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The Valley by Richard Stockham

THE VALLEY

By Richard Stockham

Illustrated by Ed Emsh

_If you can't find it countless millions of miles in space, come back to Earth. You might find it just on the other side of the fence--where the grass is always greener._

* * * * *

The Ship dove into Earth's sea of atmosphere like a great, silver fish.

Inside the ship, a man and woman stood looking down at the expanse of land that curved away to a growing horizon. They saw the yellow ground cracked like a dried skin; and the polished stone of the mountains and the seas that were shrunken away in the dust. And they saw how the city circled the sea, as a circle of men surround a water hole in a desert under a blazing sun.

The ship's radio cried out. "You've made it! Thank God! You've made it!"

Another voice, shaking, said, "President--Davis is--overwhelmed. He can't go on. On his behalf and on behalf of all the people--with our hope that was almost dead, we greet you." A pause. "Please come in!"

The voice was silent. The air screamed against the hull of the ship.

"I can't tell them," said the man.

"Please come in!" said the radio. "Do you hear me?"

The woman looked up at the man. "You've got to Michael!"

"Two thousand years. From one end of the galaxy to the other. Not one grain of dust we can live on. Just Earth. And it's burned to a cinder."

A note of hysteria stabbed into the radio voice. "Are you all right? Stand by! We're sending a rescue ship."

"They've got a right to know what we've found," said the woman. "They sent us out. They've waited so long--."

He stared into space. "It's hopeless. If we'd found another planet they could live on, they'd do the same as they've done here."

He touched the tiny golden locket that hung around his neck. "Right now, I could press this and scratch myself and the whole farce would be over."

"No. A thousand of us died. You've got to think of them."

"We'll go back out into space," he said. "It's clean out there. I'm tired. Two thousand years of reincarnation."

She spoke softly. "We've been together for a long time. I've loved you. I've asked very little. But I need to stay on Earth. Please, Michael."

He looked at her for a moment. Then he flipped a switch. "Milky Way to Earth. Never mind the rescue ship. We're all right. We're coming in."


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