Entrance Examination, Chapter Fiftreren

Elder did go to bed, and he slept soundly. Indeed, anymore it seemed that he fell into a deep sleep whenever he was off duty. It had only been nineteen days since the cadets first started this examination; but, the heavy work, and now the cycle of eight hours on and eight hours off duty, was beginning to wear him, and everyone else out. Sleep no longer completely removed exhaustion and everyone was always tired, even Quinn who spent most of his time supervising the work of others. The cadets could not sleep long enough to recharge the energy expended in the hard labor they were doing. Moreover, none of them was used to the hard physical labor they had t do, even with all the servos and mechanisms they had aboard the JACOTOT. Everyone wore filthy uniforms, everyone was constantly dirty, everyone’s hair was greasy and the men rarely shaved as evidenced by the growth of a beard on each of them. There was no time to be civilized in their appearance. The ship itself began to take on a smell much like a locker room. It even affected the taste of the food.

On day twenty, Elder took a short break from checking out the power distribution system to hunt Jackson up.

“Hey, Cadet Trainee Jackson, I’ve got a question for you.”

“No, I won’t stand a bridge watch for you so you can catch some extra sleep Elder.: Of all the cadets, Jackson had the worst manners, the others just let it slide for now. They were too tired to try to correct her every time she left off their proper titles. Besides, the efforts up to this point had not worked.

“No, nothing like that. How’s the repairs on the security system coming?”

“They aren’t. The technical manuals on the other systems are fouled up, but they are paragons of excellence compared to the manuals on the security system.”

“Like maybe we aren’t meant to fix the security system?”

“Good guess. Nothing in the security system matches the technical manuals. I route power to a sensor and I get no indication that anything is happening. I think the power connections are not hooked up, or maybe they’re in different places. Places where I expect a data output of input port.”

“Why would the Navy do that?”

“So we don’t catch a saboteur is what Quinn would say. My guess is that the extra person is someone from the Navy to watch over us and they do not want us catching him. Or her. Corrbet bothers me. Yes, I know her father is supposed to be in the Imperial Police and she learned investigation techniques from him. That seems just a bit too pat for me. And her investigating everyone, it could be as she says, but it could also be a cover for her to check on everyone.”

“See, if she was here to check on us, she’d have to be all over the place in order to watch us. Moreover, we are too scattered most of the time, she’d never get any of her work done. And there has been no indication that she is slacking.”

“You’re right I guess. But if it isn’t to prevent us from catching someone, why is the security system so screwed up?”

“I haven’t a clue, yet. The control program has done nothing with the security system since it sent the command to change the access codes. Maybe the security system is broken past repair and the Navy left it as a puzzle for us.”

“That almost makes sense.”

“I’d better get back to the power system. I don’t want to be a slacker and have people think I’m the extra person.”

It was late on the twenty-first day when the next emergency happened. Elder was asleep when the pounding on his door woke him. Barely remembering his manners, he slipped into a uniform and stumbled to the door in the dark. He tried to get some light, using both manual controls and voice command, but nothing worked. The door would not open at his command either, so he had to resort to the manual opener, after struggling to locate in in the painful darkness. Once he had cranked the door as open as it would go, he looked out the doorway. Nothing but blackness was in sight.

“Cadet Trainee Elder?” A voice rumbled out of the corridor.

“Cadet Trainee Sloan?” Why Elder asked he did not know. The voice was recognition enough.

“Yeah, it’s me. I was on the bridge with the Captain when this happened and I volunteered to go around to everyone in quarters and get him or her awake. There is a complete power failure. I’m going to my quarters and get my suit as soon as I wake everybody.”

“Nothing is working? What happened?”

