do not mean to boast when I say that cowardice has never been among my
failings. It would be needless to boast, in view of my honorable record
as an ether-ace in six interplanetary expeditions. But I tell you that
I would not return to Venus for any consideration --- not for all the platinum
and radium in its mountainsides, nor all the medicinal saps and pollens
ambergris of its forests. There will always be men to imperil their
lives and their sanity in the Venusian trading-posts, and fools who will
still try to circumnavigate a world of unearthly dangers. But I have done
my share, and I know that Venus was not designed for human nerves or human
brains. The loathsome multiform fecundity of its overheated jungles ought
to be enough for any one — not to mention the way in which so many posts
have been wholly blotted out between the departure of one space-freighter
and the arrival of the next. No, Venus was not meant for man. If you still
doubt me, listen to my story.
I was with the first Venusian expedition, under the leadership of
Admiral Carfax, in 1977. We were able to make no more than a mere landing,
and were then compelled to return earthward because of our shortage of
oxygen, due to a serious miscalculation regarding our needs. It was unsafe,
we found, to breathe the thick, vapor-laden air of Venus for more than
short intervals; and we couldn't afford to make an overdraft on our tanks.
In 1979 we went back, more fully equipped for all contingencies this time,
and landed on a high plateau near the equator. This plateau, being comparatively
free from the noxious flora and fauna of the abysmal steaming jungles,
was to form the base of our explorations.
I felt signally honored when Admiral Carfax put me in charge of the
planetary coaster whose various parts had been brought forth from the bowels
of the huge ether-ship and fitted together for local use. I, Richard Harmon,
was only an engineer, a third assistant pilot of the space-vessel, with
no claim whatever to scientific renown; and the four men entrusted to my
guidance were all experts of international fame. They were John Ashley,
botanist, Aristide Rocher, geologist, Robert Manville, biologist and zoologist,
and Hugo Markheim, head of the Interplanetary Survey. Carfax and the remaining
sixteen of our party were to stay with the ether-ship till we returned
and made our report. We were to follow the equator, landing often for close
observations, and make, if feasible, a complete circuit of the planet.
In our absence, a second coaster was to be fitted together, in preparation
for a longitudinal voyage around the poles.
The coaster was of that type which is now commonly used for flying
at all levels within the terrestrial atmosphere. It was made of neonin-tempered
aluminum, it was roomy and comfortable, with ports of synthetic crystal
tougher than steel, and could be hermetically closed. There were the usual
engines run by explosive atomic power, and a supplementary set of the old
electro-solar turbines in case of emergency. The vessel was fitted with
heating and refrigerating systems, and was armed with electronic machine-guns
having a forty-mile range; and we carried for hand-weapons a plentiful
supply of infra-red grenades, of heat-tubes and zero tubes, not knowing
what hostile forms of life we might encounter. These weapons were the deadliest
ever devised by man; and a child could have wiped out whole armies with
them. But I could smile now at their inadequacy. . . .
The plateau on which we had landed was far up in a range which we
named the Purple Mountains because they were covered from base to summit
with enormous two-foot lichens of a rich Tyrian hue. There were similarly
covered areas in the plateau, where the soil was too thin for the sustenance
of more elaborate plant-forms. Here, among the multitudinous geysers, and
the horned, fantastic peaks that were intermittently visible through a
steam-charged atmosphere, we had established ourselves in a lichen-field.
Even here we had to wear our refrigerating suits and carry oxygen whenever
we stepped out of the ether-ship; for otherwise the heat would have parboiled
us in a few minutes, and the ultra-terrestrial gases in the air would have
speedily overpowered us. It was a weird business, putting the coaster together
under such circumstances. With our huge inflated suits and masks of green
vitrolium, we must have looked like a crew of demons toiling in the fumes
I shall never forget the hour when the five of us who had been chosen
for that first voyage said good-bye to Admiral Carfax and the others and
stepped into the coaster. Somehow, there was a greater thrill about it
than that which attended the beginning of our trip through sidereal space.
