The Struggle for Venus can be found in




ISFDB.org Magazine Entry




THE planet Venus occupies a peculiar and enviable position in our solar system. According to the best evidence that we have it is a young world, younger than the earth, with a consequently longer period of life before it. By its distance from the sun, it is well fitted to maintain a high order of life, and for all we know, that life may now exist beneath its ever-present cloud layers. And if life does not exist on it, Venus lies in the skies a planetary prize awaiting the conqueror. According to Professor V. V. Stratonoff, an eminent Russian astronomer, the earth must some day lose its ability to support human life, and then we must be prepared if we wish to maintain our race to emigrate to a more habitable sphere. Yet our conquest of Venus is not likely to go uncontested, for it is probable as our author shows that a bitter battle is certain over this fair young world.


THE day on which my story opens—June 6, 2012—was marked in advance as the date of a transit of Venus across the disk of the sun. It will have a foremost place in the minds of future generations of school children as the date on which the first expedition of colonists from Earth landed on the neighboring planet.

Although a broken leg prevented me from being a member of that band of brave men, my later destiny was closely linked with their amazing adventures on Venus, and it is their story, in so far as I was connected with it, that I shall set down here to the best of my ability.

An introductory word about myself is necessary. The first space trips—those venturesome leaps to the moon—were made when I was a schoolboy. They fired the imagination of the world, and I was only one of the millions of boys who resolved to devote their lives to the exploration of space. Partly because I was more persistent than some, and partly because I was more fortunate, I was able to follow the line of my ambition. What will always stand out as the biggest day in my life was that on which, my theoretical training completed, I hopped off on my first space trip, in which I circled the moon. Prior to that time Robert E. Jones and Matthew Eddy had already made their epochal trip to Venus, and I looked upon my first space voyage as merely further training that would equip me for similar exploits.

When it was decided to send a large expedition to remain at least two years on Venus and investigate the deposits of radium-bearing pitchblende found by Jones and Eddy in their brief stay, I was accepted as a member of the party, and took part in the preparations. My high expectations were rudely dashed when, a month before the start, my run of good fortune was ended by the accident in which my leg was broken. That, of course, disposed of my hope of accompanying the expedition. Dr. Franklin Sanders, chairman of the Commission for Venus, offered me the post of wireless operator, which I gladly accepted. My duties were to aid in the installation of the station which would be used to communicate with the men on Venus, and, after communications were established, to keep one of the three eight-hour "watches" at the receiving set. At the same time I was to aid in preparations for a second expedition to be sent out two years later when Venus would again be in inferior conjunction with Earth.

On June 6, 2012, then, I left an assistant in the wireless room and went to the roof of the building in Washington, D. C.. furnished the Commission by the North American Continental Government. It is unnecessary for me to describe the transit of Venus across the sun's disk, for all of my readers must have witnessed the phenomen either in 2012 or 2004. I do wish, however, to record a conversation with Dr. sanders, because it will show our expectant attitude on that day when the expedition, out 26 days, was scheduled to arrive on Venus. I was watching the sun, with the planet outlined against it, through a pair of binoculars when Dr. Sanders approached me.

"If all has gone well," he said, "we should be in communication with them in a few days, now."

"I'm sure all has gone as planned, sir," I replied. "Nothing could go wrong with Commander Jones in charge."

"He is a wonderful leader," Dr. Sanders agreed. "I share your confidence in him. Nevertheless interplanetary travel is still fraught with many perils, as you know better than I. It is a long and dangerous voyage, but I trust it has been accomplished successfully."

"Their adventures will Only have begun when they land," I said. "They will still have to cope with all the dangers of a world such as ours must have been a' million years ago."

"And you would give your right eye to be with them," Dr. Sanders smiled. "Don't worry, Starrett, you'll join them at the first opportunity."

I SMILED, rather wryly, I am afraid, for I knew that the "next opportunity would not come for almost two years. From that day Venus and Earth would steadily separate until, some ten months later, they would be on opposite sides of the sun and separated by more than 160,000,000 miles, instead of a mere 25,000,000 miles as at present. No trip between the two planets could be considered until Venus again approached inferior conjunction.

Dr. Sanders read my thoughts.

"Venus won't be civilized in two years, my boy," he said, "nor in two decades. I'm sure you will have your part in the work of civilizing it, and your share of adventure. It is no secret, of course, that the present plan is to establish a permanent colony on the planet. There must be untold resources to be developed. I can visualize the day when Venus will have a thriving population of men and women."

An almost religious light shone in his eyes as he continued.

