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Fantastic Novels, JULY, 1949

Between Worlds

By Garret Smith

Leader of a lone little band against the dread perils of the void spanning Venus and Earth, he bore his strange message to Earthmen from a planet grown weary with too much wisdom....

CHAPTER I
INTO ENDLESS NIGHT

PROBABLY no man or woman in the planet of Venus thought the Hunter expedition other than the mad scheme of one driven daft by too much study.

I count it final proof of my devotion to my lifelong friend that I found myself on the way to Join his little band of-skeptical but inseparable companions about to start on that epoch-making voyage. Not one of us, I believe, really expected to return alive. For, indeed, in all the known history of Venus none had ever ventured into that great circle of endless darkness beyond the seas and come back to tell the story.

I had started from my bachelor apartment well before sailing time, having sent my luggage on ahead, deciding to walk to the dock, that I might have a final season of intimate and leisurely communion with the familiar scenes in which I had passed my life.

But in this I was disappointed. The street into which I stepped forth was strangely unfamiliar. True, the setting was unchanged. There was the same broad, palm-lined avenue with the grand canal at its center. Up and down busily plied as usual the swift, duck-shaped streetboats, their drab-tunicked motormen struggling sturdily at the driving levers.

Nor had the buildings suffered change. Not a dwelling in all that thoroughfare had been altered within my lifetime, nor, for that matter, within the memories of my parents and grandparents.

The big, five-storied pyramid I had just left, as near like all its fellows as so many grains of sand, had been the home of my family for a hundred generations. My great-great-grandfather had built the final story in which were the quarters I occupied. It had henceforth sufficed as it stood for our branch of the clan.

Overhead hung the same, eternally unchanging, gray sky, shedding its unvarying, diffuse fight. The mellow air, as always, moved gently from west to east, now and then dropping momentarily its load of life-giving moisture In the form of a fine, misty shower.

But it was the number and manner of the people in the street that changed this familiar scene into one of grotesque strangeness.

I do not remember ever before having seen our usually placid populace in such uproar. All the concourse bordering the grand canal on the way to the harbor was thronged with excited people, men and women, old and young, all discussing one subject and all bent on one errand, to get as near as might be to that strange ship which lay at the head of the main pier.

Indeed all Venus was athrill with the news that had been flashed from signal-tower to signal-tower unto the uttermost corners of the Land of Light. It was not the mere fact that a scholar had ventured the theory that there were other habitable lands than ours beyond the Circle of Darkness. That would have been dismissed with contemptuous shrugs.

But that such a revolutionary notion should be held, by the popular son and heir of the Chief Patriarch, and that he should stake his life in an attempt to prove it was cause for universal excitement! It marked an epoch in the history of a race accustomed to the passage of one monotonous age after another without event more notable than the occasional long-expected death of a Chief Patriarch.

Some two hundred steps on, where the dwellings gave way to the low, two-storied shops of the market-place, the crowd became congested to a point where progress was difficult. I mounted near-by-steps, the better to survey the strange spectacle.

The entire market square was already filled with milling heads, and four other streets were momentarily adding to the mass. I was looking out over a turbulent sea of flaxen hair, the monotony of coloring broken only as here and there a more restless individual pushed way through the throng, exposing briefly the white flash of a woman's tunic or the darker drab of masculine garb.

All eyes were turned expectantly toward the great pyramid across the square, the home of the Chief Patriarch and the official capitol of Venus. I guessed at once the meaning of this attention. Such of the people as had been unable to find place on the dock where Hunter's ship lay, sought to catch a glimpse of him as he left his father's house. That they had in prospect even more exciting possibilities I learned presently from fragments of speech tossed up from the crowd near me.

"I'm with the Patriarch, for one. Why should we let this go on?" shouted an elderly woman.

"Hush, mother!" cautioned her son at her elbow. "Don't start trouble."

"I believe the Patriarch would wink at it if we stopped the young man at his door," came the voice of another.

"The insanity of our ancestors back among us—"

"Should not be allowed—"

"Ideas proved absurd ages ago—"

"The son of a Patriarch—no right to throw himself away—who would succeed this chief?"

THESE and other bits of excited talk filled me with misgivings. Was the throng bent on force to prevent Hunter's journey? Such a thing as a popular demonstration, particularly a resort to violence, had been unheard of in many ages. Yet incendiary talk like this was equally unknown. I knew well the Chief Patriarch had little sympathy with his son's venture. I could not conceive, however, that he should so far fly in the face of the custom of Venus as to use stronger measures than persuasion.

"Here comes Weaver, back from the dock. Perhaps he has news," called a young man near me. "Oh, Weaver! Has Hunter's ship sailed yet?"

"Not yet, nor will it for some time," replied a sturdy, middle-aged man who was struggling through the press. "Hunter and his party are not yet aboard."

"We are in time, then!" exclaimed the questioner.

"In time for what?" demanded the other.

"To prevent the sailing. It is reported the Patriarch has forbidden his son to go, and we are here to help him carry out his wish."

"Forbid, did you say?" inquired the elder man sarcastically. "Who on Venus has power to forbid anyone to do anything? One would think, young man, that you came from some strange world beyond the Circle of Darkness of which our Hunter dreams. Forbid, indeed! Better for Venus that all the sons of all the Patriarchs and the Patriarchs themselves go bury themselves in the darkness than that for one moment one man assume to rule over another!"

"All well enough among sane men," retorted the youth, "but do you believe this son cf the Patriarch sane? True, we supposed we had for many ages banished sickness of mind and body from Venus, but what do you make of this?"

