The Project Gutenberg EBook of Genesis!, by R.R. Winterbotham

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Title: Genesis!

Author: R.R. Winterbotham

Release Date: April 24, 2020 [EBook #61907]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII


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Renzu was mad, certainly! From Venus' lifeless
clay he dreamed of moulding a mighty race; a
new Creation, with himself as God!

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories Summer 1941.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

The unreal silence of outer space closed in about The Traveler. In front of the huge atom-powered space rocket hung the sun's dazzling disc and behind the pale, silver face of the earth echoed the light. Captain Vic Arlen was a god in the heavens; Dave McFerson, the engineer, was a demi-god. And what was Harry Renzu? It was hard to call a great scientist a devil.

There was Gheal—neither god nor devil, only a poor, hideous, half-human slave that had been brought with Renzu to the earth from a previous expedition to Venus. Captain Arlen quit trying to classify himself and his passengers. They were neither gods nor devils. Not even men, taking the group as a whole.

An ominous chill seemed to reach through the beryllium hull of the ship from outer space, caressing Arlen's backbone. A faint cry sounded in the passageway that led to the sleeping quarters behind the control room.

The captain tripped the controls into neutral. The acceleration was complete and from now until the braking rockets were fired, the craft would follow its carefully calculated orbit.

Again came the cry, a groan of pain and a moaning sob. The captain strode into the passage.

"Gheal!" he called, recognizing the Venusian's hoarse voice. "Gheal! What's the matter?"

A repetition of the cry was the only answer. The passageway was open, but the sobs seemed to be coming from the cabin of Harry Renzu, the scientist who had chartered the moon rocket for his second expedition to Venus.

The captain paused before the cabin door, listening. The cry came again and he pushed open the door.

The hideous Venusian was on the floor, looking upward with his two light-sensitive eye-glands at Renzu, who stood over him with an upraised cane.

Gheal's rubbery, lipless mouth was agape, revealing his long, sharp teeth. He had raised one of his long, rope-muscled arms to catch the descending blow. His hairless, leathery body trembled slightly with pain.

"You dumb, dim-witted chunk of Venusian protoplasm!" Renzu snarled as he brought the cane crashing over the monster's shoulders. "When I want a thing done, I want it done!"

Arlen pushed into the room and seized Renzu's arm before the scientist could strike again.

"Hold on, Renzu!" Arlen commanded, pushing the scientist back and seizing the cane. "Lay off! Can't you treat this miserable wretch with decency?"

Renzu's face flushed angrily. His deep-set eyes burned with fury.

"This is none of your affair!" Renzu snapped. "Go back to your business of running this ship. I didn't hire you to run my business."

"This may be your expedition," Arlen replied stubbornly, "but while we're in space, I'm the captain of this ship and my orders are to be obeyed. My orders are to give this Venusian beast humane treatment."

A whimpering sob broke from the throat of the brute on the floor.

Renzu sullenly twisted his arm loose from the captain's grasp. He appeared more calm now.

"You are right, Arlen," he said. "Your orders are to be obeyed. But you aren't a scientist. You don't know Gheal. He's not like the animals we know on the earth. He has to be beaten."

"Not while we're in space. I won't stand for it."

"You can't stand in the way of science, Arlen. I shall whip Gheal, if I deem it necessary." Renzu ended his words with a suggestive snap of his fingers in Gheal's direction. The monster cringed into a corner of the stateroom.

"Come with me, Gheal," Arlen ordered, beckoning to the monster.

The creature, seeming to understand, rose to his feet and followed Arlen out of the door.

The captain took the Venusian forward into the control room, where he daubed the welts on the creature's naked shoulders with arnica.

McFerson, easy-going, but dependable old spaceman, watched the operation critically. Gheal winced as the arnica touched his skin. He squirmed and tried to resist.

"Hold on a minute, Cap," McFerson said. "Look at the right shoulder, where you put the arnica; it's red and inflamed."

"So it is, but arnica ought to help."

"Look at the left shoulder, where you haven't put any arnica."

"Great guns! It's almost healed!"

"I'd say maybe arnica wasn't the best treatment."

