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IT IS ONLY an alien who can really enjoy the exotic, but the alien who has no connection with the scene, who has not even the vaguest idea what will come next, he truly experiences an unusual and wonderful thing for he smells strange smells, touches strange textures, hears strange sounds and the very air he breathes is somehow different. And so it was with me, lying on the ground, unfamiliar ground with an odd, soft feel, powdery to the touch yet not clinging as earth dust would. Suddenly remembering where I was, I sat up and looked about me.

When I had left the earth, I hadn't known where to go first as there were so many places to visit, so many exciting and unusual sights to see and an infinite variety to choose from; but I had finally selected Venus, partly because it would be a short hop but mostly because exploration had revealed so little about it. Those who had gone there had found only a waterless dust bowl with unending dust storms which made any extensive investigation next to impossible.

Yesterday, very tired and in need of sleep, I had landed and had climbed out of my ship to find not a dust storm but a curious crowd watching me. I stood there dumbly, wondering what to do, until one who seemed to have authority took me with him into their city. He seemed to know I was tired for he left me in a compartment barren of furniture yet seemingly possessed with all the comforts. Assuredly I had slept well for this soft, springy ground had been my bed.

As I gazed about me, I wondered if it had been wise to leave my ship, but so strange and foreign were my surroundings, I soon forgot about it. I walked through an archway which led outside and discovered that most of the dwellings about me were much the same. There were neither doors nor windows and there seemed to be no streets. The houses could have been made of earth for the walls were the same color as the ground and they were round, hexagonal and octagonal, generally.

Beyond the houses in what appeared to be approximately the city's center rose towers, high into the air. They seemed somewhat triangular to me and tended to come to a point although the distance made seeing difficult. Then I heard the bell as its sound rolled out across the city in a great, ringing crash. I jumped and looked in the direction of the towers. Again that strange, rumbling clang struck me like a physical blow. As yet I saw not a soul in the spaces between the domiciles and I thought it incredible that anyone could sleep through such a racket.

For the final time, the voice in that mighty bell rolled out, leaving a pregnant silence in its wake, a silence that must soon give birth to new sounds or it would surely burst asunder from its own electric tension. I stood there waiting, for what I did not know, avidly drinking in each detail of a new world. At that moment, my host appeared.

PERHAPS it was the light of morning or perhaps it was because I had drunk of the refreshing cup of sleep but he seemed less formless and more concrete than when I had last seen him. Actually, he could have been a mnan, a rather large man and not the least bit freakish. His features were classic and his nose was long enough to be distinguished yet not so much as to be ridiculous. His hair was pale and golden tinted and his eyes were a bright blue. The mark that would set him apart from earth men was his skin, for it too was blue.

"Was he barbarian?" I Wondered, "or was his a philosophy too deep for my mind to grasp." His feet were bare, yet what need for shoes on such resilient soil? He wore a short skirt which for its color could have been woven silver, yet by its weight and flexibility must be cloth or perhaps some plastic which we did not have. There was no belt nor did he wear adornments. Indeed, his smooth skin with long powerful muscles flexing beneath it had no need of ornamentation.

He smiled then just as anyone would smile. He had teeth, seemingly like mine but more even and white, perhaps because of the contrast of his skin. He asked me a question in his deep voice, making motions with his flexible hands.

I did not understand.

He pointed to his mouth and made chewing motions.

This was clear and I nodded my head. "I eat," I said, then went through the motions of lifting a fork full of food to my mouth and masticating it.

He repeated the word. "Eat."

I moved my jaws and nodded my head.

"I," he repeated flatly.

I pointed a finger at myself and said, "I."

He pointed his forefinger at me and said, "I."

This time I shook my head violently and grasping his firm hand, turned it around so that he too pointed to himself.

He smiled again, pointed to himself and said, "bo—I."

I pointed to myself then and said questioningly, "bo?"

Gravely he nodded.

We surmounted the "you" problem in a moment. "You" appeared to be "ti."

My host, believing that he had enough fundamentals said, "I eat, you eat," and then nodded his head.

It was a rather rudimentary thing but it gave me food for thought while my tall host led me toward food for the body. We went into the house again through a different archway and there I found what appeared to be a board or piece of plastic about three feet square on which rested little pyramids of assorted food stuffs. My friend seated himself or more accurately, contorted himself, for he folded his legs into the manner of a statue of Buddha. This I tried and found I could still do since at one time I had practiced yoga for my health.

The food was certainly unique but tasty. Not one familiar flavor was represented although there was salt in a small pyramid in the center of the table. There was a pile of small, green things which resembled radishes but which tasted vaguely like cooked potatoes with a dash of parsnip added. There were many other curious things but I cannot describe them for there is nothing to compare them with. All of them seemed to be vegetables except the beverage. This was served in small opalescent cups slightly smaller than our own cups and about the shape of a flower pot. I should say, was already there, since no one appeared to add food or take any away.

