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Title: Young Stowaways in Space
Author: Elam, Richard Mace
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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                                 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



                                CONTENTS


  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.”

“Why?”

“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!”



                              2. BLAST-OFF


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?”

Everyone did.

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_.



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Copyright notice provided as in the original—this e-text is public
  domain in the country of publication.

--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings and
  dialect unchanged.

--In the text versions, delimited italics text in _underscores_ (the
  HTML version reproduces the font form of the printed book.)





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