Entrance Examination, Chapter Thirteen

Ostrom answered with a spent voice, “The Captain be wanting you to work with Cadet Trainee Jackson while she be searching for life support equipment. Any equipment the two of you be finding is to be examined for defects or other booby traps. You be also to make an accurate inventory of everything, and he be meaning everything, you find. If you be finding a box of raisons, list it. Just don’t be going out of your way to be doing an inventory of everything except the life support equipment, the maintenance schedule be a higher priority now. Your next bridge watch be third watch tomorrow. Cadet Trainees MacBeath and Sloan be going over the engines and life support machinery to ensure that no further problems be able to crop up with them. Cadet Trainees Irving and Clarke be checking out the bridge for any other junction or control boxes like the one you been found in the Engineering console. Everyone else be doing just like you, searching for life support equipment first and doing a complete inventory second. When you be sparing the time, be going to life support and be getting your oxygen tanks recharged, just in case you be needing your suit again. The basic schedule be one shift on and one shift off until we either find all the problems or the test be over. Any questions?”

“First you tell me to do an absolutely complete inventory then in the next sentence you say don’t worry too much about it. Which is it?”

“I been telling you what the Captain been telling me to be telling you. I suggest that you be asking him that question. Any other questions?”

“None. Oh. Um, just one. Where is Jackson?”

“She be in Storage Bay Five. She been starting work half an hour ago. That’s another thing, be stopping by the bridge sometime and getting your schedule. Everyone be working eight on and eight off, but the shifts be no changed at the same time for everyone. The shifts be offset by two hours, Quinn thinks be causing fewer problems.”

“All right. I’ll stop by the bridge when I get off duty and charge my tanks up then also. Storage Bay Five you say. I’ll get going. I hope I learn to like fixing all the broken equipment on this ship. I am going to get enough opportunity to learn to like it, I bet. Maybe I’ll get good at it.”

“No bet on that. The Captain be expecting everyone to work until we be reaching the end of this test. Eight hours of hard physical labor every other shift from now until then. Unless we been fixed everything, which I be doubting. And, you be already good with that computer, no need to be pressing your envelope there.”

“Thanks for the compliment. I doubt we will get everything fixed too. I do not think the Navy would like it if we started loafing the last few weeks of the test. I bet they ensured that there is no way we could find or fix everything they broke for us. By the way, where is the Captain?”

“That be another no bet from me. The Captain be on his way to relieve me so I be able to catch up on my sleep. He should be here in,” Ostrom’s voice picked up a bit, “only five more minutes. Five more minutes and I be getting back to bed for a few hours. You should be going. I be letting Cadet Trainee Jackson know you be on your way. Bridge out.”

Elder went to Storage Bay Five and worked eight solid hours, not even taking a break to eat. He and Jackson checked every box, carton, crate and storage bin that they moved to get at the little bit of life support equipment stored in the bay, carefully checking each, listing what each contained and cross-checking against what the computer said was there.

About halfway through the checking, Elder remembered Quinn’s comment about Jackson repairing the security system. “Hey Cadet Trainee Jackson, I need to speak with you for a second.”

Jackson paused before opening another storage bin. “What about? Find something interesting?”

“No, something the Captain wants done. Last time I was standing bridge watch, before the life support failure, he mentioned that he wanted you to check out the internal security system. He wants to have the internal monitoring system operational in all the public areas.”

“Did he tell you why?”

“He thinks we might catch someone causing all the problems if the security system works.”

“So that’s why. The schedule he left me lists that tomorrow I was to start repairing the security system and that I was to take as much time as I needed. The big priority was to get it repaired. He didn’t say why.”

“He’s still got a bug in his nose about there being eleven of us instead of ten.” Elder returned to his inventory work so he did not see the surprise on Jackson’s face.

“Still? I thought I convinced him that it didn’t matter, back when we first came aboard.” Jackson shook her head, and then brushed her hair back into place.

“He now thinks that one of us could be causing these problems, or making the situation worse when the control program causes these problems. He thinks one of us is a saboteur. I think he said something about almost catching someone.”

