Copyright 1956 by Carl L. Biemiller

Illustrated by Kathleen Voute

Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six
Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven
Starboy's Home C.L. Biemiller's Home

Chapter One

Nobody should try to talk when his mouth is full, but Mr. George Jenks was spluttering away at it. He was even arguing. His mouth was full of blueberry muffin, one of his favorite breakfast foods, and the words came filtering through the crumbs.

"We can't let Johnny run wild all summer. There just isn't enough for a boy to do around this farm by himself. He ought to be with other boys. Camping, fishing, playing ball, chasing birds"

Mrs. Jenks was listening, but her face looked as if she were tapping her foot, which she was.

"Nonsense, George," she said, "and wipe your chin."

A purplish crumb was stuck in the cleft of it. With a full mouth and a crumb on his chin, Mr. Jenks did not look like a prominent physicist engaged in top-secret work for his government.

Mrs. Jenks thought about kissing him, but she didn't.

"Nonsense," she said instead. "Johnny is perfectly happy. He doesn't have any trouble finding things to do. As for company, he's had plenty, and it's a wonder that the company he's had didn't go to school with him all winter. And you know what I mean."

Mr. Jenks looked uncomfortable. He cleared away the muffin with a swallow of coffee. He knew what Mrs. Jenks meant, all right. She was talking about the security agents from Special Service who had watched and protected Johnny for months.

Johnny was a very unique boy. He was different in a very special way. Johnny was the only boy in the world who had ever met a flying saucer. He was the only boy in the world who had talked to a Man from Out There. People are always seeing flying saucers, to be sure. Somebody, somewhere, is always reporting a zooming, speeding, mysterious disc in the night.

Practically every day all over the world some little boy or girl, maybe a Zulu or a Turk or a Chinese or a South Sea child tells a parent, "I saw a big circle in the sky. It looked like a plate or a round bat or a spinning top or something."

But Johnny Jenks was the only boy who ever really did meet a flying saucer and talk to the man who flew it.

That was last summer, and what a summer! Magic marbles from Mars, kidnapers, secret service men Mr. Jenks frowned and drowned the frown with more coffee.

"Anyhow," he said, "boys need other boys and I still wish we had sent him to camp. I went to camp when I was a boy. It taught me how to tie knots, and made muscle."

He grinned and Mrs. Jenks laughed. "What did you do with them?" she asked.

"Moved my hands around a little," he chuckled. "By the way, where is Johnny, anyhow?"

"Well," said Mary Jenks, "you're a bit later than usual, and Johnny's out. He went down to the lower pasture with his rocket model and a can of alcohol fuel. He said he wanted to experiment for your friend Mr. Murphy. You don't suppose I'm raising another scientist, do you?"

"He's halfway to the moon by now then," answered Mr. Jenks. "Tell him good-by for me. I have to go into New York today just as soon as you find my hat for me."

Johnny Jenks was not halfway to the moon. Johnny was having engineering trouble at the end of the meadow. In the first place, Minstrel, his Airdale, had licked the top of the alcohol rocket fuel can and burned his tongue. He had to calm Minstrel down before he could load the model.

Then he had to straighten the small wooden ramp in which the rocket rested before flight from the tiny firing pit which Mr. Murphy, a rocket expert and one of his father's friends had shown him how to build. The ramp was crooked, probably because some romping rabbit had jumped into it during a night's run through the pasture. The rocket would not take off properly if the ramp were not exactly right.

He bent down to fix it. He was a long, coltish boy who looked all legs in the sunny summer sunshine. The grass was wet. The morning dew had not yet dried under the sun. It tickled his knees and wet the edge of his shorts. The sun glinted off the gracefully curved rocket model at the edge of the pit. Its reflection bounced all the way to the woodland border of the field, alerting a flock of crows and making them dream of glittering treasure. Johnny was half aware of their jealous clamor but he concentrated upon the task at hand. His face was serious beneath the cowlick, which fell across his forehead. Rocketeering was hard work.