The 23,000 miles of our proposed circuit would of course be a mere bagatelle:
but what marvels and prodigies of unimagined life we might not find! If
we had only known the truth! ... but indeed it was fortunate that we could
Flying very slowly, as near to the ground as was practicable, we
left the plateau and descended through a long jungle-invaded pass to the
equatorial plains. Sometimes, even when we almost grazed the jungle-tops,
we were caught in voluminous rolling masses of cloud; and sometimes there
were spaces where we could see dimly ahead for a few miles, or could even
discern the white-hot glaring of the dropsical sun that hung perpetually
We could get only a vague idea of the vegetation beneath us. It was
a blurred mass of bluish and whitish greens, of etiolated mauves and saffrons
tinged with jade. But we could see that many of them had the character
of calamites and giant grasses rather than trees. For a long while we sought
vainly an open space in which to alight and begin our investigations.
After we had flown on for an hour or two above the serried jungle,
we crossed a great river that couldn't have been so very far below the
boiling-point, to judge from the columns of steam that coiled upward from
it. Here we could measure the height of the jungle, for the shores were
lined with titanic reeds marked off in ten yard segments, that rose for
a hundred yards in air, and were overshadowed by the palm-ferns behind
them. But even here there was no place for us to descend. We crossed other
rivers, some of which would have made the Amazon look like a summer creek;
and we must have gone on for another hour above that fuming, everlasting
forest ere we came to a clear spot of land.
We wondered about that clearing, even at first sight. It was a winding
mile-wide swath in the jungle, whose end and beginning were both lost in
the vapors. The purplish soil seemed to have been freshly cleared, and
was clean and smooth as if a whole legion of steam-rollers had gone over
it. We were immensely excited, thinking that it must be the work of intelligent
beings — of whom, so far, we had found no slightest trace.
I brought the coaster gently down in the clearing, close to the jungle's
edge; and donning our refrigerating suits and arming ourselves with heat-tubes,
we unscrewed the seven inch crystal of the manhole and emerged.
The curiosity we felt concerning that clearing was drowned in our
wonder before the bordering forest. I doubt if I can give you any real
idea of what it was like. The most exuberant tropic jungle on earth would
have been a corn-patch in comparison. The sheer fertility of it was stupendous,
terrifying, horrifying — everything was overgrown, overcrowded with a fulsome
rankness that pushed and swelled and mounted even as you watched it. Life
was everywhere, seething, bursting, pullulating, rotting. I tell you, we
could actually see it grow and decay, like a slow moving picture. And the
variety of it was a botanist's nightmare. Ashley cursed like a longshoreman
when he tried to classify some of the things we found. And Manville had
his problems too, for all sorts of novel insects and animals were flopping,
crawling, crashing and flying through the monstrous woods.
I'm almost afraid to describe some of those plants. The overlooming
palm ferns with their poddy fronds of unwholesome mauve were bad enough.
But the smaller things that grew beneath them, or sprouted from their boles
and joints! Half of them were unspeakably parasitic; and many were plainly
sarcophagous. There were bell-shaped flowers the size of wine barrels that
dripped a paralyzing fluid on anything that passed beneath them; and the
carcasses of flying lizards and strange legless mammals were rotting in
a circle about each of them, with the tips of new flowers starting from
the putrefaction in which they had been seeded. There were vegetable webs
in which squirming things had been caught — webs that were like a tangle
of green, hairy ropes. There were broad, low-lying masses of fungoid
white and yellow, that yielded like a bog to suck in the unwary creatures
that had trodden upon them. And there were orchids of madly grotesque types
that rooted themselves only in the bodies of living animals; so that many
of the fauna we saw were adorned with floral parasites.
