By EANDO BINDER
Some wonderful odds and ends of Mother Earth
had escaped the fiery incinerator of Time. And
the most significant of all—metallic, angular
and ancient—Lem Starglitter Blake carried
proudly in his dirty old prospector’s bag.
[Transcriber’s Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories Fall 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
He was excited, the little man with the big find.
He drove his battered old space tub down at the world which lay frozen over and lifeless since long ago. But not completely abandoned. Far from it.
He joined the long line of ships making the pilgrimage to the ancient, original home of the human race. Below lay a transparent dome, the largest Z-model of 100,000 capacity, into whose ample entry locks the ships filed down, one by one. Some had to circle, waiting their turn. He licked his lips impatiently. At times he grinned and savored the delay, in view of what lay ahead.
At last he chugged in and parked his grimy little tub beside shiny yachts and towering spaceliners and spacebuses. The canned air of the dome was fresh to his lungs, compared to the reek of his cabin. He dug a tip out of his frayed jeans for the parking attendant, not quite daring to snub him. He winced at the sneer over the small coin.
But no more sneers like that, soon. And plenty more money, with what he had in his bag. He smiled and mumbled as he walked away, swinging the leather bag at his side, bulging with something angular.
He filed his way among others toward the turnstiles leading to the main exhibit area. Tourists, vacationers, families with kids, school groups, newsmen, galactic trotters, earnest scholars. You could find all types here, from every walk of life and from any distant planet, drawn like a magnet to this “must” for all travelers. It was the sight to see around the Milky Way.
Certainly nothing could beat its appeal as the birthplace of mankind. Nothing, that is, except the gay and fabulous Carnival of Castor, whose attendance record could never be topped.
He tried to rush through the turnstile but was halted by the green-clad guard.
“I’m in a hurry, mister,” he mumbled in his wispy voice, from an oxygen-burned throat. He began opening his bag. “Look what I found—”
The guard heard not a word. “We keep a register of all visitors to Mother Earth. Name? Home World? Occupation?”
It was odd how even the guard’s routine voice lowered a tone on the words “Mother Earth.”
“Lem Starglitter Blake,” said the little old man in unkempt jeans and patched boots.
The guard’s lip twitched slightly. Lem Blake wished he had left out the middle name. Why had parents of that generation taken to such frothy names? Red-faced, Blake went on with a rush. “Born on Antares IV. Prospector for ore strikes. But listen, I made the biggest strike of all. Not ore but—”
“Next,” said the guard.
Lem Blake swallowed the rest and moved on. People wouldn’t treat him that way later, he consoled himself in secret gloating, clutching his bag. He could take it for a short time more without bitterness.
Another guard eyed the bag sternly. “I must warn you, sir, there is no souvenir hunting allowed here. Understand, sir?”
“I’m not going to take anything,” Blake tried to protest. “I’m bringing something—”
“Your bag will be emptied and examined when you leave,” dismissed the guard.
They were all so big and important in their flashy uniforms. But just wait, thought Blake, just wait. We’ll see who’s big and important later.
But Blake could see why they were so cautious. All around, enclosed in the giant plastic bubble, were the hoary ruins of a city, moldered to fragility. If the hordes of visitors were allowed to snatch souvenirs, the place would be picked clean as a bone.
ANCIENT NEW YORK, said a sign, MAIN CITY OF HOME EARTH IN PRE-SPACE DAYS.
People stared in the proper awe due such time-honored relics of antique glory. It was from this terribly old civilization that the race of starmen had sprung, inheriting the galaxy. Various individual exhibits among the ruins were labeled—a broken wheel, a shred of tapestry under glass, a coil of wire, pottery, bits of jewelry, a bleached human skull. Odds and ends that had escaped the incinerator of time. There wasn’t much left after 140 rock-wearing centuries.
Priceless, those few dozens of relics. Lem Blake grew excited again at what lay in his bag. It would command a price, maybe enough to stake him to years of good food, new clothes, his tub overhauled, leisure and fun. Maybe more, much more. It all depended.
Blake knew all the busy guards would ignore him. He must reach higher authority. He hurried to the central auditorium where the staff lecturer spoke sonorously to the hushed crowd packed shoulder to elbow. Blake took a long breath at the outer fringes and began squeezing his way closer to the rostrum. It was slow work in the human jam. He heard the speech as he struggled on.
“—though today we are born and live and die on many worlds, my fellow humans, we all come from the original stock of this particular planet. It was from this small and quite backward 20th century world that mankind leaped to the stars.”