The liquid was sweet but had body in the manner of coffee. It was quite clear and had a distinct blue color. My friend named each item of food as he picked it up and I endeavored to remember them.

Again I asked myself the question, "Are they barbarians or have they passed beyond civilization?" When all things needful are present, it could indicate either the idyllic existence of a tropical island or the culmination of millennia of progress.

WHEN the meal was finished, we arose and I stretched my rather cramped legs. My host made a circular motion toward the outside, smiling broadly. I nodded and fol-lowed, my legs still aching a bit. When we were outside, I thought of my ship and how maybe I should go back but then I reasoned that I came here to see the planet and not the ship. Certainly there had been no sign of hostility so far and I felt somehow that my rather battered craft would be left alone.

The light on Venus is peculiar. There seems to be something in the air which screens off most of the sunlight, yet the day seemed as bright as on earth when it is slightly overcast. I saw no shadows for light seemed to be everywhere and then I remembered that I had not seen any artificial lighting of any kind in the house. I looked back through the archway we had just come through and saw that it was just as light inside as it was outside, that same peculiar bluish light which seemed to be everywhere yet came from no-where.

The air was warm. The temperature appeared to be unvarying as I remembered that the same warmth had persisted throughout the night. I wondered about these things and wished desperately there were some way I could ask questions.

My friend waited patiently for me whenever I stopped to look about. We walked between innumerable houses, all doorless. A number of people were outside and I discovered they were actually a beautiful people. They were all blue although the shade varied from a rather pale tint to a pronounced purple hue. The women were generally paler and were clad the same as the men. The colors of the short skirts varied through the spectrum including colors that we cannot as yet impress upon fabrics. Some noticed us, some called greetings to my friend and some gave us only a passing glance.

We walked for a long time, several hours, always in the general direction of the towers. As we approached them, I could see that there were four of them spaced about a hundred feet apart in a diamond shape. They rose approximately six hundred feet although I could be far wrong.

My host allowed me to wander around the base of the first tower and scrutinize it. I thought at first it was made of copper or a rose gold yet when I touched it, it was not cold like metal but rather neutral like a plastic. There was an open archway on the side facing the inward part of the diamond and I could make out another on the farthest tower.

Again I had that intense desire to ask questions, to make myself understood. But how could I? Even if this man could guess my questions, how could he answer me so that I would understand? Wondering, I looked at my friend and he smiled. I studied him for a moment, trying to decide what lay behind that smile. Was it one oi understanding or just an automatic response to what he thought ridiculous? I couldn't tell.

The smile faded gradually from his face as he stared back at me. Then he smiled again and said, "I eat."

I hadn't noticed but I too was hungry. It had been a long walk. I nodded and he began walking toward the nearest of the houses. I walked along beside him, trying to keep in step but it was almost impossible to match those long, effortless strides. We went through an archway and found a woman within. Before her was a triangular board, a little larger than the one we had dined from in the morning. She smiled at me reassuringly and behaved in every way as though she had fully expected both of us.

I wondered how this could be, for my friend had spoken to no one in this vicinity and again the thought occurred; "Primitive or beyond under-standing?"

The food was totally different from what I had eaten earlier except for the beverage. My friend chatted with our hostess, smiling occasionally and using gestures which could have meant most anything. When the meal was over, I smiled at the woman, trying to convey the impression that I had enjoyed the meal. Perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part but she seemed to understand.

MY FRIEND rose gracefully and walked to the archway. I attempted to do the same but my legs were so stiff and sore from the long walk and the cramped sitting position that when I tried to straighten up, I fell. So surprised was I at the incredible softness and rubberlike quality of the ground that I just lay there for a moment. Then realizing that I wasn't the least bit hurt, I pulled myself into a sitting position and when I thought of my clumsiness, I laughed. Once started, I couldn't stop and the tears rolled down my face.

My friend helped me to my feet and it was then I noticed that he too was laughing, only it was more like a heavy rumble which came from his throat. He bid our hostess goodbye and we went outside.

I looked at my friend questioningly. He smiled and pointed to the towers. I nodded and followed but this time we walked straight through the archway. Almost immediately I saw why we were here, for leading upward around the central well was a spiral ramp. It was of a material as soft and resilient as the ground.

On an impulse, I sat down and removed my shoes, heavy, cumbersome things. I tucked my woolen socks inside the shoes and stood up and for the first time I realized that the ground was warm. My tall friend smiled, a seeming knowing smile, Yes, it was obvious and had been, that I needed no shoes here. We started up the ramp and I found walking much easier indeed.

On the wall beside the ramp lay the purpose of our visit, for painted or impressed with a startling clarity were figures, acting out a wordless drama. I saw the way these people were in the early beginning, learning fire, learning to work stone though I had not seen a stone since my arrival.

