Entrance Examination, Chapter Five

Time passed as it always does, despite human intentions and desires.

Clarke piloted the ship safely through the asteroid field. Two hours after the ship made it safely beyond the asteroid field Quinn called for everyone to attend a conference in the pleasantly cheerful wardroom. All eleven Cadet Trainees showed up. Quinn rose to speak.

“The first subject for this conclave is to designate one from the eleven of us to take the position and authority of Captain, to be in command of this ship and of this assemblage as a ship’s crew. We eleven are all Cadet Trainees, and except for Father Lester, all of us are presumably unfledged. Father, am I accurate to suspect that your specialist training would fail to qualify you for command?”

“Yes y son, you would be correct to doubt the propriety of my taking command, Even the schooling I will receive at the Academy would not qualify me for command. We who know we will be support officers, those who are already doctors, lawyers, or clergy and so forth, do not receive the same training as those of you who will probably be assigned to the Line. I am not qualified, and have no need for the hands-on training coming from commanding here, so one of you should take command. And since you did well earlier, everyone followed your orders, and they were good orders, you take command Senior Quinn.”

General agreement from the others followed that comment. No one commented on the bone thrown to Quinn’s ego. It would probably be the last time he would ever hear his birth honorific if they passed.

“Very well, I accept the position and authority of Captain. To continue with the agenda for this discussion, I do not comprehend at what point the next predicament will arise, but it is obvious to me, and should be obvious to each of you, that we will encounter more predicaments since I doubt that it is the intention of the Navy to have us bide here without incident. After all, our initial few hours have set a tone that we should expect for the remainder of this examination. Therefore, before this ship presents us with another crisis, I desire to resolve a problem that does not deal with this examination; at least, it does not deal with the examination insofar as I am able to determine with the information presently available to me. Why are there eleven of us present aboard this ship instead of ten? Who is the superfluous person and for what reason is that person present? Is anyone in possession of any conjectures concerning this issue? Jackson, you desire to comment?”

Jackson had raised her hand for attention even before Quinn had finished speaking. She brushed her shoulder-length blond hair back. “Quinn – excuse me, I should say Captain since you are now in command here – my guess is that the Academy sent someone to monitor our progress or watch over us in case of real danger. That would be the reason why there is an extra person, and therefore the identity of the extra person would not matter. Whoever it is, they cannot be a danger to us. We all came in courier ships, right? The Navy brought us here and someone could not sneak aboard any of the couriers since we boarded them aboard the PLETHO. In addition, while there we were under Naval security, so no outsider could get aboard the PLETHO to sneak aboard a courier. Even if they could, why would they do it? Taking this test is meaningless without passing the earlier ones first. Moreover, if it is not someone to watch over us, and it is not an outsider, who could it be? A lost Cadet Trainee perhaps? That would be a real screw-up on the Navy’s part, letting someone get lost like that. And the Navy has been doing this for too many years to have that happen. So, why worry about it?”

“You have expressed some legitimate arguments Cadet Trainee Jackson. Is there anyone else who desires to make an observation concerning this matter, in addition to her comment?”

Father Lester spoke up. “My son, I wasn’t aboard the PLETHO. I was aboard the I.N.S. PAULUS VERGERIUS before coming here.”

Sloan rumbled, “I was on the I.N.S. Wilhelm von Humboldt.”

MacBeath and Clarke quickly stated that they also had been on the VON HUMBOLDT.

It came out that Quinn, Irving, Ostrom, Jackson, Elder and Houston were from the PLETHO, Father Lester alone was from the VERGERIUS and the others were from the VON HUMBOLDT.

“There were three passengers aboard my courier, including myself; we attempted no conversation during the journey to this location; at least, I made no such attempt since my earlier attempts at conversation had failed to produce conversation aboard the PLETHO. Father, you would have traveled isolated from the remainder of this group since you were the solitary individual journeying from the VERGERIUS. Cadet Trainee Sloan, were you journeying in company with Cadet Trainees MacBeath and Clarke during your voyage to this location?” Quinn spoke calmly over the hubbub as the others considered the implications of their arrival.

“There were three of us on the courier, but I don’t know who the other two were. We couldn’t talk to each other.” Sloan’s rumble avalanched over the other voices at the table. “At least I couldn’t, I tried.”

MacBeath and Clarke each said the same, although both mentioned there was someone on board their courier who matched Sloan in general size. An unsmiling Clarke then volunteered the serial number of his courier and the other two said it was the same ship number of the courier that they were on.

Elder caught a point that no one else had realized, after a second of worrying if he should bring it up he said, “Captain, I was the only person on my courier. You said there were three people on your courier? I saw four couriers, including mine, when I flew from the ship that brought me here to the JACOTOT. Moreover, I was the last person into the airlock. The numbers aren’t adding up correctly.” It turned out that Quinn, Jackson, and Houston arrived on the same courier and that Irving and Ostrom flew together. “That makes five couriers. I saw only four, counting mine. Something is wrong here.” Eder counted on his fingers, twice, in everyone’s sight, verbally matching people and couriers just to demonstrate his point.