Even though we were all armed with heat-tubes, we didn't care to
go very far in those woods. New plants were shooting up all around us;
and nearly everything, both animal and vegetable, seemed to have alimentary
designs upon us. We had to turn our heat-tubes on the various tendrils
and branches that coiled about us; and our suits were heavily dusted with
the white pollen of carnivorous flowers — a pollen that was anaesthetic
to the helpless monsters on which it fell. Once a veritable behemoth with
a dinosaur-like head and forelegs, loomed above us suddenly from the ferns
it had trampled down, but fled with screams of deafening thunder when we
leveled our heat-rays upon it until its armored hide began to sizzle. Long-legged
serpents larger than anacondas were stalking about; and they were so vicious,
and came in such increasing numbers, that we found it hard to discourage
them. So we retreated to the coaster.
When we came again to the clearing, where the soil had been perfectly
bare a few minutes before, we saw that the tips of new trees and plants
were already beginning to cover it. At their rate of growth, the coaster
would have been lost to sight among them in an hour or two. We had almost
forgotten the enigma of that clearing; but now the problem presented itself
with renewed force.
"Harmon, that swath must have been made within the last hour!" exclaimed
Manville to me as we climbed back into the vessel behind the others.
"If we follow it," I rejoined, "we'll soon find who, or what, is
making it. Are you fellows game for a little side-trip?" I had closed the
manhole and was now addressing all four of my companions.
There was no demur from any one, though the following of the swath
would mean a diagonal divagation from our set course. All of us were tense
with excitement and curiosity. No one could venture a surmise that seemed
at all credible, concerning the agency that had left a mile-wide trail.
And also we were undecided as to the direction of its progress.
I set the engines running, and with that familiar roar of disintegrating
carbon atoms in the cylinders beneath us, we soared to the level of the
fern-tops and I steered the coaster in the direction towards which its
nose happened to be pointing. However, we soon found that we were on the
wrong track; for the new growth below us became disproportionately taller
and thicker, as the mighty jungle sought to refill the gap that had been
cloven through its center. So I turned the coaster, and we went back in
the opposite direction.
I don't believe we uttered half a dozen words among us as we followed
the swath, and saw the dwindling of the plant-tops below till that bare
purplish soil reappeared. We had no idea what we would find; and we were
now too excited even for conjecture. I will readily admit that I, for one,
felt a little nervous; the things we had already seen in the forest, together
with that formidable recent clearing which no earthly machinery would have
made, were enough to unsettle the equilibrium of the human system. As I
have said before, I am no coward; and I have faced a variety of ultra-terrene
perils without flinching. But already I began to suspect that we were among
things which no earth-being was ever meant to face or even imagine. The
hideous fertility of that jungle had almost sickened me. What, then, could
be the agency that had cleared that jungle away more cleanly than a harvester
running through a grain-field?
I watched the vapor-laden scene ahead in the reflector beside me;
and the others all had their faces glued to the crystalline ports. Nothing
untoward could be seen as yet; but I began to notice a slight, unaccountable
increase of our speed. I had not increased the power — we had been running
slowly, at no more than one hundred fifty miles per hour; and now we were
gaining, as if we were borne in the sweep of some tremendous air-current
or the pull of a magnetic force.
The vapors had closed in before us; now they eddied to each side,
leaving the landscape visible for many miles. I think we all saw the Thing
simultaneously; but no one spoke for a full thirty seconds. Then Manville
muttered, very softly: "My God!"
In front, no more than a half-mile distant, the swath was filled
from side to side with a moving mass of livid angleworm pink that rose
above the jungle-tops. It was like a sheer cliff before us as we flew toward
it. We could see that it was moving away from us, was creeping onward through
the forest. The mass gave the impression of a jelly-fish consistency. It
rose and fell, expanding and contracting in a slow rhythmic manner, with
a noticeable deepening of color at each contraction.
"Life!" murmured Manville, "Life, in an unknown form on a scale that
would not be possible in our world."
