Young Stowaways in Space by Elam, Richard M. (Richard Mace)
YOUNG STOWAWAYS IN SPACE
By RICHARD M. ELAM Author of Young Readers Science Fiction Stories, etc.
ILLUSTRATED BY GERALD MC CANN
_LANTERN PRESS, INC., PUBLISHERS_ 257 PARK AVENUE SOUTH NEW YORK 10, N. Y.
Copyright © 1960 by Lantern Press, Inc.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NUMBER: 60-13785
PUBLISHED SIMULTANEOUSLY IN CANADA BY GEORGE J. MC LEOD, LTD., TORONTO
MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
1. Space Ship _Orion_ 9 2. Blast-off 16 3. Stowaways in Space 25 4. Adrift in the Deeps 36 5. A “Flying Tin Can” 47 6. A _Carefree_ World 56 7. A Shock in the Night 65 8. Garry Has a Scare 75 9. Satellite Zone 85 10. The Lady Goes Wild 94 11. A Friend Is Lost 107 12. A Startling Discovery 116 13. Abandon Ship! 124 14. First Hours on Luna 133 15. A Dark Outlook 142 16. A Sad Parting 150 17. Dark Peril 160 18. Strange Discovery 169 19. A New Life 181
YOUNG STOWAWAYS IN SPACE
1. SPACE SHIP _ORION_
The orphanage dormitory was locked in the stillness of slumber. Light from the full moon filtered through the large window which ran the entire length of the boys sleeping quarters.
Twenty cots filled the dormitory, and all but one held its sleeper. Dark-haired Garry Coleman was standing beside his cot, quietly dressing. Every now and then he would cast an anxious glance toward the darkened door at the end of the dormitory. Above all, he must not disturb the charge-of-quarters, or all would be lost.
As he sat on the edge of the cot to put on his shoes, Garry heard a squeak from one of the cots. He stiffened, his heart thumping fearfully.
Then Garry breathed easily. He saw that it was only Patch, who occupied the bunk next to his.
“Hey, Garry, where are you going?” Patch asked interestedly.
Patch was short and towheaded. He was Garry’s best friend, and so Garry did not mind telling him.
“I’m going to the spaceport and watch the _Orion_ blast off for the Von Braun Space Station. Want to go?”
“Sure thing!” Patch said.
“You’ll have to take the same chance that I do,” Garry reminded him.
“That’s okay by me.” Patch grinned. “If we do get caught, we’ll just be restricted to the grounds for two weeks. That won’t keep us out of the science lab where we spend a lot of time anyhow.”
It was a warm April night. The sky was thick with stars as bright as diamond dust.
“I’d give anything to be out there in the deeps among the planets,” Garry said, as they hurried across the newly sprouting lawn of the orphanage a few minutes later. “The life of a spaceman must be the most exciting thing in the world.”
“Yeah,” Patch agreed. “But I guess we’ll never make it, Garry, at least not for many years. And they say you sure have to know science and navigation. That takes a lot of study.”
“I wouldn’t care what it takes,” Garry said. “I’d be willing to study for as long as it would take, because the reward would be worth the effort.”
Their rapid steps took them onto one of the main streets of the city where moving sidewalks, called “Ped-A-Rides,” were operating. The sidewalk was a continuous belt, about six feet wide, and there were benches located at intervals upon it where the pedestrians could sit. A railing was on both sides of the Ped-A-Ride, but at intervals of about half a block there were gates where pedestrians could enter.
Patch and Garry went to the nearest gate, and Garry pulled the lever which slowed the sidewalk down so that they could board it. When Garry had deposited their fare in the meter, a bar slid away so that they could enter. It was about 2230 o’clock, an hour and a half before midnight, and not many people were on the Ped-A-Ride.
The boys took seats, and the sidewalk carried them along into the night.
As the Ped-A-Ride topped the crest of a hill, Garry pointed into the distance.
“There she is, Patch—the _Orion_, smoking and straining like a race horse, just as if she can’t wait to get going!”
“She sure is a beauty,” Patch agreed. “The earth-bound ships are a whole lot trimmer and better looking than the ships that never touch down.”
“The earth-bound ships have to be streamlined so that they can slide smoothly through the earth’s atmosphere,” Garry said, “but the ships that remain in space look like a bunch of globes and girders, because they never meet the friction of any planet’s atmosphere and they don’t need the sturdiness and rocket power.”
Patch laughed. “You sound like one of our schoolbooks, Garry,” he said.
As the Ped-A-Ride neared the spaceport, the brilliant lights of the busy area merged into a hazy glare that brightened the night until it was almost as light as day. The slim prow of the _Orion_ reached higher into the sky than any other object on the vast field, even loftier than the giant control tower.
“They say the _Orion_ is more space scarred than any other ship in the Space Service,” Garry remarked. “Meteor dust has grooved her sides so much that they look like the scratches on a rifle bullet.”
“I knew she was one of the oldest crafts in the Service,” Patch said. “I guess she’s carried many a person to the Von Braun Station on their way to Luna and the other planets.”
The Ped-A-Ride had nearly reached the gate of the spaceport when Garry said to his friend, “Patch, we’d better move down among those people ahead of us. It looks like they’re going to get off at the port.”
“If one of the port police spots us, he might get suspicious seeing a couple of kids alone at this time of night. If we mingle with the crowd, the police may think we are with them.”
They got up and began walking forward along the moving platform. Then they took seats behind a man who wore the uniform of the Space Service. He had several bags, and it seemed likely that he was going to board the _Orion_.
As the Ped-A-Ride neared the port gate, Garry closely studied the stalwart young man seated before them. Garry wondered at the many experiences that must have been encountered by this spaceman during his career.
Garry leaned over and touched the spaceman on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, Sir,” he said. “Are you boarding the _Orion_?”
Garry saw a pleasant but deeply lined face turned upward toward his own.
“Yes,” the astronaut replied, then asked, “Are you?”
“Er, no, Sir,” Garry replied. “We—my friend and I—we just want to see her blast off.”
The spaceman smiled. “Guess you are pretty interested in space to be coming all the way to the port just to see an old crate like the _Orion_ blast off.”
“Yes, we are, Sir,” Garry replied. “I’m very interested in it. I hope to be a spaceman someday.”
“I think you will be, too,” the man said confidently. “I can see the enthusiasm in your eyes.”
“Thanks,” Garry returned. “Have you made many trips spaceward?”
“A dozen or so,” was the reply. “The number is not important, though, you must understand. Usually, one voyage can last quite a while.”
The spaceman extended a big, sunburned hand to Garry. “I’m First Space Officer Mulroy. What’s your name?”
“Garry, Sir. Garry Coleman. My friend here is Patrick Foster, but he’s called Patch for short.”
As the Ped-A-Ride neared the gate of the spaceport, Garry had an idea by which he and Patch might get inside without being questioned by the port police.
“Mr. Mulroy,” Garry said, “I notice that you have some baggage. I wonder if Patch and I could help you carry it—maybe aboard the _Orion_.”
The officer smiled. “You want to see what she looks like, eh? Okay, it’s a deal.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Garry said.
Presently Officer Mulroy stood up. “Here we are, fellows,” he said. “Let’s get our things together quickly. I can’t afford to miss my blast-off on the _Orion_. I have a sailing date for Mars in a few weeks, and the stars wait for no man!”
Once inside the gate, Mr. Mulroy spoke to a uniformed officer, who saluted. The officer turned a tiny dial on a lapel button he wore and spoke into it. Garry knew this to be a subminiature radio transmitter which was in wide use.
Presently, a square little “T-Car,” or tote car, drove up. It was painted green and white, streamlined, and had seats inside. It had a convertible top which was opened now because of the pleasant weather.
The baggageman put the spaceman’s things in the compartment, then invited his passengers to enter at the door he held open. Garry and Patch felt very important as Officer Mulroy motioned them in ahead of himself. They felt even more important as they sank down into the soft seats and were joined a moment later by this high-ranking officer of the Space Service.
The swift little car whisked them off to the Operations Building, to which Officer Mulroy had to report before his flight.
When the baggage had been unloaded outside and the T-Car had moved off, the spaceman said to the boys, “Wait out here, until I sign up and get my instructions. Then we’ll carry my things aboard the _Orion_.”
While they waited, they turned their attention to the space craft some distance away. Its blue, satiny sides reflected the glow of thousands of lights on the field. Red smoke still curled up into the night, warning of the approach of blast-off time. And yet there was still a little while to go, for the spiderwebs of the gantry cranes still hugged the sides of the three-stage space vessel. Workmen were swarming all over the platforms, making last-minute checks on the ship.
There was a high wire fence around the _Orion_ and only one entrance through it. A uniformed official was checking tickets as the passengers went through the gate. The official checked Officer Mulroy’s ticket, and Mr. Mulroy told him it would be all right for the boys to help him carry his baggage aboard.
The boys’ new friend took them down some steps into a concrete tunnel that led to the launching pad. On the way they stopped at a little room where Mr. Mulroy was weighed.
“Weight is a very important factor on a space ship,” Mr. Mulroy said, as they were on their way again.
The tunnel led to an elevator that ran up the side of the rocket. The elevator cab rose and rose, high into the black night. Finally, Officer Mulroy pressed a button and said this was where they were to get off.
Garry and Patch followed their friend out into a corridor of the space ship. Officer Mulroy searched the doors they passed, then recognized his own, Stateroom 17. He drew out a key and unlocked the door, then preceded the boys into the room.
“Gee, what a tiny room!” Patch exclaimed.
“It has to be this small,” Mr. Mulroy said. “Every inch of area on a space ship is at a premium, you know. For most travelers, the Von Braun Space Station is only a stopover on a longer trip into space. Sometimes the layover is for several days or even a week or two. Since rooms aboard the space station are very limited, most of the passengers are quartered in staterooms in the rocket in which they left earth.”
Suddenly, a voice came over a speaker in the room: “Blast-off in ten minutes. All nonpassengers are requested to leave the ship.”
“That’s us,” Garry said unhappily.
How he envied Officer Mulroy on his coming trip into the deeps of space! He wanted to go so badly that his heart ached. But he realized that not for many years could his fondest dream come true.
Officer Mulroy noticed Garry’s reluctance to leave, and placed a friendly arm around his shoulder. “Don’t take it so hard, Garry,” he said. “Be the very best student you can. The years will go by fast, and then one day you will wake up to find that you are eligible to be a spaceman.”
“Thanks,” Garry said, trying to smile convincingly, although he did not feel happy. The idea of the future did not interest him now, but only the present, because the queen of the spaceways was about to blast off, and he wanted so desperately to remain aboard her.
“Let’s go, Garry,” Patch said. “We don’t want to get Officer Mulroy into trouble by us being caught aboard at blast-off.”
“That’s right,” Officer Mulroy said with a smile. “Being a stowaway on a rocket is really a serious matter. You see, for every pound of pay load on a rocket, there must be many more pounds of fuel, so if an extra person remained aboard, the ship might not be able to reach its destination.”
“Thank you for letting us come aboard with you, Mr. Mulroy,” Garry said. “And I’ll remember what you told me.”
The space officer insisted on tipping the boys, and it was a generous tip at that. As the two left the room he called to them, “Good-by, fellows. I’ll send you a post card from Mars. That’s a promise.”
Garry and Patch said good-by and followed the directions that Officer Mulroy had given them for leaving the ship.
Garry pressed the button of the elevator in which they had ridden earlier. As the doors parted and he and Patch went in, he said to his friend, “Gee, I hate to leave. I don’t know what’s the matter with me, Patch. Maybe I’m just tired of having to do the same thing every day, over and over.”
“I feel kind of the same way, Garry,” Patch admitted, “but I guess we’ll just have to sweat out the old grind for a few more years.”
They had no sooner started to descend than the light in the elevator went off, and then the elevator itself stopped.
“Hey, what’s going on!” Garry exclaimed.
“The power’s off!” Patch said.
Presently, the light came on again, and the boys felt a lot better.
“Whew, for a minute I was scared!” Patch said.
“Me too. Hey, we’re still not moving, though!” Garry pressed harder on the button, but the elevator refused to move.
“We’re stuck here, Garry!” Patch burst out.
Garry started banging furiously on the walls of the elevator. “We’ve just _got_ to make ourselves heard, Patch!” he cried.
The din was very loud in the cramped compartment, as both boys hammered on the wall.
No one came to their rescue, but then a voice spoke over the public-address speaker in the ceiling of the elevator: “Don’t be alarmed, folks. A short circuit in the fuel-pump relay caused us to lose electric power momentarily. But everything has been restored to normalcy. Warning: Three minutes to blast-off.”
“It _hasn’t_ been restored!” Garry burst out desperately.
The boys pounded on the metal walls until their knuckles hurt.
In a final desperate action, Garry slammed his closed fist against the stubborn power button. Instantly, he felt the elevator throb underfoot and begin to descend once more.
“Thank goodness!” Garry breathed prayerfully. “But we’ve still got to hurry in order to get off in time! No telling how long we’ve been stuck in this thing!”
When the elevator stopped, the doors slid open and the boys ran out. But they found themselves in a strange corridor.
“We’re not out of the ship yet!” Garry exclaimed. “We’ve only gone down a deck or two. The elevator must still be fouled up.”
“What’ll we do now?” Patch asked in desperation.
“Go back into the elevator and try to get to the ground. We’ll have to hurry! The elevator is part of the gantry crane, and it’ll be rolled away any moment!”
They rushed back to the closed doors of the elevator. But a sign in red lights on the door read: “DO NOT ENTER. ELEVATOR REMOVED.”
“They’ve already taken it away!” Patch said in dismay.
“We’ve got to find a place to strap down, or every bone in our bodies will be broken on the blast-off!” Garry said.
A speaker along the corridor next gave out with the dread words: “Blast-off in ninety seconds, ladies and gentlemen. Secure your seat harness and listen to the instructions of the stewards. Failure to obey directions could cost you your lives. In the first few moments of acceleration in a rocket ship, there is a crushing blow to the human body. This jolt will occur twice more as the second and third stages blast off. For that reason, it is absolutely necessary that everyone be strapped down securely to his G-couch.”
Patch grabbed his friends arm in a fierce grip. “Garry, we’re going to die! We’re going to die!” he cried.
Garry shook off Patch and desperately began throwing open doors along the corridor, looking into one room after another. “There must be some G-couches along here,” he said. “I read somewhere that space law says there must be emergency couches on all decks of a rocket ship.”
Patch tagged along after Garry, complaining. Garry could not afford to be sympathetic now. Both their lives depended on what he did within the next minute.
Then Garry found it. Printed on the door was the heartening word: “G-COUCHES.”
He flung open the door and saw a row of six S-shaped reclining seats.
Garry grabbed the arm of his quaking friend in a tight grip and told him, “Listen to me, Patch, and do what I tell you. Jump on a couch just as fast as you can and don’t waste a second getting those buckles fastened across your chest, body, and legs. Now get going!”
Garry helped him along with a shove, then dove for one of the couches close by.
As he hastily fastened his own straps in place, Garry cast worried glances at his friend, who was fumbling as best he could in his nervous state.
A speaker warned of the passing moments: “Zero minus twenty seconds, nineteen, eighteen, seventeen, sixteen....”
A few seconds more, and Garry’s straps were securely fastened. He twisted his head to see how Patch was doing. Patch had almost all his straps in place, but he could not seem to get the chest buckle tightened.
“Hurry, Patch, please hurry!” Garry cried.
“I—I’m doing the best I can,” Patch said, and Garry could see the streams of sweat trickling down his round face.
Then, with a final lucky tug, Patch had it. Turning his weakly smiling face to Garry, he murmured, “Garry, I guess I just barely did....”
Garry never heard the rest of the words, for at that moment the _Orion_ shook herself like a big dog, began a slow tug upward into the black night, and then, a few seconds later, with a deafening roar tore free of her earthly bonds and flung herself into space.
3. STOWAWAYS IN SPACE
Garry had read about the rough effects of blast-off, but the real thing was even worse than he had imagined. He felt like one of those characters in movie cartoons who gets flattened to the thickness of paper when run over. His lungs felt as though they had collapsed, and he could suck in only the barest trace of breath.
But the discomfort did not last long. His body seemed to fill out like an inflated balloon, although he still felt the ache of having been nearly squashed. His stomach felt as though it had been stirred up with an egg beater, and his head swam.
But no sooner had he recovered from the first violent thrust than it came again as the rocket’s second stage began firing. Then the crushing pressure eased once more, only to return once again as the third stage, the occupied section of the _Orion_, began firing away. When this force let up, Garry knew it was the last.
The ship did not appear to be moving, but Garry knew it must be traveling many thousands of miles an hour.
Garry’s shaky hands groped for the belts of the harness that snugly fitted his body. He worked the buckles loose from his upper body and sat up on his G-couch. He did not release his legs, because he was already feeling the dizzying effects of weightlessness. He looked across at Patch on the next couch.
Patch was still lying flat, and his face was pasty white. His eyes were closed, and this alarmed Garry.
“Patch!” Garry called, repeating the name over and over.
Patch had blacked out, but after a few minutes he came back to consciousness.
“Wh—what happened?” Patch asked in a weak voice.
“We’re in space, Patch,” Garry replied. “They’ll probably think we’re stowaways and send us to jail. Maybe Officer Mulroy will get in trouble too.”
But this was the least of Patch’s worries right now. He put his hand to his head, complaining, “Gee, I feel terrible. Everything’s going around! And I had the worst nightmare all night long!”
Garry had to grin at this. “We haven’t been here all night, just a few minutes. It just seems like a long time.”
Patch fumbled loose his upper straps and struggled to a sitting position, but fell back down onto his contour seat. “Wow, I can’t make it!” he said thickly.
“There’s no use trying to get up,” Garry said. “We’re weightless and would never be able to get about. It’s funny how I wanted so terribly to go into space, but now that I’m out here I’m not enjoying it. I guess it’s because I’m afraid of what’s coming.”
Garry wondered what they should do. Should they turn themselves in and take their chances on being believed that their being aboard the _Orion_ was due to an accident? But if they did this, then Mr. Mulroy might be held responsible for not seeing that the boys had left the ship. And yet, Garry realized, he and Patch could not stay in hiding indefinitely. Sooner or later they must be found out. If they did not turn themselves in, and they were discovered, they would surely be regarded as stowaways.
Then a new fear came to Garry. What if his and Patch’s combined weight was over the ship’s allowable limit? What if their being aboard would keep them from reaching the space station and, instead, cause the earth’s gravity to pull the _Orion_ back down? In that case the two of them could possibly cost the space-ship line a new rocket worth millions, not to mention the lives of all the persons aboard in case a safe landing could not be made!
Garry was occupied with these grave thoughts until he heard the public-address system saying: “We are now in braking orbit.”
Garry knew this meant that the ship had reached the vicinity of the space station and was beginning to circle the station while the braking rockets were cut in. This procedure would slow down the _Orion_ so that she would be moving at the same orbital speed as the space station. Then it would be easy for her to slip into dock.
Garry and Patch felt the tug of the ship’s gradually diminishing speed, but this was not nearly as rough as the blast-off had been. As the _Orion_ moved into dock, the boys felt their weight returning. This was due to the station’s rotation and artificial gravity.
“Well, it looks like the ship has made it all right,” Patch said, relieved. “They must not have had a full load.”
The boys heard the technical language of the docking procedure. Garry listened closely, even though he could not understand much of it. But this was all part of the spaceman’s education, and he was eager to learn it, even at such a crucial moment as this.
Yet as he listened, he had another unpleasant thought. Now that he and Patch had the blot of “stowaway” against them, would this misconduct prevent them from realizing their dream of being future spacemen?
Finally, the ship’s motion stopped altogether. The _Orion_ had nestled into her dock on the big Von Braun Space Station, named after the great space scientist of the past century.
“Now where do we go from here?” Patch asked, as the two removed their harness straps and got to their feet. “Garry, I’m scared, plenty scared! Wow, I’m a little wobbly too!”
“Let’s stay put until we hear further announcements over the speaker,” Garry suggested. “It’ll give us time to think this through a little longer.”
“We’re just stalling, that’s what we’re doing, aren’t we, Garry? We don’t want to turn ourselves in because we’re afraid of what will happen to us,” Patch said.
Garry hung his head. “I guess that’s what it does amount to, Patch. I keep thinking what this will do to our hopes of being spacemen. I’m afraid we’ll never make it now.”
They stayed in hiding for another half hour. Then Garry said: “We’ve got to have something to live on until we make up our minds what we’re going to do, Patch. I think space ships have emergency-ration compartments located along the corridors. I’m in favor of looking for one.”
“That’s better than just waiting here and doing nothing,” Patch agreed.
“I’ll look out and see if the coast is clear,” Garry said.
He looked around outside and then motioned to Patch. They started off quietly down the corridor, but after a moment they heard footsteps approaching from around the corner behind them.
“Garry, we’ve got to hide!” Patch whispered urgently. “Somebody’s coming!”
Garry saw a door up ahead. “That leads into an air lock, Patch. We may be safe in there.”
Garry turned a wheel on the door, and it swung open. They found themselves in a short tunnel, at the other end of which was another door. The air lock was used for entering and leaving the ship while it was in space. The spaceman would enter the chamber and wait for the air pressure to equalize before he left the air lock.
