Authors: L. Ron Hubbard
taperingly sleek and gray, with black smoke still pouring from her funnels, dropped
anchor thunderously in the yellow roadstead off Liaochow and swung around in the stream
of the tide.
From the bridge the coastal city of Liaochow presented a dismal sight. Two air raids
and an offshore shelling by the Japanese
had rid the place of Chinese defense and the flames still smoldered amid the festering
A dark horde of Japanese destroyers and cruisers and troopships lay at anchor near
the shore and launches were carrying load after load of Japanese troops to the landings.
behind struggling tugs were deep with
and tanks bound for various destinations along a two-thousand-mile front which stretched
from Peking to Shanghai.
His cruiser riding aloof and alone, the Navy captain surveyed the cluttered, smoky
waterfront through his glasses. Then, hopelessly, he let the binoculars thump against
his chest and thrust his big red hands into the pockets of his coat, scowling at the
panorama of devastation.
“We haven’t got a chance,” he said.
The younger officer beside him, his exec, not bearing all the responsibility, was
less downcast. “Oh, I’m certain we can find some way, sir. After all,
not at war with Japan or China. As a strictly neutral . . .”
“Yes. Sure. Strictly neutral!” growled the captain. “I’ve got my orders, sir. I’ve
got my orders from the
himself. I am to avoid any slightest possibility of allowing Japan to create an ‘incident.’”
He said this bitterly as though a few hearty salvos would have done him a world of
Behind him respectfully stood two lieutenants, pilots of the scout planes, and a hard-faced
captain of Marines.
“I think,” said one of the pilots, “that if you let Richards and me take off, we could
make it through—”
!” barked the captain acidly. “You’re not supposed to
! Do you suppose for one minute that I’d be fool enough to let you and Lieutenant
Richards go blasting halfway across China armed and aching for a scrap?”
“But sir,” said Richards, “I think—”
“You think too, do you? Well, see here, both of you. I appreciate the fact that medals
and glory and publicity might be attractive, but the responsibility is mine and as
long as it
mine, I’ll decide this affair. Shunkien is two hundred miles inland. The rails are
blown up. At least four armies are fighting between here and there. And what would
happen if I let two battle planes go skipping over that area? There’d be a protest
at the very least and a severe reprimand for me. And quite probably some enthusiastic
such-and-so would dive on you and you’d fix his clock and then the United States would
be in it up to our necks.”
The captain of Marines, whose face was as tough and hard as walnut and whose left
breast was laddered with campaign ribbons, coughed for recognition. “Sir, if you’d
let me take my company—”
“So you’re thinking too, are you?” sizzled the badgered captain. “You’re itching to
get that company of yours over there. And what would happen then? A sniper would let
you have it. A machine gunner would accidentally rake you. And the first thing you
know, one company of Marines would be trying to mop up half a million yellow troops.
No, thank you, Captain Davis. I know my Marines. There are at least four armies and
two lines of battle between here and Shunkien. You could never make it without getting
into a fight. Whether Japan declared it or not, this is
Desolately they stared at the smoking town and the inexhaustible streams of Japanese
troops being disgorged from the troopships.
“Sir,” said the captain of Marines, “it’s certain that the money and serum has to
get to Shunkien and if you won’t trust your planes or my company, maybe one or two
men on foot could make it. If they get killed, the United States won’t go to war over
two Marines. And they could not create much damage.”
“I see you’ve had this in mind all along,” accused the commanding officer.
“Yessir. As soon as I heard what had to be done I remembered that my gunnery sergeant,
James Mitchell, was born in this province—in Yin-Meng, I think it was. They had him
on intelligence work out of the Peking
because he speaks three of the northern dialects.”
The captain pursed his lips thoughtfully and scowled at the deck. He looked up. “Didn’t
you threaten to
one of your sergeants for being drunk and overleave in Shanghai last week? Wasn’t
his name Mitchell?”
Caught, the Marine officer made the best of it. “Yessir, that’s Mitchell, sir. The
captain has a good memory.”
“The captain has to have a good memory around you pirates,” said the commanding officer
gruffly. “What’s the rest of his record?”
