Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mist Men of Mercury

by Arnot Bissel. Originally published in Planet Comics #4, April 1940.

Would this terrible dizziness never cease? Would the projectile go on forever, whirling endlessly through space, taking its limitless orbit around the sun -- round and round forever in its deadly parabola adding its path to those of the comets -- a man-made comet carrying its helpless victim throughout eternity? Kirk shuddered as his frantic mind tried to grasp some reality in all this chaos.

And eternity it would be, too. Kirk knew this. For out here in space there was no time, no life, and no death. Was he destined to a living doom?

Perhaps it would have been better not to have left his home planet, Earth, so hastily. But it had been a question of death on Earth or a chance of life in the unknown. What man would have hesitated at such a choice?

The certain death that he had faced on Earth was at the hands of a vicious dictator who had imprisoned him in a concentration and who had ordered his execution for a crime he had never committed.

But there in the black cells of the torture camp, where most of the great minds of his country were being beaten into insanity and decay, Kirk met the brilliant scientist Hoffer, who told him of his secret work on rocket projectiles and space travel. He gave Kirk directions to his hidden workshop and aided him in every way till he miraculously escaped from the prison camp and fled like a hunted animal to the depths of the Black Forest where he found the rocket, almost complete and ready to be launched into space.

But the guns were barking in his ears as he dropped into the strange craft. He had no time to lose. Without further investigation, he followed the inventor's instructions that had been whispered to him nightly through damp walls.

The Brownshirted pursuers had reached the workshop just in time to hear the roaring zoom as the rocket was hurled from its catapult into the night and soon became a blazing, shooting star speeding through the heavens.

"And now I am condemned to worse than death --" Kirk moaned to himself, but even as he spoke the whirling lessened. The rocked seemed to be straightening out and slowing down. Gradually regaining his senses that had been thrown into utter confusion, Kirk crept to the small port that looked into the inky reaches of space. Suddenly, a brightness almost blinded him. He was nearing a brilliant star -- no, a planet.

"It must be very near the sun -- perhaps Mercury." Kirk watched the planet grow larger as its gravitational pull drew the rocket closer and closer.

Several hours later Kirk lay panting with the great heat on the floor of his rocket. He rolled over on his back and a grim smile crossed his face. "Looks like this time I really did land in the fire. Well, I took a long chance on my life, and I'm not through yet."

Weekly, he rose to his feet and stumbled out of ship. For a moment the heat sent him gasping back against the metal sides of the rocket, only to be scorched by the red-hot surface.

But as he swayed forward something mercifully cool brushed his sweat stained cheek. He looked about and found himself surrounded by mysterious vaporish bodies that wove about and embraced him in gentle coolness.

These mists were intelligent beings!

And more than that, Kirk felt with great thankfulness in his heart, after all that had happened to him on Earth these Mist men of Mercury were imbued with pity and kindness.

They led him gently to an opening in the burning soil and dropped down into a pit, holding Kirk among them so that he floated slowly toward the interior and into a large cavern filled with the strange Mercurians that floated about creating an intangible sea of mist.

It took several months for Kirk to understand the sign language of the Mist men. But when he finaly grasped their meaning he was astonished to learn that they had understood his language almost from the very first. Their intelligence was millions of years in advance of the Earth man's. They considered him a backward barbarian although their superhuman kindness would not allow them to show this. His tales of wars and misery on Earth only helped to confirm their theory.

But in that great sub-terrainian cavern on the planet Mercury, so near the sun, many plans were discussed that were to greatly influence the future history of Earth.

The man who had left Earth in an incomplete rocket ship was destined to lead the greatest attack on the forces of evil ever to be launched on the warring nations of Earth.

It was the year 1945, when half of Europe lay demolished under the tread of war and the firing still resounded over boundaries that changed hands many times, that the great Mist fell like a smothering blanket from the skies.

Frantically the Earth soldiers struggled against the strange phenomena. Orders came from startled rulers to keep firing under all conditions, but soon they realized that they were up against more than foggy weather conditions.

In vain the humans fought the elusive Mercurians. The built great fires that succeeded in destroying the Mist men for awhile, but soon they would vaporize again and descent in even heavier forces smothering the flames.

Within a week the guns were silent and all of humanity lay in a strange mist-blanketed stupor. There was no activity on Earth. Only the plants and animals grew and moved. But man was silent.

Then in the Spring of the year the great mist rose. Hundreds upon hundreds of Mercurians left the Earth and floated back to their planet. Men and women woke from their dreamless sleep and began to go about their daily work in peace.

The curious thing was that everyone had forgotten how to fight. The sight of guns meant nothing to the people anymore. They melted them down into useful tools and wondered what they had ever made them for. No one knew what had happened and everyone was content and working peacefully.

No one, that is, but one man who had gone back to a workshop in the Black Forest to work with his friend, the inventor, on more and greater ships to explore the outer reaches of space. Kirk never told of his strange experience or explained the coming of the Mist men to Earth for fear of awakening terrible memories that were hidden by the superior intelligence that the Mercurians had left on Earth.

The original scans are below.

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