"I make no more than do you, and like it no better. Hunter is committing grave error, all our scholars say, but we cannot count him truly insane, though his error be a mad one. Of course it has been agreed through all ages that this Land of Light is the only world, at least the only world in which man can live. We know nothing about the great Circle of Darkness around It except that it is cold past all endurance and that there is never light there to guide the way if man could endure the cold. None but children believe the fables of monsters dwelling there.

"Now, all that being so, and no man knowing anything contrary, how shall you or I call a man crazy who talks of lands beyond the darkness? He may be r ght; who can say? To try to cross the darkness Is madness. I grant that. But I love the man with daring to attempt it, and I agree to no step to hinder him."

From the murmurs of approval within hearing of his voice, I judged that this opinion met with considerable favor. There were, however, enough dark looks from others to show that public sentiment was rather evenly divided.

At that moment a shout in the direction of the Patriarch's house again drew every eye that way. The great main door was slowly rising.

A moment later the venerable Patriarch came forth alone, and stood with hand upraised for silence. The vast throng responded on the instant and waited respectfully for their leader to speak.

The Chief Patriarch was then in the seventh period of his life, but his tall, commanding figure was still unbent and his movements vigorous. Only his hair, which hung below his shoulders and had long since turned from flaxen to pure white, indicated his age. His voice though gentle and sympathetic, rang out clearly to the far side of the square:

"Fellow citizens," he said, "I appreciate your show of devotion. Word has come to me that you stand ready to help me restrain my son from this adventure, which, to you, seems madness. I beg to remind you, however, that restraint is a thing unknown among us. In all Venus there is no man or group of men, no power, that would dare to exercise restraint toward any being.

"I call upon you to remember the event which ushered in our modern era, from which we reckon all time, the overthrow of the only power that ever sought to impose authority, laws, force, and all their attendant evils upon the people of Venus.

"Ever since, we have known no law but custom, no authority but public opinion, no force but persuasion. That custom has placed me, your Chief Patriarch, among you as counselor and guide, not as ruler. I would then be repeating the error of that power which we overthrew two hundred ages ago did I, with your assistance, try to impose the false authority of force upon my own son.

"But, though you know that I cannot agree with my son in this venture of his, and that I am torn with grief at the thought that he may be going to an untimely death, I would not have you misjudge him. This is no madcap escapade of a restless youth driven by mere love of adventure. However mistaken he may be, I believe—and would have you believe— that he is moved by an unselfish devotion to your welfare and the welfare of the children that shall come after you.

"We have all for some time realized that our continent, this great Land of Light, the only known habitable land, is becoming overcrowded. Time was when it held open fields and forests. It is now one vast city. Our gardens no longer supply enough food. We have perforce turned to the laboratory for sustenance. Where shall the race turn next? We look up and see only a canopy of unsubstantial mist. There is no promise of other worlds there, and if there were, we have not the wings of birds with which to seek them. We look off from our shores over the seas In every direction only to be met by the unfathomed ring of eternal night and deadly cold.

"No man has ever crossed that Circle of Darkness. No man can say what lies beyond. My son believes he can cross it and find fair lands on the other side. Let us put down our private beliefs as to his unwisdom and honor his courage and the selfsacrifice of his brave companions, and bid him good-speed. And may the Great Over Spirit, Father of us all, be with him and them."

Overcome with emotion, the old Patriarch ceased speaking, stood for a moment searching the faces of the throng and, with head still proudly erect, turned and withdrew within his dwelling.

The crowd hesitated for a moment, then, without a word, began to disperse.

I watched them thoughtfully. The eloquence of the Patriarch had swayed them for the moment. But as I considered what had occurred and what had been said and the significance of it all, I was suddenly seized with a feeling almost prophetic, a conviction that I had been witnessing the germinating of the seeds of disruption of this slumbrous, custom-ruled, changeless land of ours, seeds that had lain dormant for two hundred ages.

THE more I reflected on this nearly revolutionary demonstration by the people in the market-place, the more I was convinced that it was in part, at least, the result of the baleful influence of the First Lady of the South, whom I had Interviewed shortly before.. The revolutionary ideas of that remarkable woman had bade fair to be a public sensation had not their announcement been followed so closely by the-more spectacular proposal of Hunter.

She was the daughter of the Patriarch of South Venus, head of the chief family of the ancient clan of Masons.

The people of Venus were divided into clans according to their original occupations, and all the families of each clan bore the name of its particular calling. Hence the Masons were the families forming the group or clan of those whose ancestors had worked at the building of walls.

Of course these family names, as I give them here, are by no means the same in sound as they were spoken in the tongue of Venus." In setting, this record down I have been forced to translate even our proper names, as far as possible, according to sense, into their equivalent English words.

For so utterly alien to you is our speech that not one word of it can be expressed in Earth characters or pronounced in any Earth tongue.

Some thirty sleep-periods before the time set for the departure of Hunter's expedition, and while his plans were yet secret, there had been signaled through to Central Venus the report that this Mme. Mason, who, through her position and personal ability, had become known' as the First Lady of the South, had been whispering about among her friends a most revolutionary proposal.

It was said that she declared for defiance of the ancient, unbroken custom of Venus by seeking in marriage a mate from another clan than her own, a thing that had never been tolerated in Venus as far back as recorded history or even tradition goes.

I remember how amazed I was later when I first learned that in this topsy-turvy Earth of yours, you not only allowed but encouraged the practice, to us so repulsive, of mating a man and woman not related by blood or the ties of a clan, nay, that, on the other hand, you rather discouraged the marriage of relatives, a practice so common among us.

