This was to be the day, but of course Professor Pettibone had no way of knowing it. He arose, as he had been doing for the previous twenty years, donned the tattered remnants of his space suit, and went out into the open. He stood erect, bronzed, magnificent, faced distant Earth, and recited:
“Good morning, bright sunshine,
We’re glad you are here.
You make the world happy,
And bring us good cheer.”
It was something he had heard as a child and, isolated here on Mars, he had remembered it and used it to keep from losing his power of speech.
The ritual finished, he walked to the edge of the nearest canal, and gathered a bushel or so of dried Martian moss. He returned and began polishing the shiny exterior of the wrecked space ship. It had to really glitter if it was to be an effective beacon in guiding the rescue ship.
Professor Pettibone knew--had known for years--that a ship would come. It was just a matter of time, and as the years slipped by, his faith diminished not a whit.
With his task half completed, he glanced up at the sun and quickened the polishing. It was a long walk to the place the berry bushes grew, and if he arrived too late, the sun would have dried out the night’s crop of fragile berries and he would wait until the morrow for nourishment.
But on this day, he was fated to arrive at the bush area not at all, because an alien sound from above again drew the Professor’s eyes from his work, and he knew that the day had arrived.
The ship was three times as large as any he had ever visualized, and its futuristic design told him, sharply, how far he had fallen behind in his dreaming. He smiled and said, quite calmly, “I daresay I am about to be rescued.”
And he experienced a thrill as the great ship set down and two men emerged therefrom. A thrill tinged with a guilt-sense, because emotional experiences were rare in an isolated life and seemed somehow indecent.
The two men held weapons. They advanced upon Professor Pettibone, looked up into his face, reflected a certain wary hostility. That the hostility was tinged with instinctive respect, even awe, made it no less potent.
One of them asked, “Fella--man came in ship--sky boat--long time ago. Him dead? Where?” Appropriate gestures accompanied the words.
Professor Pettibone smiled down at the little men and bowed. “You are of course referring to me. I came in the ship. I am Professor Pettibone. It was nice of you to hunt me up.”
The eyes of the two Terran spacemen met and locked in startled inquiry. One of them voiced the reaction of both when he said, “What the hell--”
“You no doubt are curious as to the fate of the other members of the expedition. They were killed, all save Fletcher, who lasted a week.” Professor Pettibone waved a hand. “There--in the graveyard.”
But their eyes remained on the only survivor of that ill-fated first expedition. It was hard to accept him as the man they sought, but, faced with undeniable similarity between what they expected and what they had found, the two spacemen had no alternative.
“I hope your food supply is ample--and varied,” Professor Pettibone said.
This seemed to bring them out of their bemusement. “Of course, Professor. Would you care to come aboard?”
The other made a try at congenial levity. “You must be pretty hungry after twenty years.”
“Really--has it been that long? I tried to keep track at first...”
“We can blast off anytime you say. You’re probably pretty anxious to get back.”