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´╗┐Title: The Venus Evil
Author: Geier, Chester S.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Venus Evil" ***

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                            THE VENUS EVIL

                          By Chester S. Geier

             In the sweet Venusian spring, when iridescent
            butterflies swarmed and deer-things scampered,
                  it was both necessary and good for
                 Richard Farris to kill George Pearce.

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Planet Stories Summer 1947.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


In my mind the memory is still painful and raw, like a wound that has
refused to heal. I have only to close my eyes to see Pearce leaping
toward me, his face a twisted mask of fear and rage. And I can feel
the machine-pistol jerking in my hand as a stream of tungsten-steel
pellets stopped his maddened rush, washing away all motion and
expression in the utter quiescence of death.

Yes, I killed George Pearce, whom the world will remember as one of
its greatest chemical scientists and one of the three members of the
ill-fated first expedition to Venus. I _had_ to kill him.

To explain the circumstances which led to it requires that I start
at the beginning. Police authorities have ordered me to make this
statement as clear and detailed as possible.

Everyone recalls the furor created by the privately sponsored launching
of the first rocket to Mars, which beat by several months a government
project aimed at the same goal. The government rocket blew up a short
distance beyond the Heaviside Layer, but a little over a year and
a half later the privately-owned space vessel returned. And a new
furor was aroused, not so much by the fact that the expedition had
successfully returned as that it brought back a large fortune in gold,
platinum, and gems. The explorers as well as their backers were each
made financially independent for the rest of their lives.

Man's natural cupidity was excited to fever pitch. The planets were no
longer regarded as milestones on the road to scientific knowledge, but
as store houses brimming with fabulous treasures. More rockets were
hastily launched by various groups in different countries, but the
attempts were defeated by the very impatience which inspired them. The
rockets, too quickly and inefficiently constructed, exploded soon after
leaving Earth, or, if they reached outer space at all, were never heard
from again.

It was this state of affairs that prevailed when Anson Durwent finished
the construction of the _Solarian_. A scientific genius made wealthy by
various patents, he built the vessel entirely out of his own funds. Nor
were his motives those of amassing further wealth, for the conditions
which he set were that the _Solarian_ was to conduct a true voyage
of exploration, and that any profits arising from the discovery of
precious metals or minerals were to be divided equally among everyone
involved in the expedition.

The crew of the _Solarian_ consisted of George Pearce, Barton Sandley,
and myself, Richard Farris. Three or less was the usual number on these
early rockets, due to the demands upon space made by fuel, food,
and equipment. Pearce was the chemist and captain of the expedition,
Sandley the biologist and photographer, and I the physicist and pilot.

attendant upon our takeoff. Only a few newscasters whom Durwent had
notified at the very last minute were present. And these were bored by
something which had become mere routine, and were plainly skeptical of
our chances for success.

Our objective was the mysterious, cloud-covered planet Venus. It was
an obvious choice, since it was the nearest planet to Earth other than
Mars, and as far as we knew had not yet been reached.

       *       *       *       *       *

I shall not detail the long flight through space, monotonous after
the first novelties had died. But it is necessary to record that the
interminable months and the restricted confines of the ship produced
a strain upon our nerves that led to frequent, heated quarrels over
the most trivial matters. It is certain that the effect upon our minds
caused a serious unbalance, explaining many of the irrational actions
which we made later.

The landing upon the surface of Venus was the most difficult part of
the voyage. I brought the ship down through the miles-deep layer of
clouds like a blind man groping for obstructions in an unfamiliar room.
Once under the clouds, however, our progress was easier. I forgot my
exhaustion in a surge of renewed eagerness for exploration.

After a short discussion between Pearce, Sandley, and myself, it was
agreed to take an aerial reconnaissance before landing. I sent the
_Solarian_ into a slow cruise over the surface, while Sandley busied
himself with the special cameras and Pearce began taking samples of the
atmosphere.

Venus proved to be a wild and fantastic world. To picture it in any
great detail is impossible. It was too vast, too different. My mind
retains only a sort of montage of turbulent seas dotted with immense
islands, mighty jagged mountains, and endless lush sprawling jungles
in unearthly yellow and green hues. And it seemed to exude an aura of
vibrant youth, a kind of primeval grandeur.

We saw no cities, buildings, or other indications of the existence of
intelligent beings. I don't believe we expected to find any. On Mars
there had been only incalculably ancient ruins, long since crumbled
into dust. Mars had been too old for a civilized race, as Venus was too
young.