Lem Blake suddenly choked on a chuckling thought in the dead quiet of the listening throng. A circle of eyes transfixed him at the unspeakable crime. Mumbling apologies, Blake pressed on.
Professor John Nova McKay went on with the stock lecture. How many times had it been repeated now, some 80,000? He himself had delivered it over a thousand times. It was hard to keep the monotony out of his tones.
“Ships roared into space at the end of the 20th century. First, to explore and pioneer on nearby worlds of the same sun. By the 25th century, they had the Hyper Drive, permitting speeds greater than light. Then began the second phase of building a galactic commonwealth. Those were days of glory.”
The speaker tried to lift his voice on those words but it fell flat in his own ears. But the audience hung on it, caught in the dramatic thought that their own feet stood where all that had started.
“This is all ancient space history going back 14,000 years, and many of its details and records are lost. But we know that by the 30th century we humans ranged all through the Milky Way, settling, colonizing, setting up trade with native races. Worlds existed in vast numbers, many habitable.”
Blake stopped muttering apologies as he elbowed his way inch by inch. The apologies drew frosty frowns, and were the last thing they wanted. They wanted silence. Only Blake’s bag insisted on clanking now and then. He kept on doggedly.
Professor McKay’s voice rolled over the rapt faces. “Today, there are over a million commonwealth planets, about half under native rule, friendly to us. On the other half no native intelligence survived, and they thus became our own home planets. Earthmen came to dominate the galaxy but only in the sense that they were the single largest and most prolific race.”
McKay’s dry voice quickened now, as the most unique part of the stock historical story came at last. “But strangely, during that era of galactic expansion, Earth itself gradually faded out of the picture. More and more people left, seeking better homes, richer opportunities, more desirable locations and neighborhoods in the galaxy. Population fell on Earth.
“This was all hastened and brought to a focus when the sun of Earth suddenly began dimming in the 49th century. An old star, that sun died. In a short time, by the cosmic clock, another ice age fell on Earth—the final one. The oceans froze solid and all land areas turned to bleak wasteland.”
There was a suitable pause at this point for the audience to weigh that calamitous event. People stood hushed, half in ancient sorrow.
Blake stopped, hardly daring to breathe. One clank now and he might be thrown out.
“Of course, long before the final death of the planet, the last Earthmen had left for other waiting homes. There was no swift storylike doom. No panic or hardship or loss of life. And then, perhaps inevitably but still queerly, Earth receded in all human memory and was forgotten.”
The speaker paused again. It always came on cue here, a gasp from the audience, as certainly as the “ahs” and “ohs” of a fireworks display. The bald statement always had its shock effect on any audience, and here on hallowed Earth itself.
Lem Starglitter Blake resumed his slow progress toward the rostrum, glad for the noise.
Professor McKay braced himself, winced, and went on. Who had written the original purple prose for the lecture? Yet it could not be changed now. Not without an act of the Galactic Congress.
“Yes, Mother Earth was forgotten and abandoned as it floated frozen and lifeless about its dying primary. Forlorn, deserted. Nobody came to visit Earth any more, for any reason. Nor any of its sister planets, as they too were sheathed in ice. Earth became a ghost world.
“And as centuries marched on, with humanity busy on many thriving worlds, all records were lost as to where Earth might be. Earth fell into the category of a vague legend, known only to be a frozen globe circling a sun once typed G-O. But there were a hundred such. Which one was Earth’s sun? Nobody knew any more.”
Blake stepped on somebody’s toes and was roundly cursed. But he kept on, clutching his bag. They’d be sorry. All this would change when he showed what he had.
“Imagine it, friends. By the 100th century, even the name ‘Earth’ had faded from collective memory. Most humans living and dying on the worlds of Arcturus, Vega, Pollux or any others didn’t even know that the race had come from Earth originally. They almost thought themselves native life. We no longer called ourselves Earthmen by then. That term fell into discard too. We were Starmen. And so, for an age, lonely Earth was lost in space, unsung, unknown, unhallowed.”
McKay went on by rote, thinking of dinner.
“It was not till the 130th century that the Galactic Historical Society decided to make a shrine of Mother Earth, original home of the Starmen, as turned up in a musty record. But where was Earth? Vague records helped nothing. Picture how aghast they were. Finally, they had to organize a galactic hunt for Earth that took a century.”
