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DAVID WRIGHT O'BRIEN
(WRITING AS JOHN YORK CABOT)

THE ODDS ON SERGEANT SHANE

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Ex Libris

First published in Amazing Stories, December 1941

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-07-14
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Amazing Stories, December 1941, with "The Odds on Sergeant Shane"



Illustration

The Saturn's lifecraft shot into the lead right from the start...



Sergeant Shane had the lifecraft race fixed. He loaded one ship with magnetic mineral. All he had to do was to win the toss for position with a two- headed coin. Then the goof picked tails...!



"THE Fleet's in!" said Sergeant Shane of the Space Marines, punctuating his remark by practically knocking me out of my most comfortable dozing position in my bunk. I blinked at him, regarding his homely red mug and his squat, powerful, apelike physique distastefully.

"I am very tired. Go away and don't bother me," I answered. "I don't give a damn if every last tub in space is in. I have a bad hangover to combat."

Sergeant Shane playfully tweaked my ear, almost tearing it from my head.

"Now Corporal Cork," he admonished cheerfully, "don't you realize what I'm trying to tell you?"

"If you spoke anything but garbled pidgin Venusian I might be able to understand," I answered, giving up my effort to catch forty winks.

"When the Fleet comes in," Shane went cheerfully on, "it means that the F.S.S. Saturn, our rival, is also in."

"I am amazed at your remarkable deduction," I declared, sitting up on the edge of my bunk.

"And that," said Sergeant Shane, "means that the honor of the F.S.S. Western Hemisphere is at stake."

"If you are thinking of brawling in Martian night spots with the marines and tars from the Saturn you'd better give up the idea," I said. "You know what the Fleet Commander's orders are on that. If there's any inter-ship brawling the entire Fleet will be deprived of liberty tickets for the duration of our stop here."

Sergeant Shane made a tsking noise with his tongue against his wolf teeth.

"Corporal Cork," he said, "you wrong me dreadfully. I haven't been in a brawl since—"

"Since our last stopover," I cut in.

"Well anyway," Shane said rapidly, "I'm not thinking of slugging those space bums from the Saturn. I'm just trying to tell you that the Fleet Commander has announced a lifecraft race between the two prize crews of the Fleet."

That woke me.

"What?"

"Exactly," said. Shane. "He probably figures that it's the best way to keep peace aland for the duration of the fleet meeting. Give the men on the various space craft something else to think about besides slugging each other."

I whistled.

"That's really something. The two prize crews are the bunch from the Saturn, and our own crew from the Western Hemisphere! Doesn't the Fleet Commander realize the boys from the Saturn and the Western Hemisphere don't get along well?"

Shane nodded.

"Sure he does. I overheard one of out officers saying that the Fleet Commander figures it's the best way for the two ships to settle the bad blood between them."

"How ducky," I said. "A lifecraft race. No matter who wins or loses, there'll still be bad blood. Personally I'd sooner spit on a marine or tar from the Saturn than speak to him. And a lifecraft race won't change that opinion."

"Sure," Shane nodded cheerfully. "So would I. But that's not the point. The lifecraft race will mean a pool, with plenty of money lying around for the taking."

I nodded.

"Yeah, but—"

"I've already gotten permission from our dear admiral, Old Ironpants, to supervise the betting between the men of the Western Hemisphere and the Saturn."

"You're going to handle the bets for our bunch on the Western Hemisphere?"

Shane nodded, licking his lips.

"And I'm also to be in charge of our lifecraft crew."

"What's in it for you?" I asked suspiciously.

"Prestige," he said blandly, "and the honor of the dear old Western Hemisphere."

I shook my head sadly. He'd certainly picked up an unthankful job for himself. But that was Shane. Anything to hug the spotlight.

"I don't envy you," I said. "That involves a lot of work and a lot of bookkeeping."

"Not so much," Shane said with suspicious nonchalance.

"Not so much!" I grunted. "Why, for one man to handle all that work and nurse a prize lifecraft crew as well is alm—"

"You're detailed to assist me," Shane said, smirking. "So there will be two of us to share the, ah, prestige."

