The Happy Castaway
BY ROBERT E. McDOWELL
Being space-wrecked and marooned is tough
enough. But to face the horrors of such a
planet as this was too much. Imagine Fawkes’
terrible predicament; plenty of food—and
twenty seven beautiful girls for companions.
[Transcriber’s Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories Spring 1945.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Jonathan Fawkes opened his eyes. He was flat on his back, and a girl was bending over him. He detected a frightened expression on the girl’s face. His pale blue eyes traveled upward beyond the girl. The sky was his roof, yet he distinctly remembered going to sleep on his bunk aboard the space ship.
“You’re not dead?”
“I’ve some doubt about that,” he replied dryly. He levered himself to his elbows. The girl, he saw, had bright yellow hair. Her nose was pert, tip-tilted. She had on a ragged blue frock and sandals.
“Is—is anything broken?” she asked.
“Don’t know. Help me up.” Between them he managed to struggle to his feet. He winced. He said, “My name’s Jonathan Fawkes. I’m a space pilot with Universal. What happened? I feel like I’d been poured out of a concrete mixer.”
She pointed to the wreck of a small space freighter a dozen feet away. Its nose was buried in the turf, folded back like an accordion. It had burst open like a ripe watermelon. He was surprised that he had survived at all. He scratched his head. “I was running from Mars to Jupiter with a load of seed for the colonists.”
“Oh!” said the girl, biting her lips. “Your co-pilot must be in the wreckage.”
He shook his head. “No,” he reassured her. “I left him on Mars. He had an attack of space sickness. I was all by myself; that was the trouble. I’d stay at the controls as long as I could, then lock her on her course and snatch a couple of hours’ sleep. I can remember crawling into my bunk. The next thing I knew you were bending over me.” He paused. “I guess the automatic deflectors slowed me up or I would have been a cinder by this time,” he said.
The girl didn’t reply. She continued to watch him, a faint enigmatic smile on her lips. Jonathan glanced away in embarrassment. He wished that pretty women didn’t upset him so. He said nervously, “Where am I? I couldn’t have slept all the way to Jupiter.”
The girl shrugged her shoulders.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know!” He almost forgot his self-consciousness in his surprise. His pale blue eyes returned to the landscape. A mile across the plain began a range of jagged foothills, which tossed upward higher and higher until they merged with the blue saw-edge of a chain of mountains. As he looked a puff of smoke belched from a truncated cone-shaped peak. A volcano. Otherwise there was no sign of life: just he and the strange yellow-headed girl alone in the center of that vast rolling prairie.
“I was going to explain,” he heard her say. “We think that we are on an asteroid.”
“We?” he looked back at her.
“Yes. There are twenty-seven of us. We were on our way to Jupiter, too, only we were going to be wives for the colonists.”
“I remember,” he exclaimed. “Didn’t the Jupiter Food-growers Association enlist you girls to go to the colonies?”
She nodded her head. “Only twenty-seven of us came through the crash.”
“Everybody thought your space ship hit a meteor,” he said.
“We hit this asteroid.”
“But that was three years ago.”
“Has it been that long? We lost track of time.” She didn’t take her eyes off him, not for a second. Such attention made him acutely self conscious. She said, “I’m Ann. Ann Clotilde. I was hunting when I saw your space ship. You had been thrown clear. You were lying all in a heap. I thought you were dead.” She stooped, picked up a spear.
“Do you feel strong enough to hike back to our camp? It’s only about four miles,” she said.
“I think so,” he said.
Jonathan Fawkes fidgeted uncomfortably. He would rather pilot a space ship through a meteor field than face twenty-seven young women. They were the only thing in the Spaceways of which he was in awe. Then he realized that the girl’s dark blue eyes had strayed beyond him. A frown of concentration marred her regular features. He turned around.
On the rim of the prairie he saw a dozen black specks moving toward them.
She said: “Get down!” Her voice was agitated. She flung herself on her stomach and began to crawl away from the wreck. Jonathan Fawkes stared after her stupidly. “Get down!” she reiterated in a furious voice.
He let himself to his hands and knees. “Ouch!” he said. He felt like he was being jabbed with pins. He must be one big bruise. He scuttled after the girl. “What’s wrong?”
The girl looked back at him over her shoulder. “Centaurs!” she said. “I didn’t know they had returned. There is a small ravine just ahead which leads into the hills. I don’t think they’ve seen us. If we can reach the hills we’ll be safe.”
“Centaurs! Isn’t there anything new under the sun?”
