_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
"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
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