“There is the likelihood that you failed to observe a courier that was present, for one reason or another.” Quinn’s swarthy face wrinkled as he considered the matter.

“I saw three couriers just ahead of mine when I left the airlock on mine. I also saw that all of you were ahead of me, with the first few actually at the airlock here. I did not look around or really pay any attention to anything else; I wanted to catch up with everyone else. I didn’t want to miss out on anything or get left behind.”

His green eyes worried and darting around the cadets, Ostrom said, “When Cadet Trainee Irving and I been leaving our courier, there been three couriers in a line ahead and just above us. We been a distance from the others, for safety reasons I been thinking at the time, and a few people been coming out of them. There been no courier between them and us. We been flying past them with no trouble, so I been paying no attention to them. You been saying you been seeing just three couriers ahead of you?”

“Yeah, my courier was about five hundred meters away from the JACOTOT when I left it. The other couriers were about a hundred meters ahead of me, all aimed off to one side and my courier was in line with the center one. I did not consider the positioning of the ships. I just wanted to catch up with everyone else.”

Ostrom rubbed his chin and said, “Our courier been about five hundred meters from the JACOTOT and in line with the center courier ahead of us, I been not considering looking around, the JACOTOT been having my full attention. Been anyone be looking at anything except the JACOTOT?” No one said they looked around; all had confined their interest solely in the JACOTOT and the test they were to take. “Perhaps, and I be not seeing why they be doing it this way, when Irving and I been leaving our courier, it been moving away and yours be flying into the same area. Be you seeing a courier behind you?”

“I didn’t look behind my courier, or anywhere else except dead ahead.” Elder repeated patiently. “Someone on my courier told me, when they ordered me out, that my testing site was ahead and I was concentrating that way. I hadn’t flown a space suit before, and it took a lot of concentration to make sure I went where I wanted to go.”

Sticking his hand out to silence the others, Quinn said, “Very well. We cannot resolve this question until the Navy explains it. However, I surmise and allege that the Navy arranged this circumstance to provoke confusion among us. This situation is merely an additional complication in what appears to be a succession of quandaries the Navy has designed for us. Cadet Trainee Jackson, you were probably accurate when you asserted that the identity of the eleventh person is not pertinent at this current time; although, I would ask Cadet Trainee Elder, since he was the last of us to arrive at this ship, whether he made an enumeration of the persons ahead of him.”

Elder shook his head. A little of his black hair fell to his forehead and he scratched it back.

Sloan’s voice rumbled over the cadets. “Cadet Trainee Jackson might be wrong about the extra person being from the Navy to monitor us. I remember the briefing officer saying we would have no help from the Navy while the test was going on. The extra person can’t be to protect us.”

Jackson said, “Could be. Now that you mention it, I remember something of the sort myself. Maybe the extra person is just to watch and report what we do.” She brushed her blond hair back.

Quinn held out his hand. “We will remove this matter from active consideration for the present time. Cadet Trainee Jackson, you did mention that the Navy controlled the access to this ship, so all personnel are present by the intent of the Navy. That is the crux of this issue. Cadet Trainee Elder, since you did not enumerate the people ahead of you, I will consider this matter closed for the current time. Therefore, let us proceed to the engine predicament. Cadet Trainee MacBeath, what information have you to introduce to this conference concerning the engines?”

“If we shut off the engines, Captain, there is no way to start them again. The Navy completely dismantled the engine starter system, that part of the engine system is emptier than a collection plate. I cannot see a problem with leaving them running at minimal thrust for the duration of the test. Sometime in the future we may need to maneuver the ship around a hazard or for some other reason that we do not know about now. We have throttle control and maneuvering control, let it stand Captain.”

“Your point is convincing and I accept it; although, since the engines were not working when we first arrived, how did the Navy activate the engines without a starter system? That might be a matter to look into at a future point during the examination. Until then, I will set aside that problem aside for the current time.” MacBeath and Irving looked at each other with wide blue eyes gaping into wide brown ones, Sloan merely stared into the distance while rubbing his chin; they had not considered that the engines had been started after the cadets had arrived. “Has anyone else identified any additional predicaments that they feel they should introduce to this conference at this current time?”

lancing around with a sour smile, Clarke said, “The Navy sealed the airlocks from the outside. If there were any reason that we need to make an EVA trip, we cannot. I tried to cycle the airlocks once I found that the sensor package was not complete. I decided to go out and see if there were antennas properly attached outside, and could not get out of any of the airlocks. With the sensors we have working I cannot detect anything beyond a certain distance. Moreover, that distance is fairly close, just a couple of kilometers. About five minutes at minimum thrust is all the warning we could get. We’re in the clear for now, and I have an alarm set in case anything gets detected, but we might want to start standing bridge watches.”

“Thank you Cadet Trainee Clarke, both for your information and your efforts to determine the scope of the predicament. For the current time, we will have to delay any efforts on the sensor predicament. I have considered another possible predicament, are we in possession of adequate provisions? Is the galley functional or will we have the requirement of manually preparing our meals also?”

