By FLOYD WALLACE
A gentle fancy for the Christmas Season—an
oft-told tale with a wistful twistful of Something
that left the Earth with a wing and a prayer.
Earth was so far away that
it wasn't visible. Even the
sun was only a twinkle. But this
vast distance did not mean that
isolation could endure forever.
Instruments within the ship intercepted
radio broadcasts and,
within the hour, early TV signals.
Machines compiled dictionaries
and grammars and began
translating the major languages.
The history of the planet was
tabulated as facts became available.
The course of the ship changed
slightly; it was not much out of
the way to swing nearer Earth.
For days the two within the ship
listened and watched with little
comment. They had to decide
"We've got to make or break,"
said the first alien.
"You know what I'm in favor
of," said the second.
"I can guess," said Ethaniel,
who had spoken first. "The place
is a complete mess. They've never
done anything except fight
each other—and invent better
"It's not what they've done,"
said Bal, the second alien. "It's
what they're going to do, with
that big bomb."
"The more reason for stopping,"
said Ethaniel. "The big
bomb can destroy them. Without
our help they may do just that."
"I may remind you that in two
months twenty-nine days we're
due in Willafours," said Bal.
"Without looking at the charts
I can tell you we still have more
than a hundred light-years to
"A week," said Ethaniel. "We
can spare a week and still get
there on time."
"A week?" said Bal. "To settle
their problems? They've had two
world wars in one generation
and that the third and final one
is coming up you can't help feeling
in everything they do."
"It won't take much," said
Ethaniel. "The wrong diplomatic
move, or a trigger-happy soldier
could set it off. And it wouldn't
have to be deliberate. A meteor
shower could pass over and their
clumsy instruments could interpret
it as an all-out enemy
"Too bad," said Bal. "We'll
just have to forget there ever
was such a planet as Earth."
"Could you? Forget so many
"I'm doing it," said Bal. "Just
give them a little time and they
won't be here to remind me that
I have a conscience."
"My memory isn't convenient,"
said Ethaniel. "I ask you
to look at them."
Bal rustled, flicking the screen
intently. "Very much like ourselves,"
he said at last. "A bit
shorter perhaps, and most certainly
incomplete. Except for the
one thing they lack, and that's
quite odd, they seem exactly like
us. Is that what you wanted me
"It is. The fact that they are
an incomplete version of ourselves
touches me. They actually
seem defenseless, though I suppose
"Tough," said Bal. "Nothing
we can do about it."
"There is. We can give them
"In a week we can't negate
their entire history. We can't
begin to undo the effect of the
"You can't tell," said Ethaniel.
"We can look things over."
"And then what? How much
authority do we have?"
"Very little," conceded Ethaniel.
"Two minor officials on the
way to Willafours—and we run
directly into a problem no one
"And when we get to Willafours
we'll be busy. It will be a
long time before anyone comes
this way again."
"A very long time. There's
nothing in this region of space
our people want," said Ethaniel.
"And how long can Earth last?
Ten years? Even ten months?
The tension is building by the
"What can I say?" said Bal.
"I suppose we can stop and look
them over. We're not committing
ourselves by looking."
They went much closer to
Earth, not intending to commit
themselves. For a day they circled
the planet, avoiding radar
detection, which for them was
not difficult, testing, and sampling.
Finally Ethaniel looked up
from the monitor screen. "Any
"What's there to think? It's
worse than I imagined."
"In what way?"
"Well, we knew they had the
big bomb. Atmospheric analysis
showed that as far away as we
"We also knew they could deliver
the big bomb, presumably
by some sort of aircraft."
"That was almost a certainty.
They'd have no use for the big
bomb without aircraft."
"What's worse is that I now
find they also have missiles,
range one thousand miles and
upward. They either have or are
near a primitive form of space
"Bad," said Ethaniel. "Sitting
there, wondering when it's going
to hit them. Nervousness could
set it off."
"It could, and the missiles
make it worse," said Bal. "What
did you find out at your end?"