Captain Arlen corked the bottle and put it aside. "Gheal looks like a man. Sometimes he acts like a man. Yet he's entirely different most of the time.

"I've been watching him, Cap. I somehow get the idea that Gheal finds it unhandy, most of the time, to be built like a man."

The captain laughed. He took Gheal's arm and held it up. "Look at that. Good, human bones, but the body of a monster. I wish you could talk, Gheal. I wish you could tell us more about yourself. Why are you almost a man yet the farthest point south?"

Gheal uttered a sort of deep-throated growl.

"Renzu says you can be vicious—that you're a killer at heart. Renzu said one of your kind killed Jimmy Brooks on the first expedition. You don't look like a killer. Brooks was a big man. You'd have a hard time killing him."

Gheal's sight-glands stared from Arlen to McFerson.

Arlen laughed and patted Gheal's hairless head and pointed to a built-in seat in the corner.

"You're welcome to stay here as long as you don't bother us," he said.

Gheal shuffled uneasily and whimpered, but he did not go to the seat. Instead, he turned and moved toward the door. The creature looked ridiculous, clad as he was only in a pair of Renzu's discarded trousers, which had been rolled at the bottom to fit his stubby legs.

At the door the Venusian hesitated and glanced back at the captain. Then he slowly turned and shuffled down the passageway.

"Hey you!" Captain Arlen shouted. "Come back here!"

Gheal did not stop. He was striding to Renzu's room. He pushed open the door.

A fear for Renzu's safety rushed into the captain's mind. He ran after the creature and entered Renzu's cabin. But as he opened the door he gasped in astonishment.

Gheal was crawling into a corner of the room, while Renzu stood nearby laughing.

"You see, Arlen," smiled Renzu, "I'm his master. He recognizes my authority and no one else's. He would not desert me, no matter how I treated him."

Renzu picked up the cane that Arlen had tossed on the bunk a few minutes before. As the scientist shook the stick at Gheal, Arlen thought he saw a look of satisfaction creep into the creature's face.

"Just the same," Arlen said, "I can't stand your beating him. He may enjoy it. He may be a masochist at heart, but I won't stand for it."

"Your mind is provincially human, Arlen," said Renzu. "When you look at Gheal you see the product of an entirely different evolution. You see a creature without emotions, without ethics. He's devoid of every terrestrial feeling, especially gratitude. He may even hate you for taking his side against me."

There was a trace of bitterness in Renzu's voice.

"I wouldn't be too sure, Renzu," Arlen said. "If the laws of physics apply on Venus, as well as the earth, why couldn't biological and psychological laws apply there also. Even the lowest of creatures show understandable reactions on earth. Why not on Venus?"

"Because Gheal has been made differently," Renzu said, with a repulsive grin.

Hour by hour Captain Arlen watched Venus grow in size. The planet expanded from a glowing crescent to the size of the moon as seen from the earth; soon it floated large in space, filling half the sky ahead of the ship, a billowing, fluffy ball of shining clouds. Its surface was entirely obscured by its misty atmosphere.

Arlen began braking the ship and he called Renzu into the control room for a conference on where to pierce the cloud blanket.

Renzu, huge and muscular, overdid himself in graciousness as he greeted Arlen in the control room. The scientist seemed to radiate exaltation and he strained himself to appear congenial.

The man was excited, Arlen decided, for Arlen himself was thrilled at the prospect of adventure, of seeing strange sights on a strange planet. But the reaction was different in Arlen. Where Renzu swelled and swaggered, Arlen looked dreamily into the clouds ahead.

"I'm bringing the ship around to the sunward side," Arlen said. "It's best to land about noon—that is the noon point. The planet turns once in thirty hours and that will give us a little more than seven hours of daylight to orient ourselves after the landing."

Renzu nodded in agreement. All this had been threshed out before.

"Very well," he said, "but it is best that you pierce the clouds at about forty-five degrees north latitude. There's ocean there that nearly circles the planet and there's fewer chances of running into mountains beneath the clouds. Once we're through the cloud belt, we'll have no difficulty. The clouds are three or four miles above the surface and there's plenty of room to maneuver beneath them."