So serious was the suggesting of this hitherto unheard-of thing by so influential a woman that I determined not to record the rumor in our Chronicle until I had it first-hand from the lady herself.

You may well understand how important I considered this interview when I tell you that I disliked travel exceedingly, and that the distance to South Venus was a little over twenty sleeps, or about two thousand of your Earth miles.

In Venus a "sleep" was not only our unit of time but of distance as well. Despite our lack of a natural time-unit, such as furnished by your Earth day and night, custom had established with us a uniform, periodical time of sleeping. From the beginning of one sleep-period to the beginning of the next, we called a "sleep", as you call your time-unit a day. Likewise, our ancients hit upon their average journey in a sleep-period as a measure of distance, just as your primitive tribes measured distance by a day's journey.

But in our modern times, with our swift motor-driven canal barges being our sole means of overland travel in Venus, we were able to make at least two sleeps of distance in one sleep of time. So in the course of ten sleeps' I arrived in South Venus and secured quarters at the leading travelers' home.

When I think of the perils and hardships of the appalling pilgrimages I have undergone since, over black, uncharted lands and seas and through empty spaces, I smile at the to-do I made over this brief journey.

But I was accustomed to the privacy of my roomy quarters and the freedom of the streets, and I chafed under, the restraint of the narrow cabin and the enforced company of my traveling companions. Those who occupied adjacent sections and hence were most thrust upon me proved uncongenial and tiresome.

There was an elderly woman, an engineer who had charge of the upkeep of one of. the southern sections of the canal systems; a young woman who acted as buyer of raw materials for a big chemical concern in Central Venus, and a middle-aged man, manager of a line of ships plying around the coast from South Venus to the Western Islands.

No sooner did this worthy trio learn that I was editor, of the Chronicle than they began vying with each other to get my ear and pour into that suffering organ innumerable dull details of their several affairs, aiming, no doubt, to impress me sufficiently with their importance to get mention before the public. To my death, I shall positively loathe the subjects of canals, chemistry, and shipping.

But, aside from the wearisomeness of my company-and my eagerness to get at the nub of my errand,-the journey had been most tiresome, in that it was entirely lacking in new interest. Though I had not made this trip before since my early youth, when I had taken it with my father, the landscape had not altered a whit.

There was the same endlessly flat country as far as the eye could reach, traversed by its network of straight, narrow canals, through which we made our way. Along either bank was the same unbroken succession of pyramidal buildings, all alike, whether dwelling or business buildings, save that around each dwelling was the usual small garden patch which did Its part toward supplying food and vegetable fabrics. Nor were there any of the variations of customs and dress among the people, such as I have found since lend constant interest to an earthly journey.

So it came about that I arrived in South Venus wearied and out of temper and in no proper frame of mind to interview so exalted a personage. But my impatience to have done with my errand and be upon my homeward way prevented my first seeking rest and a more equable mood. Then, as I was about to set out for the Mason dwelling, there came over the signal-towers the astounding news of my friend Hunter's proposal to traverse the Circle of Darkness, and the purpose of my visit was at once thrust into the background.

I was therefore ushered into the presence of the Lady of the South with mind greatly distraught with my new tidings, little dreaming that any connection existed between Hunter's mad purpose and the mad ideas of my hostess.

I WAS ushered into the Patriarchal residence by one of the young women of the Mason clan, who was fulfilling her customary term of household service, such as fell to the lot of all youths of Venus. She was a shy maiden who greeted me politely enough, but there was about her an air of suppressed excitement, which I noted also in all those I met in the passages of the great house on my way to the apartments of her I sought.

As usual with the younger generations of a family, the lady occupied an apartment in the apex story of the pyramid, hence I had good opportunity to observe many of the tenants of the building as I passed up the several inclines and along the thrifty roof gardens growing on each terrace.

I could not believe that the perturbation I noticed on every countenance was due to the fact that I was a stranger. For the household of a Patriarch must of necessity be accustomed to the frequent going and coming of strangers seeking advice of its head.

It was while I waited in an anteroom of the Lady's apartment for my guide to make known my presence and the object of my visit that I learned the cause of this general excitement, and became convinced that the report I had received of my hostess's opinions was no mere idie rumor.

There came to my ear after a moment excited voices in an inner chamber, a man and woman in heated argument. They were evidently so overwrought that they were heedless of the fact that I could not help but overhear every word.

"I beg of you, my daughter," pleaded the man, "do not further disgrace us. All our household is terribly distressed already by this report of your foolish ideas."

"You have no right to say I have disgraced you," objected the woman. "Truth is no disgrace."

By this I knew I was an unwilling listener to a dispute between the Lady and her father, the Patriarch. The voice of the Lady was resolute and impassioned, but low-pitched and musical. Prejudiced as I was against the speaker, I could not but be swayed by its charm.

"See this man, if you must; I can't prevent it, of course," continued the Patriarch, "but I plead with you for the last time to give up your horrible notions. Tell him that you were not serious, that you have no such ideas. Truth you call them? They are damnable errors!"

"Nonsense!" was the retort. "It is time we changed our ideas in Venus. We boast we have no laws, but we are slaves of tyrant custom. I will see this man and tell him the truth as I see it, and tell him to spread it through all Venus. The women will heed me. Some have already done so. I shall lose no chance to spread the truth."

"My child, you force me to be sorry that you are a daughter of mine. Wait—"

He was interrupted by an impatient exclamation. There was a quick, light step. The draperies were thrust aside, and the Lady of the South stood before me.

