Escape on Venus

Chapter II

Edgar Rice Burroughs

WE WATCHED the increasing light upon our left. It illumined the whole sky and the ocean, but it was intensest at one spot. As yet it resembled only bright sunlight such as we are accustomed to on Earth; then, suddenly, it burst through like blinding flame. There had been coincidental rifts in both cloud envelopes!

Almost instantly the ocean commenced to boil. We could see it even at a distance. Vast clouds of steam arose. The heat increased. It was fast becoming unendurable.

“The end,” said Duare, simply.

“Not yet,” I replied, as, with throttle wide, we raced toward the north. I had chosen flight to the north because the rift was a little southwest of us and the wind was from the west. Had I turned back toward the east, the wind borne heat would have followed us. In the north lay what hope we had.

“We have lived,” said Duare. “Life can hold nothing better for us than that which we have enjoyed. I am not afraid to die. Are you, Carson?”

“That is something that I shall never know until it is too late,” I said, smiling down at her, “for while I live I shall never admit the possibility of death. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to be for me—at least not since Danus injected the longevity serum into my veins and told me that I might live a thousand years. You see, I am curious to know if he were right.”

“You are very silly,” she said, “but you are also reassuring.”

Enormous clouds of steam blotted out everything in the southwest. They rose to the clouds, dimming the sunlight. I could imagine the devastation in the sea, the myriad of living things destroyed. Already the effects of the catastrophe were becoming plainly discernible below us. The fleeter reptiles and fishes were fleeing the holocaust—and they were fleeing north! Instinct or intelligence, or whatever it was, it filled me with renewed hope.

The surface of the ocean was alive with them. Mortal enemies raced side by side. The stronger creatures pushed the weaker aside, the fleeter slithered over the tops of the slower. How they had been warned, I cannot guess; but the flight was on far ahead of us, though our speed was greater than the swiftest of the creatures racing with us from death.

The air was becoming no hotter; and I had hopes that we should escape unless the cloud rift enlarged and the Sun took in a larger area of Amtor’s surface; and then the wind changed! It blew in a sudden furious gust from the south, bringing with it stifling heat that was almost suffocating. Clouds of condensing vapor whirled and swirled about us, drenching us with moisture and reducing visibility amost to zero.

I rose in an attempt to get above it; but it was seemingly everywhere, and the wind had become a gale. But it was driving us north. It was driving us away from the boiling sea and the consuming heat of the Sun. If only the cloud rift did not widen we might hope for life.

I glanced down at Duare. Her little jaw was set; and she was staring grimly ahead, though there was nothing to see but billowing clouds of vapor. There hadn’t been a whimper out of her. I guess blood will tell all right, and she was the daughter of a thousand jongs. She must have sensed my eyes upon her, for she looked up and smiled.

“More things happen to us!” she said.

“If you wished to lead a quiet life, Duare, you picked the wrong man. I am always having adventures. That’s not much to brag about, though. One of the great anthropologists of my world, who leads expeditions to remote corners of the Earth and never has any adventures, says that having them is an indication of inefficiency and stupidity.”

“I don’t believe him,” said Duare. “All the intelligence and efficiency in the world could have neither foreseen nor averted a rift in the clouds.”

“A little more intelligence would probably have kept me from attempting to fly to Mars, but then I should never have known you. No; on the whole, I’m rather glad that I am no more intelligent than I am.”

“So am I.”

The heat was not increasing, but the wind was. It was blowing with hurricane force, tossing our sturdy anotar about as though it were a feather. I couldn’t do much about it. In such a storm the controls were almost useless. I could only hope that I had altitude enough to keep from being dashed on some mountain, and there was always the danger from the giant Amtorian forests which lift their heads thousands of feet into the air to draw moisture from the inner cloud envelope. I could see nothing beyond the nose of the anotar, and I knew that we must have covered a great distance with the terrific tail-wind that was driving us furiously toward the north. We might have passed the sea and be over land. Mountains might loom dead ahead, or the mighty boles of a giant forest. I was not very happy. I like to be able to see. If I can see, I can face almost anything.

“What did you say?” asked Duare.

“I didn’t know that I said anything. I must have been thinking aloud—that I would give almost anything to be able to see.”

And then, as though in answer to my wish, a rift opened in the swirling vapor ahead; and I saw. I almost leaped at the controls because of what I saw—a rocky escarpment looming high above us and dead ahead.

I fought to bank and turn aside, but the inexorable wind carried us toward our doom. No scream broke from Duare’s lips, no faintest echo of the fear that she must have felt—must have, because she is human and young.

The thing that appalled me most in the split second that I had to think, was the thought of that beautiful creature being broken and crushed against that insensate cliff. I thanked God that I would not live to see it. At the foot of the escarpment we should lie together through all eternity, and no one in all the Universe would know our resting place.

We were about to crash when the ship rose vertically scarcely a dozen yards from the cliff. As the hurricane had toyed with us before, it did again.

Of course there must have been a terrific up-draft where the roaring wind struck the face of the escarpment. It was this that saved us, combined with the fact that when I had discovered that I could not maneuver away from the cliff, I had cut my engine.

Now we rose high above a vast tableland. The vapor, torn to shreds, floated off in little cloud-like wisps; and once more we could see the world below us. Once more we breathed.

But we were still far from safe. The tornado had not abated. I glanced back in the direction of the cloud rift, but now there was no brightness there. It had closed, and the danger of incineration had passed.

I opened the throttle a little in a rather futile effort to battle the elements and keep the anotar on an even keel; but we were dependent more upon our safety belts than upon our engine for salvation, for we were so tossed about that often our landing gear was above us, and we dangled helplessly in our belts.

It was a harrowing experience. A down draft would plummet us toward the ground with the velocity of a power dive; and when it seemed that we must surely crash, the giant hand of the storm would toss us high aloft.

How long we were the plaything of the Storm God, I may only guess; but it was not until almost dawn that the wind abated a little, and once more we were permitted to have some voice in the direction of our destiny; and even then we must still go where the wind willed, for we could not fly against it.

For hours we had not spoken. We had made an occasional attempt, but the howling of the wind had drowned our voices. I could see that Duare was almost spent from the buffeting and the nervous strain, but there was nothing that I could do about it. Only rest could revive her, and there could be no rest until we could land.

A new world lay below us with the coming of the new day. We were skirting a great ocean, and I could see vast plains, and there were forests and rivers and, far away, snow-capped mountains. I believed that we must have been driven thousands of miles toward the north, for much of the time the throttle had been wide open, and all the time that terrific wind had been at our tail.

Where could we be? I felt confident that we had crossed the Equator and must be in the north temperate zone; but where Korva lay I could not even guess, and might never know.

Escape on Venus - Contents    |     Chapter III

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