Up the familiar climb toward civilization, we walked. The higher we ascended, the higher the civilization. I stopped at each picture, studying it carefully until there appeared technology, a strange technology which certainly no longer existed. "Why had they slipped back?" I wondered. "Why the decline P" And then I saw an all too familiar thing, war.

For some reason, I was saddened. They seemed such a peaceful people. It was a shame that they had had to taste of war, death and destruction. Perhaps they were better oh' as they were.

We walked further and further upward and I began to feel strange things, vague stirring; in my mind. At first, I thought it was the effect of the alien pictures, pictures that were too clear. But as we ascended. I found it growing stronger. On and on we went, passing by the panorama of life and death, of man rising to new peaks and falling to new depths but this time it was man whose skin was blue.

And then we came upon another series depicting war and I started as I stood before a mushroom-shaped cloud. So they had even had atomic energy. It seemed incredible. Something surged inside of me, a strange something and I thought perhaps it was the horror I somehow knew would be depicted soon, the ghastly spectacle of suicidal atomic war. Yet when it came, the feeling inside of me grew, the surging became intense, that something which eluded me seemed almost within my grasp. Here, pictured with unworldly vividness, was the end of a world.

Yet I found it was not the end, for many had survived and they began rebuilding. Gradually, the shape of the thing they were building became plain. It was the towers or a group like them, rising up into the heavens. Here again was advancement. So the end had not come in the hell of atomic war. But where then? Where had all of this knowledge gone?

Onward and upward we walked and now I saw space craft. They had traversed the depths of space, even to our earth. They had built cities everywhere, had become a great and mighty people. I marveled that so much had been gained and was so obviously lost. But was it lost? It seemed to be. I had seen nothing that would indicate otherwise.

Then came a series of pictures which puzzled me for they showed the blue-skinned people leaving their great cities, reentering their space ships and returning to-their home planet. There seemed to be no reason for this exodus and I pondered each picture for some time. The more I thought, the more sure I became that somewhere locked in my mind was the answer to the puzzle. It was as though I were trying to remember something, something logic told me I could not possibly know and yet it was there, just on the rim of consciousness.

And then we came to the last picture. I felt as though I had been shocked electrically. I know the blood drained from my face as I stared, unbelieving. How could it be? Yet there it was, the final picture, showing my friend standing just as he was standing and myself just as I was, even barefoot. How could they have known? It was a perfect mirror image in miniature. I moved a little but the picture of me did not. It was not a reflection. I continued to stare, fascinated, and slowly I realized that the picture was a familiar one to me. I had seen it before but where? I groped, sought frantically within my mind for the explanation but it continually escaped me, remaining just beyond my reach.

DAZED, I turned to my friend but he only smiled. It was a smile with the quality of all knowing wiseness and suddenly, he too seemed familiar to me, someone I had known for a long time. He motioned me to go onward through an archway but I couldn't move. I felt as though I were half in and half out of my body.

Gently but firmly, my friend took my arm and guided me to the archway. I paused on the threshold, fear beginning to clutch at me, but my friend urged me on. We entered to face an aging man whose skin was quite light though still blue. He motioned me to sit as he was, cross-legged, and I did, hardly knowing what I was doing and only vaguely conscious that my friend had done likewise. Then the old man reached out, touched my forehead just above my nose and I fainted.

When I opened my eyes, I felt that time had passed but there was no way of knowing. My friend held me upright, my head resting against his massive shoulders. Within myself I felt peace, a quietness I had never known and then all at once I realized I knew. I lifted my head and looked at the aged one who sat unmoving. Yes, I knew! I understood these people!

"Are you feeling better now?" the aged man asked.

It was an alien language yet somehow I understood. I knew many other things, I felt many other things, but all I could express was, "yes—yes— I'm much better now."

Now I knew that here was perfection, that theirs was not a civilization of the body but one of the soul, and that somehow I was a part of them and they were a part of me.

"Yes," the old man said aloud. "You are one of us. You always have been. If you were not—" He broke off but I understood. I was a descendant of those early pioneers who had come to earth. This I knew. If it were not so, I would have found nothing when I landed for where I was now was in, and yet not in the world, a place apart and not visible to ordinary eyes.

I looked into the eyes of the man beside me and knew I would never leave, would never want to leave. This was my home, my real home and these were my people, my people because of a bond more powerful and everlasting than one of flesh and blood for I was one with myself, a truly integrated being, and therefore one with all men who were as I.

Unbidden, I stepped through another archway and found what I knew would be there, a short skirt such as all the people wore. I removed my clothes quickly and drew on the little garment, then turning, I looked into the polished oval of metal, finer than the finest mirror. Already my skin was bluish and, smiling, I ran my fingers through my hair, fluffing it.

I prepared to leave then hesitated a moment. I knew that waiting for me was the man with whom I would be forever, forever his as he would be forever mine and yet I had one tiny regret, a regret which quickly changed into humor. When I finally emerged from the little room, I was laughing. I hadn't brought my lipstick.