Space To Play In

Donal Buchanan

© Copyright 2015 by Donal Buchanan


Photo of galaxy.

Bumpy! Mike's here!”

Bumpy Matthews dropped his paint-brush and hurtled downstairs to the living room where a lean, thin-faced, spectacled young man was in the process of removing his spacesuit. Half in and half out of the bulky gear, Mike Wilson looked up just in time to protect himself from Bumpy's charging body.

“Hey, there,” he cried. “Take it easy or I won't be in any shape to teach. How is my favorite student? Got your lessons done?”

“Sure have, Mike,” replied Bumpy. “And next month's too. Not much else to do... He ended on a wistful note.

“Sure, kid, but you study hard what I'm trying to pound into that thick skull of yours and, when you grow up a bit, you'll find more to do than you have time for.” As he said this, Mike hung his suit on a hook by the lock. “Say, where's your sister?”

“I guess she's out in the barn with Dad, Mike,” said Bumpy. “Do you want me to fetch her?”

Bumpy's mother, a small brunette who had been fluttering around setting things to rights, interposed. “I'll do that. Mike, you sit down and make yourself to home. Bumpy, go get your books.”

Carefully avoiding the chair he knew to be Dan Matthews' favorite, Mike obediently sat, while Bumpy clattered back up the stairs. Mrs. Matthews disappeared through the hatch to the tunnel which led into the space-tight 'barn.' In the barn were grain, flour, the hydroponics farm and, luxury of luxuries, a cow! The fresh milk provided by the cow was a priceless boon and amply repaid the work entailed in taking care of her. The fact that she had spent her early days in an incubator tank, growing from embryo size didn't bother the cow one bit. Never having been outside the barn, she didn't miss the meadows of her heritage. She exercised on a special treadmill. Like the Matthews family, she was every inch a pioneer.

Joanna, Bumpy's sister, was helping her Dad muck out the stall. Mike Wilson, the visiting teacher, knew his charge's duties and habits by rote. They were all mono-tonously similar, although not many asteroid homes sported a cow! The men worked their mines and stacked whatever ore they found in neat piles for pickup by the cargo ship that came every month with food and other necessities. The women cooked, kept house, helped their husbands tend the 'farm,' looked after the children and did the million and one other things that all housewives do—and more.

And the children grew. When they grew big enough they took a little of the load from their parents' shoulders. Denied a normal childhood, they read voraciously and took every opportunity to alleviate their loneliness. Each visit from a circuit-riding preacher, teacher, or doctor was a big event.

Mike Wilson's thoughts were interrupted by Bumpy, who came carefully down the stairs, groaning under a stack of reading spools, notebooks, and miscellaneous papers.

“I didn't mean to take so long, Mike.” said Bumpy, “I couldn't find my darn old dictionary for awhile.

“Where was it?” Wilson asked.

“I'd used it to tilt the projector. Got some shots of Sandy Wilkins when we visited them last year. Some of you, too. You talk to me—I mean—I make believe you do...” Bumpy's voice trailed off.

Loneliness again! The common denominator of the astroid community—and of all the pioneers that have ever been, Mike guessed.

Respecting Bumpy's discomfiture, he said “Sure, kid! I know just what you mean. I do the same thing myself. Why, I've got pictures of the whole class!”

“You do? Gee, can I see 'em?” Bumpy's eyes shone with anticipation.

“The words are 'May I,' Bumpy.” The teachers eyes twinkled. “After lessons. Here come your mother and Jo, now.”

Joanna was Bumpy's twin. They were nine. Both were sturdy and red-headed, but lacked the freckles and rosy cheeks sported by youngsters on Earth. Jo gave Mike a hug and scurried up for her books. Her mother went to the kitchen to start some coffee.

A bull-voice rang from the depths of the tunnel. “Mike, you old rock-rat! Glad to see you! Be with you in a minute—soon as I get this muck off my hands.” Dan Matthews, a broad-shouldered, well-built man with a square, deep-lined face and crinkles around his eyes, appeared in the tunnel-entrance, wiping his brawny pals with a rag. His thinning red hair was touched with grey where it bushed out at the sides. His trousers were touched into heavy brogans. “How's the teaching business?”