“Well, personally,” she replied, “I never saw a Centaur until I was wrecked on this asteroid.” She reached the ravine, crawled head foremost over the edge. Jonathan tumbled after her. He hit the bottom, winced, scrambled to his feet. The girl started at a trot for the hills. Jonathan, groaning at each step, hobbled beside her.
“Why won’t the Centaurs follow us into the hills?” he panted.
“Too rough. They’re like horses,” she said. “Nothing but a goat could get around in the hills.”
The gulley, he saw, was deepening into a respectable canyon, then a gorge. In half a mile, the walls towered above them. A narrow ribbon of sky was visible overhead. Yellow fern-like plants sprouted from the crevices and floor of the canyon.
They flushed a small furry creature from behind a bush. As it sped away, it resembled a cottontail of Earth. The girl whipped back her arm, flung the spear. It transfixed the rodent. She picked it up, tied it to her waist. Jonathan gaped. Such strength and accuracy astounded him. He thought, amazons and centaurs. He thought, but this is the year 3372; not the time of ancient Greece.
The canyon bore to the left. It grew rougher, the walls more precipitate. Jonathan limped to a halt. High boots and breeches, the uniform of Universal’s space pilots, hadn’t been designed for walking. “Hold on,” he said. He felt in his pockets, withdrew an empty cigarette package, crumpled it and hurled it to the ground.
“You got a cigarette?” he asked without much hope.
The girl shook her head. “We ran out of tobacco the first few months we were here.”
Jonathan turned around, started back for the space ship.
“Where are you going?” cried Ann in alarm.
He said, “I’ve got a couple of cartons of cigarettes back at the freighter. Centaurs or no centaurs, I’m going to get a smoke.”
“No!” She clutched his arm. He was surprised at the strength of her grip. “They’d kill you,” she said.
“I can sneak back,” he insisted stubbornly. “They might loot the ship. I don’t want to lose those cigarettes. I was hauling some good burley tobacco seed too. The colonists were going to experiment with it on Ganymede.”
He lifted his eyebrows. He thought, she is an amazon! He firmly detached her hand.
The girl flicked up her spear, nicked his neck with the point of it. “We are going to the camp,” she said.
Jonathan threw himself down backwards, kicked the girl’s feet out from under her. Like a cat he scrambled up and wrenched the spear away.
A voice shouted: “What’s going on there?”
He paused shamefacedly. A second girl, he saw, was running toward them from up the canyon. Her bare legs flashed like ivory. She was barefooted, and she had black hair. A green cloth was wrapped around her sarong fashion. She bounced to a stop in front of Jonathan, her brown eyes wide in surprise. He thought her sarong had been a table cloth at one time in its history.
“A man!” she breathed. “By Jupiter and all its little moons, it’s a man!”
“Don’t let him get away!” cried Ann.
“Hilda!” the brunette shrieked. “A man! It’s a man!”
A third girl skidded around the bend in the canyon. Jonathan backed off warily.
Ann Clotilde cried in anguish: “Don’t let him get away!”
Jonathan chose the centaurs. He wheeled around, dashed back the way he had come. Someone tackled him. He rolled on the rocky floor of the canyon. He struggled to his feet. He saw six more girls race around the bend in the canyon. With shouts of joy they flung themselves on him.
Jonathan was game, but the nine husky amazons pinned him down by sheer weight. They bound him hand and foot. Then four of them picked him up bodily, started up the canyon chanting: “He was a rocket riding daddy from Mars.” He recognized it as a popular song of three years ago.
Jonathan had never been so humiliated in his life. He was known in the spaceways from Mercury to Jupiter as a man to leave alone. His nose had been broken three times. A thin white scar crawled down the bronze of his left cheek, relic of a barroom brawl on Venus. He was big, rangy, tough. And these girls had trounced him. Girls! He almost wept from mortification.
He said, “Put me down. I’ll walk.”
“You won’t try to get away?” said Ann.
“No,” he replied with as much dignity as he could summon while being held aloft by four barbarous young women.
“Let him down,” said Ann. “We can catch him, anyway, if he makes a break.”
Jonathan Fawkes’ humiliation was complete. He meekly trudged between two husky females, who ogled him shamelessly. He was amazed at the ease with which they had carried him. He was six feet three and no light weight. He thought enviously of the centaurs, free to gallop across the plains. He wished he was a centaur.
The trail left the canyon, struggled up the precipitate walls. Jonathan picked his way gingerly, hugged the rock. “Don’t be afraid,” advised one of his captors. “Just don’t look down.”
