By ALAN MATTOX
Renner had a purpose in life. And
the Purpose in Life had Renner.
The star ship came out of
space drive for the last time,
and made its final landing on a
scrubby little planet that circled
a small and lonely sun. It came to
ground gently, with the cushion
of a retarder field, on the side
of the world where it was night.
In the room that would have
been known as the bridge on
ships of other days, instrument
lights glowed softly on Captain
Renner's cropped white hair, and
upon the planes of his lean,
strong face. Competent fingers
touched controls here and there,
seeking a response that he knew
would not come. He had known
this for long enough so that there
was no longer any emotional
impact in it for him. He shut off
the control panel, and stood up.
"Well, gentlemen," he said,
"that's it. The fuel pack's gone!"
Beeson, the botanist, a rotund
little man with a red, unsmiling
face, squirmed in his chair.
"The engineers on Earth told
us it would last a lifetime," he
"If we were just back on
Earth," Thorne, the ship's doctor,
said drily, "we could tell
them that it doesn't. They could
start calculating again."
"But what does it mean?"
David asked. He was the youngest
member of the crew, signed
on as linguist, and librarian to
"Just that we're stuck here—where
ever that is—for good!"
Farrow said bitterly.
"You won't have to run engines
anymore," Dr. Thorne commented,
knowing that remark
would irritate Farrow.
Farrow glared at him. His narrow
cheekbones and shallow eyes
were shadowed by the control
room lights. He was good with
the engines which were his
special charge, but beyond that,
he was limited in both sympathy
Captain Renner looked from
face to face.
"We were lucky to set down
safely," he said to them all. "We
might have been caught too far
out for a landing. It is night
now, and I am going to get some
rest. Tomorrow we will see what
kind of a world this is."
He left the control room, and
went down the corridor toward
his quarters. The others watched
him go. None of them made a
move to leave their seats.
"What about the fuel pack?"
"Just what he said," Farrow
answered him. "It's exhausted.
Done for! We can run auxiliary
equipment for a long time to
come, but no more star drive."
"So we just stay here until
we're rescued," David said.
"A fine chance for that!" Farrow's
voice grew bitter again.
"Our captain has landed us out
here on the rim of the galaxy
where there won't be another
ship for a hundred years!"
"I don't understand the man,"
Beeson said suddenly, looking
around him belligerently. "What
are we doing out here anyway?"
"Extended Exploration," said
Thorne. "It's a form of being
put out to pasture. Renner's too
old for the Service, but he's
still a strong and competent man.
So they give him a ship, and a
vague assignment, and let him
do just about what he wants.
There you have it."
He took a cigar from his pocket,
and looked at it fondly.
"While they last, gentlemen,"
he said, holding it up. He snipped
the end, and lit it carefully.
His own hair had grown grey in
the Service, and, in a way, the
reason for his assignment to the
ship was the same as Renner's.
"I think," he said slowly, "that
Captain Renner is looking for
"But for what?" Beeson demanded.
"He has taken us to
every out-of-the-way, backward
planet on the rim. And what
happens? We land. We find the
natives. We are kind to them.
We teach them something, and
leave them a few supplies. And
then Renner loses interest, and
we go on!"
"Perhaps it is for something
in himself," David offered.
"Perhaps he will find it here,"
Thorne murmured. "I'm going to
He got up from his seat.
David stood up, and went over
to one of the observation ports.
He ran back the radiation screen.
The sky outside was very black,
and filled with alien stars. He
could see absolutely nothing of
the landscape about them because
of the dark. It was a poor
little planet. It hadn't even a
In the morning they opened up
the ship, and let down the landing
ramps. It was a very old
world that they set foot upon.
Whatever mountains or hills it
had ever had, had long ago been
leveled by erosion, so that now
there was only a vaguely undulating
plain studded with smooth
and rounded boulders. The soil
underfoot was packed and barren,
and there was no vegetation for
as far as they could see.
But the climate seemed mild
and pleasant, the air warm and
dry, with a soft breeze blowing.
