Eyes of the Beholder | Teen Ink

Eyes of the Beholder

October 8, 2011
By Bellairs, Ambler, Pennsylvania
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Bellairs, Ambler, Pennsylvania
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Favorite Quote:
We are born naked, screaming, wet, and hungry. Then things get worse.

Author's note: I read many sci-fi books from the 70's and 80's, which are markedly different from those of today. They were full of hope, strange ideas, and many things that defy the laws of science (but made for a good book anyways). I wanted to capture that kind of tone in a novel, so here it is.

The author's comments:
Please excuse any html tags, this story was written for another online application first...

Drask looked out from his bedroom window, through the triple barrier forcefield, and out into the Venusian landscape.

Even though the outer most barrier was tinted blue to be easier on the eyes, the dull red glow of molten metal permeated the human colony and lit the small squat structures at all hours. Time moved faster here, each day was roughly half as long as a long as a normal earth day.

Most people came out at first mid-night to move around, and went to sleep at second sun. The heat on the surface was uncomfortable, even though the force fields were designed to block out Venus's 735 Kelvin temperature. The air, which always bore an acrid edge as well as being stale, carried the humming of the 15 generators making the forcefields.

Drask took all this in. He knew every little part of every piece of equipment here on Venus. It was he, in his 30's on earth, who first pioneered the idea of colonizing Venus. It was he, at 48, who submitted the complete plans of a colony to the Government.

12 years later, he was on the first colony ship that landed on rare a patch of un-molten ground, latched on to the bare rock, and spat out the high performance robots that could work in the heat and pressure of Venus's atmosphere.

It was he, at 66, who was the first man to marry a woman on the surface of Venus, in the little colony of Venusterra.

Drask was now 71.
The three barriers had held for 17 years since the colony was set up, five generators for each barrier.

The outermost kept the bulk of the temperature, sulfuric rains, and molten metals out. A second inside the first blocked out the gasses, dangerous radiation, and more heat. The last one inside kept in the mixture of nitrogen and hydrogen necessary for human life, as well as maintaining atmospheric pressure.

The air was regularly recycled and filtered, leaving a metallic smell that permeated the colony. That smell, as well as the constant humming, made it feel like the inside of a cooling unit if, Drask thought ironically, it weren't so hot here.

Despite all of the technology present here in Venusterra, the place was nothing more than a glorified mining town. There was no culture, no art, not much music. Most of the creature comforts were shipped here from Earth at a huge expense. What there wasn't a lack of here was resources. Metals of every kind were present below the surface and floated on pools of molten lead outside of the barrier.

Every month a few automated Boats left to harvest more molten metals from the outside. The Boats were huge metallic-silica alloy structures that floated precariously on the molten surface. About 1/3 of them come back intact, carrying a huge amount of steaming metal to be carved into ingots and shipped back to earth.

All this work paid for the food and water, two things not found anywhere on Venus.

Drask wasn't in charge of that though. His secretary, Miss Scarper, was 20 years old than he and haggled like the Devil himself. A rare smile touched his lips as he thought fondly of that old woman that had worked begrudgingly at the same table outside his office for the last 15 years, straightening accounts and yelling at the mine director to get his drunken men off the streets.

The door clicked open and shut behind him as Thilda, his wife, came in and embraced her husband. For a moment, they were silent as Drask enjoyed a warmth quite different from the hellish heat of Venus. He'd know Hilda for 28 years, although it was only 5 years ago that they got married. They both knew it was unnecessary; they had been man and wife in heart for a longer time than that.

Thilda was a scientist like him. They worked along side each other in designing the colony. Now that the planning was finished, she worked as a community leader while he led the Research and Development division.

Thilda spoke first. "Another young one today?", she asked in a gentle voice.

Drask laughed, a short barking sound before replying, "At our age it seems most of the population is young, but yes. Henry, 28 years old."
That young man, Henry, walked out into the molten hell that was Venus, just like 16 others before him. They didn't wear a suit (which failed almost immediately under the intense conditions) or go in a vehicle (for the same reasons).

They went in the body of another being.

After the initial colonization, the secondary goal was to explore the entire planet. Patches of stable ground are exceedingly rare on Venus. In addition, mapping was near impossible to do on a widespread scale using sonar or radar. Constant clouds blocked satellite imaging as well.

The only way it seemed plausible was going over ground and exploring physically.

After mechanized creations failed the R&D department, they began researching mind transfer. Build a creature that could stand the environment, but put the human mind inside. The human body was left behind in a coma while the other body went outside of the three shields.

