Copyright 1956 by Carl L. Biemiller

Illustrated by Kathleen Voute

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Chapter Six Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven
Starboy's Home C.L. Biemiller's Home

Chapter Seven

The days settled into a routine, if not quite the sort of a program Johnny expected for summer. George Jenks, after hearing about the adventures at the county fair, announced that most people got into trouble by letting their differences show too much.

"There is such a thing as being too bright," he said. "Nobody likes a smart-aleck. And whether or not a person means to be a smarty isn't important if other people think he is…" That lesson was for Johnny.

"To learn about other people," said George Jenks, "be like other people as nearly as you can without making yourself uncomfortable. And don't do things which startle or surprise them…" That was for Remo.

Other things were said around the Jenks' house Mr. Murphy said, "Too much spare time is worse than none."

"Not for me," said Mrs. Jenks, but nobody was talking to her especially.

Mr. Murphy had moved into the Jenks' place for what he called the duration. "I am the only man being paid by the government for being a guest," he said, "and I like it very much."

So did Johnny and Remo, even after they learned that Mr. Murphy was a guest disguised as a schoolteacher, and that they had to attend his classes whenever he felt like holding them.

Mr. Murphy felt like holding classes twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. He was much too nice a guest to call them classes. Most of the lessons weren't very much like regular school anyhow. He showed up one morning right after breakfast with an armful of his special model rockets from his Washington laboratory.

"Space flight today, men," he said, and he took them down to Johnny's little firing pit in the pasture where he laid the rockets out on the tall grass like a bundle of shining sticks.

Anybody looking at them would have thought that they were just three persons playing with toys. All of them wore shorts and some beaten-up sneakers. All of them were nicely sunburned from spending so much time outdoors. Remo was peeling. He was fascinated with the process and he and Johnny had fun stripping off the loose old skin, trying to get the biggest pieces possible, until Mrs. Jenks caught them and told them to stop being gruesome. But that had nothing to do with rocket lessons.

When Mr. Murphy had all his models placed to suit him, they squatted in the grass and Mr. Murphy talked. "Someday," he said, "human beings hope to be able to sail off this earth of ours and visit other places far beyond the known skies, maybe places like Remo's world. We don't know exactly how to do it yet, but we're working toward that end. One of our methods is based on rocket techniques.

"The rockets we build today are only tubes for burning gases. These gases push against three sides of the rocket tube and are thrown out the open back end of the tube. As they push out the back they move the rocket forward. We call that push the thrust."

Mr. Murphy picked up a model and showed them where the fuel chamber was, explained that the burning fuel made the pushing gases, and showed them where the gases went inside the rocket and finally out the back. He put the model in the firing ramp and held a match to light the fuel.

"There she goes," he said. Together they watched the model arc into the air.

"Don't hit the barn again," grinned Johnny.

Remo said nothing. He concentrated. He seemed to soak up Mr. Murphy's words the way a blotter soaks up ink.

"The reason we experiment with rockets," said Mr. Murphy, "is that they don't need air to support them like an airplane. There isn't any air in space but the action-reaction process works just the same. We want to get out of the air, which surrounds the earth, and the big thing we want to do is to get far enough away from the earth to escape its gravity. That's the force, which holds us here.

"To do that we're going to have to build great big rockets which can build up enough speed to carry us beyond gravity, or at least to the point where we're just far enough away so that gravity doesn't let us sail into space blindly. At that point we'll circle the earth in what scientists call an orbit."

Mr. Murphy picked up another rocket model.

"To build a rocket which would carry enough fuel for that job means that we'd have to build one which would be very heavy. The heavier a thing is the stronger is the force of gravity which holds it to earth, so we're thinking of building what we call stage rockets. These rockets would be made in three sections called stages. All of them would carry payload, which is mostly fuel. The last stage, probably the nose of the rocket, would also carry men and equipment."

