardens’ secrets.”
He walked the length of my excavation, studying the remains of the Starseed as the spider ran at him again several times, stopping and backing up each time it got too close. He paid it no attention at all now. The ground shook with each step he took. I marvelled at how the Hun stood against him at all. I thought about fleeing, but where would I flee to that I could actually escape Alphaman? I looked around the interior of the craft again, but saw nothing that could aid me. Now that I was inside, I saw the front of the ship was also ruptured and split from the explosion, with streams of dirt fallen in through the cracks.
“I see no other wardens,” Alphaman said. “Are you the only one left then?” The spider, which had given up on its efforts to attack, didn’t answer until Alphaman ran his hand along the band again.
“The others were destroyed or fatally crippled in the explosion,” the spider said from its place near the entrance I had taken into the Starseed. “I have salvaged their parts to ensure my continuing operations.”
Alphaman smiled that cold smile again. It made me retreat farther into the ship.
“And the crew?” he said.
“All biological wardens were ejected from the ship after the explosion caused pressure differentials,” the spider said. “Along with you and three other prisoners. Their status is unknown.”
Alphaman nodded. “Well, I imagine if they’d survived the blast and the fall, we would have heard of them by now,” he said. “It was a near enough thing for me, and I was expecting it.”
“So you’re an escaped prisoner, not an emissary of good will,” I cried out. I could not help myself.
Alphaman peered into the ship at me.
“You don’t really look like a treasure seeker,” he said.
“I’m a scientist, not some scavenger,” I said. “I seek enlightenment, not material wealth.”
“Consider yourself enlightened then,” Alphaman said. “Too bad for you. If it were only money you were after, you might have made it out of here alive.”
So, I had found out Alphaman’s secret. But the world would never hear it from me.
“Is any of what you told us true?” I asked.
Alphaman shrugged. “There was a planet that was destroyed,” he said.
“A crime for which you were imprisoned,” the spider said.
“Indeed,” Alphaman said, his voice softening now. “But not even that crime deserved the punishment of the hell you and your comrades put me through.”
“There are jail stations for rehabilitation and there are jail stations for punishment,” the spider said. “You no longer qualified for the former.”
“You and your kind try to dream up the torments of hell,” Alphaman said, looking at me. His smile was gone now. “But you cannot imagine the torments I endured in those jails.”
“How did you come here then?” I asked, my voice little more than a whisper.
“A simple transfer between jails after I became too much for one station,” he said. “But it takes more than a warden ship to imprison me.” He looked back at the spider. “As I think I’ve demonstrated. Your masters were so easy to trick. A simple bribe from my hidden accounts to an engineer to create a navigation malfunction while near a habitable solar system. An explosion when the ship entered the atmosphere to set down for repairs, courtesy of a bomb hidden in another prisoner transferred on board at the last minute to escape scans. I didn’t need super powers to make my escape. Although they have been agreeable.”
“You’re a monster,” I breathed.
“Your kind slaughters each other by the tens of thousands over small patches of land or imaginary gods and you call me a monster?” Alphaman shrugged. “Perhaps I am just trying to fit in here.” He gazed up at the sun far overhead. He didn’t squint or shield his eyes, just stared directly into it. “I feel very at home,” he added. “I don’t think I’ll ever leave.”
“Won’t the others of your kind have dispatched a rescue mission when this craft failed to arrive at its destination?” I said.
Alphaman spread his arms to take in the desolate crash site in which we stood.
“I think if they thought there was anyone to rescue, they would have been here by now,” he said. “No one will come for me. And no one will come to save you.”
When he looked back down from the sun, his eyes were glowing. I knew what that meant. His heat-ray vision. I only had seconds to live. In those seconds, I remembered the first words of the spider.
“What is your command?”
“Save us!” I cried.
