“Oy, what’s wi’ th’ cloud o’er that way?” muttered Macgregor.
Tandekar’s eyes were fixed on the cloud. “I must admit I find that a tad suspicious. What do you make of it, Lyshol?”
Lyshol put his binoculars to his eyes and said, “The cloud seems to remain stationary on the water. It could be a hydromatic thermal of some sort, but these new instruments say there is no difference in the water temperatures.”
He opened his Terpiscompendium and jotted down observations of the phenomena, saying, “Some new curiosity every day. Shall we go and take a look?”
Tandekar spoke up, “I vote that we investigate further. Fortune favors the bold as they say.”
“Ye be damned careful, ye bleedin’ boffin… I dinnæ ken th’ critters here too well,” MacGregor scolded like a mother hen. “Fortune ken also hurt tæ.”
Ed chimed in that the cloud was but a quarter mile outside the search area. Tandekar’s face brightened as he said, “That seems a reasonable jaunt for science. Though I can only advise. I am not in the command chain.”
Lyshol instructed the driver to proceed toward the cloud. MacGregor looked at the cloud dubiously and fixed his bayonet on his Blaiser rifle.
As the airboat approached, the cloud seemed like a tangible curtain of thick fog. MacGregor’s strict marine sense of paranoia made him hold his breath as they entered the cloud. When the boat breeched the perimeter of the fog, everyone on board noticed a distinct drop in temperature. Lyshol said, “The fog must be air distillation of the warm steam.”
Tandekar countered, “Are you stretching science a bit, Lyshol? This no longer seems simply meteorological. The fog is so thick you can’t even see 3 feet. There must be something in the middle of this cloud that has a cooling effect.”
With his eyes still fixed to his scopes, Ed stated, “The sensors show a floating mass of some sort up ahead.”
“It could be a floating mat of undergrowth or even a buoyant island of some kind,” Lyshol theorized.
“Aye, and iffen it is hungry, I want tæ gi’e it idegestion afore we’re swallowed,” the corporal growled.
Tandekar asked the driver to take the boat closer to the floating mass. Lyshol explained, “Sometimes huge masses of decaying undergrowth fill with gas and float to the surface.
The airboat’s hull bumped against the moss covered rocky shore. Lyshol was amazed that the trees were not limited to the Venusian ferns, but there seemed to be oak, cedar and elm present and old growth at that. The air was cool like that of a temperate forest and the smells of the jungle and swamp were gone. The driver suggested that they report back immediately and bring the other to make a more thorough investigation, but Professor Lyshol insisted on going ashore to collect specimens. “No one would ever believe a Venusian elm tree without specimens.”
Lyshol, Tandekar and MacGregor ventured forth on the solid ground and took in the sylvan sights. MacGregor’s keen eye spotted a form coming their way out of the center of the forest. The marine corporal took aim with his weapon and assumed a defensive position behind a fallen maple tree. As the figure approached, they saw it was humanoid. The creature stood at least seven and a half feet tall and seemed to be naked. Its body was coated with a brown red mud. The figure stood before them and gestured for them in no uncertain terms to leave. The doctor tried to talk to the imposing figure, but it spoke not a word.
At close range the figure was the spitting image of Greek classical sculpture. In almost every detail it was a man. The only flaw was the absence of any genitalia. The face was that of a young man with one peculiarity. There were symbols that seemed to be sunken in his brow. The symbols could not be identified, but they were somehow familiar. Lyshol held his ground staring at the creature and making no more sound than it did. The creature came close enough to touch Professor Lyshol and then pushed him toward the boat. Lyshol fell flat on his back as he seemed to be in some sort of shock. When Lyshol hit the ground, MacGregor resisted the urge to fire on the giant, but a shot rang out from the boat. The driver had fired his pneumatic harpee pistol. The dart struck the creature square in the abdomen. The line attached to the dart led back to the pistol in the driver’s hand. The creature noticed the dart without the least look of pain. With a quick yank on the line, the creature wrenched the pistol from the driver’s hand.
At this point MacGregor knew it had hit the fan. He was preparing to start unloading his blaiser into the creature’s chest when he saw a light coming from behind a tree just behind the creature. The creature noticed the light and retreated away from Lyshol. A form emerged from the light, and MacGregor saw that it was a man in what seemed to be a glowing white satin suit. The illuminated man spoke in a voice that generated calmness, “We mean you no harm. I am Sophiel.”
Lyshol recovered enough of his senses to scramble into a standing position. Sophiel continued, “Your coming is both foretold and unexpected.”
The professor looked to MacGregor with a rather stunned expression but motioned for him to lower his weapon and said to Sophiel, “You know who we are?”
MacGregor lowered his weapon but retained a ready stance.
Sophiel stated, “I know you have traveled from Earth. I fear for your safety and must make preparations now that you have arrived.”
Lyshol queried, “What are we in danger from?”
By this time the tall muddy creature had lumbered back toward the center of the island. Sophiel continued in his calming voice, “There are things on this island that pose a great harm to you and your kind. Things you are not prepared for.”
Tandekar scanned the brightly dressed individual. His medical instruments sensed heat, respiration, etc. but definitely not the human norm. He thought the Venusian fields might be corrupting his readings.
Lyshol continued, “You say our coming had been foretold. What was said of the result of this coming?”
“Your coming is a sign to us to remove the danger from which I have warned you. I can remove the danger. All I ask for is time. Please return tomorrow, at that time the danger will be removed.” Sophiel advised, “Please do so for your own safety.”
“I believe we could come back. Why do you wish to see us again?”
“My only desire is to see you safe from harm.”
Lyshol, though a little dubious, agreed. Sophiel urged, “Please go now so that I can make preparations.”
Without further prompting, the driver started the props as MacGregor, Tandekar and Lyshol boarded the airboat. The shore became once again veiled in the thick clouds.
The professor asked Tandekar, “Did you capture any of that on sensors?”
“I was taking readings as soon as the big thing showed up,” Tandekar answered.
The temperature reasserted itself as soon as the boat reached the perimeter of the cloud. Lyshol exclaimed, “Hooo boy! They’re gonna go daft when they see this!”
As Lyshol played back the visual and audio recording, he found that as soon as the large creature came into view, the picture was replaced with high frequency feedback. “Damn!”
Lyshol madly checked the equipment to discover the failure. A quick diagnostic found no malfunction with the equipment.