Garry quickly turned another wheel on the inside of the door, closing it.
“We can’t stay in here very long without air,” Garry said. “The other end of this air lock probably leads directly into the space station. Shall we try it?”
“This running and hiding has got to end somewhere,” Patch replied with discouragement. “Lead on.”
Garry checked the pressure gauge on the far door and saw that there was normal pressure on the other side. He turned the wheel on the door, and it swung open. The boys went through, and Garry wheeled the door shut behind them.
They were in a huge enclosed dock of the space station. Lined up ahead were several space taxis, or fliers, which were used for trips outside the station and also doubled as lifeboats in time of emergency.
“Gee, it’s cold in here!” Patch said.
“The main thing, though, is that there’s no one around,” Garry said. “It’ll give us time to collect our thoughts.”
“That’s what you think,” Patch whispered, tugging at Garry’s arm. “There come a couple of men down that corridor across the way!”
Garry moved quickly and quietly, pulling Patch along. As the men entered the dock, the boys ducked out of sight behind one of the space fliers.
The men approached the flier next to the outer door of the dock and pressed a button on the taxi’s surface. Its door sprang open, and the men entered the flier.
They were in there for fully five minutes. During that time, Garry began to shiver, but it was not from fright so much as it was the coldness of the dock. Garry felt Patch shaking beside him and knew his friend was just as uncomfortable as he. But they had to stay put. There was no other place they could go at this moment.
Finally, the men came out of the space taxi, closed the door, and, to the relief of Garry and Patch, disappeared up the corridor.
Garry stood up and hugged himself.
“Garry, I—I’m freezing to death,” Patch chattered.
“So am I. We sure can’t stay here like this,” Garry replied.
“Why don’t we try getting into one of these ships?” Patch suggested. “Maybe they’ve got heaters inside.”
Garry pressed the button of the ship which they had been hiding behind, but the door did not open.
“The power is off or something,” Garry groaned.
“Maybe the first one will open,” Patch said. “It worked for those men.”
Garry went over to the first craft and pressed the door button. Instantly, the door sprang open. A tiny air-lock chamber faced them.
“Thank goodness,” Patch murmured. “Let’s go in.”
“What if the men come back?” Garry cautioned. “They may be preparing for a trip.”
“There are windows facing the corridor,” Patch said. “We can keep an eye out for them and duck for cover again if they return. Gee, let’s try it anyhow, Garry! I feel like a penguin that’s lost all its feathers!”
Garry agreed and entered the flier, Patch climbing in behind. A second door led from the air lock chamber into the flier proper. Besides the pilot’s seat, there were six other seats, three on a side. It was warmer in here than outside, and Garry felt heat gently blowing. This made him suspect that the men had just turned it on and that they were going to return for a trip in the craft.
“I’m afraid we won’t have long to stay in here,” Garry told his friend and mentioned his suspicion to him.
“I guess you’re right,” Patch agreed. “Where will we go from here? Garry, I’m tired of running. And I’m getting more scared by the minute because of what we’re doing. Why don’t we just turn ourselves in and face the music, whatever it is?”
Through a window of the taxi, Garry was watching the corridor for signs of the returning men. “I guess you’re right, Patch,” he said. “We’ll give ourselves up when those men return.”
“I don’t think we should wait until then,” Patch objected. “It will go a lot easier for us if we give ourselves up voluntarily instead of looking as if we had been caught.”
Once again Garry agreed, but, as he was reaching for the button to open the door, he heard a click.
“What was that?” Patch asked in alarm. “What did you do?”
“Nothing,” Garry said. “Something was operating all by itself.”
A soft purring sound began to be heard inside the craft, and Garry felt the little ship vibrating ever so softly.
“Patch,” Garry said tensely, “I don’t like this.” He tried the door button, but it would not work.
“What’s happening?” Patch asked, and there was fright in his voice.
A movement outside in the dock caught the boys’ eyes. Through the wide front port of the ship, they watched a big door slide open, revealing a dark air-lock tunnel—a tunnel large enough to hold the craft which they were occupying!
“Garry,” Patch repeated, “what’s happening!”
Garry slumped into one of the seats, fear numbing his heart.
“Now I know what kind of ship this is, Patch,” he murmured. “It’s remote controlled, guided by an operator inside the space station. We’re heading straight out into space, Patch!”
4. ADRIFT IN THE DEEPS
Trapped within the space taxi, Garry and Patch watched the darkness of space enlarge before their eyes as the ship emerged from the air-lock tunnel of the space station. The stars about them were countless lights, some packed so closely together that they trailed across the sky like distant streaming veils. But the boys had no eye for their beauty at this time.
“Garry,” Patch asked in a dismal voice, “what’s going to happen to us?”
“As long as they have control of the ship, I guess we’ll be all right,” Garry replied. “Maybe they are just sending the ship out on a practice run or possibly to pick someone up.”
“Pick someone up?” Patch asked, puzzled.
“I was thinking of satellite workers or repairmen. The skies out here are flooded with satellites, you know. They must have men working on them all the time,” Garry explained.
Garry heard a hissing sound. He found a slit in the wall from which it was coming. Near the opening was a gauge.
“That’s an oxygen mixture coming in,” Garry said. “It’s probably automatic. It turns on whenever the air pressure drops or becomes fouled.”
“That’s something in our favor,” Patch said grudgingly.
Garry found his feet beginning to lift weightlessly off the floor. His body sagged off balance, and he had to hold onto a handle on one of the seats.
“Garry, what’ll we do?” Patch exclaimed frantically. “We’re going weightless!”
“Let’s look for a wardrobe compartment,” Garry suggested. “Since these fliers are used as lifeboats sometimes, there must be space suits and things. Maybe we’ll find magnetic shoes, too.”
“How’ll we ever get around in here to look for anything?” Patch sputtered. By now he was floating, his legs and arms flailing helplessly like a bug on its back.
Using the handles on the backs of the seats, Garry worked his way across to a cabinet set in the wall. Then he moved from the last seat handle to the wall rail and worked himself down it to the plastic case. Through the clear window Garry could see space suits and accessories. He pressed a button, and the door popped open.
“We’re in luck, Patch,” Garry reported. “There are magnetic shoes in here. I hope the gravity plates in the floor are working.”
Garry managed to pick up two pairs of the shoes, tucking one pair under one arm. That left one hand holding the second pair and the other hand free.
Even then, it took quite some doing for him to work his way across to Patch, who looked like a pennant floating in the breeze as he hung crossways in the air, one hand tightly clutching a seat handle.
“Garry, I don’t feel so good,” Patch complained. “Everything in me feels like its pushing upward. Even my brain seems to be floating.”
“It’s lack of gravity doing that,” Garry said. “You are used to gravity always pulling down on you. When that pull is gone, it makes you feel as if your body is moving up. At least that’s what all the books say. And I believe them, because I feel that way myself. Here are your shoes. They’re pretty big, but they’ll be better than nothing.”
“Garry, how’ll I ever get them on?” Patch protested.
“I’ll hold onto you while you put them on,” Garry offered. “That’ll make it easier—I guess.”
Garry got behind Patch and held him by the collar. Then began Patch’s struggles with the shoes. It was comical for Garry to see his friend having such a hard time, but he knew Patch would have the laugh on him later.
It took them both a good while to get the shoes on. When the floor current of the gravity plates finally held them down, the boys laughed at each other in their oversized equipment.
“I guess we look like snowshoe rabbits with our big feet!” Patch said with a laugh. “Good thing those straps pulled up tight, or we’d never be able to keep them on.”
The craft had been moving along smoothly, but before long it began to shudder irregularly.
“The jets have cut out, Patch,” Garry said. “We’re coasting. Without any air friction out here in space, we _could_ coast along forever.”
“Garry, don’t say that!” Patch gasped.
But Garry found out that his guess was wrong, and he was glad that it had been. Presently, twin jets of flame were seen pouring from the front of the craft.
“Garry, we’re on fire!” Patch shouted.
“No, they’re the braking jets,” Garry corrected. “We’re being slowed down, Patch! I think we’ll find out very soon now what our destination is.”
“Thank goodness for that,” Patch replied. “You know, you got me plenty worried when you said that we might coast forever out here. Although after about a hundred years I probably wouldn’t mind any longer!”
“Look, Patch,” Garry cried. “Up ahead—a satellite! That must be where we’re headed!”
As they approached, the craft still being slowed by the braking jets, Garry and Patch took in the scene before them. The satellite itself somewhat resembled a giant radio speaker. Its largest area was a huge reflecting surface, and this surface was made up of adjustable panels that could be banked in any direction. The boys could see around the side of the satellite, and backing up the front broad surface was a block-shaped structure with windows.
As the tiny space craft drew closer, the boys saw a hatch open in the rear structure, and two men in space suits emerged, holding onto hand rails on the outside of the satellite.
“That’s one of the radio and TV relay satellites, Patch,” Garry said. “There are three of them, spaced equally around the earth, for relaying TV and radio all over the world. Our ship has probably been sent out to pick up these men and bring them back to the station.”
“Won’t they be surprised when they see us aboard?” Patch remarked.
Garry noticed that the space taxi seemed to be moving a little off course, and this disturbed him, especially since one of the forward jets had cut off but the other hadn’t.
The craft was veering steadily away from the satellite and slowing rapidly. Finally, it came to a dead stop several hundred yards from the satellite, but then it began backing up. As the craft gained speed in reverse, Garry and Patch were nearly knocked off their feet from the acceleration.
“The front jet is propelling us backward!” Garry cried. “There’s something wrong with the remote control!”
The craft began going into a dizzy spin. The boys had to hold on tightly to some anchored support to keep from being flung against the wall.
Garry watched the satellite become lost against the sprawling background of stars. He knew they were hurtling farther out into space, out of control, headed for a destination now that even the space-station operators might not know.
The boys were so disheartened by the latest bad break that, for the time being, they did not care what happened to them. This lowering of their spirits seemed to remind them that they were a long time past their slumber time, and they suddenly became very sleepy. By earth time, it would be the dark hours before dawn.
They went to sleep on their feet, because in the zero gravity there was no need for them to lie down. Their magnetic soles held them in place to keep them from drifting about as they slept.
Garry was the first to wake up, hours later. There was no way for him to know how much time had passed. He woke his friend, who stretched and yawned.
“I never thought I’d be able to sleep standing up,” Patch said. “I feel like a horse.”
“We got a good rest,” Garry said. “I guess that’s because of the zero gravity.”
Patch looked gloomily out of the front port of the flier. “We’re still no better off than we were before, though, Garry, but, I think we have stopped moving.”
Garry shook his head. “It just seems like we’re not moving because the stars and everything else around us are so still. We’re moving all right—and fast. This ship may still be moving after we’re dead, even if we could live for a hundred years, because there’s nothing ever to slow us down out here; that is, unless we happened to move into the gravity field of some planet, which would pull us down.”
“I knew we should have turned ourselves in when we had the chance,” Patch said mournfully. “If we had, we wouldn’t be in this fix now.”
Garry agreed. “It’s all my fault for trying to hold out so long.”
“Well, too late now to do anything,” Patch said.
“I don’t think we should give up hope,” Garry said. “They might still send out a ship to try to pick up this one. They know it’s lost, but of course they don’t know there’s anybody in it, and they may not know where to look for it.”
He investigated the sloping wall between him and the front window. The middle of it was shaped something like an old-fashioned roll-top desk, closed up.
“Hmm,” Garry thought to himself. “This ship has been run by remote control until now, but why shouldn’t it have controls of its own? If it does have them, they should be right here in front of me.”
Garry’s hopes soared again as he ran his hands over the light-green plastic slope in front of him.
“A button,” he whispered. “There must be a button or something that opens this thing up.”
“Hey, what’re you mumbling about?” Patch asked.
Garry was too concerned with what he was doing to answer his friend. Suddenly, he found something on the left side of the instrument. It was a button. He pressed it.
Two covers began swinging open in front of him, as stage curtains would do, revealing a bank of dials and levers.
“Patch!” Garry shouted. “Look what!”
Patch came clicking over in his magnetic shoes. “Hey, they’re instruments for running this crate! Why didn’t we think of looking for them before?” he cried.
“Probably because we don’t know how to operate them,” Garry replied.
There was a half-circle steering wheel that pulled out, and the boys were sure what this was for.
“Garry,” Patch said happily, “the steering wheel—that may be all that we’ll need! Since the ship is moving under its own power, all we have to do is turn her around and head back for the space station. We can keep circling it until one of the ships from the station intercepts us!”
Garry tried the wheel. It was locked tight.
“It’s not that easy, Patch,” he said. “First we’ve got to find how to unlock the wheel.”
“That ought not to be hard,” Patch replied. “A button or switch....”
They both began carefully examining the steering column and wheel, but did not find anything that would release the wheel. Then they went over the console panel very closely. They found switches and levers that could not be identified, but they decided to try them anyhow and see what they controlled.
They got no result at first, but, when the fourth switch was thrown, the console lighted up and the ship began to throb with a new life.
“That must have been one of the power levers,” Garry said. “Look—the steering wheel is free! The power had to be on before it would unlock the wheel.”
“Garry!” Patch exclaimed, “we’re on our way! We’re on our way.”
“I hope my sense of direction is correct,” Garry said, “because I can’t read those directional meters. I think we’ll be headed in the general direction of the station if we make a half turn. I remember the position of that brilliant nebula over there and also the planet Venus.”
Garry was beginning to turn the wheel slowly for their gradual turnabout in the sky when the smell of something burning issued from the console.
“Hey, something seems to be shorting out,” Patch said in alarm. “Look! There’s smoke coming from the panel!”
No sooner had he spoken than there was a small explosion inside the console, a strong odor of ozone filled the boys’ nostrils, and all the lights went out. But what was worse, the steering wheel froze in Garry’s hands and locked again.
“Patch, we’re ruined!” Garry groaned loudly. “I must have done something wrong!”
Garry put his hands over his face in despair. “Patch, we were so close, so very close....”
“It looks like something just doesn’t want us to get out of this alive,” Patch said bitterly. “We’re jinxed, Garry!”
“It’ll do no good to start feeling sorry for ourselves again,” Garry said. “Remember, we thought we were goners before. Something may turn up to save us—something maybe like a Good Samaritan flying around in a space ship just looking for wandering boys. But how many of those do you think you would find in all the millions of miles of space that surround us?”
Suddenly Garry stood upright, staring intently straight out the forward port. “Speaking of Good Samaritans, Patch, that might not be so farfetched after all. Look out there, straight ahead. There’s a light moving against the stars. It just might be a space ship!”
“I see it,” Patch said, with a trace of hope returning, “but it’s most likely a Sputnik or Tiros or some other satellite.”
“I don’t think so. Its movement isn’t perfectly straight. I’m sure I just saw it change direction as if heading this way. Patch, if you’ve ever prayed, do it now. The next few minutes may decide whether we live or die out here in space!”
5. A “FLYING TIN CAN”
The boys watched intently as the object neared them. Although it was still pretty far off, they knew that it was not a true celestial object, because they could determine already that it was shaped like nothing usually found in space. In fact, it looked remarkably like a tin can! It was an odd shape for a space ship, but the boys were sure that was what it was.
“That’s not like anything I’ve ever seen!” Garry said. “And I’ve seen all kinds of pictures of space ships in magazines and books.”
“It must be a special kind of ship,” Patch suggested. “But just so it really is a space ship with living people in it, it can be shaped like a barbecue pit for all I care!”
“Patch!” Garry said in a stricken voice. “What if it’s from another planet and carries strange people? Maybe even _unfriendly_ passengers!”
Patch’s eyes shone like bright marbles. “Gee, you don’t really think so, do you? I—I mean, how could it be possible? We’ve already explored Mars and Venus, and those planets aren’t inhabited. How could anything possibly live on those big cold planets farther out?”
“Maybe they are from another star,” Garry said in a solemn tone.
They would know pretty soon where the flying object was from, because it was still heading in their direction, and its passengers could not possibly miss seeing them.
Garry and Patch were silent as the object drew steadily closer, each of them engrossed in his own thoughts.
“It really does look like a tin can,” Patch said. “A tin can with a big eye in front! But what a big tin can! It’s big as one of those ancient dirigibles.”
“Patch, I can begin to make out some writing over the eye. See it?”
“Yes. Just a moment. It’s coming into focus. It says ‘CAREFREE!’ I don’t know what it means, but it _sounds_ friendly.”
“That must be the name of it,” Garry suggested. “No ship with a name like that could be carrying unfriendly passengers.”
“It also means that there must be earthmen aboard, because it’s an earth word.”
“I don’t think we have anything to worry about, Patch,” Garry said confidently.
“Now they’re turning around,” Patch said. “They—they’re pulling even with us. I guess they’ll anchor to us with magnetic grapples.”
Carefully, the _Carefree_ edged closer so that it could latch on. The big circular space ship dwarfed the tiny taxi so greatly that it seemed like David and Goliath.
Garry and Patch heard a soft bump as the _Carefree_ coupled onto the side of their craft on which the door was located. Garry knew now that the ships were joined as one.
Garry looked at Patch, and Patch looked at Garry. They knew all they had to do now was open the air locks between the ships. But they hesitated as if there were still some doubt in their minds as to the friendliness of those in the other space ship.
There came a rap on their air-lock door. Once again Garry looked at Patch, and Patch looked at Garry. Then, after another few moments of hesitation, Garry shrugged and clicked over to the door.
“We may as well open up,” he said. “Whether or not they’re friendly, they’ve certainly got the upper hand.”
Garry pressed the button that controlled the outer door of the air lock. Then he pressed another that opened the inner door.
Garry and Patch looked through the double air locks into the face of a man who wore a small, neat white beard. He appeared to be in his early sixties, and he was clinging to a webbing of ropes that completely covered the walls of a giant tube or tunnel.
“Hello,” the man said, with a smile.
“Hello,” Garry and Patch replied together. And they smiled too, because they were very glad that it was an earthman who faced them.
“I must say I didn’t expect to find a couple of boys alone in here,” the man went on. “What’s happened to the adults with you? You didn’t heave them out the waste hatch, did you?” The elderly man laughed.
“Uh, no, Sir,” Garry replied with hesitation. “We’ve been by ourselves ever since this flier left the Von Braun Space Station. It’s a pretty long story, Sir.”
“The name is Captain Eaton, boys.” The man winked at them, showing his white teeth in another smile. “Oh, I’m not really a space captain. I wouldn’t deceive you. The _Carefree_ is a private ship, and the men call me ‘Captain’ because I’m the owner.”
Captain Eaton’s dark, alert eyes flickered over the interior of the flier.
“I thought whoever was in this ship must be in some sort of trouble,” he said, “because of your erratic flight. That’s why we latched onto you, to see if we could be of some help.”
“We _do_ need help, Captain,” Patch said earnestly. “We don’t know the first thing about running this thing. We had just about given ourselves up for lost.”
“How in the world did you get into such a spot as this?” Captain Eaton asked.
“Well, Sir,” Garry explained, lowering his eyes, “you see, we’re stowaways, although we’ve been able to escape being caught all this time. We didn’t _mean_ to be stowaways, Captain. We were helping an officer aboard the _Orion_ with his gear, and the rocket blasted off before we could get out.”
“Say, I’ll bet your parents are worried to death about you,” Captain Eaton said.
“No, Sir,” Patch answered. “You see, we’re orphans, and we lived in an orphanage back in the United States.”
“I see,” the elderly man replied, stroking his short, snowy beard. Then suddenly he grinned broadly. “Well, fellows, how would you like to be rescued?”
“We’re all for it!” Garry answered, and Patch nodded his head vigorously.
“Come aboard then. The _Carefree_ welcomes you!”
“What about the flier?” Garry asked. “We don’t want to be charged with stealing a space craft.”
“I’ll have Ben Dawes come aboard and set her adrift toward the satellite so that she can be picked up easily,” the captain said.
“I think we blew something out when we tried to start her,” Patch said.
“Ben’s a genius,” Captain Eaton replied. “He’ll get her to running, no matter what’s wrong with her.”
With this taken care of, the boys were anxious to board the _Carefree_ and see if her interior were as strange and unusual looking as her outer hull. They removed their bulky magnetic shoes and entered the air lock of the _Carefree_.
Captain Eaton first explained the purpose of the webbing that lined the walls of the tube.
“As you boys saw us move in, you probably know that this is the rear of the ship, and this tunnel is in the center. It goes the full length of our ‘tin can’ and comes out front into the flight deck. We have to leave and enter the ship through the rear end of this tube. Understand?”
“Yes, Sir,” the boys answered together.
“The outer round surface of our ‘tin can’ revolves around this center tube as though it were a wheel around an axis,” the captain went on. “By so doing, an artificial gravity is induced along the inside rim of the ‘can.’” Captain Eaton frowned. “Am I getting too deep for you?”
“I don’t think so, Sir,” Garry replied. “The gravity you are talking about is the result of centrifugal action—the same action that makes a ball swing out on the end of a string when a person swings it around his head. It’s the same kind of artificial gravity they use on the manned space stations.”
“You’re pretty sharp, son. I like a boy who doesn’t think that facts belong only in a schoolroom.”
“I’ve always been very interested in space, Sir,” Garry said. “I’ll bet I’d surprise you with all I know about it.”
