Can anyone identify this story and author for me?

An alien on the moon, the last of his race, eats copper to reproduce and has spent many decades looking for copper on the moon. He is living in an underground base with huge hangar doors on the roof that open for incoming spaceships.

Something large approaches. A meteor?

He opens the doors to let the large object hit the floor of the hanger rather than destroy its roof and kill him.

Surprisingly, a spaceship with humans aboard is making its emergency-landing approach but it is coming in too fast and could leave no survivors.

However, the moon's crater offers enough extra distance to slow down. Though they land hard in the crater, they are unharmed.

The alien they encounter is the very last living member of his ancient race.


Can anyone identify this story and author for me?

"The Wings of Night" by Lester del Rey, originally published in Astounding Science-Fiction, March 1942, available at the Internet Archive. Any of these covers look familiar?

An alien on the moon, the last of his race,

Once, as the whole space about him testified, his had been a mighty race. But time had worked on them, aging the race as it had individuals, removing the vigor of their youth and sending in the slow creepers of hopelessness. What good was existence here, cooped up in one small colony, away from their world? Their numbers had diminished and some of their skill had gone from them. Their machines had crumbled and vanished, unreplaced, and they had fallen back to the primitive, digging out the rocks of the crater walls and the lichens they had cultured to draw energy from the heat and radioactive phosphorescence of the valley instead of sunlight. Fewer young were planted each year, and of the few, a smaller percentage proved fertile, so that their original million fell to thousands, then to hundreds, and finally to a few grubbing individuals.

Only then had they awakened to the danger of extinction, to find it too late. There had been three elders when Lhin was grown, his seed being the only fertile one. Now the elders were gone long years since, and Lhin had the entire length and breadth of the crater to himself. And life was a long series of sleeps and food forages, relieved only by the same thoughts that had been in his mind while his dead world turned to the light and away more than a thousand times. Monotony had slowly killed off his race, but now that its work was nearly done, it had ended. Lhin was content with his type of life; he was habituated and immune to boredom.

eats copper to reproduce and has spent many decades looking for copper on the moon.

So little lacking, yet so much! A few hundred molecules of copper salt to eat, and the seeds he grew would be fertile; or those same copper molecules added to the water would render the present seeds capable of growing into vigorous manhood—or womanhood; Lhin's people carried both male and female elements within each member, and could grow the seeds that became their children either alone or with another. So long as one member of the race lived, as many as a hundred young a year could be reared in the carefully tended incubating soil—if the vital hormone containing copper could be made.

He is living in an underground base with huge hangar doors on the roof that open for incoming spaceships. Something large approaches. A meteor?

He was still working doggedly hours later when a high-pitched note shot through the cave. A meteor, coming into the fields around the sealing slides of the roof, and a large one! In all Lhin's life there had been none big enough to activate the warning screens, and he had doubted that the mechanism, though meant to be ageless and draw sun power until the sun died, was still functioning. As he stood staring at the door senselessly the whistling note came again.

Now, unless he pressed his hand over the inductance grid, the automatic forces would come into play, twisting the meteor aside and beyond the roof. But he gave no thought to that as he dashed forward and slapped his fingers against the grilled panel. It was for that he had chosen this rock house, once the quarters of the Watchers who let the few scouting rockets of dim past ages in and out. A small glow from the grid indicated the meteor was through, and he dropped his hand, letting the slides close again.

Then he waited impatiently for it to strike, moving out to the entrance. Perhaps the Great Ones were kind and were answering his prayers at last. Since he could find no copper here, they were sending a token from outer space to him, and who knew what fabulous amounts it might contain—perhaps even as much as he could hold in one hand! But why hadn't it struck? He scanned the roof anxiously, numb with a fear that he had been too late and the forces had thrown it aside.

No, there was a flare above—but surely not such as a meteor that size should make as it sliced down through the resisting air! A sharp stinging whine hit his ears finally, flickering off and on; and that was not the sound a meteor would logically make. He stared harder, wondering, and saw that it was settling downward slowly, not in a sudden rush, and that the flare struck down instead of fading out behind. That meant—could only mean—intelligent control! A rocket!

Lhin's mind spun under the shock, and crazy ideas of his ancestors' return, of another unknown refuge, of the Great Ones' personal visit slid into his thoughts. Basically, though, he was severely logical, and one by one he rejected them. This machine could not come from the barren moon, and that left only the fabled planet lying under the bottom of his world, or those that wandered around the sun in other orbits. Intelligence there?

  • I was asking for a friend who wanted to have me read the story. He is looking up your answer and the reference to see if it is the one. Thank you for your detailed reply, User14111. – Coolwriter Jul 8 '16 at 18:44

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