it was just another day/night at space station r-85.
getting ready to conquer another world.
the e g ship sledgehammer was being refitted once again.
it had taken many a hard knock.
and given even harder ones - death blows - to the ships of the petty tyrants and tinpot messiahs and flaminghaired fanatics who had stood in the way of the expanding galaxy.
"how's that hull looking, stanley?"
"great , commander! just feel that finish - won't the baldurians be surprised when they see their best shots bounce off it like raindrops!"
commander "bash" bartleby grinned tolerantly at the young man's enthusiasm. bartleby had seen and done it all in his hundred and twenty years in the corps - he'd conquered more worlds and seen more suns stream by in the stern viewer of his spaceships than the young deckhand had downed pints at the space station tavern.
what he wouldn't have done to be setting off on his first mission.
or even to be setting off on his first conquest in his own first command ship.
instead he just smiled and ran his hand over the hull of the ship. "yeah, feels pretty good." no sense being any more enthusiastic than that, and giving the young fellow a swelled head.
not that the deckhand didn't beam with pride - even the slightest word from the legendary "bash" bartleby was more than enough to set that off.
with a nod, bartleby passed on. the whole station was a hive of bustling activity.
through the ports on the side of the ship he could see that the atomic reactors that powered it were being stripped of the tiniest hint of rust and were being cranked up.
the navigational and steering apparatus were being checked and double checked.
as were the deep space cameras and radios that often played a crucial role when battle was joined.
bartleby left the ship behind and passed deeper into the interior of the station. where the activity that really interested him - where his own heart and soul were - was going on.
where the fighting men were getting up to speed.
first the artillery men - the ones who stayed in the ship and laid down covering fire when a savage planet was landed on or a savage craft encountered.
perkins, the young artillery commander, snapped smartly to attention when bartleby approached. bartleby had served with his father and grandfather in the first probings of the e g, back in the day.
young perkins seemed much like his forbears - solid, if a bit of a dullard. but then, imagination was not what bartleby wanted from an artillery commander.
"carry on," bartleby muttered. the training went on without a pause.
bartleby stayed and watched for a while, although he was not really that interested.
it would not do to seem to show less interest in one arm of the service than another.
he moved on. next the mortar men. the ones who, encumbered with their atomic/solar weapons, would leave the ship for the new planet - or, in the heat of battle, for the cold of ungravitied space.
marshall, a solid veteran almost as old as bartleby himself, was putting them through their paces and barely glanced at bartleby.
bartleby moved on.
next, the riflemen. commanded by a young third cousin of bartleby's, named st john. bartleby watched sternfaced for a while, nodded to st john, and headed for the deeper levels of the station.
on the next level was the cavalry. loudly going through their maneuvers under the old red white and blue flag of the expanding galaxy. though bartleby had never served in the cavalry he had a soft spot for it. his two best chums in the academy had gone into the cavalry - both long gone on the sands of distant and defeated empires.
he watched a while, hanging back to avoid notice. before moving on to his final destination.
bayonet training. for the shock troops - the ones who stormed the enemy ships. where it had all begun for him over a home planet century ago.
bartleby hung back again, not wanting to be noticed. but old sergeant willoughby saw him. they just nodded to each other.
he watched for a few minutes. not long enough to bring a tear to his eye, but long enough. then started back.
instead of going back the way he came, he circled around to the far side of the station, where some communication and supply centers were located.
he passed a small rec room in a deserted corridor.
he stopped and went back to it and entered.
it was dark in the rec room. not pitch dark, but shadowed. the only light came from the corridor.
there was a coffee machine beside the door and he filled a paper cup with coffee and sat down on one of the old stuffed couches against the back wall.
there was no one else in the room.
his eyes adjusted to the light and he noticed an envelope on a low table in front of the couch.
he reached over and put the coffee down and picked up the envelope.
the outside of the envelope was blank. he opened it.
inside was a small slip of paper that said "happy anniversary, bash."
he was back in his room at the academy, that he shared with "pug" potter and matthew murchison-st paul.
pug was somewhere else. he, bash, was studying a history book in preparation for an exam . murchison-st paul was seated in a corner of the room, in the shadows.
bash felt murchison-st paul's eyes on him.
he had never cared much for murchison - st paul, but always tried to be a good comrade.
"interesting stuff?" asked murchison-st paul.
"of course. why wouldn't it be interesting?"
"oh," drawled murchison-st paul, "because of what is not in there."
"not in there?" bash turned the book in his hand. "look here, it says right on it - compete history."
"complete, eh? what about - the secrets?"
"what is a secret?"
murchison-st paul smiled. "a secret is something one chap knows but another doesn't."
bash considered this. "well, of course. a chap isn't born knowing everything. that is why we go to school, isn't it?"
"no, no, you don't understand. a secret is something one knows but never tells anyone else."
"but what would be the bloody point of that?"
"well, that all depends, doesn't it?"
bash had heard murchison-st paul spout nonsense before, but never anything like this.
"look here, what would be the point of knowing something nobody else knew? besides, this is the 33rd century, everything is kept track of, so there won't be any slip-ups. if you had these so-called 'secrets' they would just slow everything down."
murchison-st paul just smiled.
"maybe back in the old days," bash went on. "there were things nobody knew, but you would have to go way way back - back before the expanding galaxy."
murchison-st paul kept smiling. only his white teeth were visible in the shadows.
"give me an example," said bash. "give me an example of something you would not know about. "
"how about - dames?"
"dames. what's a dame?"
murchison-st paul learned forward. "dames were mysterious creatures - mysterious creatures that dragged men to their doom."
"you mean like demons and werewolves?"
"something like that."
"but demons and werewolves and zombies are in the history book - as examples of ancient ignorance. these 'dames' - there is no mention of them."
murchison-st paul's face dissolved in a final smile.
what had happened to the fellow? bash remembered - he had redeemed himself in a blaze of glory - leading a cavalry charge against the capricornians in the second battle of betelgeuse. admiral anderson-scott had called it the most damned splendid thing he had ever seen - those fellows had verily been ready to follow murchison-st paul into the very depths of hell.
bash rubbed his eyes. the envelope and the note had vanished. he picked up his paper cup of coffee.
when he finished the coffee he went back out into the bustle of space station r-85.
everything was going smoothly.
later, everything went off exactly as drawn up.
with no secrets to slow them down
with no dames to drag them down
they blasted off.
and conquered another world.
"i don't know, flynn," said "farmer" brown, putting down the typewritten pages, "it's seems kind of arty. a little too - too - "
"yes, sort of. you might put it that way."
"maybe." though flynn considered farmer brown to be basically an idiot, he had found that his taste usually was a good barometer of what the editors wanted - the editors of the pulp science fiction and horror magazines he submitted to.
"another space dog simms story might be a better bet," said the farmer.
"you're probably right."
"you should take a break. say - there's a new movie at the roxie - "sands of iwo jima" with john wayne. want to go see it?"
"sure, why not?" flynn yawned. he got up to put his jacket on.
when he got back he would start a new space dog simms story. one with at least one dame in it - maybe more.