“I’m sure you would,” Captain Eaton admitted. “Say, I don’t even know your names. I’ve told you mine. Now let’s have yours.”
“I’m Garry Coleman,” Garry answered, “and this is my best friend, Patch Foster.”
Since the center tube of the _Carefree_ was not affected by the centrifugal force of the rotating “tin can,” its gravity was zero. For that reason the webbing was used to pull oneself along with and not really for the purposes of climbing and descending.
Captain Eaton turned around on the webbing so that he could lead the way along the tunnel into the living quarters of the _Carefree_. His slim, agile legs swung free in the zero gravity as he made the turn. Glossy black space boots covered his feet.
The captain showed Garry where to pull a lever which closed a series of air-lock doors between the _Carefree_ and the taxi.
The ship’s master and the boys pulled themselves along the tunnel. Then Captain Eaton stopped and said, “Hold on tightly, fellows. We’re going round and round for a few turns.”
He pushed a lever beneath the webbing, and Garry felt the tube begin to revolve slowly.
“Hey, what’s happening?” Patch called out.
“I had to set the tunnel in rotation so that it could catch up with the rest of the ship, which is always turning. As soon as you’ve become used to the spinning, we’ll go into the ship.”
When the boys said they thought they could navigate, the captain pointed to an open hatch that had appeared in the wall near them.
“We’ll turn around and back down these stairs,” the skipper said. “As we descend, the gravity will become stronger, so that by the time we’re at the bottom we’ll be nearly at our earth weights.”
Garry and Patch followed their new friend down the stairs, moving carefully and holding onto the railing, for they still felt giddy from the rotation of the central tube. By the time they were at the bottom, their heads had begun to clear.
That is, they _thought_ their heads had begun to clear. But no sooner had they gotten this impression than they became giddy all over again at the sight that met their eyes. For it was just as if they had entered a tropical paradise! There were real flowers in bloom all about, and aquariums full of live fishes were set into the surrounding walls.
The boys were too surprised to say anything. All they could do was just stare and stare in disbelief.
6. A _CAREFREE_ WORLD
“How do you like my garden, fellows?” Captain Eaton asked. “It helps keep me from getting homesick. I used to have a most luxuriant garden back on earth.”
“I can’t believe it!” Garry burst out. “It’s just as if we were outdoors on a summer day, it’s so real.”
“There’s a goldfish pond, Garry,” Patch said, “with lily pads floating on top and a bench beside it.”
“I never saw so many kinds of flowers,” Garry said, “and shrubs too.”
“The flowers and shrubs serve a double purpose,” Captain Eaton explained. “They not only provide homelike pleasure to me and my friends, but they also help keep the air in the _Carefree_ supplied with oxygen.”
“I remember,” Garry replied. “Plants in light breathe exactly opposite from the way we do. They breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen.”
Patch stooped down, examining the roots of a shrub. “Hey, the roots aren’t growing in soil! How can they live?”
“The plants grow in richly fertilized liquid,” the captain answered. “In that way, they can be placed much closer together. Besides, some of the water making up the fertilized liquid comes from waste products within the ship. There are other reasons too.”
Captain Eaton led the way along the aisle that ran beside the colorfully lighted aquariums. He stopped in front of a twenty-gallon tank which was in the process of being cleaned by two men.
One of them was very tall, over six and a half feet. He was very thin and appeared to be in his late fifties. But the oddest thing about him, which made Garry and Patch stare at him in surprise, was the fact that he was in the full dress of a butler, complete with newly starched white shirt and neatly pressed coat and trousers! Although he was holding a bucket that was catching water from a draining aquarium, his clothing wasn’t in the least mussed.
Captain Eaton saw the boys staring at the tall gentleman and said, “Boys, I want you to meet Mr. Klecker, the Eaton family butler for many years. When I decided to set out into space on my permanent cruise, he would not think of being left behind. Klecker, this is Garry and this is Patch. They will be our guests for awhile.”
Mr. Klecker looked at them with heavy-lidded eyes. Then, bowing, he said in a deep stately voice, “Pleased, young gentlemen.”
“Glad to know you, Mr. Klecker,” Garry said.
“Me too,” Patch added.
The other person attending to the fish tank was a young man. He rose from a squatting position and smiled at the boys. He had crew-cut black hair and the kind of happy features which indicate a friendly nature. He wiped his damp hands on his trousers and offered a palm to Garry first, then to Patch.
“Hi, boys. I’m Ben Dawes. Glad to have you aboard,” he said. “It sure is a surprise meeting fellows as young as yourselves out here in space.”
“It’ll probably be more of a surprise, Ben, to know that they are alone,” the captain said.
“Not really!” Ben said. “Say, I’ll bet you two have a long story explaining that!”
“We do,” Garry answered, “and we’ll tell you when we have lots of time.”
“Ben is my right-hand man, whom I wouldn’t part with for all the millions I own,” Captain Eaton said proudly. “He could build a space ship out of a safety pin if he had to. He had a big hand in designing the _Carefree_, and he knows every bolt and rivet in her.”
It was interesting to Garry to hear that the captain was a millionaire. That probably explained how he could afford to take such a leisurely cruise through space in something akin to a flying palace.
“While Klecker and Ben are changing the water in this aquarium,” Captain Eaton said, “how would you like to meet the rest of my friends?”
“We would, Sir,” Garry replied, “but are you sure you don’t have things to do?” It was hard for Garry to believe that as important a person as a millionaire would be willing to devote so much time to a couple of orphans who were lost in space.
“Here my time is my own,” Captain Eaton said. “Back home there were hundreds of little details that always had to be attended to, and as I grew older the grind began to keep me in a state of tension and boredom. That’s when I made up my mind that I would spend the rest of my life the way that I wanted to—without constant interruption and without ever hurrying. I sold everything I owned and came into space. That was four years ago.”
“Why are you so interested in space, Captain?” Garry asked.
“In my early days I had a very keen interest in space travel. I became a space cadet, but after only four months’ service I was hurt, and my injury was such that I had to give up any thoughts of a future in the Space Service. But my keen interest in space stayed with me through the years, and I never gave up hope of returning to the spaceways. So, you see, my hope was realized, and here I am as carefree as the name of my ship.”
“Then you never plan to return to earth, Captain Eaton, ever?” Garry asked.
“No, I don’t think so. In the first place, the _Carefree_ was built in space and could not stand the atmospheric friction of an earth return. Of course, I could get back if I really wanted to. But I don’t believe I want to. My simple life out here is very satisfying. I never had any children, and my wife is now dead. No, no close relatives. It takes a little money to survive out here and pay my friends aboard ship, but it does not take too much. Yes, this is the good life, and it is enough for me.”
As Captain Eaton paced the boys by a couple of steps, Garry had to marvel at the youthful stride of their host. His body was as lean and spare as a man half his age, and Garry was sure he must have kept himself in good condition all his life.
As the trio left the garden and moved into the next section, Garry and Patch heard a fine tenor voice singing a lusty aria from an opera. A quick study of their surroundings told Garry that they were in the galley.
As the fragrance of good food reached the boys’ noses, they suddenly remembered how hungry they were. They hadn’t eaten since they left the orphanage!
“That’s Gino you hear,” Captain Eaton explained.
The boys presently saw a short, fat little Italian throwing a huge, flat wad of dough into the air. He stopped when he saw the boys and grinned so widely that his eyes disappeared and his mouth seemed as broad as that of a jack-o’-lantern.
Captain Eaton exchanged names so that everyone quickly knew everyone else. Gino was the ship’s cook, and his full name was Gino Spondini.
Gino kept tossing the dough into the air, and each time he tossed it up it became thinner and bigger.
“You _bambini_ chose a good day to come to the _Carefree_,” Gino said. “This is a special day for good food, only once every two weeks, eh, Captain?”
Captain Eaton nodded. “Unfortunately, there isn’t a grocery store just around the corner, and so we fill our food room and deep freeze only a few times a year from the commissary satellite which supplies food to all the manned satellites around earth. But when we do have an exceptionally good meal, we enjoy it even more.”
“I don’t know what you’re making, Gino,” Garry said, “but I’m hungry enough to eat it raw.”
Gino looked shocked. “You don’t know pizza when you see it? Where have you been all your life, _bambino_?”
“Gino makes the best pizza pie in the world—or should I say the best in the solar system?” the captain said. “Now, boys, shall we move on and meet the others?”
They left the galley and proceeded on to the next section within the _Carefree_, leaving Gino singing another operatic air. The boys wondered if they could hold out until lunch time.
“Up ahead of us,” Captain Eaton said presently, after passing through a short hallway, “is the dormitory. Since the dorm is used solely for sleeping, we made it small so that we could give more area over to the other parts of the ship where we spend more of our time.”
Garry found the dormitory indeed small and quite simple. There were three-tiered bunks along the walls, with ladders leading up to the second and third levels.
The captain smiled. “Patch, you seem to be looking over those bunks carefully to see if you find any that aren’t made up.” Patch blushed. “Yes, Sir. I was wondering if....”
“If we have room for you two? Well, breathe easily, for we do have extras. The ship will sleep twelve, and special cots can be set up to accommodate more when necessary.”
“They look cozy,” Garry said, “but how do you know when to sleep out here in space, without any real night or day?”
“We observe a twenty-four-hour day just as they do on earth. Scientists have found out that space travelers get along much better if they keep the same hourly habits to which they are accustomed. We even simulate the appearance of night, turning down the lights and observing quiet. You’ll find out that you get sleepy at just the right time and that you wake the ‘next morning’ feeling just as refreshed as you did on earth.”
Suddenly, they heard a stirring in one of the top bunks. A deeply tanned man with a thick shock of auburn hair raised up sleepily.
“Oh, it’s you, Captain,” the man said with a yawn. Then he perked up. “Who is it with you, Sir?” The man’s accent was a thick Scottish brogue.
“We have guests, Mac,” the captain replied. “These are Garry and Patch. Fellows, meet Mr. McIntosh, pilot, navigator, engineer, and what have you. He likes to be called Mac.”
“Hi, fellows, glad to have you aboard,” Mac said cordially, then yawned again.
“Sorry we woke you, Mac,” the captain said.
“I’m just about due to relieve Isaac upstairs, Sir. That’s all right.”
“I was just showing the boys the ship. We’ll move on so you can get dressed.”
As they left the dormitory to pass into another hallway, Captain Eaton asked, “You’ve heard of Isaac Newton, haven’t you, boys?”
“Oh yes, Sir,” Garry responded eagerly. “He was one of the very greatest scientists. He died a long time ago.”
The captain winked at them. “Well, we’re going to meet him,” he said.
7. A SHOCK IN THE NIGHT
Captain Eaton’s announcement that Garry and Patch were about to meet Isaac Newton, the great scientist, filled the boys with astonishment.
“We’re going back to the central tube,” the skipper said, “and from there to the navigation room.”
They climbed a steep staircase, as they had done earlier. Garry felt the comfortable feel of artificial gravity leaving him as they went higher. The light-headed, floating sensation of zero gravity was returning.
The captain shoved a lever so that the central tunnel would start revolving. When a doorway appeared in the tube, the three climbed through. Then the rotation of the tunnel was stopped. The captain then led the boys along the stationary axle of the _Carefree_, in the direction opposite from where they had first entered the ship. The three pulled themselves along the webbing as their legs swung free, weightlessly. They reached a platform outside a door at the nose of the ship. Holding onto the platform rail, Captain Eaton fished into a cabinet built into the platform and came out with two pairs of slippers.
“You can attach these magnetic-soled slippers to your shoes, fellows,” their host said. “Because of the zero gravity in the navigation room, we have to use gravity plates. The rest of us wear these attached to our boots all the time because we are always going back and forth up here, and they are light and comfortable.”
After the boys had donned the slippers, Captain Eaton pressed a button, the door slid open, and the three of them walked through.
Garry and Patch found themselves in a domed room, which had a wide front port that looked out into space. Below the port extended a long instrument panel, or console, with two seats in front of it, one of which was occupied.
“This is the flight deck!” Garry said. “It’s the part that looked like a big eye on the front of the ship.”
The pilot turned around in his swivel seat. He was a huge, muscular man with rugged features that suggested he might once have been a vigorous athlete.
“Boys, meet Isaac Newton,” Captain Eaton said.
Garry could not help but laugh, because this Isaac Newton looked nothing whatsoever like pictures of the great scientist. But then Garry remembered that he was being impolite, and he apologized.
“That’s all right,” Isaac Newton said good naturedly. “Everybody who ever heard of that scientist laughs. I’ve been defending my name ever since I was a kid. That’s how I got to be a professional fighter, which I was until I got tired of bashing people and the good captain took me on as his chauffeur. I stayed on with him, and he said I could come into space with him if I wanted to. I’ve picked up navigation since I’ve been out here.”
“How did you get a name like Isaac Newton?” Patch asked.
“Well, naturally my father was named Newton,” Isaac explained, “and he was also a science teacher. He wanted me to be a scientist too, and thought he was helping me by giving me the name of one of the greatest scientists of all time. But, as I said, I got into so many fights because of being teased about my name that I had more practice as a fighter.”
He laughed, showing a two-tooth vacancy in the front of his mouth. “Funny thing is that I might’ve been a scientist if I hadn’t been given the name of one!”
With that, Isaac Newton turned back to check on how the ship was running. The captain went over to converse with him, and this gave the boys an opportunity to look around the navigation room.
Of particular interest was a huge chart on the back wall near the entrance. On the map were countless globes of various sizes, and running through the globes were long curving lines.
“What’s that, do you suppose?” Patch asked his friend.
Garry looked closely at the printed names beside the round symbols.
“Hermes—Vanguard II—Adonis—Derelict Space Ship _Oberon_,” he read. “These seem to be objects floating about in space,” he said, “and the lines through them must be their orbits.”
“You’re very observant, Garry.”
Garry looked back and saw that Captain Eaton had come over.
“That’s exactly what they are, and we have to know exactly where each one of them is at all times,” the captain said. “If we missed keeping up with one, we might run into a collision orbit with it, and then it would be quickly over for all of us. Some of the objects are asteroids, some man-made satellites, some large meteor fragments whose orbits we have already plotted. And a few are derelicts, or empty shells of what were once proud space liners. Any one of them could destroy the _Carefree_ if it should hit us. In fact, a meteor as large as an orange could wreck us because of the terrific velocity at which it would strike.”
“Gee,” Patch said, “you must be anxious all the time about being hit by something.”
“No. It’s a risk, of course, but space is so very, very huge that actually there is little chance of being hit by anything any larger than a grain of sand. But of course there is always the chance that someday the big, unexpected one will come. Still, we don’t worry about it because it would keep us from enjoying our life in space.”
Captain Eaton showed the boys some of the other things in the room. He explained the purpose of the various dials and switches on the console—facts that the boys would have given anything to know when they were so desperately trying to steer the space taxi. The skipper of the _Carefree_ told them that usually there was only one pilot on duty but that, in case of tricky navigation or on other special occasions, both Mac and Isaac or Ben would be on together. The captain added that he was quite a pilot himself and liked to take over the controls now and then.
Suddenly chimes were heard over a loud-speaker.
“That’s the signal for us to get ready for lunch,” Captain Eaton said. “Let’s go, fellows, and wash up.”
“Tell Mac to shake a leg and get up here to relieve me, will you, Captain?” Isaac asked. “I’m starved. It’s been a long shift.”
“I will, Isaac,” the captain promised, and pushed the button which opened the door.
A few minutes later, Garry and Patch sat down to the best meal they had had in a long time. Not even Thanksgiving at the orphanage could beat this, Garry told his friend. The boys had their first taste of pizza pie, and they were hoping it would not be their last, especially if Gino was the one who prepared it. They were sure he was the best chef in all the solar system.
After lunch the patient Captain Eaton spent most of the afternoon showing the boys more of the ship. They saw the gym and swimming pool and the library filled with many recording tapes and films. There were also books for those who preferred reading instead of reclining in a soft contour chair and listening to tapes over earphones.
As they passed from one section to another, Garry noticed that the indirect daylight effect, that filled every part of the _Carefree_, was fading steadily but slowly. He asked the captain about this.
“It’s an automatic control that helps put us in the mood for night,” the skipper said. “Remember my telling you about how much better man works in a properly spaced twenty-four-hour day? Soon now, the main lights will be very low, with only an occasional lamp making things bright. It is just like the coming of night back at home. You will see.”
The space travelers had only a light snack for dinner because of the big meal earlier in the day. Soon afterward, the boys began to yawn and get sleepy as they watched the artificial daylight continue to fade. They were looking forward to sleeping lying down for a change.
“Your minds are telling you it’s time for bed, eh?” Captain Eaton said with a laugh. “Well, so is mine. I still haven’t shown you the observatory, which is my favorite spot aboard ship. But that can wait until tomorrow. Let’s go to the dorm and get you two settled before the fellows in there are ready to turn out the lights.”
The boys found all the people they had met today getting ready for bed. That is, all but two of them.
“Mac is on pilot duty, isn’t he, Captain?” Garry asked. “But where is Ben?”
Captain Eaton was pulling off his shiny boots. He may have been the boss of the _Carefree_, with all the say-so, but he was not too proud to share the same sleeping quarters with those whom he called his “friends.”
“There are always two on duty at night, Garry,” Captain Eaton replied to Garry’s question. “One acts as pilot, while the other makes the rounds several times a night to be sure that the automatic controls are functioning properly. We all take turns sharing these duties.”
When everyone had climbed into his bunk and pulled the covers up, Captain Eaton called out from his own bunk, “Check?”
There came answering “checks” from all the fellows, and the next moment Garry found the room plunged in darkness.
Within only a few minutes’ time, Garry began hearing the quiet breathing of those around him already in deep sleep. But he was too excited to drop off just yet. As he lay there staring into the darkness, he wondered if such a thrilling adventure as this could really be happening to him and Patch. Why, only a few hours ago they were in despair for their very lives. Now a whole new experience had been opened to them. It was almost as if the _Carefree_ had been sent by Providence to him and Patch alone.
As Garry’s thoughts roved, his eyelids began to feel heavy and the clutch of sleep was groping for him. He finally drifted off into slumber, only to wake—he didn’t know how many hours later—with a parching thirst. He sat upright in his bunk and threw back the covers that cloaked him like a sweat-box. He found that he was breathing heavily and then suddenly remembered the end of a nightmare he had been having.
As he sat in the quietness and darkness, he began to relax, and his heartbeats slowed to normal. But he was still very thirsty. He remembered that there was a water fountain in the hallway outside the dormitory.
Slowly and carefully, so as to make no noise to disturb the others, Garry left his third-level bunk and made his way down the metal ladder to the floor. A dim night light, kept burning all the time, showed the way to the door. Garry pressed the button, and the door slid open silently.
Garry went out into the faintly lighted hallway. He shivered as he made his way along the corridor. It was not that he was cold but that it was so creepy and lonesome with everything so quiet. The fountain was like a white ghost crouching against the wall a couple of dozen feet away. Garry made his way toward it. He leaned over it, pressed the lever, and felt the icy stream against his dry lips.
“Boy, that’s good,” he said to himself, and he drank and drank as though he hadn’t had water in all his lifetime.
When he finally got his fill, he rubbed his sleeve across his mouth and turned to start back toward the dormitory.
Then it seemed that all the blood flowed out of his head in one wild rush. His heart began to thump rapidly, and his legs went weak.
It was due to a startling sight that faced him.
8. GARRY HAS A SCARE
A huge woman was lumbering toward him down the dim corridor. There was something strange and unreal about her face and her awkward movements that gave Garry chills.
Garry started running. He slammed into the water fountain, bruising his side. But he kept moving, and so did the woman stalker.
Garry knew that the corridor was in the shape of a square and that if he kept turning corners he would arrive back at the dormitory. He wondered why a woman should frighten him, and it embarrassed him when he thought what the others would say when they found out. But the creature was so hostile—and somehow monstrous in her looks—that Garry was sure she meant to attack him.
As he ran, Garry did not even look back to see if his adversary were still in pursuit. Finally, he turned the last corner and saw the dormitory straight ahead at the end of the corridor. He looked back around the corner in the direction from which he had just come. He’d outdistanced her. She wasn’t even in sight.
By now his nerves were a little calmer, although his heart still drummed faster than usual. He began walking briskly, every now and then casting a look back over his shoulder.
There was the dormitory at last. He felt a little silly now, as he reached for the button to open the door. He decided that he would not tell the others of his run and his fright lest they tease him about the incident. He would just tell them that he had _seen_ the strange woman but would not reveal the embarrassing circumstances. He still wondered who she could be, especially since Captain Eaton had not even mentioned her before.
Just as Garry pressed the door button, he heard a metallic clanking behind him.
There was the woman, coming very fast, the dim lights revealing the dark hollows of her eyes. Garry saw her tight-lipped mouth, her hugeness—fully as tall as Mr. Klecker and almost as broad, it seemed.
The unexpectedness of it caused Garry to cry out for the first time. As the door of the dormitory slid back, he scrambled inside, hurriedly pressed the button closing the door, then sank back against it, panting.
The bright lights went on in the room. Garry’s eyes blurred in the sudden sharp brilliance. When they came into focus, Garry saw everyone sitting straight up in their bunks, their eyes squinting and staring at him in amazement.