Despite the impression her voice had made, I had still expected to see a commanding figure, a stern-faced, wild-eyed creature. On the contrary, I beheld the very incarnation of the voice I had heard. A slight, softly rounded form was revealed beneath a clinging silken robe that draped her to the feet instead of stopping at the knees like the conventional, uniform tunic of both men and women of Venus. Nor was this robe of the regulation white, but shimmered with a blending of soft colors.

She was a little under the average height. Her hair, a shade darker than the usual flaxen, instead of falling loose to the shoulders; as was customary, had been let grow and had been braided and coiled about her shapely little head.

The face betrayed not a hint of the sternness I had expected. To this day I have difficulty in recalling its features distinctly. I was conscious then only of a radiant smile that held me fascinated and for the moment bewitched. I could only stare helplessly into her wistful gray eyes, all the brave catechism I had prepared wiped out of my mind.

I recognized her at once as a new and strange type in Venus, where our women had, as a class, little to distinguish them in appearance either mentally or physically from the men with whom they had worked side by side during all our history on a basis of perfect equality.

It was my first experience with a glamorous woman—something which at the time I did not attempt to analyze, but which I realized later was due in a large part to the consciously arranged effect of her unusual method of dress.

I was scandalized even while I was fascinated. It had never occurred before to the women of Venus that they should make themselves attractive, nor had our men been in the habit of considering such a superficial element in choosing wives. I have, learned that you, of Earth, had deified our planet as the goddess of romantic love between the sexes. But I assure you that you were wide of the actual truth. Such a thing as romantic love had never been dreamed of in Venus until introduced by the First Lady of the South. We knew only the affection developed after marriage, which, with us, was purely an affair of convenience.

The Lady gracefully dropped on a rug near the one on which I reclined, and waited for me to speak.

So I pulled myself together and in embarrassed, halting fashion, told her of the report that had reached us in Central Venus and of my desire to learn the real truth from her.

"I am glad to give it to you," she responded. "I simply believe that marriage and the rearing of children is woman's chief work and that she should be left free to do that work. As it is, we must, according to custom, earn our living and leave the care and education of our children to the old people who have retired from other work."

"Do you mean that women should do no work except the care of their homes and children?" I asked.

"I do."

"Who then would support these women?" I demanded incredulously.

"Who indeed but their husbands, the fathers of their children?"

"Can you imagine any man willing to bear such an unreasonable burden, or any able-bodied woman whose pride would allow her to live in idleness on the proceeds of another's labor? How do you propose to make men support women?"

"By not marrying unless we first love the man we marry and he loves us. If a man really loves a woman and can marry her only on those terms, he will submit."

Love before marriage! I had never heard of such, a thing. It struck me as a thing improper even to speak of.

"I know what I am talking of," he went on, "because I have loved a man myself and I have never been wed. This is why I believe in marriage with those out of one's clan. Love cannot be controlled. It goes where it will. There should be no marriage without love. So when love comes, marriage should follow, whatever our old custom says. I shall preach this until our women are free. They shall not suffer as I have suffered. I love a man not of my clan. I have asked him to brave custom and marry me, and he has refused. Yet I believe he loves me."

She was growing excited, and, needless to say, I was becoming greatly embarrassed at this intimate revelation. I hastily cast about in a panic for a change of subject, and recalled the news of Hunter's proposed expedition.

Mumbling some awkward words of sympathy for her distress, I added that I, too, had been greatly disturbed by news from a dear friend.

Then I told her briefly of Hunter's determination to explore the Circle of Darkness.

The effect of my words was most astonishing.

She leaped to her feet, her face torn with frenzied horror.

"He shall not go I He shall not go! I will stop him! I must not lose him like that! I cannot live without him!"

She dashed from the room, and I did not see her again.

Our Hunter, then, was being wooed by this mad lady! But I returned home convinced that it was the embarrassing proposal of the Lady of the South that had much to do with Hunter's determination to explore unknown seas. And in the popular move to prevent him, I saw evidence that the Lady's influence over the people was far-reaching.

TO MY dying breath I shall never forget my sensations as I stood by Hunter's side on the deck of his great ship and watched the light fade away, perhaps never again to shine for us. Ahead, and ever drawing nearer, was that grim, unknown, nether region of eternal darkness in which, if our purpose held, we were soon to be engulfed.

Consider what this meant to us who, in all our lives, had never known darkness, excepting when, for amusement or experiment, we had-each probably at some time or other covered the windows of a room and enjoyed for a few moments the thrilling novelty of being unable to see.

To us eternal light, unvarying even for a moment from one age-end to another, was as much a matter of course as the air we breathed or the moisture it shed upon us, or the genial, unchanging glow of heat that pervaded it. Whence came that mysterious light and heat we knew no more than we understood the source of that inexhaustible stream of air that poured unvaryingly across our land, or of the endless supply of moisture that fed our soil from above. And our scientists, who delved deeply into the mysteries of chemistry and biology, were as much at a loss over these more familiar mysteries as were we of lesser minds.

And yet, unexplainable as was the presence of light and heat, their absence was still more incomprehensible. Nevertheless, reputable explorers who had ventured to the very margin of the Circle of Darkness had returned with undoubted proof of such lack.

Within the present age a distant cousin of Hunter's had sailed his ship so far into the twilight that bordered the Circle of Darkness that his terrified crew had looked ahead into what seemed a jet-black, impenetrable wall scarce a ship's length in front of them. That it was no solid wall they knew when a great mountain of crystal floated out of the darkness and directly toward them. Only maneuvering the vessel averted wreck. As it was, a jagged corner of the mass grazed their hull, a fragment breaking off and falling on the deck. Those who, gathered curiously about this bit of crystal, laid hands upon it, were seized with sharp pain in the palms.

