Slaves of Mercury
Chapter 2: The Strange Guard

Public Domain

There confronted him the hugest figure of a man he had ever seen. Hilary was not lacking in inches himself--he was well over six feet; but the giant staring quizzically down at him was nearer seven, with shoulders to match. The features of his face were gargantuan in their ruggedness, yet singularly open, while a pair of mild blue eyes, childlike in expression, looked in perpetual wonder out upon the world.

In spite of his annoyance, Hilary instinctively liked the giant.

“What do you want?” he inquired gruffly.

The Colossus surveyed him with his child’s eyes.

“Man, you are crazy.” He spoke in a deep bass rumble, without emotion or inflection. He was simply stating a fact.

A surge of annoyance swept over the returned wanderer from the far spaces. This was the last straw.

“I may be,” he admitted coldly, “but I like my particular form of craziness.”

“You know the penalty of course for what you are doing?” the big man inquired unemotionally.

Hilary swore deeply. “Damn the penalties, whatever you mean by that. Here’s a man who has been tortured unmercifully--chained like a dog. I intend to free him.”

The mild blue eyes contained the hint of a gleam.

“But you know the penalties,” he repeated. His murmur sounded like the rumble of a distant earthquake.

Hilary straightened sharply, poked his finger at the midriff of the giant.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” he stabbed. “What is the meaning of all this? Who is this unfortunate, and why did everyone disappear as though I had the plague when I sat next to him?”

A look of bewilderment swept over the massive face, bewilderment tinged with a dawning suspicion of the questioner’s sanity.

“You mean to say you don’t know?” The tone held incredulity.

“I’ve just told you so,” Hilary pointed out. He felt a growing unease.

The giant eyed him closely. “Man, where on earth have you been these last three years?”

Hilary grinned. “I haven’t.”

“You haven’t?” echoed the other. Suspicion hardened the childlike eyes into cold flame. The man was dangerous when aroused. He thrust his jaw down at Hilary. “If you are jesting with me...” He left the sentence unfinished, but the clenching of a huge fist left no doubt as to his intention.

“I am not jesting,” Hilary assured him grimly. “I have been away from the Earth for five years. I’ve just returned.”

The great hand clenched tighter. “Now I know you are crazy, or--Who are you?” he ended abruptly.

“Hilary Grendon.”

“Hilary Grendon--Hilary Grendon,” rumbled the other in manifest perplexity. It was evident the name meant nothing to him.

This then was the homecoming he had dreamed of in the unfathomable reaches of space. Hilary thought bitterly. Five short years and he was already forgotten. Then the irony of it struck him, and he laughed aloud.

“Yes,” he said. “Five years ago I led the Grendon Expedition to explore interplanetary space in the space-ship I had invented. I’ve come back--alone.”

It was amazing to watch long-overlaid memories struggling up through the subconscious. At last the giant spoke.

“Oh, yes,” he said meditatively, “I seem to remember something about it.” He surveyed Hilary with a new interest. “So you were one of those chaps, eh?”

The explorer admitted it, humbly. Of such are the uses of fame.

“Well, now,” said the giant, “that might explain it. Though it sure beats all.” And he shook his head as though he still did not understand.

“Who is that man?” Hilary stabbed a forefinger at the blind man, who sat immobile as before, his worn etched face ever to the front. “It’s monstrous. Amos Peabody shall hear of it.”

The Colossus looked at him mildly.

“That,” he said, “is Amos Peabody!”

Silence lay like a live thing between them. Hilary whirled in a kaleidoscope of emotion. Was this wasted, tortured being the portly, dignified President of the United States who had bade him Godspeed at the start of his tremendous journey five years before? His pitying eyes searched the lineaments of the poor wretch. There was no doubt of it now; it was Amos Peabody.

Hilary gripped his informant’s arm. His voice was deadly calm. “I want the truth about this, and I want it fast.”

“The truth,” echoed the big man with strange laughter; “now that is something--”

His eyes widened over Hilary’s shoulder. With a swiftness remarkable in one of his bulk he shook off Hilary’s restraining grip, caught him by the shoulder and thrust him, all in one motion, into a chair several removed from Peabody. In a trice his huge bulk was safely ensconced in the adjoining one.

Hilary’s hand went to the butt of the automatic within his blouse. The giant saw the movement. He leaned forward.

“Don’t make a move,” he warned, “the guard is coming.”

“What guard?”

“You’ll see fast enough. Appear unconcerned if you value your life. Don’t look back.”

Hilary complied. His face became an expressionless mask as he lounged in his chair, but his thoughts seethed and boiled. What terrible mystery had enveloped the Earth during his absence? Why was Amos Peabody tortured and made into a public mockery?

There is more of this chapter...
The source of this story is SciFi-Stories

To read the complete story you need to be logged in:
Log In or
Register for a Free account (Why register?)

Get No-Registration Temporary Access*

* Allows you 3 stories to read in 24 hours.