Entrance Examination, Chapter Six

Time continued its unalterable march. Houston discovered early on the first day that the ship had a fully automatic galley. All the cadets had to do was provide the staples from storage and the galley computer did all the cooking. Everyone considered this a blessing since none of them knew how to cook, other than operate a cooking computer. Everyone found a cabin to call their own, easy enough since a Heavy Scout normally had a crew of well over eleven, (plus Heavy Scouts normally carried a Marine Company, which gave even more quarters but no one wanted to live in a barracks yet) and people settled into a routine.

Early in the first day of the inventory, Ostrom found a storeroom with decorations and everyone personalized their room, they even had a contest to see whose room was the best decorated. The other cadets acclaimed Father Lester the judge and after giving the matter his best consideration, he awarded Sloan the prize since his room held a theme better in its decorations than the others. No one complained much about the result, Sloan clearly beat out most of the others, only Corrbet came close and Irving overheard her asking Sloan for some tips on improving her room. It came out afterward that Sloan’s father was a professional artist who had studied on Bes, which annoyed the others for a short while but that soon passed in the workload trying to bring the JACOTOT up to what the cadets hoped were safe standards.

Father Lester held regular daily services for those that were Roman Catholic, or just wanted to attend and pass their free time as well as pitching in to help wherever he could. Each of the cadets found various tasks and jobs to keep themselves busy and Captain Quinn fretted and worried over every detail, however small.

Elder, Jackson, Corrbet and Clarke discovered that they shared an interest in poker, and began a weekly game of 5-card draw. They held the first game on the second night of their stay aboard the JACOTOT. They agreed to ignore all formalities during their poker game.

“I’ll open for a Cen.” Jackson held her cards close to her face, using both hands to hold the cards, her dark brown eyes peeking over the tops as she spoke and her long blond hair pulled back in a vain attempt to keep her face clear.

“I’ll see your Cen and raise you five Mils.” Corrbet held her cards spread in front of her on the table except when she glanced at them. Her brown hair becoming disheveled as she constantly moved her head to watch the other players, perhaps for some message in their body language.

“Call. Has Quinn stopped by and given you an interrogation yet Elder? He spent over an hour questioning me about Windar and my background.” Clarke held his cards unspread in his hand, he had taken the barest glimpse at the as Elder dealt them to him, his smile never changing.

“Dealer folds.” Elder tossed his cards into the pot. “He spent half an hour watching e as I worked on the Main Computer. He is constantly after me to find some way to read that strange control program. I keep telling him that without a backup I do not think there is a way I can read it. Unless we shut down the program completely and I do not want to do that. I can read what has happened, that is no great deal; but, the way the program uses memory, I am not sure I can tell what subroutine is going to be called up next. Moreover, I cannot read any of the subroutines that have not run because they are encrypted. I tell him all that and he says ‘Very Well’ and then five minutes later he asks again. And when I remind him that I already answered his question just a few minutes before, he apologizes in that formal language of his. Half the tie I have to run what he says through my mind twice to make sure that I do understand what he says. He’s almost as bad as Irving.”

Once Elder stopped, Jackson brushed her hair back and said, “I’ll see your five Mills. Come on Elder, you know he grew up as part of the aristocracy. They all speak that way, don’t you watch Holovids?” Jackson kept glancing at her cards as if they would run away if she did not keep checking them.

After everyone finished their raises and calls, Elder said “The pot is right.” He glanced around the table, lifting the remainder of the deck so the others could see and implying the question if they wanted more cards.

Corrbet spoke up, her light brown skin contrasting with the dark blue cards she held on the table in front of her. “Jackson, it may be that the aristocracy speaks that way but he could remember that the rest of us aren’t nobility and learn to speak like a normal person. Irving at least uses normal words, however mush she mangles the word order of Imperial. I hope Elder deals out as well for the second round as he did for the first.”

“Cards?” Elder asked in the break in the conversation since no one caught the meaning of his earlier actions.

“I’ll take three. Irving slapped him down when he did that then and maybe we should start reminding him to speak a bit less high class when he speaks with us. After a while, he’ll get the message and it won’t be hard for us poor commoners.” Jackson’s dark brown eyes swept the table.

Corrbet checked her cards again, “Jackson we’d get tired of it long before he would. Have you ever had any experience with the nobility? My father deals with the nobility almost daily, he is in the civil service, and Counts, Grafs, and Emirs are the worst. Probably because they are on the bottom of the aristocracy, and Emirs, since they do not inherit anything except a title that does not pass on are the worst of the worst. I a surprised did not keep at us to use the proper honorific of an Emir. We’d have to call him Senor Captain or Captain Senor Quinn.”

“Corrbet, do you want any cards? My father deals with our Count and sometimes the Earl, and he always says that the Count is an all right guy. Real close to the people. Quinn is nothing like what my father describes the Count to be like.”

“Oh no, I’ll stand with these. You deal a good hand. What does your father do? Civil Service?” Corrbet’s brown eyes sparkled as she smiled at Elder.