“I’m not afraid,” said Jonathan hotly. To prove it he trod the narrow ledge with scorn. His foot struck a pebble. Both feet went out from under him. He slithered halfway over the edge. For one sickening moment he thought he was gone, then Ann grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, hauled him back to safety. He lay gasping on his stomach. They tied a rope around his waist then, and led him the rest of the way to the top like a baby on a leash. He was too crestfallen to resent it.
The trail came out on a high ridge. They paused on a bluff overlooking the prairie.
“Look!” cried Ann pointing over the edge.
A half dozen beasts were trotting beneath on the plain. At first, Jonathan mistook them for horses. Then he saw that from the withers up they resembled men. Waists, shoulders, arms and heads were identical to his own, but their bodies were the bodies of horses.
“Centaurs!” Jonathan Fawkes said, not believing his eyes.
The girls set up a shout and threw stones down at the centaurs, who reared, pawed the air, and galloped to a safe distance, from which they hurled back insults in a strange tongue. Their voices sounded faintly like the neighing of horses.
Amazons and centaurs, he thought again. He couldn’t get the problem of the girls’ phenomenal strength out of his mind. Then it occurred to him that the asteroid, most likely, was smaller even than Earth’s moon. He must weigh about a thirtieth of what he usually did, due to the lessened gravity. It also occurred to him that they would be thirty times as strong. He was staggered. He wished he had a smoke.
At length, the amazons and the centaurs tired of bandying insults back and forth. The centaurs galloped off into the prairie, the girls resumed their march. Jonathan scrambled up hills, skidded down slopes. The brunette was beside him helping him over the rough spots.
“I’m Olga,” she confided. “Has anybody ever told you what a handsome fellow you are?” She pinched his cheek. Jonathan blushed.
They climbed a ridge, paused at the crest. Below them, he saw a deep valley. A stream tumbled through the center of it. There were trees along its banks, the first he had seen on the asteroid. At the head of the valley, he made out the massive pile of a space liner.
They started down a winding path. The space liner disappeared behind a promontory of the mountain. Jonathan steeled himself for the coming ordeal. He would have sat down and refused to budge except that he knew the girls would hoist him on their shoulders and bear him into the camp like a bag of meal.
The trail debouched into the valley. Just ahead the space liner reappeared. He imagined that it had crashed into the mountain, skidded and rolled down its side until it lodged beside the stream. It reminded him of a wounded dinosaur. Three girls were bathing in the stream. He looked away hastily.
Someone hailed them from the space ship.
“We’ve caught a man,” shrieked one of his captors.
A flock of girls streamed out of the wrecked space ship.
“A man!” screamed a husky blonde. She was wearing a grass skirt. She had green eyes. “We’re rescued!”
“No. No,” Ann Clotilde hastened to explain. “He was wrecked like us.”
“Oh,” came a disappointed chorus.
“He’s a man,” said the green-eyed blonde. “That’s the next best thing.”
“Oh, Olga,” said a strapping brunette. “Who’d ever thought a man could look so good?”
“I did,” said Olga. She chucked Jonathan under the chin. He shivered like an unbroken colt when the bit first goes in its mouth. He felt like a mouse hemmed in by a ring of cats.
A big rawboned brute of a girl strolled into the circle. She said, “Dinner’s ready.” Her voice was loud, strident. It reminded him of the voices of girls in the honky tonks on Venus. She looked at him appraisingly as if he were a horse she was about to bid on. “Bring him into the ship,” she said. “The man must be starved.”
He was propelled jubilantly into the palatial dining salon of the wrecked liner. A long polished meturilium table occupied the center of the floor. Automatic weight distributing chairs stood around it. His feet sank into a green fiberon carpet. He had stepped back into the Thirty-fourth Century from the fabulous barbarian past.
With a sigh of relief, he started to sit down. A lithe red-head sprang forward and held his chair. They all waited politely for him to be seated before they took their places. He felt silly. He felt like a captive princess. All the confidence engendered by the familiar settings of the space ship went out of him like wind. He, Jonathan Fawkes, was a castaway on an asteroid inhabited by twenty-seven wild women.
As the meal boisterously progressed, he regained sufficient courage to glance timidly around. Directly across the table sat a striking, grey-eyed girl whose brown hair was coiled severely about her head. She looked to him like a stenographer. He watched horrified as she seized a whole roast fowl, tore it apart with her fingers, gnawed a leg. She caught him staring at her and rolled her eyes at him. He returned his gaze to his plate.
Olga said: “Hey, Sultan.”
He shuddered, but looked up questioningly.