Arlen twisted the valves and the deceleration became uncomfortably violent. Renzu's first trip had determined the existence of a breathable atmosphere on the surface of Venus, although the cloud belt was filled with gases given off by Venusian volcanoes, and many of these gases were poisonous to man.

In a few minutes the rocket ship stood off just above the cloud belt. McFerson checked the landing mechanism and made his final report to the captain. Arlen checked the gravity gauge, which now would be used as an altimeter during the blind flying in the Venusian clouds.

"Okay!" Captain Arlen called.

"Okay!" echoed McFerson.

The Traveler nosed downward into the rolling clouds. A whistling whine arose as the craft struck the atoms of the atmosphere. Repulsion jets set up their thunder and the landing operation began.

The ship settled slowly through the clouds. The mist completely obscured everything outside the craft and Arlen flew blind, trusting his meteor detection devices to warn him of mountain peaks, which he feared despite Renzu's assurance that there were no high ranges at this latitude.

At last the craft dropped through the wispy canopy to float serenely over a calm ocean which bulged upward toward them in the solar flood tide.

To the northwest was a dim coastline. High mountains were faintly visible against the horizon.

"Perfect!" said Renzu. "That is my continent—our destination. Sail toward it."

The ship zoomed toward the land at the comparatively slow speed of five hundred miles an hour. In a few minutes it was decelerating again, with the continent before them.

The high mountain range clambered up from a narrow plain that skirted the sea. This plain was sandy, a desert waste, but Renzu indicated it was the spot for the landing.

Arlen brought The Traveler down gently alongside a broad stream that emptied into the sea. When the dust of the landing cleared away, he looked with dumbfounded amazement at the Venusian scene.

As far as his eyes could see were barren rocks and sand: there were no trees, no grass, no signs of life. The planet was as sterile as an antiseptic solution. Even seaweed and mosses were missing from the seashore.

"Maybe you know what you're doing, Renzu," Arlen said, "but it looks to me as if you've directed us to the edge of a desert."

"'Tain't no small desert, either," chimed McFerson.

"My dear Arlen," Renzu replied, cracking his lips in another of his irritating smiles, "this is one of the most fertile spots on the entire planet. You must remember, Venus is much different from the earth."

Immediately after the landing all hands, including Renzu, were busy with the routine duties that the expedition required. Gheal was given simple tasks, such as unpacking boxes of equipment to be used by the expedition, but the Venusian seemed to attend to these in a preoccupied manner. He worked in sort of a daze, frequently whimpering like a sick dog, and turning his globular eyes from time to time out of the porthole at the landscape of his native planet.

"He's homesick," McFerson suggested to Arlen. "But look! What's he got in his hand?"

It was a long white bar of metal. Arlen quickly seized the bar and examined it. It was pure silver. Gheal had been unpacking a box crammed with silver bars of assorted lengths and thicknesses, ranging from the size of small wire up to rods half an inch thick and a foot or more in length. A fortune in silver had been transported to Venus.

"Well, that's Renzu's business, not mine," Arlen decided.

He returned to his duties. There was much to do: the engines had to be recharged, preparatory to a quick takeoff, should conditions arise to make the planet untenable for earthmen.

Tests of the soil revealed utter sterility of all forms of life. It was baffling. Some sort of bacteria should have been in the soil, even though the place was only a desert.

Arlen opened the arms chest and issued small but powerful atomic disintegrators to McFerson, Renzu and himself. He did not give Gheal one of the weapons, for Gheal did not appear to have the skill necessary to operate it. His uncanny ignorance was so obvious.

The disintegrators were simple magnetic mechanisms capable of collapsing atoms of atmosphere and sending the resultant force of energy in a directed stream toward a target. Fire from disintegrators could melt large rocks almost instantly and it could destroy any living creature known to man.

Renzu strapped his weapon at his side and turned to Arlen.

"I'm going outside for a walk with Gheal," he said. "Gheal seems nervous and uneasy. Perhaps his actions are due to his return to his native land. A walk might make him happier, in his own peculiar way."

Arlen nodded and went back to the control room to talk to McFerson. He found the engineer looking out of a porthole.

"Look!" McFerson said, pointing out the porthole.

