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The Landing On Mercury







From: The Fire People

(Narrative continued by Alan Newland.)


With hardly more than a perceptible tremor our strange vehicle came to
rest upon the surface of Mercury. For a moment Miela and I stood regarding
each other silently. Then she left her station at the levers of the
mechanism and placed her hands gently on my shoulders. "You are welcome,
my husband, here to my world."

I kissed her glowing, earnest face. We had reached our journey's end. My
work was about to begin--upon my own efforts now depended the salvation of
that great world I had left behind. What difficulties, what dangers, would
I have to face, here among the people of this strange planet? I thrilled
with awe at the thought of it; and I prayed God then to hold me firm and
steadfast to my purpose.

Miela must have divined my thoughts, for she said simply: "You will have
great power here, Alan; and it is in my heart that you will succeed."

We slid back one of the heavy metallic curtains and looked out through the
thick glass of the window. It was daylight--a diffused daylight like that
of a cloudy midday on my own earth. An utterly barren waste met my gaze.
We seemed to have landed in a narrow valley. Huge cliffs rose on both
sides to a height of a thousand feet or more.

These cliffs, as well as the floor of the valley itself, shone with a
brilliant glare, even in the half light of the sunless day. They were not
covered with soil, but seemed rather to be almost entirely metallic,
copper in color. The whole visible landscape was devoid of any sign of
vegetation, nor was there a single living thing in sight.

I shuddered at the inhospitable bleakness of it.

"Where are we, Miela?"

She smiled at my tone. It was my first sight of Mercury except vague,
distant glimpses of its surface through the mist coming down.

"You do not like my world?"

She was standing close beside me, and at her smiling words raised one of
her glorious red wings and spread it behind me as though for protection.
Then, becoming serious once more, she answered my question.

"We are fortunate, Alan. It is the Valley of the Sun, in the Light
Country. I know it well. We are very close to the Great City."

I breathed a sigh of relief.

"I'll leave it all to you, little wife. Shall we start at once?"

Her hand pressed mine.

"I shall lead you now," she said. "But afterward--you it will be who
leads me--who leads us all."

She crossed to the door fastenings. As she loosed them I remember I heard
a slight hissing sound. Before I could reach her she slid back the door. A
great wave of air rushed in upon us, sweeping us back against the wall. I
clutched at something for support, but the sweep of wind stopped almost at
once.

I had stumbled to my knees. "Miela!" I cried in terror.

She was beside me in an instant, wide-eyed with fear, which even then I
could see was fear only for me.

I struggled to my feet. My head was roaring. All the blood in my body
seemed rushing to my face.

After a moment I felt better. Miela pulled me to a seat.

"I did not think, Alan. The pressure of the air is different here from
your world. It was so wrong of me, for I knew. It was so when I landed
there on your earth."

I had never thought to ask her that, nor had she ever spoken of it to me.
She went on now to tell me how, when first she had opened the door on that
little Florida island, all the air about her seemed rushing away. She had
felt then as one feels transported quickly to the rarified atmosphere of a
great height.

Here the reverse had occurred. We had brought with us, and maintained, an
air density such as that near sea level on earth. But here on Mercury the
air was far denser, and its pressure had rushed in upon us instantly the
door was opened. Miela had been affected to a much less extent than I, and
in consequence recovered far more quickly.

The feeling, after the first nausea, the pressure and pain in my ears and
the roaring in my head, had passed away. A sense of heaviness, an
inability to breathe with accustomed freedom, remained with me for days.

We sat quiet for some minutes, and then left the vehicle. Miela was
dressed now as I had first seen her on the Florida bayou. As we stepped
upon the ground she suddenly tore the veil from her breast, spread her
wings, and, with a laugh of sheer delight, flew rapidly up into the air. I
stood watching her, my heart beating fast. Up--up she went into the gray
haze of the sky. Then I could see her spread her great wings, motionless,
a giant bird soaring over the valley.

A few moments more, and she was again beside me, alighting on the tip of
one toe with perfect poise and grace almost within reach of my hand.

I do not quite know what feelings possessed me at that moment. Perhaps it
was a sense of loss as I saw this woman I loved fly away into the air
while I remained chained to the ground. I cannot tell. But when she came
back, dropping gently down beside me, ethereal and beautiful as an angel
from heaven itself, a sudden rush of love swept over me.

I crushed her to me, glorying in the strength of my arms and the frailness
of her tender little body.

When I released her she looked up into my eyes archly.