“Cadet Trainee Corrbet stopped by and spoke with me about the same idea just before you got here, and she also mentioned the security system repairs that the Captain wants but she didn’t know why, or at least she didn’t say. She’s been trying to check on everyone and determine if there really is an extra person or if it’s just a mistake that there are eleven of us.”

“She and I talked just before the life support failure when she relieved me on the bridge. She cleared the Captain and Father Lester, and I guess me too. If she talked with you about this, she must have cleared you. Who does that leave?”

Jackson returned to working. “How did she clear you?”

“I was on the bridge when Captain Quinn saw the saboteur, so it couldn’t have been me.”

“Well, I guess it’s nice that she thinks I’m OK; but, who cleared her? And, if Captain Quinn saw the saboteur, why is he still trying to discover who the saboteur is?”

Elder paused for several seconds, then returned to work. “I don’t remember why I decided she couldn’t be the saboteur. Maybe I just trust her because her father is in the Imperial Police. Maybe the Captain couldn’t recognize who the saboteur was, all I remember is that he said something about seeing someone where they shouldn’t be and he was concerned about sabotage.”

“She does know how to do investigative work. Which she could have learned from her father, or from Navy training. Are you sure about what Captain Quinn said?”

Elder stopped long enough so that Jackson turned to see what he was doing. He stood still for almost a minute.

“No, I’m not sure. This was quite some time ago. He came to the bridge after working on Cadet Trainee Irving and talked about sabotage and not trusting people. He then left to check out his cabin and wanted Father Lester to join him there. Cadet Trainee Corrbet came to the bridge and relieved me. We talked about the situation and if I remember right, she said that Father Lester had to be a cadet because he had not been a priest long enough and Captain Quinn was really the son of the Count of Radnell, something about some jewelry I think. No, she saw his signet ring, that’s what it was. And she said she was going to continue investigating and asked me to help. I haven’t done much because of the work I’ve been doing but I guess she has.”

“So he is a real Emir. How does that eliminate him as a saboteur?”

“I don’t remember, maybe the aristocracy is a hobby of hers and once she knew who he was, she remembered something that proved he couldn’t have entered the Navy too long ago. I was tired then and it has been a while. Remember, we’ve been busy during the interval.”

:OK, you’re a cadet, I’m a cadet, she’s a cadet, r Lester’s a cadet, and the Captain’s a cadet. That leaves Cadet Trainees Sloan, Ostrom, Houston, Irving, MacBeath, and Clarke. Who are you going to clear next?”

“I have no idea. I haven’t spoken with her about this since then.”

“Then, keep your eyes open and let’s get back to work and fix the good ship JACOTOT.”

The public announcement system blared into life just then, Captain Quinn spoke, without his now normal stilted language, “Father Lester, Cadet Trainee Houston, please report to the infirmary. Cadet Trainee Irving had an accident and has a broken arm.” Elder and Jackson looked at each other for a second. She brushed her hair back and shrugged. Elder shrugged also and went back to work.

Elder and Jackson finished checking the life support equipment in that storage bay and began on another part of the life support system. The next day Elder took a six hour bridge watch and watched as Clarke and Father Lester repaired several small problems in two of the consoles, and finished his watch helping repair one of the other consoles.

The day after that, “OK, the commonly used commands the computer uses are fairly normal. However, you know that since you have used it. It’s the commands that aren’t normally used that’ll screw you up.” Elder stood behind the chair as MacBeath sat at the Main Computer Console.

“It must have been a preacher that designed this.”

“That I can’t tell. There’s a logic to this command structure, but it isn’t the same as any other system I’ve ever heard of.”

“Had to be the work of a preacher then.”

“MacBeath, I’ve seen you pray, why are you so down on religion?”

After a few moments, MacBeath said, “”On Sahara, several years ago, there was a scandal and a power struggle in the Free Presbyterian Church. It lasted until about three years ago. My family was heavily involved. It’s a habit of speech in my family now since it was the church hierarchy in our local congregation that fought us.”

“Oh, I think I understand.”

“I don’t know why you wouldn’t understand. It isn’t as hard as this computer and you’ve mastered it.” MacBeath slapped the console lightly and stuck his tongue out at it.

