Another longer work, this time set on Mercury. Brackett’s Mercury is a twilight world of valleys surrounded by mountains that pierce the shallow atmosphere. From what I understand, life only exits in valley’s along a twilight zone along the terminator. Since this story refers to the Sun rising and setting, either I’m missing something or there’s a slight wobble in the planet’s orbit which creates the day and night effect.
None of which stopped me from enjoying this adventure tale. Trevor is a prospector whose ship has crashed. There’s no life in the valley where he crashes, and he can’t get over the mountains because he doesn’t have a pressure suit. (Don’t ask me why.)
He’s trying to find a way to another valley through a system of caves when he is swept away by an underground river. He ends up in a large valley with a city in the distance. And that’s when his troubles really start.
Trevor was prospecting for sun-stones, a rare gem. If he can find just one, he’ll be set for life. He quickly discovers there are flying lizards in this valley. There’s also a woman being hunted my mounted men, with the lizards acting as hunting dogs. Trevor helps her get away to the mountains ringing the valley. In the process, he kills one of the flying lizards. It has a sun-stone embedded in its forehead, as do the mounted men. Trevor keeps it.
The girl, whose name is Jen, tells Trevor she’s a slave escaping to the mountains. The mounted men are the Korin, masters of the city of Korith. Descended from prisoners, they’ve ruled here ever since a rocket crashed decades ago. The slaves are descended from the crew. Jen is on her way to join some escaped slaves in the mountains.
The slaves hate the sun-stones and regard them as intrinsically evil because the Korin use them to control the lizards. Jen’s companions force Trevor to throw the stone away.
Trevor later goes back for it. He places it against his forehead like he’d seen the Korin wear them. His mind is immediately taken over by an alien entity. This is Shannach, the last of his race. Shannach comes from a cruel race who live centuries.
Trevor is able to overcome Shannach’s influence on his mind, but not before Shannach is able to learn the location of the slaves’ secret cave. Soon the slaves that survive Shannach’s attack are captured. Shannach makes sure they know that Trevor is the cause of their capture. (The slaves are totally unaware of Shannach’s existence, although the Korin understand he controls them.)
It turns out the rocket the ancestors of the slaves and the Korin crashed in still exists. And Trevor has the skills to repair it and fly it out of the valley. Shannach would like to expand his empire. Guess what Shannach’s going to have him do?
This was a different story at times because much of Trevor’s struggle against Shannach is mental rather than physical. There’s still plenty of action. This is one of Brackett’s longer tales. Trevor’s character arc is what lifts this story above the typical pulp fare so often published in Planet Stories. I found the whole thing to be quite satisfying. There’s a reason this one was included in The Best of Leigh Brackett.