After a few tense moments, Captain Eaton asked from his bunk, “Garry, what’s the matter?”
“A woman—a big woman’s out there!” he blurted. “She was after me!”
Garry heard the men begin to laugh.
“Garry, that’s Katrinka,” the captain explained. “She wouldn’t hurt a thing. She _couldn’t_. She’s not _built_ that way.”
“Not _built_ that way?” Garry echoed. “What do you mean? She’s built pretty strong I think!”
Captain Eaton chuckled. “She’s a robot, Garry.”
“A robot!” Garry said. “So that’s why she looks so different!”
“Yes, I made her as lifelike as possible,” Captain Eaton went on, “but I’m afraid I’m no Michelangelo as a sculptor.”
“You _built_ her?” Garry asked in surprise.
“Yes. We needed someone to do our chores—you know, the things that men dislike doing in the nature of housework and cleaning up. But she’s quite controllable, Garry. She wouldn’t have harmed you. Something must have slipped in her mechanism so that she became activated. It happens once in awhile. I’ll go take a look at her.”
“You don’t have to go far, Sir,” Garry said, rubbing away the sweat that had gathered on his forehead. “She’s right outside the door.”
As the captain climbed from his bunk and slipped into his robe, Garry avoided the eyes of the others in the dormitory. He had done just what he had hoped he would not do—shown his fear of a harmless robot. He knew they must think him squeamish, but they were not laughing now.
Patch seemed to have been the only one who was not aroused by the excitement. Garry could see that he was still asleep in his bunk.
Captain Eaton passed Garry, opened the door, and went outside. Garry followed a few steps behind.
The robot still looked menacing to Garry. It stood, big and dark and unmoving, in the dimness of the corridor.
Captain Eaton faced Katrinka and spoke in a clear, loud voice: “Closet! Closet!”
Garry heard a humming sound coming from the robot. It shuffled about slowly on its ponderous feet and started walking away.
“She’s obeying!” Garry gasped.
“Yes, she’s all right,” Captain Eaton replied. “Probably just a crossing of the wires in her mechanical brain that activated her. Maybe a slight lurch of the ship did it. I’ll look her over thoroughly in the morning.”
“I don’t see how you did it,” Garry said, still amazed. “How can a machine like that take orders like a person, just as if it had a brain like us?”
“Katrinka’s brain is made up of electrical impulses in certain codes,” Captain Eaton replied. “There is a code disk for everything that she is able to do. For instance, there is one for making up the bunks, every step in that operation. There’s one for washing the dishes, mopping the floor, and so on. When I have the time, I make her even smarter by adding new codes and duties.”
“But all you said was the word ‘closet,’ and off she went,” Garry said.
“That was the code for her heading for the closet down the corridor where she stays when we have no need for her. When she goes inside the closet, an automatic switch will cut off her mechanism, and she will remain dormant until we need her. Just as if I gave you an order to go somewhere and your muscles would carry you to that place, so it is with Katrinka. The code words I give her activate the wires that control her movement in a certain way, whatever that activity is.”
Garry nodded. “I understand it, but it sure must be a complicated thing the way she works.”
“It’s complicated, all right,” Captain Eaton agreed. “Katrinka represents many years of scientific study, long before I ever thought of venturing into space. It was a hobby of mine, in between my duties as a teacher and head of a space shipping corporation. My first models were very clumsy and crude, but I have developed them over the years and have finally come up with Katrinka, my finest yet. Many people are interested in her—manufacturers and the government too.”
The next morning Garry told Patch about Katrinka, and Captain Eaton gave them permission to watch him check out the robot.
After breakfast the three went to the closet where the robot was kept. The captain pressed the door button, and the door slid open, revealing the hulking monster that had frightened Garry the night before. Even now, Garry felt chills along his spine.
Captain Eaton spoke one word, “Follow,” and then turned on his heel, heading on down the corridor. The boys tagged along and were amazed to see and hear Katrinka clomping behind.
“She _is_ following, Garry!” Patch said.
“Yeah, and I still don’t understand it,” his friend replied, with a shake of his head.
“Why, that’s the easiest command of all I’ve given her to do,” Captain Eaton said. “The word ‘follow’ activates a sort of radar device in her and makes her follow the closest moving object. I believe that was what happened when she chased you last night, Garry. Something slipped, causing her to follow that particular action.”
The captain chuckled. “She could have pursued you all night, but she never would have come closer than three feet.”
The _Carefree_’s skipper entered a doorway leading off the corridor. “Here’s my workshop. I’ll have a look at Katrinka’s workings now,” he said.
The shop was untidy, cluttered from top to bottom with electronic parts, tools, and metal plates.
Captain Eaton gave Katrinka the command to stop and then with a screw driver removed a large plate from her back. He nosed about inside the robot for several minutes, making adjustments within the complicated network of wires and miniature parts. Then he replaced the plate.
“Just a couple of wires got too close,” he said. “She won’t be chasing you any more, Garry.”
“That’s a relief,” Garry replied with a nervous smile. “I wouldn’t want to go through that again, even if she _is_ harmless!”
“I’ll show you how I build commands into her system,” the captain said. “Let’s have a simple command, fellows.”
“I know,” Garry replied. “Have her lift up Patch.”
Patch backed off hastily. “Oh no you don’t!” he objected.
The master of the _Carefree_ laughed. “Be a sport, Patch. She’s very gentle. She won’t hurt you,” he said.
Patch thought a moment, then replied, “Okay, if you promise it will be all right.”
“I promise,” the captain said, and he set to work.
He brought out tools and equipment of every kind. Then he removed some plates from various parts of the robot’s body. But instead of tinkering around inside, as he had done before, he opened up a big chart and began working from it, using pencil and paper.
“What are you doing, Captain?” Garry asked after a few moments.
“This is a map of Katrinka’s system, like the diagram of a radio or TV,” was the reply. “I have to figure out what connections I must bring together. You see, I must give her several actions that make up the command we have given her. There must be the action of walking over to Patch, of bending certain parts that serve as her muscles, and finally the action of lifting him up. Then I must activate these through the use of spoken words.” The captain worked for about an hour. The last thing he did was to take a small disk out of stock and drill holes in it at very carefully measured positions. Then he slipped the disk into place inside the robot.
“Now let’s try her out,” the captain said.
Captain Eaton faced the robot and spoke in a loud clear voice: “Lift.”
Patch remained where he stood, but Garry could see that he was a little nervous as Katrinka began lumbering toward him. The robot stooped over and lifted the boy in her big metal arms. She stood motionless, holding him in a firm grip as Patch began to struggle impatiently after about fifteen seconds.
“Tell her to put me down, Captain,” Patch begged.
The captain winked at Garry mischievously. “My goodness, Patch, I forgot to give her a command to release you!”
Patch began struggling vigorously, but he could not escape the robot’s iron grip.
“Hey, somebody, get me out of this!” Patch cried, his face reddening from his exertions.
Seeing that his fun had gone far enough, Captain Eaton barked out, as if he were a military commander: “Atten-tion!”
The robot’s arms slipped straight down to her sides, and her body stiffened rigidly. Patch tumbled unharmed to the floor.
Patch sat up. He turned and looked up at Garry and the captain. Fear still showed in his eyes, but, as he saw the playful smile on the captain’s face, a grin spread over his own.
The captain laughed out loud. Then Garry joined in.
Finally, Patch himself began laughing, having enjoyed the harmless experiment even if the captain _had_ played a little joke on him.
9. SATELLITE ZONE
Although Ben seemed to be one of the busiest persons aboard the _Carefree_, he still took time out to chat with the boys early that afternoon.
“Have you been at the orphanage all your lives?” Ben asked Garry and Patch.
“Almost that long,” Garry replied.
“Our parents were good friends,” Patch added. “All four of them were killed at one time in a rocket-plane crash near Salt Lake City. We were only three then and were placed in the orphanage at the same time.”
“How long have you been in space, Ben?” Garry asked.
“Oh, about eight years now, off and on. I started when I was in my teens. I was a sort of cabin boy aboard the old Mars exploration ship, the _Jules Verne_. We spent a year there. Boy, what a life! It was like living in a deep freeze. Since then I’ve traveled to Venus, Luna—the moon, you know—and there’s no counting the trips I’ve made among the satellites.”
“How did you get in with Captain Eaton and the _Carefree_?” Patch wanted to know.
“A few years ago I took time to go to school and learn space-ship engineering and design,” Ben replied. “My teacher was Captain Eaton—or Professor Eaton, as he was called then. He was also a millionaire and president of Space Shipping Incorporated. He helped build the sturdiest ships ever to fly the solar system. I graduated stone broke and had to go back to flying the spaceways.
“I thought I’d never be an engineer or designer, but then Professor Eaton got in touch with me and said he was going to design a space ship for his own use. He said I was the best pupil he had ever taught and asked if I would work with him on the project. Of course I jumped at the idea. We assembled the ship out here in space, and I’ve been with him ever since.”
“Captain Eaton is a grand person, isn’t he?” Garry asked.
A fond look came into Ben’s dark eyes. “He’s the wisest, kindest, and most generous person I’ve ever known or heard about. You may think he selfishly spends all his money for his own enjoyment as he cruises the spaceways, but that isn’t the case. He gives far more than he spends out here to charities and churches back on earth. And he has built countless scientific libraries, but he’s too modest to let them be named after himself.”
“The _Carefree_ is such a big ship, Ben,” Patch said, “that I don’t understand how it can be run by so few men.”
“It’s due to the captain’s genius,” Ben explained. “Practically everything you can think of is automatic, and our batteries are constantly recharged by sunlight. Of course, once in a while something goes wrong, and we have to dock at a repair satellite. And we also have to refuel about every six months at a service station. But we don’t use very much fuel ordinarily because we mostly just cruise about in the ‘satellite zone,’ as it’s called.”
Ben had to go back to work, and the boys joined Captain Eaton in the library, where he was waiting for a TV newscast to come on.
Garry and Patch got the shock of their lives at the first feature to come over the telecast. For the subjects were _themselves_.
They quickly discovered that they were the most celebrated missing persons on earth. The orphanage had first reported their absence, and then Mr. Mulroy had given his version of their disappearance. It seemed that Mr. Mulroy was in very hot water because he had not made sure that the boys had gotten off the _Orion_ before the blast-off. In fact, he was in such hot water that he faced court-martial unless Garry and Patch were found.
“Well, I guess the vacation is over, Patch,” Garry said sadly. “We can’t let Mr. Mulroy be court-martialed for what we did.”
“We’ve got to tell them where we are, haven’t we?” Patch replied. “Although I’d give _anything_ to stay aboard the _Carefree_—that is, if Captain Eaton would have us.”
“I’d like nothing better than to have you two stay on,” the captain said. “But you must consider Mr. Mulroy and all the police forces who are working to uncover the mystery of your disappearance. Right, fellows?”
“Yes, Sir,” they both agreed reluctantly.
“We must make full use of the time left you to finish seeing the marvels of the _Carefree_. I said I’d show you the observatory today. What do you say we go there now? I’ve got some double-star photos I want to check on.”
The boys liked the idea and went with their host along the zero-gravity tunnel toward the observatory.
The observatory was a “bubble” attached to the _Carefree_’s center tube or axle, just a short distance from the air lock through which Garry and Patch had first entered the ship. The observatory was such that it never rotated with the tube or the rest of the ship. In this way its telescopes could always keep focus on objects in space.
Three pairs of magnetic shoes clicked along the metal floor of the observatory as Captain Eaton led the boys to the reflector telescope, whose big six-inch eye was pointed out into space. Captain Eaton looked over a camera which was attached to the eyepiece of the telescope. Then he unfastened the camera and took it off.
“The picture has been exposed long enough,” the skipper said. “It takes a pretty long time for a photograph to be made in the heavens, you know. But when you give it full exposure, it shows you much more than your naked eye can do.”
Garry studied a satellite chart on the wall. “I didn’t know there were so many satellites whirling around the earth. So many different kinds and sizes too!” he said.
“Yes, there are many more than one would imagine,” the captain agreed. “Here, let me show you some of them on the chart. The pictures you see are exactly the way each satellite looks, and they are all drawn in proportion.”
Garry and Patch studied the chart with its multitude of different shapes and sizes. There were satellites that resembled drums and others like round balls. Some were torpedo shaped, and some were circular and flat like “flying saucers.” There were giant satellites, wherein people lived and worked, and many of them were in the shape of huge revolving wheels. Some of them had no regularity at all, appearing to Garry to resemble more than anything else huge space insects, bristling with antennas and sun mirrors.
“As you probably know, fellows,” Captain Eaton said, “the Von Braun Space Station is our largest satellite of all. But there are a few others that approach it in size. For example, here is Quartermaster 10, the biggest of the depot satellites that furnish supplies to men who live in the world of the artificial moons. Here is a big fueling satellite, and over here is another big one—Spaceharbor—which is really a network of smaller moons joined together. This is a shipyard satellite where space ships are built and repaired. The _Carefree_ was built in Spaceharbor.”
“Gee, with so many of those things orbiting earth every minute of the day, it seems that space ships are always in danger of hitting one of them,” Patch remarked.
“That is a very real danger,” Captain Eaton said, “especially for us, since we usually cruise in that area above earth called the ‘satellite zone.’ For this reason, every person on pilot duty is responsible for knowing the position of every satellite within dangerous range of the _Carefree_. This requires constant study and figuring of orbit paths. It really is the biggest job the pilot has to do, because generally the _Carefree_ is on automatic pilot and runs itself, you might say.”
“What are some of these smaller satellites?” Garry asked.
“Well, there, there, and there are some of the observation satellites called ‘Tiros.’ They are used to photograph part of the earth for different reasons. Some of the reasons are prediction of weather, mapping, and for military purposes to see that the countries of the world do not start arming themselves for aggression.”
“The Tiros moons were first put into orbit in the 1960’s, weren’t they?” Garry asked.
Captain Eaton nodded. “Also these, Garry—the Transit satellites, which are used for navigation, both in space and on earth. This odd-looking little moon over here is one I’m sure you’ve heard about. It is WAS, which means weather-alteration satellite. Know what it does?”
“Sure,” Garry replied. “It’s used to seed storm clouds with chemicals. If the seeding works, hurricanes and tornadoes can be broken up before they cause damage. I believe they were first put into orbit in the late 1960’s.”
“Very good,” the captain complimented. “Of course there are many other kinds of man-made moons, some too technical to explain. But, in spite of their great number and complexity, each has its use, and they are a tribute to man’s great achievements in the world of science. One of our big jobs aboard the _Carefree_ is to see that they remain in orbit, doing their duty for the people of earth. If we should ever change their orbit, for instance by colliding with one of them, we not only would destroy their usefulness but we would, in all likelihood, destroy the _Carefree_ as well.”
Garry did not even want to think about the possibility of such a disaster.
After the visit to the observatory, the captain asked the boys if they would care to try out the swimming pool.
“Hey, would we!” Garry and Patch said together.
A few minutes later, as they were heading down the corridor toward the gym, they passed Mr. Klecker walking along stiffly—in full dress of course—and carrying a stack of books.
“Hello, gentlemen,” the tall man greeted them cordially, and the boys returned his greeting.
As he passed, Patch whispered to Garry, “Bet those books are about the circus.”
Garry smiled and nodded.
The boys had learned that Mr. Klecker had a hobby. He was very much interested in the circus of the old days. He had many books on the subject, and whenever he talked to anyone it was about the circus.
Garry and Patch had heard from the others that Mr. Klecker still looked after the captain as if he were serving him in his mansion. He would lay out his clothes for him and attend to other small details. Once in awhile Mr. Klecker would be called on to assist in things of a mechanical nature, but he hated to get out of his full dress and don greasy coveralls.
The boys proceeded to the gym. They were anticipating a good time. But something of a decisive nature was to happen which would have an important bearing on their future life aboard the _Carefree_.
10. THE LADY GOES WILD
“Beat you into the pool,” Patch called a little while later.
He dashed out of the dressing room and dove, with hands outstretched, into the water. Garry followed right behind, tumbling into the spray left by Patch’s dive.
“Say, this is nice and warm!” Garry said. “And we’ve got it all to ourselves!”
A little way back from the pool’s edge, Mac and Isaac were lifting weights. This exercise was to help them keep in good physical trim.
Garry and Patch swam and splashed to their hearts’ content. It was the most fun they had had in a long time. They knew no one would ever believe their story of swimming in a pool in deep space! It was almost too difficult for them to believe themselves. But they did not care if they were never believed.
They frolicked in the water for about an hour and then climbed up on the pool’s edge to catch their breath for a few minutes.
“Boy, I could spend twenty-four hours a day in there,” Patch said, flicking water from his face.
“I could too, almost,” Garry agreed. “But I would be satisfied if I could spend twenty-four hours a day aboard the _Carefree_ doing anything. Gee, it’s going to be hard leaving here to go back to the orphanage.”
“Yeah,” Patch said sourly. “Gee whiz, Garry, why can’t they let a couple of guys live the way they want to?”
“We can someday, when we are old enough,” Garry said. “But the only way we could get around having to go back now would be for Captain Eaton to adopt us.”
“Say, that’s the answer!” Patch replied excitedly. “Why don’t we ask him?”
“I don’t think it’s as easy as that, Patch. In the first place, I don’t think _we_ should ask _him_. He knows how much we like the _Carefree_, and he may have thought of adoption. But he should be the one who suggests it.”
“Maybe we could drop a hint or something,” Patch said.
“I don’t think they’d let him adopt us, Patch. Don’t forget, when they find out where we are, they’ll think we stowed away aboard the _Orion_, and that would ruin any chances we might have had.”
“But we didn’t deliberately stow away!” Patch protested.
“I know that, but how can we get them to believe us? I don’t think they’d even consider adoption at this time, and I think Captain Eaton must feel that way too.”
Patch sighed. “Maybe later, then. Maybe someday Captain Eaton will want us back. Gosh, I hate to leave here, though.”
“Life won’t be the same any more,” Garry said. “Nothing can ever be as exciting as the adventure we’ve had.”
They heard footsteps approaching and looked up to see Captain Eaton coming their way. Missing now was his usual sunny smile. He carried a piece of paper in his hand.
“Well, fellows, the answer has come,” Captain Eaton said, and his voice was laden with dejection. “I radioed that you two had been picked up, and they’ve already replied.”
Garry hated to ask, “Wh—what did they say?”
“Just as I suspected. We must return to the Von Braun Space Station.”
“I was hoping we had a _few_ more days at least,” Patch groaned.
“I think that the sooner we straighten this matter out, the better it will be for everyone,” Captain Eaton replied. “And another thing, you boys are still A.W.O.L. from the orphanage, you know. However, it will take a couple of days for us to work out a navigation plan and get a clearance approach to the station. Sorry, fellows. I wish you could have stayed on with us indefinitely, but....”
As the captain’s voice trailed off, Garry had a flicker of hope. The captain was looking at them as if debating something in his mind. Would he bring up the subject of adoption?
But, saying nothing further, the captain turned and began walking toward the outer door of the gym.
Then he seemed to think of something else and came back. The boys held their breath hopefully. Would he mention adoption now?
“There’s something else they told me that I thought you’d want to know,” the captain said. “I told them the story of your being stowaways accidentally, just as you told me. They checked back and found that the elevator attached to the _Orion_ was defective, as you said, and they are convinced of the truth of your story. As a result, Officer Mulroy has been cleared of any negligence.”
“I’m glad to know that, Sir,” Garry said.
Once more the captain left them, but this time for good.
“Well, that’s that,” Patch commented unhappily. “No adoption. When he came back I thought he....”
“I was hoping too,” Garry replied, “but we’ve got to go back, and that’s all there is to it.”
Mac and Isaac came over, still breathing hard from their exercises.
“We couldn’t help but overhear the bad news,” Mac said. “We’re going to hate to see you fellows go.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Isaac added.
“Thanks,” Garry replied. “We were getting to like this old ship.”
“In a way I’d almost like to go with you,” Mac said, with a faraway look in his eyes.
Garry guessed that the Scotsman was a little homesick. His hunch proved correct, because Mac began to reminisce about his homeland. He described the heather on the hillsides, the flowing streams, and the green vales. And yet, Mac admitted finally that space was still a good second home to him, and he enjoyed his life in the deeps.
Isaac had no home he would rather live in than the _Carefree_. As he talked about his good friends aboard ship and the kindly captain, Garry noticed the softness of the big man’s eyes.
Garry had heard that Isaac was really quite a sentimental fellow. Whenever he learned of a tragedy over the TV, it would depress him. Later, the boys were to learn that Isaac had a secret liking for good poetry.
Both Mac and Isaac seemed genuinely sorry that the boys were having to leave. It made Garry and Patch feel good that they were so popular, but it made them a little sad, too.
The next morning Garry and Patch woke earlier than the others and were heading toward the washroom.
Suddenly Garry stopped and caught Patch by the arm. “Patch, do you hear that? There’s noise coming from the laundry room up ahead!”
Patch listened and heard the sound of splashing and a machine laboring hard.
“Yeah,” Patch said. “Let’s see what’s going on!”
