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´╗┐Title: Shipwreck in the Sky
Author: Binder, Eando
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    _There is a warm feeling about welcoming back into the pages of a
    science fiction magazine the work of a writer who is a legend in the
    genre. So, here's Binder and a neatly wrapped-up package of a
    folktale of the future._


 shipwreck
        in
       the
       sky

 _by ... Eando Binder_


 The flight into space that made
 Pilot-Capt. Dan Barstow famous.


The flight was listed at GHQ as _Project Songbird_. It was sponsored by
the Space Medicine Labs of the U.S. Air Force. And its pilot was Captain
Dan Barstow.

A hand-picked man, Dan Barstow, chosen for the AF's most important
project of the year because he and his VX-3 had already broken all
previous records set by hordes of V-2s, Navy Aerobees and anything else
that flew the skyways.

Dan Barstow, first man to cross the sea of air and sight open, unlimited
space. Pioneer flight to infinity. He grinned and hummed to himself as
he settled down for the long jaunt. Too busy to be either thrilled or
scared he considered the thirty-seven instruments he'd have to read, the
twice that many records to keep, and the miles of camera film to run. He
had been hand-picked and thoroughly conditioned to take it all without
more than a ten percent increase in his pulse rate. So he worked as
matter-of-factly as if he were down in the Gs Centrifuge of the Space
Medicine Labs where he had been schooled for this trip for months.

He kept up a running fire of oral reports through his helmet radio, down
to Rough Rock and his CO. "All Roger, sir ... temperature falling fast
but this rubberoid space suit keeps me cozy, no chills ... Doc Blaine
will be happy to hear that! Weightless sensations pretty queer and I
feel upside-down as much as rightside-up, but no bad effects.... Taking
shots of the sun's corona now with color film ... huh? Oh, yes, sir,
it's beautiful all right, now that you mention it. But, hell, sir, who's
got the time for aesthetics now?... Oops, _that_ was a close one! Tenth
meteor whizzing past. Makes me think of flak back on those Berlin
bombing runs."

Dan couldn't help wincing when the meteors peppered down past. The
"flak" of space. Below he could see the meteors flare up brightly as
they hit the atmosphere. Most of those near his position were small,
none bigger than a baseball, and Dan took comfort in the fact that his
rocket was small too, in the immensity around him. A direct hit would be
sheer bad luck, but the good old law of averages was on his side.

"Yes, Colonel, this tin can I'm riding is holding together okay," Dan
continued to Rough Rock. If he paused even a second in his reports a
top-sergeant's yell from the Colonel's throat came back for him to keep
talking. Every bit of information he could transmit to them was a vital
revelation in this USAF-Alpha exploration of open space beyond Earth's
air cushion, with ceiling unlimited to infinity.

"Cosmic rays, sir? Sure, the reading shot up double on the Geiger ...
huh? Naw, I don't feel a thing ... like Doc Baird suspected, we invented
a lot of Old Wives' Tales in _advance_, before going into space. I feel
fine, so you can put down cosmic ray intensity as a Boogey Man....
What's that? Yeah, yeah, sir, the stars shine without winking up here.
What else?... Space is inky black--no deep purples or queer
more-than-blacks like some jetted-up writers dreamed up--just plain old
ordinary dead black. Earth, sir?... Well, it does look dish-shaped from
up here, concave.... Sure, I can see all the way to Europe and--say!
Here's something unexpected. I can see that hurricane off the coast of
Florida.... You said it, sir! Once we install permanent space stations
up here it will be easy to spot typhoons, volcano eruptions, tidal
waves, earthquakes, what have you, the moment they start. If you ask me,
with a good telescope you could even spot forest fires the minute they
broke out, not to mention a sneak bombing on a target city--uh, sorry,
sir, I forgot."

Dan broke off and almost retched as his stomach turned a flip-flop to
end all flip-flops. The VX-3 had reached the peak of its trajectory at
over 1000 miles altitude and now turned down, lazily at first. He gulped
oxygen from the emergency tube at his lips and felt better.

"Turning back on schedule, Rough Rock. Peak altitude 1037 miles.
Everything fine, no danger. This was all a cinch.... HEY! Wait....
Something not in the books has popped up ... stand by!"

Dan had felt the rocket swing a bit, strangely, as if gripped by a
strong force. Instead of falling directly down toward Earth with a
slight pitch, it slanted sideways and spun on its long axis. And then
Dan saw what it was....

Beneath, intercepting his trajectory, coming around fast over the
curvature of Earth, was a tiny black worldlet, 998 miles above Earth. It
might be an enormous meteor, but Dan felt he was right the first time.
For it wasn't falling like a meteor but swinging parallel to Earth's
surface on even keel.

He stared at the unexpected discovery, as amazed as if it were a
fire-breathing dragon out of legend. For it was, actually, he realized
in swift, stunned comprehension, more amazing than any legend.

