Entrance Examination, Chapte Eleven

Pandemonium reigned at the corridor leading to the airlock where the cadets originally entered. There were five people there already and they were doing little more than get in each others way. Three helmets floated around as the struggling bodies and flailing arms knocked people into bulkheads, lockers, the hatch and the deck. The two lockers that Sloan uprooted when they first arrived, and Quinn’s own suit which had never been put away, floated in the corridor as well, making the efforts to get into suits harder. It should have been easy to get into the suits, they were designed to be easy, but inexperience with zero gravity and the actions of others seriously hampered everyone while they tried to complete the simple actions necessary to get the suits on.

“Everyone remain tranquil! None of us will be able to don our suits if this tumult continues! Cadet Trainee Elder, remain in the airlock and continue there until your suit is fully on. Cadet Trainee Houston, since you have almost finished donning your suit, deliver Cadet Trainee Corrbet’s suit to her on the bridge. You will put your helmet on while en route. Cadet Trainee Clarke, gather the helmets and issue them as appropriate. Cadet Trainee Jackson, maneuver the two lockers so that they are no longer in everyone’s way and then enter the airlock to sit up. Executive Officer Ostrom, wait until someone moves away before beginning to suit up. I also will postpone suiting up until some of you are finished and clear this area.” Quinn grabbed his suit as it floated near him. He then backed against the nearest bulkhead so that the corridor had more open space.

Elder smiled to himself, Quinn’s language was very understandable. Irving must have been right, his language was an act. Either that, or Elder was getting so used to Quinn’s formal language that he did not have the problem understanding it as he had before. At least everyone was acting on his orders and order was coming out of chaos. If they had gravity, there would have been no problem since the suits were designed for ease of use, even for new cadets. It was the lack of gravity that was messing things up, that and the fact that they kept interfering with each other, which was also caused by the lack of gravity. Elder remembered how simple it had been to get out of the suits when they had first arrived. Even the screwed up acceleration compensators did not cause this much trouble. Elder suddenly stopped, just as he was finishing with the suit proper. That had to be something important, he would have to take the time when this emergency was over to consider that.

Houston grabbed a suit and a helmet from one of the lockers floating in the corridor, it looked like it would fit Corrbet (one size did not fit all, just almost all), helping Jackson move them out of the way in the process. Once he had them, he placed his feet on one of the still welded lockers and shoved his way toward the corridor junction where the elevators were. Clarke released the helmets, tossed a helmet to Elder, holding onto the lockers with his other hand so that he didn’t spin out of control, and then grabbed the other helmets again before they moved away form him, waiting for Ostrom to suit up before handing one to him. Father Lester and Irving floated into the area. Quinn motioned for them to wait back, away from the others. Elder began working his way as carefully as he could towards the elevators.

“Cadet Trainee Irving, take your suit and enter the airlock to suit up, give your helmet to Cadet Trainee Clarke and he will hold it until you need it. Father, you may begin suiting up as soon as someone departs. Cadet Trainee Elder, I realize that you are tired, but since you have demonstrated the most competence with the computer system, please take the bridge watch and try to determine what happened. Cadet Trainees Houston and Corrbet will be needed to assist in the repairs to restore life support. Father Lester will come to aid you unless we need him elsewhere.”

Elder acknowledged the command as he floated to the corridor junction and gracelessly made the turn so that he traveled the short distance to the elevators. Just as he reached them, the center elevator opened its door and MacBeath and Sloan tumbled out, knocking Elder away from the elevator bank. He floated past the corridor junction before he could find a grip and stop his movement. It took only a short pause to align himself with the elevators and start floating that way. His aim was close enough to place him next to the control panel and he traveled slowly enough so that he could stop without bouncing away again. The elevator door opened at his command and he entered. The elevator started at his command. Once at the bridge level, he floated along until he reached the now closed door.

