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Monkey Planet

By Pierre Boulle

This is an excerpt from the original novel, Monkey Planet, by Pierre Boulle (English Translation by Xan Fielding). The novel is significantly different than the film, primarily in the fact that the apes drives cars, live in cities, watch television, and more. The following chapter details the Astronauts (whose names are also different) first encounter with Nova.


FIVE

"It's a woman's foot," Arthur Levain declared.

This peremptory remark, made in a strangled voice, did not surprise me at all. It confirmed my own opinion. The slimness, the elegance, the singular beauty of the footprint had disturbed me profoundly. There could be no doubt as to the humanness of the foot. Perhaps it belonged to an adolescent or to a small man, but with much more likelihood -- and this I hoped with all my heart -- to a woman.

"So Soror is inhabited by humans," Professor Antelle murmured.

There was a hint of disappointment in his voice, which made me at that moment less well disposed toward him. He shrugged his shoulders with a gesture that was habitual with him and joined us in inspecting the sand around the lake. We discovered other footprints, obviously left by the same creature. Levain, who had moved away from the water's edge, drew our attention to one on the dry-sand. The print itself was still damp.

"She was here less than five minutes ago," the young man exclaimed.

"She was swimming, heard us coming, and fled."

It had become an implicit fact for us that the subject under discussion was a woman. We fell silent, scanning the forest, but without hearing so much as the noise of a branch breaking.

"We've got all the time in the world," said the professor, shrugging his shoulders again. "But if a human being swam here, we could no doubt do the same without any danger."

Without further ado the learned scientist shed his clothes and plunged his skinny body into the pool. After our long voyage the pleasure of this swim in cool, delicious water made us almost forget our recent discovery. Levain alone seemed harassed and lost in thought. I was about to make a taunting remark about his melancholy expression when I saw the woman just above us, perched on the rocky ledge from which the cascade fell.

I shall never forget the impression her appearance made on me. I held my breath at the marvelous beauty of this creature from Soror, who revealed herself to us dripping with spray, illuminated by the blood-red beams of Betelgeuse. It was a woman -- a young girl, rather, unless it was a goddess. She boldly asserted her femininity in the light of this monstrous sun, completely naked and without any ornament other than her hair, which hung down to her shoulders. True, we had been deprived of any point of comparison for over two years, but none of us was inclined to fall a victim to mirages. It was plain to see that the woman, who stood motionless on the ledge like a statue on a pedestal, possessed the most perfect body that could be conceived on Earth. Levain and I were breathless, lost in admiration, and I think even Professor Antelle was moved.

Standing upright, leaning forward, her breasts thrust out toward us, her arms raised slightly backward in the attitude of a diver taking off, she was watching us, and her surprise clearly equaled our own. After gazing at her for a long time, I was so dazzled that I could not discern any particular feature: her body as a whole hypnotized me. It was only after several minutes that I saw she belonged to the white race, that her skin was golden rather than bronzed, that she was tall, but not excessively so, and slender. Then I noticed, as though in a dream, a face of singular purity. Finally, I looked at her eyes.

Then I became more alert, my attention sharpened, and I stiffened, for in her expression there was an element that was new to me. In it I discerned the outlandish, mysterious quality all of us had been expecting in a world so distant from our own. But I was unable to analyze or even define the nature of this oddity. I only sensed an essential difference from individuals of our own species. It did not come from the color of her eyes: these were of a grayish hue not often found among us, but nevertheless not unknown. The anomaly lay in their emanation, a sort of void, an absence of expression, reminding me of a wretched mad girl I had once known. But no! It was not that, it could not be madness.

When she saw that she herself was an object of curiosity -- or, to be more accurate, when my eyes met hers -- she seemed to receive a shock and abruptly looked away with an automatic gesture as swift as that of a frightened animal. It was not out of shame at being this scrutinized. I had a feeling that it would have been an exaggeration to suppose her capable of such an emotion. It was simply that her gaze would not, or could not, withstand mine. With her head turned to one side, she now watched us stealthily, out of the corner of her eye.

"As I told you, it's a woman," young Levain muttered.

He had spoken in a voice stifled with emotion, almost a whisper: but the young girl heard him and the sound of his voice produced a strange effect on her. She recoiled, but so swiftly that once again I compared her movement to the reflex of a frightened animal pausing before taking flight. She stopped, however, after taking two steps backward, the rocks then concealing most of her body. I could discern no more than the top of her head and an eye that was still trained on us.

We dared not move a muscle, tortured by the fear of seeing her rush away. Our attitude reassured her. After a moment she stepped out again onto the ledge. But young Levain was decidedly too excited to be able to hold his tongue.

"Never in my life..." he began.

He stopped, realizing his imprudence. She had recoiled in the same manner as before, as though the human voice terrified her.