Trudging along the beach, carrying the case containing the silver rods, were Renzu and Gheal. The Venusian was walking with difficulty, but as he faltered, Renzu would kick him unmercifully and force him on.

"The devil!" Captain Arlen said. "He doesn't dare beat Gheal when he knows I'm watching."

McFerson shook his head.

"Maybe he's right, treating Gheal that way," he said. "After all, Renzu is a scientist and he knows more about Gheal than we do. Maybe he's right in saying beating is the only treatment Gheal understands. Besides, I don't know if I trust Gheal. Since we've landed he's acted like a tiger in a cage. Gheal's a Venusian and Venusians are supposed to have murdered Renzu's partner on the first expedition."

"But even the worst creature on earth—except man, perhaps—doesn't kill without a reason. And even man sometimes has a reason, when apparently he hasn't."

Darkness descended rapidly on Venus and Renzu did not return. The two spacemen decided it was unnecessary to stand guard and turned in. Renzu knew how to operate the space locks from the outside of the ship and could enter when he returned. Gheal, whose clumsy fingers were too unwieldly even to operate a disintegrator gun, would not be able to operate the locks, nor would any creature like him.

It was still dark when Arlen awakened. The long, fifteen-hour Venusian night was completed and still Renzu had not returned.

The captain awakened McFerson. They ate a light breakfast and did minor chores on the ship until daylight suddenly lighted the landscape.

"Do you suppose we ought to look for them? Maybe Gheal went haywire. Maybe something's happened."

Arlen considered. Renzu was armed, while Gheal was not. Renzu claimed complete mastery over the Venusian, yet something might have happened to give Gheal the upper hand. Not that Renzu didn't deserve it.

"I'll go outside and look around," Arlen said.

Arlen stepped through the locks. The warm Venusian air was invigorating. He took a deep breath.

A shuffling sound behind him caused the captain to turn. There, rounding the end of the ship was a creature, fully naked, staring at him with gland-like eyes and baring his teeth in a vicious snarl.

"Gheal!" Arlen cried. "Gheal! Where's Renzu?"

The creature did not reply. Instead, it advanced slowly with a shuffling crouch, stretching his arms menacingly toward Arlen.

Arlen's hand went to his disintegrator. The creature resembled Gheal, but it did not act like Gheal. The captain's eyes swept over the animal again. No, it wasn't Gheal. There were differences. It was another of Gheal's race.

Arlen hesitated to kill the creature. If there were a tribe of the creatures in the vicinity, such an act would arouse enmity. It would lead to complications that would endanger Renzu, who was away from the ship. Yet, Arlen could not be sure what reaction would follow a slaying. Renzu had said that Venusians had no emotions, in the sense that man has them. But Gheal certainly had been nostalgic on the day before. That at least was understandable in a human sense.

Arlen leveled his pistol. Suddenly another figure appeared.

A low-voiced whine sounded as the second figure darted forward.

It was the real Gheal. He was still wearing Renzu's trousers.

The first Venusian turned. He hesitated stupidly, undecided whether to continue his charge toward Arlen, or to meet the foe who came from behind. Finally, the beast apparently decided that Arlen was the most tempting.

The animal sprang at the captain.

Arlen held his gun ready to fire, but the Venusian had acted with a swiftness that belied his clumsy appearance. Before Arlen could fire, a heavy, rubbery arm crashed down on his skull. A meteor shower seemed to flash through Arlen's brain, and then darkness closed in about him as he tumbled to the sandy beach.

Arlen opened his eyes. He had no way of telling how long he had lain on the ground. On Venus one never sees the sun; daylight appears and daylight fades, but there is no way of telling the time of day from the position of the sun overhead.

The captain's head ached as he lifted himself from the ground. He shook his head to clear away the haze and he stretched his arms to rise. His fingers struck something leathery and cold.

There at his side lay the Venusian monster who had attacked him. A wave of nausea swept over him as he saw the lifeless body horribly mutilated and torn. The sandy soil of the beach was torn with the struggle that had taken place.

Arlen forgot his aching head at he examined the dead Venusian. His disintegrator had not slain the Venusian; clearly Gheal had done the job.