“Okay, Dan. Lost a family, though. The Waite family took off for Ganymede colony. Said they want to rub elbows with someone for a change. Almost lost the Scotts, but for another reason.” Wilson got up and the two shook hands as befitted old friends.

Dan clapped Mike on the shoulder and led him back to his chair, choosing another for himself. Bumpy stirred restlessly, but knew that the men always talked for a bit before 'class” and didn't want to be disturbed. Jo must have know this too, for she stayed discreetly upstairs.

“What's this about the Scotts, Mike? Last I knew they were alright.” Dan's voice sounded worried. “Of course, that was about four months ago. A lot can happen—and not all of it comes over the news.”

“Well, Dan,” replied Mike, “I got to their place on my regular run just last week. They were half-starved. A meteor hit their barn almost a month before and managed to knock out their communications too, along with everything else. They had to live on the food that was in the house. Luckily they had a cache of oxygen and water stored near the mine. I gave them all the food I had in the ship and called SP to the rescue. There was a ship close by.”

Dan looked exasperated. “If I've told Jim once,I've told him a thousand times,” he said with feeling, “not to put his com unit in the barn! It's like putting all your eggs in one basket. But, 'No!' says he. 'Takes up too much room in the house'! As for the Waites
—I knew long ago that Bob wouldn't stick it out. Have to give him credit, though. They lasted longer than I thought they would.” He spoke with all the Asterite's contempt for anyone not an Asterite.

The conversation turned to other topics dealing with far off Earth and the local government on Murray Rock, a large astroid the family had visited several times which was responsible for collecting the ores that were being mined by many Asterite families.

Bumpy went up to see what his sister was doing. He knew the men would be talking for some time now. He found Joanna in their room. She was busily painting her side of the spaceship model they were building together.

“Hey, Jo'” Bumpy cried, “My side's silver! Why are you painting yours blue?”

He tried to grab the brush. She held it away from him. “Because I like it blue. It's my side. I can do what I want with my side! I think I'll put polka-dots on it too—and curtains in the ports!” She added that to torture him.

Bumpy realized her game and feigned nonchalance. “A lot I care. Ruin your side if you want to. Then I won't tell you the news.”

“News? You've got news?” Jo yelped with excitement, “Tell me, quick! I”ll paint my side silver too—and forget the curtains!”

“The Waites have gone to Ganymede.”

“Is that all?”'


“Tell me—Oh, alright! I'll tell you where I hid the cookies I made last night.” She pouted.

“Where?” Bumpy was not one to let an opportunity like this hinge on merely a promise.

Joanna told him.

“Alright,” Bumpy said, satisfied. “The Scotts almost got done in last month!”


Word for word, Bumpy told her just as Mike had phrased it. He was a marvelous mimic and even leaned forward with his elbows on his knees just as Mike had.
When he had finished, Jo said, “I bet Susie and Sam Scott will have a lot to tell us! Gee, it must have been exciting. I'd like to see them right now!”

“I'd like to see them too,” said Bumpy. “Mike said once that if you want a thing hard enough you'd get it. Let's close our eyes and wish to see Sam and Susie over on Scott's Rock. Maybe we will.” He didn't really believe it would work, but it sounded like a good game.
“I think that's silly!” Jo was a couple of hours older than Bumpy and never let him forget it. “And childish,” she added.

“I bet it will work!” Bumpy was suddenly mad enough to make an issue of it. He now became deadly serious about a proposal made in jest. “You're scared to try it!”

“I am not! What's there to be afraid of? Let's do it!” cried Jo.

They closed their eyes and wished, picturing the Scott children in their room on Scott Rock where they had last seen them.

And vanished.

After a moment of head-over-heels giddiness, they found themselves in pitch-darkness.

Hey, who turned out the lights?” cried Bumpy. His voice was low and frightened. He reached over and grabbed Jo's hand—finding, in the process, that the model spaceship was no longer between them. Jo's hand was trembling.

