By ROBERT F. YOUNG
A touching story of the most
enduring love in all eternity.
That night her son was the
She stood motionless in the
garden, one hand pressed against
her heart, watching him rise
above the fields where he had
played as a boy, where he had
worked as a young man; and she
wondered whether he was thinking
of those fields now, whether
he was thinking of her standing
alone in the April night with her
memories; whether he was
thinking of the verandahed
house behind her, with its empty
rooms and silent halls, that once
upon a time had been his birthplace.
Higher still and higher he
rose in the southern sky, and
then, when he had reached his
zenith, he dropped swiftly down
past the dark edge of the Earth
and disappeared from sight. A
boy grown up too soon, riding
round and round the world on
a celestial carousel, encased in
an airtight metal capsule in an
airtight metal chariot ...
Why don't they leave the stars
alone? she thought. Why don't
they leave the stars to God?
The general's second telegram
came early the next morning:
Explorer XII doing splendidly.
Expect to bring your son down
She went about her work as
usual, collecting the eggs and
allocating them in their cardboard
boxes, then setting off in
the station wagon on her Tuesday
morning run. She had expected
a deluge of questions
from her customers. She was not
disappointed. "Is Terry really
way up there all alone, Martha?"
"Aren't you scared, Martha?" "I
do hope they can get him back
down all right, Martha." She
supposed it must have given
them quite a turn to have their
egg woman change into a star
She hadn't expected the TV interview,
though, and she would
have avoided it if it had been
politely possible. But what could
she do when the line of cars and
trucks pulled into the drive and
the technicians got out and started
setting up their equipment in
the backyard? What could she
say when the suave young man
came up to her and said, "We
want you to know that we're all
very proud of your boy up there,
ma'am, and we hope you'll do us
the honor of answering a few
Most of the questions concerned
Terry, as was fitting.
From the way the suave young
man asked them, though, she got
the impression that he was trying
to prove that her son was
just like any other average
American boy, and such just
didn't happen to be the case. But
whenever she opened her mouth
to mention, say, how he used to
study till all hours of the night,
or how difficult it had been for
him to make friends because of
his shyness, or the fact that he
had never gone out for football—whenever
she started to mention
any of these things, the
suave young man was in great
haste to interrupt her and to
twist her words, by requestioning,
into a different meaning
altogether, till Terry's behavior
pattern seemed to coincide with
the behavior pattern which the
suave young man apparently considered
the norm, but which, if
followed, Martha was sure,
would produce not young men
bent on exploring space but
young men bent on exploring
A few of the questions concerned
herself: Was Terry her
only child? ("Yes.") What had
happened to her husband? ("He
was killed in the Korean War.")
What did she think of the new
law granting star mothers top
priority on any and all information
relating to their sons? ("I
think it's a fine law ... It's too
bad they couldn't have shown
similar humanity toward the
war mothers of World War II.")
It was late in the afternoon
by the time the TV crew got
everything repacked into their
cars and trucks and made their
departure. Martha fixed herself
a light supper, then donned an
old suede jacket of Terry's and
went out into the garden to wait
for the sun to go down. According
to the time table the general
had outlined in his first telegram,
Terry's first Tuesday
night passage wasn't due to occur
till 9:05. But it seemed only
right that she should be outside
when the stars started to come
out. Presently they did, and she
watched them wink on, one by
one, in the deepening darkness
of the sky. She'd never been
much of a one for the stars;
most of her life she'd been much
too busy on Earth to bother with
things celestial. She could remember,
when she was much
younger and Bill was courting
her, looking up at the moon
sometimes; and once in a while,
when a star fell, making a wish.
But this was different. It was
different because now she had
a personal interest in the sky, a
new affinity with its myriad inhabitants.
And how bright they became
when you kept looking at them!
They seemed to come alive, almost,
pulsing brilliantly down
out of the blackness of the night ...
And they were different colors,
too, she noticed with a start.
Some of them were blue and
some were red, others were yellow
... green ... orange ...
It grew cold in the April garden
and she could see her breath.
There was a strange crispness,
a strange clarity about the
night, that she had never known
before ... She glanced at her
watch, was astonished to see that
the hands indicated two minutes
after nine. Where had the time
gone? Tremulously she faced the
southern horizon ... and saw
her Terry appear in his shining
chariot, riding up the star-pebbled
path of his orbit, a star in
his own right, dropping swiftly
now, down, down, and out of
sight beyond the dark wheeling
mass of the Earth ... She took
a deep, proud breath, realized
that she was wildly waving her
hand and let it fall slowly to her
side. Make a wish! she thought,
like a little girl, and she wished
him pleasant dreams and a safe
return and wrapped the wish in
all her love and cast it starward.
