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The Mercutian Camp







From: The Fire People

As I saw Mercer fall to the floor of the porch a sudden rage swept over
me. I struggled violently with the three men pinning me down. They
appeared very much weaker than I, but even though I could break their
holds the three of them were more than a match for me.

The man who was standing inactive, and who I realized had struck down
Mercer in some unknown, deadly way, appeared to be the leader. Once, as
one of my assailants made some move, the import of which the leader
evidently understood, but which I did not, I heard him give a sharp
command. It occurred to me then that if I offered too much resistance--if
it seemed I was likely to get away from them--I might possibly be struck
as swiftly as Mercer had been. So I gave up abruptly and lay still.

They must have understood my motive--or perhaps they felt that I was not
worth the trouble of taking alive--for immediately I stopped struggling
they unhanded me and rose to their feet.

I stood up also, deciding to appear quite docile, for the time being at
any rate, until I could comprehend better with what I had to contend.

The man who appeared to be their leader issued another command. One of
the men with whom I had been struggling immediately stepped a few feet
away, out of my reach. I knew he had been told to guard me. He kept just
that distance away thereafter, following my movements closely and seeming
never to take his eyes off me for a moment.

I had opportunity now to inspect these strange enemies more closely. The
leader was the tallest. He was about five and a half feet in height, I
judged, and fairly stocky. The others were all considerably shorter--not
much over five feet, perhaps. All were broad-framed, although not stout
to any degree approaching fatness.

From their appearance, they might all have been fairly powerful men, the
leader especially. But even the short struggle I had had with them showed
me they were not. Their bodies, too, had seemed under my grip to have a
flimsy quality, a lack of firmness, of solidity, entirely belied by their
appearance.

They were all dressed in a single rude garment of short white fur, made
all in one piece, trousers and shirt, and leaving only their arms bare.
Their feet were incased in buskins that seemed to be made of leather.
Their hair was a reddish-brown color, and fell scraggling a little below
the shoulder line.

Their skin was a curious, dead white--like the pallor of a man long in
prison. Their faces, which had no sign of hair on them, were broad, with
broad flat noses, and with abnormally large eyes that seemed to blink
stolidly with an owl-like stare.

Their leader was of somewhat different type. He was, as I have said,
nearly six inches taller than the others, and leaner and more powerful
looking. His hair was black, and his skin was not so dead white. His eyes
were not so abnormally large as those of his companions. His nose was
straight, with a high bridge. His face was hairless. It was a strong
face, with an expression of dignity about it, a consciousness of power,
and a certain sense of cruelty expressed in the firmness of his lips and
the set of his chin.

None of them was armed--or, at least, their weapons were not visible to
me.

I was much concerned about Mercer. He and the man I had hit were both
lying motionless where they had fallen. I stooped over Mercer. No one
offered to stop me, although when I moved I saw my guard make a swift
movement with his hand to his belt. My heart leaped to my throat, but
nothing happened to me, and I made a hasty examination of Mercer.

Quite evidently he was dead.

Meanwhile the Mercutians were examining their fallen comrade. He also was
dead, I judged from their actions. They left him where he was lying, and
their leader impatiently signed me toward the steps that led down from
the porch to the roadway. We started off, my guard keeping close behind
me. I noticed then how curiously hampered the Mercutians seemed to be in
their movements.

I have explained how Alan observed the effect of our earth's gravity on
Miela. It was even more marked with the Mercutians here, for she had the
assistance of wings, while they did not. The realization of this
encouraged me tremendously. I knew now that physically these enemies were
no match for me; that I could break away from them whenever I wished.

But the way in which Mercer had been killed--that I could not understand.
It was that I had to guard against. I was afraid to do anything that
would expose me to this unknown attack.

I tried to guess over how great a distance this weapon, whatever it was,
would prove effective. I assumed only a limited number of feet, although
my only reason for thinking so was my guard's evident determination to
keep close to me.