Using the intercom at the control panel, “Bridge, this is Elder, open the blast door please.” There was no response, and Elder could think why the blast door was down. Normally, just the regular door was used. “Bridge, this is Elder, please open the blast door for me.” Again, no response. He tried the access code; it did not work. “Captain, this is Elder. I can’t open the blast door to the bridge and no one answers me when I call.”

“Very well. I will attempt to make contact with the bridge. Remain at your location for the present.” After a short delay, “Cadet Trainee Elder, this is the Captain. I cannot make contact with the bridge either. Use the access code and enter the bridge to determine what occurred. Cadet Trainee Irving is on her way to assist you. Quinn out.”

Elder again punched 7329**, hit the control to open the door and waited. Nothing happened, the blast door remained down. Elder tried again, and again nothing happened. It was then that he noticed a light flashing on the panel. Looking at it, he read “Code Error, Access Denied.” He heard the sound of an elevator reaching the bridge deck.

Turning to face the corridor, he soon saw a space suit floating towards him. “Cadet Trainee Elder, the bridge why have you not entered? To go ahead and enter did not Captain Quinn tell you? Cadet Trainee Elder are you, are you not?”

“The access code no longer works Irving. I have tried it three times. You can try it, but all I got was ‘Code Error, Access Denied’ from the computer. I am going to my quarters and get that portable computer the Navy issued me. I will try the Main Computer and the portable from there and see if I can get the access codes, and see if there is anything else I can get about this problem. I’ll call  you when I learn something.”

“Understand I. And Cadet Trainee Elder you are, the voice I recognize. Working here to enter will try I.”

Elder floated past Irving and towards the elevators. As he approached them, he noticed a coating of frost around certain hatches. Once he noticed that, he checked his suit indicators and noticed that the temperature in the ship, outside his suit, was dropping rapidly. It was already well below freezing.

Pausing at the intercom station at the elevator doors, he paged Quinn. “Captain, this is Elder.”

“Go ahead Cadet Trainee Elder, I am proceeding to the bridge.”

“When you reach this deck Captain, look around. Frost is already starting to form up here. The ship must have extremely poor insulation for the temperature to drop this fast, or else the climate control did not just shut off, it started on full cool. If we don’t get the temperature control repaired soon, we’ll freeze to death before we reach the end of the test.”

Just then, the elevator door opened and a suit floated out. Quinn spoke. “Cadet Trainee Elder? What motives have you for leaving the bridge area?”
“I’m heading for my quarters to see if I can access the Main Computer from there, and if not, I’ll see what I can find in the portable computer of mine. One of them should help, and hopefully, have the new access code. The old one doesn’t work Captain.”

“Very well, proceed to your quarters and inform me when you discover anything pertinent.” Quinn pushed his way towards the bridge as Elder entered the elevator.

When the elevator reached the third deck, where the cadets had their quarters, Elder shoved his way down the corridor to his room. Finding something to hold on to when he got there, he realized that the handhold he was now using was built into the bulkhead. Looking around, he saw several others nearby. Handholds were everywhere, thus making it easier to move around the ship in zero gravity once you knew the handholds were there. Elder remembered using the handholds earlier, just without really noticing them.

Once inside his room, he saw that the bedding, chair, and everything else that was not secured, was floating in the room. What would break when gravity was restored? Elder grabbed the chair and sat at his computer workstation.

Once at the computer, Elder saw how he could strap himself to the table and work without floating away. First, however, he had best warn Quinn about the floating debris.

Using his suit radio general circuit, Elder paged Quinn. “Captain, this is Cadet Trainee Elder. I’m in my quarters and I just discovered something you should think about. With no gravity, everything that is not secured is floating around. You had best have someone check everything before you start gravity up again, just in case. Something important might break otherwise. Also, check out the bulkheads, there are handholds built into them for use in zero gravity, just in case no one ever noticed them before now.”

“Thank you for the forewarning Cadet Trainee Elder. Those are excellent observations and I will act upon the one concerning the gravity. Captain out.”

Apparently Quinn had not realized that Elder had used the radio general channel of his space suit because the general address system came on. “Attention all personnel. Attention all personnel. Prior to the restoration of gravity control, all personnel are to make a comprehensive investigation of the ship and secure everything that might break upon resumption of gravity. Quinn out.”