Running, Garry led the way into the laundry room. But then he wished he had not been coming so fast. His feet skidded on the floor, that was covered with thick soapsuds, and he skated several feet forward on his bottom. Patch, coming right behind, could not help laughing at his friend’s misfortune. But then he too went down and skidded alongside Garry.
“Hey, what goes on here!” Garry gasped, trying to get to his feet. The entire floor was a miniature sea of soapsuds.
In his efforts to get up, Garry’s feet slid apart, and he hit the floor again. Patch had no better luck than Garry. When this happened, both boys broke into laughter.
They struggled several times to their feet, half playing all the while, but did not succeed in keeping their feet until the fourth attempt. Then they held onto one another to steady themselves. Only now did they see what was causing the strange disorder.
They looked over at the big washing machine against the wall and saw Katrinka standing over the open tank, pitching clothes right and left out of the machine and into the air! It was as if she were having the time of her life.
“Look, Patch—Katrinka!” Garry burst out laughing once more. “She’s gone crazy! Something must have flipped in her mechanism again.”
The machine was still making mountains of suds, and they were flooding out of the top like a flow of white lava. Katrinka’s metal wrists clanged against the edge of the machine as she went up and down with her flinging motion, making a rhythmic clatter.
“Hey, can’t we give her some words to make her stop this?” Patch spoke loudly to be heard over all the noise. “She’ll wreck the place!”
“I remember one of the commands,” Garry said. Then loudly he called out: “Atten-tion! Atten-tion!”
“She’s not paying any mind!” Patch said.
“She must be short-circuited again,” Garry said. “Let’s go for Captain Eaton!”
“I hate to wake him up after the hard day he had yesterday,” Patch said, as he returned along the corridor with Garry, “but this is an emergency.”
It turned out that they did not have to wake the captain. He met them, clad in his robe, at the door of the dorm, having already been aroused by the commotion going on down the corridor.
Captain Eaton yawned. “It’s Katrinka, isn’t it? Ben set her for laundry duty this morning, but I guess her wires got crossed again.”
The boys cautioned Captain Eaton to be careful about going into the slippery room. The captain promised he would be careful and promptly fell down as soon as he walked through the door. Garry and Patch tried to help the captain to his feet, but only succeeded in falling again themselves. They scrambled around, slipping and sliding. Then slowly learning how to become expert at moving about in soapsuds, they finally managed to stand up and stay up.
Carefully, the three made their way toward the washing machine where Katrinka was still merrily flipping clothes through the air. But by now she was out of ammunition and was merely flailing her metal arms. The captain used the command, “Atten-tion!” several times, trying to stop Katrinka’s wild actions, but he had no better luck with this than Garry had had.
Captain Eaton moved forward over the slippery floor and groped for the control knob on the robot’s back. But then, losing his footing, he hung on to the robot to keep from falling again. This brought Katrinka crashing down onto the floor along with the captain himself.
Garry and Patch each offered the captain a hand and presently managed to get him upright again. Garry had a hard time keeping a straight face. Captain Eaton’s face was red, and his beard was straggly and sudsy. His soggy bathrobe stuck to his thin legs, giving him the appearance of a saddened, snow-covered elf.
In the meanwhile, Katrinka was still having her fun, swinging her arms gaily against the floor as she lay on her back.
“We’ve got to turn her over,” Captain Eaton said, crawling nearer the robot. “Be careful of her arms. She can knock you over with them.”
Garry thought he saw how the job could be done.
“Let’s both grab her right leg, Patch,” he said. “Then we’ll give a good heave-ho and flip her over on her stomach. Careful you don’t slip.”
They did as Garry had suggested, yanking fiercely on the robot’s leg and flipping the metal creature over, face down. But the motion also brought Garry and Patch down in the soap again, this time getting the suds all over their faces, causing them to make wry grimaces and blow away the froth from their lips even as they laughed.
But what was funniest of all to Garry was when he saw Captain Eaton suddenly see an opening and scramble furiously, on all fours, over to the flailing robot. He threw himself upon her back, fighting her as a cowboy would wrestle a steer. He finally subdued her with a turn of the switch on her back, which he was at last able to grab and twist.
Worn out by his exertions, the captain simply flopped back on his hands in the soapy billows, sighing heavily. Then the good-natured man caught Garry’s eye and smiled. The smile turned into laughter, and presently all three of them joined in.
The captain later determined what had happened. He found out that Katrinka, in doing her washing chores, had gotten water into her electronic parts, and this had caused trouble in her mechanism. Captain Eaton made the repair easily, and the robot maid was once more in proper working order.
The boys were with the captain while he was making the repairs on Katrinka in the workshop. When the captain had put away his tools, he sent the robot on her way. Then he looked at Garry, as he washed his hands at the sink, and said in a sad voice, “Fellows, I’ve received a docking date at the Von Braun Space Station. We’ll dock at 2100 tomorrow night. That isn’t much time left, is it?”
“No, Sir, it isn’t,” Garry replied unhappily.
The captain did not look up again.
Garry half expected him to say something else, but, instead, he remained silent. Garry tugged at Patch’s sleeve, motioning for them to go.
The boys made their way slowly toward the door of the workshop. As Garry pressed the button to open the sliding door, Captain Eaton spoke again.
“Wait—just a minute.”
The boys turned. Garry gulped. He could see the sadness in the elderly man’s eyes.
“Boys, I haven’t told you how much I’ve enjoyed having you with us for this short time,” the captain said, holding his dripping hands over the sink, not bothering to dry them.
Garry had a lump in his throat. “We’ve enjoyed it too, haven’t we, Patch?”
“Sure thing,” Patch murmured.
Captain Eaton continued: “You two have been a great big lift in our lives. It’s been so long since we’ve seen young fellows, and you’ve made us feel younger ourselves once more. I think you know how we feel about your leaving us. But I don’t want to get sentimental about it and make you feel worse. So this won’t be good-by. We’ll see each other again—I know we shall.”
Garry cleared his throat, trying to dissolve that lump. “You’d better dry your hands, Sir.”
Captain Eaton smiled, reaching for a towel. “Oh, of course,” he said.
“We’ll miss all of you very much, Sir,” Garry said, before starting through the door. “The _Carefree_ has been like a home to us.”
The boys were silent as they went on to the dormitory. They were overcome by sadness at having to leave the ship and her friendly people.
As the boys were getting together the clothing and toilet articles they had been given, Patch remarked to Garry, “Maybe the captain doesn’t like us enough for adoption. He may not care for the idea of being saddled with us permanently.”
“I hope it’s not that,” Garry answered, “but I still can’t think of any other reason, now that the stowaway business is straightened out.”
Patch didn’t answer. He had no explanation either.
11. A FRIEND IS LOST
That night, on their way to dinner in the galley, the boys were overtaken by the long-striding Mr. Klecker.
“I heard you’re leaving us, gentlemen,” he said to them.
“Yes, that’s right, Mr. Klecker,” Garry replied.
“Too bad. I was hoping I would have the opportunity to talk to you about the old circus days. Yes, it’s too bad.”
Gino, too, showed how much he liked the boys. He baked them special pies and told them that they were his going-away presents to them.
After supper, Patch said to Garry, as they were leaving the galley, “Gee, they’re not making our leaving very easy, are they?”
“No, Patch, they’re not making it very easy at all,” Garry agreed.
“We’re not making what very easy?” asked a voice behind them.
They turned and saw the smiling face of Ben. Garry explained to him what they were talking about.
“Then I guess you don’t want me to say I’m sorry to see you go either, do you?” Ben said.
“Of course we really _do_ care,” Garry admitted. “But it makes us sad when everybody tells us.”
“Then, I won’t tell you good-by, fellows,” Ben said. “I’ll just say ‘so long’ for awhile. Before you know it, you’ll come back into space and find us still cruising through the deeps in the _Carefree_. Yes, we’ll all be here.”
“It does sound better that way, Ben,” Garry replied. “But until then, we’ll still miss all of you terribly.”
“We’ll miss you too,” Ben said quietly, “but we’ll never forget you.”
The boys went to bed with a feeling of melancholy that night, for this was their last sleep aboard Captain Eaton’s wonderland space ship. The thought of leaving these good friends, possibly forever, brought a pang to Garry’s heart. But no matter how sorrowful he felt, he was determined to be brave about it.
Garry fell asleep thinking of all the fun he and Patch had had in the brief happy hours of their stay aboard the _Carefree_. Since the time passes quickly during slumber, the boy expected he would be awake before he knew it on another quiet morning, and that very soon thereafter he would be bidding good-by to his friends as he and Patch made preparations for the voyage back to earth and the orphanage.
But Garry woke far sooner than he expected. It was not morning, nor was it quiet; the air was charged with confusion and alarm.
Garry was aware of bustling footsteps and urgent voices in the dormitory. His eyes popped open in the bright glare of the lights that had been turned on fully. He had a feeling that it was the middle of the night and not morning, although he was not to find this out until a little later.
Garry sat bolt upright in his bunk. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
Gino, hastily pulling on his shirt, paused at Garry’s bunk. His eyes showed the anxiety he felt.
“Hurry and get dressed, Garry!” he said. “You and Patch. We’re in great danger. We’ve got to get ready for the captain’s orders.”
Garry leaped out of bed, his heart thumping swiftly. The cold floor on the soles of his feet shocked him fully awake. He seized his peacefully sleeping buddy and yanked him without mercy.
“Patch, get up! There’s trouble—I don’t know just what kind yet!”
Patch’s eyes were still drugged with sleep, but he struggled to a sitting position.
“Trouble? Wh—what trouble?” Patched muttered.
“I told you I don’t know, but Gino warned us to get ready for the captain’s orders. Hurry! Everyone else is already dressed and out of the dorm!”
Patch needed no more urging and popped out of bed. He and Garry quickly dressed and hurried out into the corridor to see what was going on.
There was no one in sight. The boys went farther along. Then, at the foot of the stairs leading into the center tube, they heard excited voices.
“Whatever it is, it seems to be up in the tunnel,” Garry said. “Let’s go.”
They hurried up the stairs. Reaching the top, Garry, who was in the lead, looked down the tunnel from which most of the sounds were coming. He saw Ben, Captain Eaton, Mr. Klecker, and Gino on or near the platform outside the flight deck, the door of which was closed.
Garry and Patch pulled their weightless bodies along the webbing of the tube. As they approached the men, they heard Ben saying:
“This is terrible! Poor Mac! And what’s going to happen to the rest of us?”
“What is going to happen?” Garry asked, as he and Patch came upon the scene.
Captain Eaton turned to them with a distraught look. “I’m sorry, boys. If I had hastened to get you back to the space station promptly, you would have survived this—this disaster.”
“Disaster?” Garry echoed, with a sinking feeling in his stomach.
“Yes,” Captain Eaton answered, his voice shaking. “Mac is already done for, and we shall soon follow after him.”
“What happened?” Patch asked Mr. Klecker.
The boys could see pain on the men’s faces.
“The _Carefree_ collided with an _Explorer_ satellite,” the butler replied. “It destroyed the flight deck while Mac was on duty. It looks as if he had managed to close the door before he was swept off into space. The collision knocked us off course, and we’re plunging into space—toward where, no one knows. We can’t so much as lift a finger to bring her under control, and our antenna disk has been damaged so that we can’t even send an SOS.”
“Oh, no!” was all Garry could say, sickened at the sudden fateful turn of events.
Actually, he was thinking more of poor Mac than he was of their own grim outlook. He remembered how much the likable Scotsman wanted to return to the heather of his own land after his stint in space. Now he would never see Scotland again. Garry absently watched Ben squirting a thick liquid around the cracks of the flight-deck door, probably as a safeguard against air escaping from the ship.
“Ben has been outside in a pressure suit to look over the damage,” Captain Eaton said.
Patch turned away from the others, hanging his head in grief and despair. Captain Eaton put an arm around Garry’s shoulder, but there was a helpless look on his face that seemed to show the uselessness of saying anything. Gino had lost his usual cheery smile and could only stare numbly at the closed door of the flight deck, where their friend had been the victim of such a cruel act of fate.
Garry looked around at the ship’s company. Everyone was accounted for except Isaac.
“Where’s Mr. Newton?” he asked.
“Poor Isaac is completely crushed,” Captain Eaton replied. “He had just changed shifts with Mac at the pilot’s chair only a few moments before the accident. He’s blaming himself for the whole thing. It seems he overlooked the position of the satellite that hit us. He missed it on his last check, and Mac did not see it in time. Isaac’s gone off somewhere.”
It was indeed a dark moment aboard the once-happy vessel. Things had happened so swiftly that everyone appeared to be still in shock. No one spoke again for several minutes. Everyone just stood around idly, as if not knowing what to do next and not really caring.
Ben was the first to try to rally everyone’s deadened spirits. He had just finished sealing the cracks in the door.
“It’ll be some time before we can tell which way the ship is heading. The collision changed our course completely. Even when we do find out, there’s nothing we can do to control the _Carefree_. She’s just a runaway. But I still think there’s hope for us.”
All eyes turned upon Ben questioningly.
“That flier you two arrived in, Garry,” Ben continued. “I’ve only had a quick look inside it, and the console seemed in pretty bad shape from your and Patch’s efforts to start the engines. However, if I’m lucky and we have time before the _Carefree_ hits another satellite or something, I may be able to fix it up so that we can escape in it.”
“It’s our only hope,” Captain Eaton replied. “I suggest you get right on the job, Ben, and call on anyone you need to help you. Meanwhile, we’ll sweat out the flight, although I must say I feel like a duck in a shooting gallery because of all the flying objects whirling out there all around us.”
“If we are able to escape in the flier,” Mr. Klecker said, “we can use its radio to send for help.”
Ben shook his head. “The radio was removed for some reason. There’s only the empty compartment it came out of.”
With faint hope of survival, some measure of good spirits was restored to the astronauts. Ben called upon Mr. Klecker to help him work on the space taxi, and Captain Eaton said he would go to the observatory to take a “fix” and try to determine the course the _Carefree_ had taken.
“I’ll have to change clothes,” Mr. Klecker said. “I don’t want to get my uniform soiled.”
“Guess I’ll go and whip up some breakfast,” Gino said. “That’s about all _I_ can do, although maybe nobody will be hungry.”
Captain Eaton turned to Garry and Patch before he left. “I know it’s going to be hard for you,” he said, “but try to feel hopeful about this situation. A terrible misfortune has come our way, but try to believe that things will work out for us. Chins up, eh, fellows?”
He forced a smile. The boys gave him a brave smile in return, although they did not feel it any more than he had.
“May we go with you to the observatory, Captain?” Patch asked. “Maybe we can help.”
“Yes, if you like. I know how hard it will be to remain idle at a time like this. Let’s go.”
In the observatory, Garry and Patch watched the captain at his telescope and other instruments. He worked for a little while, then turned away from his work with a brooding, disturbed look on his face. He stroked his neat beard. Then he worked again for several more minutes.
He stopped once more, but then resumed his watching. He kept this up for some time, and, as the minutes passed, his face grew more and more serious.
Garry was afraid to ask, but he felt that he had to know. “Captain, is—is it bad?” he said softly.
Captain Eaton shook his head grimly, the look of despair in his eyes.
“You may as well know,” he replied. “I’ve been hoping I was wrong, but now I know I’m not. We’re moving into the gravity field of the moon. My guess is that we’re only a few hours away from collision.”
12. A STARTLING DISCOVERY
This latest bad news filled Garry with a new dread. But he refused to give up hope. He remembered that Ben was working in the flier, trying to put it in shape.
“Captain Eaton,” he asked, “do you think Ben will have the flier ready by the time we begin falling to the moon?”
“I couldn’t even guess at that. If there’s not too much wrong with the flier, he may get it repaired in short order. But a major repair—I just don’t know. I guess the next thing now is to inform the men of our course and get Ben’s estimate of the flier’s damage.”
The three of them joined Ben and Mr. Klecker in the flier a few moments later. The small rocket ship was still held fast to the bigger _Carefree_, their two air locks joined as if they were one ship.
When Captain Eaton had told the men that they were headed for the moon, whether they liked it or not, Ben replied, “Well, Captain, I suppose we’ve just _got_ to get the space taxi in shape in mighty short order. I don’t imagine the _Carefree_ will bounce very well on the moon’s hard, rocky surface.”
“Do you really think you can get it repaired in time, Ben?” Captain Eaton asked gravely.
“How much time do you think you can give me?” Ben asked.
“I’ll have to do some more calculating before I can estimate exactly how long it will be before we go into final fall,” was the reply, “but, offhand, I would say you’ve got no longer than six hours.”
Ben looked at the damaged control panel of the flier and shook his head.
“Impossible,” he said, “but I’ll do it. I’ve _got_ to do it.”
“Everyone on the ship will be at your disposal, Ben,” Captain Eaton said. “Call for anyone and anything at all that you need in order to hurry those repairs. Ben, there’s no one else I’d rather trust with the lives of us all than you. You can’t let us down.”
“That confidence means a lot, Captain,” Ben replied, his expression showing the appreciation he felt. “Mac gave his life for the ship. I’d do no less if it meant saving the _Carefree_ and all you guys.”
“I know you mean what you say, Ben,” Captain Eaton said, “but we won’t call on you to go that far. Just get the flier in shape so that we can escape in it and not share the _Carefree_’s fate in crashing on the moon.”
Ben shook his head sadly. “I hadn’t thought of the _Carefree_ plunging to her destruction. But we _know_ that’s got to happen, don’t we, because there’s no way of saving her. Captain, this ship has become such a part of my life that I’d almost want to go down with her.”
“I feel the same way, Ben,” Captain Eaton replied. “Life will never be the same again without the _Carefree_. I don’t know how I’ll get along without her deck beneath my feet.”
“If we get out of this alive,” Mr. Klecker said, “we’ll just have to return to earth and spend the rest of our days there.”
“That’s true,” the captain agreed sadly. “Even a millionaire is allowed a space ship as grand as this only once in a lifetime. I couldn’t afford another.”
Ben seemed to realize that precious time was going to waste as they talked, and he began getting his tools together.
“I know everyone wants to help,” he said, “but I think that Kleck and I can work better together by ourselves just now. There’ll be less confusion. I’ll be sure to call on anyone else if he’s needed.”
Mr. Klecker had donned some old clothes, but he did not look comfortable in them.
Ben listed more tools and equipment he would need, and Captain Eaton gave the list to Garry.
“Take this to Isaac, will you, Garry, and ask him to round these up as quickly as possible. I’ve got to get back to the observatory and see how much time there is to zero hour.”
“Isaac has taken Mac’s loss pretty badly, Captain,” Ben said. “Do you think he’ll be working at top efficiency?”
“I think it will do him good to have something to do,” the captain replied. “He’ll be of no use to himself, or us either, if he just keeps on brooding.”
Captain Eaton and the boys left the flier and went their separate ways to take care of their respective duties. Garry and Patch went to the dormitory and found Isaac Newton sitting on one of the lower bunks, his head in his hands. They stood beside the bunk for several moments, waiting for Isaac to look up, but he did not seem to know that there was anyone else around.
“Isaac,” Garry then said, “Ben needs a few things for the repair of the flier. The captain thought you could round them up for us.”
Isaac still did not look up.
“Isaac, we’re headed for the moon,” Patch said urgently. “We’ve _got_ to get the flier repaired within six hours, or we’re all goners!”
Finally, Isaac looked up, his gentle eyes red. “It’s all my fault,” he said. “It’s all my fault that Mac is dead! I didn’t tell him about the satellite, and I should have. I ought to be shot like a soldier for neglecting his duty.”
“You shouldn’t blame yourself, Isaac,” Garry said gently. “Anyone could have made the same mistake.”
Isaac shook his head, as if pulling himself together, and held out his hand. “Let me have the list.”
He looked it over, climbed to his feet, and started out of the dormitory.
“Gee, he _is_ taking it hard, isn’t he?” Patch asked.
Garry nodded. “I can imagine how he feels. How many times have you made a mistake that you’d give anything in the world to correct if you could? But with us, our mistakes have never cost a person his life.”
Isaac came back into the room. “One of the things on this list is the sealer gun. It must still be up there by the flight-deck door that was sealed to prevent the air leaking out. Will you fellows get it?”
“Sure, Isaac,” Garry replied. “Come on, Patch.”
As they pulled themselves along the center tunnel, Patch remarked, “Isaac didn’t want to go back up there. That’s why he asked us to get the sealer gun.”
“I think you’re right,” Garry replied. “But it will save him some time just the same.”
Reaching the platform in front of the flight deck, the boys stepped up onto the magnetized area. All at once Garry was struck by the awesome silence of this part of the ship. Along with this was the remembrance of the tragedy that had taken place beyond the door in front of them, and he had a lonesome, shivery feeling.
Patch seemed to feel it too.
“Let’s hurry up and get out of here,” he said. “It’s kind of spooky here all by ourselves.”
“I don’t see the sealer gun anywhere, do you?” Garry asked.
“No. Maybe somebody carried it away with them.”
There was a well of darkness beneath the platform. Both boys glanced at one another. They knew that was the next place to look.
“It may be down there someplace,” Garry said. “We’ll have to take a look.”
“How could it be down there?” Patch argued, not enjoying the prospect. “There’s no gravity here in the tube. Things don’t _fall_ in here like they do in the rest of the ship.”
