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First published in Amazing Stories, June 1942

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2022-08-05

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Amazing Stories, June 1942, with "Sergeant Shane Goes To War"


Trust Sergeant Shane to screw up the works—
even when he set out to do his fighting duty!

IT was during the stopover of the F.S.S. Western Hemisphere, our space battlewagon and pride of the Federation Fleet, in the big space harbor base on Saturn, that my ape-like companion and hare brained associate, Sergeant Shane, weathered one of the wildest and wooliest escapades in his long and lucky career—and when I say lucky, I mean very fortunate!

And it was on a bright and shining morning of that stopover, that Shane found me trying to catch a little sleep on the third atomic gun deck and promptly put an end to all such hopes.

"Corporal Cork," Shane declared in that saw-tooth voice of his, "this is a positively disgraceful posture I find you in."

I had been stretched out flat on my back, basking in the sun, burning a few space wrinkles from my harrowed brow. Now I grit my teeth, sitting up to glare balefully at Shane's unlovely red mop* and squat, powerful figure.

[* Amazing Stories has "red map." Presumably a typographical error for "red mop" (of hair).]

"Find your own spot," I said. "I was here first."

Sergeant Shane carefully adjusted his immaculate tunic uniform, brushed an imaginary speck from the chevrons on his arm, and smiled tolerantly. I saw that he had even plastered his usually wild thatch of tow hair smooth with water.

"Corporal," he said disapprovingly, "I don't think I need remind you that I am not a loafer. I am a man of initiative, of forceful drive and get-up-ishness. You can see from my appearance that I do not intend to spend my idle hours sleeping in the sun."

"That's fine," I growled, "then go off somewhere and be forceful. But not around here."

"Very well," said Shane, shrugging too indifferently. "Very well, Corporal. If you aren't interested in hearing what I was about to tell you—"

He turned, starting away.

THIS was much too suspicious. When Shane is coy, it usually means he has something up his sleeve beside the hairiest and strongest arm in the Fleet. And when Shane has something up his sleeve, it is generally a good idea to find out about it before he makes a super colossal ass of himself.

"Wait a minute!" I said.

Shane returned.

"What's up?" I demanded. "Why are you turned out like a dress parade? What woolly idea is cavorting about inside that fleece-fogged brain of yours?"

Shane started to turn away again. "From the jealous nature of your questions, I can see you aren't inter—"

I climbed to my feet and put a restraining hand on his muscle-bulging shoulder.

"Not so fast," I demanded. "What's eating you?"

"Do you like your job, Corporal?" Shane asked out of a bolt blue sky.


"Are you satisfied to be a mere Space Marine?" Shane demanded.

My eyes almost dropped out of my head. "What?"

"Or," Shane continued, "would you rather better yourself, be something in this universe?"

"Be what, for example?" I demanded, still uncomprehending.

"A man of wealth, of prestige, of business acumen, for example," Shane recited.

I began to get the idea. It was over four months now since Shane, through sheer staggering luck, risked every last nickel of our joint retirement savings—a thousand dollars, Venusian—on a lifecraft race and turned it into three thousand. I had wondered how long it would take the sawed-off baboon to begin to get the itch to tamper with that small fortune once more.

"Listen," I said, "if you've got ideas on that money of ours, I'll tell you right now to forget it. We've been saving that for years, so that we'll have our space freighting outfit when we finally muster out of the Space Marines."

"Space freighting," Shane said. He pronounced the words distastefully, as if they meant louse exterminating.

"And what," I demanded hotly, "is wrong with space freighting?"

"It's all right," Shane said, "for them as have no foresight, no imagination. For them as want to live out their lives in the ruts of mediocrity."

I looked at him, jaw agape. Those weren't his own words. He didn't even know words like that. A great light began to dawn on me.

"So you want to improve yourself," I said sarcastically.

"Improve my future," Shane corrected me.

"Why?" I demanded. "Who is she?" Shane flushed. His cauliflower ears went crimson. He glared.

"Keep Cleo out of this!" he snapped.

"Cleo, eh?" One in every port. That was Sergeant Shane.

Shane's flush burned deeper. "That is neither here nor there. My proposed investments in Saturnian real estate have nothing to do with Cleo."

"Real estate investments?" I really gasped this time.

"Saturnian real estate," Shane said doggedly. "I have investigated the possibilities. They are enormous."

"Real estate!" I repeated this aghast. "You, a space faring marine, interested in real estate!"

"Millions are being made in it every day, Cork," Shane snapped. "And just because I'm smart enough to fall in on a good deal, you've no reason to act so damned stupid. Why don't you let me explain?"