Sometime tomorrow, the general's
telegram had said—
That meant sometime today!
She rose with the sun and fed
the chickens, fixed and ate her
breakfast, collected the eggs and
put them in their cardboard
boxes, then started out on her
Wednesday morning run. "My
land, Martha, I don't see how
you stand it with him way up
there! Doesn't it get on your
nerves?" ("Yes ... Yes, it
does.") "Martha, when are they
bringing him back down?"
("Today ... Today!") "It must
be wonderful being a star mother,
Martha." ("Yes, it is—in a
Wonderful ... and terrible.
If only he can last it out for
a few more hours, she thought.
If only they can bring him down
safe and sound. Then the vigil
will be over, and some other
mother can take over the awesome
responsibility of having a
son become a star—
If only ...
The general's third telegram
arrived that afternoon: Regret
to inform you that meteorite impact
on satellite hull severely
mechanism, making ejection impossible.
Will make every effort
to find another means of accomplishing
your son's return.
See the little boy playing beneath
the maple tree, moving his
tiny cars up and down the tiny
streets of his make-believe village;
the little boy, his fuzz of
hair gold in the sunlight, his
cherub-cheeks pink in the summer
Up the lane the blue-denimed
young man walks, swinging his
thin tanned arms, his long legs
making near-grownup strides
over the sun-seared grass; the
sky blue and bright behind him,
the song of cicada rising and
falling in the hazy September
—probably won't get a chance
to write you again before take-off,
but don't worry, Ma. The
Explorer XII is the greatest bird
they ever built. Nothing short of
a direct meteorite hit can hurt
it, and the odds are a million to
Why don't they leave the stars
alone? Why don't they leave the
stars to God?
The afternoon shadows lengthened
on the lawn and the sun
grew red and swollen over the
western hills. Martha fixed supper,
tried to eat, and couldn't.
After a while, when the light
began to fade, she slipped into
Terry's jacket and went outside.
Slowly the sky darkened and
the stars began to appear. At
length her star appeared, but its
swift passage blurred before her
eyes. Tires crunched on the
gravel then, and headlights
washed the darkness from the
drive. A car door slammed.
Martha did not move. Please
God, she thought, let it be Terry,
even though she knew that it
couldn't possibly be Terry. Footsteps
sounded behind her, paused.
Someone coughed softly. She
"Good evening, ma'am."
She saw the circlet of stars
on the gray epaulet; she saw the
stern handsome face; she saw
the dark tired eyes. And she
knew. Even before he spoke
again, she knew—
"The same meteorite that
damaged the ejection mechanism,
ma'am. It penetrated the
capsule, too. We didn't find out
till just a while ago—but there
was nothing we could have done
anyway ... Are you all right,
"Yes. I'm all right."
"I wanted to express my regrets
personally. I know how you
"It's all right."
"We will, of course, make
every effort to bring back his ... remains ... so
that he can
have a fitting burial on Earth."
"No," she said.
"I beg your pardon, ma'am?"
She raised her eyes to the
patch of sky where her son had
passed in his shining metal sarcophagus.
there, blue-white and beautiful.
She raised her eyes still higher—and
beheld the vast parterre
of Orion with its central motif
of vivid forget-me-nots, its far-flung
blooms of Betelguese and
Rigel, of Bellatrix and Saiph ...
And higher yet—and there
flamed the exquisite flower beds
of Taurus and Gemini, there
burgeoned the riotous wreath of
the Crab; there lay the pulsing
petals of the Pleiades ... And
down the ecliptic garden path,
wafted by a stellar breeze, drifted
the ocher rose of Mars ...
"No," she said again.
The general had raised his
eyes, too; now, slowly, he lowered
them. "I think I understand,
ma'am. And I'm glad
that's the way you want it ...
The stars are beautiful tonight,
"More beautiful than they've
ever been," she said.
After the general had gone,
she looked up once more at the
vast and variegated garden of
the sky where her son lay buried,
then she turned and walked
slowly back to the memoried
This etext was produced from Amazing Stories January 1959.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
typographical errors have been corrected without note.