When they sought to bring this crystal back as a memento, it shortly turned to a pool of water on the deck—a great marvel to all who saw it, no one having ever witnessed the like before.

But, stranger yet, the water in a bucket on the deck had turned to this same hard, clear crystal, only to become water again on their return to the warm seas.

Meantime the air about them had changed to malignant vapor that seemed to cut them to their very bones. Some there were whose ears and fingers were smitten as with a leprosy, swelling and turning white and giving great pain.

Such evidence as this was in accord with tales told by their earlier explorers. This earlier Hunter had sailed away on a later voyage, and neither ship nor crew had ever again been heard of.

Now, as I sought to project my imagination and prepare myself in some measure for this unthinkable experience, it balked in the attempt. Of what Hunter's plan might be for coping with these awful negations of nature, I had as yet no knowledge. Having been away in the south when he planned his expedition, I knew, nothing of its details until my return home Just before his departure. He had sent for me, briefly outlined his purpose, and asked me to Join him. There had been no time for further details.

I had agreed to his proposal on the spur of the moment, partly through devotion to him, and partly because, as editor of the Central Chronicle, of Venus, I could not afford to let pass the one great news-event of my lifetime.

Nevertheless, Hunter had seen to it that any of his company who turned fainthearted when confronted with the grim actuality might have chance to turn back. We were accompanied on the first stage of our trip by a convoy ship on which any of us who chose might return to safety at the last moment. Hunter had expressly stipulated In my case that I should feel no embarrassment in so doing, inasmuch as I had started without full explanation of his plans.

Now that we were drawing near the point where our convoy would leave us, I had sought out Hunter, to ask him for the further details he had promised.

"Very well, Scribner," he said, "if you'll come down to my. cabin I'll explain why I'm undertaking this thing, and you can decide finally whether you are with me to the finish."

Hunter's cabin had more the appearance of a combination of study and laboratory than the sleeping-room of a ship's commander. Only his sleeping-pad, now hanging to air by one of the octagonal windows, suggested the room's latter character. There was a well-filled case of enscrolled tablets, all on scientific subjects, records of former explorations, I noted from the titles. Another case contained a mixed assortment of nautical and chemical instruments. On the walls were numerous maps.

The center of the cabin was occupied by an ordinary hemisphere, on its surface a map of the Land of Light which we were leaving. The base of the hemisphere, as usual, shaded off into the black band that represented the Circle of Darkness.

Such was our conception at that time of the planet on which we lived, we who had no knowledge of other planets than our own, or ever dreamed that they existed beyond the eternal cloud-blanket of our sky.

You who were born on Earth, our then unknown sister planet, and have all your lives looked out through a clear atmosphere upon the blazing sun of your, days and the moon and stars of your nights, can hardly imagine a world like ours, where there were no days or nights, a world, one-half of which dwelt in eternal light and the other in eternal darkness. And yet your astronomers had discovered that such is the case with us. Venus, unlike your Earth, does not spin about on its axis, giving every part of its surface a constant change from light to darkness and back. It presents, forever, the same face toward the sun.

Now, had Venus enjoyed a clear atmosphere like that of Earth, we would, like you, have been familiar with other heavenly bodies, and have developed astronomers who would have taught us the truth about our own planet. For we are a race of scientists, many of whom have in certain fields far outstripped those of Earth. But your astronomers, I have learned, have also shown you that Venus has a constantly cloudy atmosphere. Never in the recorded history of Venus has the sun appeared to us through the gray mantle of our heavens, and never up to the time when this tale begins had anyone dreamed of the existence of such a body.

In view of these handicaps, then, I protest that you of the - Earth should have charity for our ignorance. Particularly should this be in view of the fact that but a few ages ago you of one hemisphere of the Earth were as ignorant of the other hemisphere as were we of the Land of f Light of the other half of our planet. I have learned of your Columbus, who, like our Hunter, believed in another land beyond the seas, and in the face of a scoffing world wagered his life on his faith.

But your Columbus had reasons for the faith that was in him, reasons based on scientific facts that are now commonplaces to the veriest child. As Hunter stood over his charts and explained to me his faith, I was forced to confess that he had no shadow of logical evidence, nor to this day have I been able to fathom the basis of his belief. It is still to me little less than intuition.

LIKE all my fellow-beings in Venus, I believed firmly in the Over Spirit of the Air, Creator of all things, the same, I am convinced, as He Whom you Earth-born call God. But I have always been one of those advanced thinkers who doubted the popular belief that the Over Spirit breathed into the minds of our Patriarchs rare bits of unprovable wisdom that were not granted to the mass of us. Yet, as I look back, I am near to believing that this son of our Chief Patriarch had partaken in a measure of this divine gift.

To be sure, the truth came to him in a strangely distorted vision, which he unfolded to me, bending over his charts there in the ship's cabin.

"This," said he, placing his hand on the hemisphere, "is our present idea of the universe. I believe we are right as to the shape of our Land of Light. Our mathematicians have proved it is a symmetrically rounded hill like this.

"But why should we believed this is the only hill rising out of the zone of darkness? I believe the universe Is a great sea of air of infinite extent. Only the upper layers of the air have the mysterious properties of light, warmth, and moisture. Hence only those lands which, like ours, rise up as islands above the stratum of darkness enjoy the life-giving properties.