The coaster was now rushing toward the worm-coloured mass at more
than two hundred miles an hour. A moment more, and we would have plunged
into that palpitating wall. I turned the wheel sharply, and we veered to
the left and rose with an odd sluggishness above the jungle, where we could
look down. That sluggishness worried me, after our former headlong speed.
It was as if we were fighting some new gravitational force of unexpected
We all had a feeling of actual nausea as we gazed down. There were
leagues and leagues of that living substance; and the farther end was lost
in the fuming vapors. It was moving faster than a man could run, with that
horribly regular expansion and contraction, as if it were breathing. There
were no visible limbs or appendages, no organs of any distinguishable kind;
but we knew that the thing was alive and aware.
"Fly closer," whispered Manville. Horror and scientific fascination
contended in his voice.
I steered diagonally downward and felt an increase of the strange
pull against which we were fighting. I had to reverse the gears and turn
on more power to prevent the vessel from plunging headlong . We hung above
the pink mass at a hundred-yard elevation and watched it. It flowed beneath
us like an unnatural river, in a flat, glistening tide.
"Voyez!" cried Rocher, who preferred to speak in his native tongue,
though he knew English as well as any of us.
Two flying monsters, large as pterodactyls, were now circling above
the mass not far below us. It seemed as if they, like the vessel, were
struggling against a powerful downward attraction. Through the air-tight
sound-valves we could hear the thunderous beating of their immense wings
as they strove to rise and were drawn gradually toward the pink surface.
As they neared it, the mass rose up in a mighty wave, and in the deep mouth-like
hollow that formed at the wave's bottom a colorless fluid began to exude
and collect in a pool. Then the wave curved over, caught the struggling
monsters, and lapsed again to a level, slowly palpitating surface above
We waited a little; and I realized that the onward flowing of the
mass had ceased. Except for that queer throbbing, it was now entirely quiescent.
But somehow there was a deadly menace in its tranquillity, as if the thing
were watching or meditating. Apparently it had no eyes, no ears, no sense-organs
of any sort; but I began to get the idea that in some unknowable manner,
through senses beyond our apprehension, it was aware of our presence and
was considering us attentively.
Now, all at once, I saw that the mass was no longer quiescent. It
had begun to rise toward us, very stealthily and gradually, in a pyramidal
ridge; and at the ridge's foot, even as before, a clear, transparent pool
The coaster wavered and threatened to fall. The magnetic pull, whatever
it was, had grown stronger than ever. I turned on fresh power; we rose
with a painful, dragging slowness, and the ridge below shot abruptly into
a pillar that loomed beside us and toppled over toward the vessel.
Before it could reach us, Manville had seized the switch that operated
one of the machine-guns, had aimed it at the pillar and released a stream
of disintegrative bolts that caused the overhanging menace to vanish like
a melting arm of cloud. Below us the pyramidal base of the truncated pillar
writhed and shuddered convulsively, and sank back once more into a level
surface. The coaster soared dizzily, as if freed from a retarding weight;
and reaching what I thought would be a safe elevation, we flew along the
rim of the mass in an effort to determine its extent. And as we flew, the
thing began to glide along beneath us at its former rate of progress.
I don't know how many miles of it there were, winding on through
the monstrous jungle like a glacier of angleworm flesh. I tell you, the
thing made me feel as if my solar plexus had gone wrong. There was neither
head nor tail to that damnable mass, and nothing anywhere that we could
identify as special organs; it was a weltering sea of protoplasmic cells
organized on a scale that staggered all preconceptions of biology. Manville
was nearly out of his senses with excitement; and the rest of us were so
profoundly shocked and overwhelmed that we began to wonder if the thing
were real, or were merely an hallucination of nerves disordered by novel
and terrific planetary forces.