“No, m family owns a small trading company. Nothing like the big multi-sector corporations, but Krasgia is not a planet that has anything unusual. Father deals with luxury items mostly. I have an idea, if no one understands Quinn and constantly asks him to repeat whatever he says, we could explain that his language, because we don’t easily understand him, could endanger the ship during the next emergency, as he always causes problems with how he speaks.”

Smiling and shaking his head, Clarke waited until Elder was finished and then said, “That, Corrbet, is obviously a bluff. I will take one card Elder. Moreover, as far as the good Emir goes, let him talk. We might as well get used to it, someday we’re all going to make it to Grand Admiral and we’ll talk that way ourselves. And we have understood him easily so far. I think he is talking that was because he thinks we expect it, I do not think it is natural for him,. If we started having trouble understanding him now, he would get suspicious, we should have started doing that yesterday, when we first met, if we were going to do it. And Elder, after twisting that last sentence of yours past our ears, you do not have a right to complain about Quinn. That was worse than anything I have yet to hear him say. It is even worse than Irving’s mangled sentences. At least her mangled grammar is consistent.”

Elder got up after dealing Clarke his one card and went to the food dispenser for a salami sandwich. The others did not need hi as a dealer just then and he could still stay in the conversation while away from the table.

Glancing quickly at her cards and then setting them down next to her own sandwich, Corrbet said, “It may be that we’ll all talk that way some day, but until then, I don’t have to like it and I don’t; although I agree with you about Elder’s idea and sentence. Moreover, what is it with his investigating everyone? Like you, he spent almost an hour questioning me about my home and background. How about you Jackson, did he question you yet?” She took a bite from her pork sandwich and chewed thoughtfully.

“Not yet. I’ll open for two Cen. But I’ll bet a Crown that I won’t be ignored.” She brushed her hair back.

Taking her hands off the cards, Corrbet stretched a bit before saying, “I’ll see your two Cens and raise two Cens. Remember his concern when we first got here because there are eleven of us instead of ten? I will bet he’s trying to discover which of us is the one that isn’t supposed to be here. He does it almost right, my father is an Assistant Lieutenant in the Imperial Police and I learned what an investigation is like at his knee. He wanted me to follow in his footsteps.”

“Four Cens to me? I will call that. You said your father was in the Civil Service?” Clarke let his smile fade away while he watched Corrbet.

“The Imperial Police is part of the Civil Service.” Corrbet seemed surprised at the question.

“Yes, I guess it is. I just wonder why you didn’t say the Imperial Police earlier instead of Civil Service.”

“It didn’t matter then.” Corrbet shrugged the matter away.

“Probably not. However, if Quinn heard it, I am sure he would take it as something significant. Maybe, however, we are all supposed to be here and it is just a minor snafu that there are eleven of us instead of ten. My parents are with the university, part of the Astronomy Department as you might guess from my given names, and I’ve heard stories all my life about bureaucratic foul-ups.” Clarke’s constant smile got wry for a second.

“Your names? What do your parent’s connections with a university astronomy department have to do with your given names?” Elder spoke as he walked back from the food dispenser with his salami and mayo on marbled rye sandwich.

“Orion is a famous constellation on Terra and Lowell was a famous astronomer on Terra. Isaac is because of either Isaac Newton or Isaac Asimov, I never get the same answer twice running. Newton and Asimov are both famous, but for different reasons. If I remember correctly, Isaac Newton was a physicist or mathematician and Isaac Asimov was a chemist,  but each had some connection with astronomy or space. Yuri is from Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space.”

Elder was glad he got his names from relatives, the normal way in his family. Remembering which relative was honored by which name was second nature by now. However, to have to carry the forces of history like that, no, that he did not want. However, most people would never know the history behind those names so it really did not matter how much history was behind them.

Jackson spoke up, bringing everyone’s attention back to the game. “You just took one, right Clarke? Well, I’ll raise a full Mark.”

“I’ll call. How about it Elder, has he investigated you yet?” Corrbet tried to look smug, Elder thought she was faking it, but since he had already folded, he said noting about it.

“No, just looked over my shoulder and made me nervous as all get out. My tie will come, I’m sure.” Elder sat and moved the unused cards over to Jacksons place.

“You raised a full Mark? That must have been either a beautiful draw or you have a bluff that will not quit. This is getting to be pretty expensive for a bunch of Cadet Trainees. However, my hand is too good to drop now. I’ll call, which makes it showtime.” Clarke grinned broadly as he shoved his chips into the pile.

Jackson laid down her two pair, Queens and Sixes; Corrbet showed her three of a kind, Fours, and commented that they could all pay her when they made Grand Admiral; but Clarke took the hand with a straight flush, ten high, in Hearts. The game and the conversation about their situation continued. Out of twenty hands that they played, the five that Elder dealt were the best and the others wanted to make him the permanent dealer. He, however, declined since he always folded right away when he dealt.

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