"You do not like me to fly? Your wife is free--and, oh, Alan, it is so
good--so good to be back here again where I can fly."

She laughed at my expression.

"You are a man, too--like all the men of my world. That is the feeling you
came here to conquer, Alan--so that the women here may all keep their
wings--and be free."

I think I was just a little ashamed of myself for a moment. But I knew my
feeling had been only human. I did want her to fly, to keep those
beautiful wings. And in that moment they came to represent not only her
freedom, but my trust in her, my very love itself.

I stroked their sleek red feathers gently with my hand.

"I shall never feel that way again, Miela," I said earnestly.

She laughed once more and kissed me, and the look in her eyes told me she
understood.

The landscape, from this wider viewpoint, seemed even more bleak and
desolate than before. The valley was perhaps half a mile broad, and wound
away upward into a bald range of mountains in the distance.

The ground under my feet was like a richly metallic ore. In places it was
wholly metal, smooth and shining like burnished copper. Below us the
valley broadened slightly, falling into what I judged must be open country
where lay the city of our destination.

For some minutes I stood appalled at the scene. I had often been in the
deserts of America, but never have I felt so great a sense of desolation.
Always before it had been the lack of water that made the land so arid;
and always the scene seemed to hold promise of latent fertility, as though
only moisture were needed to make it spring into fruition.

Nothing of the kind was evident here. There was, indeed, no lack of water.
I could see a storm cloud gathering in the distance. The air I was
breathing seemed unwarrantably moist; and all about me on the ground
little pools remained from the last rainfall. But here there was no soil,
not so much even as a grain of sand seemed to exist. The air was warm, as
warm as a midsummer's day in my own land, a peculiarly oppressive, moist
heat.

I had been prepared for this by Miela. I was bareheaded, since there never
was to be direct sunlight. My feet were clad in low shoes with rubber
soles. I wore socks. For the rest, I had on simply one of my old pairs of
short, white running pants and a sleeveless running shirt. With the
exception of the shoes it was exactly the costume I had worn in the races
at college.

I had been standing motionless, hardly more than a step from the car in
which we had landed. Suddenly, in the midst of my meditations on the
strange scene about me, Miela said: "Go there, Alan."

She was smiling and pointing to a little rise of ground near by. I looked
at her blankly.

"Jump, Alan," she added.

The spot to which she pointed was perhaps forty feet away. I knew what she
meant, and, stepping back a few paces, came running forward and leaped
into the air. I cleared the intervening space with no more effort than I
could have jumped less than half that distance on earth.

Miela flew over beside me.

"You see, Alan, my husband, it is not so bad, perhaps, that I can fly."

She was smiling whimsically, but I could see her eyes were full of pride.

"There is no other man on Mercury who could do that, Alan," she added.

I tried successive leaps then, always with the same result. I calculated
that here the pull of gravity must be something less than one-half that on
the earth. It was far more than father had believed.

Miela watched my antics, laughing and clapping her hands with delight. I
found I tired very quickly--that is, I was winded. This I attributed to
the greater density of the air I was breathing.

In five minutes I was back at Miela's side, panting heavily.

"If I can--ever get so I breathe right--" I said.

She nodded. "A very little time, I think."

I sat down for a moment to recover my breath. Miela explained then that we
were some ten miles from the fertile country surrounding the city in which
her mother lived, and about fifteen miles from the outskirts of the city
itself. I give these distances as they would be measured on earth. We
decided to start at once. We took nothing with us. The journey would be a
short one, and we could easily return at some future time for what we had
left behind. We needed no food for so short a trip, and plenty of water
was at hand.

Only one thing Miela would not part with--the single memento she had
brought from earth to her mother. She refused to let me touch it, but
insisted on carrying it herself, guarding it jealously.

It was Beth's little ivory hand mirror!

We started off. Miela had wound the filmy scarf about her shoulders again
with a pretty little gesture.

"I need not use wings, Alan, when I am with you. We shall go together, you
and I--on the ground."

And then, as I started off vigorously, she added plaintively from behind
me: "If--if you will go slow, my husband, or will wait for me."

I altered my pace to suit hers. I had quite recovered my breath now, and
for the moment felt that I could carry her much faster than she could
walk. I did gather her into my arms once, and ran forward briskly, while
she laughed and struggled with me to be put down. She seemed no more than
a little child in my arms; but, as before, the heavy air so oppressed me
that in a few moments I was glad enough to set her again upon her feet.