“Obedience 4.0, everything 4.0. Except sobriety, and that’s down to 2.5. But there’s
no chance of his getting drunk over there, sir. Certainly not on duty.”
The commanding officer was thinking again. “If I recall, he came to you a private
first class and you gave him his stripes back. Was he bobtailed at Peking?”
“Yessir. You see, he was off duty in the
“Why did you make him again?”
“Well, sir, a man like Mitchell won’t stay down. He’s very intelligent and sets an
excellent example for the men. He’s young and makes a good-looking Marine. His father
is a missionary.”
no recommendation,” said the captain.
“I know,” replied the captain of Marines. “But the kid had good enough sense to pull
out from China when he was fifteen. He kicked around the States and then enlisted
and he’s on his second hitch now. He knows this country and if anybody can get through
to Shunkien, it’s Mitchell.”
“You actually advise me to send a drunk on a mission like this?”
“I don’t think he’ll do any drinking on duty, sir. He knows his own weakness. If he
takes one drink, he can’t stop. But he won’t run across any whisky ashore with everything
cut up like it is.”
“Are you certain he has never drunk on duty?”
“Well, only once, sir. Or maybe twice. But if he realizes the gravity of this situation
. . .” He let it hang there.
The commanding officer surveyed the shoreline again. His face was screwed into a knot
of perplexity. And as he watched, a man came down from the radio shack and thrust
a message into his hand.
The captain read it with a set jaw and then balled it into a wad.
“They’re pleading with us now,” he snapped. “Was there ever an officer who had more
trouble than me? Captain Davis, who would you send through with this gunnery sergeant?
No officer, mind you. If an officer got killed, there’d be an ‘incident.’”
“Spivits, private first class, came aboard with Mitchell, sir. They were on a lot
of assignments in North China.”
“Who and what is this Spivits, first class?”
“He’s a twenty-year man, sir.”
“What? And still a private?”
“Yessir. He’s one of these professional privates, sir. He’s a good man. Onetime heavyweight
champ of the
. But he doesn’t want to be rated, protests against it. He’s an expert rifleman and
though he might not be exactly an
and though he might have a few blind spots, he’s a good man to have along in a scrap.”
The commanding officer sighed deeply and shoved his big red hands deeper into his
coat pockets. He seemed to be supporting an entire fleet on his shoulders.
“Well, there’s one consolation. If they’re killed, there won’t be much of a ripple
about it, and if they get through, I’ve done my duty regardless. Carry on, Captain
He turned around and studied the shore again and the Marine captain jubilantly trod
upon Richards’ toe, saluted and hurried away.
cross-legged like an Indian on the edge of an
blanket, Jimmy Mitchell was losing his all at blackjack. His green cap was on the
back of his head and the sweat of exertion bedewed his brow. A cigarette, cocked skyward
in a futile attempt to keep the smoke out of his eyes, placed a perfect screen across
his vision. But the smoke was not thick enough to obscure the fact that the sergeant
across the blanket was turning up a queen and an ace.
Mitchell paid off and passed the deal. He clinked two
twenty-cent pieces forlornly together, put them out, got thirteen, drew a king on
his hit, and therefore, busted in more ways than one, withdrew from the blanket on
He stood up stiffly and flexed his arms. He yawned elaborately to show that he didn’t
care, cocked his cap over his right eye so precariously that it was in danger of falling
and walked toward a porthole.
He stared out at the brass-framed view of the dark Japanese men-o’-war and the hurrying
launches and the smoldering city and leaned his elbow against a steam pipe to contemplate
He was tall even for a Marine, and there was a certain ease about him which comes
of constant training, good rations and an alert profession. He showed good breeding
in the clean, regular features and his brisk blue eyes sparkled with intelligence.
He was the sort of man a company commander instantly selects for rating with a sigh
Several Marines had been watching the shore from the next port and now, seeing their
gunnery sergeant taking an interest in the scenery, they moved down the line and stood
about him, peering over his shoulder and around his arm at the beach as though that
was the only possible vantage point on the whole ship.
