VII, 14, Night
The jungle grew incredibly thick along the rest of the plateau's edge, yet Grace was able to navigate the creepers with the greatest of ease. I had to call to her to stop several times just so Callie and I could catch up. I am not sure exactly how far into the thick jungle we went, only that it was still night when we reached a clearing. At the far end of this clearing, our sight was greeted with, what had to be, Grace's home.
It was built into the side of the plateau and almost completely hidden by creepers. The only thing that actually made me notice it was its sheer size. It was a large, stone door about six or seven meters in height. When the three of us walked closer to the Cyclopean construction, a man leaped down from a tree at the side of the door. He was wielding a spear, which he kept poised at us until he noticed Grace. It was here that I saw he was dressed in exactly the same kind of suit as Grace. The only difference was that while Grace had one of our masks, the man's mask looked to be made from the hollowed-out head of a lizard. Had the suits been green, instead of brown, I probably would have mistaken the man for a lizard and torched him with my flame pistol. When the man saw Grace and put down his spear, he whistled something that I could only imagine was an inquiry. Grace answered his whistle and the man ran to embrace her. They parted and Grace pointed to us, whistling our introductions to her friend. The only parts of her introduction I understood were our names.
The man walked over to the door and pulled down on one of the creepers hanging over it. He gave it a sharp tug and the door slowly slid to one side. Grace motioned us to follow her inside and we obeyed. The man tugged on the creeper again and the door slid back, shutting us in total darkness. I turned on my flashlight and looked around the room. Behind us was the enormous door, and in front of us was a similar, large door. Waving the flashlight around the room, I saw that the walls were lined with a strange kind of plant I had not seen before. They resembled a toadstool, yet were larger and seemed to pulsate with a rhythmic motion.
I wondered if it would be safe to remove my mask. But, when I first tried to unstrap it, Grace grabbed my hands, shaking her head. She then pointed to the strange plants on the wall. I finally realized exactly what the pulsating action was. We were in a crude sort of airlock, and the plants were taking in the poisonous Venusian atmosphere and excreting breathable air. As I was explaining all this to Callie, the second door slowly slid open and I saw Grace remove her mask; the circulatory process was obviously complete. When she led us through the second door and down an enclosed ramp, a sight appeared before us that the early explorers could only have dreamed of; it was a full-fledged, underground civilization. Illumined by countless torches and stretching unbelievable distances in all directions, our eyes scanned the peculiar civilization. In addition to occasional structures of Cyclopean architecture, the village was composed mainly of small huts, about two meters in diameter, made from reeds and tall grass. In addition to small huts, there were similar structures that reminded me of Iriquois long-houses. Some of these long houses were a good thirty or forty meters in length. Callie then made the astute observation that the place was completely deserted.
Grace led the two of us to a 'commons' of sorts near a large central structure. She looked around at the seemingly deserted houses and whistled for a few seconds. Our earlier suspicions of the city being completely deserted were proven wrong as, slowly but surely, the entire population of the underground civilization emerged from the huts and long-houses. They were all dressed in the same style of brown, cotton-like undersuit that Grace wore. A large group of perhaps thirty or more walked toward Grace, at first looking awestruck and then overjoyed. Grace whistled to them, and they all whistled their own unique responses. Grace's whistling alone had not bothered me, but thirty all whistling at once was something I could hardly tolerate; It sounded like a dozen birds all singing slightly different melodies at once. Frankly, it was a discord I knew I was going to grow to hate. I saw that Callie shared my same feeling and even began mocking them by whistling her own little tune. Five of the group surrounding Grace wheeled on Callie with looks of bitter contempt on their faces, as though what she had intended as gibberish might actually have been an epiphet of some kind. Fortunately for her, Callie noticed the lascivious looks of the villagers and immediately ceased her mockery.
"Wow, a whole village of lab rats," she whispered.
"Will you stop calling them that!?" I snapped back, trying to keep my voice down. It was when I turned away in disgust to scan the now populated village that my vision was met with a sight that, to this day, remains fresh in my mind; mostly because it was so creepy. Peering out from one of the huts with a curiosity all too common among those of youth, a small group of perhaps seven children innocently observed me and Callie. I had just gotten used to Grace's ghoulish visage and now I was being stared at by seven more little ghouls. I tried looking around for something else to look at, something that would remove the image of those children from my mind's eye. However, I found it very difficult to shake the image and could not help but return their stares. Callie did not share my chagrin as I found out when I saw her making faces at the curious observers. I nudged her with my elbow, but she ignored me and continued to have, what must have been, the time of her life.
