My thoughts were now turned to the long journey before me. So deeply absorbed had I been in the rapid events since I left the observatory, that I had given little thought to time. My great happiness at meeting and being with Zarlah had caused me to forget completely the importance of returning to the observatory within two hours, and as the thought now flashed through my mind, I hastily consulted the time. To my great dismay I found I had but twenty minutes in which to cover quarter of Mars. This I knew was possible, but it left such a narrow margin that any delay or accident, en route, would prove disastrous to our plans, thus bringing fatal consequences.
We had now reached the large canal in which we had attained such great speed, and, rising, we proceeded to pass over it. As we crossed the banks there came a rushing sound from beneath us, as of a mighty gust of wind, and, looking through one of the small windows in the side of the car, I saw in the distance a speck, which, in another moment, disappeared. Our aerenoid now gently rocked with the motion of a boat that is in the swell of a passing steamer, and I instantly realized that another aerenoid, travelling at a terrific speed, had passed in the canal beneath us.
We had now reached the canal that ran parallel to the one over which we had just passed. This was in every way similar to the first and was used by aerenoids going in an opposite direction. Into this canal we turned, sinking lower as our speed increased, until, when we had reached our maximum speed, we were travelling not more than thirty feet above the water. Thus, whenever necessary, we were ready for an instant plunge in order to reduce our speed, and thus did this simple rule of starting high and sinking lower as the speed increased make collisions impossible.
As it was late in the afternoon when we started, the daylight soon faded, and in a few minutes we had reached complete darkness, the double line of lights on the canal banks being our only guide. Anxiously did I count the minutes as we sped along, but knowing the danger of distracting Reon’s attention, even for a moment, while we were travelling at such a terrific speed, I kept silent, nor did I allow my manner to give any evidence of my anxiety.
I now realized that if I reached the observatory in time, I would owe my life to Zarlah. Twice had she reminded me of my duties at the observatory, and had insisted upon my immediate departure, when, under the influence of her great beauty, I would have lingered until too late. My mind was fully determined as to how to proceed with regard to righting the wrong I felt I had done Almos, in confessing to Zarlah my love for her. I would leave a note for him at the observatory to the effect that I wished to communicate with him the following evening, when I would tell him all.