"Go ahead," I said with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. "Go ahead, and explain."

Sergeant Shane did exactly that. Explained, while that sinking feeling grew more and more pronounced with every word.

IT seemed that five days ago—the day after we'd put into this space port—Shane went to a Service Party, put on by the wealthy dames and dolls of the Service Society in the interests of morale and uplift for the men of the F.S.S. Western Hemisphere and other Federation Space Ship crews in the harbor at the time. I recalled that I hadn't gone, in spite of the fact that Shane had tried to talk me into it. Now, as he continued, I wished fervently that I hadn't been obstinate.

Shane met a wealthy dollie there, of course. Cleo Clenoka, the daughter of a financially prominent Martian, Shane said, who had wide real estate investment holdings on Saturn.

"She took a shine to me right off," Shane described the meeting unblushingly, "for which I can't blame her."

It seems that in his attempts to impress this Cleo doll, Shane modestly mentioned the fact that, although on the surface he appeared to be merely a Sergeant in the Federation Space Marines, he was a man of no little wealth, having a bank account of a little better than three thousand salted away. He had added that he intended to go into the space freighting business with this when he left the service.

"She gave me some good ideas, that dame," Shane related. "She told me how it was a shame that I should waste my natural get-up and drive and brains on anything as small fry as space freighting."

I nodded grimly. That's how the change in attitude came about. It seemed that since Cleo's daddy was a big time real estate man, she thought it would be marvelous if Shane could meet him. Maybe something would come of it.

"A good guy, Cleo's father," Shane declared. "High class Martian. He looks and thinks in terms of millions. He put me wise to a lot of angles. And, naturally, he, too, took a shine to me."

"Naturally," I broke in. Shane didn't catch the infinite sarcasm in my voice. He went on.

It seemed that this Clenoka guy was willing to let Shane in on a good thing, a real estate merger that would net Shane a hundred percent on his—I mean our—money. This deal was primed to come off in another two days. And at the moment, Shane was all spruced up to go to Clenoka's office and make the final arrangements for putting up the three thousand. He had a date with Cleo, of course, after that.

"So," I said, when he concluded, "you're going into the real estate game, eh?"

"That's it, Corky," Shane beamed. "It's a natural. The three thousand will turn into thirty when this deal is done."

"You mean the fifteen hundred," I said.

"Huh?" Shane blinked at me.

"The fifteen hundred," I repeated. "Your half of the three thousand. You own it, I can't tell you what to do with it. But count me out."

"But Corky!" Shane bleated.

"You heard me," I said. "Maybe for once in your life you've fallen in on a good thing. But what do you know about real estate? You're a space Marine. Use your head. If you have to throw your dough away, do it on something you know something about."

Shane began to get sore. "Fifteen hundred won't do it," he said. "I told Cleo's dad that I had three thousand to put up. What sort of a washout will I look like if I hafta go there and say my own best friend wouldn't come through, and that I only got half of what I shot off my mouth I could get?"

"That," I said finally, "is your worry."

"But what," Shane bleated desperately, "will Cleo think?"

"I thought that was what you were worrying most about," I said. I started to turn away.

"But, Corky!" Shane said. He closed his ape-like paw hard on my shoulder. His eyes were pleading.

I shook off his arm. "That's what I think about it," I said. I left him there, thinking that was the end of it. It wasn't...

THERE was a routine watch inspection for me to make, and since Shane's real estate pipe dreams had put an end to my contemplated snooze in the sun, I decided to get it over with.

When you've checking to do on a huge, space-going battle wagon of the F.S.S. Western Hemisphere's dimensions, it takes a little time. There were atomic turret cannon crews to be checked at their stations, electronic short-fire gun emplacements to be rehearsed, and countless other tasks all in line with our Admiral, Old Ironpants, recent siege of the jitters.

And thinking of Old Ironpants' clamp-down on inspections these past weeks, took my mind from the peanut brain of Sergeant Shane, and set me to wondering about the rumors prevalent that Old Ironpants expected trouble.

The Interplanetary situation was tranquil enough. Federation Government seemed to be living in harmony with the rest of the universe. There had been a few minor war outbreaks between smaller, independent asteroid governments on the outermost fringes of space; but these were always present. Still, in spite of all this, our Admiral was keeping every vessel in this space port in constant readiness.

I shrugged it off, finally. Hell, maybe his wife was cracking down on him. It was generally conceded that Mrs. Ironpants was the cause of the often gouty mental state of our Admiral.