Elder smiled at the childishness, childishness he was prone to when dealing with the computer also, “Not really. All these codes are meaningless to me.”

“Have you tried to learn them?”

“The computer program changes them. If I could find the command that would allow me to see the expanded definitions of each command, it would be no problem. However, that command is one of those odd ones and I have not got it figured out yet. It might be as simple as typing a random string of letters such ass.” Here Elder leaned past MacBeath and typed in a short string of letters on the keypad. “But these is no way of guessing what the random string is. Am I reading what I think I am reading?”

MacBeath stared at the console for a few seconds, “You did it! What did you type in?”

“It’s in the command buffer, print it out. That command is normal. Type it in again and let’s see if it shuts the expanded definitions off.” It did not. “Now, from what I remember of the logic of this system, this should give us the command definition table.” Elder typed in another short string of letters.

Another set of pages spun out of the printer, MacBeath grabbed them. “You’re  right. I said you had mastered this beast. You get this thing to sing better than any choir I ever heard.”

Elder was looking over the commands listed. “Here’s the one I was looking for. This command,” and Elder typed it in, “will let us tell the computer to switch any terminal to voice activation. We could have all command functions go to voice, but I think that would risk problems. It’s probably best to do one terminal on voice functions at a time.”

“Even luck is on your side when you work this beast. Cadet Trainee Elder, you’re a good man to have around.”

Accepting the compliment as real, Elder wondered why he had never accepted compliments before. They could not all have been made to just spare his feelings.

On the day after that, he and Ostrom examined life support equipment in two more storage bays, none of it repairable. They did, however, find some diagnostic analyzers that would help with the inventory. Irving had another small accident that sent her to the infirmary, a broken finger this time. It was the day after that, just as Elder was getting ready to start another tiring day, that the next crisis happened.

Elder had just stepped through the door of his quarters when he flew back into his room and onto his bed, bounced against the wall and fell to the deck. He grabbed for something to hold onto as the ship flew off in another direction without warning.

Father Lester’s voice came over the intercom system. “All hands prepare for a period of violent maneuvering. I have lost control of the flight control system. The computer has struck again my children, and the ship is flying itself. I don’t know how long it is going to last, nor what the flight plan is, but strap yourselves down and hold on for a wild ride my children.”

“This is the Captain. Cadet Trainee Clarke, proceed to the bridge and relive the Father. Cadet Trainee Houston, report to the infirmary, Cadet Trainee Irving requires medical attention immediately. A large piece of equipment toppled on her and she presently has several broken bones.” Elder wondered why Irving had such bad luck, no one lese had yet to have a single accident. “I require assistance in moving her safely to the infirmary, so I order whoever is able to travel safely to Storage Bay Seventeen to do so forthwith. Everyone else will strap down and remain where they are at present, if they are able to do so with safety, so that we reduce the opportunities for further mishap. If the location where you are is not safe, and cannot be made safe, travel to the nearest location where you will be safe. Everyone report their location and status to the bridge as soon as they are able to do so. Cadet Trainee Elder, if you can work a terminal from your present location, do whatever you can to determine what is required to cease this maneuvering. Captain out.”

Elder needed some way to keep himself from being thrown around while he worked. The ship paused for the few seconds he needed to dash to his space suit, which he now kept in his room, and start to get it on. It took several tries to get into the arms of the suit since the ship began throwing him around again. Once in the suit he fought the efforts of the ship to keep him from his destination, but after a short while that seemed all too long to Elder, he got tot he desk where his terminal was and began strapping himself down.

The first strap was no problem since the ship was not maneuvering for the few seconds it took. While secured by only one strap, Elder flew around the desk. With the second strap in his hand, he jabbed at the clamp every time he flew close. On the third try he made it. Now that he was more secure, he tried to hook the third strap to the deck. The maneuvering still threw him around, but it was not nearly so bad. Nevertheless, it was bad enough to constantly spoil his aim, so he let the ship throw him off his feet and flat onto the deck. Once he was flat on his chest, he clipped the strap into the clamp and stood up.

Tightening the straps made him one with the ship. Flying objects still bothered him, but it was something he could live with.