"But, call it pure theory, mere fantasy, as you will, I cannot believe that In all limitless space the Over Spirit has created only one little island like ours, and then allowed it to be overpeopled. There must be other lands rising above the darkness and put there forms to find. I believe I am the one appointed to find them."

He turned from the model and paced the floor excitedly, carried away by the fervor of his great dream. His tall, powerful frame quivered, and his strong face glowed with intensity.

"I tell you," he went on, as though addressing a great multitude, "the time Is ripe for change. Our race Is rotting with monotony. New worlds must be opened for it to conquer, new difficulties found for It to overcome, new problems presented for it to solve, new customs thrust upon It to waken its sleeping soul."

He paused and seemed again to realize my presence. He seized me by the shoulders and searched my face eagerly.

"Scribner, have you never felt it? Am I the only man in Venus who has sickened of the changeless life we lead?"

I had till then been a bit bewildered by his tirade. But now as his burning eyes bored into mine, I suddenly felt an answering thrill. There flashed over me new realization of a great void In my life, a void so familiar that it had never before dawned on my consciousness.

Change! That was the magic word. A word little used among us because the thing for which it stood had no place In our lives. I realized in the same instant what was that haunting, elusive sense of something impending that had caught me as I watched the throng in the marketplace. The same hunger for that change that had burnt into consciousness in Hunter's vibrant soul and been communicated by him to me was seething in the subconsciousness of the multitude and drawing dangerously near the surface. It needed but a little urge and touch of mass excitement to cause it to break out as a great contagion, mass psychology in explosion. Hence the general tumult at Hunter's going.

Hunter, then, sought to avert the cataclysm he had foreseen by providing a safety valve in the form of new worlds to conquer.

Sharply as I had been struck by the revelation of the changelessness of our world and with hunger for change, it was at the moment mainly an emotional revelation. I had no standard of comparison to give me an intellectual grasp of what I meant by change. But now, after over three of your years on your ever-changing Earth, I can give you, my readers, some conception of the situation.

Our monotony was founded in nature. I have said we had no days or nights. We had no months or years, for no glimpse of heavenly bodies gave us such measure of time. Your hours and minutes did not exist. Time flowed in an unmarked stream, broken into periods only by the lengths of our lives.

Likewise, we had no change of climate, for Venus does not lean on its axis toward the plane of its orbit as does your Earth.

We lived on one great continent. No mountain ridges or intruding seas broke us into groups. So we had but one race, one language, one religion, one set of customs, that had not altered since the last corner of our land had been settled.

And the consciousness of this monotony had suddenly burst upon me, though I had as yet no experience of its opposite.

I wrenched myself from Hunter's grasp and seized both his hands in mine.

"Hunter!" I cried. "You're right, and I'm with you to the end! I know now what I have hungered for all my life and what all Venus pines for, unknowing, in its soul. Change! Adventure! Surprise!

"Don't tell me more of your plans. I'll follow where you lead. For once, let me have an experience which I cannot foresee!"

And I knew that he understood. Without another word, we returned to the deck. All my dread of the darkness had vanished. I was looking forward with the eagerness of a child to our departure from the Land of Never Change.

CHAPTER II
A VOICE FROM THE DARK

IT WAS a tense moment aboard the great vessel. Our little company of thirty seemed strangely alone as we stood grouped on the deck straining our eyes toward the spot where the convoy, the last link with our former life, was fading from sight in the thickening murk. At moments the heavy vapors rolled up and shut her from sight. Then through a rift we would catch some glimpses of her again.

Ghastly stillness reigned, startlingly shattered at Intervals by the melancholy boom of the convoy's gong, tolling In the gloom like a funeral knell to life and light and all we held dear. The ship's motor was still. She lay motionless on the black, stagnant flood. Even the heavy, biting air had ceased its eternal movement.

It was as though the Spirit of Darkness had paused aghast at this Impious intrusion while It considered what dire punishment to enforce on these imprudent mortals.

I dare say that not one of us, as we stood huddled together, shivering in our strange new garbs of heavy fabric, but what suffered an instant of half repentance of our rash purpose.

Soon the convoy was altogether blotted from sight. The throb of the gong came fainter to our ears, its mellowing resonance sounding more than ever a note of despair. The darkness steadily closed In around us. It became a blank wall a few paces from our gunwales, then It mounted our very rails. A few moments, and we gasped In unison as the black wall closed down altogether. It was as though the eyes had been plucked from our heads. I reached out involuntarily and touched my neighbor to make sure that I was not alone in the black void.

I felt a stir of panic among my companions, an echo of the tumult in my own soul.

At that critical point there came from the motor-cabin the calm, confident voice of Hunter.

"Don't be alarmed," he assured us. "We will have light, plenty of it, In a moment. It will startle you when it comes, so be prepared."

It was here that our leader put our faith in him to the supreme test. I briefly regretted that I had not, after all, Insisted on a full disclosure of the method he had In mind for coping with the darkness. Manifestly no progress could be made without the aid of eyesight. I recalled the ancient tales of great mountains of crystal floating out of the blackness to crush such a puny object as a man-made ship, of seas that turned solid so that no floating thing could force its way through.

Did he mean that he had no conquering device, after all, and, confronted with the actual condition of darkness, had at once seen the hopelessness of advancing?. Was he about to turn back-to the light he had just left and abandon the expedition? The clang of the convoy's gong was still faintly audible. We could get our bearings from it, and return to safety. I was guilty of the hope that such was his purpose.

Or could he be obsessed with the idea that the Circle of Darkness was only a narrow zone through which we could drift in a few brief moments into a new realm of light?

