THE PURPLE PARIAH
By BYRON TUSTIN
It was round and purple and awfully, awfully
sad. And it told the most melancholy story Archie
Simms had ever heard. Yup, ’twas a real million-year
tragedy, this tale of the purple pariah.
[Transcriber’s Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories March 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
The rocket ship whirled down from the sky and crashed into the hillside. A cloud of dust rose lazily from the spot and mingled with the white fumes escaping from the vessel.
The escape hatch opened and Archie Simms jumped down to the surface of the planet.
“Oh-oh, Ed—here’s the welcoming committee!” he yelled. Ed Bailey’s face appeared in the doorway.
The two men stared grimly at a motionless purple sphere, about eight feet in diameter, that rested fifty feet from the damaged rocket. On the surface of the sphere were two huge, sad eyes that watched the rocket ship with melancholy attention.
“What is it?” asked Ed Bailey.
“Damned if I know,” snorted Archie Simms. He ambled toward the purple sphere. “Shoo,” he said. “Go on, get out of here. Shoo!” The purple sphere did not move, but its two huge eyes regarded him sadly.
“Hey, don’t get too close to it.”
“Don’t worry.” Archie procured a rock from the ground and hurled it at the purple sphere. He missed; the eyes of the sphere contemplated him even more sadly. The sphere did not move.
“Should I fire the cannon at it?” queried Ed.
“Leave it alone. It just wants to sit there and watch us.” He walked up to the purple sphere and examined it closely. He petted it between its two huge eyes and it looked at him sadly.
Ed jumped down from the ship with a large book under one arm. He paged hurriedly through it. Archie ran his hand gently over the purple sphere’s fur. The purple sphere eyed him sadly.
“Here’s where we are,” said Ed. “That meteor rammed us just as we came to Sector QMA. That star up there’s XTM-L-48935; we’re on the eighth planet. Says here the place was explored twenty years ago: No life on it.”
“Wonder how they missed this fellow,” commented Archie, stroking the sphere sympathetically. The sphere looked at him with great, sad eyes.
“Incompetent bastards,” Ed remarked pleasantly. “That’s the racket we should be in, Arch:—space exploring. You get lots of money and you don’t do any work. Why, I’ve heard stories—”
“Let’s see about it when we get back,” suggested Archie.
“Funny, though;—here’s this thing waiting for us as soon as we smash. They must’ve been blind drunk when they explored this place. Or else purple there’s come since.”
“Maybe that’s it.”
“I’ll check.” He riffled through some more pages. “This damn index is alphabetical. Maybe it’s from another planet and just visiting.”
“What do you think they’ll call it in here?”
“I can’t ever find anything in that damn catalogue. Try under spheres: Purple spheres.”
“Mmmm.” He concentrated on the index. “‘Parallelopipeds’ … ‘pseudospheres’ … ‘rhombi’ … ‘segmented objects’ … here it is: ‘Spheres.’ They’ve got a lot of spheres here! All sorts of ’em. We’ve got to go by color. You think he’s purple?”
“Sort of purple.”
“Here’s something violet: ‘Spheres, violet. Fire-breathing mammal of Planet III, TRP-U-44476, Sector LKW. Approximately three feet in diameter. Females frequently found with yellow polka dots on underside.'”
“Try again. Melancholy here’s three times that big.” He stooped down and gazed up at the purple sphere from underneath. “Uh-uh, no yellow polka dots either.” The purple sphere looked down at him with sad eyes.
“What’s ochre?” asked Ed Bailey.
“Is this thing ochre?”
“God knows that too, Bailey.” He turned abruptly to the purple sphere: “Are you ochre?” The purple sphere looked at him sadly.
“Cut the clowning,” rasped Ed. “Here’s an index. ‘Ochre:—pale yellow.'”
“You learn something every day.”
“Here’s a good bet: ‘Spheres, Fuchsia.’ Would you call it Fuchsia?”
“I guess he’s pretty Fuchsia.”
“‘Spheres, Fuchsia: Most common shape and color of Chameleon Tiger of Planet IV, YAP-A-90909, Sector WKM. Reptile; can assume any geometrical shape and/or color. Is carnivorous, and exceedingly dangerous. Approximately eight feet in diameter.'”