Our survey quickly showed that an island on one part of the planet was
as wild and rugged as an island on another, so that a landing site
could be chosen haphazardly for all the difference it made. We selected
a relatively clear area in a great valley on one of the islands that
happened to be under us at the time, and I brought the _Solarian_ to
rest. Only then did I realize how tired I was.

Pearce, rechecking his initial tests of the atmosphere, reported that
the carbon dioxide content was not as high as had been expected. We
would be able to venture from the ship without the necessity of wearing
oxygen helmets. The lighter gravity of Venus, lessening muscular effort
and thereby the need for deep or quick breathing, would be an aiding
factor.

We didn't leave the ship immediately, however. Like myself, Pearce and
Sandley had become aware upon landing of being exhausted, and it was
agreed to sleep first. Later we ate, and then arming ourselves with
machine-pistols and various pieces of scientific equipment, we unsealed
the port and stepped out upon the surface of Venus.

It was warm and humid, but not oppressively so. The air seemed
strangely heavy to our lungs, laden with a host of rich, exotic odors.
There was a deep, somnolent quiet, broken at intervals by faint pipings
and twitterings from unseen creatures that might have been birds. A
warm, soft wind stirred the vivid foliage of queer trees and shrubs at
the edges of the clearing.

Sandley murmured, "Not bad at all. Eden must have been a little like
this."

Pearce shrugged. "Maybe--but we'd better keep in mind that this is a
strange world. There may be dangers here of which we know nothing as
yet."

With this admonition prominent in our thoughts, we got to work, setting
up our equipment, analyzing samples and making notes. The days that
followed were more or less a repetition of this. We were constantly on
the alert at first and seldom wandered very far from the ship. But as
we encountered no inimical life forms, either plant or animal, we were
gradually encouraged to roam further and further beyond the clearing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sandley was busy with his camera, when not otherwise occupied with
biological studies. He was often gone for hours at a time. I was thrown
much in Pearce's company, since my work was frequently connected in
various ways with his.

"I wonder if we'll turn up anything, like they did on the Mars
expedition," Pearce said one day, gazing about him with a narrow,
speculative look.

I asked, "How do you mean?"

"Stuff that will bring money back on Earth," Pearce said. "Gold, for
example."

For some reason which I couldn't explain just then, I found myself
clutching eagerly at the thought. "It's possible," I said. "We've
hardly scratched the surface as yet."

Pearce gazed searchingly at me for a moment. Finally he asked, "What
was your motive for accompanying this expedition, Farris? To advance
the cause of science? Or what?"

"Why ... to get some profit out of it." The reason which had puzzled me
was suddenly clear. I recalled abruptly the hopes and dreams I'd had,
overlooked in the wonders of exploration.

Pearce nodded. "Exactly. And the same applies to me." His tone became
bitter. "Being famous in your chosen line of work is nice, but it
doesn't buy you much. At least, it doesn't buy the things that really
matter. Newscast blurbs, banquet invitations, and honorary memberships
hardly provide the fancy style of living they suggest. Awards and
prizes are too small and too far between to build a complete, private
laboratory."

I said, "And that's what you want?"

"That's what I intend to get, somehow," Pearce said. He studied me
again. "What about you, Farris? What's your ambition?"

"Financial independence, mainly. There are certain ideas that I'd like
to work on. I'd never get the time or the money while earning a living
as assistant to a man like Durwent."

"Then this might be the chance we both need. If we could turn up
something valuable, like the Mars explorers did...." Pearce nibbled
his lip, frowning intently over the thought. Abruptly he grabbed my
arm. "Farris, we've got to find something! Look--suppose we forget
the scientific side of the expedition? Suppose we make it an outright
treasure hunt?"

"Venus is big," I said doubtfully. "And our supplies won't last
forever. If we fail to find anything, the scientific data we'd gather
would give us something to capitalize on."

We didn't discuss the matter further, for just then Sandley returned
from one of his photographing jaunts. He seemed greatly excited.

"Just discovered a new form of life," he announced triumphantly. "Saw
the creatures at a distance, but from what I was able to make out, they
look something like overgrown butterflies. Had large, brightly colored
wings, anyway. Have to catch a specimen." Sandley's spectacled, owlish
features turned puzzled. "Can't understand why I haven't noticed the
creatures before. Seem to have appeared only recently."

"Where were you?" Pearce asked.

"Near the upper end of the valley. It's rocky there, with lots of ore
outcroppings. Might contain valuable elements. You fellows ought to go
with me next time."