"So Gheal came to my rescue!" Arlen exclaimed. "Renzu must have been wrong. These Venusians do have gratitude."

His eyes saw something else as they traveled over the body.

Protruding from the body was a silver rod. Gingerly Arlen tried to pull the rod from the animal's body, but it would not budge. Was it a weapon?

Arlen saw other rods sticking from the animal, covered with blood. All of them seemed firmly set in the body of the Venusian.

Arlen looked behind him. The locks of the space ship were open. He moved wearily to the door and stuck his head inside.

"McFerson!" he called.

There was no answer.

Arlen entered the ship. He carried his disintegrator in his hand. Venusians might have entered the ship ahead of him. Lights were still burning in the living quarters, but McFerson was gone.

Arlen moved on; he searched each cabin, but there was no sign of McFerson, until he reached the control room. There furniture had been overturned, instruments smashed, and a pool of blood lay on the floor.

Gheal had done this. Arlen was sure that no other Venusian could have entered the ship and crept up on McFerson without arousing suspicion. McFerson's disintegrator lay on the floor beside the pool of blood, indicating that McFerson had grown suspicious too late. The gun had not been discharged.

The first thing Arlen had to do was to protect himself from further attack. He drew his own gun and closed the outer locks. The next thing would be to decide what had happened and what to do.

Renzu probably had suffered the same fate as McFerson, Arlen decided. He was alone, in a strange world, face to face with a race of mankilling monsters. The only thing in his favor was that one of these monsters had befriended him. But how long and how far could Arlen trust this friendship?

There was, however, a chance that McFerson or Renzu still might be living. He had to know for sure about this before he did anything else. And the only way to learn was to investigate.

He left the ship, carefully closing the locks and fastening them behind him. He found many tracks leading away from the ship, along the banks of the stream that flowed from the mountains.

From among the tracks he picked out Renzu's bootprints. There were tracks of Gheal going away, coming back, and going away again. He distinguished the two sets of Gheal's prints leading toward the mountains by the fact that one set was more deeply imprinted in the moist sand than the other. Gheal had been carrying McFerson's body.

But what was this? There was another set of tracks coming toward the space ship. They were not Gheal's prints, for they were three toed. Gheal had five toes. Gheal and the creature who had attacked Arlen were different—one had three, the other five toes.

Gheal might not have rescued Arlen out of gratitude after all. A natural enmity might have existed between the two races of Venusians. Arlen's rescue might have been an accident.

Arlen studied. There was something else that fitted into the picture. If he could fit it correctly, he would have the answer. Somehow, now, he doubted if Gheal had rescued him out of gratitude; yet, he doubted if the rescue had been purely accidental.

Arlen returned to the space ship and loaded a haversack with food. He was going into the mountains to get to the bottom of the mystery. He scribbled a note and left it in the control cabin in case Renzu or McFerson returned; if either were alive.

The captain followed the stream into a deep-walled canyon opening into the mountains. A short distance from the ship he found Gheal's discarded trousers, indicating beyond a doubt that the Venusian had come this way after Arlen had been knocked unconscious in the sand.

A mile or so farther on he saw a print where Gheal had placed McFerson on the ground. Then, a thrill of gratitude swept over Arlen, another set of boot prints appeared on the trail. McFerson was not dead. He was walking.

The daylight was fading and Arlen realized he would not have much more time to follow the tracks without the aid of his flashlight. The walls of the gorge were almost perpendicular now and nearly a mile high on each side of the stream. The river boiled and churned over the barren rocks, but its movement was the only animation of the scene. Nowhere were there signs of life, excepting the footprints on the trail.

At last the trail forked upward from the stream, following a narrow ledge of rock along the canyon wall. The footprints of the slain Venusian now were wide apart and deeply imprinted in the sand, indicating that the creature had run rapidly down the path.

"He probably spotted our ship landing and headed toward us right away," muttered Arlen. "His presence outside the craft may have been what made Gheal so uneasy yesterday. Gheal sensed an enemy near at hand." But this didn't seem to be the answer, either.

Beyond the next curve the canyon walls slid back and the ledge widened into a gentle slope leading to the top of the canyon. As Arlen climbed over the rim he found himself on a plateau.

