Natural phenomena do not think or feel or act with hostile intent, but that doesn’t make some of them any less deadly.
“Matt! Venus! Back to Fireball Junior! Quickly!” Steve Zodiac’s words echoed urgently around the barren landscape. Mounting their jetmobiles and starting the small motors, the trio turned and made their way at full power towards the speck of silver in the distance that was Fireball Junior.
There was a hiss of escaping gas behind them and a pile of rocks was flung into the air by a geyser. Professor Matic glanced over his shoulder as the lumps of rock arched up in a parabola above their heads. The scientist could hardly contain his amazement, “Steve! Look!”
Zodiac whipped his head around and gasped. The huge boulders, perhaps forty feet above them, had slowed to a crawl in mid air as if held by an invisible force. They were no longer falling towards the surface, but suspended in space.
“Gee, Matt, what’s doing it?”
“Localised gravitational anomaly of some kind! No way to be sure how localised of course!”
As if making his point, the rocky debris suddenly broke free of its uncanny hold and plummeted towards the ground. The three jetmobiles roared clear just in time, avoiding the splinters of stone as the fragments shattered on the hard surface.
“Boy, this planet gets stranger and stranger. Water that flows upwards, fire that burns cold and now these gravitational anomalies! Under different circumstances I’d say we’d found you a Professor’s Paradise, Matt!”
“Maybe so, but I think this takes a hostile working environment a little too far! Say Venus, look out!”
Venus saw the looming stalagmites ahead and deftly swung her jetmobile to the right.
“Thanks, Matt! The sooner we’re back on Fireball the better! I’m sure poor Zoony must be worried about us!”
“If we get back in one piece, I’ll gladly buy that tooty Lazoon a whole box of Martian Delight!”
They were rapidly approaching Fireball Junior when another geyser burst through the planet’s crust just ahead. Steve and Venus managed to swing clear, but the blast hit the Professor’s jetmobile hard, sending him flying over the handlebars and into a sprawling heap on the ground.
Venus cried out when she saw Matic trying to get to his feet, but a shout from Zodiac checked her, “Venus, look at Fireball Junior!”
Venus looked up and gasped in horror. Fireball Junior was floating away from the surface, caught in another gravitational anomaly. It was already twenty feet above their heads.
“Come on you two, we’ve got to go now or we’ll never make it! Matt, get up, quick!”
“Right behind you, Steve. Don’t wait for me!”
Steve and Venus fired their jetmobile thrusters on full power and rose to maximum altitude. Even so, they just barely managed to swing the small craft into the hatch before the motors gave out.
Steve turned to help Matt, but the Professor wasn’t there. He dashed through into the control cabin and stared out through the window. Far below on the surface, he could see Matt struggling with his jetmobile.
“He’s still down there Venus! We have to go back!” Steve triggered the controls, but Fireball failed to respond. “Say, what gives? I get no reading on the instruments!”
Matt looked up at Fireball as it continued to rise. It was a good fifty feet above him, well beyond his damaged jetmobile’s limit. “Well now Matthew, how are you going to get yourself out of this darned mess?” he pondered aloud to himself.
There was another rumble nearby and an ominous hiss from the ground. The Professor looked from the ground to his jetmobile and then to the distant Fireball Junior. In an instant he had calculated the angles. He sighed resignedly, “There’s an outside chance, but I reckon it’s the only one I’ve got…”
Quickly he positioned his jetmobile, doing his best to angle it in such a way to protect from the worst of the pressure from the geyser. “Oh well, here goes nothing. One small step for Matic…”
With a roar of escaping gasses the geyser erupted, catching the jetmobile and its rider and sending them rocketing into the air. Matic hurtled towards Fireball Junior, which was still floating upwards at a much slower velocity. He tried firing his jetmobile’s braking motor to slow his approach, but like Fireball Junior the controls didn’t respond.
Just as he felt sure he was going to overshoot his target, Steve jumped out of the open hatchway on the end of a line and caught him around the waist.
“Fancy seeing you here! I just thought I’d step outside for a moment and had no idea it was raining scientists!”
When they had safely boarded the craft, Matt explained his theory, “Y’see it occurred to me that whatever the cause of these anomalies, the duration of the effect appeared to be proportional to the size of the object affected. Those rocks we saw earlier were much smaller than Fireball Junior and were suspended for a shorter time, so I figured I had a chance of getting back before Fireball was released.”
“When do you think that might be, Matt?” asked Steve from the control chair beside him.
“I would estimate sometime about..”
Fireball Junior suddenly began to plummet like a stone.
Steve triggered the controls and immediately the powerful retros slowed the craft to a gentle descent.
“As usual Professor, your timing was almost perfect. Looks like I’ve got control again, so what say we head back to Fireball and figure this whole thing out after a good rest?”
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