An hour or so went by, and I was concluding my check-up. I was in the space-radio control room, gassing with the operators, when the Chief Spacesparks came in. He'd just returned from a forty-eight-hour furlough on Saturn.

"Saw your playmate about half an hour ago, Corporal," the Chief Spacesparks said casually.

I grunted.

"You guys planning to break the gambling joints on Saturn?" he asked.

I looked up sharply. "What makes you say that?"

"Shane was in the Federation Bank when I saw him. He was taking out a stack of leaves half a foot thick." Chief Spacesparks said this casually. But it didn't hit me that way. Something turned in my stomach.

"Fifteen hundred bucks?" I asked weakly.

I watched Spacesparks shake his head indifferently. "Naw, more than that. Must have been two or three thousand at least."

Two or three thousand! The space-radio room began to wheel before my eyes. The walls, gray normally, went green. I didn't say a word. I lurched out of there like a space-sick rookie on his first void drift. Two or three thousand, undoubtedly three. Shane had undoubtedly gone against my express wishes. There was no question but that he withdrew our entire bank balance to stick into the slick Saturnian realty deal!

My sickness was leaving. I was cold, then hot, then cold. Then I was burning, mad. I kept telling myself again and again that I deserved this. Deserved it for having been stupid enough to think he'd do anything but go ahead with the deal as he'd planned it in the first place.

An orderly was passing. I called him and he stepped over, saluting. I gave him the check report sheaf I had in my hand.

"See this gets to the Adjutant," I told him. "Check report from Corporal Cork."

There was still a chance to catch that hare-brain. Still a chance to stop him. Frantically, I started down the duralloy companionway toward the launch landing deck. I could hear the throb of a launch's atomic motors readying for a 'cross harbor jaunt to Saturn. I dashed for it ...

AT the Federation Bank, the teller was smiling affably.

"Yes, Corporal," he said. "That's right. Sergeant Shane removed the entire balance just a little while ago. He told me that the two of you contemplated some investment of some sort. He said that you'd be redepositing the money, plus several thousand more in a few days."

I had been burning as I entered the bank. Now the confirmation of my fears had been made, and even the perspiration that beaded my brow sizzled.

"Look," I asked, "do you have a book listing the real estate corporations on Saturn?"

The teller said he did.

"Then find me one whose owner is a Martian named Clenoka," I said urgently.

The teller found a little book, paged through it.

"Ah, yes. Here it is, Corporal." He gave me the address. I got out of there like a burst from a long-range rocket gun.

It was on one of those crazy, twisting, little Saturnian side streets just off the main business section. The door was plain, of gray duralloy. On it, in black electrolettering, was stamped an unobtrusive legend.


I stood there looking at the sign on the plain little door in that dingy street. If, as Shane had said, Clenoka was a million dollar guy, he certainly didn't want to show it by the office space he'd rented.

I climbed the three dingy little steps and poked the antiquated buzzer summons. Nothing happened. No one answered.

Trying to see in through the curtained glassicade windows was futile. They were too dirty for that.

Indecisively, I punched the buzzer again. There wasn't a sound from inside. Then a voice sounded. From behind me.

"Okay, Marine. They've gone, and you'll come along with us."

I turned around, looking straight into the barrel of an atomic pistol!

Two grim looking gentlemen stood there. The one who was holding the atomic pistol was the one who'd spoken.

"What is this?" I demanded. "High pressure real estate salesmanship?"

The one with the gun flashed open his tunic coat briefly. A very authoritative badge, one I recognized instantly, flashed momentarily.

"Federation Secret Service Agents, Corporal," the fellow with the gun said quietly. "Come along with us. We want to find out what you know about this place. We want to find it out in a hurry."

I opened my mouth to protest. Then I closed it sharply, while icy fingers of fear played my spinal cords like a harp. What, in the name of the Space Marines and all that was holy, had Sergeant Shane blundered us into this time?

There was nothing to do but look docile and willing. I strove for that expression, and the chap with the gun, slipping it into his pocket but still keeping his hand on it, stepped down a step to let me walk along in between them.

As we moved along the crooked little street, one of them on either side of me, I tried several explanations by way of rehearsal.

"I was just looking for a friend," I said, and only then realized how stupid it sounded.

My guards didn't say a word.

"I don't know what this is all about," I tried a little later.

They moved on beside me in frosty silence. The very chilliness in their attitude suggesting that, whatever my dear buddy, Sergeant Shane, had embroiled us in this time, the affair was something more than a trivial matter.