"Why, you towheaded son of a space—" I began.

Sergeant Shane shook a finger in my face.

"Tut, tut, Corporal. No profanity, please!" And with that he turned and rolled happily out of the cabin barracks.


I HAD occasion to use plenty of profanity in Shane's direction during the next four days. For when I'd said he'd have tons of laborious detail work on his hands in taking care of the ship's bets, I was guilty only of understatement. The money that was being wagered was astonishing, even figuring that the Saturn carried two thousand space sailors and marines aboard and the Western Hemisphere carried eighteen hundred.

I might as well have torn up my liberty ticket for all the good it did me. I was kept aboard the Western Hemisphere all this time, cooped up in a dingy cabin writing names and amounts in books and calculating various odds wagered.

But Sergeant Shane didn't lose any spaceburn, no, not that louse. He was making sure that he kept very busy supervising the workouts of our prize crew in lifecraft practice. He was never around when there was work to be done.

And when I did see him he evaded any mention of the mess I was handling, his mess, and confined himself to babbling enthusiastically about our lifecraft crew and what a snap they were going to have beating the boys from the Saturn.

"Why, our front man, MacKeltish, could man a space lifecraft by himself and beat them bums from the Saturn," Shane boasted.

That was true. The big MacKeltish, a sailor from one of the Western Hemisphere's atomic cannon turrets, was as powerful as any man in the Fleet. All of us on the Western Hemisphere were very proud of the prize ape in our prize crew.

"And I'm seeing to it that MacKeltish gets personal care until the race," Shane went on. "I got him under my wing, so's nothing can happen to him. I had him relieved from duty in the atomic cannon turrets temporarily until the race is over."

And that showed the fever pitch to which this lifecraft race was taking the whole Fleet. When our admiral, Old Ironpants, would release MacKeltish from duty to get in shape for the race, that was really something.

"Them space bums from the Saturn have a good crew," Shane admitted grudgingly. "But they can never hope to whip us while we got MacKeltish as front man."

And so it went for the next two days, and finally the much discussed lifecraft contest was just two days away. That was when Sergeant Shane gave me the greatest shock of all.

He came into the dingy cabin while I was bent over the books, making more entries for inter-Fleet betting on the race. Wow, how they were piling up!

I should have known from the smug expression on Shane's pan that something was up. But I didn't.

"How are the bets coming in, Corporal?" he asked. "And how are the odds?"

"The odds are two to one in favor of our crew from the Western Hemisphere," I told him coldly. "Thanks to the fact that you've been shooting off your big mouth about what a steal our crew will have."

Shane just smirked wider.

"They should be ten to one," he smiled confidingly. "We're robbing them at those odds."

I went back to my work. He still stood around. And then he let loose with the bombshell.

"What's the biggest bet you've registered all day?" he asked.

"Officers or men?" I retorted unsuspecting.

"Men," he said. "What's the biggest."

"Two sailors from our ship," I said. "They're named Jeems and Hoban." I looked down the register. "They placed, ah, one- thousand bucks, Venusian, to be covered at two-to-one."

"Smart guys," said Shane.

"They're crazy," I said. "I've got one ticket, and I'd never take another at these odds."

"You and me," Shane said calmly, "just bought the tickets—a thousand bucks, Venusian—from Jeems and Hoban."

"What?" I bellowed, glaring wildly at him.

Shane nodded.

"That joint account we had in the Martian Bank here, you know, the one we've been saving toward retirement and the freight space business, I drew it all out."

I stood up, so mad I was shaking. That was a year's pay for both of us. That meant a chance to set up a space freighting concern when our musters were over. We'd been four years saving that dough. And here this hairy-eared idiot had gambled every last cent of it on the race!

"Don't worry, Cork," Shane said soothingly. "We're a cinch. Have you ever known your old buddy to do anything foolish?"

"Have I ever known," I grated, "that you've done anything sane or sensible!" Sergeant Shane got out before I could calm down enough to regain control of my muscles. I was hotter than an asteroid fire-belt. I was blazing. All our dough, on a lifecraft race!