“Who's there?” a sleepy voice questioned.

It was Sam Scott.

Bumpy found the light and turned it on. The Asterites' homes were prefabricated so the room was very much like his and Jo's.

Sam rose up in bed, eyes wide. “Bumpy! Jo! What're you two doing here? This must be a dream... Susie! Wake up! He shook the little four-year old sleeping next to him.
“We wished ourselves here!” Bumpy said, a note of awe in his voice. He told it all to a fascinated audience of two—Joanna helping out with excited interjections.

Sam was baffled, but not to be out-done, went into a long recounting of the month of starvation endured by the Scotts. The voices of the children, being young, became loud—and from loud to noisy is but a step. They laughed and talked with great gusto.

Suddenly they heard a bed creak in the next room. A parent was coming to investigate.

“Quick, hide in the closet!” Sam urged. “If they find us playing this late they'll tan my hide” Scott was a hard man who put the fear of strict discipline into his youngsters. “How will we explain how you got here? They're grown-ups!” Bumpy could not disagree with this clear childhood logic.

No sooner had Bumpy and Jo gotten into the closet than the door of the room opened. Scott, a gaunt, hungry-looking man of about thirty, entered.

“What're you kids yammering about so late fer?” he growled. “Oughta turn you over my knee, both of you!” He glared at them through sleepy eyes.

Sam pretended to have been asleep. He stretched and yawned and started to say something, but his little sister, too young for subterfuge, piped up.

“Wasn't us, Pop! Was Bumpy 'n Jo! They're here!”

“here? Where?” Caught off guard and half asleep, Jim Scott didn't question their presence.

“In the closet,” Susie said. Sam gave her a 'wait till I get you alone' look.

Bumpy had left the closet door open just a crack and, when he saw Scott headed for the closet, he grabbed Jo's hand and thought urgently of home. The giddiness returned.

Back in their room, Bumpy and Jo looked at each other and giggled.
“I wonder what Mr. Scott said when he looked in the empty closet?” Bumpy chortled.

“I'll bet he was mad and said words we're not supposed to hear,” replied Jo. “Darn Susie, anyhow... but, if we hadn't of gone in such a hurry we'd have been caught and missed our lessons!” Jo had a practical turn of mind.

“Holy smoke!” Bumpy yelped, “Mike's waitin' for us, I'll bet. We'd better get down there right now! Say, sis. This is our secret, huh? You won't tell?”

“No, I won't if you won't,” Jo whispered as they started through the door. “Gee, we can visit anyone. Maybe we could teach Sam and Susie and all the rest of the kids how to do it—and have a club with a secret word and...”

“Shhh!” Bumpy quieted her as they came to the head of the stairs.

They needn't have worried. The men were still talking earnestly and Mary Matthews was sitting listening quietly as she knitted socks for the children. Mike was speaking.

“It's transportation and communication that has us hog-tied, Dan. If it didn't take so long and so darn much money to get places and to power com units, it wouldn't be so bad; but months on end seeing only the circuit riders and the supply ship once in awhile is killing. Man is a gregarious animal, Dan. Kids need to grow up with other kids or they don't grow up normally. We need a school, but the kids would have to stay there six to nine months out of the year—and that the parents wouldn't like. Kids need parents and parents need kids and kids need kids...” He broke off. “I guess there is no getting around it...” He leaned back and, as he did so caught sight of the children coming quietly down the stairs. “Whup! That's right! Lessons. Come on kids... Say, what're you looking so secretive about?”

“Kids always have secrets,” Mary observed quietly. “That's just about all an Asterite's kids do have, I reckon. There might have been the slightest hint of bitterness in her voice.
For the first time in their lives lessons dragged for Bumpy and Jo. They could hardly wait to get back upstairs to experiment with their new ability.

