Slaves of Mercury
Chapter 7: In the Hands of the Mercutians

Public Domain

A Mercutian was lolling in a reclining chair, his gray, warty face turned half away from Hilary. He was rather undersized for a Mercutian, standing not more than seven feet, and his gray, unwieldy body was heavy and gross as though thickened with good living and debauch. A fleshy three-fingered hand was pounding vehemently on the arm of the chair. His guttural roughened voice came clearly to the listener. He was talking to someone unseen from the angle of the slowly widening slit. He was annoyed.

“For the last time I give you the opportunity,” the Mercutian howled--in English. “If you refuse I turn you over to Urga; he wants you.”

The crack in the door had widened perceptibly. Hilary’s heart gave a tremendous leap. Disclosed to his vision was a figure standing opposite the Mercutian, slim, defiant, proud--Joan.

What unimaginable luck! The automatic leaped like a live thing into, his hand. He crouched, the blood pounding in his temples, waiting for the slide to come completely open. He dared not reach over for the button control to shift the speed; the movement might be heard inside.

The path was clear now. Overpower the Mercutian, escape with Joan down the deserted corridors back to the secret passageway, emerge below, return to their hideout in the Ramapos and plan for revolt. It was all as simple as that.

“We must have these Earth slaves,” the Mercutian continued, unheeding. “They, must be made an example of. They are responsible for the unrest. They have killed Magnificents; and the Earth fools think they can do the same. They will find out their error soon enough. But as long as those three live, so long will the slaves hope, and plot.”

“I cannot tell you anything about them,” Joan said monotonously. It was evident that this was not the first time she had said so.

“Yes you can,” the Mercutian said as softly as his gutturals would permit. “There is one in particular you know a great deal about. Urga told me. A long-lost lover, no?” His gray-ridged countenance contorted into a thick disgusting leer.

“There it something mysterious about him. He has no identification tag; he releases Peabody; seems not to know the penalties. He has a pistol, a forbidden weapon; he dares to kill a Magnificent; he eggs on two others, ordinary Earth slaves to join him; he disappears out of sight, in spite of all search.” He was shouting now, pounding the chair arm with complete loss of dignity. “Who is he, where does he come from, where did he go? Answer me?”

The girl faced him boldly.

“You are afraid of him, Viceroy,” she challenged. “You fear his example. He has shown what a brave man can do; the Earth people will follow him. The Mercutians are not invulnerable.”

“Yes,” the Viceroy said heavily. He was talking more to himself. Then he realized his mistake. “No, of course not,” he growled hurriedly. “Enough of this. You tell me what I want to know or I call Urga in.”

Joan’s face went white, but she faced him unflinchingly.

“I do not know where he is, and if I did, I would not tell you.”

“Very well then.” The Viceroy leaned over to the table.

The slide was completely open now.

“I wouldn’t call anyone if I were you.”

The Viceroy whirled in his chair at the sound of the calm Earth voice, calm yet deadly in its implications. He found himself staring into the stubby opening of an Earth automatic, a forbidden weapon. The hand that held it was steady, and the gray eyes that bored into his were hard as pebbles.

There was a smothered gasp from Joan. “Hilary.”

“Yes; come to take you away.” He spoke swiftly. “We have no time to waste, Joan. Is there any binding material in the room?”

“I--I believe there is. Dad always kept odds and ends in the store chest near the bookshelves.”

“Go and get it then. We’ll truss up his most Mercutian Magnificence--No you don’t,” Hilary said harshly; “keep your hands in front of you and don’t move.”

The Viceroy was stealthily reaching for the sun-tube dangling from his belt. He jerked his hand back, a cold sweat beading his forehead. Hilary’s finger had compressed on the trigger; the slightest extra pressure meant flaming death.

“That’s better,” Hilary approved.

“You shall pay for this,” howled the Mercutian, finding voice again. “You shall suffer a hundred deaths in one.”

“Softly,” Hilary grinned. “Just a little while ago you were very anxious to meet me. Now that I’m here you don’t seem overmuch pleased.” Joan was rummaging frantically in the open chest.

The Viceroy started, his unlidded pink eyes opened wider. But he was careful to keep his hands in plain view.

“You are the Earth dog who killed the Magnificents.”

“I wouldn’t call names,” Hilary advised. “It might be unhealthy. But I am that very individual. And I trust”--he bowed mockingly-”to have more notches on my gun before I am through.”

“You--you--shall be taken to Mercury. My father has special places for such as you.” Joan was coming now swiftly with lengths of wire, soft thick material for swathing.

“Get me there first,” Hilary said indifferently. “Gag him, Joan, so he can’t open his ugly mouth any more. Then tie him up, well.”

Joan thrust the gag into the thick gash of a mouth, choking off a torrent of imprecations in the guttural Mercutian tongue. Then she proceeded to truss him, expertly, efficiently.

“Good job,” Hilary approved. “Now with your kind permission, Most Viceregal Magnificence, we shall go.” He bowed mockingly. “Come, Joan.”

“Not so fast, Earth slave.” A cold saturnine voice resounded like the clang of doom behind him. He whirled, shifting his gun swiftly for a quick shot.

A little gush of heat caught his trigger hand as the index finger contracted desperately. The smarting pain tore the pistol out of his hand. It dropped to the floor, unheeded. Hilary found himself staring into the gross unpleasant face of Urga, a sun-tube trained directly at his midriff.

“The Earth slave who tried to slink into the building,” Urga said, surprised. “How did he get up here?”

“I don’t know,” the Viceroy said shortly, working the gag out of his mouth. “Don’t stand there like a fool. Untie me.” Gratitude was not among the Viceroy’s virtues.

Urga’s face mottled as he hastened to obey. When Artok stood finally released, he glared heavily at Hilary and Joan. Then slowly a smile broke over his warty features, a smile that boded unutterable things. Hilary waited quietly, ready to seize the slightest opening; Joan pressed wide-eyed against his shoulder.

“Know this Earth dog?” the Viceroy jerked at Hilary.

Urga’s glance was puzzled. “I told you I threw him out of the entrance, but even then I felt I had seen him before.”

“You have, Cor Urga,” the ruler laughed shortly. “This is the one who is responsible for the mutterings of the slaves. He slew your comrade, Gornu.”

The captain started, peered into his captive’s unflinching countenance.

“He’s disguised!” he cried. “Let me kill him, Magnificent.” He fingered his sun-tube significantly.

The Viceroy was in high good humor now.

“Not so fast. You would let him off too easy. I have a better scheme. We shall show the mutinous dogs how we treat those who revolt against our will.”

A cruel smile broke over Urga.

“I understand, Magnificent. Make a public warning of him like that fool Peabody. Rip out his tongue and his eyes, smash his eardrums, and ride him from city to city, in chains.”

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