“Boy, wouldn’t I like to see something start around here,” said a
with vague, romantic notions about war.
Mitchell turned and surveyed the youth quietly. He looked from the brown
of his shoes, up the creases of his green pants, up the length of khaki-colored tie
and then, at last, at the speaker’s face. Without saying a word, Mitchell turned and
looked at the shore again. The boot reddened.
A growling, rumbling voice, so deep that it appeared to come from at least the engine
room, said, “You do your wishin’ in private, sonny, and leave your betters alone.”
The boot spun about to stare up at the battered visage of Toughey Spivits.
Toughey had been hit in the larynx with a steel-shod rifle butt at
and had talked that way ever since. It was a very ominous thing, that voice.
“I just said—” began the boot.
“So you’d like to mix it,” rumbled Toughey. “Why, one of those little Japanese would
take just one bite and you’d be in two chunks.”
“But it gets so monotonous standing off and on and hearing all that scrapping going
on,” protested the boot.
“It wouldn’t be half as monotonous as pushin’ up posies till Gabriel yells for you
to grab your socks.”
want to get ashore?” persisted the boot.
“Sonny,” said Toughey Spivits, “you couldn’t get me to set foot on that beach for
a million, million bucks, s’help me.”
“You mean you’re scared?”
“Of course I’m scared. It takes sense to get scared, don’t it, Sarge?”
“Yeah,” said Mitchell.
“But you been fightin’ over here before,” said the boot eagerly. “It couldn’t be so
bad if you came back to do some more.”
“I got the habit,” said Toughey.
“Aw, nuts,” said a corporal. “You’re just itchin’ to get over there and mop up some
of those yellow-bellies and you know it.”
“Not me,” said Toughey. “I got brains enough to be scared. Why, if I so much as hear
a bullet anymore I get pale and shake all over. Once the sarge and me was out gettin’
some dope and I thinks I hear a shot and an hour later I come to in the grass with
the sarge pourin’ water all over me. ‘I’m dead,’ I says. ‘That shot got me right in
the heart.’ ‘What shot?’ says the sarge. ‘That was just me closin’ my cigarette case.’”
The boot gaped up at Toughey’s serious face for ten seconds before the stifled laughter
around him exploded.
“Aw, go on,” said the boot. “You’re just shootin’ the breeze. Ain’t he, Sarge?”
“Gospel truth,” said Mitchell, turning. “And I think he’s right. It sure would take
a case of gin to make me head for that dock. Those Japanese are just aching to shoot
people up. And the hell of it is, they’re doing it.”
“What’re we up here for?” said the corporal.
“Well, the admiral told me yesterday,” said Mitchell, “that we was out of soda water.”
“Aw,” said the corporal, “don’t nobody know nothin’?”
“All I know is,” said Mitchell, “I’m hopin’ nobody gets any bright ideas and makes
us go ashore. I tell you if they had cases of gin stacked ten feet high from one end
of that wharf to the other, and if the skipper told me to go in and take all I could
carry in a motor sailer, I still
The brass-voiced loudspeaker on the bulkhead rasped, “James Mitchell, gunnery sergeant,
report to Captain Davis at the starboard
. James Mitchell, gunnery sergeant, report to Captain Davis at the starboard gangway.”
Mitchell hastily set his cap to rights and straightened his khaki tie to make the
ends exactly even.
But before he had gone a step, the speaker clicked on again. “A. A. Spivits, private
first class, report to Captain Davis at the starboard gangway. A. A. Spivits, private
first class, report to Captain Davis at the starboard gangway.”
Spivits hastily fixed his own tie and straightened up his great height.
“Looks like the skipper wants our advice,” said Toughey to the group and then lumbered
after the hurrying Mitchell.
A few seconds later they stood before Captain Davis on the white deck planking with
the offshore wind undoing all the tie-straightening.
“Sergeant,” said Davis, “there are two items to be delivered to Shunkien.” He said
it as though Shunkien was about as far from there as the torpedo tubes. “I have suggested
that you and Private Spivits might volunteer to take them.”