And pretty soon I began to get the idea. We were taking a series of streets leading inevitably to the Federation Police Headquarters on Saturn.

I gulped, breathed a prayer, and tagged on a curse for dear old Shane...

THERE was a very stern looking old duck sitting in the office of the Federation Police Headquarters to which the Secret Service agents had taken me.

"You understand, Corporal," he said when I'd been led in before him, "that this is not a matter of mere Federation Police business. You are in the office recently taken over by the Secret Service. We are engaged in very serious matters here on Saturn. Matters which have not a thing to do with Police work. Matters, in short, concerned with a clever undercover Martian espionage ring rumored to be in action here."

I stood there gulping. My eyes must have been bugging from my head.

"We believe," said the stern old duck behind the desk, "that the Federation's Space Base here on Saturn is gravely imperiled by this recent flurry of espionage."

"Look, sir," I broke in hastily. "I swear I don't know a damned thing about—"

The stern old duck held up his hand, cutting me off.

"You have been under observation for the past several days, Corporal. As Sergeant Shane's closest companion, we naturally put you under surveillance the moment we determined that his actions were suspicious."

As much as I'd have liked to choke Shane to death at that moment, common justice and long practice made me rise to his defense.

"See here, sir," I said with proper indignation. "Shane is one of the most trusted men in the Space Marine Corps. He loves the Service, and the Federation as he loves his own life. He would never enter into anything that even suggested dislo—"

Again the upraised hand of the stern old duck cut me off.

"Perhaps, if you are innocent, Corporal, we know factors in relation to Shane's behavior of which you remain in ignorance. Our men first noticed him dealing with the so-called Clenoka Realty Co., five days ago. At the time we had been suspicious of this firm, feeling it was a front for Martian espionage work. Shane's almost constant dealing with them in the last five days was naturally suspicious. They were quite possibly obtaining Federation Space Fleet information from him which they deemed valuable."

This was more than I could stand. The circumstantial evidence was too grossly unjust, even for a loggerhead like Shane.

"I can explain that, sir," I cut in hotly. "He told me all about it this very morning!"

THE stern old duck raised his eyebrows, but clamped his lips shut, as if inviting me to say what I could while there was still a chance. I took the invitation, driving in with a swift barrage of explanation. In less than sixty seconds I told him everything I knew. But when I looked down at the stern old duck's pan, I knew I could have chopped it up for ice cubes.

"That could be true, Corporal," he said in a voice that inferred he knew damned well it wasn't.

"But it is true!" I yelled. "Call the Federation Bank and find out if he didn't withdraw three thousand Venusian dollars just a few hours ago."

"Why," asked the stern old duck with irritating logic, "might it not be possible that Sergeant Shane, realizing we were too close on his tail, withdrew your money and his in order to have enough money to effect his desertion and flight?"

"It could, be," I agreed in exasperation, "but it isn't."

"Then where is Sergeant Shane right now?" asked the stern old duck. "And why is it, coincidentally enough, that he has disappeared at the same time that Clenoka and his fraudulent real estate office workers have disappeared?"

"But he hasn't disappeared," I said, sweat beginning to pour down my spine.

"Do you know where he is?"

"No," I admitted, "but he might still be with Clenoka."

"That," said the stern old duck with a smug compression of his lips, "is just what we have figured."

I felt sick all over, and suddenly began to think of my own hide as well as Shane's.

"What about me?" I asked. "You still don't think I'm guilty do you? You don't think I have anything to do with this mess?"

The stern old duck raised his bushy white eyebrows in what was genuine surprise.

"Why," he declared, "of course you are still in this, Corporal. Until you have proved yourself innocent, you are in it well over your neck. After all, you were Shane's closest friend. You were found trying to enter the offices of a group of Martian espionage agents with whom Sergeant Shane had some connections. We are holding you indefinitely!"

I started to open my mouth in further protest, then clamped it shut. The cold, hard, frosty look in the stern old duck's eyes brooked no compromise.

An instant later, and I felt a hand on either arm.

"Come along," said a voice. It belonged to the Secret Service Agent who'd pulled the gun on me in the Saturnian street some twenty minutes back.

I thought of Sergeant Shane's ugly, grinning, stupid pan, and I started grinding my teeth slowly down to gum level.

HALF an hour later I found myself pacing duralloy cell flooring for the hundredth time. They'd taken me right from the room in which the stern old duck presided to the downstairs confinement block belonging to the local Federation Police. But local police cell or not, the fact remained that I was actually a prisoner of the Secret Service.