“More like it! This boy must be their great-grandaddy. He doesn’t look dangerous: Maybe he’s senile.”
“You’d better get away. It might chew off your head any minute. I’ll bet you that’s what it is: A ‘Chameleon Tiger.'”
“When we get the boat fixed, let’s take him back to—what is it?”
“YAP-A-90909, Sector WKM.”
“Maybe somebody’ll hand us a reward. What say, boy?—you, there, with the big eyes—what say to going home?” The purple sphere looked at him with sad eyes.
“There any other spheres in there, Ed?”
“No more purple babies. This must be him. I wish it’d change into a green cube, so we’d get positive identification. Tell it to change into a green cube.”
“Hey, boy, can you change into a green cube?” Archie asked. The purple sphere regarded him sadly. “Ed, throw me that old canteen.” The canteen was thrown down. “Now look, boy.” He carefully drew a circle and a square in the sand. “See this? This is a sphere. That’s you, get it?” He pointed to the circle, then to the purple sphere. “This is a cube, see?” He indicated the square. “Now, we want you to change into a cube; get it? A green cube.” The purple sphere blinked its great eyes and continued to stare at Archie sadly.
“It’s an idiot,” cried Ed Bailey. “Let me shoot it. Maybe we can make a stew out of it.”
“Leave it alone. We can’t kill it—not with those big eyes. We ought to take it back to earth and slap it in a zoo.”
“We ought to shoot it. Maybe it’s got some playmates around here. Archie, you got no business petting big purple balls. Remember what happened when you started fooling around with that orange thing back on LTX-R-76—whatever it was?”
“He didn’t have any eyes, Ed. Look at this thing’s eyes: It couldn’t hurt us; it just wants to watch. I think we should—”
His words were drowned by a frightful noise and a terrible shock. The sky went dark.
“Damn unpleasant sunsets they got around here,” yawned Ed nonchalantly.
Archie picked himself up from the dust. “What sort of a crazy planet are you muggs running here?” He shook his fist at the purple sphere. “Hey—hey, Ed—look! It glows in the dark!” The sphere’s purple fur emitted rich violet light, and its great eyes shone bright white around their jet black pupils. They looked sadly at Archie. Ed lit a cigarette.
“So do lots of things. It makes a better target this way. I think we ought to have it for breakfast tomorrow. We got a lot of work to do, and I’m sick of beans.”
“You let it alone, Bailey, or I’ll smash you.”
“I was just kidding. You can keep it.” He yawned viciously. “I’m turning in. If you want to stick around with Fido all night, hop to it. I’m closing this hatch and getting as far away as I can.”
He threw down his cigarette. “Coming?”
Archie petted the sphere tenderly, then ambled leisurely to the ship. “Coming. Not that I don’t trust Melancholy, but there might be something else crawling around out there. Help me up.”
Ed held out his arms and assisted his comrade aboard the ruined rocket ship. They shut the hatch behind them.
All night the purple sphere glowed in the dark, watching the ship with great, sad, luminescent eyes.
Another frightful noise and its concomitant shock hurled Archie violently out of his bunk. “God-awful planet,” he muttered as he climbed off of Ed Bailey. “How’s that old song go? ‘Where the sun comes up like thunder from—'”
“You got better things to do than sing. Let’s get going. I’ll check the engine and you see if you can’t fix the radio.”
Archie yawned loudly and opened the escape hatch. “Hey, Ed, Melancholy’s still out here!”
“Fix that radio, damn you!” shouted Ed from the recesses of the ship.
Archie sat diligently in the open hatchway and tried to fix the radio. Frequently he addressed comments to the purple sphere and the purple sphere gazed at him with its sad eyes.
The morning passed but the radio did not heal. At eleven o’clock Archie grabbed two hot wires and shouted in anguish. Rising to his feet, he kicked the radio savagely out the open hatch. It crashed against the ground and slid toward the purple sphere. The purple sphere looked up at Archie sadly.
Archie hurled a wrench at it and the purple sphere winced. “Stop looking at me like that!” shouted Archie. “Fix it yourself, damn you!”