Seventeen bodies still lie there in the room, waiting for their minds to come back to them.
The day had begun with Drask sitting at his desk, poring over the diagrams of the Walker. It resembled a crystalline sloth with long chicken legs, except the legs had webbed toes that extended for a meter outwards from the foot, nearly as long as the leg itself. The body had been plated with layers of silica-metal (which also made up the legs) that should protect it from the heat and molten liquids.

These experiments could never be conducted on Earth. No amount of equipment could ever recreate the pressure and other conditions of Venus's harsh surface. The proposed body would simply slough into so much dust in the relative vacuum of earth’s atmosphere.

Even though he had lived for 71 years during Earth's most enlightened times, Drask found it hard to understand the make up of the Walker. The chemistry that allowed it to breath, pump "blood", and "think" were all too alien for him to comprehend.

He plodded on anyways, looking for any excuse to delay the message that should arrive anytime now-


Drask sighed and picked up the comm. "Hello?"

Miss Scarper's sharp but rasping voice replied, dripping with sarcasm, "It's that time of the week again oh Glorious Leader. One “Henry” here to apply for the Mars Exploration Program."

Drask does not comment on her tone but simply replied, "Alright, send him in."

Just looking at the young man sent pangs of both anger and sadness through Drask. Why does it always have to be the young that volunteer? They have so much more to do in life...

"Hello Henry. You have passed through our weekly selection process to become qualified for this job", Drask's tone was hard and as practiced as a recorded message, "In another few hours, your mind will be transferred into the body of a Walker, and sent out into the Venus surface to begin exploring. Please understand that you are not being compelled to do this by anyone, you may quit at any step of this process and no one will judge you for it. Sixteen other men have already gone before you. Understand that you need not go."

For a second, Drask saw something in the eyes of Henry akin to fear, but the hope he would not go was quickly squashed.

"I'm ready."

"Very well, sign here..."
Thirty minutes before the transfer. Drask was working at his desk when the com buzzed again.


Drask picked up the comm and heard Miss Scarper's voice again, "It's time for you to go down now and witness the transfer."

She spoke again as he walked past her desk outside his door. Her voice would have froze the Venusian air, "I hope that you're going to succeed one of these days."

Drask turned to look at her before speaking carefully, "We don't know that we haven't succeeded, it's just that-"

"Bull. Those 16 other men hasn't come back and most likely never will.”, she was on a roll now, her voice steadily rising to a screeching crescendo, “You and your scientists must know that by now. How long are you going to let things run like this? How many more people?"

Drask looked at the sitting figure of Miss Scarper. So fiercely independent all of her life. Even now, when she was little more than skin and bones, her face having lost its softness of years past, her eyes still seem to pierce into the very depth of the world. Seeing everything in a crystal clear view.

"As long as there is reasonable doubt." Drask left knowing that Miss Scarper was right and the answer he gave wasn't an answer, not really.
Right after the transfer, he was looking out into the blazing world that is real Venus and the shambling strides of the Walker that contained Henry's mind. They would wait for another thirty minutes before signaling using special large flares and then another thirty minutes before the machines start combing the nearby surroundings.

Deep in Drask's heart, he knew they would not find anything.
So it was with a heavy heart that Drask trudged back to his office. Before he even got near the door, however, he could hear the sounds of intense arguing.

“You two stay right here until Drask comes back!”, that commanding tone had to be Miss Scarper, “You’re going to explain yourselves and your ‘creation’-”

Another voice replied with an oily manner that Drask disliked immensely, “Miss Scarper, I assure you that whatever you might have heard about the Walker was entirely misleading...no cause for alarm at all...”

A heavy ball of dread started to form at the bottom of Drask’s stomach. What were the talking about? The Walker? Was there a problem? His trudging steps became a fast trot that bordered on a run.

“Look here”, the wheedling voice was that of the head biologist, “I’m not sure that we’ve done anything ‘wrong’ at all! We were working for the best interests of the community-”

“I believe I will be the judge of that.”, the sentence had been sounded with each word bitten off coming out of Drask’s mouth. He had just turned the corner and came face to face with Miss Scarper, the Head Biologist, and the Finance Supervisor. Miss Scarper had been blocking the path of the other two men, standing with her hands on her hips, looking like a demented grandma with a deep scowl on her face.

The Finance Supervisor towered over her, with a smile that was as brilliant as it was false. Behind him stood the Head Biologist, who had started when Drask appeared, looked like the proverbial kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar. Fittingly, it was Miss Scarper’s sharp ear that caught him.

She was raging now, “You had better all explain yourselves RIGHT NOW. Drask, they were talking about the Walker body miners had found in one of the mine shafts today. These two were talking about how to cover the whole thing up of course.”

Drask felt his blood run cold.