Well, we came to the end of it at last, where the pink wave was eating
its way through the jungle. Everything in its path was being crushed down
and absorbed — the four-hundred-foot ferns, the giant grasses, the grotesque
carnivorous plants and their victims, the flying, waddling, creeping and
striding monsters of all types. And the thing made so little sound — there
was a low murmur like that of gently moving water, and the snap or swish
of trees as they went down, but nothing more.
"I guess we might as well go on," observed Manville regretfully.
"I'd like to analyze a section of that stuff; but we've seen what it can
do; and I can't ask you to take any chances with the coaster."
"No," I agreed, "there's nothing to be done about it. So, if you
gentlemen are all willing, we might as well resume our course."
I set the vessel back toward the equator, at a goodly speed.
"Christ! that stuff is following us!" cried Manville a minute later.
He had been watching from a rear port.
Intent on steering forthrightly, it had not occurred to me to keep
an eye on the thing. Now I looked into the rear reflector. The pink mass
had changed its course, and was crawling along behind us, evidently at
an increased rate of progression, for otherwise we would have been out
of sight by now.
We all felt pretty creepy, I assure you. But it seemed ridiculous
to imagine that the thing could overtake us. Even at our moderate speed,
we were gaining upon it momently; and, if need be, we could treble our
rate or soar to higher atmospheric levels. But even at that the whole business
made a very disagreeable impression.
Before long we plunged into a belt of thick vapors and lost sight
of our pursuer. We seemed to be traversing a sort of swamp, for we caught
glimpses of titan reeds and mammoth aquatic plants amid winding stretches
of voluminously steaming water. We heard the bellow of unknown leviathans,
and saw the dim craning of their hideous heads on interminable necks as
we passed. And once the coaster was covered with boiling spray from
a marsh-geyser or volcano, and we flew blindly till we were out of it again.
Then we crossed a lake of burning oil or mineral pitch, with flames that
were half a mile in height; and the temperature rose uncomfortably in spite
of our refrigerating system. Then there were more marshes, involved in
rolling steam. And after an hour or two we emerged from the vapors, and
another zone of prodigiously luxuriant jungle began to reveal its fronded
tops below us.
Flying over that jungle was like moving in a hashish eternity. There
was no end to it and no change — it simply went on and on through a world
without limits or horizons. And the white vaporous glare of the swollen
sun, even at zenith, became a corroding torture to nerves and brain. We
all felt a terrific fatigue, more from the nervous tax than anything else.
Manville and Rocher went to sleep, Markheim nodded at his post, and I began
to watch for a place where I could bring the coaster safely down and take
a nap myself. The vessel would have kept its own course, if I had set the
gears; but I didn't want to miss anything, or take any chance of collision
with a high mountain-range.
Well, it seemed there was no place to land in that interminable bristling
wilderness of cyclopean growths. We flew on, and I grew sleepier and sleepier.
Then, through the swirling mists ahead, I saw the vague looming of low
mountains. There were bare, needle-sharp peaks and long gentle scaurs of
a blackish stone, almost entirely covered with red and yellow lichens taller
than heather. It all looked very peaceful and desolate. I brought the coaster
down on a level shelf of one of the scaurs, and fell asleep almost before
the heavy thudding of the engines had died.
I don't know what it was that awakened me. But I sat up with a start,
with a preternaturally distinct awareness that something was wrong. I glanced
around at my companions, who were all slumbering quietly. And then I peered
into the reflectors where the entire landscape about us was depicted.
I was unable to believe it for a moment — that worm-colored glacier
that had crawled up the scarp beneath us, and was now hanging over the
vessel like a sheer, immeasurable, flowing precipice. It had reached out
in mighty arms on either side, as if to surround us. It seemed to blot
out the misty heavens as it hung there, pulsing and darkening and all a-slaver
with rills of a hueless liquid from the mouths that had formed in its front.