The children's secret kept well. They never teleported unless they were in the privacy of their room. They weren't allowed to go out on the 'Rock' by themselves in spacesuits yet so they always teleported to their friends rooms—and their friends, in turn, came to theirs. It developed that only one of their friends couldn't teleport—a four-year old who had just come from Earth with his parents. It seemed that only the space-born could 'wish' themselves places. It was agreed among them that they would always materialize in closets just in case a grown-up was in the room (this worked well except for one time when Bumpy showed up to find his mother poking around in his closet; he gave her quite a scare and pretended that he had hidden there to startle her). As he took her tongue-lashing, he was just thankful it hadn't been one of his friends. They soon found that they were unable to travel to a place they hadn't seen—or at least seen a good picture of. Evidently 'making a picture in the head' —as they put it—was all-important to their mode of travel.

Then came the day that Bumpy decided to run away. It is an urge that hits most children at some time or another and he was no exception. Mary and Dan Matthews had been tired and cross that day and had given Bumpy the dickens for forgetting to clean out the barn and hoe the farm. It had been his day to do it. They may have been unnecessarily harsh, but Bumpy talked back and got sent to his room for his pains—without any supper. That hurt, because he had hoed the farm...a little.

Jo came up later with a piece of cake. She found Bumpy clothed in his jacket and cap (these were light-weight articles of clothing for use in the domed cities on the larger astroids; there being no weather to contend with, heavy-weather gear was unknown in the astroid belt. As was common wherever modern man set up living in space locales, artificial gravity systems were in use, just like at home.
“What're you going to do?” Jo asked.

“I'm gonna run away!” sniffed Bumpy. “I'm gonna go to Murray Rock an' join the Space Patrol! They won't make me muck out a dirty old barn!”

“I'll go too!” said loyal Jo. “Wait until I get my wraps. Do they take girls?

“I think so—I saw some on the last ship that stopped by—and I think their Captain was a lady!”

When Jo was ready, they grasped hands and disappeared.

Murray Rock was a large asteroid covered for the most part by a huge glassite dome. The rest was a spaceport. In the dome were the offices of the Space Patrol, a hospital, and the residences of the patrolmen and their families. There were also shops and other homes of people who had served the base in one way or another . Bumpy and Jo had been there before with their parents on visits to shop for necessities and to see an old friend of Dan's.

The two children materialized on the steps of the SP headquarters building. Unnoticed by them, the guard in a recess by the door passed a hand before his eyes. “Must have dozed off standing up...” he muttered.

Suddenly, Bumpy turned to Jo and said, “Jo! We've forgotten the spaceship model and we've gotta have that!”

There was no denying the fact. The ship wasn't finished yet. Jo said, “You go back and get it, Bumpy! I'll stay right here.” She settled herself upon the step as her brother nodded and flicked out of sight. The guard groaned and pressed the buzzer for his relief.

Bumpy arrived safely back in his room. Their departure was as yet unnoticed. He stretched out his hand for the model ship … and it jumped away from him!

Bumpy hardly noticed, for he had been thrown to the floor. A shock had shaken the whole house! There was a crashing, tearing sound from downstairs and the hiss of escaping air. Blood burst from Bumpy's nose as he got up swiftly to run downstairs.

He kept going up.

It wasn't Bumpy's first experience with weightlessness. The gravity unit had been out of kilter before, but it was terrifying nonetheless. He waved his arms and legs frantically as he slowly sank to the floor. He wasn't actually weightless, but the mass of the asteroid upon which he lived was so tiny that he might as well have been. The hissing sound had stopped and he was greatly relieved. Bumpy was no fool—he knew about airless space. The house must have succeeded in sealing itself.

He discovered that he was crying, “Mother! Dad!” He half stumbled, half floated down the stairs.

The living room was a shambles.

A tiny meteor had come through the wall behind the radio set, passed through the set and on into the floor, knocking out the gravity unit there. The set had fallen on top of Dan Matthews, who had been reading in a corner of the room. Only one of his legs showed.

It was very quiet.

Bumpy was weeping madly now. He ran to the kitchen to find his mother. She was lying on the floor where she had collapsed from partial asphyxiation. His combined shakes, tugs, and loud sobs brought her around. She grabbed him and held him tightly.