The spider sprang into motion. It leapt back into the ship in a single bound. At the same time, the lights inside the Starseed flashed in different patterns, and the craft began to hum. The floor shifted under my feet. Somehow, the spider was communicating with the ship. Perhaps by some form of electronic telepathy or radio signals or some such thing. It was a marvel to behold despite my preoccupation with survival.
Alphaman’s eyes flashed, but before his heat vision could strike, a wave of jelly flowed out of recesses in the ceiling and down the walls, covering the rifts in the sides of the craft. It was solid enough to form more walls, but a spot began to boil where Alphaman’s gaze lit upon it. We had some time, but not much.
“You may wish to secure yourself to avoid injury,” the spider said, tapping at some of the lights with a tentacle. Now other panels in the walls lit up, displaying moving pictures. Moving pictures of the outside world, as hard as that may be to believe. I watched Alphaman burning a hole into the ship through the jelly. The panels were some sort of camera device. Truly remarkable. “The damage to the craft prevents us from achieving maximum velocity or even stable flight for more than a few minutes,” the spider went on. “But we may still reach speeds dangerous to your frail skeletal structure.”
I quickly hurried to one of the chairs at the mention of flight. I had never flown before, although I had long dreamed of it. Of course, none of those dreams had ever included a wrathful Alphaman.
“I am going to destroy you!” the so-called superhero cried from outside the Starseed. “And then I’m going to destroy every molecule of this ship, so there will be nothing left that can ever hurt me again.”
I had to escape to get word of Alphaman out to the world. But how?
The spaceship surged under my feet before I could untangle the purposes of all the chair’s straps. I flew through the air myself, and I landed in one of the chambers still coated with the jelly.
“I have initiated evasive manoeuvres,” the spider said, “but I must warn you that the chance of escape is minimal.”
“Just keep me alive!” I cried, but I feared my words lost in the sudden wind that came through the ruptures at the front of the craft. I tried to extricate myself from the jelly, but something kept me pressed down into it. A weight on my entire body I had never felt before.
Then a hole burned through the jelly and Alphaman was there, glaring at us, his eyes smouldering. The ruins of the Tunguska forest were visible over his shoulder, and it was only then that I understood we were flying high above the ground.
“You may have learned to fly the ship, but that won’t save you from me,” Alphaman said. “Not when I can fly faster.”
“Have we no weapons?” I cried.
“Firing weapons,” the mechanical spider said. There was a blast of light outside the ship that temporarily blinded me, and for a few seconds I thought Alphaman was vaporizing us with his heat vision. When my vision returned, Alphaman was gone from the hole.
But I knew he’d be back. The moving pictures on the walls showed him falling through the sky, a ragged burn mark scored across his body. It would have been interesting to learn how those moving pictures worked, but I feared I would never have the opportunity to do so.
Then Alphaman righted himself in the air and disappeared from the pictures. I knew he was coming for us.
“Whatever you do, don’t let him catch us,” I yelled to the spider.
“The probability of my success is low,” the spider said.
And then Alphaman was back at the hole in the ship’s side again.
“I’ll burn you to your hell,” he said, “and you will have a taste of what I have endured.” And then his eyes glowed once more.
The spider must have taken some sort of evasive manoeuvres then, for the Starseed bucked like a horse. Alphaman half fell out of the hole, and his gaze flew wildly about the interior of the craft for a second. Explosions went off along the walls where his heat vision touched, and the air filled with smoke. I am not ashamed to admit I screamed, but not loudly enough to drown out the spider’s next words.
“Probability of impact is one hundred per cent,” it said. “Likelihood of survival for biological passenger is too low to estimate.”
The trees I could see through the hole in the ship were closer now. We were descending. Wind howled through the ship, joining my screams.
“Fools!” Alphaman cried. “You can’t—”
But then he was gone as another blast of the Starseed’s weapons system blew him away from the hole.