When my frothing fury over my chum's colossal stupidity had subsided, I'd finally gotten around to the far more serious and necessary details of figuring this mess out from all angles.

Undoubtedly Sergeant Shane had mixed himself up with the very nasty background of Martian espionage work. The Secret Service were by no means as thick-witted as Shane, and if they'd put the finger on Clenoka and his fake company as an undercover agency for a foreign and never too friendly government, they knew whereof they spoke.

But as for my peanut brained buddy, I didn't doubt for an instant that he had nothing to do with any such treasonable hobbies as selling information to foreign powers. He was as staunch a patriot of the Federation as he was thick witted. Undoubtedly, he'd been ensnared by this Clenoka's daughter Cleo, plus the get-rich-quick realty deal that he'd been sold.

And in his big, open-minded way—open at both ends—he'd probably been convinced that everything was on the up and up.

But why had the Clenoka's been interested in him? Obviously as a source for information.

Even at that, however, Shane wasn't a fount of intelligence when it came to the deep dark secrets of the Space Fleet. He was just a cog in some huge machinery. What he'd have to spill, probably every foreign government in the interplanetary system knew already.

Then what could the Clenoka's have wanted from Shane?

Grimly, I put my brain cells to this problem. What information did Shane possess?

It kept up this way for another fifty pacings of the duralloy flooring of my cell. All the time I pounded my palms against my forehead. But this process not only didn't jar any hidden nuggets of information loose, it gave me a headache.

Then, all of a sudden, out of the fog grew the Great Dawning Light. Of course! I was as thick as Shane not to have thought of it sooner!

Shane's daily in-harbor task was the laying of the atomic mine fields around the space port entrance. It was his duty to vary the position of these mines from day to day, in line with the Admiral's jittery watchfulness during the stopover, and report these changes to Old Ironpants himself, who relayed the information to all Space Fleet craft who might have legitimate business scooting in and out of the space harbor.

My chum Sergeant Shane, then, was the only accessible non-com member of the Space Fleet with the dope about the day-to-day changes in the protective mining of the space harbor!*

[* Atomic mine fields—Invented in the 22nd Century, the atomic mine solved one of the greatest defensive warfare problems in space harbor protection. Quite invisible, being formed of highly explosive atomic elements, these mines can be "anchored" in space to block off any given area in need of such protection. They were also used extensively in offensive warfare from their inception, being utilized to "bottle" large flotillas of enemy spacecraft, and blockade enemy space harbors from the outer space fields.]

It suddenly became very plain why such information would be extremely valuable to agents of a foreign power; especially if that power were as generally unfriendly as Mars was to the Federation. For it was positive that, if there were any power ever willing to throw the universe into a war against the Federation, that power would be Mars. Even though we weren't at war with Mars at the moment, and hadn't had actual conflict with her in over half a century, there was no mistaking her attitude in consistent interplanetary dealings.

EVERYTHING suddenly fitted in like the pieces of the ancient and occasionally revived jigsaw puzzle. The jittery attitude of Old Ironpants. The special crew of Federation Secret Service Agents working furiously on this situation coming to light on Saturn. Yes, indeed, everything suddenly arranged itself in a pattern with chilling implications.

And suddenly I thought of what Shane's stupidity might lead to. And I thought of how deeply the two of us would be involved in what might explode.

None of this made pleasant contemplation. For there was nothing which could be done to alter the mess. Shane's clumsy foot was already in the fire. Even if, somehow, we could be able to create enough doubt as to our actual complicity and guilt to save our hides from seven electron rifles in the hands of a firing squad, we'd still be washed up in the Service.

Our stripes would be sliced from us, our prestige gone; and any chance of continuing in the Space Marines without shame and humiliation would be impossible. By the very fact that we'd prove our innocence, we'd have first to prove our complete stupidity and ignorance.

A lovely kettle of grief this was.

I knew, of course, that I could clear my own tunic, keep my own stripes, by merely establishing my minor part in the affair. Shane would corroborate my story, and the disgrace would be left for him alone to bear. But, hell, something kept me from clinging to that one way out. As much as I hated that tow-headed half-wit's intestines at the moment, we'd been through too much together for me to let him face the music—or the firing squad—alone.

And don't think that my realization of what a sucker I was being for that space-slappy sap didn't burn me up—it did! But it stood as it stood, and I wasn't going to climb out on him now. For if ever the ape-like ass needed me, this was the time.

Needed me—the thought was suddenly most ironic. Maybe Shane needed me, but that wasn't going to help much. I was behind a nice set of mangonic bars in a cell with a duralloy floor, walls, and ceiling. I was in no situation to get dramatic ideas about throwing my help to anyone.

