By. Joshua Scully
The cable ladder twisted violently in a ripping burst of wind. Distracted by some distant irregularity not yet observed by the others, Zane Graham lost his precarious hold onto a rung some fifty-five kilometers above the Venusian surface. Falling backward, he yelped a panicked but indiscernible vocalization over his transmitter.
Graham fell for several meters before striking the support housing over the third habitation module with an audible resonance. He limply rolled off this metallic surface, becoming lost in the swirling atmospheric cream below the habitation.
Villavicencio and Hays, several rungs below from where Graham had fallen, desperately clung to the ladder. Both silently hoped that Graham was killed by his collision with the habitation. Otherwise, their friend would endure an agonizing plummet toward Venus. If he was alive, he would most likely survive the first few minutes of his fall before increasing heat and pressure simultaneously baked and crushed him.
Hurriedly adjusting a satchel strap across her chest, Villavicencio worried the sack of equipment would conspire with the wind and threaten her balance. The relentlessly boisterous gale managed to find every crevice in her protective suit. The suit material was created to protect against the acidic content of the Venusian atmosphere, but the crew had taken to not donning the suits as carefully or completely as intended. With the pressure and temperatures in this stretch of the atmosphere so similar to those of Earth, goosebumps prompted by the chill or shrill of extraterrestrial wind were possible, and some of the crew enjoyed such an experience.
Villavicencio looked upward along suspension cables and toward the torus. The massive hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen-filled balloon seemed perfectly intact from this vantage.
However, *Concordia*, the marvelous, floating habitation and the haven of over two dozen crewmembers, was slowly descending toward the hellish surface of Venus.
That descent would continue if Villavicencio and Hays were unable to locate and patch whatever hole had appeared in the torus. The *Concordia* presently floated over the *Trotula Corona*, one of the bizarre arachnoid structures that are chaotically scattered around the Venusian surface.
Allegedly an extinct and strange kin of the familiar volcano, arachnoids were named such for their uncanny resemblance to spider webs.
Some two hundred hours earlier, while the torus and habitation sailed over the same region of the surface, another seepage had developed. Both the previous and present holes appeared suddenly and in unusual places that were beyond the range of the automatic seal generator. Thankfully, Graham and Villavicencio were able to repair the initial puncture.
Hays was brought along on this second occasion because a need for a third set of hands had existed during the previous repair effort.
Of course, the lives of the remaining *Concordia* crew now rested solely in the hands of Abril Villavicencio. She certainly hadn’t traveled forty million kilometers between worlds to allow *Concordia* to meet such a dire fate.
Different thoughts rambled through Villavicencio’s brain when she reached the rung from which Graham had slipped. She briefly imaged his scorched, deformed remains ensnared in a silky trap of an earthly arachnid. The image was vivid in her mind.
“Another ten rungs!” Villavicencio called out.
After a few more upward steps, Villavicencio reached out for the support lattice underneath the torus. She pulled herself onto the platform and sighed in relief before twisting herself in a position to offer Hays a hand.
Once both were securely on the lattice, Villavicencio and Hays crawled far beyond the outline of the habitation suspended below. Only a menacing swirl of opaque clouds was visible between the intertwined cables that constituted the lattice.
Hays ambled behind his partner. He refused to look down into the tormented atmosphere. He kept his eyes up at the colossal, beige form of the torus.
That’s when he noticed an anomaly.
“What the hell?”
There was a black cylinder protruding from the torus. Hays suspected the bizarre shape was the roughly the size of his forearm.
Villavicencio had also noticed the foreign object. She positioned the satchel beside her, carefully removing various tools and several canisters of sealant.
Villavicencio reached up with a gloved hand and pulled the metallic cylinder free of the torus. The rush of gasses escaping the enormous balloon intensified, but Villavicencio remained focused on the obvious point at one end of the cylinder.
“Definitely a projectile,” she offered. “Intelligent design. Maybe metal, but it’s sticky.”
Hays hurriedly switched the channel on his transmitter and relayed these observations to the bridge.
Villavicencio was well aware that there was a possibility some form of life existed within this zone of the Venusian atmosphere. She placed the bizarre discovery on the lattice, trying her hardest to momentarily flush the implications of this find from her mind. She selected a new canister of sealant and a particular clamp to begin the repair.
“And oily,” she added, noticing a residue left on her gloves after handling the object. “Make sure you let them know that I can’t tell if that thing is manufactured or organic.”
She turned to Hays, as she needed his help to manipulate the heavy clamp.
However, Hays didn’t communicate this final observation.
He became quiet for a brief second before erupting in a pained scream. Another sticky, slimy cylinder had slipped through the lattice and ripped through his thigh.
Villavicencio switched her transmitter to the bridge and was shouting that assistance was needed when she noticed a countless number of pointed, black cylinders rocket upward from the hazy patchwork of clouds below the habitation.
Just before the torus was speared by several dozen of these projectiles, Villavicencio remembered a very detailed image of the *Trotula Corona* she and the other crewmembers had studied before the mission.
On Earth, spiders made use of webs, bolas, and pheromones to capture prey.
Villavicencio wondered if, perhaps, an extraterrestrial variety had learned a new trick.
Joshua Scully is an American History teacher from Pennsylvania. He writes whenever possible.
Tristan Barton is a composer from Australia.