The medical officer, to whom the long climb was arduous, delayed his mission to the roof, and that was why, several hours later, Sime was still alive to see another ship appear to the north. It was large, sumptuous, evidently a private yacht. Its course would bring it within a mile of the fortress, and with sudden wild hope Sime realized that if he were seen he might expect relief. He began to tug at his bonds. They were tough, but they would stretch a little. His haphazard movements had already worn them against the rough post, and now he began to struggle violently. If he could only get his hands loose, he could wave....
The thongs cut into his flesh, but his wrists were numb and swollen, and he did not mind the pain. His muscles stood out hard and sharp, and with a supreme effort, aided by the growing brittleness of the rawhide in the dry atmosphere, he snapped his bonds.
The ship was now quite near, and he waved frantically. He fancied he saw movement back of the pilot ports. Faintly he heard the hum of the levitators. Now it turned--no! It yawed, now toward him, now away, purposelessly, like a ship in distress. It made an abrupt downward plunge that scraped a crag, and just missed a canyon wall.
Again it twisted, came down with a long, twisting motion, struck a rock upside down, slitting a long gash in its skin, clattered to the rocks so close to the fortress that Sime could not see it. Now desperation gave the prisoner superhuman strength. Regardless of the pain, he burst the thongs about his ankles, tottered to the edge of the roof.
There was a battle going on below. Men seemed to be running, shouting. Someone, using a massive plate of metal as a partial shield against the neuro-pistols, was creating havoc. Sime tried to focus his giddy eyes on the scene. It seemed always to be turning to the left, to be circling around him. With tottering steps he tried to follow it, keeping to the brink of that lofty tower--uselessly. Now it was rocking, flying straight toward him, and, gratefully, Sime gave up the struggle, closed his eyes.
The Wrath of Tolto Tolto awoke from his drugged sleep in the cargo room of a pleasure ship. He was thoroughly trussed up, for Prince Joro's servants had a wholesome respect for the giant's strength. Even in his supine position power was evident in every line of his great torso, revealed through great rents in his blouse. His thighs were as big around as an ordinary man's body, and the smooth pink skin of his mighty arms and shoulders rippled with every movement that brought into play the broad, flat bands of muscle underneath.
A chain of beryllium steel was passed around Tolto's waist, and close in front of him the smooth, shining cuffs of steel around his wrist were locked to the chain. Short lengths of chain led to cargo ringbolts in the floor, holding fast Tolto's cuffed ankles.
To anyone looking at Tolto, just then, these extreme precautions might have seemed absurd. Prince Joro, however, was a good judge of men. It would have pleased him best if Tolto had been quietly eased from his sleep into death, but he knew that such a murder would have destroyed forever his chances of winning Sira to his plans. He meant to see Tolto safely and demonstrably returned to his home valley, and in order to accomplish this the more surely, he had him loaded aboard his own ship, and instructed his captain to take the little used desert route.
Tolto lifted his hands as far as he could and looked wonderingly at them. His child-like face, with the soft, agate eyes, expressed only bewilderment. He lifted his voice, a powerful bass.
"Hi, hi! Let Tolto go! The princess may call!"
There was no answer, only the rhythmic hum of the levitators. Again Tolto cried out. But there was no answering sound. The Sun poured in through the ports, and when presently the ship changed its course, the light fell full in his face, almost blinding him. The giant endured this without complaint.
Several hours later, however, his patience snapped, and he roared and bellowed so loudly that a door opened and a frightened face appeared. Back of it was the chromium glitter of the ship's galley.
"Be still, big one!" admonished the cook. "The captain is resting. He will have you chained standing if you disturb him with your bellowing."
"I wanted only to know where I am," Tolto replied, subsiding meekly. "I drank overmuch and some larksters tied me up like this. Release me, so that if the princess calls I may answer."
"The princess will have to call loudly for you to hear," the cook answered jocularly.
"The princess need only whisper for Tolto to hear," the giant boasted, "Come now, shrimp, take these things off!"
"Are you really as dumb as that?" the cook marveled. "Why, sonny boy, the princess couldn't even hear you! Don't you know where you're goin'?"
Vague alarm began to creep over Tolto.
"Where is she?" he asked anxiously. "Isn't she in this ship? Princess Sira never goes anywhere without Tolto. Ask her. Ask anybody."
"The princess may never go anywhere without you, you head of bone," remarked the cook, rather enjoying his own humor, "but this time you're going somewhere without her."
"You talk funny talk, but I can't laugh at it. Little bug, tell me now what this is all about, or I will take you between my fingers and squash you!"
The cook's coral face paled almost to white despite himself.
"Listen, big one," he said placatingly. "Have an orange?"
Tolto refused the gift, although he knew this rare and luscious importation from the Earth and was very fond of it.
"Once more I ask you, bug, where is she?"
"Aw, now, listen!" the cook whined. "Don't blame me! I'm only a servant around here. How can I help what they do? Don't glare at me so. Well, she's at Tarog."
