We were silent and motionless for quite a time after making contact with the ground. Perhaps this behavior will seem surprising, but we felt the need to recover our wits and concentrate our energy. We were launched on an adventure a thousand times more extraordinary than that of the first terrestrial navigators and were preparing ourselves to confront the wonders of interstellar travel that have fired the imaginations of several generations of poets.
For the moment, talking of wonders, we had landed without a hitch on the grass of a planet that contained, as ours did, oceans, mountains, forests, cultivated fields, towns, and certainly inhabitants. Yet we must have been fairly far from the civilized regions, considering the stretch of jungle over which we had flown before touching down.
We eventually came out of our daydream. Having donned our diving suits, we carefully opened one porthole of the launch. There was no hiss of ^air. The pressures inside and outside were the same. The forest surrounded the clearing like the walls of a fortress. Not a sound, not a movement disturbed it. The temperature was high but bearable: about seventy-seven degrees Fahrenheit.
We climbed out of the launch, accompanied by Hector. Professor Antelle insisted first of all on analyzing the atmosphere by a more precise method. The result was encouraging: the air had the same composition as the Earth's, in spite of some differences in the proportion of the rare gases. It was undoubtedly breathable. Yet, to make doubly sure, we tried it out first on our chimpanzee. Rid of his suit, the monkey appeared perfectly happy and in no way inconvenienced. He seemed overjoyed to find himself free and on land. After a few skips and jumps, he scampered off to the forest, sprang into a tree, and continued his capering in the branches. He drew farther away and finally disappeared, ignoring our gestures and shouts.
Then, shedding our own space suits, we were able to talk easily. We were startled by the sound of our voices, and ventured only timidly to take a step or two without moving too far from our launch.
There was no doubt that we were on a twin planet of our Earth. Life existed. The vegetable realm was, in fact, particularly lush: some of these trees must have been over a hundred and fifty feet tall. The animal kingdom soon appeared in the form of some big black birds, hovering in the sky like vultures, and other smaller ones, rather like parakeets, that chased one another chirping shrilly. From what we had seen before landing, we knew that a civilization existed, too. Rational beings—we dared not call them men yet—had molded the face of the planet. Yet the forest all around us appeared to be uninhabited. This was scarcely surprising; landing at random in some corner of the Asiatic jungle, we should have had the same impression of solitude.
Before taking a further step, we felt it was urgent to give the planet a name. We christened it Soror, because of its resemblance to our Earth.
Deciding to make an initial reconnaissance without delay, we entered the forest, following a sort of natural path. Arthur Levain and I were armed with carbines. As for the professor, he scorned material weapons. We felt light-footed and walked briskly: not that our weight was less than on Earth—there again the similarity was complete—but the contrast with the ship's force of gravity prompted us to scamper along like young goats.
We were marching hi single file, calling out every now and then to Hector, but with no success, when young Levain, who was leading, stopped and motioned us to listen. A murmur, like running water, could be heard in the distance. We made our way in that direction and the sound became clearer.
It was a waterfall. On coming to it, all three of us were moved by the beauty of the site. A stream of water, clear as our mountain torrents, twisted above our heads, spread out into a sheet on a ledge of level ground, and feE at our feet from a height of several yards into a sort of lake, a natural swimming pool fringed with rocks mingled with sand, the surface of which reflected the light of Betelguese, which was then at its zenith.
The sight of this water was so tempting that the same urge seized both Levain and me. The heat was now intense. We took off our clothes and got ready to dive into the lake. But Professor Antelle cautioned us to behave with a little more prudence when coming up against the system of Betelguese for the first time. Perhaps this liquid was not water at all and might be extremely dangerous. He went up to the edge of it, bent down, examined it, then cautiously touched it with his finger. Finally he scooped a little up in the palm of his hand, smelled it, and wetted the end of his tongue with it.
"It can't be anything but water," he muttered.
He bent down again to plunge his hand into the lake, when we saw him suddenly stiffen. He gave an exclamation of surprise and pointed toward something he had just discerned in the sand. I experienced, I believe, the most violent emotion of my life. There, beneath the scorching rays of Betelgeuse that filled the sky above our heads like an enormous red balloon, visible to all of us and admirably outlined on a little patch of damp sand, was the print of a human foot.