It was probable that the breeze
would be always with them.
There were no mountains to
interfere with its passage, or
alter its gentle play.
Off to one side, a little stream
ran crystal clear over rocks and
gravel. Dr. Thorne got a sample
bottle from the ship, and went
over to it. He touched his fingers
to the water, and then touched
them to his lips. Then he filled
the sample bottle from the
stream, and came back with it.
"It seems all right," he said.
"I'll run an analysis of it, and
let you know as soon as I can."
He took the bottle with him
into the ship.
Beeson stood kicking at the
ground with the toe of his boot.
His head was lowered.
"What do you think of it?"
Beeson shrugged. He knelt
down and felt of the earth with
his hands. Then he got out a
heavy-bladed knife and hacked
at it until he had pried out a
few hard pieces. He stood up
again with these in his hands.
He tried to crumble them, but
they would not crumble. They
would only break into bits like
"It's hard to tell," he said.
"There seems to be absolutely
no organic material here. I
would say that nothing has
grown here for a long, long time.
Why, I don't know. The lab will
tell us something."
For the rest of the day they
went their separate ways; Renner
to his cabin to make the
entries that were needed when
a flight was ended, even though
that ending was not intentional;
Beeson to prowling along the
edge of the stream and pecking
at the soil with a geologist's
pick; and Farrow to his narrow
little world of engines where he
worked at getting ready the
traction machines and other
equipment that would be needed.
David set out on a tour of exploration
toward the furthermost
nests of boulders. It was there
that he found the first signs of
vegetation. In and around some
of the larger groups of rocks, he
found mosses and lichens growing.
He collected specimens of
them to take back with him. It
was out there, far from the ship,
that he saw the first animate life.
When he returned, it was
growing toward evening. He
found that the others had
brought tables from the ship,
and sleeping equipment, and set
it up outside. Their own quarters
would have been more comfortable,
but the ship was always
there for their protection, if
they needed it, and they were
tired of its confinement. It was
a luxury to sleep outdoors, even
under alien stars.
Someone had brought food
from the synthetizer, and arranged
it on a table. They were
eating when he arrived.
He handed the specimens of
moss and lichen to Captain Renner,
who looked at them with
interest, and then passed them
on to Beeson for his study.
"Sir?" David said.
"What is it, David?" Captain
"I think there are natives
here," David said. "I believe that
I saw one."
Renner's eyes lit up with interest.
He laid down his knife
"Are you sure?" he asked.
"It was just a glimpse," David
said, "of a hairy face peering
around a rock. It looked like one
of those pictures of a cave man
one used to see in the old texts."
Renner stood up. He moved a
little way away, and stood staring
out into the growing dark,
across the boulder-studded plain.
"On a barren planet like this,"
he said, "they must lack so many
"I'd swear he almost looks
happy," Dr. Thorne whispered to
the man next to him. It happened
to be Farrow.
"Why shouldn't he be?" Farrow
growled, his mouth full of
food. "He's got him a planet to
play with! That's what he's been
aiming for—wait and see!"
The next few days passed
swiftly. Dr. Thorne found the
water from the little stream not
only to be potable, but extremely
Farrow got his machinery unloaded
and ready to run. Among
other things, there was a land
vehicle on light caterpillar treads
capable of running where there
were no roads and carrying a
load of several tons. And there
was an out-and-out tractor with
Beeson was busy in his laboratory
working on samples from
David brought in the one new
point that was of interest. He
had been out hunting among the
boulders again, and it was
almost dark when he returned.
He told Renner about it at the
supper table, with the others
"I think the natives eat the
lichen," he said.
"I haven't seen much else they
could eat," Beeson muttered.
"There's more of the lichen
than you might think," David
said, "if you know where to look
for it. But, even at that, there
isn't very much. The thing is,
it looks like it's been cropped.
It's never touched if the plants
are small, or half grown, or
very nearly ready. But just as
soon as a patch is fully mature,
it is stripped bare, and there
never seems to be any of it dropped,
or left behind, or wasted."
