I can't remember the name of this short story I read (about ten years ago (2010s) but it may have been much older). It involves an astronaut on a (I think) deep space mission searching for extra-terrestrial life. They land on a planet but are injured in the process. The native inhabitants rescue the astronaut and save their life, but the astronaut has the common cold. Because of this, the aliens contract it, and it wipes out their civilization. I think at the end of the story the astronaut gets back in their spacecraft. Does anyone know the name of this story??

  • 2
    In Bradbury's short story collection The Martian Chronicles, the Martians are wiped out by a common human disease: chicken pox, rather than the common cold. The rest of the description doesn't really fit, though — the Martians never really help the Earthlings (in fact, they kill off the first three expeditions) and it's not really "deep space". Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 19:52
  • @MichaelSeifert The plot is a bit tropey; a guy named Louis Herrman wrote a Gulliver's Travels fan-fic in the '30s where Gulliver wipes out a cave-dwelling people with a cold.
    – DavidW
    Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 0:51
  • While cleanly not a match, the underlying idea was present in Arthur C. Clarke's story "Before Eden" in which astronauts from Earth land on Venus, find elementary life just startling there, and leave behind waste containing micro organisms that destroy all of this primitive life. Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 23:20
  • Very common theme: firstly, that humans do something inadvertently that destroys alien civilization. also, this particular way i think was first shown in War of the Worlds when the Germ Theory of disease was still novel. But as probably others have pointed out, hardly unlikely that a disease that humans have resistance to would affect another population severely -- I think diseases that had low mortality among Europeans killed something like (this may be wrong) 90 percent of American natives in the the 16th century.
    – releseabe
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 0:29
  • @releseabe - It's pretty unlikely that any human disease could infect aliens, to be honest. Many of them can't even infect most other animals. We do not even know if aliens are likely to be made of carbon.
    – Adamant
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 2:01

1 Answer 1


"Status Extinct", a short story by Eric Brown which was also part of the answer to this question and an unaccepted answer to this one. You would have read it in Mike Ashley's 1996 anthology Space Stories published by Robinson Children's Books in the UK, or else in the American edition titled The Random House Book of Science Fiction Stories.

The solo space explorer has a cold:

Jessica Ball sneezed as her ship came in to land.

She blew her nose and dropped the tissue in the waste chute. She could not believe it. Modern science had developed starships to send her to the edge of the galaxy in search of intelligent life, and yet there was still no cure for the common cold.

After landing on the planet she has a bad fall:

She was halfway down the hill when she lost her footing. Her boots shot out from under her and she crashed painfully onto her back, sliding down the hillside like a runaway toboggan.

Too late, she saw the drop before her. She tried to grab hold of passing plants, tried to slow her slide. She screamed as the hillside disappeared beneath her and she fell through the air. She hit the ground with an impact that knocked the breath from her lungs, tore her suit, and amashed the faceplate of her helmet. She rolled over and over, pain shooting through her body.

She came to a stop at the bottom of the ravine. She lay on her back, staring up into the gray alien sky. When she tried to move, the pain became too much and she passed out.

The tiny natives ("perhaps a meter high and impossibly thin") rescue her, give her first aid, and take her back to her ship:

The Thinnies positioned the sled next to Jessica, and then took hold of her body and legs. She grimaced in pain and they lifted her quickly and placed her on the sled.

She was too long for the simple vehicle, and her legs trailed on the ground. As all twenty aliens took hold of the ropes attached to the sled and began pulling, Jessica gasped in pain as her broken leg bounced across the frozen ground.

[. . . .]

She felt the material of her suit being cut. Other hands pulled away the remains of her shattered helmet. When she opened her eyes she saw perhaps half a dozen Thinnies moving around her, taking away pieces of her suit, removing her gloves, then unzipping her undersuit and taking that away, too.

[. . . .]

Then they moved to her broken leg. Together, they lifted the leg and straightened the break, causing Jessica to cry out in agony. They tied her leg to something straight and cold, a splint of wood. They applied some sticky substance to her cuts and bruises, and as they busied themselves about her, Jessica closed her eyes and gave thanks that the first race of aliens discovered by humankind were so caring and—she could think of no other word for it—humane.

[. . . .]

The aliens dragged the sled up the ship's ramp and left her at the top. Jessica sat up, stared at the beings who had saved her life. She raised her hand, and the Thinnies, responding to her gesture, raised their hands also before walking down the ramp and away from the ship.

[. . . .]

She would, she realized, be famous when she returned to Earth with the news of her discovery. Her name would be known on every colony world: Jessica Bell, the first pilot-explorer to contact intelligent aliens.

Healed by the ship's autodoc, she returns to the native village to find them all dead:

For she had brought death to these innocent people; she had spread disease amongst them in the form of the influenza virus, a virus new to them and against which, therefore, they had no protection.

  • 2
    There is no real discrepancy between "common cold" and "influenza". The common cold doesn't really exist. It is just a generic term for a whole collection (there are thousands) of mostly influenza, corona and rhino type-virusses with similar, relatively mild, symptoms.
    – Tonny
    Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 10:05
  • @Tonny The CDC seems to make a distinction: 'Influenza (flu) and the common cold are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. Flu is caused by influenza viruses only, whereas the common cold can be caused by a number of different viruses, including rhinoviruses, parainfluenza, and seasonal coronaviruses."
    – user14111
    Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 23:49

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