"We'll do that," Pearce said. He glanced at me significantly.

We went with Sandley the following day. We took along our
machine-pistols, a few pieces of light equipment, and some food.
Sandley, of course, had his camera. It was the first time that Pearce
and I had gone any great distance from the ship, and we were more than
ordinarily uneasy. But the possibility that we might discover ores or
minerals of value was too tempting to resist.

We moved through a deep quiet, broken only by occasional twitters or
trills. We caught frequent glimpses of the creatures emitting the
sounds as they fluttered among the branches of the vivid, unearthly
trees. They resembled birds in a way, having feathered wings, but their
bodies were lizard-like and covered with bright, rainbow-hued scales.
And several times animals bounded from our path that looked like
nothing so much as tiny deer. These seemed to be quite numerous.

The vegetation gradually thinned out as the ground became increasingly
rocky. Ahead of us loomed the rugged, precipitous ascent of the
valley's upper end.

Sandley stopped, peering about him. "This is the place." Abruptly he
pointed. "There--the butterfly-creatures! See them?"

Pearce and I followed the direction of his finger. Against the mottled
gray wall of the ascent, a number of bright shapes fluttered. As we
watched, they drifted slowly toward us, circling aimlessly. We were
able presently to see them in clearer detail. I stared as a realization
of something strange struck into me. I heard Pearce gasp.

For the butterfly-creatures were not insects, or anything even remotely
resembling them. Nor were they a strange form of animal life. They were
_things_, utterly alien and weird.

       *       *       *       *       *

Imagine large, irregularly-shaped pieces of thin paper fluttering
through the air, each being creased in the middle, the two halves
flapping like the wings of a butterfly. The things were remarkably like
that. But they were alive in some incredible way, and their actions
seemed purposeful, directed. They looked delicate and fragile, almost
unsubstantial, mere veils of prismatic light. And they possessed a
bizarre, unearthly beauty. As they circled high overhead, occasionally
dipping toward us in what might have been curiosity, their wings
shimmered and pulsed in a hypnotic play of rainbow color.

The butterfly-creatures--to call them that for want of a better
name--did not come near us. They continued to spiral high overhead, as
though we at once attracted and puzzled them.

Sandley unlimbered his camera and began taking pictures of the things.
Pearce and I, recalling the motive that had brought us there, gradually
moved away, searching the ground for promising bits of rock and
crystal. We were intent on our quest, and wandered quite a distance.
Before long, we found ourselves among the tumbled boulders at the foot
of the ascent.

As I searched the rocky debris between the boulders, a reddish glitter
caught my eye. It came from a small crystalline object half hidden
in the gravel. I bent curiously to pick it up--and a thrill of
incredulous delight flashed through me. For the object was a great
jewel, roughly oval, faceted, and a deep ruby red. It was exquisitely
beautiful, yet totally unlike anything that had ever been found on
Earth. It did not just reflect light, but glowed with a soft, steady
radiance of its own. Glorious rose and scarlet shades pulsed and
swirled within it, in a never-ending play of patterns and hues that was
fascinating to watch.

I held the gem in my hand for a long moment, staring at it, a little
numbed. My find seemed much too good to be true. It was almost as if a
kindly god had granted a hopeless wish.

I thought suddenly of Pearce, and motion returned to me. Pearce had
moved some distance up the ascent. It took a moment to locate him
behind the boulders which had hidden him from view.

Pearce was bending over in an intent scrutiny of the ground. As he
caught the sound of my approach, he straightened sharply and one of his
hands flashed behind his back as though to hide something from view. I
was too wrapped up in the news of my discovery, however, to pay much
attention to his actions just then.

"Look at what I've found," I told him, holding out the gem in my palm.

Pearce failed to look surprised. He grinned in an embarrassed sort of
way, and brought his hand from behind his back. Cupped within it were
two gems similar to mine.

"Found a couple myself," he said. "I was so excited that I must have
forgotten where I was. When I heard you coming, my first thought was to
hide them."

It seemed a strangely weak explanation. I realized that Pearce's
consuming desire for financial gain had warped his sense of ethics.
His action of a moment before had been nothing more or less than a
conscious, deliberate effort to conceal his find. He had abandoned
secrecy only after he knew that I had made an identical discovery.
I made a mental note to be on guard. Pearce had given sufficient
indication that he would not play entirely fair in the future.

He grinned eagerly in what might have been an attempt to cover up the
awkwardness of the situation. "Farris, these gems are going to bring
money back on Earth. They're unusual, not like the ordinary kinds
brought back by the Mars explorers."

