Entrance Examination, Chapter Twelve

Time marches on, even when we sleep. And Elder was exhausted enough that he was asleep before his head touched the pillow. He had just shucked his uniform and underwear and plopped.

The pounding finally woke Elder up. Barely conscious, he stumbled to the door and opened it. Irving stood there and when she saw his nakedness, her shriek went from alarmed to anti-eardrum in a fraction of a second and she slammed her arms over her face. The noise finished waking Elder up and he closed the door, dashed across the room and flung on his filthy uniform jumpsuit. Now decently, albeit messily, covered where it mattered, he returned to the door and opened it. Irving was still there, her face almost as red as her hair.

Elder stammered quickly, “I beg your pardon. I hadn’t woken up completely and forgot my state of undress.” Elder felt his own face grown warm, his blush was probably as severe as hers was, and a lot uglier.

Looking straight at the bulkhead behind him, she blurted, “A general meeting in the wardroom Quinn called has. To his pages respond you did not, so me to see if something wrong was the Captain sent.” Irving sprinted off, making sure that she did not look at Elder.

Elder walked to the intercom station in his room and paged Quinn.

In a spent voice, “Captain Quinn here.”

Elder barked, “That was a nasty trick to pull on Irving. I was sound asleep and embarrassed the hell out of her by sleepwalking to the door nude.”

“I proffer my apologies for waking you from your slumber Cadet Trainee Elder, I additionally am exhausted. Indeed the entire crew is exhausted. However, I desired to have a meeting and you failed to respond to my repeated calls for your attention. I considered that you might be injured or otherwise incapacitated since the incident of Cadet Trainees Corrbet and Houston were recent to my experience and perhaps similar in import, and I therefore sent Cadet Trainee Irving to learn your status since she was with me at that moment. I will apologize to her for my part when she returns. Please report to the wardroom as soon as you are able to do so. Captain out.”

Elder finished dressing, primarily getting his feet shod since the uniform jumpsuit was all else that he needed, he ignored his underclothes for now, while running Quinn’s comments over in his mind. Since the adrenaline rush was over, his tired mind was not sure it understood what Quinn said, except that there was a meeting in the wardroom. Noticing the clock as he started to leave, he took the few seconds needed to realized he had been asleep only ten minutes. No wonder he felt so dreadful.

Once he reached the wardroom, he found an empty seat and sat. His was the cleanest uniform in sight. He did not look around to see where Irving was, but he did notice a bit of movement at the edge of his vision, near where Sloan was. He avoided looking at who was doing the moving; instead, he concentrated on Quinn who, once Elder sat, stood and leaned on his fists resting on the table in front of him.

“Now that everyone is present, I will conduct this meeting as succinctly as I am capable of doing, so that we all will be able to obtain a well-earned period of sleep, since we are all in desperate need of such sleep. This crisis is the first one that possessed the capability of slaying one or more of us. The life support system lowered the oxygen level to a dangerous degree on the bridge and thus it might have slain either Cadet Trainee Corrbet or Houston or both, before Cadet Trainee Elder discovered through his excellent work the new bridge code.” Something about that comment should have bothered Elder, but his tiredness kept him from thinking clearly about it, so he let it go.

“In addition, the temperature control failure could have slain all of us, albeit in a manner more slowly than the oxygen deprivation situation. From this moment forward, each of us must fully investigate every item of equipment aboard this ship, in order to prevent future eventualities that might similarly imperil our lives. We muse discover what events, that could mayhap ensue, which will pose the greatest danger to our lives as the examination progresses. This will take precedence over the inventory, which will be conducted only to determine what is available to make the repairs necessary at the moment. Our lives are endangered as of the beginning of this last emergency, and it is conceivable that this life endangerment will continue until the conclusion of this examination.” That thought woke Elder up, and with half a glance, he saw that it woke everyone else up also, no one was yawning now.

“I will remain awake until everyone has slept a minimum of four hours. Once this period has passed, I will notify Executive Officer Ostrom and he will be my relief. After his watch, we will return to the posted bridge schedule. Everyone has demonstrated competence in at least one area of expertise. We will work in teams of two, one person with expertise and one without expertise in whatever area is under investigation. Training will be conducted during this investigation in order to expand the knowledge base of each individual and expedite the investigation once training is concluded. I will designate the teams for the beginning of the investigation while you are partaking of sleep. When yo awaken, we will initiate this investigation. It would appear that our previous maintenance efforts were not focused enough to deter the control program from endangering our lives. Now that we more clearly understand the level of danger, this will cease; our priorities will be to repair any item of equipment that might endanger our lives. A second, and nearly equivalent, priority will be to prevent the computer control program from activating any piece of equipment under investigation in such a manner that would establish another crisis. Does everyone understand this? Very well, you are dismissed to your quarters. Sleep well, and you each have my sincere thanks for a job well done during this crisis in the life support system.”

Elder rose with the others and began stumbling out of the wardroom. He looked around for Irving, figuring he might as well apologize again and get matters settled between the two of them, and discovered her at the rear of the group, well away from him. As she saw him looking around, she hid her face and stepped behind Sloan, who turned to talk with her. She ignored him and bounded past everyone else, making he way to the nearest elevators, not waiting for anyone else to enter her car before closing the door and heading for her quarters.