The purple sphere sidled forward and sat on top of the radio. The radio disappeared from view.
“Hey, Ed! Ed!” called Archie. “It just ate our radio!”
Ed hurried up from the back of the ship. “You ass,” he said. “Why did you let him have it? I should bash your teeth in.” He brandished a hammer threateningly.
“Let’s not lose our tempers, Ed,” smiled Archie anxiously.
“Okay. Forget it. We’ll never get out of here by fighting.” He stepped resolutely into the cabin and returned with an ugly looking steel tube. “I’m going to roast Fido right off that radio.”
“Hey, wait a minute, Ed!” Archie held his comrade’s arm. “—After all, I gave him the radio. Maybe he thought I’m trying to make friends.”
“You blockhead! I ought to turn Betsy here on you. What were you up to—feeling sorry for monstrous there? Okay … you get the radio back your way. Spend all month doing it! Just sit looking into handsome’s limpid pools and maybe she’ll kiss you and give you back your radio. Damn ‘Chameleon Tiger!'”
He brandished his hammer aloft and returned to the nether regions.
Several minutes later the purple sphere sidled backward and the radio returned to view. It emitted curious noises. The purple sphere looked up at Archie sadly.
“You fixed it!” cried the amazed Simms. “Ed! Ed! Come here! He fixed it! It works!” Ed returned to stare at the radio in disbelief.
“Hey, that’s pretty damn good. What about asking him to fix the rest of the ship?”
“I’ll try. Hey, Melancholy! Fix up our rocket ship, okay?”
The purple sphere sidled forward until it stood directly beneath the escape hatch. Then it looked up at Archie.
“It wants to get in,” explained Archie. “Do we still have that old ramp I stole on Mercury?”
Together they lowered the ramp. The purple sphere sidled forward and vainly attempted to climb upward.
“He’s too heavy,” said Simms. “We’ll have to jump down and push him.”
“Don’t like,” said the cautious Bailey. “Then he’s on and we’re off. That’s too much like suicide.”
“We can trust him. He fixed the radio, didn’t he?”
“All right, wise guy. It’s your funeral, too.” They hopped down and, straining mightily, pushed the purple sphere to the top of the ramp.
“Will he go through the hatch?” cried Ed. “I can’t see around him.”
“Hope so,” panted Archie, “or he’s going to roll back on top of us. There he goes. We made it!”
The purple sphere vanished into the ship.
“What do we do now?” cried the excitable Bailey. “He may curl up and hibernate in there, for all you know. If he’s not out in an hour, I’m going to shoot him!”
The odor of hot metal drifted out the emergency hatch. “He’s schmooling around in there,” said Ed.
“Leave him alone, Ed. Let’s look around.” Ed grumbled, but followed the retreating form of Archie Simms. They had strayed over a mile from the ship when the sun blasted out the end of another day.
“We’d better head back,” said the cautious Bailey, turning around.
“Okay, but not that way. The ship’s over there.”
“Nuts, Arch; the ship’s that way.”
“Who you trying to fool? Don’t you think I know what way we came?”
“You fathead,” snorted Bailey, gripping his ugly looking steel tube more tightly. “I might’ve known you’d get us lost! You and your ‘Chameleon Tiger!’ Damn both of you!”
“Oh, shut up. We aren’t going to get back by shouting. Let’s start walking your way and see what happens.”
“Well,” admitted the chagrined Ed Bailey, six hours later, “maybe you’re right.”
“We’re good and lost now,” replied Arch. “Probably can’t even find the ship in the day, now. She’s down in one of those sand valleys and we’ve passed millions of ’em.”
“I wouldn’t care if you hadn’t parked that monster inside. Maybe he’s eating our boat. I saw some metal eating things in the catalogue.”
“Said he’s carnivorous, Ed.”
“Also said he could change to a cube. Oh, damn the whole stinking mess. You and your little friends.”
“Wait till morning. Maybe we’ll find our way.”
“Oh, sure,” said Ed bitterly.
The intrepid spacemen sat sadly down on a big stone and gazed up at the night sky.
“Funny constellations,” proclaimed Ed angrily.
“Look there,” said Archie, pointing. “Northern lights.”
