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 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


About Brian

I am a history professor and author living with my family in the Virginia Mountains. It's hard to improve on a life like this!

Posted on April 18, 2014, in Brian Melton, History, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, War and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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