“Everyone, may I obtain your attention to the statement which I must bring forth at this present moment. There is a dearth of storage lockers at this location. Does anyone present possess the knowledge of in what manner and at what location I am to place my space suit into storage?” The speaker, a tall swarthy male with pale blue eyes, stood next to the center lockers holding his glossy white space suit upright. His helmet was in his right hand. He was right, all the lockers were full.
“Ten lockers here there are, them I counted when first through the airlock I came.” The speaker, a petite woman with flaming red hair, spoke while trying to get the control panel next to the airlock to work.
“Your statement is incontestable in that the number of storage lockers present at this location is precisely ten; but your supposition that the number of storage lockers is precisely the same as the number of persons present is erroneous. There is a surplus individual amidst us. My enumeration gives a total of eleven persons currently at this location.”
The man counted aloud the people standing in the crowded area with his helmet after making his statement. Elder finished his own could of the people ahead of the man, since he had started when he noticed the full lockers.
“Eleven? A group of ten the briefing officer told me that I was in. Eleven of us there can not be.” The brown-eyed woman, her eyes now wide in wonder, turned away from the control panel to face the others in the crowded corridor section.
Everyone began counting the people and lockers. Elder counted twice more to make sure of his numbers. Everyone ended with eleven people and ten lockers.
“Someone a mistake made and an extra person to this group sent. We all on courier ships arrived, right?” The woman did not return her attention to the control panel; she continued to face the tall man, her face screwed up and her arms akimbo. She looked like a nanny disciplining a child. Others began babbling amongst themselves.
“Everyone remain tranquil, nothing appropriate will materialize from disorder and confusion. The primary activity we should initiate at this moment is to make each other knowledgeable of our individual identities, since we unquestionably must posses some mechanism for making it known that we desire to communicate with one another. We can not, after all, constantly refer to each other as ‘Hey You’ or some other equivalent inanity for the duration of this examination. Moreover, mayhap there will be a justification of why there are eleven of us present when the officer who briefed me, at least, informed me that this group was to consist of ten persons. Moreover, Naval officers do no lie since if they were discovered performing such they would face a General Court-Martial and would be immediately removed from further service in the Imperial Government. We might, therefore, discover the reason for this discrepancy in our names and origins; or at least, enough data might come forth from this activity that we might form an initial hypothesis concerning the said discrepancy. I am Cadet Trainee Michael Damon Emir Quinn.” At 199 centimeters tall, Quinn was the second tallest person in the group.
“Well Senior Quinn, your title in the Navy no meaning has. Not that the title of Emir anyway much meaning has.” Quinn’s face had an instantaneous flash of anger, and then settled back to the calmness of before; the woman ignored him. “Here the rest of us like, a Cadet Trainee you are.” The woman swung her right arm at all the others dressed in the indigo blue Imperial Navy jumpsuit uniform with the Cadet Trainee rank insignia on their cuffs before returning it to her hip. “But, correct you are, in order are introductions. Cadet Trainee Lorilei Gemma Neva Marion Irving am I, and Deitios in Santos from.” After stating her name to the group almost like a dare, the 156-centimeter tall woman, who seemed a bit older and more mature than most of the other Cadet Trainees, returned her attention to the control panel. “And if we cannot past the lockers get, we will nowhere fast on the good ship JACOTOT get. Destroying their property the Navy probably like would not, so another way out of here there is guess I.”
“I guess that be making me next. I be Cadet Trainee Sean Sealy Matus Devyn Ostrom from Wishhope in Grandview, and I be not in the nobility either my good Emir. Good common stock, although I do have a great-uncle who is a Knight of the House in Kraggor.” Ostrom was nine centimeters taller than Irving and his straw red hair contrasted to her flaming mop.
Irving tore herself away from the panel she was working on and stared at Ostrom in dismay for a few moments. He looked back at her uncomprehendingly for a second and then he turned to the next speaker.
The group swung as one, except Irving who returned to playing with the control panel again, twisting so Ostrom could not see her face, to the next person standing in line. He looked slightly older than all the other Cadet Trainees except Irving, a black-skinned man, 173-centimeters tall, and unlike all the others the brown-haired man had something else on his Cadet Trainee uniform, a Latin Cross on the right side of his chest. “I am Father Aksel Nevin Ganya Kenleigh Lester. An ordained priest in the Friars Minor, also known as the Franciscans. I am originally from Terra.” Turning to the huge man, the tallest in the corridor, centimeters taller than Quinn, next to him, “Your size betrays you. You are from Concar, aren’t you?”
