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A Question of Courage   By: (1916-1986)

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A Question Of Courage


Illustrated by FINLAY

I smelled the trouble the moment I stepped on the lift and took the long ride up the side of the "Lachesis." There was something wrong. I couldn't put my finger on it but

five years in the Navy gives a man a feeling for these things. From the outside the ship was beautiful, a gleaming shaft of duralloy, polished until she shone. Her paint and brightwork glistened. The antiradiation shields on the gun turrets and launchers were folded back exactly according to regulations. The shore uniform of the liftman was spotless and he stood at his station precisely as he should. As the lift moved slowly up past no man's country to the life section, I noted a work party hanging precariously from a scaffolding smoothing out meteorite pits in the gleaming hull, while on the catwalk of the gantry standing beside the main cargo hatch a steady stream of supplies disappeared into the ship's belly.

I returned the crisp salutes of the white gloved sideboys, saluted the colors, and shook hands with an immaculate ensign with an O.D. badge on his tunic.

"Glad to have you aboard, sir," the ensign said.

"I'm Marsden," I said. "Lieutenant Thomas Marsden. I have orders posting me to this ship as Executive."

"Yes, sir. We have been expecting you. I'm Ensign Halloran."

"Glad to meet you, Halloran."

"Skipper's orders, sir. You are to report to him as soon as you come aboard."

Then I got it. Everything was SOP. The ship wasn't taut, she was tight! And she wasn't happy. There was none of the devil may care spirit that marks crews in the Scouting Force and separates them from the stodgy mass of the Line. Every face I saw on my trip to the skipper's cabin was blank, hard eyed, and unsmiling. There was none of the human noise that normally echoes through a ship, no laughter, no clatter of equipment, no deviations from the order and precision so dear to admirals' hearts. This crew was G.I. right down to the last seam tab on their uniforms. Whoever the skipper was, he was either bucking for another cluster or a cold feeling automaton to whom the Navy Code was father, mother, and Bible.


The O.D. stopped before the closed door, executed a mechanical right face, knocked the prescribed three times and opened the door smartly on the heels of the word "Come" that erupted from the inside. I stepped in followed by the O.D.

"Commander Chase," the O.D. said. "Lieutenant Marsden."

Chase! Not Cautious Charley Chase! I could hardly look at the man behind the command desk. But look I did and my heart did a ninety degree dive straight to the thick soles of my space boots. No wonder this ship was sour. What else could happen with Lieutenant Commander Charles Augustus Chase in command! He was three classes up on me, but even though he was a First Classman at the time I crawled out of Beast Barracks, I knew him well. Every Midshipman in the Academy knew him Rule Book Charley By The Numbers Chase his nicknames were legion and not one of them was friendly. "Lieutenant Thomas Marsden reporting for duty," I said.

He looked at the O.D. "That'll be all, Mr. Halloran," he said.

"Aye, sir," Halloran said woodenly. He stepped backward, saluted, executed a precise about face and closed the hatch softly behind him.

"Sit down, Marsden," Chase said. "Have a cigarette."

He didn't say, "Glad to have you aboard." But other than that he was Navy right down to the last parenthesis. His voice was the same dry schoolmaster's voice I remembered from the Academy. And his face was the same dry gray with the same fishy blue eyes and rat trap jaw. His hair was thinner, but other than that he hadn't changed. Neither the war nor the responsibilities of command appeared to have left their mark upon him. He was still the same lean, undersized square shouldered blob of nastiness.

I took the cigarette, sat down, puffed it into a glow, and looked around the drab 6 x 8 foot cubicle called the Captain's cabin by ship designers who must have laughed as they laid out the plans... Continue reading book >>

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