Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams
slipping past under the speed of their plane, “this must be the worst. I'd sooner live on Luna or one of the asteroids.”
    Yarol tilted the segir bottle to his lips and evoked an eloquent gurgle from its depths.
    “Five days of flying over this scenery would give anyone the jitters,” he pronounced. “I'd never have thought I'd be glad to see a mountain range as ugly as that, but it looks like Paradise now,” and he nodded toward the black, jagged slopes of the polar mountains that marked their journey's end so far as flying was concerned; for despite their great antiquity the peaks were jagged and rough as mountains new-wrenched from a heaving world.
    Smith brought the plane down at the foot of the rising black slopes. There was a triangular gap there with a streak of white down its side, a landmark he had been watching for, and the plane slid quietly into the shelter to lie protected under the shelving rock. From here progress must be made afoot and painfully through the mountains. Thete was no landing-place any nearer their goal than this. Yet in measure of distance they had not far to go.
    The two climbed stiffly out. Smith stretched his long legs and sniffed the air. It was bitterly cold, and tinged with that nameless, dry salt smell of eon-dead seas which is encountered nowhere in the known universe save in the northern saltlands of Mars. He faced the mountains doubtfully. From their beginnings here, he knew, they rolled away, jagged and black and deadly, to the very Pole. Snow lay thickly upon them in the brief Martian winter, unmarked by any track until it melted for the canals, carving deeper runnels into the already jig-sawed peaks.
    Once in the very long-past days, so the little whispering fanatic had said, Mars was a green world. Seas had spread here, lapping the feet of gentler mountains, and in the slopes of those hills a mighty city once lay — a nameless city, so far as the present generations of man remembered, and a nameless star shone down upon it from a spot in the heavens now empty — the Lost Planet, shining on a lost city. The dwellers there must have seen the catastrophe which blasted that sister planet from the face of the sky. And if the little man were right, the gods of that Lost Planet had been saved from the wreckage and spirited across the void to a dwelling-place in this greatly honored city of the mountains that is not even a memory today.
    And time passed, so the story went. The city aged — the gods aged — the planet aged. At last, in some terrible catastrophe, the planet heaved under the city's foundations, the mountains shook it into ruins and folded themselves into new and dreadful shapes. The seas receded, the fertile soil slipped away from the rocks and time swallowed up the very memory of that city which once had been the dwelling-place of gods — which was still, so the hoarse whisper had told them, the dwelling-place of gods.
    “Must have been right around here somewhere,” said Smith, “that those two found the cave.”
    “Out around the slope to the left,” agreed Yarol. “Let's go.” He squinted up at the feeble sun.
    “Not very long past dawn. We ought to be back again by dark if things go right.” They left the ship in its shelter and struck out across the salt drylands, the harsh scrub brushing about their knees and their breath clouding the thin air as they advanced. The slope curved away to the left, rising in rapid ascent to black peaks that were unscalable and forbidding. The only hope of penetrating that wall lay in finding the cavern that their predecessors had fled . . . and in that cavern— Smith loosened the heat-gun in its holster at his side.

    They had plodded for fifteen minutes through the scrub, dry snow rising under their feet and the harsh salt air frosting their breath, before the mouth of the cave they were hunting appeared darkly under the overhanging rock they had been told of.
    The two peered in doubtfully. That jagged floor might

Similar Books

The Rainbow Troops

Andrea Hirata

Lost & Found Love

Laura Browning

Purge of Prometheus

Jon Messenger

Screening Room

Alan Lightman

Six Poets

Alan Bennett

Part of the Pride

Kevin Richardson

The Last Kind Words

Tom Piccirilli