“Yes Father. I am Cadet Trainee Gerald Armand Kalani Roger Sloan.” His green eyes sparkling, his voice rumbled through the corridor. “And, I think I see a pattern forming. There is no one else from Concar or its colonies, that is obvious. Anyone want to bet that none of are even from the same Kingdom, much less the same Duchy?” Even as tall as he was at 230-centimeters, the blond Sloan looked squat due to his weight.
Her voice low and throaty, the next woman spoke up. “Well, I won’t bet against that. I am from Rashnel, Kingdom and Duchy and your guess looks to be right on the mark. I would guess that all of us are strangers; since we are all from different kingdoms, there is little chance that we know each other.” The blond woman with dark brown eyes, the same height as Irving, shrugged as she brushed her hair back.
“Daughter, may we have your name?” Father Lester asked the question with a pastoral smile.
“Oh, sorry Father. I’m Cadet Trainee Bernelle Mancy Jillianna Erta Jackson.” Like many blond-haired people Elder knew, her blush was spotty and uneven in color, her voice dropped to an even lower pitch due to her embarrassment.
“Well Sloan, I won’t bet against you either. I am from Gobi in Sahara and everyone here is a stranger to me, although I have heard of the Quinn family. Fairly famous they are, if you study certain parts of Imperial History.” Quinn smiled faintly and almost started to duck his head. “And before the good Father reprimands this member of the Orthodox Free Presbyterian Church in good standing, I am Cadet Trainee Nickols Reuban Jerick Praval MacBeath.” At 173-centimeters, this dark complexioned man was well proportioned.
As the group turned to the remaining unidentified four standing in the corridor, one of them, the light brown-skinned woman spoke up in a high-pitched voice. “I’m Cadet Trainee Lokelani Cyra Riane Franechka Corrbet, from Alpine. And, I do not know anyone else here. Not even by family reputation. And, I am from common stock, not even a Knight of the House in the family tree. This may be another point, only one member of the nobility since there is too much chance that any one noble would know another noble, even one from another kingdom.” At 157-centimeters, the woman with the light brown hair was barely the tallest of the three women present.
Elder spoke up next, a little out of turn but he felt impatient. “I’m Cadet Trainee Jesip Dwight Roger Allen Elder, from Krasgia in Sharnalt. Moreover, as the others said, you are all stranger to me. However, I have heard of the Isn’t the present Grand Admiral from the Quinn family?”
Quinn shock his head, “No it was the previous Grand Admiral who possessed a familial relationship.” His voice was low enough so that only those closest to him heard him.
Elder continued without responding to Quinn’s comment. “I took some classes in Naval Studies during my high school studies.”
“I’m Cadet Trainee Leaman Daniel Reece Simano Houston, from Lewsmap in Naroth. And, like the others, I don’t know any of you.” Houston stood 182 centimeters tall and his red hair, between Irving’s and Ostrom’s in shade, was a marked contrast with his deep brown, almost black, skin.
The remaining man, a blue-eyed blond like MacBeath but with an Oriental cast to his face said, “Last is never least. Or is it last is always best? Anyway I am Cadet Trainee Orion Lowell Isaac Yuri Clarke, from Windar in Bishopstead. And I’d like to point out another something. How many testing locations does the Navy have? Maybe there weren’t enough testing locations and an extra person was sent here, although why we weren’t told I don’t know, it might happen, or maybe it’s part of the test.” Clarke stood 179 centimeters tall and had an easy smile on his face.
As Clarke finished speaking, a rumbling sound started. The entire ship began to pulsate and then the cadets felt the beginnings of acceleration.
Quinn was the first to speak. “That rumbling indicates that the engines have activated. It is a requirement that we vacate this location and proceed to the bridge. Sloan, dislodge those lockers that obstruct our passage, we will make amends later if there is cause. We no longer possess the time required to obtain a less destructive means of egress.”
Sloan, whose 375 kilograms was all muscle, grabbed to of the center lockers and strained. Irving shouted that destroying Navy property might make them all fail the examination, but everyone ignored her comments. The weld where the lockers joined the deck groaned and then gave way. Sloan then stepped through the opening and set the lockers to the side of the corridor.
Elder spoke up as Sloan stepped though the line of lockers. “I’ve studied Navy ship design a little bit; the elevators should be just ahead and to the left at the corridor junction.” Since no one else had spoken of studying anything about the Navy yet, Elder felt he had to mention what he knew.
“Port. In the Navy, port the term is, not left.” Irving’s voice, a little angrier than before, was right behind Elder.
Everyone followed Sloan as he headed to corridor junction and turned port. There was a bank of three elevators right there. The group split up to enter them.
“Enter authorization code.” Each elevator had a pleasantly female computer voice come over hidden speakers as the first person entered the elevator.
