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  • Vampires of Venus

  • by Anthony Pelcher

  • It was as if someone had thrown a bomb into a Quaker meeting, when adventure suddenly

  • began to crowd itself into the life of the studious and methodical Leslie Larner, professor

  • of entomology. Fame had been his since early manhood, when

  • he began to distinguish himself in several sciences, but the adventure and thrills he

  • had longed for had always fallen to the lot of others.

  • His father, a college professor, had left him a good working brain and nothing else.

  • Later his mother died and he was left with no relatives in the world, so far as he knew.

  • So he gave his life over to study and hard work.

  • Still youthful at twenty-five, he was hoping that fate would "give him a break." It did.

  • He was in charge of a Government department having to do with Oriental beetles, Hessian

  • flies, boll weevils and such, and it seemed his life had been just one bug after another.

  • He took creeping, crawling things seriously and believed that, unless curbed, insects

  • would some day crowd man off the earth. He sounded an alarm, but humanity was not disturbed.

  • So Leslie Larner fell back on his microscope and concerned himself with saving cotton,

  • wheat and other crops. His only diversion was fishing for the elusive rainbow trout.

  • He managed to spend a month each year in the Colorado Rockies angling for speckled beauties.

  • Larner was anything but a clock-watcher, but on a certain bright day in June he was seated

  • in his laboratory doing just that. "Just five minutes to go," he mused.

  • It was just 4:25 P. M. He had finished his work, put his affairs in order, and in five

  • minutes would be free to leave on a much needed and well earned vacation. His bags were packed

  • and at the station. His fishing tackle, the pride of his young life, was neatly rolled

  • in oiled silk and stood near at hand. "I'll just fill my calabash, take one more

  • quiet smoke, and then for the mountains and freedom," he told himself. He settled back

  • with his feet on his desk. He half closed his eyes in solid comfort. Then the bomb fell

  • and exploded. B-r-r-r-r!

  • The buzzer on his desk buzzed and his feet came off the desk and hit the floor with a

  • thud. His eyes popped open and the calabash was immediately laid aside.

  • That buzzer usually meant business, and it would be his usual luck to have trouble crash

  • in on him just as he was on the edge of a rainbow trout paradise.

  • A messenger was ushered into the room by an assistant. The boy handed him an envelope,

  • said, "No answer," and departed. Larner tore open the envelope lazily. He read

  • and then re-read its contents, while a look of puzzled surprise disturbed his usually

  • placid countenance. He spread the sheet of paper out on his desk, and for the tenth time

  • he read: Confidential.

  • Memorize this address and destroy this paper: Tula Bela, 1726 88th Street, West, City of

  • Hesper, Republic of Pana, Planet Venus. Will meet you in the Frying Pan.

  • That was all. It was enough. Larner lost his temper. He crumpled the paper and tossed it

  • in the waste basket. He was not given to profanity, but he could say "Judas Priest" in a way that

  • sizzled. "Judas Priest!" he spluttered. "Anyone who

  • would send a man a crazy bunch of nonsense like that, at a time like this, ought to be

  • snuffed out like a beetle! "'Meet you in the Frying Pan,'" he quoted.

  • Then he happened to recall something. "By golly, there is a fishing district in Colorado

  • known as the Frying Pan. That's not so crazy, but the planet Venus part surely is cuckoo."

  • He fished the paper out of the waste basket, found the envelope, placed the strange message

  • within and put it in his inside coat pocket. Then he seized his suitcase and fishing tackle,

  • and, rushing out, hailed a taxi. Not long after he was on his way west by plane.

  • As the country unrolled under him he retrieved the strange note from his pocket. He read

  • it again and again. Then he examined the envelope. It was an ordinary one of good quality, designed

  • for business rather than social usage. The note paper appeared quite different. It was

  • unruled, pure white, and of a texture which might be described as pebbly. It was strongly

  • made, and of a nature unlike any paper Larner had ever seen before. It appeared to have

  • been made from a fiber rather than a pulp. "Wonder who wrote it?" Larner asked himself.

