Friday, June 20, 1873
Wellington, New Zealand
It started with thunder in the west, where the sun had set some hours before. At first, no one in the small but bustling capital of New Zealand paid it much attention. Stormy weather wasn't uncommon in this, the early antipodean winter.
Not until the sun seemed impossibly to reverse its course and rise again where it had just set did it really strike the people of Wellington that something strange was happening, and by then it was nearly too late. The glowing light rose in the west, seemed to reach a peak and then arch downward, as though the sun itself were falling on the town. People ran here and there, looking for cover, asking each other what was happening, praying to all the gods they could think of as the light and the noise grew and thundered and swooped down on Wellington.
With an indescribable din, the light - the object, whatever it was - screamed by, still high overhead but seeming to some as if they could have reached up and touched it. Nothing about it other than its flaming radiance could be made out by the people on the ground as it passed. In its wake came hot winds and thunders, terrible shockwaves that flattened homes and set the waters of the harbor sloshing like water in a basin. Most Wellingtonians were too distracted by these disasters, and the fires that broke out around town in the apparition's wake, to pay much attention to what became of the object itself.
One man, though, watched it fall. Scrambling up after the shockwaves had passed, John Mayminster, fourth Viscount MacRoss - the famous explorer and man of adventure - climbed to the top of a small hill in back of his house (which, being of stout stone construction, had weathered the storm with only some broken windows) and gazed raptly off to the east as the brilliant object plummeted toward the sea. It passed below the horizon, still falling, and even its glow had almost disappeared from the sky. Suddenly it flared into brilliance, reflecting as if from the sky itself - a second false sunrise, this one in the east. MacRoss reflexively checked his watch. It was a little before a quarter to midnight.
Another, younger man clambered up to the top of the hill and stood next to Mayminster, watching as the glow of the false sun died but slowly in the eastern sea.
"Great Scott, milord," he said, his voice carrying a distinct Scots burr. "Wha' can it mean? Is it the judgment has come?"
MacRoss chuckled. "No, I think not, MacCrofton. A meteor, I should think, but an uncommon large one." He turned to the younger man. "Shall we go and see where it landed?"
MacCrofton nodded. "Aye, milord, if ye like."
"Well, go on down to the docks, then, and see if you can wake that drunken pirate of a Dutchman," MacRoss said, his fond grin belying the harshness of his words. "He probably slept through the whole thing. The sooner we're at sea, the better chance we'll have of reaching the crash site first."
"Right, I'm off, then," MacCrofton said. Then, hesitating, he gave the Englishman a curious look. "Beggin' yuir pardon, milord, but it occurs tae me - won't yon meteor have sunk in the sea?"
MacRoss shook his head. "I don't think so," he said. "The light from the crash would have been snuffed out much sooner. No, I think we'll find it's had the good fortune to alight on an island."
"As ye say, milord. I'm off tae roust our friend Captain Fokker."
Tuesday, June 25, 1873
ca. 46° S by 160° W
"Well, here it is, gentlemen," said Captain Henk Fokker cheerfully, slapping down a dogeared nautical chart. "This damn island is so small it's only on one of my charts."
Lord MacRoss peered closely at the chart. "'South Ataria Island'," he read. "Hum, well, that's a piece of luck, what? It's British territory. Uninhabited, but British, all the same."
"Which means whatever's fallen on it belongs tae the Crown," said MacCrofton with a satisfied smile.
"Quite so," MacRoss agreed.
The three men gazed from the deck of Fokker's barque-rigged sidewheeler, riding at anchor in a tiny bay at the south end of the island, at the vista before them. From here they could see little more than wisps of smoke rising from the jungle - smoke, after five days! - but anticipation was in the air.
"Well, Fergus, shall we go and have a look?" MacRoss asked his assistant.
"If ye please, milord."
Fokker nodded with a smile and turned to look aft. "Roy!" he bellowed. "Rig out the launch! His lordship is going ashore!"
Fokker's gangly teenage son, easily spotted among the ship's common sailors by his jagged mop of corn-gold hair, gave an acknowledging wave before rounding up a couple of deckhands and setting to work on the boat.
"Look here, Fergus," MacRoss remarked, crouching to prod at the beach with the handle of a miner's pick. "D'you know what this is?"