“It may have been shoved off in that direction,” Garry said. “That could easily have happened in all the excitement up here. Time’s wasting, Patch. If you’re scared, I’ll poke around down there.”
“It’s not that I’m exactly scared,” Patch protested weakly.
Garry held onto the railing and swung his feet off the magnetized-platform floor so that he floated weightlessly in the air. Then he began pulling himself down into the darkness, using the metal lattice-work that extended below the platform.
“How can you see down there?” Patch called from above. “Want me to get a light for you?”
“I’ll feel around a little first,” Garry answered. “I may put my hand right on it.”
With one hand holding onto the metal stripping, Garry fanned his free arm back and forth along the floor. All he felt was cold smooth metal—at first.
Then, suddenly, he felt something soft to his touch. A chill raced up his backbone, ending in a prickle at the top of his head. He swallowed, then courageously began feeling around again on the object, trying to identify it. His hand touched flesh, warm flesh, and he could trace the outline of five fingers. He felt that chill again, but he fought to keep his nerves under control.
“Hey, What’s going on?” Patch called. “Have you found something?”
Garry pulled himself back up to the platform and hung onto the rail, shaking.
“Garry,” Patch said, “you’re white as you can be!”
“I found something all right, Patch. There’s a _person_ down there,” Garry whispered.
13. ABANDON SHIP!
Leaving a bewildered and frightened Patch behind him, Garry left the platform and began pulling himself as rapidly as possible along the webbing of the tube toward the ship’s stern. Reaching the observatory bubble, he went in.
“Captain Eaton!” Garry gasped. “I think I’ve found him! I think I’ve found Mac!”
The captain swung from an instrument he was using, and looked at Garry in amazement. “You _what_?” he cried.
Garry pulled himself into the observatory, the floor taking hold of the soles of his shoes by its magnetic attraction. “Yes, Sir!” he declared. “Patch and I were looking for the sealing gun in front of the flight deck, and I found a body in the darkness below the platform!”
Captain Eaton clicked across the floor and entered the tube. Garry tagged along behind, as the skipper of the _Carefree_ set out toward the bow of the ship.
A few minutes later, Captain Eaton was checking on Garry’s discovery. Then he came back onto the platform, excitement showing on his face.
“It _is_ Mac!” he burst out. “His body is warm, and I think he may be alive! We must call some of the others so that we can get him up from there. In this zero gravity it will take several of us.”
Garry and Patch were sent by the captain to round up the others.
Then several began helping to get Mac onto the platform. Of course he weighed nothing, but, in the zero gravity, the difficulty in moving him lay in the fact that the others could not push him without bracing some part of their own body against something. Otherwise, they would only succeed in pushing themselves backward.
Mac was finally moved onto the platform and stretched out. He lay, suspended in air, a few inches above the platform. Captain Eaton looked at the Scotsman’s eyes and tested his pulse.
“His pulse is a little slow,” he stated, “but his color is good, and I think he’ll come around pretty soon. That bad gash on his forehead must have knocked him out.”
They worked over Mac. Finally, he stirred and then opened his eyes. He stared as if unseeing for several moments, but then, as he began to recognize everybody, a weak smile formed on his lips.
“What happened?” he murmured.
“We don’t know what happened, Mac,” Captain Eaton replied. “Can you tell us? Can you remember what did happen before you blacked out?”
Mac frowned, as if concentrating very hard. Then his face relaxed.
“I remember,” he said softly. “I was near the door when it hit us—whatever it was. If I’d been in the pilot’s chair I would have been a goner. But I had gotten up only a moment before to check the chart. The door was open. I heard a terrific roar and saw the whole console burst into a sheet of fire. At the same time I felt myself being blown backward and right through the door onto the platform. I was dazed, but somehow I had the presence of mind to know I had to get that door shut or the ship would lose all her air. I managed to press the button and saw it slide shut. But then my head began to hurt terrifically and I felt dizzy. I reached out for the railing to hold on, but I guess I missed it then and unconsciously floated off to wherever you found me.”
“Garry found you,” Captain Eaton said. “We thought you had been blown into space by the collision.”
“Thanks, Garry,” Mac said, winking at him with gratitude.
“That’s all right,” Garry replied. “We’re just so glad to see that you’re still alive.”
“Mac, don’t ever scare me again like that!” Isaac put in, his voice shaky with emotion. “It was my fault the collision happened, because I overlooked the satellite that hit us. I knew your death was on me, and I was so torn up I don’t think I’d ever have gotten over it. Thanks, buddy, for turning up as you did!”
“Forget it, Isaac,” Mac joked. “Maybe you can return the favor sometime.”
They told Mac about the existing crisis. He wanted to do something to help, but Captain Eaton insisted that he go to the dormitory to rest. Garry and Patch went with Captain Eaton to the observatory to recheck and see how much time the _Carefree_ had left.
After another period of figuring and using his instruments, the skipper turned to the boys. “I wish I had better news, but it looks as if we have less time than I had thought at first.”
The boys returned with Captain Eaton to the flier. Isaac had taken over helping Ben, since he knew more about this kind of thing than Mr. Klecker.
Captain Eaton stood at the door of the air lock. “How are you coming in there?” he asked.
Ben gave him a report of their progress. The captain’s face was lined and grave. “You may have to do better than that if we’re going to get out of this alive,” he said. “The moon is very close.”
Captain Eaton and the boys spent the time that followed in the observatory dome, watching the steadily growing disk of the moon. It was like a mocking face in the sky, luring the travelers to destruction.
No telescope was needed, for the big, rocky satellite of earth appeared to take up the whole heavens. Garry and Patch studied the knife-edged mountaintops, the dry, gray wildernesses that were once thought to be seas, and the mysterious bowl-like craters. Where would the _Carefree_ plunge to her death on the fierce moonscape, Garry wondered. And would he and the others still be aboard her when she crashed? Garry shuddered at the thought. As Captain Eaton had said, Luna was now so frightfully close.
The captain made a final check of his instruments. Then he turned abruptly, heading for the door. The boys followed him out.
In the flier, moments later, the captain said, “Ben, we’re in our last hour. How do things look in here?”
Garry could see Ben’s grimy, tired face turned toward Captain Eaton.
“It’ll be close, Captain, awfully close,” Ben answered, and immediately turned back to the network of wiring in the instrument panel.
“Anything I can do, Ben?” Captain Eaton asked.
“Just hope and pray,” was the reply. “I think it’ll be all up to me now. It’s a one-man job getting these wires hooked up.”
“We could take one last look around the ship during this last hour,” Mr. Klecker proposed. “I have some books I want to take along.”
“Sorry, Kleck,” Ben said, “but we won’t have room for them. The flier will be crowded as it is. We won’t be able to take belongings of any kind, not even for survival, except for the emergency supplies the flier itself carries. The weight is that critical.”
“I don’t want a last look,” Gino spoke up. “Otherwise I might not want to leave the good old _Carefree_, even if she is going to crash.”
“Me either,” Isaac Newton added. “I want to remember her the way she was when all of us were very happy and really carefree.”
“One thing about Patch and me,” Garry put in. “We came aboard without anything but the clothes we’re wearing, and we’ll be leaving the same way.”
“There’s one thing I surely hate to leave behind,” Captain Eaton said. “Katrinka. She’s only a robot, but I’ve had her for so long that she’s almost like a member of the family.”
From now on, every minute was beginning to count desperately. Garry wished he could hold back the hands of the clock. He wished he could give Ben an extra hour. But this could not be.
A little later there came the announcement that Garry had known must be coming finally. Captain Eaton had been in the observatory for the last time, and now he had returned with a final announcement: “It’s now or never, Ben. Which is it?”
Ben straightened up, and there was a pleased look on his weary face. “Just finished, Captain. The instrument panel isn’t as good as new, but I’m pretty sure the flier can be navigated by it, at least long enough for a safe landing on Luna. Come here, Mac. Let me show you a few things about the console.”
Garry wondered why Ben was taking time to instruct Mac in the navigation of the ship. Why couldn’t he do the piloting himself? Garry could see that Mac was a little puzzled too, as he went over to the instrument panel.
Captain Eaton was looking at his wrist watch. “Ben, there’s no more time. We’ve got to get off the _Carefree_ within five minutes, not a second longer.”
After a few more hurried moments of instruction, Ben said, “We’re ready, Captain. Everybody into the rocket.”
Those who were not already in filed into the rocket and belted down into the seats. That is, everybody but one—Ben.
“Ben, where are you going?” Captain Eaton asked.
“To check on the air lock, Sir,” Ben answered, and walked through the flier’s doorway into the air lock between the two ships.
Mac had belted down in the pilot’s seat, as Ben had asked him to do.
“How are you going to ride without a seat, Ben?” Mac called.
“Everybody ready?” Ben called from the air lock.
All answered that they were.
“Start the motors, Mac,” Ben said.
Mac started the rocket motors, at the same time calling, “Hurry up, Ben!”
Garry heard a whirring sound, and the outer door of the flier slid shut, with Ben still in the air lock beyond!
“Hey, wait!” Isaac shouted. “Ben’s in the air lock, and the door’s closed!”
No one could do anything, for in the very next moment the flier kicked out violently sideways, bending everyone over in his seat. There was another jerk forward as the flier went into motion.
“What’s happened?” Captain Eaton called.
“Ben’s tricked us!” Mac replied. “He cut off the magnetic grapples from the air lock that held us fast to the _Carefree_. How stupid I was! He told me to take over while he checked on some last-minute things.”
“I see it all,” Isaac added. “If we check the weights we’ll probably find out that we would be overloaded with one more passenger. Ben was that one more, and he chose not to come aboard rather than risk the safety of the rest of us!”
“Yes,” the captain said in a choked voice, “it seems that Ben elected to go down with the _Carefree_.”
14. FIRST HOURS ON LUNA
Ben lost to them!
Garry could hardly believe it. Surely Ben could have found _some_ way to save himself. Did he really have to make such a costly sacrifice?
No one aboard the flier cared to speak for several minutes after Mac’s tragic announcement. It had come as a devastating blow to all of them.
Finally, Isaac broke the solemn quiet: “It won’t be the same with good old Ben gone. He was a smart, brave guy. I’d like to have an ounce of all the scientific and mechanical knowledge he had.”
They had been so concerned over Ben’s fate that they had almost overlooked the fact that the rocky wilderness of the moon was staring them in the face; that in a few moments the flier would be either touching down on her surface or crashing along with the _Carefree_ and Ben, her only human occupant.
Mac was guiding the craft into a slowly descending spiral. This would give the flier’s braking rockets time to reduce speed to safe level for the touchdown.
The _Carefree_ was not in sight, although Garry searched the starry sky through the plastic walls of the flier. He was glad he could not find her. He would not have liked to see her crash.
Down below, Garry could see the huge dish of a giant crater. It was within this area that Mac was circling. As if anticipating Garry’s question, Mac explained: “Ben suggested that we try landing on the floor of this crater, which is called Hornfield. It was discovered by a lunar explorer in 1983. It is supposed to be covered by several inches of pumice dust, and that may help to break our fall if we make a bad touchdown.”
From high up, the walls of the crater did not appear very impressive, but as the flier spiraled lower, they looked like lofty battlements of ancient castles.
As they dipped lower still, Garry watched those grim crater walls close in around the small space craft. Spread out below was the ocean of gray dust that carpeted the crater floor. Part way up, above the horizon, was seen the distant globe of earth. It cast ghostly greenish shadows around the walls, pits, and rock formations. This was the two-week period of night on Luna, and the temperature down there, in a nearly airless atmosphere, Garry knew, was more than two hundred degrees below zero.
“Everyone make sure his restraining belts are tight,” Mac called. “We’re about to touchdown.”
The ground rushed up to meet them, as Garry felt himself tipped forward in his seat. The belly of the little flier skimmed the ocean of dust, sending it up in a giant cloud along both sides of the craft. The flier continued to plow along through the pumice until friction finally brought it to a halt.
It was strange being still again, Garry thought. Another strange feeling was the gravity pull of the moon, which he knew to be only one sixth as strong as that of earth.
“Is everybody all right?” Captain Eaton asked.
No one said that he _wasn’t_ all right. Garry and Patch began unfastening their restraining belts, as did the others.
Captain Eaton was the first to his feet. He moved over to the window with a strange floating sort of step owing to his reduced moon weight. Then he looked out.
“Where are we, Mac?” he asked.
“Inside the Hornfield crater,” Mac answered.
“Are there any settlements close by?” the captain asked. “Anybody who can come to our rescue?”
“About twenty-five miles to the southwest, captain,” Mac answered. “Ben told me just where it was and advised me to land as close to it as possible. I thought this was as close as we dared approach, because the ground is treacherous between Hornfield and the settlement.”
“What sort of settlement is it, Mac?” Isaac asked.
“An oxygen-mining outfit in the Taurus Mountains. They’re mining for ore rich in oxygen to provide pressurized air for the underground terminal of Luna City, five hundred miles farther to the south. Ben said he thought they would have fliers that could get here in a short time as soon as they got our radio message.”
“But we don’t have any radio,” Mr. Klecker said.
“Yes we do, and we can thank the flier’s lifesaving equipment for that,” Captain Eaton said.
He went to a cabinet built into the wall and pulled out an oblong box. On the top of it were the words: “SOS Automatic Transmitter.”
“You mean that was in the flier all this time and that we could have used it earlier ourselves?” Garry asked in surprise.
“Yes, you could have,” Captain Eaton replied.
“I’m familiar with this transmitter,” the captain went on. “Let’s get the radio kit down.”
When this was done, Captain Eaton donned one of the two space suits which the flier carried. When he was dressed, he entered the flier’s air lock, carrying the radio kit. Those inside the ship watched Captain Eaton walk about fifty feet from the flier and open the box containing the transmitter.
“Gee, why does he have to open it up out there?” Patch wanted to know. “Couldn’t he transmit from inside the ship just as easy?”
“No, not nearly as well,” Mac explained. “Just watch, and you’ll see why!”
Captain Eaton took some things out of the box, and then, after tinkering with them for a few minutes, he set the transmitter in the pumice dust and ran back toward the flier as if he had just lighted a bomb fuse. A few seconds later the boys were surprised to see something resembling a giant snake spring from the ground beside the transmitter and extend straight up in the dark sky!
“What in the world was that?” Patch asked in amazement.
“That’s the antenna for the transmitter, isn’t it, Mac?” Garry asked.
Mac nodded. “That long ropelike thing is hollow, and the antenna is in the middle of it. Captain Eaton released a switch that caused the casing to fill with compressed air, and that is what keeps it extended into the sky. That gives us a much better antenna than we could possibly have in here. Also, being as tall as it is, the radio waves leaving it can travel great distances and cross high places which they could not do if it were short. Understand?”
The boys nodded.
“The transmitter is a very light and simple one,” Mac went on. “All it can do is send out an SOS signal from time to time; it can’t transmit words. Yet whoever picks it up can easily trace it. I hope our signal will carry as far as the mining settlement and that there’s no interference between to block our radio waves. Those mountains could block the waves.”
“How long do you think we can hold out, just in case our rescue is slow in coming?” Garry asked Mac.
“If we carefully ration food, water, and air, I’d say we could last about five days, earth time,” Mac replied. “I’m pretty sure the captain will start rationing right away, just to make sure, but I can’t see any reason why we won’t see a rescue flier heading this way pretty soon, certainly by tomorrow.”
Captain Eaton presently came back inside and began taking off his space suit.
“If we get out of this alive, we’ll owe it all to Ben,” Isaac remarked.
Garry noticed the sudden sadness on the faces of the others at the mention of Ben’s name. Presently, everyone in turn began saying something good about their friend; that is, everyone except Captain Eaton, whom Garry knew had been closer to Ben than any of the others.
The captain was still plainly too broken up to say anything about Ben at this time. He just quietly finished removing his pressure-suit gear, and Garry could see the tragedy in his eyes. Garry was glad when Captain Eaton changed the subject, because he himself had grown very fond of the brilliant young spaceman.
“We should take inventory of our stock,” the captain was saying, “and then start a rationing schedule. We can’t be sure how long we’ll have to wait before help comes. I don’t want to alarm everybody, but there’s always the possibility of radioactivity or mineral deposits in the hills beyond the crater which would keep our SOS from going through. The moon is full of those things.”
Mac’s prediction as to how long the food and water would last turned out to be fairly close, although it turned out to be four days instead of five. No one expected the fourth day to roll around with their still being trapped in the flier, but Captain Eaton was playing safe, as Mac had said he probably would do.
Those who had invented the equipment making up the escape flier’s emergency kit had seemingly thought of everything to ease the plight of those trapped on strange planets. They had not overlooked the boredom of those awaiting rescue. There was a special cabinet containing tiny games, and there were also miniature books.
When the inventory was completed and everything was done that could be done, Captain Eaton distributed the games and books, and everyone settled down in the flight chairs.
“This isn’t so bad,” Isaac said, sighing and stretching out comfortably with one of the little books. “I’ve always wanted to read this book on great poetry, but up to now I just haven’t had the time because it’s so long. It looks like I’ve finally gotten my chance to read it.”
“There aren’t any books about the circus,” Mr. Klecker said disappointedly. “I guess I’ll just have to settle for what’s left.”
The butler straightened his bow tie. He had changed back into his full dress after Isaac had taken over as Ben’s helper.
Garry and Patch started a game of chess, and the rest of the _Carefree_’s passengers took whatever game or book interested them. Except for the sadness of Ben’s not being with them, Garry noticed that there was an air of contentment and optimism on the part of everyone.
Later, he was to be glad that he did not have the talent of seeing into the future, for if those who were so relaxed now in their cozy hideaway on the dark moon had only known what was in store for them, they would not have been in the mood for enjoying _anything_ at this moment.
15. A DARK OUTLOOK
The idea of stretching out comfortably with a good book and plenty of spare time did not seem so satisfying after several hours. After this period, everyone began to get restless, with a desire to get up and stretch his legs, as they could have done if they were back on the _Carefree_.
“I know how you feel, fellows,” Captain Eaton said sympathetically, as he noticed how tired everyone had become of just sitting around. “I’d like to take a romp myself outside in a space suit, but without knowing how soon we’ll be rescued and having no surplus of supplies, I don’t think we should use up our oxygen that fast. Everyone agree?”
Then to while away the hours that were beginning to drag slowly along, the captain suggested that they talk among themselves and exchange stories. This activity occupied the group for some time. Garry was glad that poor Ben was not mentioned again to further depress everyone.
Finally, all became “talked out,” just as they had become “read out” before that. And by this time some were ready for a nap and began dozing in their seats.
Garry watched the captain settle back in his seat, sighing tiredly.
“I suppose I should be grateful for being alive,” he said, “but I feel almost as if I had died myself. Yes, this is a sad day for an old man who has lost at the same time the dearest things to his heart—one of his best friends and a funny-looking space ship that had come to be even homier than his earthly home.”
Garry noticed how much the conversation kept returning to Ben. He guessed that the unselfish spaceman would be on their minds for a long time to come.
“I wonder where they went down, Captain?” Mac asked. “I didn’t even see the _Carefree_, once Ben cut us free.”
“None of us saw her,” the captain replied, “and I’m glad. I hope they never find her remains on the moon, because I would feel compelled to go to the site of the crash and I would not want to do that. No, it’s better this way.”
Before long, someone mentioned food. There was some mild enthusiasm from the others, but not much. Everyone knew that all there was to eat were capsules that would provide nourishment but little enjoyment.
Gino made a face when the capsule bottle was passed to him and he shook two of the pellets out into his hand.
“To think that I would ever have to make a meal of these things,” he said sadly, “I, who at one time or another, have served up the grandest dishes ever put together.”
All ate silently. Since the additional talk about Ben, it was as if cold water had been poured over their spirits.
After the brief meal the captain suggested that the lights be turned down and everyone try to get a “night” of sleep.
“I think all of us are brain fagged and bored after all that has happened,” he said. “Maybe there’ll be someone knocking on our air-lock door before we wake up.”
No one objected to the idea, as it seemed to be the only thing left for them to do.
When everyone was settled down for the “night,” Captain Eaton cut off all lights within the flier. It was still not very dark in the flier because outdoors it was brighter than the brightest moonlight night on earth, owing to the brilliant glow of earthshine.
“If our rescuers do not show up some time tomorrow,” Captain Eaton said, “we had better start cutting back on our battery power. That will mean no lights inside, except use of the flashlight in the cabinet, and less warmth. I have a feeling that our batteries will play out before any of our other supplies do.”
When Garry woke the next “morning,” he heard some of the others stirring about. Patch was standing over him with two tablets and Garry’s personal water bottle which squeezed the liquid into one’s mouth.
“What’s this?” Garry mumbled. “Time for my medicine?”
“Medicine nothing,” Patch replied. “This, son, is breakfast. Or would you prefer nice crisp bacon and fluffy scrambled eggs?”
“Aw, Patch, cut it out,” Garry pleaded. “You don’t have to make this any tougher than it is!”
Garry took the food pills, chewing them slowly to get what little flavor there was in them. Then he finished off with the water, which was little more than enough to wet his throat.
“Gee, the captain has really rationed the water, hasn’t he?” Garry whispered.