All science is hard work. Johnny had heard his Dad say that many times. Things don't work unless you make them work and there are many, many things to learn before you know enough to do that. He wished there were a real science laboratory in the country school he attended. It wouldn't have to be fancy, just a place where a fellow could ask some questions and have some equipment to use. But he understood, sort of

"You can't expect too much of rural schools, Johnny," his father had explained. "It takes a lot of tax money to have special things and there aren't too many taxpayers around here. Mother and I don't want to send you away to school just yet for a lot of reasons. Well, maybe because you're still a very special boy after all that business last summer with the space-o-tron. Anyhow, old Mr. Applegate who heads the local school board doesn't want to spend the tax money for laboratories. He'd rather do other things with it and he may be right. But if he'd change his mind maybe we could get a combination science lab and a manual training room."

It would be pretty hard changing Mr. Applegate's mind, thought Johnny. He didn't know why but every time he saw Mr. Applegate he felt sort of wary. Even when Mr. Applegate brought the doughnuts the time he came to make arrangements with Johnny's Dad for storing his hay in the Jenks' barn, it just seemed like an unexpected thing to do. It was hard for a boy to like a man who made him feel off balance and unsure of himself.

Rocketeering demanded attention. Johnny's fingers were patient. The ramp was finally fixed. Now the screw end of the rocket was jammed tight and he had to use all his strength to loosen it before he could pour alcohol into the tiny tank. This was a careful job. He wouldn't be allowed to use alcohol at all, or matches either, if he hadn't proved how careful he could be to his Dad. And, at that he had to keep the rocket flying within the pasture. Flap; thought Johnny, he was so busy thinking how careful he had to be that he wasn't sure how much fuel he'd poured. But the tank wasn't full, so it couldn't be too much for a short flight. He screwed the rocket assembly together. The sky was clear except for a wisp of cloud that hung so quietly it might have been nailed to its blue background. No wind. Just a feather of small breeze brushing his cheek, barely enough to make the meadow grasses lean. Perfect flight conditions, he thought, and then as a bubble of excitement rose within him, he shouted, "Ship ready! Gyros on! Blast!"

He held the match, scratched a light on a stone, to the vent at the rear of the rocket. There was a splutter, a short, sharp hissing. The tiny silver missile rose from the ramp and arced into the sky.

Johnny cheered. It was neat. It was cool. It was fine.

His face lifted to follow the flight. The rocket rose steadily, a silver blur, a pencil of light, a shining streak leaving a faint whitish heat trail. Its small shadow darted across the field so fast that a field mouse huddled beneath the grasses ate four more clover seeds before it knew it was frightened.

Suddenly Johnny stopped jumping. The rocket had not yet reached the peak of its searing arc. It was still streaking skyward, and with a flash of sickening knowledge Johnny realized it was leaving the pasture.

It was a runaway rocket now. It was beyond his control and it was headed far from the soft meadow and cushioning grasses. It was headed directly for the barn just this side of the house.

"Oh, no," groaned Johnny.

The barn loft was full of hay. Nice dry hay. Mr. Applegate's' hay, and the Jenks' barn was filled to the jammed corners of the mow with his last September's alfalfa cutting!

The rocket was full of burning alcohol. Maybe not quite full by now. The fuel burned fast, but then the rocket moved fast too. It was a silver torch.

Before Johnny's stricken eyes it vanished through the side of the barn, crumpling the old board siding like the bullet it was. Johnny could hear the faint, sharp crack from where he stood rooted in the pasture.

He ran for the house, his legs pumping desperately. Before he was halfway there he could see a wisp of white smoke curling through the open haymow door.

The barn was on fire. It was his fault. The fright gave him strength and he flew up the pasture.

"Mother! He yelled, his voice rising to a scream. "Mother! The barn! The barn's on fire!"