Dan kept his voice calm. "Hello, Rough Rock.... Listen ... nobody
expected _this_ ... hold your hat, sir, and sit down. I've discovered a
_second moon_ of Earth!... Uhhuh, you heard me right! a second moon! Tie
that, will you?... Sure, it's tiny, less than a mile in diameter I'd
say. Dead black in color. Guess that's why telescopes never spotted it.
Tiny and black, blends into the black backdrop of space. It has terrific
speed. And that little maverick's gravitational field caught my
rocket.... Of course it can't yank me away from Earth gravity, but the
trouble is--yipe! my rocket and that moonlet may be in for a mutual
_collision_ course...."

Dan's trained eye suddenly saw that grim possibility. Barreling around
Earth in a narrow orbit with a speed of something near or over 12,000
miles an hour the tiny new moon had, since his ascent, charged directly
into his downward free fall. It was a chance in a thousand for a direct
hit, except for one added factor--the moonlet exerted enough gravity
pull out of its many-million ton bulk to warp the rocket into its path.
And the thousand-to-one odds were thus wiped out, becoming even money.

"Nip and tuck," reported Dan, answering the excited pleadings and
questions from Rough Rock. "It won't be a head-on crash. I may even miss
entirely.... Oh, Lord! Not with that spire of rock sticking up from
it.... I'm going to hit that ..."

Dan had heard an atomic bomb blast once and it sounded like a string of
them set off at once as the rocket smashed into the rocky prominence.
The rock splintered. The rocket splintered. But Dan was not there to be
splintered likewise. He had jammed down a button, at the critical
moment, and the rocket's emergency escape-hatch had ejected him a
split-second before the violent impact.

But Dan blacked out, receiving some of the concussion of the exploding
rocket. When his eyes snapped open he was floating like a feather in
open, airless space. His rubberoid space suit, living up to its rigid
tests, had inflated to its elastic limit. But it held and within its
automatic units began feeding him oxygen, heat and radio-power. He had a
chance, now, because he had been ejected cleanly from the rocket,
without damage to the protective suit.

The stars wheeled dizzily around him. Dan finally saw the reason why. He
was not just floating as a free agent in space. He was circling the
black moonlet, at perhaps a thousand yards from its pitted surface.

"Hello, Rough Rock," he called. "Still alive and kicking, sir. Only now,
of all crazy-mad things, _I'm_ a moon of _this_ moon! The collision must
have knocked me clear out of my down-to-Earth orbit.... I must have been
ejected in the same direction as the moonlet's course, in its gravity
field.... I don't know. Let an electronic brain figure it out some
time.... Anyway, now I'm being dragged along in the orbit of the
moonlet--how about _that_? Yes, sir, I'm circling down closer and closer
to the moonlet.... No, don't worry, sir. It was a weak gravity pull,
only a fraction of an Earth-g. So I'm drifting down gently as a
cloud.... Stand by for my landing on Earth's second moon!"

The bloated figure in the bulging space suit circled the black stony
surface several more times, in a narrowing spiral, and finally landed
with a soft skidding bump that didn't even jar Dan's teeth. He bounced
several times from a diminishing height of fifty-odd feet in grotesque
slow-motion before he finally came to a stop.

He sat still for a moment, adjusting to the fantastic fact of being
shipwrecked on an unchartered moonlet, crowding down his pulse rate
which might be over ten percent normal now.

"Okay, Rough Rock, I hear you.... You're telling me, sir?... Obviously,
I'm _marooned_ here. No rocket to leave with. No way to get back to
terra firma ... what? If you'll pardon my saying so, sir, that's a silly
question.... Of course I'm scared! Scared green. Sorry about the rocket,
sir, losing it for you.... Me, sir? Thank you, sir. But stop
apologizing, will you? I know you haven't got any duplicates of the VX-3
ready, no rescue rocket...."

Dan listened a moment longer then broke in roughly. "Oh, for Pete's
sake, will you stop crying over me, sir? So I get mine here. I might
have gotten it over Berlin, too. Forget it--sir."

Dan grinned suddenly. "Look, what have I got to kick about? I'll go out
in a flash of glory--at least one headline will put it that way--and
I'll get credit in the history books as the man who discovered that
Earth has _two_ moons! What more could I ask, really?"

Dan blushed at the reply from Rough Rock. "Will you lay off please,
Colonel? How else should a man take it? I'm still scared silly inside.
But, look, I've really got something to report now. This little runt
moon makes tracks around Earth in probably two hours minus. If I
remember my Spacenautics right I'm already looking down over the Grand
Canyon, heading west. I'm going to get a pretty terrific bird's-eye view
of the whole world in two more hours, which is just about how much
oxygen I've got left.... Lucky, eh?"

Dan looked down, watching in fascination the majestic wheeling of the
Earth below him. His little moonlet did not rotate, or rather it rotated
once for each revolution around Earth, as the Moon did, keeping one face
earthward, giving him an uninterrupted view. The Sierras on Earth hove
into clear view and the broad Pacific. There would follow Hawaii, then
Japan, Asia, Europe.... No, he saw he was slanting southwest. It would
be across the equator, past Australia, perhaps near the South Pole, then
up around over the top of the world past Greenland, following that great
circle around the globe. In any case, his was the speediest trip around
the world ever made by man!