"When the fuel in the first stage was burned, and the rockets had all the thrust that section could give it, that stage would be dropped off. We'd be rid of that much weight."

"Then the second stage would go into action and its fuel consumed. The ship is going faster all the time. And, at the peak of its speed, and when all the fuel in the second stage was burned, we'd disconnect again, leaving only the nose of the rocket with its men and equipment. By that time the rocket would be in space and literally coasting."

Mr. Murphy made finger motions on the model to demonstrate the various stages. He unscrewed the sections of the model to show the boys that each was a separate unit.

"The rocket, of course, said Mr. Murphy, "is only the means by which we hope to reach space. From there on we’ll need different types of ships and we'll need space stations to equip them. Maybe we'll have ships like the flying saucers Remo came in." He looked at Remo questioningly.

"That would be very nice," said Remo politely.

"Oh, well," grunted Mr. Murphy, scratching his bare tummy where a midge bit him. "Anyhow, we don't know how to live in a place without gravity yet, so for the first few years of space travel, we think we'll need some form of artificial gravity, something which will let us know up from down, and something to stand upon. Otherwise, without gravity, we'd have no weight, and without weight and gravity, we'd float. Imagine floating in mid-nothing and eating soup that wouldn't stay in a bowl, soup that just floated."

"It would be worse trying to take a bath," remarked Johnny, giggling. "You'd have to chase the tub, chase the water, and then lose the soap."

"Fiddlesticks," said Mr. Murphy, "and pay attention, at least until I get hungry enough to go back to the house. Well, we need gravity for a lot of reasons including taking baths, so we'll try to get the same effect with centrifugal force. Did you ever swing a bucket of water around in a circle, over your head? The thing that makes the water stay in the bucket without spilling is centrifugal force. Did you ever spin a top and then drop a little water on it? The drops fly outward right away.

"So we'll make the space ships spin and because centrifugal force will try to whirl us out of the ship, the outer edges of the ship will be our floor. It will be a 'down' for us and we'll have something to stand upon. Get it?"

"That's not why our ships spin," said Remo dreamily, his eyes squinted into the sky.

"Isn't it now," said Mr. Murphy softly. "Why do yours spin?"

"To set up magnetic affinities," said Remo, "and create force fields for power." He stopped suddenly and slapped at a tickling bug, which was stomping on his knee. "Well, go on," he said to Mr. Murphy.

"I was just thinking," said Mr. Murphy. "There are all sorts of force fields, most of them right under our noses even if there are a lot of them we don't understand too well. Did you ever rub two pieces of paper together and then try to pull them apart? They stick. If you drop one on the floor you can touch the other to it and pick it right up. Just like a magnet picks up iron. Did you ever make yourself into a conductor of static electricity and shock somebody else? You can. Just shuffle your feet over a rug, preferable a thick rug, and then touch a person. Splat! There's a spark! All kinds of things you can do."

Johnny was wistful. "That's why I wish we had the science lab at the school," he said.

"What lab?" asked Mr. Murphy.

"The one the school board won't build because Mr. Applegate thinks they should save money instead of spending it," answered Johnny.

Mr. Murphy smiled. "Didn't hear about it," he said. "But that's nothing new. Nobody wants to spend money for something they don't understand. Did you ever try to convince Mr. Applegate that you and the boys that go to that school would be better or could do more with your future if you had one? Mr. Applegate doesn't know much about science, but I think he'd listen to you." Mr. Murphy paused. "Maybe you could. No, better not. Anyhow I know Mr. Applegate likes you and Remo."

"I think he does too," said Johnny, "but I'm never sure."

"Lesson's over for now," said Mr. Murphy. "Time to put the fleet in space." He fired three more rocket models and together they watched the silver streaks soar into the sky. It was time for lunch by the time they had gathered them up again.