I lost a few precious seconds ere I could start the atomic engines; and
as the vessel rose, the top of that loathsome cliff lengthened out and
fell over like the crest of a breaking billow. It caught us with a buffeting
shock, it enveloped us, we went down tossing and pitching as into a sea-trough;
and our interior grew dark and blind till I switched on the lights. The
vessel was now lurching nose downward, as that unbelievable wave sucked
it in. My companions were awake, and I shouted half-incoherent orders to
them as I turned on the full power of our cylinders and also set the electro-solar
turbines going. The sides and ceiling of the coaster seemed to bend inward
with the pressure as we sought to wrench ourselves free. My companions
had flown to the machine-guns, they pumped them incessantly, and bolts
of electronic force tore like a broadside of lightning into the mass that
had engulfed us. We tried literally to blast ourselves out, with each gun
revolving at the widest possible radius. I don't know how it was ever done;
but at last the pressure above us began to give, there was a glimmering
of light through our rear ports, and pitching dizzily, we broke loose.
But even as the light returned, something dripped on my bare arms from
the ceiling — a thin rill of water-clear fluid that seared like vitriol
and almost laid me out with the sheer agony as it ate into my flesh. I
heard someone scream and fall, and turning my head, saw Manville writhing
on the floor beneath a steady drip of the same fluid. The roof and walls
of the coaster were rent in several places, and some of the rifts were
widening momently. That execrable liquid, which doubtless served as both
saliva and digestive juice, had been eating the adamantine-tempered metal
like acid, and we had not escaped any too soon.
The next few minutes were worse than a whole herd of nightmares.
Even with our double engine-power, even with the machine-guns still tearing
at the mass beside us, it was a struggle to get away, to combat the malign
extra-gravitational magnetism of that hellish life-substance. And all the
while, Venusian air was pouring in through the rents and our atmosphere
was becoming unbreathable. Also the refrigerating system was half useless
now, and we sweltered in a steaming inferno, till each of us donned his
air-tight insulative suit in turn, while the others held to the guns and
the steering. Manville had ceased to writhe, and we saw that he was dead.
We would not have dared to look at him overlong, even if there had been
time; for half his face and body were eaten away by the corroding liquid.
We soared gradually, till we could look down on the horror that had so
nearly devoured us. There it was, mile on mile of it stretching up the
mountain-side, with the farther end somewhere in the jungle below. It seemed
impossible, in view of the distance we had traversed, that the thing was
the same life-mass we had met earlier in the day. But whatever it
was, it must have smelt us out somehow; and seemingly it didn't mind scaling
a mountain to get us. Or perhaps it was in the habit of climbing mountains.
Anyway, it was hard to discourage, for our gun-fire seemed to make mere
pin-holes in it that closed up again when the gunner's aim shifted. And
when we started to drop grenades upon it from our hard-won elevation, it
merely throbbed and heaved a little more vehemently, and darkened to a
cancerous red as if it were getting angry. And when we flew off on the
way we had come, toward the jungle and the swamp beyond, the damnable thing
started to flow backward beneath us along the lichen-mantled slope. Evidently
it was determined to have us.
I reeled in the seat with the pain of my seared arms as I held our
course. We were in no condition to continue the circuit of Venus; and there
was nothing for it but a return to the Purple Mountains.
We flew at top speed, but that flowing mass of life — protoplasm,
organism, or whatever it was — fairly raced us. At last we got ahead of
it, where it slithered in mile-wide devastation through the jungle — but
not very far ahead at that. It hung on interminably, and we all grew sick
with watching it.
Suddenly we saw that the thing had ceased to follow us, and was veering
off at a sharp angle.
"What do you make of that?" cried Markheim. We were all so amazed
by the cessation of pursuit, that I halted the vessel and we hung in mid-air,
wondering what had happened.
Then we saw. Another endless mass, of a vermin-like gray, was crawling
through the jungle to meet the pink mass. The two seemed to rise up in
sheer columns, like warring serpents, as they neared each other. Then they
came together; and we could see that they were battling, were devouring
each other, were gaining and losing alternately as they flowed back and
forth in a huge area from which all vegetation was speedily blotted. At
length the pink mass appeared to have won a decisive victory; it poured
on and on, without cease, ingesting the other, driving it back. And we
watched no longer, but resumed our flight toward the Purple Mountains.