"Before we're out of mutual range, Rough Rock, I'm going to explore this
new moon. Me and Columbus! Stand by for reports."

Dan did his walking in huge leaps that propelled him fifty feet at a
step with slight effort, due to the extremely feeble gravity of the tiny
body. What did he weigh here? Probably no more than an ounce or two.

"Nothing much to report, Colonel. It's a dead, airless pip-squeak
planetoid, just a big mile-thick rock, probably. No life, no vegetation,
no people, no nothing. Guess you might call me the Man in the Second
Moon--and the joke's on me! Well, one and three-quarter hours of oxygen
left, by the gauge, or 105 minutes--sounds like more that way.... What's
that, sir? Your voice is getting faint. Any last requests from me? Well,
one favor maybe. Pick up my body some day with another rocket.... Yeah,
it'll stay preserved up here in this deep-freeze of space.... Thanks,
sir.... Can't hear you much now. Going out of range. Give Betty my
fondest. You know, the blonde.... Well, sir--goodbye now."

Dan was glad that Rough Rock's radio voice faded to a whispery
nothingness. It wasn't easy to stay casual now. There was nothing more
to say, really, and he didn't want to hear any more crying from the CO.
The Old Man had sounded almost hysterical. He wanted just to be alone
with his thoughts now, making his final peace with the universe....

He checked the gauge with his watch--ninety minutes of oxygen to zero.
Or, he thought with a grin, eternity minus ninety minutes.

He was beginning to have trouble breathing. But it was awesomely grand,
watching the sweep of Earth beneath him, the procession of dots that
were islands strung across the Pacific South Seas like a necklace of
green beads. He was still within radio range of ships below at sea. Yet
he didn't contact them. He had nothing to say, like a ghost in the sky.

Idly, he kept pitching loose stones, watching their rifle-like speed
away from him. Again a phenomenon of the weak gravity of the moonlet.
Actually, he was able to pick up a boulder ten feet across and heave it
away with ease. _We who are about to die amuse ourselves_, he thought.
Then, because a thread of stubborn hope still clung in a corner of his
mind, he got an idea. It had lurked just beyond his mental grasp for
some time now. Something significant....

Abruptly, face alight, Dan switched on his radio and contacted a ship
below, asking them to relay him to Rough Rock with their more powerful
transmitter.

"Ahoy, Rough Rock! Stop adding up my insurance, Colonel! I'm coming
back.... No, sir, I haven't gone out of my head, sir. It's so simple
it's a laugh, sir.... See you in a few hours, sir!"

And he did.

Dan grinned when they hauled his dripping form from the sea. Aboard the
search plane they cut him out of the space suit to which was still
attached his emergency twin parachute. But his helmet was gone, ripped
loose, for Dan had been breathing fresh Earth air during the long
parachute descent.

They stared at him as at a dead man come alive.

"Impossible to escape?" He chuckled, repeating their babble. "That's
what _I_ thought too, until I remembered those data tables on gravity
and Escape Velocity and such--how, on the Moon, the Escape Velocity is
much less than on Earth. And on that tiny second moon--well, my clue was
when I threw a stone into the air _and it never came back_."

Dan gulped hot coffee.

"I got off the moonlet myself then, got up to more than a mile above it
where I was free of its feeble gravity. But I was still in the same
orbit circling Earth. I'd have continued revolving as a human satellite
forever, of course, but for this emergency gadget hooked to my belt."

Dan held up the metal gun with its empty tank and needle-nose half
burned away.

"Reaction pistol. Fires hydrazine and oxidizer, ordinary jet-rocket
principle. Aiming it toward the stars, opposite earth, its reactive
blasts shoved me Earthward, thanks to Newton. I needed a speed of about
one-half mile a second. The powerful little jet gun had only my small
mass to shove in free space, without gravity or friction. That broke me
from free-fall _around_ Earth to gravity-fall _toward_ Earth.

"Then I spiraled down under gravity pull. I reached lung-filling air
density just in time, before my oxygen gave out. One more danger was
that I began heating up like a meteor due to air friction. I flung out a
prayer first, followed by my twin parachutes, designed for extreme
initial shock. They held. Slowed me to a paratrooper's drift the rest of
the way down."

"Wait," a puzzled pilot objected. "Your story doesn't hang together.
_How_ did you get off that moonlet? How did you get up there, a mile
above it, away from its gravity? There was nobody to throw _you_, like a
stone."

"I threw myself," said Dan. "First I ran as fast as I could, maybe
halfway around that moonlet, to get a good running start. And then--"

Dan Barstow's grin then was undoubtedly the biggest grin in history....

"Well, then, since the feeble gravity couldn't pull me back again, what
I really did was to _jump clear off that moon_."



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Fantastic Universe_ March 1954.
    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
    typographical errors have been corrected without note.





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