I shrugged. "The money won't be enough to do us much good unless we can
find more of the gems. Remember, any profits we make have to be split
four ways, counting Sandley and Durwent."

"I'm certain that we'll find more," Pearce said. "I've found two,
and you one. If that's any indication, there should be a lot of them
scattered around. Come on, Farris, let's look."

I nodded in renewed eagerness, and we began the search. A disinterested
observer might have found our actions comical as we probed with
anxious, almost frantic, haste among the boulders. It didn't seem funny
to us, of course. We had speculated more or less constantly during the
entire voyage over the possibility of locating a source of wealth on
Venus, and this was our chance. No, it wasn't funny at all. It was very
real, and clear, and logical.

I don't know how much time passed. I was too absorbed in my search to
pay much heed to anything else.

At intervals, I found three more gems. Each find came at a point when I
was about ready to give up, spurring me on to new efforts. I might have
continued indefinitely if Pearce hadn't suddenly called my name.

His voice was tense, insistent. Something important seemed to have
happened.

       *       *       *       *       *

When I rejoined Pearce, he pointed silently down the ascent, in
the direction from which we had come. His features were startled,
bewildered, a little frightened. My own face must have registered
similar feelings at what I saw.

Beyond the boulders at the foot of the ascent, one of the tiny
deer-like animals that we frequently saw lay sprawled on the ground.
Several butterfly-creatures rested motionlessly upon its body. A
short distance away stood another of the deer-like animals, literally
surrounded by the butterfly things. It was as still as though
frozen, its great eyes distended and staring. And the wings of the
butterfly-creatures hovering about it were moving in a slow, hypnotic
rhythm. I thought of the snakes of Earth which captured birds by
charming them through similar movements, and realized that somewhat the
same thing was happening here.

As I watched, the deer-like animal abruptly fell on its side and lay
without moving. Like vultures swooping down on a victim, the butterfly
things settled upon it. They seemed in some obscure way to be ...
_feeding_.

I glanced in consternation at Pearce. "What do you suppose it's all
about?"

He moved his shoulders uneasily. "I don't know any more than you do.
But I think we'd better look into this. And it might not be wise to let
those things get too close."

Presently, the butterfly-creatures rose once more into the air and
fluttered away. The deer-like animals, though, lay very still.

Pearce gestured, and I followed him to the scene. Only a short
examination of the two deer-like animals was necessary to show what had
happened to them. They were dead. There wasn't so much as a mark upon
the sleek skin of their bodies--but they were dead.

Pearce and I stared at each other. And then a chilling thought struck
me.

"Sandley!" I gasped. "We haven't heard anything from him for hours. Do
you suppose...?"

Pearce didn't answer. He turned and began running toward where we had
last seen Sandley. I hurried after him, anxiety a sick ache inside me.

Slipping and sliding over loose rocks and gravel, we at last emerged
from behind the line of tumbled boulders and reached level ground. We
didn't see Sandley at once. He had obviously moved from where we had
left him. Then I noticed a small cloud of butterfly-creatures hovering
over something on the ground about a hundred yards or so down the
boulder line. An outstretched leg, all that was visible to us from
where we stood, provided identification. It was Sandley.

Heedless of danger, Pearce and I rushed forward. When we reached
Sandley, the last of what must originally have been a horde of
butterfly-creatures was leaving his motionless form. We were too late.
Our terrible knowledge hadn't come soon enough.

In an abrupt, overwhelming fury, I pointed my machine-pistol at the
fluttering demons and sent a stream of pellets into their midst. The
force of the barrage would have cut a man in two, but the things didn't
seem to be affected in the slightest way. The pellets went through them
as though they were no more solid than shadows.

       *       *       *       *       *

The things made no move toward Pearce and myself, but continued to
circle aimlessly overhead. They seemed too sated from whatever ghastly
feast they had made upon Sandley to be interested in us just then.
Having made certain of this, Pearce and I performed a quick examination
of Sandley, which confirmed what we already knew--that he was dead. And
there wasn't a mark upon him.

Keeping a close watch upon the butterfly things, Pearce and I gave
Sandley a hasty burial. Then I wrapped his belongings in my shirt, and
together Pearce and I ran back to the ship. It wasn't until the port
had been shut behind us that I felt safe.

I prepared a light meal, which Pearce and I ate in brooding silence.
Finally Pearce said, "What I can't understand is why the butterfly
things should have attacked Sandley. It isn't logical for the life
forms of one world to prey upon the life forms of another. There are
too many differences."