Before MacCrofton could reply, young Roy Fokker, who had helped the two men row to the island, knelt down for a look and said, "Looks like glass."
MacRoss grinned. "That's precisely what it is," he said. "Glass. The heat of the object passing over, whatever it was, was so terrific it melted this beach sand into glass."
"Why, something that hot crashing into the middle of the island would've burned down all the jungle!" Roy protested.
"Perhaps, perhaps not. Jungles are wet places, my boy. It may even have been raining here that night. That would have helped hold down the flames and cool the object faster." The Englishman straightened, brushing sand from the knees of his trousers. "Let's press on. I'm eager to see the object itself."
"Well, at least we've an easy trail tae follow," MacCrofton noted wryly. Indeed, the falling object, whatever it had been, had carved out a massive trail into the interior of the island. It had even knocked a tremendous trench in the top of a ridge a hundred yards or so inland from the beach. From the width of this trench, MacRoss estimated that the object must have been at least 500 yards wide. Men and boy followed the scorched and glassy ground inland, toiling up the slope of the remaining ridgeline. When they reached the top, they saw that there was still a significant drop on the far side, and beyond that, the whole interior of the island opened up to their wondering eyes.
"My God!" MacCrofton wheezed.
There, in the center of a huge crater that looked like a giant's hand had scooped out a fistful of earth from the middle of the island, lay the single most colossal object any of the three had ever seen. As MacRoss had estimated, it was at least 500 yards across, but furthermore, it stretched out before them to a length of many times that distance . Young Roy Fokker, who was accustomed to guessing distances thanks to his boyhood at sea, thought it to be something on the order of two-thirds of a mile long.
"What... what is it?" Roy asked.
"I don't know, Roy," MacRoss admitted.
It was made of metal, that much was obvious - where it wasn't streaked with soot or caked with mud and earth, the surface gleamed a dull grey-silver, and the jagged edges of the many rents and tears was bent and twisted in ways that only metal bent. It was MacCrofton, the shipbuilder's son, who first drew the obvious comparison:
"My God, it looks laik... laik a giant ship."
"Or a fortress," Roy murmured. "Look at the thickness of that hull plating, if that's what it is. Not even an American ironclad has plating like that."
"Perhaps it's both," MacRoss mused. "A sort of... mobile fortress."
"But it's gigantic!" Roy protested. "It's got to be five times the size of the Great Eastern. Maybe more! Nobody could build a ship that size. Not even the British, begging your lordship's pardon."
Despite his consternation, MacRoss laughed. "No offense taken, my boy," he said. "You're quite right. Not even the Royal Navy could build a ship of this size."
"An' why would a ship fall from the sky?" MacCrofton pointed out.
"Well... perhaps that's what it's for," MacRoss speculated.
MacCrofton gave his employer an incredulous look. "Wha're ye sayin', milord? That this is some keind o'... ship o' the air?"
"I'm not drawing any conclusions yet - more may become clear once we've had a look inside," MacRoss said. "But right now, I'm inclined to think that's exactly what it is, Fergus."
"A marvellous sky-fortress," Roy breathed. "Are we going inside it right now?"
MacRoss grinned at the young Batavian's enthusiasm. "There's no time like the present, is there?" he said, and the three set off down the ridge.
Monday, June 30, 1873
As was often the case in those early days of telegraphy, the lengthy message Viscount MacRoss transmitted to England on the last day of June - his first report to the Royal Society of London on his discovery and first explorations of the massive and astounding object that had fallen from the sky in the Pacific - was somewhat garbled in transmission. Errors thus introduced were compounded by an overworked, underslept night editor at The Times, the man on duty when the telegram arrived at a little past two o'clock in the morning.
As a result, the headline on that morning's edition of The Times was in error in a few particulars, though the bulk of the story was essentially correct:
The name of the island might have been unceremoniously changed by a telegraphist's error and a newsman's inattention, but never mind - the British Government would probably have changed it in honor of Lord MacRoss (who shortly thereafter dropped the capital R from his name) anyway.
What was important - as editorialists and political figures around the globe were to reiterate again and again in the coming months - was that a new era in human history was about to dawn. An era of peace. An era of prosperity. An era when the secrets of the alien "sky-fortress" on Macross Island would unlock a seemingly unending succession of wonders and marvels for all the world to admire and benefit from.
And, most importantly from the perspective of the government who happened to own the island...