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Dead Man's Planet   By: (1906-1980)

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Illustrated by EMSH

When a driven man arrives at a cemetery world, what else can it be but journey's end and the start of a new one?

Outside the ship, it was the sun that blazed angrily. Inside, it was Sam Wilson's temper. "Study your lessons," he snarled, with a savageness that surprised himself, "or I'll never let you set foot on this planet at all."

"Okay, Pop," said Mark, a little white around the nostrils. He looked old for so young a kid. "I didn't mean anything wrong."

"I don't care what you meant. You do as you're told."

In the quiet that followed, broken only by the hum of the arithmetic tape, Sam wondered at himself. As kids went, Mark had never been a nuisance. Certainly Rhoda had never had any trouble with him. But Rhoda had been altogether different. Sam was tough and he had always got a sense of satisfaction out of knowing that he was hard boiled. Or at least that was once true. Rhoda had been sweet, gentle....

He aroused himself from thoughts of her by calling, "Mark!"

"Yes, Pop?"

His voice had been harsher than he had intended. Over the past few weeks he seemed gradually to have been losing control of it. Now, although he was going to do his son a favor, he sounded like a slavemaster threatening a beating. "You can shut off your arithmetic lesson. We're going out."

"But didn't you want me "

"I changed my mind."

Mark seemed more troubled than pleased, as if a father who changed his mind so readily was a man to be wary of.

I'm on edge all the time , thought Sam, and I'm getting him that way, too. I'll have to regain control of myself.

He had long ago made all the necessary tests for such possible dangers as lack of oxygen and the presence of infectious organisms. On all counts, the planet had passed muster. The sun, whiter than Sol, was almost hot enough to make him forget the chill he carried deep inside him. Almost, but not quite, especially as the air, though breathable, was thin and deficient in nitrogen. The countryside was bleak, inspiring in him the thought that there are two kinds of desolation; the one that precedes the coming of Man, and the one which he knows only too well how to create wherever he goes. The desolation here was non human.

"It it's like a cemetery, ain't it, Pop?"

Sam looked at his son sharply. Kids of ten were not supposed to know much about cemeteries. Nor, for that matter, were kids of six, Mark's age when the funeral had taken place. Sam hadn't let him attend, but evidently the incident had made a deeper impression on his mind than Sam had realized. He would always remember a cemetery as the place where his mother lived. Perhaps he missed Rhoda almost as much as his father did.

"It's different from a cemetery," said Sam. "There's nobody buried here. Looks like we're the first human beings ever to set foot on this place."

"Do you think we'll find animals to catch, Pop?"

"I don't see signs of any animals."

That was part of Sam's private fiction, that he was looking for strange animals to be sold to zoos or circuses. Actually he was seeking less to find anything new than to lose something he carried with him, and succeeding in neither attempt.

Mark shivered in the sun. "It's kind of lonely," he said.

"More lonely than the ship?"

"It's different. It's bigger, so it's more lonely."

I'm not so sure , argued Sam mentally. In the ship, we have all of space around us, and nothing's bigger than that. Still, your opinion has to be respected. You're almost as great an expert on the various kinds of loneliness as I am. The difference is that you're loneliest when you're away from people. I'm loneliest in a crowd. That's why I don't mind this planet so much.

He walked ahead, Mark following almost reluctantly. The ground was rocky and the shrub like vegetation sparse and stunted, ranging in color from greenish gray to brown... Continue reading book >>

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