I sat down heavily on a cot in the corner, just as the vibrasiren began its weird soundless tickling of my eardrums!

IF you've never been out on an Interplanetary Space Fleet Base, you won't be familiar with vibrasirens. Earth and the planets close to it still signal space raid alarms by audible electasirens, loud wailing alarms that shriek through the air like a dying banshee.

But on Saturn, as on other Federation Space Fleet Bases, these inaudible vibrasirens are used to sound alarm for attack or danger. They travel soundlessly through the air, reacting only on the surface of your eardrums, starting them to tingle.

I was on my feet the moment the sensations of the vibrasiren came to me. On my feet and dashing to the barred section on the door of my cell. Attack alarm!

The worst was evidently just starting to happen!

A guard ran toward my cell. But from the look on his face I knew instantly that he was not thinking of stopping for a chat. He was headed right on past, that boy. He'd heard the vibrasiren too, and wasn't wasting time to seek shelter.

"Hey!" I yelped. "Hey!"

He saw me, and I caught his eyes gazing in surprise at my uniform tunic. He broke stride falteringly.

"Let me out of here!" I howled. "I'm a Space Marine. I was slugged and tossed in here by Martian saboteurs working from the inside of headquarters here!"

It was a wild tale, improbable maybe. But my audience was a damned excited guard. An alarm had been sounded. A uniformed Space Marine telling tales of dirty work and Martians running loose in the cell blocks. Hell, he was dumb enough to fall for it. Don't tell me he was half-witted, for remember I'm an expert on degrees of stupidity—my buddy being Shane.

Excitedly, he fumbled at the electron buttons that opened my cell door. Then I was out, leaving him far behind as I dashed down that corridor. The attack alarm of the vibrasiren was still tickling relentlessly at my ears.

I hit the twisting Saturnian streets two minutes later. No one had stopped me, or tried to. Hell, an attack alarm had sounded, and this was business.

At the landing platforms, I found a space launch from the F.S.S. Western Hemisphere. It was almost loaded with space tars and Marines who'd heard the vibrasiren sounding the attack and were now running out from the saloons and joints to get up into the space harbor to their ship and battle stations.

The last of them piled on, and we were off. From far in the strata above us, we could already hear the peculiar bark of atomic cannon fire opening to repel this attack.

Marines and space tars were turning excitedly to one another, jabbering bewilderedly, indignantly.

"Who in the hell do you suppose—?"

"What in the devil do you think—?"

ALL of them were outraged, all of them cool and determined, but none of them aware what interplanetary enemy of the Federation had launched this attack. Many opinioned that it was Mars, others argued that it was Venus. None could agree.

Except me. And there wasn't any doubt of it in my sickly certain conscience that this could be nothing but a Martian attack. A Martian attack Trojan horsed, so to speak, by Clenoka—from the information unwittingly handed over to him by one Sergeant Shane, late of the Federation Space Marines!

I closed my eyes then, and made all sorts of silent vows. Then I said some prayers, prayers begging that Shane be permitted to die honorably rather than live to face the disgrace that waited when this was all over. I added a few prayers for myself along the same line.

We were into the space harbor then, and shooting up alongside the familiar bulk of the F.S.S. Western Hemisphere. And all around us the din of atomic and electric cannon fire was now tremendous.

Small space fighter craft, most of them the crimson-marked Martian raiders, shot everywhere around that harbor. A dozen of them must have slipped through the atomic mine field and into the harbor already. Many hundreds more, I knew, would follow.

I climbed from the launch in that stinking, smoking din and confusion. Then I was aware that I was dashing to my battle station at an atomic gun turret. The entire harbor was an inferno of confusion.

DASHING across the deck of the F.S.S. Western Hemisphere I sidestepped the running space tars and Marines who were also leaping to action at their battle posts. Several of the small Martian space fighter craft were diving alternately at our ship, strafing the decks with withering atomic cannon fire.

And then I was climbing the duralloy ladder to the gun turret, clambering in behind its thick protective armoring of mangonic. The rest of the crew for this atomic gun were already in action, stripping the huge weapon down to firing duty. And in charge of the gun, quite cool and efficient, sending the men through the paces which I thought I'd have to take charge of, was Sergeant Shane!

He saw me, nodded gloweringly.

"Took long enough to make your station, Corporal," he snapped.

I was too damned flabbergasted to speak. I could only gaze open mouthed at him in astonishment as I hurried to my range-finding post at the side of the gun.

