The Old Space Ranger came from a small planet where everyone thought alike. The Old Space Ranger left his planet and traveled around the Nashuite Empire. They say that after his experiences on the planet of Livermore -- "the planet where anything can happen" -- the mind of the Old Space Ranger was subtly altered and thereafter he became incapable of thinking or acting like anyone else.
After his adventures, when he returned to his planet to live, people did not know what to make of him. Some thought that he was a charlatan and had never been off-world. Some thought that he had been driven space-bonkers and pointed him out as an example of what happens to those foolish enough to leave home. Others, however, felt that he might be learned from.
Some of these persons approached the Old Space Ranger. They said, "Old Space Ranger, speak to us of where you have been and what you have seen. Tell us of the reputed wider universe."
"Very well," said the Old Space Ranger. "Do you know what I am going to tell you about?"
"No," said the people. "That's why we're asking."
The Old Space Ranger said, "Well, if you don't know, then I can't tell you." And he went back inside his house.
Somewhat dismayed, the people decided to try again. They went to the Old Space Ranger and asked him once again to share his wisdom. Again he asked them, "Do you know what I am going to tell you?"
"Yes," they said. "Yes, we do."
"In that case," the Old Space Ranger said, "there is no need to say more." And he went inside his house.
Once again they approached him, those who felt that eventually he must trip himself up and those who thought there might be something to be learned from him. As before, the Old Space Ranger asked, "Do you know what I am going to tell you, or don't you?"
His listeners said, "Some of us do and some of us don't."
"Splendid!" said the Old Space Ranger, brightening. "Let those who know tell those who don't."
When he returned home to his planet, the Old Space Ranger claimed to have been to the center of the empire, the planet Nashua itself. Everyone was impressed. They gathered around to hear him.
"I'll be brief," he said. "I'll say no more than that my greatest moment was when the Emperor spoke to me."
The people were amazed that such a thing should happen to one of their own. They recognized a momentous portent, and they went their way to discuss what it might mean for them. One driveling idiot hung around. He went up to the Old Space Ranger and asked: "What did the Emperor say to you?"
The Old Space Ranger said: "Plain as plain, where everyone could hear him, he said to me, 'Get out of my way.'"
Space Ranger went to the planetary vibro-culture
center for a shake-up. Because he was dressed like a common
the attendants treated him like one. They put him in a
vibro-chamber, and they left him to his own devices. They
even tickle his belly. When he left, the Old Space Ranger
complain. Instead he handed the attendants a tip of a royal
"Wow!" they said to each other. "Just think what he would
us if we had given him a proper buzz-and-polish!"
The next time the Old Space Ranger came
in for a
shake-up, he was shown the utmost deference. He could not
better treated if he were the Emperor himself. They gave him
best vibro-chamber in the hospice, and not only did they get his belly
this time, they got him all over. When he was buffed to a
and ready to leave, the Old Space Ranger handed the
minim each. "But what is this?" they said, looking at the
"This is for the last time," the Old Space Ranger said. "The royals were for this time."
Old Space Ranger was traveling between the
stars when he saw a fleet of spaceships coming toward him. Imaginings
to churn in his mind. He saw himself taken by pirates or
by the Navy and found wanting. He panicked and ran.
to ground on the local graveyard planet. Puzzled at this
behavior, those in the spaceships--a convoy of honest
the Old Space Ranger. They found him cowering and
in a pit.
"Are you in trouble?" they
asked. "What are
you doing in this hole?"
The Old Space Ranger now realized what
"A simple question doesn't necessarily have a simple answer," he said. "It all depends on how you look at things. If you must know, however, I am here because of you, and you are here because of me."
One day the Old
Space Ranger called up Catalog Central
on his planet.
"Do you have bubble forms?"
"This is Catalog Central. If it is
listed in your
computer, we have it."
"What about life support systems?
"An engine. Do you have that?"
"In that case," said the Old Space Ranger, "why don't you build a spaceship?"
Most people were discouraged by the behavior of the
Old Space Ranger, or were bewildered by him. But
were rumors that he was living and operating on another plane than the
ordinary. One young man decided to watch him, to
see how he
lived, and to learn his secrets if that was
possible. He followed
the Old Space Ranger down to the river and saw him sit by a
The Old Space Ranger put his hand out, and out of nothingness took a
which he ate. And another. And another.
Then he reached
out again and picked up a glass and drank. The youth was
He rushed up to the Old Space Ranger and seized his sleeve.
"Certainly," said the Old Space
if you wish to annihilate space and time and receive dainties from
hand of the Emperor's servitor, you must be in the right state of
"No problem," said the young
man. "Tell me
what to think and I'll think it."
"I can only tell you one thing at a
Do you want to start with the easy exercise, or the difficult one?"
"I'll take the hard one."
"Your first mistake," said the Old Space
"You have to start with the easy one. But now you've chosen and that's
that. The difficult exercise is this: Make a hole
in your fence
large enough for your flock of vreebles to get into your neighbor's
to peck--that large. But the hole must also be so small that
neighbor's vreebles can't get into your yard to peck."
The young man was unable to solve this
And when he came to tell people about what he had seen the Old Space
do, they thought he was crazy.
"A start, a start," said the Old Space Ranger. "Someday you'll find a teacher."
For speculations on the true meaning of Catalog Central, see the entry "Why Don't You Build a Spaceship?" at Cory Panshin's blog.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Written 1978. Posted November 2000.
Background courtesy of Ambo Graphics
Divider courtesy of Dreamcatcher Graphics