Sloan strode over, took Elder’s shoulder and said, “What’s with you and Irving? When you sat at the table, she moved around so that you could not see her unless you deliberately tried to hunt her down. Then when we started to leave, well, you saw what she did.”

“An embarrassing incident just a short while ago, just before I came to the meeting. I left the bridge and went to my quarters when the Captain called up that the oxygen generators were fixed. I was asleep when he called this meeting and I did not respond to his calls; so, since he did not know if I was all right, he sent Irving to check on me. She knocked at my door, pounded probably, and I was nude when I answered. I apologized to her then, but…”

Sloan began walking towards the elevators, releasing Elder. Elder stayed with him. “Say no more. It’s not like we’re on some planet where she can avoid you for the rest of her life. Here she is going to meet you almost every day, more if the Captain assigns you two together on a task. That alone will force her to get over the incident. You probably should do something to let her know that you were sincere in your apology. f she doesn’t get over it soon, you might ask the good Father to mediate though.”

“Well, you’re right about being able to hide from me, and I agree that I probably should do something else to show how sorry I am. It was my fault after all, I should have put some clothes on before answering the door.” Hand over his mouth, Elder gave out a huge yawn.

“True and the incident has already happened. The two of you have to smooth over this incident. We cannot have the two of you dancing around like a pair of embarrassed schoolchildren at the first evening at dinner. There are only eleven of us on this ship, and if the two of you try to avoid this problem, it is just going to make it harder for the rest of us to get anything done with any efficiency. You started right when you apologized, now prove your apology was sincere so she can get over it. Go and talk with her, or, better yet, get Father Lester to talk with her, or even better yet, both of you should discuss the incident with Father Lester. He had the training in seminary to handle this type of situation. And since the incident didn’t involve him, it’ll be easier for both of you to follow any suggestions he might make, even though you’re not Roman Catholic like she is.”

“Thanks for your suggestions. I do not know what I will do yet. I am too tired. Probably wait to see what Irving does.”

Sloan stopped walking and again put his hand on Elder’s shoulder, his other hand shook a finger at Elder. “And you don’t get it Elder. You were the one who went to the door and opened it naked, not her. Maybe in Sharnalt or on Krasgia such behavior is normal, but for the rest of the Empire it is not. You are the one in the wrong; you have to be the one to correct the situation. You cannot let it drop, even if Irving does nothing about it. Now do you understand” If a rumble could cut, Sloan’s was sharp enough to do so. Elder knew something about what Sloan said should bother him, beyond his insult to Krasgia, but he could only focus on that.

Dragging Elder by the shoulder, Sloan started back to the elevators through the now empty passageway. A car arrived at their call, Sloan letting loose of Elder as they entered.

As the elevator car headed to the deck where the quarters were, Elder growled, “This wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been so tired, my parents raised me properly. Sharnalt and Krasgia are no different from the rest of the Empire as far as courtesy or manners are concerned.” Elder stretched himself as far as he could, trying to do the impossible: to look Sloan eye-to-eye.

“I know Elder, I know. I was trying to use sarcasm to make my point clearer. Apparently I failed. For what you inferred as an insult, I apologize. I did not mean to imply that your manners were somehow unnatural. Let us get some sleep. At least you won’t have to worry about Irving waking you up this time.”

“I accept your apology. As tired as everyone is, maybe everyone should apologize to everyone else for whatever accidental insults were given due to the general level of tiredness, especially since they probably weren’t meant.” Elder stretched and yawned, barely covering his mouth in time.

Sloan rumbled a tired laugh deep in his chest. “I could use a good stretch also, but the ship is too small for me to stretch with any comfort unless I lay on the deck. Just give Father Lester a call when you wake up and talk it over with him. He can give you good advice and probably patch things up between you and Irving.”

“I will. See you later Sloan, after I sleep myself out.” As Elder stopped at his door and entered his quarters, he wondered about the height of the decks. Concar and its descendant colonies all produced very tall people, why was the JACOTOT not equipped for such tall people? Carefully putting everything away, and setting a clean uniform where he could get it quickly, he went to bed with that thought on his mind, sure he was onto something. However, when he woke, he never remembered train of thought.

Ten hours later he woke semi-refreshed. He went to his terminal, after getting clean and fully dressed, and checked the location of Father Lester and Irving. Both were still asleep. He left a message for Father Lester detailing the incident and asking if he could help Elder smooth things over. It was only then, after he sent the message, that he noticed a message for him from Irving accepting his apology. He almost deleted the message to Father Lester; but, instead, sent another one mentioning that Irving had accepted his apology but if the Father thought that Elder should do something else, what would he recommend?

After that, he began searching for some clue concerning what the program would do next. The commands still meant nothing to him, so he tried to follow the command lines and see if there were any that did not belong. He found none, but was not sure he would recognize any even after cross-referencing all the lines he discovered with the maintenance manuals in the computer. That was why he quit after only two hours of searching; that, and he figured it was time to start working on the program Quinn had mentioned earlier. So, he checked in with the bridge to see what his assignment was.

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