Mrs. Jenks dropped one of the breakfast dishes she was washing, stepped hastily over the pieces, and ran to the back porch. She watched Johnny streak across the pasture toward the house. He wasn't hurt. She knew that immediately. No boy with an injury of any sort could run that fast. Then the wisp of roiled white smoke from the barn caught her eye. She flinched but wasted no time watching. She turned back into the house and ran for the telephone.

The Jenks farm was in northern New Jersey, near enough to the laboratories where Mr. Jenks worked, and near enough to New York where he often went. But it was far enough in the rural hills of Jersey to be well away from firemen, fire engines, and fire protection. The nearest town was four miles away. There was nothing to do but call it and hope for the best, and then to call the nearest neighbors on adjacent farms for whatever help they could be with hoses and buckets.

The barn was doomed. Mary Jenks knew it. She held the telephone receiver off the hook until she heard a faraway operator ask for a number. "My barn's on fire," she said calmly. "Can you send help?"

"Right away, Mrs. Jenks," answered the operator just as calmly. "I'll do what I can right away."

Then Johnny burst into the house. He was mumbling with excitement, shaking with alarm and trembling with self-blame. His mother held him close a moment. Together they went to the back porch and looked at the barn.

The smoke was heavier now. Orange flame burst through the peaked and shingled roof. The hay was aflame and they could hear a deadly crackle as though the old wood were gossiping of disaster. There was heavy, waving haze over the roof and they could see through it to the cool green of the trees beyond. It was like looking through a defective window. The haze was rising heat. But as the watched, fascinated by the fire, that haze changed.

It seemed to grow thicker, oddly cooler, and suddenly it turned white.

The smoke was choked back into the crevices of the roof. The flames flattened and died. The haze grew denser, chillier, and a little finger of cold reached out from the barn and touched them as they watched from the porch.

"Johnny," whispered Mrs. Jenks, clutching his thin shoulder, "Johnny, something's happening. Something is smothering that fire."

The sky beyond the barn was just as serene and the pasture lay just as peaceful. Far away at the edge of the woods the crows were squawking and Minstrel was racing up the dirt road toward the house. The summer day looked just like any other summer day. But the barn had stopped crackling and the smoke was just a wisp blown into ragged streamers by the small breeze.

Johnny lifted his head.

"Mother," he shouted. "Oh, Mother, look, look…"

High over the elms which surrounded the barnyard was a whirling blur. It was a thing of moving light, which was not of the day or the sun, and as they strained to see it, it grew darker and became a shape.

There was a lifted voice, a sound without noise in Johnny's head.

"Hello, sonny," it said. "I'm back. Stop worrying."

"Mother," said Johnny, "it's the flying saucer. It's my flying saucer and the man from Out There."

"Not again," whispered his mother, "not again."

"It is. It is," cried Johnny, "and the fire's out too. He's going to land in the pasture."

What next, what next, thought Mrs. Jenks? She was a practical woman. She went to the phone. The same cool operator listened, then answered her. "I'll try to stop the Fire Department, Mrs. Jenks. I think there's time. Most of the men were in their fields, anyway. But some of your neighbors are on their way."

"Thank you, " said Mary Jenks almost absently. "Would you call New York for me, please? I want to reach my husband. And please hurry."

Johnny Jenks was off the porch again. He was running lightly and as fast as he could for the lower pasture, as fast as he could toward that spot beneath the whirling blur in the open sky. And as he ran he thought, a tremendous, warm-hearted open thought of welcome, and like a handclasp of minds a surging thought came back to him. "Hi, Johnny. Hi, boy. Take it easy. Go back to the house. I'll see you soon and I've got a surprise."

Mrs. Mary Jenks spoke into the telephone. "George," she said. "George, come right home. Don't wait for a thing. The barn was on fire and then it wasn't. And George, our flying saucer, a flying saucer is about to land in our pasture. Hurry, George…please hurry."

George Jenks asked no questions. "Right away," he said and hung up.

Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six
Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven
Starboy's Home C.L. Biemiller's Home