But even as we struggled with these doubts we were answered in most amazing fashion. The darkness was snatched from our vacant eyeballs by a great glare such as none of us had ever before experienced. So Intense was Its brilliance that it paralyzed our optic nerves. After the first sense of sheer whiteness we were left for an instant blind again.

When our eyes became accustomed to this sudden change so that we could see again, we found ourselves bathed by radiance brighter than we had ever before known. Every detail of our bird-shaped vessel stood out In clear-cut distinctness. The great wings which extended half folded along either side, a unique feature of Hunter's ship, to my mind then a useless decoration, shone as though of silver.

The decks, the rounded cabin roofs, the short spars, and the high prow which terminated in the figure of a water-fowl's neck and head, all gleamed in the same way. This effect, I noted in passing, was produced by the glare reflected from a thin sheeting of icy crystal that had coated the whole vessel since we entered the cold zone.

Far out over the water the illumination extended, ending only where it was dissipated In the white shifting fog-banks. The surface of the sea, revealed at last sight as a lifeless floor of blackness, now sparkled and danced amid a flashing of myriad hues.

We were aroused from our stupor of astonishment by the voice of Hunter:

"What do you think of it? Didn't I promise you light?"

There was in his voice and manner the triumph of a small boy who has played a smart trick on his elders.

For a moment more we stared, still uncomprehending. Then it dawned on us. For the first time, a mortal of Venus had produced light!

To you, my Earth readers, this must be almost incomprehensible. It will be hard for you to understand a race that had never in its history known fire or artificial light, except as we had now and then seen an accidental manifestation of it, for which we had not any possible use. The races of Earth, I am told, began using fire before the dawn of civilization, indeed much of your civilization developed from that use. To-day your boasted progress would vanish in a night if fire were removed from Earth.

But remember, necessity is the mother of invention, as one of your sages has said. You had need of fire to warm you In your winters. Hence you learned to use It. So your dark nights demanded the light that went with fire.

We had no winter and no night. So why should we concern ourselves with fire? And in our world there were few of the accidental manifestations of natural fire, no volcanoes, no electrical storms, no conflagrations resulting from accident from the use of fire, as with you.

WHEN it came to mechanical inventions, not even then had we missed the use of artificial heat. You being familiar with fire and learning its power, had from it developed the steam engine and later the electric dynamo.

We, starting from a different viewpoint, had developed much earlier than you a knowledge of chemistry. We had for instance from the earliest recorded ages prepared our food by chemical process instead of fire cooking as with you. In developing artificial power we had invented crude chemical motors at first, later discovering a method of developing high power electricity chemically and applying it to the driving of powerful machinery, a thing which you have as yet seen only a glimmering of in what you call your galvanic batteries.

But now, driven by need, Hunter had invented artificial light. Faced with his voyage into eternal darkness, he had bethought himself of the occasional dull flashes and glows he had noted while experimenting with chemical apparatus. Seeking their cause, he now devised glass globes filled with a compound which when excited by electricity produced this brilliance.

He pointed out to us now some of these globes set on each point of the vessel, on the crest of the figurehead, at the top of the spars, and in rows on the cabin-roofs. We had. noted these globes before only as ornaments without use and commented on Hunter's vain love of decoration.

Each cabin also was equipped with one of these globes, giving the interior of the ship heat as well as light.

"This is really the first time I have had darkness to test the lights!" Hunter exclaimed. "I haven't felt confident of the success of our venture until now. I think we can dismiss the convoy and be on our way."

He entered the motor-cabin and sounded three sharp rings of the gong, the signal agreed upon with the convoy's captain. Faintly over the water came the answer in kind.

Then he pulled a control bolt. The motors underneath him began to throb. The great webbed feet at the vessel's side swept out and began churning the water. A moment more, and we were gliding gracefully into the unknown.

Gradually we became accustomed to our strange surroundings and our fears wore away, to be replaced again by the thrill of high adventure. The new light, once explained, gave us a sense of confidence we had not felt before since the voyage was proposed. We were in high spirits.

True, we were already experiencing a foretaste of hardship in the extreme cold which searched and stung our untried bodies despite our heavy robes. Hunter ,made the watches short, and the members of each watch were glad to escape to the warm cabin for respite when the time marker in the motor-cabin pointed to the end of their trick.

So five watches passed with little incident, save that now and then our ship crunched through a field of thin ice crystal or was occasionally bumped by jagged blocks of that material. To this we soon became accustomed but were ever sharply on the lookout lest we crash into one of the reported crystal mountains that might come upon us suddenly from the fog-banks.

It was in the sixth watch, which chanced to be mine, that we first sighted one of these towering monsters off to our right, just within the range of our light, an awesome spectacle to our unaccustomed eyes. From then on we saw many of them. We ran at reduced speed, barely creeping at times The crystal fields were becoming more frequent and more difficult to break through. The cold grew more intense.

It was in this watch that a curious excitement occurred. Up to this point we had seen no sign of animal life in the chill, dead water or in the scarcely less dead and chill air.

Now, near the end of my watch, we heard discordant cries in the air behind us which we soon recognized as those of water-fowls. Presently we were overtaken by a flock of some dozen of these birds, flying low and making to pass us close to the left.

To our surprise they paid not the slightest attention to the glare of our lights, which we supposed would have terrified them.

They had nearly passed us when one flying in the rear drove head on against the light at the summit of the ship's figurehead and fell back, stunned on the deck. The forward watch picked it up and examined it curiously. After a moment he cried out in surprise and studied more closely the bird's head.

"Look!" he cried. "The creature has no eyes!"