Elder barely paid attention to Quinn’s comment as he floated back to the desk where his terminal was. There he clipped himself to the desk so he would not float away and started his search through the files in the Main Computer. The first bit of information he learned was that there were no new access codes listed in the ship’s specifications, nor were there backup codes. Exhausting that option, he checked the subroutines in the control program that had run since the time this problem started, hoping to see what the program had done to the change the access codes. The commands to the life support system were nothing unusual as far as he could tell, but there was a single command sent to the security system that he almost missed and probably would have missed before. One command, the first command sent to the security system that Elder could remember. Elder was proud of that bit of work.

Elder began following that command through the security system. He was still at it when he heard Quinn say over the intercom system, “Attention all personnel. Prepare for the restoration of gravity.” Glancing at the clock, Elder saw that he had been working for over an hour. “Secure anything that might break when gravity is restored.”

Unstrapping himself from the table, Elder swept everything in the room over the bed. At least nothing would break when it his the mattress. He checked the portable computer to make sure he had it securely attached to his suit.

“Cadet Trainee Elder, you have not reported ready yet. What is amiss with your quarters?”

“Sorry Captain, I was tied up chasing the access code problem. I have not secured everything but it should not break when gravity is restored. Go ahead and restore gravity and I will clean up later. I think I’ve almost got the security problem solved. How did everyone else get everything secured so fast?”

“Every one else has been securing whatever they find for the last hour. Very well, report on your progress with the access code predicament immediately when you have learned anything worthwhile. Captain out.”

A moment later, Elder had his breath knocked out of him as he went from zero weight to his full 53 kilograms in the tick of a computer clock. The floating items crashed onto his bed and one, his personal care kit, missed the bed and hit the deck. Elder checked it and saw that, luckily, nothing in the kit broke when it had hot the deck. Elder returned to working on the computer terminal. Once he was back in the security control system, he began looking for the access codes needed to operate the ship. It was slow, tedious, work. The security system was designed to prevent exactly what he was doing, but he could not let it stop him. After a while, he found the new codes.

“Captain, this is Cadet Trainee Elder. I have the codes. Are you ready to copy?”


“The code for the bridge is now 8166*2 Captain. I have a copy of the new codes for all the other secured areas as well. I am hunting through the security files to see if there is going to be another code change. If anyone needs a new code, have them contact me here.”

“I would prefer that you report to the bridge. Your presence there may be required. I have no report on the status of Cadet Trainees Corrbet and Houston, therefore I must anticipate that they will require medical attention; and since you can perform your computer searches more efficiently from the bridge, you would be the most logical one to maintain the bridge watch in place of Cadet Trainee Corrbet. Captain out.”

Elder slapped his forehead, which did nothing since the helmet absorbed the blow. He had completely forgotten the two on the bridge. He glanced at the clock and noted that is had been almost an hour since gravity had been restored. A little over four hours since he had tried to enter the bridge. Saying a quiet prayer for the two on the bridge, he headed out of his room as fast as he could.

Once in the corridor, and heading towards the elevator, he had to slow down. Ice was everywhere. Elder glanced at his suit’s external temperature readout and shivered involuntarily. Once at the elevator, he had to break some ice away before the door would open. Once he reached the bridge, he noticed that it was empty. He moved to an intercom station to page Quinn.

“Captain, this is Cadet Trainee Elder. I’m on the bridge, is there anything I should know?”

“Cadet Trainee Elder, this is Captain Quinn. Cadet Trainees Corrbet and Houston are presently in the infirmary receiving medical treatment for oxygen starvation. Once we were able to gain access to the bridge, we noticed that they were both unconscious due to lack of oxygen. Apparently, Cadet Trainee Houston removed his helmet in his attempt to revive Cadet Trainee Corrbet and was unable to revive her prior to succumbing himself. Under no conditions are you to remove your helmet, I do not want you to succumb in addition to them. Do you understand this Cadet Trainee Elder?”