"If that's all they have to live
on," Thorne said, "they have it
The natives began to be seen
nearer to the camp. At first
there were just glimpses of them,
a hairy face or head seen at the
edge of a rock, or the sight of a
stocky figure dashing from boulder
to boulder. As they grew
braver, they came out more into
the open. They kept their distance,
and would disappear into
the rocks if anyone made a move
toward them, but, if no attention
was paid them, they moved about
In particular, they would
come, each evening, to stand in a
ragged line near one of the nests
of boulders. From there, they
would watch the crewmen eat.
There were never more than
twelve or fifteen of them, a
bandy-legged lot, with thick,
heavy torsos, and hairy heads.
It was on one of these occasions
that Dr. Thorne happened
to look up.
"Oh, oh!" he said. "Here it
Renner turned his head, and
rose to his feet. The other men
rose with him.
Three of the natives were
coming toward the camp. They
came along at a swinging trot,
a sense of desperation and dedicated
purpose in their manner.
One ran slightly ahead. The
other two followed behind him,
shoulder to shoulder.
Farrow reached for a ray gun
in a pile of equipment near him,
and raised it.
"No weapons!" Captain Renner
Farrow lowered his arm, but
kept the gun in his hand.
The natives drew near enough
for their faces to be seen. The
leader was casting frightened
glances from side to side and
ahead of him as he came. The
other two stared straight ahead,
their faces rigid, their eyes
blank with fear.
They came straight to the
table. There they reached out
suddenly, and caught up all the
food that they could carry in
their hands, and turned and fled
with it in terror into the night.
Somebody sighed in relief.
"Poor devils!" Renner said.
There was a conference the
following morning around one
of the tables.
"We've been here long enough
to settle in," Renner said. "It's
time we started in to do something
for this planet." He looked
toward Beeson. "How far have
you gotten?" he asked.
Beeson was, as usual, brisk
"I can give you the essentials,"
he said. "I can't tell you the
whole story. I don't know it. To
be brief, the soil is highly nitrogen
deficient, and completely
lacking in humus. In a way, the
two points tie in together." He
looked about him sharply, and
then went on. "The nitrates are
easily leached from the soil.
Without the bacteria that grow
around certain roots to fix nitrogen
and form new nitrates, the
soil was soon depleted.
"As to the complete lack of
organic material, I can hazard
only a guess. Time, of course.
But, back of that, probably the
usual history of an overpopulation,
and a depleted soil. At the
end, perhaps they ate everything,
leaves, stems and roots,
and returned nothing to the
"The nitrates are replaceable?"
"The nitrates will have formed
deposits," he said, "probably
near ancient lakes or shallow
seas. It shouldn't be too hard to
Renner turned to Farrow.
"How about your department?"
"I take it we're thinking of
farming," Farrow said. "I've got
equipment that will break up the
soil for you. And I can throw a
dam across the stream for
"There are seeds in the ship,"
Renner said, his eyes lighting
with enthusiasm. "We'll start
this planet all over again!"
"There's still one thing,"
Beeson reminded him drily.
"Humus! Leaves, roots, organic
material! Something to loosen
up the soil, aerate it. Nothing
will grow in a brick."
Renner stood up. He took a
few slow paces, and then stood
looking out at the groups of
boulders studding the ancient
"I see," he said. "And there's
only one place to get it. We'll
have to use the lichens and the
"There'll be trouble with the
natives if you do," Thorne said.
Renner looked at him. He
"You'll be taking their only
food," the doctor pointed out.
"We can feed them from the
synthetizer," Renner answered.
"We know that they will eat it."
"Why bother?" Farrow asked
Renner turned on him.
"Will the synthetizer handle
it?" he asked.
"I guess so," Farrow grumbled.
"For a while, at least. But
I don't see what good the natives
are to us."
"If we take their food,"
Renner said, "we're going to
feed them. At least until such
time as the crops come in, and
they are able to feed themselves!"
"Are you building this planet
for us, or for them?" Farrow
Renner turned away.