“I don’t know what happened, but my guess is that damn control program. Moreover, as far as anything working, it is just the main computer and the engines. Nothing else, not life support, not the elevators, not the intercom, not anything we have checked. The Captain thinks the suit radios will give us communications between ourselves and we will need the life support again until we figure out what happened and how to fix it. Get into your suit and call him. I have to wake the others and tell them. If you see anyone who has not gotten into their suit, tell them. Face to face talking is the only way we can communicate right now until everyone is in their suit. See you later; at least, I hope I see you later.” Elder heard the heavy footsteps of Sloan reverberating down the corridor until he reached the next occupied cabin, and then Elder heard the pounding on another door.

Elder got into his suit without too much trouble, even though he could not see what he was doing. He realized that the artificial gravity was working once he thought about it and was glad; he had no idea if he could have gotten into the suit otherwise. Once the self-test was finished, he called the bridge. No result. He tried again, and got the same result. Either his radio did not work, and he now remembered the incidents on the PLETHO, or his radio could not work with the intercom system. Of course, now that he thought about it, the intercom system was not working since there was no power for it. Elder couldn’t remember if the radio system on the bridge worked, as far as he could remember no one had ever checked it since they didn’t expect to need external communications, but even if it did before, it probably wouldn’t now since it had no power.

His helmet lights gave him a small area of absolute vision in an otherwise claustrophobic darkness. After a short hunt, he grabbed his portable computer and checked for the fastest route to the bridge with the elevators out. He estimated he would take about half an hour to get there.

Traveling through the dark took longer than he thought it would; therefore, it was closer to a full hour when he reached the bridge. The blast door was down. Naturally, the intercom would be out, so he did not even try using it and instead began pounding on the blast door.

Two minutes later the door began lifting. Once the door was high enough for him to fit under it, Elder slid under it and into the bridge. Quinn was straining on the manual opener. Once Elder was clear of the door, Quinn let it drop again, shaking the deck; more proof that the artificial gravity worked, as if such proof was needed. Quinn stood panting while Elder glanced around the bridge, his helmet lights giving sharp relief to the small area thus illuminated.

Switching to his audio system, Elder asked, “Captain, can you hear me?” Quinn nodded, still breathless. “I’ll open the door and you head to your quarters and get into your suit. With life support off, you’ll need the suit’s life support until we solve this problem.”

“I understand that aspect of the situation.” Quinn’s breathing was still heavy. “Since I am unable to see in the dark, I distrust my ability to travel with any safety. One person had to perform that task to warn the rest of the crew and Cadet Trainee Sloan volunteered for that task; but since it is no longer required, no one should travel without escort if they are not already in their suit. I therefore request that you utilize your suit radio to make contact with one or more of the others so that they may accompany me during my journey to me quarters. With the lights available from the other person’s suit, I should be able to navigate the route in safety.”

“I couldn’t contact anyone while on the PLETHO with my suit radio, maybe they don’t work.”

“I also endeavored to communicate with others while aboard the PLETHO and the courier while travelling to this location, and discovered that I was unable to do so. Neither the radio nor the audio system appeared to work then, although I was able to hear. Your audio system is working now, and everyone’s audio system has functioned satisfactorily in the past. Therefore, it is my contention that the radios will function properly. I order you to make the attempt.”

“All right, but I doubt it will work.” Elder switched t the radio system and called out, “Anyone, this is Cadet Trainee Elder. I am on the bridge. Someone should come up here and escort the Captain to his quarters so he can get his suit.”

“Elder, this is Cadet Trainee MacBeath. I am in the maintenance access way between Deck Four and Deck Five. I should be at the bridge in about half an hour. I will be the torch unto the Captain’s feet as he travels back to his quarters.”

“All right Cadet Trainee MacBeath, I’ll open the door as soon as you get here. Everyone Else in a suit, if you see someone who is not in a suit, guide him or her to their suit so they don’t have an accident. That is the Captain’s order. Elder out.” Switching back to the audio system, “Captain, Cadet Trainee MacBeath says he should be here in about half an hour. You were right, the radios work.”