“Northern lights, hell!” cried Ed. “They don’t move like that. It’s something behind that hill—and it’s coming!” He placed the steel tube to his shoulder. “I’ll take ten of ’em with me,” he grated.
A luminescent purple sphere appeared atop the hill.
“It’s the marines!” shouted Archie, knocking down the barrel of Ed’s gun. “Smell? I can smell it from here—hot metal! It’s Melancholy, come to rescue us!”
“Or to eat us! I’ll take care of him!”
“You fool! Give me that!” The two men grappled for possession of the gun. The purple sphere stopped and watched them sadly. Finally Archie obtained the weapon and angrily tore it apart. He threw the parts as far as he could, then turned furiously on Ed.
“Mel here’s our only friend in the world. He hasn’t tricked us yet and we’ve got to lay all our dough on him. Now get up.” Ed rose groggily to his feet. “Take us back to the ship,” Archie commanded the purple sphere. The purple sphere sidled off and they followed it.
Dawn literally broke as they topped a rise and looked down once again on the rocket ship. The polished fuselage, so grotesquely twisted the day before, was now smooth. The ship rested on the side of the hill, her prow aimed at the sky.
“I’ll be damned,” snorted Ed Bailey. “He’s done it. Let’s get out of here quick.”
“See if it works.”
They climbed aboard. Before he shut the emergency hatch, Archie looked down into the sad eyes of the purple sphere. The purple sphere had never looked sadder, he decided. Then he shut the hatch.
“D’you think maybe he’s booby-trapped it to explode in the air?” wondered the suspicious Bailey.
“Well, here’s nothing. Hold on.” Bailey pressed a button. There followed a dull roar, a blinding flash of light, and the little rocket ship whirled up into the sky.
The purple sphere looked after it sadly. A large crystal tear welled up in each of his great, unhappy eyes and trickled slowly down his purple fur.
“The little punk didn’t cross us after all,” admitted Ed Bailey grudgingly, turning momentarily from the controls.
“This is enough. It’s in better shape than when we bought it,” testified Archie.
“Okay. Set a course out of this Sector, and we’ll hit the road.”
“Wait a second: We’ve got to go back there and thank Melancholy.”
“WHAT did you say? THANK it? Why? It won’t understand. It’ll just stand there with those idiotic eyes and moon at you.”
“If it’s smart enough to fix our ship, it’s worth thanking,” proclaimed Archie.
“Well,” grumbled Ed, “maybe you’re right. We’d still be rotting here if it weren’t for Fido.”
“Maybe we can even take him aboard and lug him back to YAP, or wherever he’s from. He must be awful lonely here.”
“Over my dead body. He’d take too much weight. And I don’t want to get mixed up with any more Chameleon Tigers. They might not all have such nice, sad eyes. If we bring Fido on here, we drop him off at the nearest zoo. I won’t go near YAP. One Fido’s enough.”
“We ought to do something for him, Ed.”
“Thanking him’s too much. I’m not going to cart purple spheres around the galaxy. We’d be the laughing stock of the century. He stays here!”
He punched a button fiercely and swung the ship into a sharp curve. “Where’ll we set? This place all looks the same.”
“Just put her down,” advised Arch. “I’ll bet Melancholy gets there in ten minutes.”
“You’re on.” The ship whirled down from the sky and slid along the sand. Archie opened the escape hatch and waited. Five minutes later the purple sphere mounted a nearby rise and sidled down into the valley. It halted fifty feet from the ship and watched Archie with sad eyes.
“You lose, Ed,” announced Archie.
“Damn monster,” snorted Ed. “Thank it and let’s get out of here.”
“Aren’t you going to thank it?”
“No, damn it! Me thank a big purple ball? You can thank it for both of us. Might try kicking it a few times and see whether you get any reaction.”
Archie leaped down on the sand and hurried to the side of the purple sphere. The purple sphere looked at him sadly. Archie petted it between and beneath its eyes. Suddenly he stood up.
“Hey Ed! It’s been crying!”
Ed snorted angrily but said nothing. “No, really, Ed! It’s all wet under its eyes, here!” He petted it the more tenderly. The purple sphere looked at him sadly.