The valley broadened steadily as we advanced. For several miles the look
of the ground remained unchanged. I wondered what curious sort of metal
this might be--so like copper in appearance. I doubted if it were copper,
since even in this hot, moist air it seemed to have no property of
oxidation.

I asked Miela about it, and she gave me its Mercutian name at once; but of
course that helped me not a bit. She added that outcroppings of it, almost
in the pure state, like the great deposits of native copper I had seen on
earth, occurred in many parts of Mercury.

I remembered then Bob Trevor's mention of it as the metal of the apparatus
used by the invaders of Wyoming.

We went on three or four miles without encountering a single sign of life.
No insects stirred underfoot; no birds flew overhead. We might have
been--by the look of it--alone on a dead planet.

"Is none of your mountain country inhabited, Miela?" I asked.

She shook her head.

"Only on the plains do people live. There is very little of good land in
the Light Country, and so many people. That it is which has caused much
trouble in the past. It is for that, many times, the Twilight People have
made war upon us."

I found myself constantly able to breathe more easily. Our progress down
the valley seemed now irritatingly slow, for I felt I could walk or run
three times faster than Miela. Finally I suggested to her that she fly,
keeping near me; and that I would make the best speed forward I could. She
stared at me quizzically. Then, seeing I was quite sincere, she flung her
little arms up about my neck and pulled me down to kiss her.

"Oh, Alan--the very best husband in all the universe, you are. None other
could there be--like you."

She had just taken off her scarf again when suddenly I noticed a little
speck in the sky ahead. It might have been a tiny bird, flying toward us
from the plains below.

"Miela--look!"

She followed the direction of my hand. The speck grew rapidly larger.

"A girl, Alan," she said after a moment. "Let us wait."

We stood silent, watching. It was indeed a girl, flying over the valley
some two or three hundred feet above the ground. As she came closer I saw
her wings were blue, not red like Miela's. She came directly toward us.

Suddenly Miela gave a little cry.

"Anina! Anina!"

Without a word to me she spread her wings and flew up to meet the oncoming
girl.

I stood in awe as I watched them. They met almost above me, and I could
see them hovering with clasped hands while they touched cheeks in
affectionate greeting. Then, releasing each other, they flew rapidly away
together--smaller and smaller, until a turn in the valley hid them
entirely from my sight.

I sat down abruptly. A lump was in my throat, a dismal lonesomeness in my
heart. I knew Miela would return in a moment--that she had met some friend
or relative--yet I could not suppress the vague feeling of sorrow and the
knowledge of my own incapacity that swept over me.

For the first time then I wanted wings--wanted them myself--that I might
join this wife I loved in her glorious freedom of the air. And I realized,
too, for the first time, how that condition Miela so deplored on Mercury
had come to pass. I could understand now very easily how it was that
married women were deprived by their husbands of these wings which they
themselves were denied by the Creator.

Hardly more than ten minutes had passed before I saw the two girls again
flying toward me. They alighted a short distance away, and approached me,
hand in hand.

The girl with Miela, I could see now, was somewhat shorter, even slighter
of build, and two or three years younger. Her face held the same delicate,
wistful beauty. The two girls strongly resembled one another in feature.
The newcomer was dressed in similar fashion to Miela--sandals on her feet,
and silken trousers of a silvery white, fastened at the ankles with golden
cords.

Her wings, as I have said, were blue--a delight light blue that, as I
afterward noticed, matched her eyes. Her hair was the color of spun gold;
she wore it in two long, thick braids over her shoulders and fastened at
the waist and knee. She was, in very truth, the most ethereal human being
I had ever beheld. And--next to Miela--the most beautiful.

Miela pulled her forward, and she came on, blushing with the sweet shyness
of a child. She was winding her silken silver scarf about her breast
hastily, as best she could with her free hand.

"My sister, Anina--Alan," said Miela simply.

The girl stood undecided; then, evidently obeying Miela's swift words of
instruction, she stood up on tiptoe, put her arms about my neck, and
kissed me full on the lips.

Miela laughed gayly.

"You must love her very much, Alan. And she--your little sister--will love
you, too. She is very sweet."

Then her face sobered suddenly.

"Tao has returned, Alan. And he has sent messengers to our city. They are
appealing to our people to join Tao in his great conquest. They say Tao
has here with him, on Mercury, a captive earthman, with wonderful strength
of body, who will help in the destruction of his own world!"





Next: The Captive Earth-man

Previous: To Save The World



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