And it was true. We each examined the bird carefully, but could discover nothing but two faint scars where eyes should have been.

There were indeed monsters in this strange world, forms of life that found their way about in the blackness without need of sight, and born without organs with which to see. For nature evidently wasted no unnecessary equipment on her creatures.

One of us dropped the uncanny thing overboard with a shudder. Trivial, in a way, as was the incident, it left us with an uneasy feeling not readily shaken off.

But we had little time to dwell upon this horror. A cry from the steersman called our attention back to our surroundings. While we had been examining the bird we were entering an apparently broad passage between two crystal fields. Now we saw that these fields had converged until they met just ahead of ,us. We were In a pocket.

Weaver, chief of the watch, gave orders to the steersman to back out and seek some other passage. But on attempting to do so we found, to our consternation, that quantities of drifting crystal blocks and sheets had floated in. behind and threatened to imprison us. Moreover, the driving-feet crashed and ground against these impediments and were momentarily In danger of being broken.

In this crisis Weaver ordered the motor stopped and summoned Hunter from his sleep for consultation.

Hunter had just come on deck and was taking in the situation when a sound off across the crystal field to the right held us all at attention. It was a hoarse cry, low-pitched but penetrating.

My first thought was that it was some strange animal denizen of the darkness. We listened for a moment. Again it came, this time with unmistakable distinctness. It was a human voice!

WE STARED at each other, amazed. How could there possibly be human beings out there in the wastes of endless night and cold?

And yet human beings there were, and no small number of them. For now the call was repeated and answered by another and another at different points. Then in still another quarter beyond the range of our powerful lights arose shouts. It was as if several persons were conversing excitedly.

We were too far off to catch the words, yet words of human speech they were, and the speakers were rapidly drawing nearer.

Those of our company off watch, aroused by the tumult, leaped from their sleeping pads and rushed to the deck. We stood at the rail, gripped with bewildered fear. Hunter himself was as much at loss as the rest, though if he felt any considerable degree of the terror that held us, his calm self-control concealed it.

Suddenly with a cry of mixed relief and alarm he whirled from the rail toward the motor-cabin.

"I have it!" he shouted. "Those must be the men of our convoy. They have drifted back into the shadow and have been lost. Probably had trouble with their motors. I'll ring our gong so they'll know who we are."

But at that another sound drowned the human outcry and held even our leader motionless with horror.

It began in a low-pitched, thunderous growl that rattled the cabin windows. It rose to a rasping roar and ended in an ear-piercing, wailing shriek.

Then out upon the lighted area of the ice-field staggered a great, shaggy, four-footed beast. To my excited eyes the creature measured no less than ten paces from his frothing jaws to his lashing tail. Our lights gleamed on a double row of hideous fangs and on formidable hooked claws that tore at the ice with each awkward leap. I was ready now to give full credit to the nursery tales of monsters with which in my childhood I had been regaled by my granddame.

As he neared the center of the lighted area, his pace slackened and presently, with another awful outcry, he swayed and sank to the ice and lay twitching as if in agony.

We could see protruding from his left side just back of the shoulder, a short lance, round which oozed a slow stream of blood. He had been struck by a human huntsman. As this last cry reechoed over the frozen fields there stole out of the shadows behind the great beast a half circle of some fifty human forms. They were creeping cautiously forward and closing around their wounded prey.

They moved in absolute silence now, but there could be no doubt that these were the beings we had heard shouting in the distance. Nor did it take more than the first glance to convince us all that here were no sailors from our convoy, nor any men of the Venus we had known.

I have called them human. In that I flattered them grossly. They walked upright and, to be sure, had human forms. Moreover, the creatures wore man-made clothing.

But It was such clothing as none of us had ever before seen, fashioned rudely of shaggy fur, following the shape of their bodies throughout, so that they looked not unlike lesser copies of the great beast that sprawled before them.

But their faces sent cold shivers of horror down our spines: They were darker in complexion than those of normal man, and heavy, protruding Jaws gave them a peculiarly beastly appearance. But even at this distance there was an indefinable lack of all expression. Nor were they the expressionless faces of beasts, but the blank countenances of dead men, of peculiarly brutal dead men who had died from some foul disease that had horribly disfigured and discolored their features. It was as though we were watching grotesque automatons silently closing in on the dying beast. Each fur-covered hand held a spear such as we had seen in the animal's side.

And not one of these strange figures, to our great surprise, had as yet taken the slightest notice of our brilliantly lighted ship, though such a spectacle had certainly never before invaded the haunts of these sons of the night.

As the deadly circle closed in, the wounded quarry staggered up, and with a roar dashed forward. He was received on vicious spear-points and recoiled, snarling. A second lance now quivered in his right side.

In a frenzy he whirled about the circle. Now a frantic sweep of a terrible hook-tipped claw caught two of the hunters unawares, and they went down under it. With a gasping snarl the great jaws snapped once at each prostrate throat and the two victims moved no more.

But this moment of partial triumph was the beast's final undoing. While he was thus preoccupied the circle closed in and lance after lance struck home. With a last cry of pain he sank to the ice, twitched convulsively, and was still.

THERE followed a scene of brutal savagery such as I had never before dreamed possible among human beings. Remember, no savage race had survived in the Land of Light, and the savage period of our own race's history ceased before the beginning of any records save the vaguest of discredited traditions. There was in our knowledge no precedent for murderous savagery.

The instant they were satisfied that danger from the man-killing claws had passed, there was a rush for the carcass. The next instant they were madly fighting each other for the booty. The circle of allies had resolved into ...

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