"But why--why does she send me away?"
The cook failed to recognize his opportunity to lie in time.
"Well, the fact is--" he hesitated. "The boss--Prince Joro's sending you away. You see, she's going to get hitched up-big important guy. They didn't want you around, bustin' up things every time you turn around. So they're sendin' you back home."
"The princess would not send me home like this," Tolto objected. But he held his peace, and the cook went back to his work, satisfied that he had subdued this dangerous prisoner.
In this he was guilty of no greater error than Prince Joro and the other monarchists. For ages there had been an unfounded opinion that big men are generally slow and stupid. They may often act so, for their great strength serves as a substitute for the quick wit of smaller men. But in Tolto, at all events, this prejudice was wrong. In Tolto's bullet head was a healthy, active brain, and a primitive cunning.
So instead of wasting his strength in vain struggles against the tough steel, he rested, marshalling the facts in his mind.
He utterly rejected the thought that Princess Sira had consented to his removal in this manner, or in any manner. That meant that she was being coerced, and Tolto's eyes grew small and hard at the thought.
Presently he began to test the chains. They were of great hardness and toughness, and so smooth that he could not twist them, for the links slid over one another harmlessly. However, after much quiet effort he found that he could shift his body several inches toward either side of the narrow hold. Here there were a number of locked boxes. One of them, he reasoned, might contain tools.
His closely confined hands were practically useless. He found that he could not reach any of the boxes with his fingers, strain as he might. But he grinned with hope when his head struck one of the handles. His strong teeth closed down on it.
That would have been something to see! The box was of thin, strong metal, but it was heavy. With no other purchase but his teeth, Tolto dragged it to him, on top of him. Now his hands could help a little. He inched it down toward his knees, fearful each moment that a lurch of the ship might precipitate it to the floor with a crash. When his head could push no longer his knees grasped the end of the chest, and managed to pull it down.
Tolto had never heard of the wrestling hold known as the scissors, but he applied it to that box. His mighty sinews cracked under the strain, and stabbing pain tore at his hips. But he persisted, and with a protesting rasp the lid was telescoped inward, breaking the lock.
Breathless, he waited. After minutes he decided that the sound had not attracted attention.
Again he brought his teeth into play, and this time, when the box stood open, Tolto's lips were lacerated by the jagged edges of twisted metal. Triumphantly, he looked inside.
The box contained a set of counterweights for the hydrogen integrator motors.
No bar, nothing that might be utilized to twist off the eyebolts!
Again he set to work. The next box was longer, heavier. It was coated with unpleasantly rancid oil. Tolto's broad chest was covered with blood, partly from gouges in his skin, partly from his crushed lips. But this time he found a bar. It was in the bottom, under some extra valves, but eventually his teeth closed on it, and he fell back, nearly exhausted, for a moment's rest.
He heard a door slam beyond the galley. The words floated out: "--better go see how he's coming along."
The horrified mate saw the wrecked boxes, the blood-covered giant with a thick steel bar in his teeth, the extra valves scattered about the floor. He whipped out his neuro-pistol, pointed it at Tolto.
But Tolto made no move to resist when the shaken officer gingerly took the bar out of his mouth. He did not move when several shipmen, called by the officer, moved everything out of reach. After half an hour, with many awed comments, they left him alone.
Tolto's battered lips opened in what might have been a grin. Painfully he rolled off the single valve that had been digging into the small of his back. He patiently resumed the tedious task of bringing the valve in reach of his locked hands.
The valve stem was stout, and a foot long. It was just long enough so that Tolto, by lying on his side, could reach one of the eyebolts.
Inserting the stem, Tolto pulled toward him.
The eyebolt turned without resistance. It was free to rotate, and could not be twisted off. A groan escaped from the prisoner.
But in a few moments he tried bending upward. The leverage was highly disadvantageous that way. Still, straining with the last ounce of his strength, he was just able to do it. Pulling down was not so hard.
It took fifty-four motions, up and down, before the tough metal cracked and one chain trailed free.
It was not long afterward that the cook, turning from his work at the electric grill, stared into a face that had once been innocent and peaceful. It seemed the face of a demon.
He would have shrieked, but Tolto took his arm between thumb and forefinger, saying gently: "Remember, little bug, what I said!"
He was cast, dumb with fear, into the late prisoner's cell.
Tolto had not bothered to remove the chains, but only to twist them apart by means of such tools as he could find to permit free movement of his arms and legs. They dangled from him, tinkling musically.
Now he strode into the main cabin. The ship's crew, having no guests, were playing the part of guests. A man who was shuffling cards, was the first to see him. The cards flew up and showered all over the room.
"He's loose!" this shipman croaked, diving under the table.
"Mr. Yens! Mr. Yens!" shouted the captain, a small, bristling Martian with graying, stiff hair. He snatched the neuro-pistol at his side, pointed it at Tolto, pressed the trigger.