“He cut it back even further this morning,” Patch replied. “Know why? Because nobody came knocking on our air lock as he had hoped maybe they would. On top of that, I heard him say he was going to run another close inventory on all our life-supporting items to see how much is left.”
“Gosh, do you think he’s afraid _no_ one will be knocking any time soon?”
“I don’t know,” Patch replied, “but he has been frowning quite a bit this morning.”
The captain presently made it clear to all why he had been doing so much frowning.
“Frankly,” he said, “I thought those people at the mining settlement would have had plenty of time while we slept to pay us a visit. If our SOS reached them soon after we began sending, as it should have, they should have had a flier over here within a few hours’ time. Our chief essentials for staying alive are our food, water, air, and power supply which is necessary to keep us warm. It’s several hundred degrees below zero outside, in case you haven’t thought about it.”
They took another inventory, and the results were not very heartening.
“We’re using up much too much of our battery power,” Captain Eaton said. “That’s the weakest link in our chain of existence. I didn’t realize that yesterday when we had the lights on for reading. From now on until someone comes, we’ll have to do without light altogether except when necessary. That means we’ll have to do our reading by earthshine and our one flashlight. We may have some strained eyes, but that’s the best we can do. We’ll also have to reduce our heat a little to save on power that way too.”
“Captain, do you think we should check the condition of the battery in the outside transmitter?” Isaac asked.
“It’s supposed to have a useful life of seventy-two hours, operating automatically for a few minutes every half hour,” the captain said, “but the battery may have lost a lot of its power in storage. I think it would be a good idea to check it. It has a test meter on it, Isaac.”
“I’ll go out and check it, Captain,” Isaac said.
When he had pulled on one of the space suits, Isaac checked the air and pressure and went outside.
Garry and Patch watched him move in a light-footed gliding motion toward the spot where the antenna had been set up. He spent several minutes with the rig and then came back into the flier.
As he lifted his helmet off, he said with a shake of his head, “It’s quit sending, Captain. You were right. The battery must have been in bad shape to start with.”
“Not sending,” Captain Eaton muttered to himself, a dark worried frown on his face. “That means that if our SOS was not picked up earlier, it never will be, and no one will know where we are.”
Garry’s heart chilled at hearing this. What the captain really meant, but did not say, was that they were doomed to a slow death as their heat and air were depleted and they froze in the moon’s incredible cold. That would happen long before their food and water gave out.
Captain Eaton placed a fatherly arm around each of the boys and said, “Fellows, I wish there were something I could do. Believe me, if I could give my life to save you two, as Ben did, I would gladly do it. Do you believe that?”
“Yes, Sir, I do believe it,” Garry answered sincerely. “But can’t we really do something—anything at all? It—it’s better than waiting, isn’t it?”
“You’re trembling, both of you,” the captain said, “and I can’t blame you. If it’s any comfort to you, I think you’re the bravest two boys I ever knew. I would have been proud to have had a couple of sons like you.”
The captain pressed their arms affectionately. Garry knew how he felt about his helplessness to do anything.
“You ask if there’s anything we could do,” Captain Eaton said. “Of course we’re not giving up hope completely at this early stage, but things do look bad. We could ration ourselves severely and maybe prolong our existence a few days, but after that....”
Garry finished the gloomy sentence in his own mind.
16. A SAD PARTING
They _did_ wait—all the long day to follow.
And in all that time, no one came.
They did the same things that they had done the day before—reading by the light of the earth, which they feared they would never see again; reading until their eyes blurred and the battery had gone dead in their only flashlight.
Garry and Patch did not read much. Instead, they spent most of their time looking out over the cold gray dust, and up into the black sky, looking hopefully for some moving object against the bleak wilderness and wanting to be the first to spot it should it appear. But it never appeared, and bed-time came, but no one was in the spirit for sleep. And yet, since there was little else to do, everyone prepared for bed.
Garry and Patch lay awake in their adjoining seats, talking in low voices to each other.
“Garry, we’ve been through a lot of close calls since we left the orphanage,” Patch was saying, “but this looks like _it_, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t know, Patch. I just don’t know,” his friend replied with a troubled sigh. “It sure doesn’t look good. I won’t ever really give up hope, though. There’s still a chance that a rescue ship will come—maybe during the night.”
“But what if it doesn’t?” Patch asked. “What if it doesn’t come tonight or tomorrow—or the next night? How will we feel when we finally _know_ that we won’t be saved?”
“You shouldn’t think like that, Patch. It’ll make you miserable. You’ve got to keep hoping, even when it doesn’t make sense,” Garry said.
“It’s funny about Ben,” Patch went on. “I mean about what he did. He meant to save us, but it’s turned out that he’s made it worse for us. It would have been better if we had crashed along with the _Carefree_, because then it would have been over quickly.”
“You know the saying, Patch: ‘Where there’s life there’s hope.’ And I believe that.”
Patch said no more, and before long Garry heard him snoring softly. This made Garry feel better, and presently he too fell asleep.
Garry and Patch woke the next morning to the sound of subdued voices around them. For a brief moment Garry wondered if help had come during the night. He searched the faces he saw, and quickly his hopes were dashed. Instead of happy faces, they were haggard ones that showed the lack of sleep, and there were no new faces among them.
“No one came last night, did they?” Patch asked Captain Eaton.
The skipper shook his head and tugged at his beard that, by now, had become scraggly and untidy looking. The others moved in close, and Garry noticed all at once that he and Patch were the center of attention. He had a feeling then that something important was about to be said.
“Garry, Patch,” Captain Eaton said slowly, “you respect my judgment and my experience, don’t you?”
“Sure,” the boys answered together, puzzled looks on their faces.
“Well then, you do believe I would do the best I knew for all of us, don’t you?”
Garry and Patch nodded again.
“I’ve got something to say to the two of you,” the captain continued, “and it’s very important to me that you abide by my decision. Will you promise to do so if I tell you it will be to your best interests?”
The boys thought a moment, then nodded together, trusting the man they had come to admire and respect.
Just then Garry noticed the pair of space suits lying on the floor nearby, and they looked as if work had been done on them. They seemed to have been made smaller by the adjustable straps with which all such space suits were equipped.
“As you can see, fellows,” the captain said, “the rest of us didn’t sleep much, but we were grateful that the two of you could, because it gave us time to come to our decision.”
Garry and Patch watched the captain’s face intently, the suspense building up in them moment by moment. Garry had a hunch that he and Patch would not like what they were going to hear.
The captain took a deep breath and said, “I’ll come right out with it. The rest of us are forced to face the sad fact that rescue isn’t coming. But there’s no reason for everyone to perish. Garry, we decided that you and Patch....”
As his voice trailed off, Garry saw the picture. “You want us to take the space suits and—and go out there.”
“It wasn’t an easy decision to reach, Garry,” Mac spoke. “We may be sending the two of you to a worse fate than would happen to you here. But in that way there lies a _chance_ for you. Here the chances would be very little. We are all agreed on that.”
“But why us?” Garry protested. “Why not two of the rest of you? We thought we had become one of you by now. We should all have drawn lots to see who would go. It’s not democratic this way.”
“It’s because we’re kids, isn’t it?” Patch asked. “You’re packing us off like children to bed! We won’t leave you here!”
“Remember your promise, fellows,” Captain Eaton said. “This is the way we want it. Believe us, we really do—unanimously.”
“There’s even a chance you might make heroes of yourselves,” Isaac added. “You may find someone who can come and rescue us before it’s too late.”
“We realize it won’t be easy for you to leave us behind, and it won’t be easy to set out across unknown country for an unknown destination. It’ll take courage, gentlemen, plenty of courage, more courage than it will require for us to stay on here,” Mr. Klecker said.
Garry could find no further argument. The others were too much against him and Patch. They simply would not have it any other way. In the end the boys gave in, but they felt guilty for accepting what was seemingly the only way to survival.
Some time later the boys were ready to start out. The space suits still were a little large, but they would serve. Garry wore the luminous green suit, Patch the luminous orange one. The boots were so large that Garry and Patch had to wear them over their shoes. The helmets were big and bulky, but in the moon’s light gravity they were not too heavy.
When the boys were sealed in the suits completely, Captain Eaton ran a careful check on them—the air pressure and temperature, and the “walkie-talkie” radios that would enable the boys to talk to each other. Finally, the fellows were loaded down with all the supplies they could be expected to need. This included spare oxygen tanks, water bottles, and liquid food in tubes. These tubes could be squeezed through an opening in the helmet so that one in a space suit could take nourishment without opening his helmet.
Garry argued against taking nearly all of the spare supplies and leaving their friends with very little.
“You must take them,” Captain Eaton insisted. “If you do not have enough to get you to the settlement, there is no purpose in starting out at all. Now, no more arguments.”
There finally came the moment of parting, which everyone dreaded. Garry’s heart was heavy at the thought of leaving these people he had grown so fond of in such a short time. Very likely he and Patch would never see any of them again.
Garry could see that the men’s eyes were troubled and sorrowful. They didn’t seem to know just how to say farewell. Isaac and Gino gave a little nervous wave of their hands. Mr. Klecker shook hands formally. Mac gave them a warm pat on the back.
Captain Eaton walked slowly over to the air lock with the boys—slowly, as if he did not want to let them go. Garry and Patch had removed their helmets and held them in their hands. The captain had his arms around their shoulders, embracing them like a father.
“Well, don’t let’s be sissies about this,” the captain said with forced lightheartedness. “Let’s just pretend that you boys are going on a short trip and that you’ll be back in a little while. No sad words, no tears, eh?”
“That’s how we want it, Captain Eaton,” Garry answered, but his throat was so tight he could hardly speak.
“Whatever you do, don’t give up,” their older friend advised. “Take care of yourselves and don’t lose your heads if you meet a crisis. And don’t come back, whatever happens. It won’t help.”
The captain took a piece of paper from Mac and gave it to Garry. “Mac and I have plotted your course as nearly as we can from what we remember of this territory. We both had a course in lunar study at one time. Follow these landmarks closely. You will be heading straight for the mining settlement, and if, by chance, a search flier should be coming from that direction, try to catch their attention by waving. They will probably be looking for you, and your bright-colored suits will make you stand out pretty strong against the gray ground.”
Garry was studying the penciled map. “What is this gray part that you’ve shown here, Captain?”
“It’s an area of rugged rock formations,” the captain explained. “You’ve got to go through it, as there is no way around. You must proceed with extreme caution, because we haven’t any flashlights left to give you. And, owing to the fact that there is just a trace of air on Luna, the earthshine can’t penetrate into the shadows. You will literally have to inch yourselves along until you’re in the open again.”
The captain explained more of the dangers in this area and showed Garry and Patch other points on the map and what they stood for.
Finally, the boys had their last look at the man who had been the best friend to them that they had ever known. Garry studied the captain’s brave, forced smile, and he could see the elderly man’s efforts to keep himself under control.
Captain Eaton wiped his moist palm on his trousers and then pushed the button that swung open the inner door of the air lock.
“There’s something I must tell both of you before you go,” he said. “I made application for adoption of you two as my sons just before we had the accident. I have a friend in a high position back on earth who, I felt, could put through the papers quickly if they were approved. I never told you this, though, because I did not want to raise your hopes falsely in case the adoption was not approved. But I couldn’t let you go not knowing what I had tried to do.”
“We would have liked you for a father,” Patch said.
Garry was too choked up to say anything except, “Let’s go, Patch, before we change our minds and never go at all.”
“Yes, that is better,” the captain said. “Good-by, boys, and may God go with you.”
The boys pulled on their helmets, and Captain Eaton helped fit them tightly. Then he made a little farewell wave with his hand and motioned the boys into the air lock. A moment later the door swished shut. The outer door opened, and the bleak face of Luna beckoned to them. They stepped out into the gray dust, and the “snowshoe” plates added to the bottom of their boots kept them from sinking too deeply into the moon dust.
They were now on their own.
17. DARK PERIL
Because of the light moon gravity, the boys found that they could move easily in spite of the deep dust and of the equipment strapped to their backs. The equipment took up as much room as it would have on earth, but here it weighed only one sixth of its earth weight and so was not much of a burden.
In a short while they were out of sight of the flier. They had mounted a low-lying hill and crossed down the other side. It would still be a long time before they got out of the giant crater in which the flier had landed, but by the time they did get out they would be well along toward their destination.
“We seem to be making good time, Patch,” Garry said over his helmet radio.
“Yeah,” Patch replied. “It’s so much easier walking on the moon than it is on the earth, once you get the hang of it.”
“Just think, Patch. Captain Eaton really was going to try to adopt us,” Garry said. “And all the time we thought he didn’t care enough.”
“He’s one in a million, Garry. He would have been the grandest father a guy could ever have.”
“What do you mean he _would_ have?” Garry protested. “He _will_ be our father. We’re going to _save_ him, Patch. We’re going to save all of them.”
“I want to save them too,” Patch said earnestly. “I’d sure hate for us to make it and them not to.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t talk so much,” Garry advised. “It uses up more oxygen, and I don’t think we have a surplus of it.”
They slogged silently through the gray dust in the bouncy, light-footed motion that they had become accustomed to by now. Every once in a while Garry would glance about him at the forbidding countryside of this dead world. Sight of the desolation chilled his soul. He wondered at first why this was so. Then he supposed that it must be because there was so much absolute _deadness_ all about. For nothing could live in the numbing cold and the boiling-hot temperatures that came to this landscape periodically. No, he and Patch were the only living creatures from one horizon to the other, and this fact was enough to give anyone the shivers.
Finally Garry broke the long silence.
“Patch, do you notice we’re able to move along easier now?” he asked.
“It’s because the dust is thinning out, isn’t it?” Patch replied. “But I see the rocky country up ahead that the captain was telling us about.”
“Yes,” Garry said, “and from the way he talked, it’s going to be plenty rugged getting through there.”
They increased their speed, now that the going was easier.
Garry stole a look at the big green jewel of earth afloat in the black sea of space, for it alone seemed to lend an air of friendliness and security to the otherwise lonely, sinister surroundings. The walls of Hornfield Crater about them were jagged as sharks’ teeth as they reached up into the darkness. The stars seemed to Garry like sparkling snowflakes dusted across the entire vault of the sky. The nebulae were like misty clouds, and there was the long arch of a great comet crossing just above the horizon and standing out remarkably because of its being so different from everything else in the whole visible sweep of the heavens.
After a few hours of steady hiking, Patch suggested that they take a short break to rest and eat. Garry was ready for the same.
Garry checked their map and compared the markings on it to their true surroundings. “We seem to be still on course, Patch,” he said.
By now they had moved up on a higher plateau within the crater, and the dust had thinned so that solid rock could be felt underfoot. But not far beyond lay the wilderness of rock they had seen earlier at a distance. How huge and forbidding the region looked!
Garry stopped walking and plopped down in his tracks, heaving a sigh. Patch sat down beside him.
Garry took tubes of liquid food and a couple of water bottles from the pack he carried. He offered Patch his share and took some for himself.
Each boy unscrewed a plate that covered the mouth of his helmet. Behind this was a rubber disk with a self-sealing opening in the middle of it. All the boys had to do was thrust the tubes of food and water through these openings and take them between their lips. By squeezing the tubes, they forced the contents into their mouths.
“Got a napkin?” Patch joked, when they were through. “I’d like to wipe my mouth.”
“Sorry,” Garry answered, “but they haven’t figured out a way to do that yet.”
Patch climbed to his feet, screwing his outer mouthplate back on. “Well, that wasn’t exactly like carving into a steak, but I guess it’ll do until we can get something better,” he said.
They started out again, and soon approached the forbidding rocky region they had dreaded. The ground was rough and uneven. Garry looked ahead, and it was like staring into the mouth of a vast cavern.
“We’ve got to be careful, Patch,” Garry warned, as he slowed down and held back his friend. “There may be bad crevasses across our path, and they could be the end of us if we should fall in.”
Garry took the responsibility of going first. Patch was right behind, holding on to a strap on Garry’s suit.
It was like going into a dark underworld thriving with all kinds of unknown dangers. Although he was following very closely, Patch could barely see Garry’s outline ahead of him. Garry would carefully slide one foot ahead of him to be sure he had solid ground underfoot.
After what seemed a very long time, Patch complained: “This is giving me the willies, Garry. How much farther do you think we’ve got to go? Besides, this is slowing us down almost to a crawl.”
“I think I see a break up ahead,” Garry encouraged. “It seems we’re making a wide turn, and the farther we go the more earthshine I think I can make out.”
“Gee, I’d give anything I’ve got for a light of some kind,” Patch groaned.
“That’s about the only thing they couldn’t provide for us,” Garry said. “Remember we used up our flashlight when we cut down on our power supply in the flier.”
“I remember,” Patch returned.
Patch felt that Garry was slowly descending as he walked.
“Hey, where are you going?” Patch asked.
“There seems to be an incline going down,” Garry replied. “I sure hope it comes back up and doesn’t drop off so that we can’t cross to the other side.”
“Ugh,” Patch shuddered. “Don’t even _think_ about that. Remember, Captain Eaton told us not to come back.”
“Just keep up with me and go slowly,” Garry instructed. “We’ll find out what’s ahead in a few minutes.”
Down, down they went on a gentle slope.
“When are we going to start up?” Patch asked worriedly.
“I don’t know,” Garry replied, a little anxious himself.
Suddenly Garry moved too fast for Patch to keep up and lost contact with him. Patch lost his head momentarily and cried out, dashing forward to regain touch with Garry. In his haste, Patch tripped and fell on the jagged rocks. On the earth this would have been a bad fall, but the weaker gravity here saved him from serious injury. But the weaker gravity also gave him a longer sprawl and carried him down the slope.
As soon as Garry heard Patch’s frantic cry, he grabbed wildly in the darkness, hoping by chance to reach his friend. But his hands met only empty air.
Patch’s shrieks were cut off abruptly, and stark silence filled Garry’s ears.
“Patch!” Garry called, dread making him tremble all over. “Patch, where are you?”
He had a mad impulse to leap down the incline, grabbing desperately at anything within reach. But he knew this could be disastrous for both himself and Patch.
Slowly, Garry inched farther downward, heartsick as he considered the things that might have happened to his friend—a fall knocking him out or worse, or a tumble down a deep, treacherous pit.
“Patch!” he kept calling. “Patch!”
The frightening moments of anguish were relieved when Garry finally heard a faint voice.
“Patch, where are you?” Garry asked over and over, as he inched downward, ever downward.
“Here, Garry,” came the very weak voice.
Thinking Patch was still far off, Garry slid his feet with more urgent speed through the utter blackness. Then the toe of his boot kicked something soft.
“Garry, don’t!” came a low-pitched, terrified voice. “You’re kicking the hand I’m holding on by!”
Then Garry realized what had happened, and the thought of the costly mistake he had almost made sickened him for a moment. Patch’s radio antenna had evidently been damaged in his fall, making his call for help seem farther off than he really was.
Garry stooped down, his hands closing over the gloved hand he had nearly knocked from its precarious position.
“Garry!” Patch said, his voice still a little hysterical. “I’m hanging on a cliff of some kind, and my feet aren’t touching anything! Please, Garry, get me up before I let go! I feel my hands slipping!”
“Hold on, Patch! Try to keep holding! I’ve got to get a foothold or we both may go over!”
Garry quickly kicked loose dust from underfoot and brushed it some more with his gloved hands. Then he leaned over and reached for Patch’s clinging hands. He slid his own hands below Patch’s wrists, closing his fingers about those wrists for dear life.
“I’ve got a good hold, Patch,” Garry panted. “Brace your feet and help me as I try to pull you up. Ready?”
“Ready, Garry!” came Patch’s weak voice.
Making sure his feet were well anchored, Garry pulled with all his might. For an instant Patch’s body resisted him like a dead weight. Then, with an almost superhuman effort, Garry was able to hoist him up ... up ... up and over onto the ledge safely. Then both of them slumped exhaustedly on the rocky brink.
The boys were quiet for several seconds as they caught their breath in the pitch darkness and considered how close it had come to being all over for Patch.
“Garry,” his grateful friend managed to say finally, “I’ll make it up to you. If we ever get out of this alive, I’ll make it up to you.”
“Never mind that,” Garry said. “You didn’t lose anything when you fell? You’ve still got the extra oxygen tanks?”
A dead silence followed, and that silence caused Garry to feel a clutch of dread.
“You lost them, didn’t you?” he asked with a hopeless groan.
Garry heard a faint sob over his helmet receiver. Then Patch fairly wept out the words he next spoke: “Yes, yes, I did! Push me back in, Garry! Push me back in! We’re lost for sure now!”
18. STRANGE DISCOVERY
It took a long time for the boys to pull themselves together after experiencing this final fateful blow. Down into the depths with those precious air cylinders had gone whatever chance the boys had for escaping alive from the cruel moon and for saving their friends. Patch broke down and Garry felt just as badly himself, but he managed to hold back the tears.
“Garry,” Patch burst out, “we may as well go back and die with the others now! There’s no use at all in going on any farther!” His voice still sounded far off to Garry because of the damaged antenna.
“If we went back, then _they_ would no longer have any hope,” Garry argued. “We took everything else they had. We’ve got to leave them hope—even until the end. Besides, we couldn’t accomplish anything by going back. Maybe, Patch, there’s just the barest chance that we have enough oxygen to reach the settlement. Or enough to get out into the open again and wait to see if a rescue flier comes over.”