It was dark now, but the place was lighted by a huge campfire not far away. Huddled around the campfire were four figures. In the still air of the night, Arlen heard guttural grunts of Venusians and above these tones he heard the sharp voice of Harry Renzu issuing commands to these alien beasts.

Arlen crept forward and concealed himself behind a rock. There were three Venusians. He saw something else, too. McFerson, his head swathed in bandages, was sitting in the shadow of a huge square stone.

Arlen watched. He could not hear Renzu's words and he moved forward to obtain a better view, when his hand sank into a sticky mass of slime.

"Ugh!" he grunted in disgust, lifting his hand.

It was covered with a thick, viscous jelly. It was sticky and as he turned his flashlight on the stuff he saw that it was colorless and translucent. It was not a plant or an animal. It did not move, it was cold, and had no structure, nor roots.

Shielding his light so that it could not be seen from the campfire, Arlen examined the ground around him. There were other small pools of the stuff in the hollows of rocks and in thick masses on the ground.

The captain examined the material more closely. It looked strangely familiar, and some of the text-book science he had learned in college came back to him. He remembered examining stuff like this once under a microscope. It was not petroleum, but something vastly different—something that was synonymous with life.

It was protoplasm!

Vic Arlen gasped.

"Protoplasm! Inanimate protoplasm!"

He forgot he had been nauseated by the slime a moment before and began to examine the stuff closely. Of course, it was protoplasm, it couldn't be anything else. Vic Arlen had studied it. He knew. Nothing could hold water granules in suspension in exactly the same way; nothing had the same baffling construction.

But there was a question: scientists admitted life could not exist without protoplasm, but could protoplasm exist without life?

In living protoplasm, death alters the structure. But other processes than life could, conceivably, preserve the stability of the substance. This would explain the existence of inanimate protoplasm on Venus.

And why didn't inanimate protoplasm exist on the earth? Arlen thought for a moment and had the answer for that too. Animal life lives on protoplasm, as well as being protoplasm itself. Animate protoplasm can reproduce its kind, but the inanimate kind can neither fight back nor replace its losses. The inanimate protoplasm on the earth had disappeared with the appearance of the first animal life. The coming of the first microbes had caused it to "decay."

If protoplasm existed on the face of Venus it meant there were no bacteria, no germs of any sort—no life!

How could Arlen explain Gheal without evolution from the simple to the complex? Was evolution working differently on Venus? Again Arlen had run up a blind alley.

The campfire cast a flickering red glow against the clouds. In spots above the skies were tinted with other glows from the craters of Venusian volcanoes. It was not absolutely dark, but it was far from being as light as a moonlit night on the earth.

Arlen crept closer to the scene. He could see the Venusians plainly now. Two of them had three toes, while one had five. The five-toed one was Gheal.

Renzu stood before them, grasping his cane. He would make sharp commands and the Venusians would rise. If they disobeyed, he would strike them with the cane. They would shriek with pain. At last these maneuvers ceased and Renzu turned to McFerson.

"They have to be taught everything," he said. "They have no reflex actions, no emotions, no instinct—nothing that the lowest creatures on earth may have. Yet they have everything that makes those things in the creatures of the earth."

McFerson did not reply. He was watching with staring eyes; eyes filled with horror.

Renzu reached behind a rock. He drew what appeared to be a human skeleton from the shadow. As Arlen looked a second time, he saw that it was not a human skeleton, but an imitation built of the silver rods and wires that Renzu had transported to Venus. The truth was dawning on Arlen, but it was unnecessary now, for Renzu was explaining.

"I have created life, McFerson. I have moulded a human likeness out of protoplasm and fitted it over bones of silver. An electrical device I have made starts the biological processes going and the protoplasm, working with chemical exactitude, reforms itself into glands, organs, muscles and nerves. The product is a beast, inferior to man but superior to the highest animal on earth, except that he is totally devoid of such things as reflexes, instincts, emotions and other survival psychological processes."

As he spoke, Renzu was moulding some of the protoplasm over the framework of bones. Arlen understood now why the silver rods had protruded from the Venusian he had found on the beach. Those pieces of silver had been the creature's bones.