"They're just children," she said.
To say the least, I was incredibly grateful when Grace came over to us with her small crowd in tow. They gathered around us and gazed at us with looks that were actually a bit more tolerable and less terrifying than those belonging to the children. A few of them reached out and touched our black, leather uniforms and numbered helmets engraved with the Venus Crystal Company logo. I, of course, brushed away any hands which came too close to my flame pistol; I dare not imagine what sort of chaos may have erupted if one of them were to find out the pistol's power. To my amusement, I saw Callie give a food tablet to one of the on-lookers. Nearly everyone in the circle of observers had a good laugh watching the fellow attempt to swallow one.
They stopped laughing rather suddenly and turned their attention to a tall, uniformed man coming toward us from the direction of the large, central structure. He and Grace exchanged whistles, with Grace occasionally gesturing toward us. A look of surprise came over the fellow at one point in Grace's explanation. I can only imagine she was referring to when I had rescued her. As I recalled that particular incident just then, I realized that Callie was right in just how peculiar it was; lizards were not known for taking victims alive. They usually kill on sight and devour their victims on the spot. Again, I wondered if it had something to do with Grace's lizard skin uniform. One theory I had devised was that maybe the lizards had some natural instinct that forbade them from killing their own kind. However, this theory was immediately disproven as I remembered reading a report on the lizards describing how they would occassionally, particularly when food was scarce, devour the young of rival herds, not unlike certain species of African monkeys. I eventually gave up and concluded that it would simply remain a mystery that probably no one would ever solve.
Grace turned to us and the uniformed man walked over and greeted us. He then turned to Grace, whistled something, and walked back to the central building. Grace motioned for us to follow her, and we did. Our on-lookers eventually dispersed as we furthered ourselves from the circle and came nearer to the main building.
Once inside, we were led down a small corridor which opened up into a large room with a dais in the center. Behind it sat, what must have been, a very old man, probably seventy or so. The old man whistled rather ecstatically when he saw Grace. She was equally excited; she walked behind the desk and hugged the old man, kissing him on the forehead. Afterwards, she moved behind him and the he turned his attention to me and Callie. The uniformed man leaned over and whispered in the old man's ear.
"So...you save (he whistled Grace's name)?" Callie and I were astonished that the old man could speak our language. I nodded, shocked.
Grace leaned over the old man's shoulder and whispered, "Grace" into his ear.
"So, you save Grace?" he corrected himself.
"Yes, I did," I said, "Can I ask who you are, sir?"
The old man did not answer at first as he was trying to deceipher what I had said. He may have spoken english, but I learned he did not speak it well.
"I Grace's father's father....Grandfather. I Grace's grandfather," He said. "Names?" He waved his hands at us.
"I'm Arthur Cadmus."
"I'm Callie Muir."
"Venus Crystal Company," the old man finished my sentence.
"You know about the company?" Grace's grandfather was simply full of surprises.
"Yes, we been watching your peoples. You come. Kill lizard-things. Take crystals. Fly around in machines. Big noise."
"Well, we're sorry about the noise. But, if you've known about us being here, why haven't you tried contacting us?" I inquired.
"No need. You don't try to talk to us, we don't try and talk to you."
"I never knew your people existed until I met Grace. No one's heard of your race. Are you natives to Venus?"
"We've been here long time," he nodded.
"But, you can't breath the atmosphere?"
"Air used to be good. Now is bad. We live here for many generations. Fight lizrd-things. But not as good as you with flame guns." He laughed.
"Well, that which works. But tell us, Have your people ever used crystals?"
"No, they do no good to us."
"That's very interesting. See, where we come from, Earth, these crystals are very precious. We use them for everything. They produce an electrical charge when exposed to sunlight. We harness that electricity and use it to power...frankly, everything. That's why they send us here." I realized just how much I admired these people. I do not think anyone has ever considered what might happen if we did not have crystal power. Despite our dependence on the mineral, we never seem to realize just how much we take it for granted. Here, however, was an entire race of people who had learned to live without it and even cooperate with nature, such as those air-recycling plants in the doorways, or the lizard-skin suits.
"Maybe you guys should get together," Callie blurted out.