“I’m not moving, Garry!” Patch snapped in utter despair. “I’m not going, do you hear?”
“You _are_ going,” Garry said determinedly. “You’re going if I have to carry you! It’s no time to quit, Patch.”
“Then when _is_ it time?” Patch shot back. “You and your hopes, Garry! Always hoping, even when there isn’t a smidgin of a chance.”
“It may be only a smidgin,” Garry said firmly, “but sometimes that’s enough. Now stop being a quitter and get to your feet.”
There was only silence over Garry’s receiver for several tense seconds. Garry didn’t know what he would do if Patch chose to defy him again. He knew he could not really make his friend do anything his heart refused to do.
But Patch solved this latest problem himself. Garry heard rustling sounds as Patch climbed slowly to his feet.
“I’m sorry I talked rough, Patch,” Garry apologized. “I don’t think we’ve quarreled twice in all our lives, have we? But we’re in this thing together, and we’ve got to keep going, no matter how bad things look. We’ve just _got_ to, don’t you see?”
“We’re talking about keeping going,” Patch returned, “but we can’t even get across this crevasse. How do you propose to do that? Besides that, we can’t even see as well as moles in this darkness.”
“Let’s walk along the edge, first in one direction and then the other,” Garry said. “Maybe the crevasse narrows and disappears before too far!”
They began exploring the treacherous cliff edge, moving slowly and carefully along in one direction. Every once in a while they tested the width of the chasm. Garry would get down on hands and knees and reach out, feeling with his hand to see if he could contact the other side. Time after time this was done, but each time his hands met empty air.
After a tedious hour, Patch complained bitterly, “Can’t you see it’s hopeless, Garry? Gee whiz, what does it take to convince you?”
“Let’s try a few more times,” Garry replied doggedly. “Then if we still can’t find a way across, we’ll start going along the crevasse in the other direction.”
Patch did not reply to this, and Garry knew how bitter his friend must feel toward him after so many setbacks.
The next time Garry got down on his hands and knees and reached out, his probing hand touched hard, firm rock on the other side!
“Patch!” he shouted. “I’ve found a place where we can cross!”
Even Patch was heartened by this and made an enthusiastic comment. In the hope of finding the crevasse even narrower and safer farther along, Garry followed the ledge, and, sure enough, it grew narrower and narrower until it was a crack in the ground only a few inches across.
Making the crossing to the other side, the boys, in feeling their way along, found that the ground began to rise again. Garry still maintained the lead, with Patch holding onto him and following blindly only a step behind.
Up, up the slope they went, and before long they could see rays of light flickering down into their eyes.
Soon there was enough light so that they could see a little distance ahead. They quickened their steps, although it still required some care on their part to avoid the sharp-edged stones and rugged underfooting that still lay in front of them.
But the light grew steadily brighter and the trail flatter.
“Look, Patch, I can see the stars again!” Garry was soon able to say.
Then, scarcely before they realized it, they were completely out of the shadows of the rocky formation that had very nearly finished them. Above and behind them once more shone the big bright ball of earth floating among the stars.
“Good old earth!” Patch exclaimed, with new hope. “I never thought I’d see it again!”
“It’s a great sight!” Garry agreed.
“Garry,” Patch said, “we can see right over the top of the crater wall in the distance. We seem to be higher than we were when we started.”
“I’ve noticed that too,” Garry replied. “I’ll check the map again.”
Garry did so, then told Patch that they were still on course.
They moved on and presently stood at the raised edge of a gradually lowering basin that stretched out very far and flat ahead of them. They could see a break in the crater wall a few miles away, which the captain had pointed out to them on the map.
“It looks like we’ll have easy traveling for awhile,” Garry said, “and we’ll be right out in the open in case a flier comes over. They’ll be sure to see us unless they’re completely blind.”
“Garry,” Patch said in a thoughtful voice, “I’m sorry.”
“Huh?” Garry asked in surprise.
“I’m sorry for the way I acted. I lost my head completely. When I found out I’d lost the air cylinders over the ledge, I just seemed to go to pieces. It’s a good thing one of us knows how to keep his head.”
“Forget it, Patch,” Garry soothed. “It could have been me just as easy as you. Besides, that’s not important now. We’ve still got a long way to go, and time is running short.”
Suddenly, Patch ran past Garry in great haste and stood staring over the plain below, shielding his eyes with his hands.
Garry joined him. “Patch, what is it? Do you see something?”
“It’s impossible!” Patch gasped. “It’s completely impossible!”
“What?” Garry begged, his own excitement growing.
“Look! There’s somebody walking around down there or else I’m seeing things!”
Garry looked where Patch pointed, and he too found it hard to believe his eyes. There _was_ someone or something moving around.
“I see it!” Garry said. “Come on, let’s go down and get a closer look!”
“I just hope it isn’t in as bad shape as we are!” Patch exclaimed.
They hurried as fast as they dared over the bumpy ground, heading straight for the person or thing that was moving about in seemingly aimless fashion on the plain below.
“He sees us!” Patch said. “He’s coming toward us!”
Swiftly the distance closed between the boys and the lone stranger. And then Garry and Patch received the surprise of their lives.
“Katrinka!” they shouted together, not believing what they saw.
“It can’t be!” Patch cried in amazement. “Garry, we must be seeing a mirage or something! How could Katrinka...?”
“It’s Katrinka all right!” Garry said, as the robot drew close enough to be fully recognized. “But I don’t understand it. I don’t understand it at all! Katrinka crashed with the _Carefree_ and poor Ben! But even if she didn’t crash, how is it she’s wandering around out here on the moon?”
“And what could make her start moving toward us?” Patch asked, as the mystery deepened. “You’ll never make me believe she’s _really_ human, although at times it seemed that she was.”
The big robot stopped in front of the boys and remained still. Garry and Patch felt almost as if they should say “Hello,” because indeed it was like meeting an old friend.
After a few moments of remaining stock still, Katrinka turned and started shuffling off with great long strides.
“What’ll we do, Garry?” Patch asked. “Follow her? But that would be silly! She’s still an unthinking machine.”
“I don’t know, Patch. This whole thing seems very strange, although it may be that she was merely thrown clear when the _Carefree_ crashed and somehow her works were activated by the jolt. And yet I have the feeling that she almost knows what she’s doing, as if she wants us to follow her.”
“Now you’re talking spooky,” Patch said. “You don’t really believe that Katrinka can _think_!”
“I don’t know what to believe,” Garry replied. “But I sure would like to follow her a little way to see just what she’s going to do next.”
“But our air, Garry! We don’t have enough to waste on playing ‘follow the leader’!”
“Just a little way, Patch. Who knows—this might even lead to something important.”
“I think you’re way off base, Garry, but I’ll admit I’m curious too. Let’s go.”
Katrinka had already gained some distance on them while they were debating what to do, and she did not wait for them. They started running to catch up and presently did so. But the robot traveled at such a fast pace that they still had to move in long, antelopelike jumps to keep up.
Katrinka was definitely headed in one particular direction because she varied hardly any in her line of motion. She seemed to be going toward an area where the rocks rose high and ominous looking. It was much like the spot where the boys had had their recent harrowing experience.
“Garry, please,” Patch begged, panting for breath, “let’s call this crazy chase off! That athletic gal is running me ragged! Besides, she seems to be taking us straight into those rocky walls!”
“Well, there’s one thing certain,” Garry replied. “She’s _got_ to change direction pretty quick, or she’ll crash into something. Let’s stick it out a few more minutes.”
They drew closer to the shadowy outcropping. But the robot did not even slow her pace. The boys knew she was heading for a collision, but there was nothing they could do but watch.
Somehow she got past the first row of stones, tripping and nearly falling, then recovering automatically. But her luck was short lived. The path went downhill beyond this spot, and her big metal foot slammed against a boulder. The robot arched through the air and crashed headfirst into a rocky wall. It crumpled her metal cranium, spewing out wires and electronic parts.
The boys came running up and stood looking at the fallen giant.
“Poor old Katrinka,” Garry said. “She was almost like one of us. It’s nearly as if another one of us had died.”
“Yeah, I liked the old gal,” Patch replied. “She may have survived a crash on the moon, but it’s a cinch she’s reached the end of her rope now.”
Garry cast a look around to see what sort of area they had come into. His eyes followed the downhill trail ahead that Katrinka would still be following had she not had her accident.
What he saw brought a gasp of astonishment from him, and a nervous tremor coursed through his body.
“Patch, look!” he shouted. “The _Carefree_! There’s the _Carefree_ down there, half buried in moon dust!”
They rushed down the trail to get a closer look. The giant space ship was indeed buried half of her depth in pumice dust. The rear air lock was level with the ground, and extending from the air lock was a gangplank!
The boys moved up to the edge of the gangplank, looking it over in bafflement.
“Don’t tell me Katrinka put that down and walked out of the ship on it!” Patch challenged. “You can’t get me to believe that, Garry.”
“No, you’re right; she couldn’t possibly have done that on her own. She might have done it, Patch, but she would have had to be guided by an intelligent _human_ brain.”
“Garry, what are you saying? Are you trying to say that Ben might have survived that crash and rigged up Katrinka so that she could go out looking for us? Why, that’s fantastic!”
“We’ll soon find out if it’s so fantastic,” Garry said. “The ship is nearly undamaged, as you can see.”
“What are you going to do?” Patch asked, as Garry moved ahead.
“I’m going to walk that gangplank up to the air lock and see if Ben is inside.”
They could see that the gangplank had been put down because of the depth of the Lunar dust. It was obviously quite deep in this area, since the _Carefree_ itself was half buried in it. Deep, enormous dust pits were very common on the moon and were among the most dangerous obstacles to travel, because they never gave any indication of how deep they were until someone fell in and was suffocated.
Carefully, Garry, with Patch right behind him, stepped out on the narrow gangplank and moved slowly forward toward the air lock at the other end. It was a little unsteady underfoot, but it was rigid and did not sink beneath the boys’ light lunar weight. Besides, Garry felt pretty sure now that Katrinka had crossed it, and she was far heavier than both of them together.
Garry reached the air lock, his heart thumping rapidly with hope and expectation. He raised his gloved hand and began pounding on the outer door.
They waited. Five seconds, then ten, fifteen....
Garry’s hopes began to dim. It didn’t look as if there were anyone alive inside after all.
But then the air-lock door began to swing open. The boys scrambled inside, too tense and excited to speak to one another. They heard air swishing into the air lock. Then, after another half minute, the inner door swung open.
Standing there inside facing them was—Ben.
19. A NEW LIFE
“Ben!” Garry exclaimed jubilantly, rushing into the main part of the ship. “Is it really you?”
“I’m not a ghost,” Ben said with a grin, “if that’s what you mean.”
“How did you ever do it?” Patch asked, amazement written all over his chubby features. “I mean crash-land the _Carefree_.”
“First tell me how the others are,” Ben asked anxiously.
Garry told him that they were all right, at least for the time being.
Ben was limping as he moved about. Patch asked about this, and Ben said it would come out in his story. The boys had entered into the central tunnel of the _Carefree_, with its webbing network, and Garry noticed that Ben had laid down metallic sheets over the webbing so that it could be more easily stood upon.
Ben sat down on this and began his story.
“I had made plans to remain aboard the _Carefree_ before we even started working on the flier. When I found that the space taxi would hold only seven passengers safely, I knew someone had to stay behind. I was afraid the captain would realize that the flier would be overcrowded, but I guess he was too busy thinking about other things. The likely one to bow out was myself, because I felt that quite possibly I might be able to bring the _Carefree_ down in one piece. I knew this region of Hornfield was full of huge dust pits that could cushion the fall of a ship if she belly-landed in one of them just right. But don’t think I wasn’t scared even thinking of trying such a thing! Don’t get me wrong, fellows—I wasn’t out to make a hero of myself!”
“You must have had some control over the ship,” Garry said, “otherwise she would have crashed headlong onto the moon.”
“I had some control,” Ben explained. “As soon as I released the flier from the _Carefree_, I started my attempt to save the ship and myself as well. I donned a pressure suit and went into the flight deck. Remember, I had gone in there before, soon after the collision. I had noticed then that most of the instrument panel had been destroyed.”
“I remember too, Ben, that you helped build the _Carefree_,” Garry said, “so you must’ve known a lot about her.”
“I tore out the cover of the console and began working in the section beneath. With tools, I was able to get the braking jets to functioning. This slowed the ship down to a slow orbit around the moon and gave me time to work on the steering controls. I couldn’t do much with them, but I was able to move the ship a little to the port or starboard side, as I wished. I knew this was as far as I could go, but with some luck I felt there was a chance of bringing her down safely.”
“Why didn’t you try this before we all left the ship?” Patch wanted to know.
Ben shook his head. “Risk everybody’s life on some crazy plan of my own? No, it was too farfetched in the first place, and I guess I would not even have tried it myself unless I’d had to. The flier was much the safer route to safety, and that’s why getting it to go was my first concern. With you guys out of the way, I had no one’s life to risk but my own.”
“How did you manage to land as close to the flier as you did?” Garry asked.
“My first thought was to land near one of the settlements, because if I did make it, then I would immediately send out a search party for the rest of you. But I knew I _had_ to land in one of the vast dust pits on Luna, because the ship would be destroyed by friction if it skidded along the bare ground. I made one orbit of the moon as the ship slowed down more and more and lost altitude. I knew roughly in what area the flier would likely come down, and I remembered Hornfield Crater as one being full of dust pits. As the ship glided lower and lower, I figured this would be where I would try to bring her down. The pit we’re in now is a very large, long trough, maybe a quarter of a mile long and a hundred feet wide. I therefore had a pretty good chance of landing in it.”
“Gee, you had a lot of nerve to try something like that!” Patch exclaimed.
“I took one last look out where I hoped to come down,” Ben said, “and then went under the console into the working parts again. I cut out a few of the upper braking jets, and this caused the ship to nose down. I felt it plough into the dust as if into a big flour barrel. The ship heated up from the friction created, but it slowed her down rapidly, and she came to rest on this spot, half buried in pumice. Even so, I nearly missed the dust pit, landing only about thirty feet from the edge of it.”
“Now what about Katrinka?” Garry asked. “You did send her out, didn’t you?”
“Right. I sprained my ankle when the ship landed and I was thrown against some machinery. I could hardly walk, but I wanted to make contact with the rest of you if it were possible. I then figured that the old gal might be able to help me. I worked her over so that I could operate her by remote control. I also made for her a command disk, so that when she moved near one of you or the flier she would give a radio signal to me. I laid down the gangplank myself over the pit, because I knew Katrinka would sink down in the dust. It nearly killed me getting about and using a hoist to lower the gangplank to the opposite bank, but I finally managed it.”
“Then you sent her out?” Patch asked.
“Yes. I used a small telescope to keep track of her. I couldn’t be sure where the rest of you had come down, but my plan was to start her moving about in a gradually enlarging circle. I was hoping that some of you would see her and come over to investigate. Once you had done that, I felt sure you would have the curiosity to follow her wherever she led you. And this you two fortunately did.”
“We nearly didn’t,” Patch said. “We thought Katrinka had been thrown clear of the _Carefree_ after it had crashed and somehow had gotten accidentally activated as she had done once on the ship.”
They heard a rap on the outer air-lock door. Patch and Garry exchanged bewildered glances, but Ben did not seem very surprised.
“That must be the men from the settlement,” he said, limping over to the air lock and shoving the lever that opened the outer door. “I haven’t had time to tell you yet that I got through a message to them. You see, before I even thought of the trick with Katrinka, I was working on that damaged antenna dish that had prevented our sending an SOS after our collision in space. At first I didn’t have any replies, and I figured there must be interference from the Taurus Mountains beyond.”
“That must be why _our_ SOS didn’t go through!” Patch said.
Ben went on: “I increased my transmitting power and finally got through. It’s been less than an hour ago that they said they would send over a Service flier rocket immediately.”
The two men who entered the air lock a few moments later were Commander Staples and his lieutenant, both members of the Space Service. They had been making a routine flight over the moon when they had been contacted by the mining scientists who had picked up Ben’s SOS.
The two men had arrived in a big space flier that could easily take care of Captain Eaton and the others. Ben and the boys were anxious to get started so that the long-drawn-out ordeal their friends had been undergoing could be ended as quickly as possible. Commander Staples said they could leave immediately.
The boys pulled on their helmets, and the officers helped Ben get into a pressure suit. This was painful for Ben because of his swollen ankle. Then, with everyone dressed to go out onto the moon’s surface, Ben pushed the lever that opened the inner air-lock door. Once outside, they started in single file across the gangplank. Ben was in the middle and limped along slowly with his hands on the shoulders of the officer in front of him to steady himself.
On the way to the flier, they passed the smashed metal body of Katrinka. The officers looked at the strange robot with great interest, and Ben explained her to them.
“She won’t remain out here to die,” Ben said over his suit radio, as if he were talking about a human being. “When we return to the _Carefree_ one of these days, we’ll rebuild her, and she’ll be as good as new.”
The boys were glad to hear this because now they realized that every one of their little group on the _Carefree_ would survive the frightening adventure and that once again they would all be together, including their robot friend.
“Ben,” Patch asked, “will the _Carefree_ ever fly again?”
“That’s up to Captain Eaton,” Ben replied. “It will take a lot of money to put her in shape again, and that includes a powerful set of rockets to lift her into space. But knowing how much the captain likes her, I believe he’ll spare no expense making her space borne again.”
Commander Staples said to Ben: “I heard you mention Captain Eaton. Our radio picked up a spacegram that was addressed to a Captain Eaton. We tape those messages routinely, and I’ll be able to give it to him when we see him.”
The Service flier was a sleek, streamlined rocket with fins that were built to support the craft in the earth’s atmosphere, if need be. She also had powerful jets for lifting her up off the surface of any of the minor planets.
Commander Staples asked the boys to point out to him on a chart the approximate location of their flier, and Garry estimated the position as accurately as he could.
Then, with everyone belted down, the flier’s rocket roared into action, and the craft lifted into the dark sky. It was a very short trip, and the ship did not have to fly too high. Commander Staples’ assistant spied the flier and pointed it out to his superior. The ship circled the area in a gradually lowering spiral and came to rest about a hundred feet from the small grounded space taxi.
A few moments later, Ben and the boys were hurrying across the rough ground toward the flier. Garry’s heart was pounding so hard with joy and excitement that he could hear its thumping over his helmet receiver.
Those inside had evidently seen their rescuers arrive, because the outer door of the air lock was open to receive them.
Garry would never forget the old captain’s happy face when he saw the three of them enter. Nor would he forget the tears glistening in the corners of Captain Eaton’s eyes as he clasped the boys to his chest in a great bear hug that nearly squeezed the life out of them.
“Thank God for this great moment!” the old man said in a husky voice. “And Ben—even you, whom we had long ago given up for dead! What have I ever done to deserve a happy moment like this?”
He released the boys and clasped Ben to him as if he were another lost son. Then the others came forward, their faces gleaming with the overwhelming joy they felt at seeing the lost ones returning.
“Ben, you old trickster you!” Mac shouted, pounding his friend on the back. “How in the world you came out of that thing alive I’ll never know. But right now I don’t care _how_ you did it!”
“Welcome home, stranger!” Isaac said, shaking Ben’s hand vigorously as only Isaac could do.
“It’s most gratifying to see you, Ben,” Mr. Klecker said in his butler’s tone of voice, which, however, did not mean that he was any less deeply moved than the others.
Gino then came forward and took his turn at greeting Ben and the boys. The celebration went on for several more minutes, and the little flier was pleasantly noisy with joking and happy talk.
But, finally, Commander Staples had to interrupt the celebration with a smiling, apologetic voice: “I hate to break up this little party, but we’ve got to start back to the mining settlement. You see, I’m on duty and I’ve got a busy schedule. They have accommodations for all of you at the settlement, and you can make your future plans as soon as you’ve arrived there.”
The prisoners of so long a time in the cramped quarters of the flier were only too willing to get out of their prison. The commander and his assistant went back to the Service flier to get space suits for those who did not have them.
After the suits had been distributed, Commander Staples gave a piece of paper to Captain Eaton. “Here’s a message for you, Sir, that our radio picked up.” He winked at the boys. “Something tells me they’ll be as interested in it as you will be.”
The captain read the message and then turned to Garry and Patch with a warm expression. “Boys, it looks as though the adoption will go through as soon as we go back for a short time and make the arrangements.”
“Gee, I—I don’t know what to say,” Garry murmured, almost too excited and happy for words. “It sounds too good to be true!”
“They’re the best words you could have said to us, Sir,” Patch added. “Isn’t it just great, Garry!” His sparkling eyes showed how much he meant it.
“It’ll be a little strange being called, ‘Father,’” the captain said, smiling, “but I think I’ll get used to it pretty quickly.”
Captain Eaton stared off with a faraway look. “We’ll make up for lost time, boys. We’ll see as much of the universe as the old _Carefree_ will carry us to. Yes, we’ll fix her up again if it takes the rest of my fortune. You’ll get your education among the stars, my sons, and you’ll be that much wiser because of it.”
Garry and Patch exchanged happy glances. Garry thought they were wiser already, just from knowing the grand skipper of the _Carefree_.
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