Tolto felt a numbing cold as the ray struck him. But his great body absorbed the weapon's energy to such an extent that he was not killed at once. His flailing arms continued their arc, and one end of chain, whistling through the air, struck the weapon from the officer's hand. Tolto stumbled, recovered. He picked up the pistol and stuck it in his chain belt.
His impulse was to rend, to crush with his hands. The shipmen, except for the officers, were unarmed, and they went down helplessly before the giant fists. Some of them found riot guns, but they might as well have pounded a Plutonian mammoth for all the effect they had on Tolto.
Mr. Yens, the mate, sitting at the controls in the glassed-in cabin forward, turned his head at the captain's cry, and, looking down the short corridor into the main cabin, saw the blood-covered giant coming toward him. Mr. Yens was a brave man; but he had been careless. His neuro-pistol was in his own cabin. He did the best he knew, and snapped the lock.
But Tolto's great bulk smashed in the door as if it were nothing. The unbreakable glass did not splinter, but it bent like sheet metal, and a blow of the giant's fist broke the mate's neck.
The mate had not engaged the gyroscopic control, and immediately the ship began a series of eccentric maneuvers, so sharp and unexpected that no one on board could keep his feet. For a few seconds she straightened, and one of the crew bethought himself of the pistol in the mate's cabin. He sighted on Tolto, clearly visible ahead. Before he could release the ray the ship went into another breath-taking maneuver.
A mountain peak came sliding toward them ominously. They scraped by. The ship dived, throwing Tolto forward, and his instinctive grab threw the elevator up. The levitators screamed madly as they lost their purchase on the air, due to the ship's unstable keel.
"We're goners!" someone shouted. "Kill that fool!"
They bounced off a cliff, turned over and over like a tumbleweed. A cylindrical building, unexpected in this wilderness, loomed up. They seemed about to hit it, but floated past. The rock floor of the valley rushed up. With a crash the ship rolled over, split wide open.
The Fight in the Fort Its coming had been observed. Men wearing the uniforms of the Martian army dashed out, their pistols ready. A man dropped out of a gaping hole in the ship's skin, sat down unsteadily. Others dribbled out.
"Crazy man in there!" one of them shouted. "Look out, he's murderous!" The pistols came up. The soldiers began to close in, showing a certain professional eagerness.
They were perhaps within ten feet when a metal plate, sheared off from the pilot's cabin in the fall, lifted up. Barely visible under it was a pair of large, running feet. One soldier, trying to oppose it with his hands, was knocked senseless and bleeding. He might as well have tried to stop an oncoming rocket ship.
Neuro-pistols, bearing from every side, spanged briskly. They partly neutralized one another. Their charges were partly reflected by the metal and partly absorbed by Tolto's great bulk. He was thoroughly confused now. Every way he looked in this glaring wilderness of desert and rocks were enemies.
But there! An opening loomed, cool and dark. The fortress entrance. Tolto dashed into it. There was the sharp challenge of a guard, unanswered; the futile hiss of a weapon.
The improvised shield wedged on a narrowing stairway. Tolto let it stick, ran up alone. The stairway went round and round, climbing ever higher. The fugitive's lungs were bursting.
At last he came to an airlock. He did not know how to operate it, so smashed through. There was no rush of air, because the pressure had already been equalized in the rush to the wreck at ground level. Panting, listening for pursuers, Tolto looked around.
He found himself on a circular roof, bare except for the airlock and a number of upright posts, whitened by the Sun.
It was some moments before he saw the unconscious figure of a man lying on the very edge of the lofty tower on which he was standing--a man naked and blackened. He was lying on his face, one arm and one foot hanging over space as though he had fallen unconscious at the very edge of the abyss.
Tolto collected his excited wits. This, at least was no enemy. His enemies were in power here. This must be a victim, a possible ally.
The man was stirring. The overhanging arm was feebly trying to grasp something. If he were to roll over-- He did not have time. Tolto dragged him in to the safety of the airlock opening, where he could watch.
There were sounds of pursuit, faint and cautious.
Tolto grinned at the naked stranger.
"Who are you, little bug?" he asked.
Sime Hemingway tried to tell him but his swollen tongue would not behave. Instead, he waved in the general direction of the Sun.
Tolto understood. "From Earth? Good guy, prob'ly. Want this dingus?"
Sime was able to take the neuro-pistol. He knew what was expected of him, and strove to collect his faculties so he could obey orders. He crawled a little way into the lock, where he could be in comparative darkness, setting the little focalizer wheel at the side of the pistol for maximum concentration. Such a beam would require good aiming, being narrow, but if it touched a vital center would be infallibly fatal.
Meanwhile Tolto appraised one of the posts on the roof. It was firmly set in masonry, but he found he could loosen it a little by shaking it. Presently he had it uprooted. It made a splendid battering ram, a war club fit for a giant such as he.