Not all of the schoolwork, if you could call it that, was about rockets and space. Once in a while they'd have special visitors to the house who would talk about many things. One man spent an entire afternoon talking about weather and why it was hot, cold, wet, or dry and how rain, snow, hail, or frost affected everything people did. Another time a visitor told Johnny and Remo about languages and how they worked.

"It's easier to think something to somebody," confided Remo to Johnny later that night when they played the space-a-tron game with the marsquartz pebble. They played the game a lot. Johnny was getting very good at it. He could make the little ball do many things, and he was winning almost as often as he lost, which pleased Remo.

Not that everything was routine. Often in the mornings when Mr. Murphy and Mother and Father sat long over breakfast, or the days that Mr. Murphy put on a regular suit, a shirt with a collar, and a necktie and disappeared with Dad to New York, Johnny and Remo would disappear. They'd go down to Johnny's tree-root cave and sit in the damp coolness talking. Sometimes Remo would talk about his own world, and how boys went to school there.

"We have people who farm the soil and raise food that we can't get any other way, and people who work the machines that build all our products, and people who keep records and knowledge and learning for its own sake. When a boy is born he is examined, and he is studied once a year every year until he is old enough to learn. By that time we know what he will do best. If he likes machines and mechanics, then he is encouraged to work with them. If he shows signs of being a farmer, he is trained for that. By the time we grow up, we all work in the jobs we like best, and all those jobs are important."

"How about soldiers?" asked Johnny.

"What's a soldier?" asked Remo.

Mostly they talked about baseball when they weren't watching the ants struggle grains of soil through the grasses, shoving and pushing and biting the tiny boulders into position. Remo still wanted to know about baseball. And, strangely enough, there wasn't anything Johnny could tell him about it very clearly. Johnny knew the game and all about its players. But whenever he tried to explain it to Remo, he bogged down badly.

There was no sense telling Remo that baseball was played with nine men on each team and then have Remo watch a game with him on television.

"I only see three players," said Remo. "Three players and an umpire the pitcher, the catcher a second baseman, and the an umpire. That's all!'

"That's all now," answered Johnny. "Watch this play. There's the shortstop, the second baseman, and the first baseman and the batter running to first base."

"Aren't the rest of the team playing?" asked Remo.

"Phooey," said Johnny.

Other times they would walk through the woods and watch the crows hoot the warning of their coming. They would chase squirrels around tree trunks until they, not the squirrels, got dizzy. Twice they went fishing in the pool, which lay brown and still below the far limits of Applegate's farm and they caught two catfish, one roach, five sunfish, and calico bass. They found a bird that had been blasted from its nest in a thunderstorm and they took it back home and tried to feed it with an eyedropper and some warm milk. The bird died. It was injured from the fall from the tree.

They took off all their clothes and went swimming in the gravelly run, which wandered through a cut in the hills beyond Angell's Crossing. Johnny showed Remo what leeches were, nasty, clinging slugs, and he picked two off Remo's back. They caught a water snake, which was mottled all orange and green and tried to sick it on a frog, which vanished beneath a spatterdock leaf.

They found an alarm clock in the barn and took it apart but they couldn't make it work when they put it together again.

Oddly enough, they had their first falling out right after that clock incident. It was over one of Remo's outer space talents, his knack of being able to tell time with out a watch or a clock. Not that he flaunted it. He didn't ever seem particularly aware that he had it, and, after all, as non-noticeable talents go, there are a lot of earth people who have an uncanny sense of the passing hours. There are farmers, for instance, who can glance at the sun's position on a bright day and tell within comparative accuracy what the hour is. There are people who can "feel" bedtime almost to the minute.

But Remo was different.

"It's three o'clock," he would say to Johnny. "Let's go home."

And it was always just three o'clock. Not two minutes after. Just three. He told Mr. Jenks what time it was one morning after a thunderstorm had cut off all the electric clocks in the house. "Eight-fifteen," he said. And when Mr. Jenks went upstairs to get the wristwatch he'd left in his room, it was eight-seventeen. He told Mr. Murphy about it, and from then on, upon occasion, Mr. Murphy, with that odd air of quizzing Remo, would ask the time. Always Remo would give it to him, and almost without thinking about it.