I suddenly felt very sick at my stomach.


THE next day was the day before the race. And I had a hangover. Shane's wild splurge with our capital had been too much for me, and I'd gone aland to mingle with the Martian citizenry in the lowest dives I could find. Alone and morose, I'd gotten myself thoroughly pickled. Two sailors brought me back to the ship and smuggled my alcoholic form into the safety of my bunk.

Consequently my spirits were more than drooping as I stood against the rail of our big space battle wagon, F.S.S. Western Hemisphere, and sopped up the sun.

I hadn't seen Shane since the previous afternoon when he'd made the bombshell announcement about betting our swag. And inquiries around the ship seemed to indicate no one else had seen him.

For as far as anyone knew, he'd gone aland last night also, with MacKeltish as his companion.

I went down to Shane's bunk. He wasn't there. I was anxious to see him, for I'd decided to give him a chance to transfer my half of our huge bet to someone else. I was getting out of it before it was too late.

Thinking that he might be giving MacKeltish a pep talk, I worked my way around to that part of the ship and finally found that hero's hammock. MacKeltish wasn't around either.

I finally gave it up, and went back to the dingy cubby hole where my betting ledger needed attention. I wasn't seated at the desk ten minutes when the duralloy door opened. I looked up over my shoulder.

Our dear admiral, Old Ironpants, stood there in the doorway!

Almost knocking the desk over. I leaped to my feet and snapped into the space salute. His space weathered hatchet face was wreathed in a resemblance to a smile.

"At ease, Corporal," he said.

I relaxed, a little.

"I'm placing a wager, Corporal, against Commander Kerrick of the Saturn. I wish you'd enter it in, ah, your log. Five thousand, Venusian, and I'm giving Commander Kerrick four-to-one odds."

"Five thousand," I repeated. And then I couldn't help the squealing rise in my voice. "At four to one?"

Old Ironpants nodded.

"I discussed our crew's chances with Sergeant Shane yesterday afternoon. He seemed remarkably pleased, especially with the ability of Gunner MacKeltish. He was positive that our ship's prize crew would emerge victorious. He even said that the prevailing odds of two to one in our favor were a steal for us." The admiral coughed. "Ah, naturally, under those circumstances I believed it only sporting to play fair with Commander Kerrick, consequently I doubled the odds for our stake and made it four- to-one. Only sporting. Decency demanded it."

I could only gulp.

Then Old Ironpants was moving out. I came to another brisk salute. When he was gone I sat down weakly in my chair. This was too much. Shane had gone too far. He'd not only talked the admiral into risking all that dough on the outcome, but he'd left the old sour-puss feeling that any odds less than four-to-one in our favor would be absolute cheating!

This was heading for a mess of trouble. Old Ironpants wasn't of the school that lost gracefully. He was strictly die-hard. A loss by our crew would mean more than prestige, it would mean cash, and quite a bit of it. Admirals make a surprisingly modest sum, and five thousand was no small item to Mrs. Ironpants back on Earth.

I thought of that sawed off little ape, Shane, blissfully sitting over the whole damned powder keg.

"Brother," I said aloud, "you've got me, the admiral, yourself and the whole dawgone eighteen hundred men on this battle wagon right out on a nice shaky limb."

But I didn't know the half of it.


DARKNESS had fallen over the Martian space port, and I was snugly, though gloomily, entrenched in my bunk when a space sailor orderly named Barnes came up to me, excited and awfully secretive.

"You gotta step up on deck, Corporal," he whispered. "It's important."

"Is it about the race?" I said disgustedly.

He shook his head in a combination that could mean yes or no.

"It's about Sergeant Shane," he hissed, looking around to make sure no one could hear him.

Against my better judgment, I piled out of my bunk. I went to the deck with him. There he took me off against a deserted bulkhead and spilled the beans.

"A couple of the boys from our ship picked up Sergeant Shane in a back alley to a Martian dive. They've got him on shore, but they don't dare bring him aboard until you've talked sense into him. They think he's been drinking."