"Beautiful cities will be planned and erected free from the blemishes that on Earth we have inherited from past ages of trial and error. Commerce will ply the seas of Venus and there will be a steady exchange of goods between the planets. Venus may come to be regarded as the 'promised land' for the inhabitants of Earth. In some future age when the earth receives less heat from the dying sun, mankind may desert its old home and move to the new world nearer the source of life."

He clapped me on the shoulder.

"These are glorious prospects that we have before us in the dawn of the 21st Century. Adventure such as no man ever dreamed of a few centuries ago! My boy, the great adventure is just beginning. I predict that you will have a big part in furthering it. So don't let your spirits be cast down now."

I do not remember what reply I made, except that I stammered my thanks for his kind words. His enthusiasm and vision were contagious, although there was nothing new to me in what he said. Later on, however, when I was back in the room which housed the interplanetary wireless set, my disappointment rose afresh. After all I had wished to be a pioneer, and it would not be the same going out with a second party two years later to find the ground broken, homes erected and a little community ready to receive us. Nothing could he done about it, however. I had missed my big chance through such a trivial thing as a fall and a broken leg.

The bone had practically healed by this time, but it was too late. The expedition had departed twenty-six days earlier, and, as we learned later, landed on Venus on that very day and near the time when the planet was seen from Earth in transit across the sun's face. I little guessed that day how fortunate it was for all concerned that I was not with them.


CHAPTER II.

Mystery on Venus.

IT was three days later before any word was received from Venus, the delay being explained by the necessity for the technicians of the expedition to assemble the wireless and getting it in working order. I still have copies of the messages received in the Washington headquarters, so that I am able to give their exact texts. They tell a dramatic story of mystery and suspense in a strange and unfriendly world.

Contact was established on June 9. I was on duty at the time and was reporting periodically to Dr. Sanders that no results had been obtained. The wavelength to be used was so low that there was no interference from Earth stations. I was tuning the set near the agreed point when I caught a faint signal. I perfected the adjustment and then waited. If it were indeed Venus calling, the signal would be repeated in exactly five minutes. Precisely at the end of that period, which I spent watching the second hand creep around the dial of my watch, I caught the signal again, much louder. It was the Venus station repeating the station call for Earth.

I tapped out the answer to show that communication had been established, and then sent for Dr. Sanders. It would be more than two minutes before the radio signal, traveling with the speed of light, would reach Venus, and an equal time before the reply could be heard.

Dr. Sanders entered the room, followed by others who had heard the good news. There were excited whispers, which I stilled with a motion of my hand. Although the message was taken down automatically by the receiving instruments, I was unwilling to risk the possibility of mechanical trouble and accordingly wrote the message down.

"Earth, attention! Earth, attention! Arrived three days ago. All O. K. We landed near mouth of Holmes River and have begun construction of permanent home on favorable site. Living in the ships pending completion of thatched roof huts. Party of hunters on first day surprised herd of sexons1 and killed enough to supply us with meat for a week. Have caught several forms of river life in nets and Dr. Alexander is analyzing them. Potato trees are plentiful and the root, with sexon meat and bread, completes our diet until Dr. Alexander tells us what else we can eat.

1: An ostrich-like bird having six rudimentary legs, whence the name.

"Have divided party in two groups and alternate daily, one group exploring neighborhood and collecting specimens of vegetable and animal life while others cut and haul lumber. The wood of the potato tree is strong and light, and the rough sawed lumber has the quality of glowing faintly for several hours after sunset. Lizards of many types and all sizes are abundant, but apparently harmless. We hope to begin work on radium field in few weeks when camp is completed. Men all gathered to wait your reply. Send greetings to friends on Earth. Robert E. Jones."

Dr. Sanders quickly scribbled the answer, which I began sending within a few minutes after the completion of this message. In the meantime the news had been flashed to all parts of the world. Congratulatory messages from notables began arriving and were transmitted to the distant party. It was more than two hours later when we said good-bye for the day.

It is remarkable that from the first there was no difficulty in communicating with the party on Venus. It had been realized, of course, that communication could not be maintained during that part of the synodic revolutions of the two planets when they were at nearly opposite sides of the sun, and the most hoped for was that we could keep in touch with the distant party during the five or six months preceding and following inferior conjunction. Our experience proved beyond doubt that this was possible, although, because of circumstances which I shall soon relate, we actually maintained touch with Commander Jones and his party for only thirty days. The breaking of communications at the end of that time had nothing to do with radio conditions. If there had been anyone to operate the station on Venus the signals would have been received at the Washington station.

AT the first, however, Commander Jones could send a message from Venus in confidence that it would be received about two minutes later on Earth. A program was worked out by which we made contact with the party at noon (Washington time) every day. That was merely for convenience and regularity, as there was always some one on duty in th...

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