The terminal came to life as he punched the controls to give him voice control of the terminal. “Computer, display command codes presently being sent to the flight control system.” A series of commands flowed up the screen. “Computer, display the extended definitions of command codes being sent to the flight control system.”

Elder watched the defined codes for a few moments, looking for something. What exactly, he did not know. But when he saw it, he knew it. Then he undid his straps and darted to the intercom in his room.

Snapping a couple of straps to nearby hooks once he reached there, Elder said, “Bridge, this is Cadet Trainee Elder. I have looked at the control program. It is sending random flight control codes to the flight control system. There is probably a control junction in the flight control system that has switched control from the Navigation console to the control program. Whoever is in the flight control system should start looking for that junction; it probably does not show up in the technical manual for the fight control system. I know it is not on the bridge, we have checked those consoles. I’m going to try to order the computer program to send these control codes to a safe location, such as a terminal in an unused cabin.”

“I understand you my son. I will inform the Captain and whoever first makes it to the flight control system. Let me know if your plan works my son. Bridge out.”

While the ship paused for a few seconds, Elder dashed back to the desk and secured himself again. Time passed in its unchangeable manner. Secured as he was, Elder paid little attention to the violent maneuverings of the ship, except when something hit his suit. Every trick he could think of to make the control program send its commands to an unused terminal met with the constant refrain: “Illegal Command.” Tiring of that, he tried to enter his own control codes to command the flight control system to counter the control program’s commands, achieving nothing more than “Illegal Command.” Waiting for a pause in the maneuvers, Elder darted over tot he intercom and hooked up there.

“Captain, this is Elder. I cannot find any way to gain control of the flight control system from here. Either we wait out these maneuvers or we find the junction box in the flight control system. I doubt that the first option is safe.”

“I concur with your assessment concerning the safety of waiting out the crisis. However, the violent maneuvers of the ship are rendering all efforts to locate the junction box hazardous in the extreme. Is there any delay between the computer sending a control command and the flight control system acting upon that command? Perhaps we could utilize such a delay to counteract the maneuver prior to its occurrence.”

“There is a slight delay, about two seconds. It is worth a try. Elder out.” Switching the intercom to the bridge, “Bridge, this is Cadet Trainee Elder. Cadet Trainee Clarke, are you there?”

“I’m here. What’ve you got for me?”

“Do the flight controls work from the console?”

“Yeah, but I can’t react fast enough to catch the maneuvers before the ship goes into another one. And I can’t prevent the maneuvers from here.”

“I’m going to call out the commands as I read them on my terminal. There is a two-second delay from the time the control program sends the command and the time the flight control system acts on the command. I’ll call out the command the computer gives, and that will give you almost two seconds lead to counter the maneuver.”

“Hot Damn! Start calling.”

“I’ve got to get back to my terminal. I’ll leave the intercom open, unless you have your space suit on?” Clarke said he did not. “So, intercom is how we’ll talk. You just won’t be able to talk with anyone else.”

“Who cares? If this works, I won’t need to talk with anyone else.”

“Is Father Lester still there?” Elder asked as he unhooked and darted to his terminal.

“No, infirmary. Helping the Captain and Cadet Trainee Houston. Cadet Trainee Irving got it bad this time. We’re going to have to name her ‘Hard Luck’ or something; that’s like, what, three times this week?”

Elder finished strapping himself as he shouted, “Yeah, something like that. OK, I’m strapped down and ready to start.”

For the next seven hours, the two men flew the ship. The others worked on the flight control system, as far as these two knew, for their communications were limited to each other. Then, the control program stopped sending flight control commands to the flight control system. It looked to Elder that the crisis was over. Clarke experimented with the flight controls and found no problems.

Elder switched his intercom. “Captain, this is Cadet Trainee Elder. The program seems to have run its course. I still can’t tell what is going to happen next in the control program, but it does look like we survived this crisis.”

“Very well Cadet Trainee Elder. Proceed to the bridge and determine where the supplementary control junction is located. It may be advisable to render that control junction incapable of further activity. Captain out.”

Elder glanced around his quarters and saw the mess left by all the various items flying around the room. He would return later, clean up the broken items, and put everything back where it belonged. Not bothering to remove his space suit, but remembering to turn off his terminal, he grabbed his helmet as he headed out and toward the elevator bank near his quarters.