“Understood Captain. Anything else I should know?”

“It is my intention to join you when I have finished in the infirmary. Cadet Trainees MacBeath and Sloan are in the main life-support control system searching for the cause of the oxygen failure. Executive Officer Ostrom, Cadet Trainees Clarke, Jackson and Father Lester are searching for any life support equipment or spare parts. Cadet Trainee Corrbet had mentioned that she could find no life support equipment in the computer when this emergency first began. It is quite probable that the computer files listing that equipment and its location are among the files that have improper names. Continue your searches and locate the files with the life-support equipment inventory if you are able to do so. Captain out.”

Elder walked over to the Engineering console and looked at the display. Gravity was showing at one standard gravity, which matched what Elder felt; but the oxygen generation system display showed a general failure. The temperature control also displayed a failure, but this was a control failure. Elder wondered about the difference for a moment. Then he returned to the Main Computer console and began searching for what was listed for life support equipment. There was nothing listed so he started a search to see what the control program had commanded the ship to do. He began tracing the command codes for the temperature control system. At first, nothing he found made any sense to hm. Then, slowly, he began to get an idea about what he was seeing.

“Captain, this is Cadet Trainee Elder. I think I have something on the temperature control problem.”

“What have you discovered?” Quinn was breathing a bit harder than normal, maybe he was working too hard. But everyone was working hard, just not all were doing physical labor.

“First, there is nothing I could find for life support equipment anywhere Captain. And as far as the crisis, the control program sent some commands to the engineering console here on the bridge concerning the temperature control, but nothing to life support were it should have gone. Gravity and oxygen, yes, those went to life support but not temperature. Can you send someone up here to help me” I’m going to have to take my helmet off if I investigate the Engineering console and it would be helpful to have someone up here in case I get oxygen starvation.”

“Since there is no indication of spare life support equipment, forebear your investigation of the temperature control until the repairs on the oxygen generation system have been completed. Perform another investigation of the computer files and locate spare parts for the life support system. There has been considerable damage to the oxygen generators and the spare parts are a requirement. Inform me when you have located the spare parts. I will not be joining you on the bridge since my presence there is not required and I may be of more aid attempting to locate the spare parts. The repair of the oxygen generators is the highest priority. Quinn out.”

Elder looked at the intercom and stuck his tongue out at it. That childish act got him laughing and he went to work still giggling. Quinn was right; the oxygen generators were a higher priority. He first called up the life support log. Something about the quickness with which Corrbet and Houston passed out bothered him. After a few minutes, he saw what he was looking for. For almost ten minutes prior to the life support failure, the life support system had been slowly removing oxygen from the atmosphere on the bridge. The bridge must be airtight even with only the regular door closed. The oxygen level was still so low that he would have only a couple of minutes before he passed out himself. The oxygen level on the bridge was just barely enough to support life, he did not dare do anything without someone to watch over him and ensure his safety if the situation required removing his helmet.

Leaving that problem, he started hunting for a list of spare parts for the life support system. Checking each file, and changing names where he needed to so that he did not check the same file twice, took time. Lots of time.

“Cadet Trainee Elder, this is Captain Quinn. Have you discovered anything concerning spare parts?”

“No Captain, I haven’t. I have been only taking a quick look at the files unless it looks like the file is an inventory; but even so, it takes time to go through the files. You might want to try and manufacture the spare parts just in case I can’t find anything.”

“That may not be feasible. With the temperature continuing to plummet, we may be unable to operate the equipment. Some equipment has already malfunctioned due to the extreme temperature. I remember you mentioned that the cause of the temperature malfunction might be in the Engineering console on the bridge.”

“Yes Captain, I did mention that. I have not investigated what the command codes did since that would require removing my helmet so I could see inside the console. I do not dare remove my helmet without someone here. Just in case something does go wrong. Besides, you ordered me to not remove my helmet.”

“I herewith rescind that order. However, I caution you to not attempt anything that would require removing your helmet until you have assistance.”