“Damn! Is anyone in possession of the authorization codes requisite for the activation of these elevators?” Quinn shouted over the chatter of the others in his elevator. Everyone babbled that their briefing officer had said nothing about authorization codes. “It is imperative that we ascertain another means of passage to the bridge. Unless we procure control of the flight of this ship, we may proceed unknowingly into grave jeopardy. Elder, have you remembrance of any different routes we may utilize to the bridge from your previous studies into Naval subjects? You did refer to the fact that one of those subjects you had formerly studied was Naval Architecture did you not?” I beseech your pardon Father, concerning the profanity.” That last sentence was to Father Lester who was standing next to Quinn in the elevator.
“I see no problem with your error in manners. I am sure that this situation would allow for such usage of improper language my son; but, you might apologize to the women present also.” Father Lester snorted a laugh, his dark brown eyes sparkling. “You should have heard what some of my fellow seminarians said when they got their test results. I wonder if they will ever complete their penances.”
Ignoring the Father’s comments, Elder replied, “No Cadet Trainee Quinn, I merely got to see some very general design specifications concerning the general arrangement of Navy ships. I cannot remember seeing any was to change decks except the elevators. The Navy keeps that type of information classified.” Elder moved out of the elevator and next to a wall so that he could try to ransack his memory better.
“Is anyone else capable of bringing forth additional alternatives? Barring that, we shall be compelled to commence an investigation for some further passageway to the bridge.” Quinn asked as he began herding the others out of the elevators.
“My computer! It has the deck arrangements for the PLETHO; maybe it has something for this ship.” Elder pulled his computer out of his tote bag. Someone bumped into him just as he got it free of the bag and it fell to the deck. “Goddamn it, shithead! Watch what you’re doing! You’ll break my computer.” Elder grabbed the computer without looking up to see who had bumped him and began a quick damage examination.
Father Lester said in a voice as black as his skin, “My son, that sort of language is most assuredly not proper for this situation. You should take more care with your language. The dropping of your computer is not as serious as our inability to use the elevators. And you language is considerably worse than the situation could possibly call for even at the worst.”
“Sorry Father, but if this computer gets broken, I may lose data that we’ll need to pass this test.” Elder bleated as he continued checking the computer for damage.
“I understand your anxiety; but remember that portable computers are made to withstand shocks of that sort and do not be anxious about your computer. Please, just be more attentive to your language. Remember also that this is mixed company. Notice that Quinn is already apologizing to the women for his outburst and his language was much less offensive than yours was. You should apologize to them also.” Father Lester moved off to help with the search for another way to the bridge.
Father Lester had been right about well portable computers could withstand shocks; his worked perfectly. Elder slid to the deck for comfort and searched the file list. He was unable to find a file with the deck plans for the JACOTOT. He could find files with the deck plans and specifications for several other ships, but he discovered no file for the JACOTOT.
Nothing. I can find files with the deck plans for almost a dozen other ships, but nothing for this one.” Elder spoke aloud even though he did not expect anyone to hear him. They had all gone to hunt for another way to the bridge after all.
Elder was wrong, Clarke was nearby. “What other ships can you call up?” Clarke asked as he stood, arms folded over his chest, his bright blue eyes watching Elder.
Elder started, then twisted to face Clarke. “What difference does it make? None of the ones in the computer is this ship. And why are you just standing there? Why aren’t you helping the others search?” Elder barked his questions in frustration, at least he remembered to civilized language this time, even if his tone was not very courteous.
“It might make a difference, possibly a ship listed in your computer’s database is in the same class as this ship. Try checking against the class number. Wasn’t the class number on the hull P01123? See if any of those in your files is in that class. And I might as well help you, I would just get in the way with the others. Too many people and too little corridor. I will be of more use here. Here my intelligence might make a difference.” Clarke unfolded his arms and put his hand on the computer, preventing Elder from stowing it.
“None of the files have the class number listed in the file name. Moreover, without knowing who Jean Joseph Jacotot was, I cannot figure out if any of these ships belong to the P01123 class without getting into each file and closely comparing it to the JACOTOT. And we may not have the time for that.”
“We may have to take the time if need be. However, let us do this intelligently. First, let us try something else. Jacotot is a personal name. Any personal names listed? After all, all names in a ship class have to have something in common.”
“Just two.” At Clarke’s raised blond eyebrow, Elder went on. “One name is Daniel Webster and the other is Charles Andre Joseph Marie De Gaul.”
“Jacotot sounds like it might be French and De Gaul is a French name. In addition, both of them have Joseph in them. Being famous French people might be part of what the class has in common. Try that one first.”