Not that it saved me. The ship smashed through the tops of the trees, branches whipping past the open doorway. We’d flown far enough that we had reached the forest at the edge of the Tunguska blast zone. The trip that had taken days by horse took only seconds in the air. It should have been a marvellous thing to experience.
“Prepare for impact,” the spider said, but there was no time to prepare.
I awoke some time later, although waking is the wrong word for it. But I do not yet have a word to convey the real experience. Perhaps “resurrection,” but that would not be entirely accurate either. It was something in between the two. Or perhaps far removed from either.
You are alive, said the spider, but this time its voice was in my head.
When I opened my eyes, I saw I was no longer in the Starseed. Instead, I was in a cave of some sort. That is, it was a cave, but it was a cave that had been transformed into something else. A panel of blinking lights from the starship hung from a rock outcropping, as did a moving picture. The picture showed a patch of forest, but the trees were upright and healthy. This was not Tunguska.
There was no sign of the horse, but the rifle I’d bought was leaning against one wall. Beside it was another, strange rifle. It was made of starseed and had some sort of tubular eyepiece fixed to the top. One of the chairs from the ship sat on the ground nearby, amid some other scraps of metal. On the opposite wall hung the carcass of a skinned, smoked deer. There was no sign of the spider.
I looked down at myself. I was suspended in a pool of the jelly from the ship. But that was not all. There were pieces of starseed in my arm and stomach, fused with my flesh like armour. Shards making me whole where there were obvious pieces of me missing. And something felt different about my legs, hidden out of sight in the depths of the jelly.
“Where are you, warden?” I asked, grabbing on to a rocky outcropping of the cave floor and pulling myself out of the jelly. I moved quicker and more easily than I had anticipated.
I am with you, the spider said from somewhere I couldn’t place. We are one.
I looked down at my legs and screamed at what I saw there. I admit I screamed for some time. I imagine you would have screamed too, if you underwent a similar metamorphosis.
My legs were gone. My lower body was gone. From the waist down, I was a mechanical spider. My trunk was fused to the back of the spider with a melted ring of starseed. I took a step back in horror, trying to get away from the spider body, and the legs moved backward in thrall to my mind.
You are experiencing a standard emotional response to the transformation, the spider said in my mind. This will pass. But I must warn you, the sounds of alarm we are emitting may compromise the secrecy of our refuge.
“What have you done to me?” I cried, not heeding the creature’s warning.
I was unable to save your previous body, the spider told me. However, I was able to retrieve enough parts to prevent your death. If I had a proper medical facility, I could perhaps have grown new parts and restored you. The only way to follow your command and maintain your existence was to integrate our bodies. Your experience in genetics and biology proved most useful in that, as I was able to access your memories once I established an interface with your brain. I am constantly monitoring and adjusting your physical networks to keep you alive. We have salvaged some parts of the ship while Alphaman has been away, but our mobility has been limited because of your precarious state.
“Alphaman,” I breathed. I looked around the cave but saw no sign of him.
You are safe for the moment, the spider told me. He has returned to the western front to battle the German military forces there. But before he left he transported in a specialist unit from your country to secure the crash site. They are disassembling the ship with some technology Alphaman has shared with them and are preparing it for travel.
“Travel to where?” I asked.
A facility called Los Alamos, the spider said in my mind. It is to play a role in something called the Detroit Project, but it is unclear what exactly they intend to do with it.
“It’s a weapon,” I said. “The Detroit Project is a weapon.”
Either Alphaman intends to use the weapon to destroy the Starseed and the last remnants of evidence that can reveal his true nature, or he plans to use its technology in the weapon itself, the spider said. Whichever scenario is more accurate, we must find a way to apprehend and imprison him again.
“How could we possibly stop him?” I said.
Admittedly, it will be difficult, the spider said. Especially given we cannot get close to him while he possesses the warden control. We need to find as many pieces of the ship that remain undiscovered as we can. There may be something we can use as a weapon, or that may help us develop a weapon capable of affecting Alphaman. We must find them before someone else does.