“Thanks Captain. I ran a check of the internal sensor log and discovered that the life support system had been removing oxygen from the bridge for ten minutes before the life support failure. If Cadet Trainee Corrbet had been monitoring the internal sensors as well as the external sensors, she should have noticed the lowered oxygen levels and given a warning before the alarm. We might have been able to prevent this problem.”

“Recriminations will serve no purpose. However, the idea that the internal sensors should be monitored more closely is valid. You should monitor those sensors closely. I realize that this will be an extra burden upon you, but it is necessary. It is unfortunate that Cadet Trainees Corrbet and Houston suffered from her inattention to those sensors.”

“Aye Captain. When can I expect someone up here? WIth the oxygen levels as low as they are, I wouldn’t last a minute without my helmet.”

“Someone will proceed to assist you as soon as possible. The exact time of arrival cannot be estimated. The elevator system is one of the ones malfunctioning due to the temperature; travel must be by way of other routes. Until your assistant arrives, proceed with the inventory search since I can think of nothing more important than that task. Captain out.”

Elder returned to scanning the files in computer storage after trying to shrug. Any file that was not immediately obvious as an inventory, he renamed and passed. Inventory files, he examined line by line and renamed when he was done. It was slow work, blurring his vision after a time, but he kept at it. After a short while, he stopped paying attention to the radio conversations so he could concentrate on the computer files.

Jackson showed up on the bridge, crawling through a maintenance access hatch under the main display screen. She lay on the deck for a moment before rising to her feet and calling to Elder.

“Cadet Trainee Elder, there are no, repeat no, signs of any life support equipment anywhere unless you found something. We need that temperature control fixed as fast as possible. If we cannot fix it, the Captain says we will have to punch the panic button. We’ll be frozen solid inside a couple of days otherwise.”

“It’s that bad? I had not realized that. But I’ve been alone on the bridge for the last,” here Elder looked at the master clock on the Main Computer console, “sixteen hours? That cannot be right. I can’t have been here sixteen hours, I just got here!”

“It’s been at least that long. The life support failure happened nineteen and a half hours ago and we have been working like dogs since then. We found the gravity problem right away, but the other problems have us stumped.”

“Any luck on making parts to repair the oxygen generators?”

“Not as of when I left the life support section. The Captain had everyone hunting down parts and scrounging anything that could be made to work, but nothing was working when I left an hour and a half ago. The temperature has made travel between decks dangerous. And speaking of the temperature, let’s get to work.”

“Check your suit sensors. The oxygen level on the bridge is dangerously low. I looked at the life support logs and discovered…”

“Yeah, the Captain told me. You did good work checking that. The master control program was removing oxygen for about ten minutes before the life support failure alarm. Cadet Trainee Houston must not have checked the sensors either, and when he removed his helmet to give Cadet Trainee Corrbet mouth-to-mouth, he passed out also. Not that she needed it, she was breathing although just barely. He goofed and almost got himself killed. Luckily they responded to medical treatment and are now helping work on the life support.”

“I guess that explains it. OK, one of us is going to have to remove their helmet and stick their head inside the Engineering console to see what is happening there. Whichever one of us it is cannot go for more than a minute or maybe two before getting out and putting their helmet back on. We should alternate so that neither of us gets too light-headed.”

“I’ll go first; I’m smaller and can fit inside better.”

“You’re actually a slight bit bigger than me; but all right. Look for some sort of control circuit box that…”

“I checked the schematics down in Engineering. That is another reason I should go first. I will let you know what I find. You watch the clock. Give me two minutes.” Jackson walked over to the Engineering console and laid down. Then she removed the maintenance hatch and set it aside. Only then did she remove her helmet and slide her head into the console.

Elder watched the clock reflected on his suit faceplate. Once one minute and thirty seconds was up, he stepped to the front of the console and picked Jackson’s helmet up. Then he grabbed her leg and shook it. “Times up, come on out of there.” There was no response, so instead of trying again, he pulled her away from the console. Once she was free, he slipped her helmet on her and engaged it. Watching the oxygen flow meter, he waited until she responded to his continued comments.

