The lieutenant turned and looked back at the three men using their oars and gritting their teeth. They were as white as mushrooms, as white as lie was. Venus bleached everything away in a few months. Even the jungle was an immense cartoon nightmare, for how could the jungle be green with no sun, with always rain falling and always dusk? The white, white jungle with the pale cheese-colored leaves, and the earth carved of wet Camembert, and the tree boles like immense toadstools—everything black and white. And how often could you see the soil itself? Wasn’t it mostly a creek, a stream, a puddle, a pool, a lake, a river, and then, at last the sea?
“Here we are!”
They leaped out on the farthest shore, splashing and sending up showers. The boat was deflated and stored in a cigarette packet. Then, standing on the rainy shore, they tried to light up a few smokes for themselves, and it was five minutes or so before, shuddering, they worked the inverted lighter and, cupping their hands, managed a few drags upon cigarettes that all too quickly were limp and beaten away from their lips by a sudden slap of rain.
They walked on.
“Wait just a moment,” said the lieutenant. “I thought I saw something ahead.”
“The Sun Dome?”
“I’m not sure. The rain closed in again.
Simmons began to run. “The Sun Dome!”
“Come back, Simmons!”
“The Sun Dome!”
Simmons vanished in the rain. The others ran after him.
They found him in a little clearing, and they stopped and looked at him and what he had discovered.
The rocket ship.
It was lying where they had left it. Somehow they had circled back and were where they had started. In the ruin of the ship green fungus was growing up out of the mouths of the two dead men. As they watched, the fungus took flower, the petals broke away in the rain, and the fungus died.
“How did we do it?”
“An electrical storm must be nearby. Threw our compasses off. That explains it.”
“What’ll we do now?”
“Start out again.”
“Good lord, we’re not any closer to anywhere!”
“Let’s try to keep calm about it, Simmons.”
“Calm, calm! This rain’s driving me wild!”
“We’ve enough food for another two days if we’re careful.”
The rain danced on their skin, on their wet uniforms; the rain streamed from their noses and ears, from their fingers and knees. They looked like stone fountains frozen in the jungle, issuing forth water from every pore.
And, as they stood, from a distance they heard a roar.
And the monster came out of the rain.
The monster was supported upon a thousand electric blue legs. It walked swiftly and terribly. It struck down a leg with a driving blow. Everywhere a leg struck a tree fell and burned. Great whiffs of ozone filled the rainy air, and smoke blew away and was broken up by the rain. The monster was a half mile wide and a mile high and it felt of the ground like a great blind thing. Sometimes, for a moment, it had no legs at all. And then, in an instant, a thousand whips would fall out of its belly, white-blue whips, to sting the jungle.
“There’s the electrical storm,” said one of the men. “There’s the thing ruined our compasses. And it’s coming this way.”
“Lie down, everyone,” said the lieutenant.
“Run!” cried Simmons.
“Don’t be a fool. Lie down. It hits the highest points. We may get through unhurt. Lie down about fifty feet from the rocket. It may very well spend its force there and leave us be. Get down!”
The men flopped.
“Is it coming?” they asked each other, after a moment.
“Is it nearer?”
“Two hundred yards off.”
“Here she is!”
The monster came and stood over them. It dropped down ten blue bolts of lightning which struck the rocket. The rocket flashed like a beaten gong and gave off a metal ringing. The monster let down fifteen more bolts which danced about in a ridiculous pantomime, feeling of the jungle and the watery soil.
“No, no!” One of the men jumped up.