“Come on,” yelled Ed. “I’m sick of this mush.”
“Just a second,” replied Archie. “Well—good-bye,” he said to the purple sphere. “I don’t know whether you get me. Do you know what I’m saying? No. Thanks anyway.” He petted the purple sphere between its great eyes; the eyes watched him sadly. He cursed softly, then turned on his heel and hurried toward the rocket ship. Suddenly he pivoted again and said to the purple sphere:
“You maybe saved our lives, Mel. Anything we can do for you? Any place we can take you? Say the word and we’ll do it.”
The purple sphere looked at Archie sadly. Then it sidled rapidly forward, knocked Archie unceremoniously off his feet, and climbed on top of him. Archie shrieked: “Hey! Ouch! Get off! Stop him, Ed! Stop him! He’s hurting me something aw—” His voice became muffled and stopped. Ed stood petrified while Archie slowly disappeared into the purple sphere. All the while, the purple sphere looked up at Ed out of sad eyes.
Then Archie was gone. Ed swore a terrible oath and possessed himself of another ugly looking steel tube. He leveled it to his shoulder and pushed a button. A terrible gaping crack appeared in one of the purple sphere’s eyes and a green ichor trickled thickly out. The purple sphere rolled over and sidled away at an incredible speed. Ed fired again. He missed.
“Damn purple punk,” he yelled after the retreating purple sphere. “I’ll get you yet. I’ll get you!”
He slammed the emergency hatch and leaped into the pilot’s seat. He jockeyed the little rocket ship into the air above the strange planet. Miles away, he saw the purple sphere bowling hastily over the sand. He gained on it steadily, following as rapidly as he could. Shortly he was close enough: He sighted in an eyepiece mounted with crosshairs and saw there a greatly enlarged image of the speeding purple sphere. He threw an ugly looking steel lever. The ship rocked violently and a cloud of dust rose from the spot where the purple sphere should have been.
“Stand still, damn you!” shouted Ed. Again he lined the purple sphere up in the crosshairs. Again he pressed the button, and again the purple sphere swerved aside in time. Ed pounded his fist desperately on the instrument panel.
“I’ll kill you,” he shouted; “I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you if it takes a year—and if I don’t have you then, I’ll come back with the whole damned fleet and kill you!” He threw the lever again, and again, and again.
Mr. Bailey has wounded me in the eye, Mr. Simms.
I am sorry that I hurt you, Mr. Simms, but it was the only way … I have understood everything that you and Mr. Bailey have thought and said, Mr. Simms, but I cannot impress my thoughts upon you until I have taken you inside me. I am sorry that it was so painful for you when I brought you inside me; I am sorry that you are unconscious; but you can understand me, now. I did not wish to hurt you, but you were so large that I had difficulty bringing you inside me.
Mr. Bailey is chasing me in the rocket ship, Mr. Simms. He is shooting at me with a terrible weapon. I know what he is thinking, so I am able to change my direction before he fires. But shortly I shall grow tired, Mr. Simms; I would not grow tired had Mr. Bailey not wounded me in the eye; but he has wounded me in the eye and I am bleeding. I must tell you what I must tell you quickly, Mr. Simms, so that you will stop Mr. Bailey from shooting at me.
I only tried to help you, Mr. Simms. I did not wish to hurt you. I saw you throw your radio away and I knew that you desired me to repair it. I repaired it; subsequently I repaired your vessel. When you and Mr. Bailey lost your way in the hills, I came to find you and I led you back to the ship. I have only tried to help you; I did not wish to hurt you.
Mr. Bailey thinks that I have eaten you and is trying to destroy me. I must explain things to you, so that you can prevent him from destroying me.
I only wanted to help you and Mr. Bailey. I know how much you need help and I wanted to help you, because you were kind to me. I did not expect a reward; I thought merely that I would help you and that then you would leave me. At last you and Mr. Bailey climbed into your ship and left. I cried, for I had wanted to tell you about myself. But I could not tell you without hurting you and bringing you inside me. I did not wish to hurt you, and I knew that if I brought you inside me, Mr. Bailey would not understand. I would not bring Mr. Bailey inside me because he does not like me.