It was while he was in the elevator that the next series of maneuvers began. Luckily, he had strapped himself into a corner of the elevator car when he entered so when the ship began gyrating through space he was not harmed. Unluckily, he was between decks when the elevator made an emergence stop. He waited for the ship’s movements to settle down a bit before he used the intercom to call Quinn.

“Captain, this is Cadet Trainee Elder. I’m stuck in an elevator between decks two and three.”

“There have been additional injuries and I cannot dispatch someone to liberate you from your location at this time.”

“Captain, I can’t help Clarke fly the ship from here. Either someone is going to have to help me out of here or someone is going to have to watch the control program so he can counter what is going on. Father Lester could help him, couldn’t he?”

“No, Father Lester is among the injured. You must depart the elevator and travel to the bridge without assistance. I am sorry, but I can determine no alternative at this time. Captain out.”

Elder waited for his fear to ease, then he reached up to the ceiling of the car and released the emergency hatch. To get that clear, he had to move his straps from the middle of the side walls and the floor to the top of the side walls and the ceiling. He bounced around the car but only got some bruises. Pushing himself out of the car, Elder moved the straps again, this time with extreme care since he did not want to get thrown clear of the car.

Seeing the maintenance ladder along the wall, Elder undid one strap, loosened the others, and jumped for the ladder. Attaching the strap, he jumped back and undid the other straps from the elevator car. Now he began the slow climb to deck one. Carefully snapping one of the straps to a rung as far above his head as he could reach, he would undo the lower one and climb up, until the lower strap was even with his chest and the upper one was at head level. Then, he repeated the process. It was slow going, made slower by his short height. Especially when he was thrown off the ladder in spite of holding on as tight as he could. Then he had to wait until his swinging brought him close enough to the ladder so that he could grab a rung and begin the process again.

Once he reached Deck One, he had to hunt for the door controls so that he could leave the elevator shaft. Finding them, he opened the door, with a short prayer, unstrapped himself and leaped through the open door. His aim was good and he rolled against the far bulkhead inside the corridor.

Snapping a strap to the nearest connection point, he took a moment to gather himself before continuing to the bridge. Going from tether point to tether point until he was well past the open elevator door, even though the ship was in a quiescent period, he then unstrapped himself and dashed to the bridge door, expecting that the blast door would be down. It was.

Elder grabbed a handhold next to the intercom and called the bridge. “Bridge, this is Elder. I’m at the blast door, open it please.”

The door slid open, and before it was fully up, Elder darted under it and caromed to the Main Computer console. As he strapped himself in, he asked, “Any news?”

“Yeah, we’re flying back into that asteroid field and I can’t fly us away from it. And, down in the flight control system, the Captain is mad as a wet hen. The control lines are almost impossible to get at without breaking most of the flight control system. Therefore, we need the parts to repair what we break before we can remove the computer’s control. When you went through the files, what did you name the files with the inventory of spare parts?”

“I gave each file a four-letter code and numbered them sequentially by the code. Spare parts for flight control is SPFC. There is an index, labeled INDEX in the memory.” Elder took a deep breath. “So, we have to prevent the good ship JACOTOT from becoming one with an asteroid.”

“Yeah, that’s be a lousy way to end the test. I’ll tell the Captain about the files.” And Clarke paged Quinn and passed along the information while Elder called up the control program. “Why the code and not a full name?” The ship stayed steady while the two talked.

“Too tired I guess. I really never thought about it. I just used the code system. This is going to be a tricky problem to fix. The Navy is to be congratulated.”

“Yeah, and we have to rethink our repair philosophy again. Captain Quinn has already passed the word along for everybody to start checking for lines or control systems that are not in the maintenance manuals. He wants to get a complete schematic of the ship before the next problem shows up.”

“I doubt he will get it.”

“So do I. However, he is starting to take these problems as a personal insult I think. Thankfully this was not a Dreadnought or a Battleship before it became a Training Ship. Could you imagine how much more work we would have trying to fix something that big? Whoops, here we go again.”

Elder already had the command codes visible on the console.


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