“Bumpy! Bumpy! Oh, you're safe!” she sobbed. Where's Jo?”

“She's alright, Mom,” Bumpy stated truthfully enough.

“Why doesn't she come downstairs... Dan! What's happened to your father? I don't see him!” The last sentence was low and strained, building up until the 'him' was almost a shriek as, looking through the door, she saw the mess in the living room—and Dan Matthews protruding leg under the ruined radio.

“Help me, Bumpy! Hurry!” She pushed herself into the living room and began heaving the debris away from her husband. Her face was white and her eyes bright with tears. All that remained was the heavy receiver lying across his back. Between them, they managed to overcome the inertia of its mass and shove it aside.

Dan was breathing. Blood flecked his lips and he was unconscious, but he breathed.

Mary Matthews' face was set grimly. She was experienced in first aid—an Asterite had to be. Dan had a couple of broken ribs and, possibly, a punctured lung; but he was alive. Verifying first, as well as she could, that his back was not injured, she and Bumpy moved him onto the sofa where she gently washed and bandaged him.

One thing worried her. Dan needed professional medical attention fast. The radio was hopeless. The ship was out of the question. She had never learned to operate it, leaving all that up to Dan. By an unfortunate coincidence the radio in the ship was also inoperative—Dan having picked this time to make some minor repairs. “I'll just have to muddle through myself,” she thought, “and pray I do the right things.”

After she got Dan settled on the sofa and the worst of his hurts bandaged, she started into the kitchen to boil some water. She felt a tug at her skirt. It was Bumpy.

“Is Dad alright, Mom?” he asked tearfully.

“He's lucky he's alive. He's better off than most. You go get Jo. I need another woman around here. Your dad needs a doctor, but we'll have to do.” Noticing his hurt look at being left out, she said “You can help by cleaning up the living room when you get back.”

She turned again to her task and temporarily forgot him. He promptly disappeared.

Bumpy flicked into view in front of his sister. Seeing his tear-streaked face, she cried “Bumpy, What's wrong?”

He told her all about it.

“I'm going back right now!” she said, firmly.”

“You go ahead, Sis, and help Mom. I'm going for a doctor!”

There was no time to argue. They disappeared simultaneously.

Bumpy had been to the hospital before, but never inside. He ran up the steps and into the reception hall, coming breathlessly to a halt before a starched young man.

“Mister, are you a doctor?” Bumpy asked.

“No,I'm an orderly. What's on your mind, sonny?” came the laconic reply.

“I just gotta see a doctor!”


“My Dad's hurt bad!” Bumpy blurted.

“Where is he? The man asked quickly, interest in his eyes.

“Matthews Rock. I jut came from there.” Bumpy asked before he thought.

“All by yourself?”

“Yessir.” Bumpy admitted miserably.

“Get off it, sonny! That's over two million miles from here. We've had you jokesters in here before! Go on, beat it!” He reached for Bumpy.

He got a kick in his shins for his pains and the boy raced down one of the near-by corridors.

“Hey! Come back here!” yelled the orderly.

Bumpy stopped at a wall directory. The hospital was ten stories high and the doctor's offices all seemed to be on the top story.

Not daring to use the elevators, he ran up the stairs. After the first couple of flights he sat down to catch his breath. There was a sudden subdued hue and cry.

“There he is!”

“The little scamp! Is he the one Harris phoned about?”

The rest of the way he made better time by wishing himself to each landing he could see above him. As he reached the tenth floor, the man called Harris stepped out of the elevator a little way down the corridor. His face was twisted in anger and frustration. He caught sight of Bumpy, whooped, and sprinted towards him.

Bumpy waited until Harris was almost upon him, then teleported himself to the opposite end of the corridor, which was lined with doors—each bearing a doctor's name. Bumpy tried to open the nearest door. People were inside and light showed through the letters on the door: “E.H. WILLIAMS, MD.”