"I made four of the creatures on my previous expedition. Brooks helped me construct three of them, including the creature that attacked and killed Arlen on the beach. I made Gheal myself. Gheal was a masterpiece. He was almost, but not quite human. That is why I took him to earth with me."

"You're inhuman, Renzu!" McFerson managed to say. "You're less human than Gheal!"

"Gheal was more human than you think, McFerson. Brooks, you know, was killed by one of his creations. The same monster that killed Arlen accounted for him. Yet that monster, in some ways, was above average. At least he had the beginnings of an instinct. He wanted to kill. After Brooks was killed, I used his bones for Gheal's skeleton."

Arlen stared in speechless horror and amazement.

"And that isn't all. I'm going to use Arlen's bones for a creature more human than Gheal. Perhaps, McFerson, your bones may be used for something greater still. I will make other men, and women, from silver wire and protoplasm, and create a race of Venusians that will bring life to this planet. Think of a planet that has evolution beginning with man and ending with something greater than man has ever dreamed. And I, McFerson, will be the god of this race!"

McFerson tried to rise, but Gheal rose with a low throated growl, and the spaceman sank back on the ground.

Renzu had finished moulding the protoplasm over the silver bones. With the help of one of the Venusians he lifted the still form into the air and placed it carefully inside the stone behind McFerson.

The stone had been hollowed to form a rock sarcophagus.

Arlen saw in the firelight that electric wires ran from a small battery beside the box.

Renzu touched the switch.

There was a flash of blinding light and sparks flew over the box. Then Renzu turned off the current and opened the sarcophagus. He worked rapidly with his hands and then stepped back, holding his cane before him.

From the box emerged another Venusian. A replica of Gheal's three-toed companions.

For a moment the creature stood motionless, staring from the sight glands at his surroundings. Renzu struck the monster sharply with his cane. The brute moved. Again Renzu struck and the creature moved. At last it seemed to understand, after Renzu struck it repeatedly. The beast got out of the box.

Renzu belabored his creation unmercifully with the cane, each movement had to be directed.

"They have to be taught everything," Renzu said. "They understand nothing but pain. I have to beat instincts and reflexes into their dumb brains, for they have no inherited ones."

That also explained why Renzu was a complete master over Gheal. The Venusian depended on Renzu for everything.

So interested was Arlen watching Renzu train the newly made Venusian, that the captain did not hear the scrape of a leathery hide on the rocks behind him. He was unaware of the danger until a ropy cord of some vile, repulsive tentacle seized him, pulled him off his feet to the ground and dragged him toward the camp fire.

The rays of the firelight revealed Arlen's captor: a serpent as large as a python which held him in the crushing folds of its body as it moved deliberately toward Renzu.

Renzu was amazed at the sight of Arlen.

"I thought you were dead!" he gasped.

"No," Arlen said. "Your creation didn't quite succeed in killing me."

Renzu smiled. "But I see that you did bring your fine bones to me after all!" He struck the serpent sharply with his cane and the monster released his grip on Arlen. "The animal that caught you, captain, was one of our first experiments. It was by charging a string of protoplasm with electricity, that we discovered that we could make it live. The result was the pseudo-python, who makes a good watchdog, if nothing else. It's entirely harmless, since it feeds entirely on inanimate protoplasm. Unfortunately for Brooks, it was this creature that caught him and held him while No. 3—the Venusian—killed him."

"It was deliberate murder," said Arlen.

"Perhaps terrestrial law would define it as murder," Renzu said. "But here on Venus there is no law. It was a scientific experiment."

"And you will murder McFerson and me?"

"I need your skeletons. They will be a fine heritage for future races of Venusians. Think how you and McFerson will be glorified in Venusian mythology."

Renzu's eyes were glowing in the firelight with madness. Arlen looked at the hideous Venusians, seated nearby, watching idiotically. It was diabolical!

"Now comes an important decision. Shall I use you, or McFerson, first?"

McFerson closed his eyes.

"The man's insane, Cap!"

Arlen looked about him. The python was nearby, coiled neatly beside a rock, ready to spring if he tried to escape.