But you returned, and I thought that perhaps I had not repaired your ship effectively. No; I discovered that you wished to thank me for my aid. I did not expect that you would thank me; I expected that you would depart without thanking me. Why should you thank me? You did not think that I would understand. But you thanked me and then you asked me whether you could do anything for me. I saw in your mind that you were sincere: You did not only say that you wished to do something for me; you wished to do something for me. So I took you inside me, and Mr. Bailey has wounded me in the eye, and now he is following me in your rocket ship, and he is shooting at me.
You can help me, Mr. Simms. I shall tell you how you can help me and then I shall let you out.
I have lived on this planet for millions of years, Mr. Simms. In all that time I have been alone. No one had ever visited me until you came. There is no other life on this planet and I have been all alone. At times it has been more than I can bear. At times I have wished to destroy myself. But I cannot do that and I must not, for my people need me.
Many millions of years ago I lived with my people on a large planet that revolved about a large star in a galaxy that is very distant now.
I am not of this galaxy, Mr. Simms.
I was the wisest among my people. They called me the Purple Sage. I was versed in all wisdom and I knew all answers. The people came to me for knowledge and revered me as the wisest of all beings.
Several million years ago our galaxy approached your galaxy. Your galaxy was very different then; I watched it change, these millions of years. Our galaxy approached and I perceived that the two galaxies would pass through each other.
This is a rare phenomenon, Mr. Simms, but it was undoubtedly known to your astronomers many years ago. Galaxies are nothing more than enormous vacuums, and in any one passage of two galaxies through one another, there are likely to be not more than two or three stellar collisions.
I determined that my planet was quite safe. As your galaxy approached, I determined to conduct an interesting experiment. I constructed a large space ship and planned to fly it to one of the planets of your galaxy. Then I would return to my own planet. I hoped to determine whether your galaxy was similar to mine.
My people wept at my departure and asked me what would become of them if I did not return. I told them that the officials would care for them. I thought then that I was little more than an ornament and their grief more rhetorical than sincere.
A bright star was due to pass close to our sun; I entered my space ship and steered toward it. I landed on this planet.
This is a curious planet, Mr. Simms. You have noticed the phenomenon of the sunset. The surface of the planet expands and contracts all at once, rather than doing so by slow degrees. As a result, the sun rises and sets instantly. When I arrived in my space ship, the phenomenon was much more exaggerated. I emerged from my ship and walked about the planet. I did not expect the contraction which came at sunset. It was terrible: I was thrown against a jagged pinnacle of rock and severely injured. For many centuries I could not move. Slowly I recovered. I returned to my ship. In the course of many such sunsets, it had been shattered to atoms. The delicate instruments had been ruined. I worked many years on the ship, but I could do nothing to repair it. At last I abandoned the task.
Nothing is left of it now. Millions of years have passed and its dust is mingled with the dust of this planet.
I watched my people recede from me. When I lay next to the jagged pinnacle that had wounded me, I could still see my planet in the sky. By the time that I was well, I could discern my sun from the other stars only with difficulty.
The years have passed slowly and now my galaxy is a point of light that I can no longer resolve in the distance.
I am growing tired, Mr. Simms, and Mr. Bailey still follows me. He shoots at me no longer, but he understands that I must rest. I shall complete my tale as rapidly as I can.
I waited milleniums, but no one came. Without my aid, my people could never have built a space ship with which to rescue me. I did not have the materials. I waited alone, confident at some times that help would come, confident at most that I would remain here forever … alone.
Then you came, Mr. Simms. I saw immediately that your ship was damaged and I knew that it was not damaged badly. I wished to save you from my fate. I wished to repair your ship; I did not dare attempt to repair it, however; you would have thought that I was trying to hurt you and you would have destroyed me. I could only wait until a suitable opportunity presented itself.
You were very kind, Mr. Simms. You petted me between my eyes. The contact of your hand, the first contact with a living being in millions of years, drove me to distraction. I almost brought you inside me then and there, but I restrained myself. I knew that Mr. Bailey would not understand and would destroy me.