A very nasty thought was plucking at the back of my mind. It was almost a premonition.

"Okay," I grated, "I'll go along."

We slipped unobtrusively through the space harbor in a small life cruiser some minutes later. The great gray hulks of the Fleet battle wagons dropped past us every few minutes, and then we were heading down to the space landing docks of the Martian port, passing an array of tramps and freighters and commercial vessels of all types and descriptions. The sight of the freighters made me a little sick.

Finally we moored into the landing platforms and were climbing out onto the docks.

Three sailors whom I recognized as from the Western Hemisphere met us as we tied up. Outlined in the murky darkness behind them were two others, holding a groggy Sergeant Shane erect.

"Here he is, Corporal," one of them said, pushing Shane toward me. Shane half stumbled to where I stood.

"Corky," he grunted thickly, "these damned fools think I'm drunk."

I never saw quite such a mess. Shane's head was cut and his uniform tunic was muddy and torn. There were puffs around the corners of his eyes that looked like the beginning of nice black circles. But I knew in an instant that he wasn't drunk. He was groggy, and he'd taken a terrific beating in a brawl.

Motioning the sailors to get aside, I grabbed Shane by the arm and steered him down the platform a ways. When we were out of earshot I snapped,

"Okay, tough nut. What happened?" He shook his head, as if to clear the fog. I reached into my tunic pocket and pulled out a small vial.

"Sniff this," I ordered.

He did, and backed away coughing and choking. But his head was clearer.

"There was a fight," he said. "MacKeltish and I were grabbed by six sailors from the Saturn as we left the saloon. I was helping MacKeltish ease up on his training so he'd be fit tomorrow and not on too fine an edge."

"Go ahead," I said grimly.

"There were more space bums from the Saturn. Mac and I held 'em off as long as we could. But we were outnumbered. I came-to here on the landing platform about ten minutes ago."

But I had ceased to feel concern for Sergeant Shane.

"And where is MacKeltish?" I demanded, fearing his answer.

My erstwhile buddy and stupid companion groaned his grief- stricken reply.

"I dunno. They've probably got him cooped up somewhere until the race is over tomorrow!"


AND then, in no uncertain terms, I told Sergeant Shane a few things. I told him about Ironpants. I reminded him of the money of our own that hung on the outcome of the race tomorrow. I reminded him of the very indignant eighteen hundred men and officers of the Western Hemisphere who'd bet their shirts on the strong back of MacKeltish and the prize crew. And I topped it off with a somewhat profane description of his thinking powers.

But Sergeant Shane could only groan.

"Go ahead, Cork," he said hoarsely. "I deserve every word of it."

I took him back to the sailors and we all climbed into the little life cruiser.

"He's all right," I said. "Let's get going." I didn't tell them that MacKeltish had been with Shane, and that said same MacKeltish wasn't due back aboard the Western Hemisphere until the race was over tomorrow. They'd know that soon enough.

I sat in the stern of the little life cruiser as we made our way back out to the space harbor. We were slipping past the tramps and space freighters again, and Shane sat wordlessly beside me.

Sarcastically, I muttered,

"What are you thinking, bright boy?"

He raised his head from his paws in despair.

"Of some way out of this," he groaned. "There's gotta be a way out."

I gave vent to a bitter, sardonic laugh. Off our port beam was the gray hulk of a dirty old space freighter just slipping into mooring. We seemed to be sliding toward it a little too close for comfort. I raised my head.

"Watch that freighter on the port beam," I shouted to the space sailor at the controls. "She's not moored yet."

The fellow at the controls gave the atomic motor a little more power, and we stopped sliding toward the other vessel and got back on the right route.

"That's funny, Corporal," he remarked conversationally. "There seemed to be a pull toward that old space scow."

I glanced out at the old tub, and by peering intently was able to make out the cargo markings on her beam.*

[* "Cargo markings" in space freighting are made clearly visible on the bows of space craft, a necessary precaution to indicate to other craft what is being carried aboard. Due to the complexities of cargo and navigation this was deemed necessary by the Space Commerce Board in 2100 A. D. —Ed.]