Johnny and Remo were with Mr. Applegate. They were in his melon patch after riding down his sandy road in the Model-T. "I hate to walk much any more," explained Mr. Applegate. They left the car and sneaked into the back end of the patch like Indians, half crawling and half waddling in the brush. "These melons belong to me," said old Mr. Applegate with his pipe clenched firmly in his teeth, "but I like to think they belong to somebody else. They taste better."

They thumped the green melons until they found one, which went "plunk" like a hollow log. "That's it," said Mr. Applegate. He cut it open with a pocketknife and exposed the rich, red, grainy, watery interior. They could smell it. "Now we’ll put it right here in the shade for a minute," said the old man. "Let the air blow over it. That makes it evaporate a little and the evaporation makes it cold."

They ate it together and nobody cared whether the watermelon juice ran over their cheeks or not.

It was definitely not a nice thing to do, but they made a target out of a twig and spat seeds at it. Remo won.

Suddenly Johnny felt a peculiar sense of irritation. Remo won too many things too often, he felt.

Then Remo said, "It's time to go home, Johnny. It's four o'clock."

Johnny was stubborn. He looked at his battered wristwatch. "It's not. It's only quarter of four and you don't know what you're talking about."

Without thinking, without conscious reason, he launched himself upon Remo, fists flying and arms wind-milling. Then both boys were a writhing knot upon the ground, a rolling, squirming, grunting mass of entwined tempers. Luckily for Johnny, and before Remo's strength could pay a dangerous part, old Mr. Applegate sat upon them, physically sat down on the pair of them.

The fight ended abruptly.

Johnny felt embarrassed. Remo seemed shocked, then very serious.

There was a hint of tears behind Johnny's eyes and he pressed them back. "I'm sorry, Remo," he said manfully. "I'm awfully sorry."

Remo grinned, a wide, bright smile. "Forget it."

Old man Applegate rubbed his chin. "Ought to build a big gymnasium around here," he grunted, "raise prizefighters feed 'em on watermelons and, in case anybody asks, it's time to go home."

Mr. Applegate spent more time around the Jenks' place than ever after that. Johnny knew that his father and Mr. Murphy were not entirely happy about it. Nobody ever said anything as far as Johnny knew. But no boy can live with parents very long without knowing whether or not they are exactly satisfied with things. In fact, Johnny heard his father tell Mr. Murphy that old Mr. Applegate was coming pretty close to being a boy again himself.

That was after the 'coon hunt.

Remo had shaken Johnny out of a sound sleep. "There's somebody outside," he whispered.

Johnny heard a pebble spin against the window screen. Together, he and Remo had gone to the window, and there in the shadowy night, half-pale and half-black with the fitful moon, in the yard below, was Mr. Applegate.

They could hear his hoarse whisper. "Come on," he croaked, "lets go coon hunting."

Remo and Johnny had been gleeful. They dressed carefully, crept down the stairs and all the way down into the cellar, and from there they had crawled out of a window into a bush. It was a warm and sticky night. They were damp with perspiration before they got down the lane from the house. Oh, it was a fine hunt, through the black woods behind Mr. Applegate's cornfields with only a flashlight and a sharp word to keep them from falling over logs and soft places in the undergrowth.

They found a 'coon, all green eyes shining in a tree, all right, and Mr. Applegate's lame dog had barked and barked. But before they could do anything about getting the 'coon out of a tree, the moon skidded behind a cloud and old Mr. Applegate slipped off a log into a pool in the spongy bog and went halfway to his waist. They were messed with mud and wet clear through before Remo and Johnny hauled him out. They had to tell Johnny's mother and father about it the next morning because their clothes were so grimy.

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Chapter Six Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven
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