Venus is the goddess of love and Venus is the planet of love. And when I slipped beneath the clouds that shroud the second planet from our Sun I was both surprised and pleased to find a place covered with forests and vegetation and teeming with animal life. Surprised since unmanned probes had indicated it was a barren world covered with mountains of molten lava. Pleased since this meant my stay would not be unpleasant.

The surface of Venus, as I now beheld it, consisted of gently rolling plains that stretched to the horizon. The winds, which had roared in the atmosphere, at the surface were a mere whisper. This was a lightly cratered world (meteorites quickly burned up in the dense sulfuric atmosphere) and those craters I did come upon were both enormous and shallow. There were two highland areas: Ishtar Terra in the north and Aphrodite Terra in the south. Both were the size of large continents. There was also an enormous mountain range, Maxwell Montes, of volcanic origin.

In 1686 the Frenchman Bernard de Fontenelle wrote that the inhabitants of Venus were a small black race, burned by the sun, full of wit and fire, playing lutes with gay abandon, and always in love.

The nymphs, when I saw them, were tall, white as snow, and quite reclusive. I saw no signs of musical instruments, but the nymphs did always seem to be singing, a sweet plaintive wail. They darted away when I emerged from my spaceship, their eyes wide with fright.

There was one maiden--I named her Ariel--who was not shy like the others. She gazed at me as if she was entranced and most likely she was, never having seen a human. She was wearing a white dress and sandals. Her complexion was rosy, her smile enticing. Her long blond hair fell to a thin waist. The beauty of her light-green eyes was intoxicating and I called out her name as I drew near. Alas, a fateful mistake! She had never heard a human voice--or those airy syllables Ar-i-el--and with a cry she turned and fled across the Venusian plain. I followed her for as long as I was able, but the distance between us slowly increased. I think she thought it was a game, for several times she looked back and laughed.

Just then I realized it was growing hotter. I looked around and saw that the vegetation had vanished and the forests had melted away into nothingness. The air once light and fresh now was heavy and nearly unbreathable. I saw volcanoes erupting, oozing lava into pancake-like puddles. Endless stretches of craters and canyons and desiccated plains. I realized I had deceived myself. Venus was a long-dead world and the fair Ariel but an illusion. Or perhaps not. Perhaps Ariel and her sister nymphs had existed once and I was but an illusion to them.