“Yes, sir,” said Mitchell, as though Shunkien was no farther from there than the
to his right.
“Yes, sir,” said Spivits quickly, as though he was, at that moment, in the very center
“Good,” said the walnut-faced captain. “Report in a half-hour, full pack.”
Mitchell and Spivits saluted, about-faced and rattled down the companionway and out
The exec appeared at Davis’ left. “The captain wants to see you again.”
They went forward and found the Navy captain still studying the shore with great attention.
He did not turn. “You might impress your two men with the fact that they are not to
create any disturbances ashore.”
“Yes, sir,” said Davis.
“And you might also tell them that I have just received word that there are three
major offensives in progress between here and Shunkien. They will be forced to pass
through those armies.” He turned and cleared his throat. “Damn it, Davis, this is
a long chance. But it’s certain that two Marines can’t do much damage and it’s equally
certain that we won’t go to war over the disappearance of two Marines. If it weren’t
for the repeated requests from Shunkien . . .” He shrugged. “There’s the keg.”
A sailor lugged it down to the starboard gangway. A hospital corpsman came up with
the carefully packed package of serum. He stood by, waiting to give it up.
“I get the drift of this,” said the corpsman to the seaman. “Those two leathernecks
are outward bound for Shunkien.”
“Jesus,” said the seaman, startled. “Through all that mess ashore?”
“I wouldn’t give a secondhand swab for their chances,” said the corpsman.
“Aw, well, hell,” replied the sailor. “What’s a couple of Marines?”
elow, Mitchell was loading his pistol clips with newly issued ammunition. He was thoughtfully
methodical about it, as though he had no other destination than the range in prospect.
Finishing the task, he slid the spares into the pouch on his web belt and hitched
his holster into a comfortable position. He took his pack and, standing before his
opened locker, began to insert his razor and shaving brush and other toilet articles.
As he moved the contents of the shelf about, a bottle at the extreme back caught his
He reached for it and pulled it into the light, speculatively reading the label which
Canadian Whisky. Five Years Old. One Quart.
He started to put it back and stopped. Reluctantly, as though he could not stay his
hand, he took his extra shoes out of his pack and put the bottle in their place.
Twice he started to take it out again but it required more willpower than he could
summon at the moment.
“Might as well carry dynamite,” he said ruefully.
He shrugged into his shoulder straps and snapped them into place. He picked up Toughey
on his way out and together they mounted to the starboard gangway.
Captain Davis handed his gunnery sergeant a sheaf of orders. “Take care of these.
Here’s the keg and the box. Take care of them and deliver them, intact, to Consul
Jackson, United States Consulate at Shunkien. Understand?”
“Yessir,” said Mitchell. “Take the keg, Toughey.”
Toughey boosted the keg up to his mighty shoulder and steadied it there. Mitchell
tied the box to his web belt.
“Is that all, sir?” said Mitchell.
“Yes. Carry on, Sergeant.”
Mitchell and Toughey saluted and started down the gangway toward the nervously putt-putting
motor sailer which had been put into the water. The captain touched Mitchell’s shoulder,
stopping him for an instant.
“I wish you luck, Sergeant.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“And Sergeant . . . be careful about the booze, will you? It’s pretty important that
you get to Shunkien.”
“Oh, you bet, sir.”
Captain Davis took his hand and shook it. “If . . . that is . . . if I don’t see you
again . . . well . . . here’s luck.”
Mitchell said, “Thank you, sir,” and went on down the ladder into the motor sailer.
When he sat down and leaned against the
, a sharp edge of the whisky bottle gouged him through his pack. He moved uncomfortably.
They watched the ship shorten and crouch into the waves. The smoldering city grew
larger as they picked their way through the multitudinous launches and ships.
With a jingle of bells, the motor sailer swerved in toward the float and a sailor
bounced out to hold the boat. Mitchell and Toughey got out.
“So long,” said the coxswain.
“So long,” said Mitchell.
They walked up the ramp to the dock and marched around piled war supplies to reach
the bustling street beyond.
Behind them, the USS
had vanished through a screen of Japanese war vessels and low-lying smoke.