Elder glanced around to see if anyone else was going to speak, then said, “Captain, according to the Main Computer, there is enough food and water for two years. I cannot tell if the computer records are accurate, so I want to start an inventory of what is actually on hand. Moreover, while I am on the subject of the computer, several computer files, about seven out of eight so far, have erroneous names. The engine room plans, which I was later able to find in the Main Computer, had the label of main weapons spares inventory, for example. There is over a thousand major files and several thousand minor ones and I want to check each of them separately just in case some file has information we need. The Navy has made sure that the files are a problem for us to solve.”

“You cannot perform both tasks Cadet Trainee Elder. Cadet Trainee Ostrom, would you institute the itemization of our provisions?” At Ostrom’s nod he continued. “Is there any other subject that anyone believes should be mentioned at this current time?”

“Another bit of information before you go  to someone else. There is no way that I can discover to stop the strange control program running in the Main Computer with safety. There is no backup, there is not another program even close to the size of that program. That program runs everything onboard as far as I can tell. I traced some subroutines that have already run, and they led to life support, flight control, the power system, and sensors. Several subroutines to each and I am not sure I caught everything they did. In fact, I would bet that I did not. I’m willing to bet that this ship is going to start acting up sometime soon.” Several of the other cadets shook their heads in disgust at that comment. “Definitely before the test time is up. This program is our test, to see how well we can come through on an out-of-control derelict.”

“A derelict this ship is not, since by definition a derelict a powerless ship is, which the JACOTOT definitely is not.” Irving smiled as she spoke, her comment almost a song. Then, more seriously, “And Captain Quinn, a quick check of some of the other systems did I and problems all over this ship have we. Making repairs had best start we so a safety factor have we. Either there is no secondary system working on every system that checked I or marginal at best the secondary system is. Blow up into something serious one small problem could.” She glanced at Ostrom with a worried look and then returned her attention to the others.

“A convincing point Cadet Trainee Irving and one that we must attend to. Renovations are to commence as directly as we can undertake them. Is there anything else that anyone believes necessary to the immediate attention of this group, now a crew?” Quinn swung his head around the group of eleven Cadet Trainees, before resting it back on Irving.

Elder spoke up, “I wish to apologize for my outburst earlier to everyone here. My language was completely without civility and I am very sorry.”

Quinn looked around at everyone, all muttering their acceptance of Elder’s apology, he said as he accepted the apology also, “Is there anything else that in your belief must be brought to the attention of everyone present? No? Very well, it would seem to me that the highest priority items are to examine the computer program running this ship in order to determine what events we may anticipate occurring in the foreseeable future. Plus, the inventory of food supplies, to ensure that we will possess knowledge of what we have available and what efforts we must take to provide adequate meals for ourselves for the duration of this examination. Since this ship was a Heavy Scout prior to its reassignment to its present status as a training ship, it possessed an ample crew complement. Therefore, enough sleeping quarters should be available so that each of us will have the exclusive use of separate quarters. It is my estimation that during our training period at the Academy, and for a long period afterwards, we will not possess this luxury, so the most should be taken of this opportunity. When you have the capability of doing so, find some quarters and disclose your selection to either myself or Father Lester, who will relay the information to me.” Everyone started to get up from the table, but Quinn motioned for them to remain seated. “One issue that I have just realized needs to be attended to prior to your dispersal, and I render my apologies for not thinking of this issue earlier. There probably should exist some sort of command structure beyond the position of Captain. I spurn the notion that I should endure wakefulness the entire period we are aboard. Cadet Trainee Houston, can you locate nine items of one color and one similar item of another color? I will designate a second-in-command by lot since I am not familiar enough with the remainder of you so that I would be able to formulate an acceptable judgement with respect to your command abilities.”

“Make it eight and one my son, I don’t think I should be in a second-in-command position for the same reasons I shouldn’t be Captain.”

“Very well Father. Eight and one, identical in all ways barring color.”

Elder lifted his computer onto the wardroom table. “Captain, how about using my portable computer? I can generate a random number and you can use that to select someone.”

“Is this your personal computer that you brought with you, or was it among the items issued to you by the Navy?”

Surprised by the intensity of Quinn’s glare and wanting to shrink away from it, Elder said instead, “The Navy supply clerk issued it to me when I first got aboard the PLETHO. Why Captain?”

“Given the situation that presently exists, as a result of the activities of the Navy, can you truly imagine that I should have confidence in it?”

“I’ll write the program. You can trust that, can’t you Captain?”

After a slight pause, “Yes, I believe I may indeed trust that. Besides, with continued thought on the matter, I cannot determine what difference would arise from using that computer. We cannot continue to second-guess everything we do under the assumption that the Navy has in some process ensnared that choice.”

Elder wrote a short random number generation program and then Quinn assigned a number to each of the other Cadet Trainees, excluding Father Lester. Ostrom became the Executive Officer. Realizing that more needed to be done, Quinn set a bridge watch schedule, assigned priorities for the various repair tasks relating to the problems that the crew knew about, and then ordered an investigation into what preventative measures to take to keep future crises from overwhelming them. In addition, he did whatever else he could think of to get things running smoothly as he could and apologized in that unusual manner of speaking of his for not thinking of these matters earlier.

 

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