I have no very distinct recollection of that flight: it is all a
blur of incalescent vapors, of boundless, fuming forests, of blazing bitumen
lakes and volcano-spouting marshes. I lived in a reeling eternity of pain,
sickness, vertigo; and, toward the last, a raging delirium in which I was
no longer aware of my surroundings; except by fits and starts. I don't
know how I held on, how I kept course: my subliminal mind must have done
it, I suppose. The others were all pretty sick, too, and could not have
helped me. I seemed to be fighting an immeasurable, formless monster in
that delirium; and after a dozen eons of inconclusive combat, I came out
of it long enough to see that the Purple Mountains were jutting their horns
from the vapors just ahead. Dimly I steered along the jungle-taken pass
and across the plateau; and the glaring heavens turned to a sea of blackness,
a sea that fell and bore me down to oblivion as I landed the coaster beside
the glimmering bulk of the ether-ship.
Somehow, very tortuously and vaguely, I floated out of that sea of
blackness. I seemed to take hours in regaining full awareness; and the
process was painful and confusing, as if my brain were unwilling to function.
When I finally came to myself, I was lying in my bunk on the ether ship,
and Admiral Carfax and the two doctors of the expedition were beside me,
together with Markheim and Rocher. They told me I had been unconscious
for fifty hours. My collapse, they thought, had been partly due to unnatural
nerve-strain and shock. But my arms were both in a terrible state from
the ravages of the vitriolic animal fluid that had dripped upon them. It
had been necessary to amputate my left arm at the elbow; and only the most
skillful care had saved the other from a like fate. My companions, though
ill to the point of nausea had retained consciousness, and had told the
story of our unbelievable adventures.
"I don't see how you drove the coaster," said Carfax. This, from
our reticent and praise-sparing chief, was an actual brevet.
My right arm was a long time in healing — indeed, it never became
quite normal again, never regained the muscular strength and nervous quickness
required for aviation or space-flying. And I wasn't so sorry, either: my
nerves were badly shaken; and I was content to let others do their share,
when the holes in the acid-eaten coaster had been caulked with metal melted
by our heat-tubes, and another exploring party was sent out along the equator.
We waited for a hundred hours on the plateau in the Purple Mountains;
but the coaster didn't return. Radio communications with it had ceased
after the first nine hours. The second coaster was put together, and went
out with Admiral Carfax himself in charge. Markheim and Rocher also insisted
on going along. We kept in touch with the vessel till it began to approach
the enormous tundras in which the sunlit hemisphere of Venus terminates,
and beyond which are the frozen realms of perpetual twilight and darkness.
The radio reports were full of incredible things, and I won't tell you
how many of those moving life-masses were sighted, eating their way through
the hideously fertile jungles or crawling out of the steam-enveloped Venusian
seas that gave them birth. Nothing, however, was found of the first coaster.
Then the reports ceased; and a black horror settled upon us who had remained
in the ether-ship.
The huge space-vessel was ill-adapted to horizontal flight within
atmospheric levels. But we set out anyway, and tried to find the coasters,
though we all knew there could no longer be anything to find. I won't detail
our trip: we all saw enough to turn our stomachs permanently; and those
horrors of immeasurable life were sweet and charming in comparison with
some of the things that our searchlights revealed on the dark side of the
planet. . . . Anyhow, we gave it up at last, and came back to earth. And
I, for one, have been well satisfied to remain on Terra Firma. Others can
do the exploring and work the Venusian mines and plantations. I know too
well the fate of those lost parties and their vessels. And I know what
has happened to the warehouses of neo-manganese steel that have utterly
disappeared and have been replaced by a half-grown jungle.