“How much farther, Lieutenant?”
“I don’t know. A mile, ten miles, a thousand.”
“Aren’t you sure?”
“How can I be sure?”
“I don’t like this rain. If we only knew how far it is to the Sun Dome, I’d feel better.”
“Another hour or two from here.”
“You really think so, Lieutenant?”
“Or are you lying to keep us happy?”
“I’m lying to keep you happy. Shut up!”
The two men sat together in the rain. Behind them sat two other men who were wet and tired and slumped like clay that was melting.
The lieutenant looked up. He had a face that once had been brown and now the rain had washed it pale, and the rain had washed the color from his eyes and they were white, as were his teeth, and as was his hair. He was all white. Even his uniform was beginning to turn white, and perhaps a little green with fungus.
The lieutenant felt the rain on his cheeks. “How many million years since the rain stopped raining here on Venus?”
“Don’t be crazy,” said one of the two other men. “It never stops raining on Venus. It just goes on and on. I’ve lived here for ten years and I never saw a minute, or even a second, when it wasn’t pouring.”
“It’s like living under water,” said the lieutenant, and rose up, shrugging his guns into place. “Well, we’d better get going. We’ll find that Sun Dome yet.”
“Or we won’t find it,” said the cynic.
“It’s an hour or so.
“Now you’re lying to me, Lieutenant.”
“No, now I’m lying to myself. This is one of those times when you’ve got to lie. I can’t take much more of this.”
They walked down the jungle trail, now and then looking at their compasses. There was no direction anywhere, only what the compass said. There was a gray sky and rain falling and jungle and a path, and, far back behind them somewhere, a rocket in which they had ridden and fallen. A rocket in which lay two of their friends, dead and dripping rain.
They walked in single file, not speaking. They came to a river which lay wide and flat and brown, flowing down to the great Single Sea. The surface of it was stippled in a billion places by the rain.
“All right, Simmons.”
The lieutenant nodded and Simmons took a small packet from his back which, with a pressure of hidden chemical, inflated into a large boat. The lieutenant directed the cutting of wood and the quick making of paddles and they set out into the river, paddling swiftly across the smooth surface in the rain.
The lieutenant felt the cold rain on his cheeks and on his neck and on his moving arms. The cold was beginning to seep into his lungs. He felt the rain on his ears, on his eyes, on his legs.
“I didn’t sleep last night,” he said.
“Who could? Who has? When? How many nightshave we slept? Thirty nights, thirty days! Who can sleep with rain slamming their head, banging away. . . . I’d give anything for a hat. Anything at all, just so it wouldn’t hit my head any more. I get headaches. My head is sore; it hurts all the time.”
“I’m sorry I came to China,” said one of the others.
“First time I ever heard Venus called China.”
“Sure, China. Chinese water cure. Remember the old torture? Rope you against a wall. Drop one drop of water on your head every half-hour. You go crazy waiting for the next one. Well, that’s Venus, but on a big scale. We’re not made for water. You can’t sleep, you can’t breathe right, and you’re crazy from just being soggy. If we’d been ready for a crash, we’d have brought waterproofed uniforms and hats. It’s this beating rain on your head gets you, most of all. It’s so heavy. It’s like BB shot. I don’t know how long I can take it.”
“Boy, me for the Sun Dome! The man who thoughtthem up, thought of something.”
They crossed the river, and in crossing they thought of the Sun Dome, somewhere ahead of them, shining in the jungle rain. A yellow house, round and bright as the sun. A house fifteen feet high by one hundred feet in diameter, in which was warmth and quiet and hot food and freedom from rain. And in the center of the Sun Dome, of course, was a sun. A small floating free globe of yellow fire, drifting in space at the top of the building where you could look at it from where you sat, smoking or reading a book or drinking your hot chocolate crowned with marshmallow dollops. There it would be, the yellow sun, just the size of the Earth sun, and it was warm and continuous, and the rain world of Venus would be forgotten as long as they stayed in that house and idled their time.