  • "It is beautiful handwriting, masculine yet artistic. Wonder where he got the Frying Pan

  • idea? At any rate, I'm not going to the Frying Pan this year—I'm camping on Tennessee Creek,

  • in Lake County, Colorado. The country there is more beautiful and restful.

  • "But this street address on the planet Venus. Seems to me I read somewhere that Marconi

  • had received mysterious signals that he believed came from the planet Venus. Hesper, Hesper

  • ... it sounds familiar, somehow. Wonder if there could be anything to it?"

  • Something impelled him to follow out the instructions in the note. He spent the next few hours repeating

  • the address over and over again. When he was satisfied that he had memorized it thoroughly,

  • he tore the strange paper into bits and sent it fluttering earthward like a tiny snowstorm.

  • Larner was not a gullible individual, but neither was he unimaginative. He was scientist

  • enough to know that "the impossibilities of to-day are the accomplishments of to-morrow."

  • So while not convinced that the note was a serious communication, still his mind was

  • open. The weird address insisted on creeping into

  • his mind and driving out other thoughts, even those of his speckled playfellows, the rainbow

  • trout. "I've a notion to change my plans and go from

  • Denver to the Frying Pan," he cogitated. Then he thought, "No, I won't take it that seriously."

  • Anyone who knows the Colorado Rockies knows paradise. There is no more beautiful country

  • on the globe. Lake County, where Larner had chosen his fishing grounds, has as its seat

  • the old mining camp of Leadville. It has been visited and settled more for its gold mines

  • than the golden glow of its sunsets above the clouds, but the gold of the sunsets is

  • eternal, while the gold of the mines is fading quickly away.

  • Leadville, with its 5,000 inhabitants, nestles above the clouds, at an altitude of more than

  • 10,000 feet. Mount Massive with its three peaks lies back of the town in panorama and

  • rises to a height of some 14,400 feet. In the rugged mountains thereabouts are hundreds

  • of lakes fed by wild streams and bubbling crystal springs. All these lakes are above

  • the clouds. Winter sees the whole picture decorated with

  • bizarre snowdrifts from twenty to forty feet deep, but spring comes early. The beautiful

  • columbines and crocuses bloom before the snow is all off the ground in the valleys. The

  • lands up to 12,000 feet altitude are carpeted with a light green grass and moss. Giant pines

  • and dainty aspens, with their silvery bark and pinkish leaves blossom forth and whisper,

  • while the eternal snows still linger in the higher rocky cliffs and peaks above.

  • Indian-paint blooms its blood red in contrast to the milder colorings. Blackbirds and bluebirds

  • chatter and chipmunks chirp. The gold so hard to find in the mines glares from the skies.

  • The hills cuddle in banks of snowy clouds, and above all a pure clear blue sky sweeps.

  • The lakes and streams abound with rainbow trout, the gamest of any fresh water fish.

  • It is indeed a paradise for either poet or sportsman.

  • In any direction near to Leadville a man can find Heaven and recreation and rest.

  • Finding himself on Harrison Avenue, the main street of the county seat, Larner, after renewing

  • some old acquaintanceships, started west in a flivver for Tennessee Creek. The flivver

  • is a modern adjustment. Until a few years ago the only means of traversing these same

  • hills was by patient, sure-footed donkeys, which carried the pack while the wayfarer

  • walked along beside. The first day's fishing was good. Trout seemed

  • to greet him cheerily and sprang eagerly to the fray. They bit at any sort of silken fly

  • he cast. The site chosen by Larner for his camp was

  • in a mossy clearing separated from the stream by a fringe of willows along the creek. Then

  • came a border of aspens backed by a forest of silver-tipped firs.

  • It was ideal and his eyes swept the scene with satisfaction. Then he began whittling

  • bacon to grease his pan for frying trout over the open fire.

  • Suddenly he heard a rustle in the aspens, and, looking up, beheld a picture which made

  • his eyes bulge. A man and a woman, garbed seemingly in the costumes of another world,

  • walked toward him. Neither were more than five feet tall but were physically perfect,

  • and marvelously pleasing to the eye. There was little difference in their dress.

