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The Red Germ of Courage

By R. F. STARZL

AS THE people of the Twentieth Century had crowded the docks at the sailing of great ocean liners, so now in the latter years of the Twenty-second did they swarm to the broad paved fields in the center of which, in an endless line, stretched the launching pits of the space rocket liners.

These travelers of the freezing outer spaces stood glistening in the sun, their conical tops reared proudly to heights of a thousand feet or more. Their silvery sides were lined with observation ports, but were otherwise smooth except for the scant dozen hooded openings used for navigation only. Strong, sharply cut atmospheric vanes, with the electronic nozzles at their tips, were spaced at regular intervals at their sides.

They presented a spectacle of majesty, confidence—the highest pinnacle of man's achievement—and some of this impressed itself on the sea of humans which fluttered with handkerchiefs and bright ribbons or banners, contributing to the general animation.

The young man who skirted the edge of the crowds had no eye for the beauty of the scene, however. He was hardly more than a boy, just twenty-two, and he was on his way to the freight pits, still a good half-mile away, where the squatty, businesslike space tramps were discharging or receiving cargoes.

Syl Webb's object was to get a job at which to make a living, since the income left him by his father had been swept away by the new taxes. But he had another and greater object—to prove for himself the manhood which had struggled vainly for expression, in his pampered life as a member of the leisure class.

He arrived at length at the end of the glistening new vitricate-paved way, and the small truck which had been dogging his footsteps came to a determined stop, its chimes sounding insistently. Persons who passed the boundaries could not expect porter service. Syl placed a coin in the slot. The machine said "'kyou!" re-released the elegant trunk to its owner, and turned back.

Syl passed several of the rusty or black-painted ships carrying the trunk on his back, until weariness forced him to put it down and sit on it, A calculating-looking petty officer, chancing to see him, left his toilets and accosted him.

"Lookin' for a job, hey?"

"Yes, sir."

"Y' don't look very strong."

Syl flushed. He was of medium build, well-knit, and the tanned legs under his short breeches were well developed. But in comparison to the other's powerful figure he seemed almost puny.

"I can work, sir."

"Where y' get them duds?"

"Why, they're my regulars."

"Aw-gawan! Them's capitalist duds!" He was filled with the vast scorn of the industrial class for members of the coupon-clipping, aristocratic, capitalist caste.

"I am—well—I was a capitalist."

The other bailed a big fist. He suspected he was being made fun of. But Syl's evident refinement convinced him, and a new light glittered in his beady eyes, and a sneer came to his cruel, hawk-like face. There was. triumph in it, and hate, for he had been born on the wrong side of the ever widening social gulf.

"So they've taxed down one more of the damn' parasites! Good for the commission! Well, m' fine lad, you're hired!"

So saying, he reached out a powerful hand and seized Syl's wrist. With a deft twist he forced Syl's thumb into a little oval aperture of the sealograph strapped to the officer's waist. A tiny camera inside the device clicked, and Syl Webb, former capitalist gentleman, was legally made' an employee of the Neptune & Uranus Trading Co., labor division.

THE new recruit looked puzzled.

"Come on, snap 'round!" his new boss commanded. "Get your duffel in an' report fer duty."

"But I don't think I want to. I want to look around—"

"So!" With a hoarse roar. "Insubordnation! Well, any damned time Mark Gunning can't handle a mutinous ground-slob—"

A cloud of fists descended on Syl. He knew a little of the science of boxing—was, in fact, quite proficient—but that was not the same as the fighting of Mark Gunning, cargo master of the Pleadesia. In a few seconds Webb was lying on the ground, his head a mass of contusions. and coughing dizzily from a foul blow to the throat.

With a stream of practiced curses, Gunning picked up his victim and sent him rolling and tumbling down the gangplank toward a cargo door. He picked up the trunk and tossed it after its owner. It missed the plank and fell fifty feet to the bottom of the pit, where it split open. Instantly half a dozen dust-and-sweat-streaked men pounced on the gay-colored synthetic silk shirts and the swank useless harnesses of dyed leather. Donning them in grotesque parody of pleasure-villa nymphs, they danced around under the spouts until driven to their work again by the curses of a port overseer.

Syl lay inside the ship where he had rolled, at the bottom of a steep metal ladder. His head had been cut by a sharp projection somewhere, and blood was beginning to mat his dark, wavy hair, His eyes were puffed shut, and there were tears in them—not tears of pain, but tears of mortification and anger. Somewhere under the soft padding laid on his being by generations of genteel civilization, stirred a feral, blind lust to go back up there—to bite—to gouge—

"Hurt, lad?"

Though Syl had been a recruit just a few minutes, the cultured accents sounded strange to him. With difficulty he opened his eyes enough to see. A man of about fifty was looking through the square opening in the floor above. He was a small man, and rather thin. His neck was scrawny, with a prominent Adam's apple. Graying hair fringed his bald head, and his rather weak mouth was partly concealed by a scraggly mustache, white, and stained blue with merclite, the intoxicating chewing gum.

"It'll wear off," the man said, with a sympathetic grin. "Want to come up to the galley? I'm cooky here."

With assistance, Syl climbed the ladder, and after passing several doors, reached the galley fifty feet above The room was wedge-like in shape, with one end conforming to the arc of the outside shell. Unlike the rest of the ship that Syl had seen so far, it was scrupulously clean. The cook applied hot compresses to the bruises.

"Name's Splade," he volunteered. "Used to be a capitalist, like you. They taxed me down about ten years ago. You get used to it. I'm a good cook—they admit it, and treat me pretty well. Forgotten, most of them have, that I ever clipped coupons. But it may be a little hard on you, lad."

A small bell tinkled, and in an instant Splade dived to the floor, carrying ...

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