Young Readers Science Fiction Stories
Castaways in Space

Public Domain

The two of them had just shoved the supply case against the chute door when the space ship gave an unexpected burst of rocket power, knocking Skip Miller against the release lever. The escape door shot up and a big square of black space opened before the boys’ eyes.

Glen Hartzell was stunned to see his friend go spinning down the incline and follow the supply case toward the open door. Automatically, Glen stretched his lean body full length trying to grasp Skip’s space suit before he escaped. But his momentum sent him skidding down the slope and the next thing he knew he was out in space, too.

A week ago Glen wouldn’t have cared whether he faced death or not. He and Skip had just made the scorned fraternity of “Wockies,” washed-out cadets. His failure had cut like a knife. He had wanted to pilot ships through the depths of space more than anything else in the world. Instead, he and Skip had been assigned to ground crews on Mars. That, at least, had been their destination until Skip’s elbow unexpectedly made them castaways in space.

Glen’s first thought was directed to Skip, who looked like a toy balloon as he drifted through the vacuum. “Skip!” he called over his space suit radio. “Do you hear me, Skip?”

“Yeah, Glen,” Skip’s reply was scarcely more than a squeak.

Glen looked down and ahead where a massive rock some ten miles in diameter hung in the starry emptiness. “If we can make Phobos, we may be all right.”

“We’re done for,” Skip groaned.

“We’re not!” Glen’s wits were sharpened by the danger. “We’re lined up pretty well with Phobos. She doesn’t have any gravity to speak of and we may be able to land on her.”

“We won’t make Phobos,” Skip argued. “We’ll either run into Mars’ gravity field and crash on its surface or float through space until our air runs out.”

“Shut up, Skip!” Glen’s tone was sharp. “Listen to me. See if you can pick up a little speed by kicking out behind with your feet and hands. If you can catch up with the supply case, hang on.”

Skip didn’t reply but Glen saw his arms and legs begin to move. Glen worked his own. It was a grueling effort, but Glen found that he was able to increase his speed much in the manner of a space ship’s thrust. By the time Glen touched Skip’s suit, both of them were sucking freely of their precious oxygen.

“What’s the idea?” Skip asked as his gloved hand clutched the strap of the supply case and Glen held onto him.

“We’ll use the case as a buffer to break our fall,” Glen explained. “Remember, it’s covered with foam rubber so that it won’t shatter when it hits.”

The two had been preparing to drop the emergency supply case on Mars at the time of the accident. Glen was glad now that they’d donned space suits.

Glen saw that the space ship was now only a tiny needle against the red disk of Mars. He and Skip had probably not even been missed by the crew. When they did find out, they wouldn’t know where to look for the boys.

Phobos was a jagged, frightening giant below, but Glen held nothing but love for it. Their speed had increased slightly, but it did not look as if they would hit the ground dangerously fast.

Glen felt Skip’s muscles tense for the landing.

“Steady, fellow!” Glen breathed.

He felt a rough jar in the pit of his stomach. Glen bounced off Skip’s back as though he were rubber. He spread out his arms to ease his fall, then was surprised to find his body settling down to rest as lightly as a leaf.

Glen felt a prickly chill in his cheeks. “We’ve got practically no weight at all!” he breathed. Skip had almost drifted off into space again, but Glen grabbed his leg and pulled him back.

“It’s a crazy world, isn’t it?” Skip searched the rocky landscape that sloped down from them on both sides. It was weird to be on a globe so tiny you were conscious of its roundness.

Glenn nodded. “We’ve really got to keep both feet on the ground!”

“What if they don’t find us, Glen?” Skip asked. “What then?”

“I don’t know, Skip,” Glen sighed. “Let’s see what’s in the supply case.”

Glen was able to crawl better than he could walk over to the supply case. Skip followed. Glen pressed a button on the case and the top sprang up.

“Whew! There’s not much that isn’t included!” Skip said. “Spare oxygen tanks, a bubble tent outfit, food capsules, water maker, first-aid, flares, books, electronic stove-heater.”

“Let’s put up the bubble tent,” Glen said. “It’ll help save our heat.”

As he had learned in cadet training, he removed a cylinder from the outfit and pulled a lever. It popped open and a plastic bubble began growing out of it. The bubble, which was slightly oblong and transparent, enlarged to about seven feet, then detached itself from the cartridge airtight. After it had hardened for several minutes, Glen took an electric saw from the kit and cut a small door in the side. They made hinges from self-sealing plastic strips.

They used the foam rubber from around the case for flooring, then put the supplies inside the bubble. They turned on the heater and then turned off the heat units in their suits.

“How long do you figure our supplies can last, Glen?” Skip asked.

“They’re supposed to last two people ten days,” Glen replied. “Don’t you remember that question on our exam?”

“Don’t remind me!” Skip said. “I’m tired of hearing about the cadet corps.”

“I know,” Glen said bitterly.

“How could they flunk us on one question?” Skip asked. “It wasn’t fair.”

“I agree with you,” Glen answered, “but the fact remains that we’ve got to take it.”

Skip chuckled grimly. “You talk as if we have a lifetime ahead of us. We don’t know whether we’ve got tomorrow.”

“Which reminds me, we’d better send off some flares to let somebody know where we are.” Glen picked up some of the rocket flares and “drifted” out of the bubble tent. He set up a flare on its tripod legs, pointed it at Mars’ ruddy face and pulled on the release catch. But it wouldn’t move.

 
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