One of the Venusians rose and threw some shale on the fire. It was crude petroleum shale. An idea came to Arlen. If he could put out the fire, he might be able to escape in the darkness.

Then Arlen remembered. His disintegrator was still in his pocket. Renzu, interested in his experiment, had forgotten to search him, believing perhaps that Arlen had been disarmed in the attack on the beach.

Arlen was tempted to use the weapon now, and to blast Renzu and his hideous tribe of monsters out of existence. But to kill a man without giving him a chance was not Arlen's way of doing things. The Venusians, too, now had a right to live. Had they attacked, Arlen would not have hesitated to kill, but Arlen realized that the only vicious Venusian was dead. Perhaps Renzu himself had taught that single Venusian how to kill.

"McFerson," spoke Arlen, "are you all right? Did Gheal hurt you?"

"He bloodied my nose and knocked me out," McFerson said. "He didn't mean to harm me. Gheal really is gentle as a kitten."

"I think I will use your bones first, Arlen," said Renzu. "You may sit down beside McFerson. I may as well warn you that there is no chance of escape. The python guards the only way back and my Venusians enjoy the creation of another of their kind. They won't let a chance to see it be spoiled."

Renzu began filling some woven baskets with the inanimate protoplasm as Arlen sat down beside his companion.

"Could you run for it, if I knocked out the campfire?" Arlen asked.

"I can run, but how will you knock out the fire?"

Vic Arlen acted quickly. His hand brought the disintegrator out of his pocket and he fired straight into the center of the campfire. The atomic blast instantly consumed the inflammable material in the fire and the plateau was dark.

"Run!" Arlen cried. "And look out for the python."

Arlen sprang forward. He heard a leathery scrape ahead of him. It was the serpent. He dodged back. Suddenly from behind came a hoarse cry.

Arlen turned, ready to blast the Venusian that had shouted. But the Venusian did not attack. Instead, it darted forward, and with a flying leap it sprang upon the python. A roar came from the Venusian's throat.

It was Gheal. Arlen would have recognized the voice anywhere.

The faint glow from the volcanoes showed him the edge of the plateau.

Renzu was screaming behind him and he heard the pad-pad of the running feet of the three remaining Venusians. But Arlen was clear and McFerson was running beside him.

Arlen took his flashlight from his pocket and used it to follow the narrow ledge down the mountain into the canyon. Behind the two men, sounds of pursuit grew fainter.

"We're safe," Arlen said, slackening his pace. "Renzu won't follow us as long as he knows we're armed."

"He's armed, too," McFerson said.

"He wants our bones too badly to use a disintegrator on us," Arlen laughed.

The two men traveled on. The Venusian dawn came swiftly.

"You see, Mac," Arlen went on, "we're not human beings to Renzu, but part of an experiment. Science has overshadowed Renzu's sense of values. Perhaps he murdered Jimmy Brooks; we know he would have murdered us to perfect an experiment. Renzu was creating life, and he would kill to do it. He wanted to be the god of a world that started with a complex organism instead of a simple microbe."

"The only trouble is that the life lacked instincts that it took terrestrial animals millions of years to acquire," McFerson added.

"That's what creation may be, Mac," said Arlen. "We did more in a few minutes than Renzu did with all his scientific knowledge. Gheal learned the meaning of gratitude. I treated him kindly, and he repaid me by helping us escape."

They reached the ship. The sea was boiling over the sands. Here and there, along the water's edge as the dawn broke over Venus, they saw globose formations of inanimate Venusian protoplasm, seemingly awaiting the spark that would turn them into living organisms.

Venus was in an azoic age, but life was beginning to appear. It was life created by a human god, who also was a human devil, a monster. Future generations of Venusians might worship Harry Renzu, unknowing that it was the lowly Gheal that brought the first worthwhile instinct to their race.

Somewhere, far behind in the canyon, were four hideous monsters and a beast that resembled a serpent. This stampede of protoplasmic creation was led by its mad god, driven onward by the lust of this insane demiurge for the bones of his fellow deities.

"Okay!" said Arlen, priming the rockets.

"Okay!" shouted McFerson.

The Traveler was ready to rocket home.

End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of Genesis!, by R.R. Winterbotham


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