She said, “How’s the fish?”
“Good,” he mumbled between a mouthful. “Where did you get it?”
“Caught it,” said Olga. “The stream’s full of ’em. I’ll take you fishing tomorrow.” She winked at him so brazenly that he choked on a bone.
“Heaven forbid,” he said.
“How about coming with me to gather fruit?” cried the green-eyed blonde; “you great big handsome man.”
“Or me?” cried another. And the table was in an uproar.
The rawboned woman who had summoned them to dinner, pounded the table until the cups and plates danced. Jonathan had gathered that she was called Billy.
“Quiet!” She shrieked in her loud strident voice. “Let him be. He can’t go anywhere for a few days. He’s just been through a wreck. He needs rest.” She turned to Jonathan who had shrunk down in his chair. “How about some roast?” she said.
“No.” He pushed back his plate with a sigh. “If I only had a smoke.”
Olga gave her unruly black hair a flirt. “Isn’t that just like a man?”
“I wouldn’t know,” said the green-eyed blonde. “I’ve forgotten what they’re like.”
Billy said, “How badly wrecked is your ship?”
“It’s strewn all over the landscape,” he replied sleepily.
“Is there any chance of patching it up?”
He considered the question. More than anything else, he decided, he wanted to sleep. “What?” he said.
“Is there any possibility of repairing your ship?” repeated Billy.
“Not outside the space docks.”
They expelled their breath, but not for an instant did they relax the barrage of their eyes. He shifted position in embarrassment. The movement pulled his muscles like a rack. Furthermore, an overpowering lassitude was threatening to pop him off to sleep before their eyes.
“You look exhausted,” said Ann.
Jonathan dragged himself back from the edge of sleep. “Just tired,” he mumbled. “Haven’t had a good night’s rest since I left Mars.” Indeed it was only by the most painful effort that he kept awake at all. His eyelids drooped lower and lower.
“First it’s tobacco,” said Olga; “now he wants to sleep. Twenty-seven girls and he wants to sleep.”
“He is asleep,” said the green-eyed blonde.
Jonathan was slumped forward across the table, his head buried in his arms.
“Catch a hold,” said Billy, pushing back from the table. A dozen girls volunteered with a rush. “Hoist!” said Billy. They lifted him like a sleepy child, bore him tenderly up an incline and into a stateroom, where they deposited him on the bed.
Ann said to Olga; “Help me with these boots.” But they resisted every tug. “It’s no use,” groaned Ann, straightening up and wiping her bright yellow hair back from her eyes. “His feet have swollen. We’ll have to cut them off.”
At these words, Jonathan raised upright as if someone had pulled a rope.
“Cut off whose feet?” he cried in alarm.
“Not your feet, silly,” said Ann. “Your boots.”
“Lay a hand on those boots,” he scowled; “and I’ll make me another pair out of your hides. They set me back a week’s salary.” Having delivered himself of this ultimatum, he went back to sleep.
Olga clapped her hand to her forehead. “And this,” she cried “is what we’ve been praying for during the last three years.”
The next day found Jonathan Fawkes hobbling around by the aid of a cane. At the portal of the space ship, he stuck out his head, glanced all around warily. None of the girls were in sight. They had, he presumed, gone about their chores: hunting, fishing, gathering fruits and berries. He emerged all the way and set out for the creek. He walked with an exaggerated limp just in case any of them should be hanging around. As long as he was an invalid he was safe, he hoped.
He sighed. Not every man could be waited on so solicitously by twenty-seven handsome strapping amazons. He wished he could carry it off in cavalier fashion. He hobbled to the creek, sat down beneath the shade of a tree. He just wasn’t the type, he supposed. And it might be years before they were rescued.
As a last resort, he supposed, he could hide out in the hills or join the centaurs. He rather fancied himself galloping across the plains on the back of a centaur. He looked up with a start. Ann Clotilde was ambling toward him.
“How’s the invalid?” she said, seating herself beside him.
“Hot, isn’t it?” he said. He started to rise. Ann Clotilde placed the flat of her hand on his chest and shoved. “Ooof!” he grunted. He sat down rather more forcibly than he had risen.
“Don’t get up because of me,” she informed him. “It’s my turn to cook, but I saw you out here beneath the trees. Dinner can wait. Jonathan do you know that you are irresistible?” She seized his shoulders, stared into his eyes. He couldn’t have felt any more uncomfortable had a hungry boa constrictor draped itself in his arms. He mopped his brow with his sleeve.
“Suppose the rest should come,” he said in an embarrassed voice.