  • Both wore helmets studded with what Larner believed to be sapphires. He learned later

  • they were diamonds. Their clothing consisted of tight trouserlike garments surmounted by

  • tunics of some white pelt resembling chamois save for color. A belt studded with precious

  • stones encircled their waists. Artistic laced sandals graced their small firm feet.

  • Their skin was a pinkish white. Their every feature was perfection plus, and their bodies

  • curved just enough wherever a curve should be. The woman was daintier and more fully

  • developed, and her features were even more finely chiseled than the man. Otherwise it

  • would have been difficult to distinguish their sex.

  • Larner took in these details subconsciously, for he was awed beyond expression. All he

  • could do was to stand seemingly frozen, half bent over the campfire with his frying pan

  • in his hand. The man spoke.

  • "I hope we did not startle you," he said. "I thought my note would partly prepare you

  • for this meeting. We expected to find you in the Frying Pan district. When you did not

  • appear there we tuned our radio locator to your heart beats and in that way located you

  • here. It was hardly a second's space-flying time from where we were."

  • Larner said nothing. He could only stand and gape.

  • "I do not wonder that you are surprised," said the strange little man. "I will explain

  • that I am Nern Bela, of the City of Hesper, on the planet Venus. This is my sister Tula.

  • We greet you in the interest of the Republic of Pana, which embraces all of the planet

  • you know as Venus." When Larner recovered his breath, he lost

  • his temper. "I don't know what circus you escaped from,

  • but I crave solitude and I have no time to be bothered with fairy tales," he said with

  • brutal bruskness. Expressions of hurt surprise swept the countenances

  • of his visitors. The man spoke again:

  • "We are just what we assert we are, and our finding you was made necessary by a condition

  • which grieves the souls of all the 900,000,000 inhabitants of Venus. We have come to plead

  • with you to come with us and use your scientific knowledge to thwart a scourge which threatens

  • the lives of millions of people." There was a quiet dignity about the man and

  • an air of pride about the woman which made Larner stop and think, or try to. He rubbed

  • his hand over his brow and looked questioningly at the pair.

  • "If you are what you say you are, how did you get here?" he asked.

  • "We came in a targo, a space-flying ship, capable of doing 426,000 miles an hour. This

  • is just 1200 times as fast as 355 miles an hour, the highest speed known on earth. Come

  • with us and we will show you our ship." They looked at him appealingly, and both smiled

  • a smile of wistful friendliness. Larner, without a word, threw down his frying

  • pan and followed them through the aspens. The brother and sister walking ahead of him

  • gave his eyes a treat. He surveyed the perfect form of the girl. Her perfection was beyond

  • his ken. "They certainly are not of this world," he

  • mused.

  • A few hundred yards farther on there was a beach of pebbles, where the stream had changed

  • its course. On this plot sat a gigantic spherical machine of a glasslike material. It was about

  • 300 feet in diameter and it was tapered on two sides into tees which Larner rightly took

  • to be lights. "This is a targo, our type of space-flyer,"

  • said Nern Bela. "It is capable of making two trips a year between Venus and the earth.

  • We have visited this planet often, always landing in some mountain or jungle fastness

  • as heretofore we did not desire earth-dwellers to know of our presence."

  • "Why not?" asked Larner, his mouth agape and his eyes protruding. His mind was so full

  • of questions that he fairly blurted his first one.

  • "Because," said Bela, slowly and frankly, "because our race knows no sickness and we

  • feared contagion, as your race has not yet learned to control its being."

  • "Oh," said Lamer thoughtfully. He realized that humans of the earth, whom he had always

  • regarded as God's most perfect beings, were not so perfect after all.

  • "How do you people control your being, as you express it?" he asked.

  • "It is simple," was the reply. "For ninety centuries we have ceased to breed imperfection,

  • crime and disease. We deprived no one of the pleasures of life, but only the most perfect

  • mental and physical specimens of our people cared to have children. In other words, while

  • we make no claim to controlling our sex habits, we do control results."

  • "Oh," said Larner again. Nern Bela led the way to a door which opened

  • into the side of the space-flyer near its base. "We have a crew of four men and four

  • women," he said. "They handle the entire ship, with my sister and I in command, making six

  • souls aboard in all." "Why men and women?" thought Larner.