"Nothing worthwhile. I was
looking at the people while you
were investigating their weapons."
"You must think something."
"I wish I knew what to think.
There's so little time," Ethaniel
said. "Language isn't the difficulty.
Our machines translate
their languages easily and I've
taken a cram course in two or
three of them. But that's not
enough, looking at a few plays,
listening to advertisements, music,
and news bulletins. I should
go down and live among them,
read books, talk to scholars, work
with them, play."
"You could do that and you'd
really get to know them. But
that takes time—and we don't
"I realize that."
"A flat yes or no," said Bal.
"No. We can't help them," said
Ethaniel. "There is nothing we
can do for them—but we have to
"Sure, I knew it before we
started," said Bal. "It's happened
before. We take the trouble to
find out what a people are like
and when we can't help them we
feel bad. It's going to be that
way again." He rose and stretched.
"Well, give me an hour to
think of some way of going at
It was longer than that before
they met again. In the meantime
the ship moved much closer to
Earth. They no longer needed instruments
to see it. The planet
revolved outside the visionports.
The southern plains were green,
coursed with rivers; the oceans
were blue; and much of the
northern hemisphere was glistening
white. Ragged clouds covered
the pole, and a dirty pall
spread over the mid-regions of
"I haven't thought of anything
brilliant," said Ethaniel.
"Nor I," said Bal. "We're going
to have to go down there
cold. And it will be cold."
"Yes. It's their winter."
"I did have an idea," said Bal.
"What about going down as supernatural
"Hardly," said Ethaniel. "A
hundred years ago it might have
worked. Today they have satellites.
They are not primitives."
"I suppose you're right," said
Bal. "I did think we ought to
take advantage of our physical
"If we could I'd be all for it.
But these people are rough and
desperate. They wouldn't be
fooled by anything that crude."
"Well, you're calling it," said
"All right," said Ethaniel.
"You take one side and I the
other. We'll tell them bluntly
what they'll have to do if they're
going to survive, how they can
keep their planet in one piece so
they can live on it."
"That'll go over big. Advice is
"Can't help it. That's all we
have time for."
"None. We leave the ship here
and go down in separate landing
craft. You can talk with me any
time you want to through our
communications, but don't unless
you have to."
"They can't intercept the
beams we use."
"They can't, and even if they
did they wouldn't know what to
do with our language. I want
them to think that we don't need
to talk things over."
"I get it. Makes us seem better
than we are. They think we know
exactly what we're doing even
though we don't."
"If we're lucky they'll think
Bal looked out of the port at
the planet below. "It's going to
be cold where I'm going. You too.
Sure we don't want to change
our plans and land in the southern
hemisphere? It's summer
"I'm afraid not. The great
powers are in the north. They
are the ones we have to reach to
do the job."
"Yeah, but I was thinking of
that holiday you mentioned.
We'll be running straight into it.
That won't help us any."
"I know, they don't like their
holidays interrupted. It can't be
helped. We can't wait until it's
"I'm aware of that," said Bal.
"Fill me in on that holiday, anything
I ought to know. Probably
religious in origin. That so?"
"It was religious a long time
ago," said Ethaniel. "I didn't
learn anything exact from radio
and TV. Now it seems to be
chiefly a time for eating, office
parties, and selling merchandise."
"I see. It has become a business
"That's a good description. I
didn't get as much of it as I
ought to have. I was busy studying
the people, and they're hard
to pin down."
"I see. I was thinking there
might be some way we could tie
ourselves in with this holiday.
Make it work for us."
"If there is I haven't thought
"You ought to know. You're
running this one." Bal looked
down at the planet. Clouds were
beginning to form at the twilight
edge. "I hate to go down
and leave the ship up here with
no one in it."
"They can't touch it. No matter
how they develop in the next
hundred years they still won't be
able to get in or damage it in
"It's myself I'm thinking
about. Down there, alone."
"I'll be with you. On the other
side of the Earth."
"That's not very close. I'd like
it better if there were someone
in the ship to bring it down in a
hurry if things get rough. They
don't think much of each other.
