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A Question of Courage by Jesse F. Bone

A Question Of Courage

By J. F. BONE

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.

[Illustration]

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.


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