Now you have told me that you wish to help me. Mr. Simms, I wish to return to my own people. In the course of these years of exile, I have thought many thoughts that will be useful to them. And who was there to instruct them, after my departure? I wish to return to my people, Mr. Simms.
I believe that you and Mr. Bailey could return me in safety. It would require several major alterations in the design of your ship, but I have thought about such alterations for many years and I am confident that they can be made.
I do not think that you would regret the voyage. You would be feted at great length; there would be a splendid celebration in the hippodrome and you and Mr. Bailey would be seated in chairs of state. You would find it difficult to leave us. Nor would you go unrewarded in larger coin: I would inform you of the cures to any diseases that may still plague your people and I would give you the answers to many of their ills.
I would promise your safe return; we would build a great ship for you; it would be a time machine as well as a space craft and would return you to your planet no earlier or later than you might choose. There would be another magnificent celebration to bid you farewell. No, Mr. Simms, you would not regret returning me to my people.
But let us look at the other side of the matter: It is quite possible that I shall fail. It is quite possible that we would all be destroyed in the starless vastnesses of space. I can offer you no proof of my competence except your repaired radio and your repaired vessel. And those were simple tasks.
I am very tired, Mr. Simms. I can run no longer. I must let you out. Tell Mr. Bailey what I have told you. I pray that you may decide to help me. I pray, but I do not hope. I am sorry that I hurt you; please forgive me for hurting you, if you do nothing else.
When I see Mr. Bailey descend and talk to you, I shall cease running. I shall remain where I ceased running. You and Mr. Bailey will decide what you must do. If you will not help me, then I must ask one other favor: Fly to where I am sitting and shoot your weapon at me. I shall not move. I believe that it is capable of destroying me.
Ed Bailey pressed the button again and the purple sphere swerved aside. “Lousy purple punk,” he shouted.
The purple sphere stopped in its tracks and the rocket shot past it. Ed swore and swung about. He looked down. A man’s body lay stretched on the sand and the purple sphere hurried away.
Ed dropped down and rushed to the side of the prostrate figure.
“I made it drop you,” he sobbed over the body, “I made it drop you. My God!—you look half-digested!” He felt Archie Simms’ body. “Your arm’s broke!”
Archie’s lips moved feverishly. “Got to—got to help it—or kill it,” he groaned.
“Come on,” said Ed. He lifted the wounded man to his shoulders. “You’re okay now. Don’t talk. I’ll get you aboard.”
“It saved us—got to help it—or kill it.”
“I’ll make hash of it,” said Ed, placing Archie on his bunk. He procured a hypodermic needle from a wall cabinet. “Sorry, Arch, I’m putting you under till we get back. I can’t help you. See you in a month.” He plunged the needle into Archie’s arm.
“Got to—help it … or kill it,” sobbed Archie weakly. “Got to … help … it….” He slept.
Ed slipped behind the controls of the rocket. He pressed a button and the little boat whirled up into the sky. It vanished rapidly into the empty distances.
On a distant hilltop sat the purple sphere. He followed the path of the retreating rocket with sad eyes. He waited for many hours. The sun set and he glowed dimly against the stars. He watched the stars sadly. Then he cried.
He cried for seven days and seven nights.
Eight years passed.
The rocket whirled down from the sky and crashed into the hillside. A cloud of dust rose lazily from the spot and mingled with the fumes escaping from the vessel.
Straightway the escape hatch opened and Archie Simms jumped down to the surface of the planet.
“Here he is, Ed!” he shouted back into the ship. Ed’s face appeared in the doorway.
“Fido,” he remarked pleasantly.
“We’ve come,” said Archie. “It’s been a long drag, but we made it.”
The purple sphere’s left eye was black and swollen.
“Sorry I shot you,” said Ed. “I didn’t know….” The purple sphere looked sadly up at him. Archie petted it between the eyes and pointed to the ship.
“There she is,” he said. “All yours. Take care of her.”
Ed eased down the ramp, then hopped to the ground. He and Archie pushed the purple sphere into the ship.
Archie nudged his partner gently. “Look, Ed, he’s smiling!”
“Lousy purple punk,” snorted Ed. “You know we won’t get out of this mess alive, Simms. Lousy purple punk….”
“Oh, let’s have lunch.”