All this flashed through my mind while we were descending the steps to
the roadway. When we reached the ground we turned back toward the garage,
and with slow, plodding steps the leader of the Mercutians preceded me to
its entrance, his companions following close behind me. They had
evidently been here before, I could tell from their actions. I realized
that probably they had all been inside the garage when Mercer and I first
approached the house.

It was quite apparent now that the Mercutians did not understand the use
of either automobiles or airplanes; they poked around these as though
they were some strange, silent animals. Inside the garage I was ordered
to stand quiet, with my guard near by, while the rest of them continued
what appeared to be a search about the building.

We passed by the house, and I realized that we were starting for the
Mercutian base some four miles away. I remembered then that I was
extremely hungry and thirsty. I stopped suddenly and endeavored to
explain my wants, indicating the house as a place where I could get food.

The leader smiled. His name was Tao, I had learned from hearing his men
address him. I do not know why that smile reassured me, but it did. It
seemed somehow to make these enemies less inhuman--less supernatural--in
my mind. Indeed, I was fast losing my first fear of them, although I
still had a great respect for the way in which they had killed Mercer.

Tao told his men to wait, and motioned me toward the house. The bodies of
Mercer and the man I had struck down were still lying where they had
fallen on the porch. We found food and water in the kitchen, and I sat
down and made a meal, while Tao stood watching me. When I had finished I
put several slices of bread and meat in my coat. He signified that it was
unnecessary, but I insisted, and he smiled again and let me have my way.

Again we started off. This walk of four miles of desert that lay between
Garland and the point on the Shoshone River where the invaders were
established was about all I could manage, for I was almost exhausted. I
realized then how great an exertion the Mercutians were put to, for they
seemed nearly as tired as I. We stopped frequently to rest, and it was
well after noon when we approached the hollow through which the Shoshone
River ran.

Several times I noticed where the Mercutian Light had burned off the
scrubby desert vegetation. As we got closer I could see it now in the
sunlight, standing vertically up in the air, motionless. There were signs
all about now where the light had burned. We were passing along a little
gully--the country here was somewhat rough and broken up--when something
came abruptly from behind a rock. Its extraordinary appearance startled
me so I stared at it in amazement and fear. It came closer, and I saw it
was one of the Mercutians.

He was completely incased in a suit of dull black cloth, or rubber, or
something of the kind. On his head was a helmet of the same material,
with a mask over his face having two huge circular openings covered with
a flexible, transparent substance. On his back was a sort of tank with a
pipe leading to his mouth. He looked, indeed, something like a man in a
diving suit, and still more like the pictures I had seen of soldiers in
the World War with gas masks on. He pulled off his helmet as he came up
to us, and I saw he was similar in appearance to the red-haired
Mercutians who had captured me.

After a short conversation with Tao he went back to his station by the
rock, and we proceeded onward down the gully to the river bank. I saw a
number of Mercutians dressed this way during the afternoon. They seemed
to be guarding the approaches to the camp, and I decided later this
costume was for protection against the effects of the light-ray.

The Shoshone River was at this point about two hundred feet wide, and at
this season of the year a swift-moving, icy stream some two or three feet
deep. There were small trees at intervals along its banks. All about me
now I could see where they had been burned by the action of the light.

The vehicle in which the invaders had arrived lay on the near side of the
river, some five hundred feet below where we came out of the gully. It
was similar in appearance to the one Alan had found in Florida, only many
times larger. It lay there now, with its pyramid-shaped top pointing up
into the air, close beside the river, and gleaming a dazzling white under
the rays of the afternoon sun.

There were perhaps a hundred Mercutians in sight altogether. Most of them
were down by the vehicle; all of them were on this side of the river. In
fact, as I soon realized, it would have been difficult, if not
impossible, for them to have crossed. The desert on the opposite side of
the Shoshone was level and unbroken. It was swept clear of everything,
apparently, by the light-ray.

We turned down the river bank, and soon were close to the shining vehicle
that had brought these strange invaders from space. What would I see in
this camp of the first beings to reach earth from another planet? What
fate awaited me there? These questions hammered at my brain as we
approached the point where so much death and destruction had been dealt
out to the surrounding country.





Next: The Escape

Previous: Miela



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