  • As if in answer to his thought Bela said: "On the earth the two sexes have struggled

  • for sex supremacy. This has thrown your civilization out of balance. On Venus we have struggled

  • for sex equality and have accomplished it. This is a perfect balance. Man and women engage

  • in all endeavor and share all favors and rewards alike."

  • "In war, too?" asked Larner. "There has not been war on Venus for 600,000

  • years," said Bela. "There is only the one nation, and the people all live in perfect

  • accord. Our only trouble in centuries is a dire peril which now threatens our people,

  • and it is of this that I wish to talk to you more at length."

  • They were standing close to the targo. Larner was struck by the peculiar material of which

  • it was constructed. There was a question in his eyes, and Nern Bela answered it:

  • "The metal is duranium; it is metalized quartz. It is frictionless, conducts no current or

  • ray except repulsion and attraction ray NTR69X6 by which it is propelled. It is practically

  • transparent, lighter than air and harder than a diamond. It is cast in moulds after being

  • melted or, rather, fused. "We use cold light which we produce by forcing

  • oxygen through air tubes into a vat filled with the fat of a deep sea fish resembling

  • your whale. You are aware, of course, that that is exactly how cold light is produced

  • by the firefly, except for the fact that the firefly uses his own fat."

  • Larner was positively fascinated. He smoothed the metal of the targo in appreciation of

  • its marvelous construction, but he longed most to see the curious light giving mechanism,

  • for this was closer to his own line of entomology. He had always believed that the light giving

  • organs of fireflys and deep-sea fishes could be reproduced mechanically.

  • The interior of the ship resembled in a vague way that of an ocean liner. It was controlled

  • by an instrument board at which a man and a girl sat. They did not raise their heads

  • as the three people entered. When called by Bela and his sister, who seemed

  • to give commands in unison, the crew assembled and were presented to the visitor.

  • "Earth-dwellers are not the curiosity to us that we seem to be to you," said Tula Bela,

  • speaking for the first time and smiling sweetly. Larner was too engrossed to note the remark

  • further than to nod his head. He was lost in contemplation of these strange people,

  • all garbed exactly alike and all surpassingly lovely to look upon.

  • An odor of food wafted from the galley, and Larner remembered he was hungry, with the

  • hunger of health. He had swung his basket of fish over his shoulder when he left his

  • campfire, and Tula took it from him. "Would you like to have our chef prepare them

  • for you?" she said, as she caught his hungry glance at his day's catch. This time Larner

  • answered her. "If you will pardon me," he said awkwardly.

  • "Really I am famished." "You will not miss your fish dinner," said

  • the girl. "I believe there is enough for all of us,"

  • said Larner. "I caught twenty beauties. I never knew fish to bite like that. Why, they—"

  • and he was off on a voluminous discourse on a favorite subject.

  • Those assembled listened sympathetically. Then Tula took the fish, and soon the aroma

  • of broiling trout mingled with the other entrancing galley odors.

  • After a dinner at which some weird yet satisfying viands were served and much unusual conversation

  • indulged in, Nern Bela led the way to what appeared to be the captain's quarters. The

  • crew and their visitor sat down to discuss a subject which proved to be of such a terrifying

  • nature as to scar human souls. "People on Venus," said Nern, as his eyes

  • took on a worried expression, "are unable to leave their homes after nightfall due to

  • some strange nocturnal beast which attacks them and vampirishly drains all blood from

  • their veins, leaving the dead bodies limp and empty."

  • "What? How?" questioned Larner leaning far forward over the conference table.

  • The others nodded their heads, and in the eyes of the women there was terror. Larner

  • could not but believe this. "The beasts, or should I say insects, are

  • as large as your horses and they fly, actually fly, by night, striking down humans, domestic

  • animals and all creatures of warm blood. How many there are we have no means of knowing,

  • and we cannot find their hiding and breeding places. They are not native to our planet,

  • and where they come from we cannot imagine. They are actually monstrous flys, or bugs,