"I've been thinking about that myself," I answered. "The solution
seems to be that the butterfly-creatures feed upon something common to
all life forms--the mysterious electrical force that gives matter the
peculiar property of being alive."

Pearce shrugged, and after a moment his face brightened. "Anyway, we
now have one less to divide with." He reached into a pocket, placing
upon the table seven of the large crimson gems. I added the four that I
had found, and for some seconds we gazed dreamily at our hoard.

"People on Earth are going to fight like mad to own one of these gems,"
Pearce said softly. "By selling the gems slowly, playing one buyer
against another, our profits will be plenty big."

I nodded. "It won't make us very popular, but the end justifies the
means."

"I wish we had some means of protection against those butterfly things,
so that we could look for more of the gems," Pearce said. "They're
dangerous, and we don't seem to be able to harm them."

"We could move the ship over to the ascent," I suggested. "Then it
would be near enough for us to jump in whenever any of the things got
too close."

Pearce grinned in delight. "That's the answer!"

I moved the ship the next day. The stratagem worked satisfactorily
enough, enabling us to find almost a dozen more of the crimson jewels.
But the need for constant watchfulness proved to be an increasing
strain upon our nerves. And the number of the butterfly-creatures
seemed to be growing. It seemed to be a season for the things, as late
Spring brings the appearance of butterflies on Earth.

At last our treasure hunt became too dangerous to continue. The
butterfly-creatures were too numerous, and in addition the gems had
grown too hard to find. Pearce and I decided on one last trip, and this
on his own argumentative insistence.

It was during that final search that I made the discovery which led
to Pearce's death. I'd been probing among the rocks for an hour or
so, meanwhile keeping a wary eye upon a group of butterfly-creatures
circling in the sky some distance away. Suddenly I detected the
telltale, reddish glitter of a gem. As I reached for it, a thin,
tinkling sound startled me. I jerked erect, my senses flaring in alarm.
But I saw nothing near me that indicated danger, and reached once more
for the gem.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next instant I leaped frantically to my feet and ran into the ship,
which rested nearby. I slammed shut the port, and leaned against it,
breathing harshly from my exertions and from fright at the narrowness
of my escape. Like the pieces of a puzzle falling together, something
became horribly clear to me. And I knew suddenly just what I had to do.

From the box in which Pearce and I had kept them, I took the gems.
Then I left the ship, first having made certain that none of the
butterfly-creatures were near, and with a large rock pounded each and
every one of the gems to bits.

I was finishing this task when Pearce returned. He stared at me and
asked:

"Why, what in the world have you been doing?"

I pulled my machine-pistol from its holster, pointed it at him, and
explained. I couldn't have taken any chances with Pearce. I knew what
his reaction would be. I wasn't wrong.

He seemed to go mad. His face darkened with a terrible, overwhelming
fury. "Lies! All lies!" he shrieked. "It's just a plot to trick me out
of my share."

I tried to reason with him, but he wouldn't listen to me. He shouted
down my attempts with unspeakable profanity. My machine-pistol was the
only thing that kept him from tearing at me like an insensate beast.

I was trying to get Pearce to calm down when several
butterfly-creatures suddenly darted toward us. They had evidently been
circling nearer and nearer while we talked, seizing the opportunity
presented by our inattention.

My eyes jerked to the things instinctively--and as I did so, Pearce
leaped toward me. In pure reaction, I squeezed the trigger. The
stream of tungsten-steel pellets stopped him like a wall. Even if
I'd had the time to deliberate consciously over whether or not to
shoot, it wouldn't have ended any other way. For if Pearce had reached
me, a struggle would have followed which would have enabled the
butterfly-creatures to attack us.

Just an instant ahead of the butterfly-creatures, I jumped into the
ship and sealed the port. After resting for a while, I set out on the
return to Earth.

[Illustration: _I jumped into the ship and sealed the port._]

I told the authorities my story in full, holding nothing back. They
asked me to make this statement for their official records. There are,
of course, no charges against me. I should not have admitted to killing
Pearce had I been guilty of a crime. But I fear that the shadow of
suspicion will lay over me until another expedition returns from Venus
and verifies my words.

And in late Spring, when the cocoons open and the butterflies emerge,
I will always think of a similar season on Venus, when a similar event
occurs. When the crimson gems break open with a thin, tinkling sound,
and the exquisite, deadly butterfly-creatures flutter forth....



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