He never fully understood the process of how the Walkers were made, even when he was right there as they were being made. All he ever saw was them slowly “growing” it in a tank connected to the conditions outside of the forcefield.

His mind ran at a thousand miles per hour. If they found a corpse below ground that didn’t instantly vaporize in the low pressure of the inner forcefield, it must have been old enough to have fossilized, but that meant...

“Are the Walkers native to Venus?” The question was a whisper coming out of Drask’s lips in the silence after Miss Scarper’s rant. The other three people just looked at him, as if to confirm the revelation.

Drask took a deep breath. “Get in my office.”
Now he was sitting on his bed, looking over at Thilda, who sat on the other side of the bed. She took the truth of what happened really well, listening without comment. He continued.

“It was all for money. Money, money, money.” The bitterness in his voice would not be contained, “To open up the exploration of Venus would be a huge step forward in increasing mining activity. So when they found the first fossil, the Finance Supervisor told the biologists to study it and replicate it without my consent.”

Thilda finally spoke, with a soft and soothing voice, “They did that because they knew you wouldn’t go along with it. Endangering so many young men...you would never have allowed it with an untested species of extraterrestrial. If you had spoken out against it, all the people in Venusterra would band behind you. Drask...you were the most responsible one of all.”

Yes, I am, he thought to himself, but not in the way she means. “I am responsible, for the demise of 17 young men that walked out into the Venusian storm and never came back. No, don’t argue. You know that if I truly wanted to, I could have forced my way into the Bio Lab and made them tell me. I just never did, I wanted it to succeed, at any costs...” he sighed to himself again. “I am responsible.”

Thilda realized that it was useless to disagree. Drask was a very solid and good man, that was one of the reasons that she loved him so, but sometimes, he’s too good for his own sake. She whispered back, “What are you going to do now?”

He picked his head up to look into his beloved’s aged, lined, beautiful face.

“I don’t know.”
Drask still didn’t know what to do the next morning, sitting in his office. The Finance Supervisor had given him and the R&D Department an ultimatum. Go along with it, or prepare to lose all funding.

Either murder more men or face the end of the road for Venusian exploration. Miss Scarper’s voice came out from his memory, how long are you going to let things run like this? How many more people?

Drask knew, more than anyone else, how many people he had wasted and sent to their demise. He approves and speaks to each applicant before they go out. He kept a file underneath his desk for each of the 17 men who had gone out.

Clifford was an aspiring writer, looking to retire in comfort after coming back and writing a book about life on Venus.

Dranny had served in the Venusian militia, kept the peace and earned more than one proud scar. His body was slowly decaying without his regular exercise.

Henry, the most recent one, had been young enough to be his own son. So bright, so much promise...

A single tear fell.
It was 5 Venusian hours later when he finally buzzed Miss Scarper.

He said into the comm, “I have a message for the Bio Lab. Tell them to prepare for two more transfers before shutting down.”

Drask could feel Miss Scarper stiffening in rage and quickly cut her off before she started to yell, “You will have the specs on both. The first one’s my wife, Thilda”

For the first time in her life, Miss Scarper found herself speechless. When she finally got her voice back, she could only murmur in quiet shock, “Are you mad? You wife, your own wife, you’ve been together for so many years together and now-”

“I know,” Drask said. “She would be absolutely furious if I left without her, now wouldn’t she?”

Miss Scarper found herself speechless for the second time in her life, which lasted for an entire 8 minutes before she called the Bio Lab.
There was a tremendous amount of work to be done before his transfer. Papers needed to be filled out, physicals had to be updated in preparation. Also, Drask gave a personal speech to all of Venusterra.

He was very brief about it, voicing the real source of the Walkers as well as commending all those who had transferred into the alien bodies. He also stated his own resolve to leave, instating Miss Scarper as the temporary head of R&D for “as long as he would be away”.

Drask had also exposed the Finance Supervisor’s involvement with the program. Local citizens looking for the man had spotted him on a shuttle bound for earth. Most likely he will resign and never return. “If he knows what’s good for him”, Miss Scarper had added, grimly.

It was 2 hours before the transfer.
“Remember to dismember all the machines, as well as dispose of all other ‘living’ specimens that we have”, Drask, even when strapped naked into the transfer machine, talked with absolute authority.

Thilda giggled in the machine beside him.


“That’s you alright, still giving orders up until the last minute.”

Drask grinned, “I’m not done yet.” He turned to the assistant. “In all probability, we’re not coming back. If we found that something is killing the Walkers, we will draw an X sign where the robots will find it...”

“...and if you find something wrong with the body itself, you will come back and tell us. You’ve already said this and we understand sir.” The assistant bowed and went back to work.