Professor Antelle motioned us to keep quiet and started splashing about in the water without appearing to pay the slightest attention to her. We adopted the same tactics, which met with complete success. Not only did she step forward once more, but she soon showed a visible interest in our movements, an interest that was manifested in a rather unusual manner, rousing our curiosity even more. Have you ever watched a timid puppy on the beach while his master is swimming? He longs to join him in the water, but dares not. He takes three steps in one direction, three in another, draws away, scampers back, shakes his head, paws the ground. Such, exactly, was the behavior of this girl.

And all of a sudden we heard her: but the sounds she uttered only added to the impression of animality created by her attitude. She was then standing on the very edge of her perch, as though about to fling herself into the lake. She had broken off her sort of dance for a moment. She opened her mouth. I was standing a little to one side and was able to study her without being noticed. I thought she was going to speak, to give a shout. I was expecting a cry. I was prepared for the most barbarous language, but not for the strange sounds that came out of her throat; specifically out of her throat, for neither mouth nor tongue played any part in this sort of shrill mewing or whining, which seemed yet again to express the joyful frenzy of an animal. In our zoos, sometimes, young chimpanzees play and wrestle together giving just such little cries.

Since, despite our astonishment, we forced ourselves to go on swimming without paying attention to her, she appeared to come to a decision. She lowered herself onto the rock, took a grip on it with her hands, and started climbing down toward us. Her agility was extraordinary. Her golden body, appearing to us through a cloud of spray and light, like a fairy-tale vision, moved quickly down the rock face along the thin transparent blade of the waterfall. In a few moments, clinging to some imperceptible projections, she was down at the level of the lake, kneeling on a flat stone. She watched us a few seconds longer, then took to the water and swam toward us.

We realized she wanted to play and therefore continued with our frolics, which had given her such confidence, modifying our movements whenever she looked startled. Soon we were all involved in a game in which she had unconsciously laid down the rules: a strange game indeed, with a certain resemblance to the movements of seals in a pool, which consisted of alternately fleeing from us and approaching us, suddenly veering away when we were almost within reach, then drawing so close as to graze us but without ever actually coming into contact. It was childish; but what would we not have done in order to tame the beautiful stranger! I noticed that Professor Antelle took part in this play with unconcealed pleasure.

This had been going on for some time, and we were getting out of breath, when I was struck by the paradoxical nature of the girls' expression: her solemnity. There she was, taking evident pleasure in the games she was inspiring, yet not a smile had appeared on her face. For some time this had given me a vague feeling of uneasiness, without my knowing exactly why. I was not relieved to discover the reason: she neither laughed nor smiled; from time to time she only uttered one of those little throaty cries that evidently expressed her satisfaction.

I decided to make an experiment. As she approached me, cleaving the water with a peculiar swimming action resembling a dog's and with her hair streaming out behind her like the tail of a comet, I looked her straight in the eye and, before she could turn her head aside, gave her a smile filled with all the friendliness and affection I could muster.

The result was surprising. She stopped swimming, stood up in the water, which reached to her waist, and raised her hands in front of her in a gesture of defense. Then she quickly turned her back on me and raced for the shore. Out of the water, she paused and half turned around, looking at me askance, as she had on the ledge, with the startled air of an animal that has just seen something alarming. Perhaps she might have regained her confidence, for the smile had frozen on my lips and I had started swimming again in an innocent manner, but a fresh incident renewed her emotion. We heard a noise in the forest and, tumbling from branch to branch, our friend Hector came into view, landed on his feet, and scampered over toward us, overjoyed at finding us again. I was amazed to see the bestial expression, compounded of fright and menace, that came over the young girl's face when she caught sight of the monkey. She drew back hugging the rocks so closely as to melt into them, every muscle tensed, her back arched, her hands contracted like claws. All this because of a nice little chimpanzee who was about to greet us!

As he passed close by, without noticing her, she sprang out. Her body twanged like a bow. She seized him by the throat and closed her hands around his neck, holding the poor creature firmly between her thighs. Her attack was so swift that we did not even have time to intervene. The monkey hardly struggled. He stiffened after a few seconds and fell dead when she let go of him. This gorgeous creature -- in a romantic flight of fancy I had christened her "Nova," able to compare her appearance only to that of a brilliant star -- Nova had strangled a harmless pet animal, with her own hands.

When, having recovered from our shock, we rushed toward her, it was far too late to save Hector. She turned to face us as though to defend herself, her arms again raised in front of her, her lips curled back, in a menacing attitude that brought us to a standstill. Then she uttered a last shrill cry, which could be interpreted as a shout of triumph or a bellow of rage, and fled into the forest. In a few seconds she had disappeared into the undergrowth that closed back around her golden body, leaving us standing aghast in the middle of the jungle, now completely silent once again.