“Wha, where’m I?”

“You blacked out. Two minutes was too long for you. What did you find?”

“Wha, oh, insi’ the console? Too dar, I forgot my light. Didn see anyting.”

“Are you all right? Can you move about?”

After a few moments, “M better. I must have passed out almost immediately. But I’m coming around. I passed out too fast, jus a low oxygen level would not have put me out this fast. There has to be something more.”


Sucking oxygen into her lungs, she said, “M a space kid, my family lives in the asteroid belt. I’ve been trained from childhood in surviving low oxygen, retaining oxygen, recovering from oxygen starvation and s’forth.”

“I see. I am going to check something. Hang on a second. Elder fumbled a bit with his suit, detaching a sensor probe finally and sliding it through the hatch. “You’re right. Carbon Dioxide levels are extremely high in here, but dropping. The console must have been airtight. Now that the hatch is open, the air inside is mixing with the rest of the bridge air. However, it will take too long for it to get safe. The carbon dioxide must have knocked you out almost with your first breath. If we get the carbon dioxide levels down to what the rest of the air is, and I hold my breath, I should be able to do something inside the console. Help me find something to move the inside air with.”

The two looked until Elder found a small fan hidden in a storage bin. He took the fan, placed it nest to the hatch and turned it on. After a couple of minutes of the fan sucking the air out of the console, he checked the inside again.

“It should be safe enough now. Give me ninety seconds. I can hold my breath that long.”

“Ninety seconds it is.”

Elder lay on the deck. Sliding himself as close to the hatch as he could without making it hard to remove his helmet, he pulled the flashlight off the left sleeve of his suit, turned it on and slid it into the console where he could reach it easily. He then too several deep breaths and one shallow one, and then held his breath and removed his helmet. Sliding into the console, he grabbed the light and started looking for something; what, he did not know.

He saw the problem almost immediately. Next to the master relay control junction was another, unlabeled, relay control junction that he did not remember seeing in the maintenance manual. He grabbed the input jack and tried to pull it away from the strange junction. It took a couple of tries but he succeeded just as Jackson called to him. He still needed a few seconds to finish the job.

Trying to talk and hold his breath at the same time, Elder said, “Give me another ten seconds. I’ve got it.”

“It’s already been one hundred fifteen.”

Elder pulled the wrong jack from the input plug of the master relay control junction and slid the proper one into it. Lights danced before his eyes but he could see well enough.

“I’m coming out now.” Jackson was already pulling on his legs, trying to get him away from the console and to the relative safety of the rest of the bridge.

Once he had his helmet on, Elder breathed deeply, trying to get oxygen to his hurting lungs. Sparkles continued to float through his blurred vision, but he was happy. The problem had been solved. He had actually done it. He hoped.

“Check the Life Support console and see what the temperature is doing.”

Jackson let hi sit in the chair at Engineering and darted over to Life Support. “Temperature is already starting up! We did it! You did it!” Punching the intercom, “Quinn, this is Jackson.”

“Captain here.” Quinn’s voice was a bit icy, Jackson wondered why, and then remembered her leaving out the rank titles, she was tired, but she resolved to not do that again around him.

“Temperature control is working properly again. Temperature should be normal shortly.” Something about that bothered Elder, but he was still recovering from holding his breath so he didn’t consider it.

“My sincere thanks to the both of you. Cadet Trainee Jackson, you stay on the bridge and work on the security system. I want those security sensors working. There is no need for you down here. Captain out.”

“Jackson, how fast is the temperature rising?” Elder still had that thought that the temperature rise was not correct.


“Think about it. This is not a large ship but it still should take some time for the temperature to rise. The temperature will drop faster because the hull is a huge radiator but for the temperature to rise, the air and everything else has to heat up.”

“Easy. The heater has a huge capacity. If something happens and the temperature drops, the heater has to get the temperature up fast in order to save lives.”