"No wonder," I said. "She's carrying plagterium* in her hold. That's pull enough to swerve any little craft like this."

[* "Plagterium" is a metal obtained from Juno which has extraordinary powers of magnetic pull. Space craft carrying this cargo have been known to collect "barnacles" of countless small metallic substances adrift in the void through the pull of the cargo as the craft passes the objects. Small space craft, like the life cruiser mentioned, would be attracted to a ship carrying plagterium if atomic motor power was of low velocity. —Ed.]


And an instant after I closed my mouth, Sergeant Shane was on his feet beside me. He seemed suddenly to have gone crazy with excitement.

"Stop everything. Stop this life cruiser!" he shouted. Then to me: "I've got it. I've got it!"

The space tar at the controls cut off our power, and looked back at Shane over his shoulder bewilderedly. I was wondering if some blow on the bean outside that Martian saloon had been too much for my chum.

"Listen!" Shane insisted, and then he was talking a mile a minute and waving his hands to punctuate his words. When, in a little less than five minutes, he concluded breathlessly, he asked us, "What about it? Are you all game?"

I just sat back jaw agape. It was a chance. A long one and a wild one. But it was better than none at all. The sailors, who were suddenly aware—from Shane's words—what had happened to MacKeltish, and what would happen to our chances in the race without him, weren't long in making up their minds to act on the scheme.

"Good," said Shane. "Now put over to that freighter. We've got a lot to do." I was only able to shake my head in bewilderment at the audacity of the scheme. But it was typical of Shane that he was now on top of the universe.


SHANE, myself, and the six sailors who'd been with us all through that night should have been tossed in the brig the next morning when we returned aboard the F.S.S. Western Hemisphere.

The military police detail took us right to the stateroom of Old Ironpants himself, who was in a frothing rage.

"Sergeant Shane," he demanded, "what is the meaning of all this?"

Shane had coached us all to silence. So in spite of my better judgment he spieled for the group.

"Admiral, our A.W.O.L. was in the line of duty, sir. It concerned the honor of the ship and fair-play in the Fleet." And then, graphically, he went into a lurid tale of MacKeltish's abduction by space tars from the F.S.S. Saturn. He omitted the Martian saloon, however, and added a few touches that struck me as being highly imaginary.

Old Ironpants was purple as he listened.

"I'll get the Fleet Commander immediately. There's still an hour before the race is due. I'll chase this to the ground!" he stormed.

"Begging your pardon, Admiral," Shane broke in. "But we of the ship wish you'd say nothing of it. We've spent all last night until dawn searching for MacKeltish."

This was a barefaced lie.

"But you haven't found him!" Old Ironpants thundered, undoubtedly thinking of his huge bet and Mrs. Ironpants back on Earth.

"No, sir," Shane admitted. "But as supervisor of the prize lifecraft crew during these past days I can guarantee that we'll win for the honor of the F.S.S. Western Hemisphere without MacKeltish." He fixed Old Ironpants with a brave, resolute, confident gaze.

"You are certain of that, Sergeant?" Old Ironpants asked with ominous deliberation.

"Deadly certain, sir," said Shane. If he wasn't certain he'd be better off dead.

"Very well then," said Old Ironpants. "I'll suspend judgment on you men until the case is investigated later. In the meantime I'll not protest the race. If your certainty that we'll win without MacKeltish is correct, then those ruffians from the Saturn will have the punishment of losing as extra payment for their rotten trick."

A pretty speech. All of which meant that Old Ironpants wasn't taking any chances. If we lost the race, he'd invalidate it on the grounds that MacKeltish was abducted. The investigation that would result would land Shane, myself and the six space tars in the brig for the better part of our miserable lives. But if we won, Old Ironpants would be that much richer, would have saved the honor of the F.S.S. Western Hemisphere, and would sagely forgive us our sins.

He didn't have a thing to lose.

Shane and I had plenty. It was all I could think of in the hour that followed. The hour during which preparations were made for the great and long awaited lifecraft race between the prize crews of the Saturn and the Western Hemisphere.