I don't imagine they'll like aliens
"They may be unfriendly,"
Ethaniel acknowledged. Now he
switched a monitor screen until
he looked at the slope of a mountain.
It was snowing and men
were cutting small green trees in
the snow. "I've thought of a
"If it saves my neck I'm for
"I don't guarantee anything,"
said Ethaniel. "This is what I
was thinking of: instead of hiding
the ship against the sun
where there's little chance it will
be seen, we'll make sure that
they do see it. Let's take it
around to the night side of the
planet and light it up."
"Say, pretty good," said Bal.
"They can't imagine that we'd
light up an unmanned ship," said
Ethaniel. "Even if the thought
should occur to them they'll have
no way of checking it. Also, they
won't be eager to harm us with
our ship shining down on them."
"That's thinking," said Bal,
moving to the controls. "I'll move
the ship over where they can see
it best and then I'll light it up.
I'll really light it up."
"Don't spare power."
"Don't worry about that.
They'll see it. Everybody on
Earth will see it." Later, with the
ship in position, glowing against
the darkness of space, pulsating
with light, Bal said: "You know,
I feel better about this. We may
pull it off. Lighting the ship may
be just the help we need."
"It's not we who need help, but
the people of Earth," said Ethaniel.
"See you in five days." With
that he entered a small landing
craft, which left a faintly luminescent
trail as it plunged toward
Earth. As soon as it was
safe to do so, Bal left in another
craft, heading for the other side
of the planet.
And the spaceship circled
Earth, unmanned, blazing and
pulsing with light. No star in the
winter skies of the planet below
could equal it in brilliancy. Once
a man-made satellite came near
but it was dim and was lost sight
of by the people below. During
the day the ship was visible as
a bright spot of light. At evening
it seemed to burn through
the sunset colors.
And the ship circled on,
bright, shining, seeming to be a
little piece clipped from the center
of a star and brought near
Earth to illuminate it. Never, or
seldom, had Earth seen anything
In five days the two small landing
craft that had left it arched
up from Earth and joined the
orbit of the large ship. The two
small craft slid inside the large
one and doors closed behind
them. In a short time the aliens
"We did it," said Bal exultantly
as he came in. "I don't know
how we did it and I thought we
were going to fail but at the last
minute they came through."
Ethaniel smiled. "I'm tired,"
he said, rustling.
"Me too, but mostly I'm cold,"
said Bal, shivering. "Snow.
Nothing but snow wherever I
went. Miserable climate. And yet
you had me go out walking after
that first day."
"From my own experience it
seemed to be a good idea," said
Ethaniel. "If I went out walking
one day I noticed that the next
day the officials were much more
cooperative. If it worked for me
I thought it might help you."
"It did. I don't know why, but
it did," said Bal. "Anyway, this
agreement they made isn't the
best but I think it will keep them
from destroying themselves."
"It's as much as we can expect,"
said Ethaniel. "They may
have small wars after this, but
never the big one. In fifty or a
hundred years we can come back
and see how much they've
"I'm not sure I want to," said
Bal. "Say, what's an angel?"
"When I went out walking
people stopped to look. Some
knelt in the snow and called me
"Something like that happened
to me," said Ethaniel.
"I didn't get it but I didn't let
it upset me," said Bal. "I smiled
at them and went about my business."
He shivered again. "It was
always cold. I walked out, but
sometimes I flew back. I hope
that was all right."
In the cabin Bal spread his
great wings. Renaissance painters
had never seen his like but
knew exactly how he looked. In
their paintings they had pictured
him innumerable times.
"I don't think it hurt us that
you flew," said Ethaniel. "I did
so myself occasionally."
"But you don't know what an
"No. I didn't have time to find
out. Some creature of their folklore
I suppose. You know, except
for our wings they're very much
like ourselves. Their legends are
bound to resemble ours."
"Sure," said Bal. "Anyway,
peace on Earth."
This etext was produced from Amazing Science Fiction Stories January
1960. 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.