“Well, OK then.” Elder wasn’t sure that he agreed with her, how much heat had to be put out in order to raise the temperature as fast as it had?

Elder moved to the Main Computer console once he had his breath back and could see well enough. Starting on the inventory again he pondered the events leading up to then. The events suggested something but he was too tired to think straight so he concentrated on the inventory files. Jackson moved over to the Sensor station and started working there. Time passed as it always does, one second after another and unnoticed when you are busy with something.

“Elder check your oxygen reserves.”

Elder missed her not using his rank title, “In a minute, I only have five files left to check.”

“Elder, do it now.” Her low-pitched voice had a sharp edge that made Elder obey; he still did not notice her leaving out his rank title, he was just too tired.

“Oh all right. What is the problem? Oh, I see. Are your reserves as low as mine?” Elder turned to face Jackson.

“Probably, if not lower. I’ve done more physical labor. How much time do you have left? I’ve got about an hour.”

“I’ve about an hour and a half. Call the Captain and see how much longer the repairs are going to take. He is probably the only one who isn’t deep in the repairs.”

“Are you saying he doesn’t care?”

Elder spun back to the computer terminal as he spoke. “No, but he doesn’t know a thing about life support and he knows it. He is a good supervisor, usually, if you can understand what he is saying and he is good with medicine. He has a good grasp of what is going on, but hands on physical labor, he is not any good at it and he knows it. He will be free to take your call and it will not interrupt the repairs. I’ll finish on these files.”

“And are you good at physical labor or just the computer?”

“I have no idea. I have done physical labor, as has Captain Quinn, when needed, but I do not want to guess how good I am. Perhaps I am better on the computer than anyone else on board, even Father Lester, like everyone keeps saying. Maybe he would have worked twice as long to finish these files. What are you good at?”

“Electronics. Not so much the computer, except the physical or electronic side, but I’ve found my love with the circuits on this old hulk. Maybe that is part of the test; we have to learn ourselves and what we are best at. And you are the best at the computer in the crew. Do not keep cutting yourself short. You are good.”

Upset slightly at her choice of words, Elder ignored the impolite reference to his height and kept working. “Maybe, but get ahold of Captain Quinn and let him know that there are no spare parts for the life support system nor any spare life support equipment. At least, not according to the computer. After they get the oxygen generators fixed, we should  do a complete search of what is physically here and discover what isn’t in the computer.”

“Would they put stuff on board and not list it in the computer? They probably would at that, another test for us. While I talk to Quinn, would you check the temperature control again, just to be on the safe side?”

He missed even that slip of etiquette. “All right. But then I am taking a nap. Sleeping should lower my oxygen usage and I have been up for… Is that clock right? It has to be. It has been thirty-seven hours. Moreover I only had a short nap before this alarm started. No wonder my eyes are burning.”

“Go to sleep Elder. I can check out the Life Support console without your help and you’d probably break something as tired as you are.”

“If it weren’t for the oxygen, I could sleep for a week. But, I have a bridge watch coming soon.” Something about her speech pattern was beginning to catch his attention, but he could not catch what it was and did not feel like thinking about it.

“You’ve served it. Quinn will have to put someone else on that shift. Who, I don’t know since we’re all just as tired I guess.” Jackson snorted. “If not more so. I guess we should have alternated naps before now, but we might as well start.”

“Bridge, this is Captain Quinn. The oxygen generators are once more functional. Endeavor to conduct a diagnostic examination from the Life Support console so that you are able to determine if you have acquired complete control of the system on the bridge. Inform me of the results of your diagnostic tests. Quin out.”

“Go to bed Elder, sleep your week away. The emergency must be over, Quinn is talking like himself again. I’ll do the diagnostic check.”

Elder gratefully stumbled off the bridge and back to his quarters leaving all the ship’s puzzles behind him. He left the space suit standing in the middle of his room, too exhausted to do more than strip down to his bare skin and collapse into his bunk. Mental labor may not seem like hard work, but it does wear one out; at least, it wore Elder out.


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