Calling up the file, Elder took a quick look through the data. “The DE GAUL is a Battleship, way too big for this ship. No class number is listed, but from the sheer size of the ship, it has to be a Class H Battleship.”
“Try the WEBSTER.”
After a moment’s search of the file, “No, the WEBSTER is much larger than this ship, although not as big as the DE GAUL, maybe a Cruiser. I don’t remember much about the ship sizes, but I doubt that the JACOTOT is larger than a Class K Scout Cruiser and the WEBSTER can’t be smaller than a Light Cruiser.”
“We’ve found it!” Houston shouted. “Come on everyone! Cadet Trainee MacBeath found a passageway leading toward the upper decks! The bridge should be that way!” Elder and Clarke hurried toward the voice;; Elder stowing his computer as he did so.
Single file the group ascended the ladder through the decks until it could go no higher. The airlock had been only three decks below the bridge deck, so the trip didn’t take much time.
“Watch your hands, that be my foot and not a rung.” Ostrom called back to the person immediately below him on the ladder, noticing that it was Irving as he did so.
“Sorry am I. Upsetting me the acceleration is.” She carefully placed her hand on the next rung and kept going. “At one point aim I, but when there my hand gets, somewhere else grab I. Acceleration compensators shouldn’t this ship have? Normal for space-going ships that would be.” She turned her face to the lime green ladder, not looking at Ostrom.
The 165-centimeter tall Ostrom continued his climb. “It be affecting us all. If the ship does have them, they must be not working.”
Irving muttered, barely heard by anyone else, “Yeah, tell can I. Wondering what else doesn’t work am I.”
“Forward. The bridge has to be forward from here.” Elder called out, since he seemed to be the only one with the knowledge about ship design, as he began running along the corridor. Everyone else followed closely behind him. In about five seconds, they reached a closed blast door blocking their passage forward.
“It this has to be. For Important doors the Navy blast doors like that one uses.” Irving said as she stepped past everyone else to the control panel on the starboard side of the door.
A moment later she sputtered. “Again authorization codes wanted are. Without them why here did they ship us? Without the codes activate the door I cannot. Have which I don’t.”
Elder looked around helplessly. There were markings all over the light brown bulkheads surrounding them: safety warnings, instructions, and identification labels in various and sundry eye-catching colors. Nevertheless, none of them would have the authorization code for entering the bridge since to have the codes out in the open would be a security violation.
“Maybe they put the authorization codes out in the open so we could find them if we looked hard enough.” Corrbet made the comment as she began reading the various placards and stencils on the surfaces near her, her brown eyes darting from point to point, her brown skin almost matching the dark tan bulkhead padding.
“No Cadet Trainee Corrbet, that would be a security violation. In combat someone might use them to break into the bridge.” Frustration made Elder’s voice unnecessarily heavy with contempt.
“Normally, yes, I agree. I do understand simple security procedures. Nevertheless, perhaps they put them out as a test for us, to determine how observant we can be. We do not know exactly what the test is going to be; maybe checking our powers of observation is part of it. It can’t hurt to investigate all possible leads; after all, doing exactly that found us a way past the elevators.” Corrbet put sharpness in her high-pitched voice that made Elder’s teeth ache.
A couple of the others began investigating as well.
“Isn’t the name of this ship the I.N.S. JEAN JOSEPH JACOTOT? I think I remember seeing that name on the hull as I approached this ship.” Clarke had stepped to the control panel when Irving moved away from it.
“Yeah, so what? It was on the airlock control panel as well.” Jackson probably spoke for most of the others when she said that. She stepped next to Clarke, her blond hair matching his.
“The marking on this control panel are for the I.N.S. RIVER ERNE.” Clarke pointed to the marking as he spoke.
Pitching her voice even lower in sarcasm, she replied, “So they renamed the ship. What difference does that make?” She brushed her hair back. A few of the others nodded their heads in agreement.
“Elder couldn’t find anything for the JACOTOT in his computer, maybe there is something for the ERNE?” Now Clarke turned around, facing the rest of the group with a smug smile on his face that made his oriental features stand out more. He had everyone’s attention.
Everyone’s head spun as one from Clarke to Elder as he grabbed his computer and started the data search. “Yes! There is a listing for a ship by that name, a Class L Heavy Scout by how it looks, with full specifications and authorizations codes. After a few more moments of searching, “Press seven three two nine and then the asterisk twice. That should get us into the bridge.” Elder was pleased that he had been able to solve the problem, even though it was with considerable help from others, especially Clarke. Small victories are great to an ugly man, even one who had gotten this far in the Imperial Navy Entrance Examination.