Entrance Examination, Chapter Fourteen

Since the ship was not constantly maneuvering, Elder used the short pauses to try and find some way to force the computer to give up its control over the flight controls. While in his quarters he had not found anything, but being on the bridge gave him greater access. It took three hours for him to find it, primarily because he had to stop looking and fly the ship so often.

“Captain, this is Cadet Trainee Elder. I have found a way to regain control of the ship. Get to the Master Control Panel in Flight Control.” Elder had to stop here and call out commands to Clarke.

“I am presently at the Master Control Panel, what actions must I perform?”

The control program began giving commands fast and furious at that point. Speaking as quickly as he could and still be understandable, Elder called out, “Start – Full Port, level- a program called Secondary Control Bypass. Full reverse, half up. That should break the computer’s – half port, full down – control over the – full starboard, full up – flight control and give it to us. Full port, full down. At least I think it will. Straight, full down.”

:”Very well, I will activate the program. Captain out.”

After a few moments, during which Elder nd Clarke continued flying the ship, “Bridge, this is the Captain. I have activated the program specified, however, I can detect no change in the flight control system.”

“Try it again Captain. Full port, full down. It’s the only thing I can – Straight, full up – see that might work.”

“I question the advisability of that action.”

“Quarter port, full down. Do it Captain – Straight, quarter down – we do not have any other option. Full starboard, full up.” Elder snapped his order at Quinn, ignoring the fact that he had no authority to give the ship’s Captain any orders. He had no time to spare, the entire crew had no time to spare.

After a slight pause, during which Elder realized how his command sounded, Quinn said, “Very well. Captain out.”

After a few more moments, Clarke threw the ship into a reaction to a command Elder called out, but his reaction was to an action that did not happen. He immediately realized it and corrected the ship’s course to avoid an asteroid.

“It worked! Elder, it worked! We’re safe!” Elder ignored the bad manners in the joy of the moment, besides everyone ignored titles occasionally.

Elder punched the air above his head before calling Quinn. “Captain, this is Cadet Trainee Elder. It worked; the computer program no longer commands the flight control system.”

“Thank you Cadet Trainee Elder, I commend you for your actions, none of the other crewmembers could have done what you did. Captain out.” Then, a moment later, over the general announcement system, “Attention all personnel. This is the Captain. All personnel stand down and resume normal watches. Quinn out.”

Clarke grinned broadly and glanced at the clock on his console. “Stand down and resume normal watches? I am off watch now, who’s got this bridge watch? Cadet Trainee MacBeath? He is still in the infirmary. Can you take this watch and wake me in about five and a half hours? I start a bridge watch in six hours. I’m so tired I might sleep through my alarm.”

Elder, watching his terminal, said, “All right. I want to pound my head against the bulkhead on this computer program some more anyway. Father Lester, Cadet Trainees MacBeath, Irving, Sloan and Executive Officer Ostrom are all laid down in the infirmary. It’ll be hard to stand normal watches with just the six of us.”

“You’re right; we aren’t going to do much for a day or so.”

“Probably. I bet Captain Quinn will be ready to pull his hair in frustration. He wants to fix everything so that the exam finishes as smooth as possible.”

As Clarke started for the door, he shined up his trademark smile and said, “That’s probably a hopeless wish. The Navy has had too much time to set this ship up with enough problems so that even if there were a hundred of us, instead of just eleven, we could never find them all.”

“Yeah, see you in six hours.” Elder said as Clarke left the bridge. Then, muttering to himself, “The Captain’s probably wrong. I doubt that the Navy put a saboteur in with us, they did not need to. All the problems are either compute caused, or just part of the setup the Navy did before we got here.”

Testing the security system, Elder discovered that Jackson had not been able to do any effective repairs to it. That struck him as odd, she had not had this much trouble with any of the other problems she worked on. Running through the log of past commands, Elder discovered that the only command that the control program had sent to the security system was the one that changed the access codes. He then checked the log of repairs Jackson performed up to this point.

Aloud, “No, the computer program can’t be the way to go. Every time I try that, I get nowhere. That much at least I’ve learned. She should have gotten the security system fixed by now. There has to be a reason why she has not. That’s my line.”

Crosschecking the repair log against the maintenance manual gave Elder no clue as to what to do next, and because of his fatigue, he had trouble keeping awake. Therefore, he began wandering from console to console, checking all the instrument displays, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Once he started bumping into things, he stopped walking around since he did not want to break anything by accident.