It would not open. The offices were often used for private consultation and thus would not open from the outside except to a member of the hospital staff who knew the proper stud combination. Bumpy had seen stud doors before on his father's ship and he wept with frustration. Harris was thundering down the corridor. Bumpy didn't have time to try another door, so he kicked, banged, and howled. Even after Harris grabbed him, he fought like fury and continued to raise a ruckus. Harris raised his hand to strike him, cursing.

“Hold it there! Put that boy down!”

A familiar voice!

Bumpy twisted in Harris' grip and stared. It was Mike Wilson! He gave a joyful shout.

“Quiet, Bumpy,” said Mike. “ What in the world are you doing here, anyway? Put him down, I said!” The last was to Harris.

“He's disturbed the peace and kicked my shins and trespassed! He's gotta leave right now and I'm going to throw him out!” Harris was beside himself— afraid for his job and his sanity (after all, he had seen Bumpy disappear before his eyes).

“Now see here, you...” Mike was interrupted.

“What's the meaning of this, Harris! Put that child down and stop that babbling at once!”

A large man filled the doorway behind Mike. He was tanned and grey-haired with beady black eyes, a beak nose and long, slender fingers.

“Yes, Dr. Williams.” Harris was abashed. He gingerly set Bumpy down.

“Now, young man, suppose you explain. I wouldn't even listen to you except my nephew seems to know you.”

His chin reminded Bumpy of a rock, but his eyes were kind.

Bumpy told them all of it, including his mode of travel. “Please, Doctor Williams, won't you come? My Dad's real bad hurt.”

“What do you say, Mike, it sounds fantastic!” said Williams.

“I've never known Bumpy to lie, Uncle Ned. I've taken the liberty of getting your instrument bag for you.” Mike handed the bag to Williams.

“Young devil! Come on, let's go! We have a Spaceship to catch!”

They each grabbed one of Bumpy's hands and started towards the elevators, leaving Harris standing, dumbfounded.

They took three steps and suddenly, all was dark!

Strange shapes brushed against their faces and draped around their necks.They tried to walk, stumbled over objects on the floor and bumped into a wall.It seemed to be a small enclosed space. Muffled snorts and baffled curses could be heard on all sides.  

Bumpy broke the silence: “It's my closet!” He giggled.

A choking sound came from Mike. “Two million miles!” he gasped.

“My word!” said the doctor. “There go my stocks in Interplanetary!. Ships are old hat, now! Where's the patient, son?”

Bumpy led the way downstairs. Mary Matthews looked up to see the cavalcade semi-floating down. She shook her head as if to clear it and looked again. Jo, mean-while, whooped and ran to carry the doctor's bag.

An hour later, Dan had regained consciousness and was lying on the sofa drinking tea. Mike had managed to put the grav unit in order and things had taken on a more normal appearance. The remains of the radio were stacked in a corner. Mike and Dr. Williams sat in the 'company chairs.' The kids were upstairs, straightening up their room. Dan shook his head, wearily.

“I just can't take it in,” he said. “Think of all the possibilities! But I checked through all the viewports and couldn't see a ship—unless you parked over the horizon.” He looked at Mike suspiciously. “You could have come in the roof-lock, you know!” Every Asterite home had at least two exits as a precaution in case one became disabled or buried in some freakish accident. One never knew what to expect in space.

“It's true, Dan!” Mike said. “Think of all the possibilities! No more circuit-riders! Ask Bumpy.”

“BumPEE!” Dan called.

No reply.


Not a sound.

Mary Matthews gasped and ran up the stairs. “They're not here. They're gone!” she cried, worry in her voice.

“They must have gone through the roof-lock! We've got to go get them!” Dan tried to get up.

Doctor Williams intervened. “Hold on, Dan. It's alright, Mrs. Matthews. Come on down. If they had gone through the roof-lock we'd have heard the alarm. They've teleported—probably to a friend's house to talk over the news, I expect. I heard Bumpy say something to Joanna about Mrs. Scott's apple pie. I'll wager that's where they are right now!”

Which is exactly where they were. 

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