10 minutes before transfer.
The actual process of moving a mind was an anti-climax. It seemed as though he simply fell asleep and reawakened in another body.

Drask noticed some things about his new body. One, all the aches, pains, and stiffness that come with old age had completely disappeared. It was as if all those years stuffed in the body of a human were part of a dream.

He stood up and flexed, bellowing at the top of his lungs, which leads to the second thing he noticed. There was no tongue in his mouth. His mouth! Why it was nothing more than a beak, two great snubbed things that moved open and shut. There was also no noise at all, the air had traveled out of his “lungs”, but there was no vocalization, no sense of noise...

There was no sound. It seemed that it was a deafening, stifling thing, to be in the complete silence. Slowly, he began to take inventory of his various senses. True, there was no sound or noises, but there was light. His “eyes” picked up a strange brilliant wall around him, shimmering in undulating waves that changed from a deep violet to a dazzling blue.

After some time, Drask realized that it was the forcefields! The chamber where the Walkers are released is located underground and extended out of the ground to right outside the outermost forcefield. Cool surging lights pulsed in a harmony that Drask thought he understood in the last 17 years...

The motion of movement was not the staggering, shambling run that always incurred such pity from those who watched the Walkers. No more jarring impacts as the foot met the ground like in a human body, each foot came down squarely onto the rock as the other foot moved forward with a mechanical grace. It was a purposeful stride, neither hurried nor sluggish.

That stride carried him onward and out, OUT.

For a moment, he simply stared.

It was a golden country, a real golden country. Drask had expected stifling heat, massive waves of lava, smoke and gases which stung the eyes...but not gold.

And it was gold. The red glow which he had known for so long had mellowed out into a long plain of wheat. Heat waves shimmered on the real lava waves on the surface, fleeting flickers on a bright landscape. The air felt so free, so gloriously open, so different from inside the pressurized dome.

Drask realized that he was seeing. Not just light, but all energy. Shades of purple showed the thickness of clouds. Darken gold and bright red, the roiling paths of cooling elements on the surface of the lava.

Mists of boiled rock flare across the scenery like flashes of wild fire. Blue flames of Sulfur, red bursts of mercury. Puddles of melted zinc flowed in little rivulets...

Behind him, a massive blue dome, a giant boil on the beautiful Venusian landscape.

Suddenly, he could feel another presence, someone he knew without even turning around. Thilda walked up to stand next to him, silently staring in wonder at the scene before them.

Drask felt her. He was aware of her and he knew she was aware of him. Their minds opened to each other, gush into and between one another with a silent joy of sharing. Memories and feelings flooded their connection, Drask felt the same warmth from her mind as he had in real life, even though they were closer than they’ve ever been.

Together, they took the first steps off solid ground and onto the molten mass of the beyond, their large webbed feet supporting them on the surface tension of the liquid.

For many moments, they shared each other and the world around them.
From her mind he felt her speak to him.

“What now?”
“I don’t know.”
“We have not died, which is a good sign.”
“Really? Now, what else are you thinking right now?”
“You can tell? Are you-”
“Yes, we both are.”

It was a new sensation, similar to using one hand for a task and using the other hand for another task. As they were talking, parts of their mind wandered and just thought. Thoughts about anything and everything, the wind, the feeling of their feet, the clouds and metals...

There was also a far off pulse, a subtlety lost in their first moments of amazement which they now picked up. At once their minds began to race in time to the tune.

“I just thought-“
“Of something-“
“Wait, you first.”

Thilda seemed to beam with wonder.

“The clouds, a new type of habitat, bringing up the cities on giant balloons, calibrated to float above the lava at normal atm-”
“Made with a metal/quartz compound strengthened by electro-tension?”
“How did you know?”
“I think we’re thinking in the same direction, sharing our minds.”

In response to the last thought, the far off pulse seemed to grow stronger, calling them. It filled the back of their minds, like a music made by the stars themselves. Soaring, climbing, pulsing. Millennia of hatred, of human pettiness could be swept away in a moment by this wondrous mental sound.
Here ends the story of Drask and Thilda. They vanished, like every other person sent out in the form of a Walker.

What did they find out there, in the vast mystery of Venus? A civilization perhaps, or wisdom, or happiness, or all of them. They left behind a choice for the other Men and Women to make, a choice they had already taken.

For once they had seen from the eyes of such a beholder, who could force them to return to such squalor and ignorance? They did leave a little something behind.

An arrow, simply pointing south.

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This book has 1 comment.

MadisHeart said...
on Aug. 7 2013 at 11:15 am
MadisHeart, Norman, Oklahoma
0 articles 0 photos 38 comments
Wow, this is an amazingly complex new world, I love it! :) Mind checking out my book just for fun?