JAUNTILY, as if he didn't have a thing in the world to bother him, Shane resumed his charge of our prize crew. He had picked another man at the last minute to substitute for MacKeltish, a big, beetle-browed marine named Woonsocket. He'd have to do.

Then at last our lifecraft was lowered over the side, and the prize crew of the F.S.S. Western Hemisphere clambered in to the loud cheers of their shipmates. Shane was coxswain.

Several hundred yards across the space harbor cheers rolled from the decks of the F.S.S. Saturn. She was lowering her space lifecraft, plus prize crew, over the side.*

[* Space lifecraft are small ships not more than twelve feet in width and not longer than twenty feet from stem to stern.

They hold a top capacity of ten men, being strictly emergency vessels. They are run by sheer, old-fashioned man power. When atomic motors and rocket power turbines go out of commission, they are really sort of human rocket boats. For there are eight small "pump handles" regularly distributed along the sides of the craft. Each of these "pumps" leads to a rocket that pipes out the bottom of the boat. When the pump is worked rapidly up and down, old-fashioned air pressure is generated in a minor rocket puff that shoots out the bottom and propels the craft along. When all eight pumps are being worked, a fair amount of "rocket" exertion can be created to give the boat some speed, which is, of course, constant when achieved.

They've saved plenty of lives in space which would otherwise have been lost when atomic motors failed, or rockets jammed. —Ed.]


The course was laid out over two miles, from one end of the space harbor to the other. Both boats were to start at the same time from the same end, and the lifecraft crossing the finish line first took the laurels.

And in less than ten minutes both space lifecraft were lined up waiting for the atomic cannon that would blast forth the signal to get going.

I had a good vantage point on the rail of the Western Hemisphere from which to watch the battle. They'd cleared a lane almost a mile wide, and aside from the atomic motored judging space launch which was to follow the progress of the two boats, no other space craft were permitted on the course.

The judging space launch was on our side of the cleared course. That is to say the side on which the F.S.S. Western Hemisphere was moored. Over on the other side of the course was the F.S.S. Saturn. We were both about midway in the course, and the racing craft would pass between the two great battle wagons.

I was curious—and more than that—to see how the toss for position came out. For as I said, the judging spacelaunch was on our side of the course and everything depended on Shane's being able to get the position farthest away from the side along which the judging spacelaunch would cruise. It was his job to see that the Saturn's lifecraft was always between our lifecraft and that space launch.

I went mad with despair when the red lifecraft—ours—nosed into the position closest to the sideline along which the judging spacelaunch would move! Now the Saturn lifecraft was farthest from the spacelaunch. Shane's rotten luck was holding. We'd never win now ... that spacelaunch was loaded with plagterium we'd planted in the hull! Was I sick?

Fffffffllllllaaannng! The atomic cannon on the judging spacelaunch boomed out suddenly.

Both lifecraft lurched forward. The race was on!


I FELT tiny needles of cold sticking all over my spine. My knees were weak, and my stomach empty. The red lifecraft was already trailing by about four yards, caught napping. Saturn's white lifecraft was in front.

I could picture poor Shane, face streaked with sweat, exerting, imploring, screaming at those space tars bent over the pumps. I wanted to scream myself, for the white lifecraft was inching ahead another two yards. What I couldn't picture was how Shane could have lost the toss with a two-headed coin! Only a man as stupid as he could have done it!

Along the lane nearest our battle wagon, the judging spacelaunch was moving less than twenty yards abeam of the white Saturn lifecraft.

Those Saturn space tars must have been giving their pumps hell. At the quarter-way mark our red lifecraft was trailing by fifteen yards.

The bedlam and excitement all around me was nothing compared to the chills running up and down my spine. I couldn't have yelled if I tried. My mouth was cotton. This was the end for us.

At the half it was no better. We'd fallen astern the white lifecraft a little more and were now twenty yards behind.

I felt as if I was going to drop from nervous exhaustion.