While fighting to remain awake, Clarke’s call that he was awake and heading to the bridge surprised Elder. After acknowledging the call, he checked the time. It had been almost a full six hours. Elder checked on the cadets in the infirmary. According to the computer, Irving was no longer in the infirmary, she was released for light duty, Father Lester would leave in a couple of hours, for light duty also, MacBeath was expected out in two days, and Sloan and Ostrom would leave shortly after MacBeath, all three for normal duty. Although the cadets would be shorthanded, it wouldn’t be too bad after a day or so.

Before Clarke arrived on the bridge, Elder checked the location of Corrbet. She was awake and in the wardroom eating. He paged her and asked to speak with her. She said she would stay in the wardroom until he arrived.

Clarke came and relieved Elder, commenting on how little refreshed he felt. Elder mumbled something about also being tired as he left.

Once at the wardroom, Elder stood next to the table where Corrbet sat and asked, “How many of us have you cleared?”

Pausing her spoon with a bit of egg in a sauce as brown as her skin halfway to her mouth, Corrbet said, “Everyone I think. Everyone seems to be a bona fide Cadet Trainee.” She finished off the spoon of egg.

“Then why the extra person?”

“Confusion. I doubt that anyone is a plant, here to make things harder for us. The problems the Navy put into this ship are enough to make this a hard test. They don’t need someone among us to cause problems.” Corrbet started cutting a slice of meat.

“How did you clear the others?”

“I’ve checked everyone’s identity bracelets. No one is old enough to have already gone through the Academy, or have been in the Navy for more than a year or so, except Irving and her identity bracelet says she was undergoing legal proceedings for several years. Therefore, it’s unlikely that anyone is other than a brand-new cadet.” Swirling the meat in the sauce, Corrbet ate a couple of chunks.

Elder glanced at his left wrist where he had normally kept his identity bracelet, then he remembered that he had not barren wearing it while aboard the JACOTOT, there was no need. Corrbet smiled. Elder yawned and covered his mouth with his right hand.

“No one is wearing their identity bracelet. I just waited until whoever was on duty, and then ran the bracelet through my scanner. Everyone checks out. Moreover, since carrying a false identity bracelet is a felony, and I doubt that the Navy would break the law, everyone must be who they appear to be. I wonder about Irving, though. I do not know what sort of legal proceedings short of criminal action could have kept her from taking the entrance examination but she cannot have a criminal record, the Navy rejects anyone with a criminal record. Maybe she was vital to some dispute and the Navy gave her a delay.” She raised her coffee mug in acknowledgement of her deductions.

“You have an identity scanner?” Elder’s jaw dropped.

“Not a full one, only one of the types available to the public. You know, the type you can use to check someone out before you hire him or her? It’s very limited in what it will read, but it is enough for what I needed.”

“Those scanners are expensive, how did you get one?”

“My father gave me an investigation kit for my fifteenth birthday; he was trying to get me to follow in his footsteps. I brought it along; maybe I can qualify for Criminal Investigations or even better, Naval Intelligence if I show how good I am.” Corrbet began mopping the sauce up with a hunk of bread.

Elder yawned, covering his mouth again. “Ah, I see. And so, using this birthday present, you have cleared us all. Look, I have a question now that you have settled us all. Have you ever heard anything about people getting killed in this test? You know, so many out of every hundred taking the test are killed. With your father in the Imperial Police, I thought you might know.”

“Never heard a word about it. Actually, I have never even thought about it. Captain Quinn might know, half his family is in the Navy.” Corrbet pushed her plate away and poured herself another cup of coffee.

“Yeah, I just wonder what our chances of living through this are.” Elder rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands.

Sipping the coffee, she said, “Pretty good. Better now than before, we’ve all learned a lot and are working as a crew.”

“I just wonder what’s next.”

“Next, you get some sleep. You look dead on your feet. I’m going to help Cadet Trainee Jackson with the security system; she should have gotten it fixed by now.” She drained the mug and shuddered as she swallowed the last of her coffee.

“I looked into that while I was just on the bridge. I do not think the maintenance manual for the security system is right. Otherwise, Cadet Trainee Jackson would have the system operating by now.”

“Go to bed. Stop thinking about this and get some sleep. If you do not, you will just stumble around and break something. Especially if you stay in that space suit.” Corrbet stood up and took her utensils back to the cooking computer for cleaning.

“All right, I’ll go. Just think about my comment.”

“I think about everyone’s comments.”

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