“They’re busy. They won’t be here until I call them to lunch. Your eyes,” she said, “are like deep mysterious pools.”
“Sure enough?” said Jonathan with involuntary interest. He began to recover his nerve.
She said, “You’re the best looking thing.” She rumpled his hair. “I can’t keep my eyes off you.”
Jonathan put his arm around her gingerly. “Ouch!” He winced. He had forgotten his sore muscles.
“I forgot,” said Ann Clotilde in a contrite voice. She tried to rise. “You’re hurt.”
He pulled her back down. “Not so you could notice it,” he grinned.
“Well!” came the strident voice of Billy from behind them. “We’re all glad to hear that!”
Jonathan leaped to his feet, dumping Ann to the ground. He jerked around. All twenty-six of the girls were lined up on the path. Their features were grim. He said: “I don’t feel so well after all.”
“It don’t wash,” said Billy. “It’s time for a showdown.”
Jonathan’s hair stood on end. He felt rather than saw Ann Clotilde take her stand beside him. He noticed that she was holding her spear at a menacing angle. She said in an angry voice: “He’s mine. I found him. Leave him alone.”
“Where do you get that stuff?” cried Olga. “Share and share alike, say I.”
“We could draw straws for him,” suggested the green-eyed blonde.
“Look here,” Jonathan broke in. “I’ve got some say in the matter.”
“You have not,” snapped Billy. “You’ll do just as we say.” She took a step toward him.
Jonathan edged away in consternation.
“He’s going to run!” Olga shouted.
Jonathan never stopped until he was back in the canyon leading to the plain. His nerves were jumping like fleas. He craved the soothing relaxation of a smoke. There was, he remembered, a carton of cigarettes at the wreck. He resumed his flight, but at a more sober pace.
At the spot where he and Ann had first crawled away from the centaurs, he scrambled out of the gulley, glanced in the direction of his space ship. He blinked his eyes, stared. Then he waved his arms, shouted and tore across the prairie. A trim space cruiser was resting beside the wreck of his own. Across its gleaming monaloid hull ran an inscription in silver letters: “INTERSTELLAR COSMOGRAPHY SOCIETY.”
Two men crawled out of Jonathan’s wrecked freighter, glanced in surprise at Jonathan. A third man ran from the cruiser, a Dixon Ray Rifle in his hand.
“I’m Jonathan Fawkes,” said the castaway as he panted up, “pilot for Universal. I was wrecked.”
A tall elderly man held out his hand. He had a small black waxed mustache and Van Dyke. He was smoking a venusian cigarette in a yellow composition holder. He said, “I’m Doctor Boynton.” He had a rich cultivated voice, and a nose like a hawk. “We are members of the Interstellar Cosmography Society. We’ve been commissioned to make a cursory examination of this asteroid. You had a nasty crack up, Mr. Fawkes. But you are in luck, sir. We were on the point of returning when we sighted the wreck.”
“I say,” said the man who had run out of the cruiser. He was a prim, energetic young man. Jonathan noted that he carried the ray gun gingerly, respectfully. “We’re a week overdue now,” he said. “If you have any personal belongings that you’d like to take with you, you’d best be getting them aboard.”
Jonathan’s face broke into a grin. He said, “Do any of you know how to grow tobacco?”
They glanced at each other in perplexity.
“I like it here,” continued Jonathan. “I’m not going back.”
“What?” cried the three explorers in one breath.
“I’m going to stay,” he repeated. “I only came back here after the cigarettes.”
“But it will be three years before the asteroid’s orbit brings it back in the space lanes,” said Doctor Boynton. “You don’t possibly expect to be picked up before then!”
Jonathan shook his head, began to load himself with tools, tobacco seed, and cigarettes.
“Odd.” Doctor Boynton shook his head, turned to the others. “Though if I remember correctly, there was quite an epidemic of hermits during the medieval period. It was an esthetic movement. They fled to the wilderness to escape the temptation of women.”
Jonathan laughed outright.
“You are sure you won’t return, young man?”
He shook his head. They argued, they cajoled, but Jonathan was adamant. He said, “You might report my accident to Universal. Tell them to stop one of their Jupiter-bound freighters here when the asteroid swings back in the space ways. I’ll have a load for them.”
Inside the ship, Doctor Boynton moved over to a round transparent port hole. “What a strange fellow,” he murmured. He was just in time to see the castaway, loaded like a pack mule, disappear in the direction from which he had come.
Robinson Crusoe was going back to his man (?) Friday—all twenty-seven of them.