Lem Blake sweated as he forged on through the packed crowd. If only his bag didn’t bump against shins producing two noises, one metallic, the other human and angry. But later, when they heard, they wouldn’t mind. Blake grinned. Maybe they’d tell of it proudly.
“The ships searched everywhere for unmarked Earth, known only to be a frozen world of a dead sun. It was not even known how many planets had circled Earth’s sun. Some thought three, others nine, again thirteen. Nobody could submit proof one way or another, so it became a blind search in a cosmic haystack. A star search.
“The only real clue was that it must be in the vicinity of Sirius, since it was known that such star systems as Centauri, Barnard and Epsilon Eridani held the earliest colonies of Starmen. Earth had to be somewhere among this general group, since the Starmen expanded outward slowly, jumping from near stars to far stars.
“All frozen worlds among that narrowed-down group were visited, for any tell-tale signs as to which would be Earth itself. They often had to burn down with atomic torches through glacial ice to examine ancient ruins.”
Blake glared back at an indignant glare. He grew bolder as his goal neared. Not far now, another hundred feet.
“Ultimately, the most likely evidence pointed to one certain planet: the one we stand on today. Under the ice and hoar frost was found this ancient city whose ruins now surround you. A few scraps of chiseled wording on cornerstones matched the earliest writings of Earth we know of, at least prior to the 30th century. And so, we had found the forgotten world, Mother Earth.”
McKay remembered to make his voice ring just in time.
“The GHS then enthusiastically gave Earth its deserved and honored niche in galactic history. A dome, many times replaced and enlarged, was set up around the city ruins. Precious ruins, for they proved the only ones found on Earth. All else had vanished to dust. Visitors were welcomed. Earth became a shrine. In the past nine centuries, no less than twelve billions of our scattered people, from all corners of the galaxy, have made the pilgrimage here to home Earth.”
Blake was close now, panting, not caring how he swung the bag. McKay was close now, too, to the end of his lecture.
“Think once, my galactic fellowmen. This we believe was New York, main metropolis of ancient Earth. The then-existing oceans are gone, the continents utterly changed and jumbled, and the day is far longer than at that time. Everything of that long past era is obliterated in dusty time, except these few ruins.
“But this is Earth. Our home planet. Our Mother World. In reverent honor to our vanished ancestors of this alpha world, we ask that you bow your heads in silent tribute for a moment.”
Blake had just reached the rostrum and was yelling, “Hey, Mr. Speaker. I’m Lem Blake and I got something to show you—”
Blake froze in horror even as his weak voice rang out like a gong in the pin-drop silence that had just fallen. But what did it matter now? He leaped on the rostrum before the startled lecturer.
“Listen,” said Blake hurriedly. “Listen what I found—”
“Shut up,” hissed McKay, snapping off the sound system. “Nothing like this happened in 900 years, a lecture interrupted. You fool. Don’t ruin it all for them. See me later.”
McKay tried to shove Blake bodily off the platform. But Blake twisted free. If he did not go through with it now, guards would come and hustle him out of the dome.
“Look, here in my bag,” he begged. “An old-time relic, one I stumbled on looking for paydirt under deep ice. I knew it was a real old timer when I saw it. Maybe it’s the biggest strike I ever made.”
McKay took his hand away from Blake’s collar. “Another relic of Earth, you mean? They’re so scarce … let me see it. Hurry, man.”
At last Blake fumbled it out of his bag and held it up.
Two cross-pieces of rusted metal, welded at right angles to a common bar, freakishly preserved by some oily patina, and with lettering still legible in white. From under glacial ice, it must be old as old.
FIFTH AVENUE read one cross-piece, to Professor McKay’s trained eye. The other, 42nd STREET.
Blake grinned suddenly. “And you know where I found it? Not here on Procyon V but over on Sol III. You know, about eleven light-years galactic east.”
Blake grinned more, shrewdly measuring what he saw in McKay’s face, and let go his bombshell, whose fuse had been burning uncertainly inside him all this time. “So this was the wrong Earth all the time, eh? Guess that really rocks you. It’ll rock the galaxy too. I’ll be famous—”
“Don’t be a fool,” hissed the professor, signalling guards. “You’re mistaken … that is—but I’ll explain later.”
As the guards dragged Blake off, McKay said, “Take him to my office. See that he keeps his mouth shut till I get there.”
In a moment, the reconnected sound system blared out to the puzzled audience—”Please pardon the rude interruption. And in conclusion, as we stand reverently on Mother Earth—”
My gawd! Did he think he was the first one? And did he think we’d change now after nine hundred years?#ENGLISH