And then, moments later, with Sergeant Shane directing our first barrages, we were in action, blazing forth at the duet of diving Martian space fighter craft.

"Screen," Shane snapped.

"Screen four," I said automatically, as the first of the Martian fighter craft dove down at our gun position and into my vizascreen panel sights.

"Point," Shane barked.

"Screen three," I called. The craft was closer now, ready to blaze loose with the twin atomic cannons in its nose.

"Down point one," Shane barked.

"Screen one," I shouted.

"Fire!" Shane roared.

Our atomic cannon blasted. On my vizascreen sight, the small Martian space fighter craft suddenly spilt into a million atoms as the orange bolt from our gun caught it smack on the nose.

"Direct," I reported.

"Screen," Shane snapped.

I stopped marveling at the human factors that made Shane one of the most stupid persons, and yet the smartest of Marines in actual action, that I had ever known. I caught the outline of the second Martian space fighter ship, blazing down toward us from above the falling fragments of the craft we'd shattered.

"Screen two," I called.

"Point one," Shane barked. Then: "Fire!"

This hit was a tail job, our orange bolt of flame completely severing the rear of the Martian space fighter ship; it skewed off to the edge of my vizascreen wildly, then plummeted downward ablaze.

"Hit!" I reported. "Down!"

I was warming with the heat and the excitement of the battle. Warming, too, with the fierce pride of a Marine who thrills at the combat teamwork of his guns and his buddies. Shane was still magnificently unperturbed. This was his crew. These were the men he himself was responsible for. Their success with this gun was his success.

Another, and larger, Martian craft blotted into vision on my vizascreen.

"Target!" I called.

"Screen!" Shane barked.

"Screen four," I called.

"Point three," Shane called. "Fire!" Our atomic cannon blasted once more. The Martian fighter craft never knew what hit it. The orange explosion that caught it amidships completely demolished its side gun bubbles. It dropped immediately in flame, split asunder.

"Hit," I yelled. "Down."

THERE were more then, eight more within the next ten minutes. We got three of those. Then we downed a giant of a space fighter for our seventh.

And then there was a lull, no more ships popping into vision on my vizascreen. The crew waited tensely, impatiently. Shane, of course, was coolly blase. The roar of battle around us was growing fainter and fainter.

Two more minutes, and the gunfire was only scattered, sporadic. Then, at length, it was silenced completely. I wiped the sweat from my brow and looked at Shane.

"Got seven," he said casually. "Not bad. But you birds'll have to put in extra hours on accounta those five misses."

I shook my head in silent amazement. The big blundering blockhead. The show was over, and he thought everything was going to be just the same now as it always was. Didn't he realize what he'd done? Didn't he have any idea this treacherous attack was his own dammed stupid fault? Didn't he know he was through, washed up—that even this magnificent gun record he'd just established wouldn't mean a thing in another two hours?

The "All Clear" sounded then. I've never heard a wail that sounded as much like music...

"THE Martian fighter space craft that slipped through the atomic mine fields," our Admiral, Old Ironpants, said three hours later, "were merely part of a space armada of close to a thousand of such ships. It was only to be expected that some of them would blunder through by luck. However, only fifteen of these did so."

We were standing in the stateroom of Old Ironpants, Shane and I. The Admiral, his hatchet face wreathed with smug pride, sat with the stern old duck from the Federation Secret Service. Even the stern old duck seemed complacently relaxed for an instant.

"It seems," the Admiral went on, "that your remarkable gun crew accounted for seven, or almost half, of the enemy ships that did slip through. I consider this excellent for your record, Sergeant Shane. The proper commendation for you and your crew will be made publicly within the next week. Now that the Federation is formally at war with Mars, crews of your type can't go unrewarded."

STILL dizzy from the mad reversal of fortune, I heard Shane, bursting with ego, say, "Thank you, Sir."

The stern old duck from the Federation Secret Service broke in, then, to heap fuel on Shane's already blazing conceit.

"You took quite a chance, Sergeant, in handling that Martian espionage ring yourself. After all, we of the Secret Service have to make a living, you know. And if, in the future, you and other members of the armed forces take to breaking up spy rings on your own hook, we'll be out of jobs."

Sergeant Shane gave a falsely modest laugh. "It wasn't hard, Sir. I suspected they wanted them atomic mine positions, and so, when I figured they were about ready to pull their fast Martian sneak stuff, I gave 'em false positions to go by."