“You should have let me die,” I said.
Think of what you will learn from me,/ the spider said. Think of what you can teach humanity, the scientific advancements you can usher in. All we need to do is stop Alphaman.
I did indeed think of that. “What else are you capable of?” I asked.
I am an all-purpose assistant warden,/ it said. I have various neutralization devices, but unfortunately I cannot use those when Alphaman has the warden control. And I am not certain if they would be effective given his enhanced powers. However, I do provide a wide range of other services. I am capable of navigating most terrain, and I can build tools and shelters for every imaginable scenario. I can monitor every frequency and spectrum to gather information. I can serve as a vehicle and as a weapon platform for improvised weaponry you can operate. After all, you are not bound to the warden control like I am.
“Could you create another starship?” I asked.
Of course, given the proper materials. I also have the capability of producing land vehicles and submersibles.
“And more spiders?” I asked.
I can replicate myself indefinitely, given a large enough supply of the material you call starseed.
“We can’t stop Alphaman,” I said. “Not in this state. But we can warn the world of him while we search for more starseed.”
It will be difficult to sway public opinion. He has already identified you as a traitor and saboteur. Your reputation is destroyed, and your league of scientists has been disbanded.
The spider explained how it had scanned the broadcasts as it put me back together and discovered the stories Alphaman had fed to the newspapers about me on the train.
You are a villain in the eyes of the world now, the spider said.
I used my new spider legs to walk over to the panel of blinking lights on the wall. There was a shard of glass beside it that functioned well enough as a mirror. I looked at my face and saw the starseed plates in my skull and cheeks for the first time, the one eye that was mine but the other that was some sort of metal and glass construct. I looked horrific, but I was a marvel of science.
“Very well, it’s up to us then,” I said to the spider.
What do you wish to do? the spider asked.
“We are at war,” I said. “So we need an army.”
That is what led us to the Somme. The warden had located a large cache of starseed scattered throughout the area. A soldier had found a fragment while digging a trench and showed it around before his superiors could quiet him and spirit the substance away. Other soldiers began digging their own trenches and found more of the starseed. The warden had ways of monitoring communications unknown to me. That is how he learned of this. So we travelled across the land, mostly at night, until we reached the Somme and started our own excavations. I will spare you the details, for I must still keep some secrets.
But Alphaman had his own secrets and somehow found out where I was. This time he didn’t come for me himself, though. Instead, he sent the army to finish the nightmarish job he had started.
But I had become a nightmare even he couldn’t conceive of, as the Huns in their trenches learned. Once I had disposed of them and collected up their treasure of starseed, the warden showed me how to use it to create more spiders to dig for more of the space metal. When the Allied soldiers came looking for an enemy, they found one, but it was not the Hun troops they were expecting in the trenches. It was my army of minions.
Believe me when I say I would have preferred to scuttle off into the darkness again and not spill their blood. But the excavations were not yet complete. I needed all of the starseed I could find. And so those troops had to die, along with all the others Alphaman ordered to attack us. I do not know why he did not come for us himself. Perhaps he was afraid of the power of an army of minions. Perhaps there was some other reason. The world may never know.
Now I have the starseed that I came for and the battle of the Somme is over. I have retreated into the shadows once more.
I am dead, as are so many others. I am still Archimedes, and I am so much more. Now I am Archimedes Death.
You will search for me, but you will not find me.
Perhaps you will discover the cave where I was born. Perhaps you will search the wilderness around it. Perhaps you will search the entire world. But you will not find me anywhere. I have escaped to the stars, in a new spacecraft, the Venom, I have built using the starseed from the Somme and the spider’s scientific library and skills.
This letter is my warning I will not remain among the stars, far from the Earth that made me.
I cannot defeat Alphaman alone, not even with the help of my spider army that is now hidden around the world.
I need allies.
When I find them, I will return.
And I will bring hell with me.