They put out cannisters of
food for the natives that night.
In the morning it was gone.
Each evening, someone left food
for them near their favorite
nest of rocks. The natives took
it in the dark, unseen.
Gradually, Captain Renner
himself took over the feeding.
He seemed to derive a personal
satisfaction from it. Gradually,
too, the natives began coming
out into the open to receive it.
Before long, they were waiting
for him every evening as he
brought them food.
The gathering of the lichen
began. They picked it by hand,
working singly or in pairs,
searching out the rocks and hidden
places where it grew. From
time to time they would catch
glimpses of the natives watching
them from a distance. They
were careful not to get close.
On one of these occasions,
Captain Renner and David were
"Do they have a language?"
Captain Renner asked.
"Yes, sir," David answered.
"I have heard them talking
"Do you suppose you can
learn it?" Renner asked. "Do
you think you could get near
enough to them to listen in?"
"I could try," David offered.
"Then do so," Renner said.
"That's an assignment."
Thereafter David went out
alone. He found that getting
close to the natives was not too
difficult. He tried to keep out of
their sight, while still getting
near enough to them to hear
their voices. They were undoubtedly
aware of his presence,
but, with the feeding, they had
lost their fear of the men, and
did not seem to care.
Bit by bit he learned their
language, starting from a few
key roots and sounds. It was a
job for which he had been
Time passed rapidly, and the
work went on. Captain Renner
let his beard grow. It came out
white and thick, and he did not
bother to trim it. The others,
too, became more careless in
their dress, each man following
his own particular whim. There
was no longer need for a taut
Farrow threw a dam across
the little stream, and, while the
water grew behind it, went on
to breaking up the soil with his
machines. Beeson searched for
nitrate, and found it. He
brought a load of it back, and
this, together with the moss and
lichen, was chopped into the soil.
In the end, it was the lichen
that was the limiting factor.
There was only so much of it,
so the size of the plot that they
could prepare was small.
"But it's a start," Renner said.
"That's all we can hope for this
first year. This crop will furnish
more material to be chopped
back into the soil. Year by year
it will grow until the inhabitants
here will have a new world to
"What do you expect to get
out of it?" Farrow asked bitingly.
Renner's eyes glowed with an
Renner's beard grew with the
passing months until it became
a luxuriant thing. He let his
hair go untrimmed too, so that,
with his tall, spare figure, he
took on a patriarchal look. And,
with the passing months, there
came that time which was to be
spring for this planet. The first
green blades of the new planting
showed above the ground.
The natives noticed it with
awe, and kept a respectful distance.
That evening, when it was
time for the natives' feeding, the
men gathered about. Little by
little the feeding had become a
ritual, and they would often go
out to watch it. It was always
the same. Renner would step forward
away from the others a
little way, the load of food in his
hands. The natives would come
to stand before him in their
ragged line, their leader a trifle
to the front. There they would
bow, and begin a chant that had
become a part of the ritual with
the passing time.
With the first green planting
showing, there was a look of
deep satisfaction in Renner's
eyes as he stepped forward this
night. His hair had grown quite
long by now, and his white beard
blew softly in the constant wind.
There was a simple dignity about
him as he stood there, his head
erect, and looked upon the natives
as his children.
The natives began their chant.
It became louder.
"Tolava—" they said, and
As usual, Farrow was nettled.
"What does the man want anyway?"
he asked out loud. "To be
Renner could not help but hear
him. He did not turn his head.
"David!" he said.
"Sir?" David asked, stepping
"You understand their language
now, don't you?" Renner
"Yes, sir," David said.
"Then translate!" Renner
ordered. "Out loud, please, so
that the others may hear!"
"Tolava—" the natives chanted,
"Tolava—our father," David
said, following the chant. Suddenly
he swallowed, and hesitated
for a moment. Then he
straightened himself, and went
sturdily on. "Tolava—our father—who
art from the heavens—give
us—this day—our bread!"
This etext was produced from Amazing Stories November 1959. Extensive
research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.