The stern old Secret Service duck beamed. "It was fortunate that Clenoka and his spies, escaping in a space launch space-radioed those false positions to the Martian space-raiding fleet waiting to pounce on us. The dirty devils blew themselves into eternity trying to get through the atomic mine positions that had been changed."

Sergeant Shane nodded proudly. A grin splitting his ape-like mug. I was still too stunned to chime in with even a word.

"And don't think that little bit of work won't be brought to the Attention of the Federation authorities, with additional recommendation for citation," the stern old duck declared.

"Thank you, Sir," Shane declared. He was a cat rolling in cream. "I only seen my duty and performed it."

"And as for you, Corporal," the Secret Service duck said, "we will forget the break you made from our custody, only under previous considerations, and the fact that you were answering your call to emergency duty."

"Thank you, Sir," I managed weakly.

We left, then, for which I was just as glad. Another ten minutes of that and my knees wouldn't have held me up any longer. Sergeant Shane strutted along beside me, lost in a cloud of lofty self esteem.

"Cut it out, Shane," I growled. "You're nothing but a lucky bum and you know it."

Shane flushed, stopped. "Whatdyuh mean?" he demanded.

"You know what I mean. You weren't wise to Clenoka's being a spy when you took that money out of the bank."

SHANE looked guiltily right and left, then seeing we were beyond betraying earshot, he said, "Okay, I wasn't wise then. And I hadn't been wise to him when I was piloting him and his launch through the mine fields the times before. But I did get wise to him that last time. You don't think I'm a sucker, do you?"

"I won't answer that," I said. "It's beyond question." Then I added, "What made you wise to Clenoka, if you really were, that last time?"

"He wouldn't take my money," Shane said. "And he didn't want me to go along with him to look at the asteroids. He said he had to go out and look at them himself to check up on some things."

"And that's what made you suspicious?" I asked.

"Sure," Shane said. "Anyone who doesn't want to take my money should certainly be suspicious."

"Maybe," I said, marveling at the snarled cogs in my chum's thinking machine, "you've got something there."

"Certainly I have," Shane said indignantly. "I had a hunch that he wasn't going to let me in on that good real estate deal after all. I had a hunch he wanted to take somebody else out to look at them asteroids. Even after he promised me he'd let me buy in on them!"

I could only shake my head. "And then," I managed at last, "you decided to prevent him from shoving you out of the real estate deal, eh?"

Shane nodded vigorously. "He couldn't double-cross me. I'm no dumbbell. He told me he was going out to look at them asteroids alone, and that if I'd give him the day's map of the mine field, he'd be able to pilot his space-launch through without my help."

"And so you decided he was going to take some one else out there, to sell them the asteroids he'd promised you, eh?"

"Sure," said Shane. "So I figgered I'd fix it so he couldn't get through the mine field to show them asteroids to no one else. I gave him a map three days old. I knew that would stop him."

I had a vision of the Martian Clenoka, working by an incorrect map, space-radioing the same useless map to his country's fleet waiting outside the harbor. The vision also pictured Clenoka and his staff in the space-launch, trying to pilot themselves to safety with that inaccurate map. I had another vision of Clenoka's launch ploughing headlong into the first atomic mine it encountered, exploding to bits. The rest of the picture, the Martian raiding fleet, most inaccurately guided, trying to slip in through the mines into the harbor and blowing itself into blaze after blaze, was also there.

AND all because an irate Sergeant Shane didn't want to get hoodwinked out of some fraudulent real estate deal!

"I'm no sap," Shane repeated. "Not a bit. I wouldn't let him pull that wool over my eyes. I knew that would stop him!"

I almost choked at the way he used the word, "stop." As gently as I could, I asked, "Did it ever occur to you, Shane, that 'stopping' Clenoka that way would blow him into hell and ruin your real estate deal anyway?"

Sergeant Shane considered this. He rubbed his chin with a huge red hand. He squinted thoughtfully. He opened his mouth aghast.

"My God," he exclaimed, "I never thought of that!"

I just looked at him, shaking my head despairingly. Then, at last, I said, "But you really never were wise to the fact that Clenoka and his phony real estate office was nothing but a Martian fifth column front, were you?"

Shane grinned. "I never said I was. That was the Secret Service guy's idea. I didn't correct him. Why should I? After all, didn't I fix the works?"

"Yeah," I sighed in despair, "you fixed the works." I turned and started away. Shane's big paw suddenly grabbed my arm. I looked around. His brow was wrinkled with the impact of a sudden dawning revelation.

"Cork," Sergeant Shane gasped. "I'll bet Clenoka never really owned them asteroids he showed me!"

I didn't answer. What was there to say?


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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