At the three-quarter, length I happened to turn my head upward and see Old Ironpants on the bridge. He had his visascreen fixed on the race, and his face was solid stone. I winced.

We were twenty-five yards behind, now, and going into the final half mile stretch. It was more than I could stand. I shut my eyes. When I opened them again everyone on board the F.S.S. Western Hemisphere was going crazy. Looking down at the boats I saw the reason why.

Our red lifecraft was in front! In front and less than forty yards from the finish line!

The white Saturn lifecraft was crawling along a full twenty yards behind our own bunch! It was impossible but true! How Shane must have been exhorting our crew!

And then we were over the wire—our lifecraft victor by thirty yards—and our entire ship going crazy, including Old Ironpants up on the bridge!

Me? I went off in a convenient corner and sat down. My knees were very weak.


I WAS with Shane in Old Ironpants' stateroom two hours later. The old boy was beaming happily. Shane was eating it up.

"Excellent work, Sergeant. You had a wonderful crew. I must say the finish was certainly exciting and, ah, worthy of the fighting spunk of the F.S.S. Western Hemisphere."

"And you won't protest the MacKeltish incident, sir?"

Old Ironpants waved his hand.

"It would turn a splendid race into a sordid squabble. MacKeltish was back on board an hour ago. Our M.P.s found him bound and gagged in a Martian canal barge. No. I'll say nothing of it."

I took a deep breath out of sheer relief.

"How did you drive them to that finishing spurt, Sergeant?" Old Ironpants demanded.

"I convinced them, sir, that a crew that won't be beaten can't be beaten. It was a question of stiffening their spirit, that's all." He smiled smugly.

Out on the deck, ten minutes late, I got Shane off into a corner.

"Look," I said. "That was very wonderful, I'll agree with Old Ironpants. But now, give me the truth. You know damn well we had enough plagterium planted in the bulk plates of the judging spacelaunch to hold our lifecraft back at an even speed with it for a year. And why didn't you use that double- headed coin of yours to get the outside position away from the judging spacelaunch?"

"I did use the double-headed coin, but I picked tails."

"You what?" I howled.

"Sure," said Shane complacently. "The best laid plans of mice and men, you know..."

I grabbed his arm and shook him.

"You crazy galoot," I shot at him, "give me this straight, or I swear I'll go nuts and blame it on you."

But Sergeant Shane went blissfully on, torturing me.

"It's a smart man who can take the plans away from the Fates when they go wrong, and steer 'em right again. Only a genius like me could wring victory out of certain defeat. It was only my usual quick thinking..."

"Quick thinking!" I gasped. "Why, you numbskull, you haven't thought fast since the time you decided not to take on ten men at once in a saloon on Pluto, and legged it in shameful disgrace..."

"Strategy, that was," retorted Shane with injured dignity. "Only a fool..."

"And only a fool would pick tails when he knew the coin had a head on both sides!" I said bitingly.

"...Unless he wanted to lose," Shane hinted coyly.

"Wanted to..." I stared.

"Sure. Y'see, I got to figurin' after we were ready to toss for position. With the galoots I got pumping for me, I figure the Saturn's lifecraft is a cinch to get the jump on us. Now it's natural the judging spacelaunch will keep pace with the leader. So I picked tails, and got the position next the spacelaunch, where it could drag us ahead, instead of holding us back. After that, it was just a matter of two forces outnumbering and outpowering one. When we went into the lead, our momentum was so much greater than the Saturn's lifecraft, that it was impossible for them to equal our speed. So we won..."

I gaped blankly.

"But how'd you know the Saturn's lifecraft would get the jump on you?"

The big lunkhead smirked.

"Easy, I just cut out half the pumps for the start of the race. The controls are in the coxswain's hands, y'know."

I'm still trying to figure it out. Maybe you think Sergeant Shane used his head for once. But you don't know Shane like I do; a man's got to have a brain to think, and that's one thing my stupid buddy don't possess! Maybe Einstein could explain it, I can't. Anyway, the next race we have, I'm betting against Sergeant Shane, no matter what the odds. He won't ever duplicate that stunt again, take it from me!


THE END


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