“Remember Cadet Trainee Elder, I was alone on the bridge for approximately two hours before your arrival. I thought the entire problem through as well as I could. I did not have to worry about finding my way from one point to another.” Quinn felt his way to the nearest chair and sat. “Which is another point, perform a roll call. If anyone does not answer, instruct the others to begin a search for those not in suits. We must ensure that everyone is safe.”

“Good idea.” Switching back to the radio. “Everyone, this is Cadet Trainee Elder. I need everyone to report in now.”

“Cadet Trainee MacBeath reporting in.”

“Cadet Trainee Sloan here.”

“Cadet Trainee Elder, this be Executive Officer Ostrom. Cadet Trainee Irving be with me. We be heading to her quarters so she be suiting up.”

After a pause, “Everyone, except Cadet Trainee MacBeath, the Captain wants you to start a search for the others. Find them and get them to their suits. Have them report in as soon as they are in their suit. Cadet Trainee MacBeath, you still come for the Captain ”

Everyone acknowledged the order and Elder reported the situation to Quinn.

Quinn nodded and said, “Prior to this point, there has been an extended interval between the crises. The engines activation upon our arrival was the first, but it was not until the eleventh day that the second crisis, the life support failure, occurred. This presumes that the Navy did not plan the accidents with Cadet Trainee Irving, either the major one where she was badly injured nor the minor ones which have been in excess of mere inconveniences, which I deduce is correct since all the other crises have involved the major ship systems and not an individual accident. Today is only the twenty-first day and already the fourth crisis is upon us. This decreasing interval may be an indication that in the future, we may expect a continuing decrease in the interval between each crisis. Therefore, we will obtain a decreasing period of relaxation and recovery between these future crises, if the pattern continues.”

“People used to tell me that I was good at seeing patterns, Captain, but I didn’t see this one.”

“Remember Cadet Trainee Elder, I have had little to do except ponder for the last two hours and more. Much of my thought we need not refer to, since I discovered a tendency to wander in my thoughts, but as I pondered this crisis and placed it with the others, this pattern did emerge. Due to the lack of preparation time that I believe we may reasonably expect in the future, it is my intention to revise the work schedule again. I must match the schedule with the level of activity I anticipate.”

“Yeah, I agree Captain. Everyone is tired now, and if we do not get more rest between the crises in the future, we will fail this test sure as anything. Even now, we’re not getting as much done as before, we’re starting to make too many mistakes.”

“I comprehend the situation. I rendered my earlier orders upon the premise that we could restore this ship’s equipment and prevent any future crises. Those orders, obviously, will no longer suffice and now require modification.”

“Yeah. Captain, the Navy just put too many problems in this ship for us to repair and not enough technical manuals or spare parts for us to make all the repairs. We could probably exhaust ourselves for the rest of the test and still not solve the problems the Navy gave us. If we were a full crew of fully trained technicians, which we are not, we might have a chance to fix it all if we had the spare parts, which we do not. We cannot do it the way we are going and that is getting pounded into us now. There has to be a better way to get through this test.”

“Yes Cadet Trainee Elder, it is a requirement that I get this crew through this test.” Quinn placed his elbows on the console and laid his face in his hands.

Elder looked at Quinn for a moment and then said, “By the way Captain, have you spoken with Cadet Trainee Corrbet recently?”

Quinn’s voice was muffled since he did not raise his head. “No, why would I have need to speak with her especially?”

“You know her father is in the Imperial Police?” There was no reaction from Quinn. “You know she’s been investigating everyone, trying to find out who isn’t supposed to be here?”

That got  reaction. Quinn’s head snapped to face Elder.

“Indeed? Has she been performing that task? What has she discovered Cadet Trainee Elder?”

“You were upset that there were eleven of us instead of ten when we first got here, until Cadet Trainee Jackson convinced you that it didn’t matter. At least, I though and she thought that she had convinces you. Well, Cadet Trainee Corrbet was not convinced and began investigating everyone. She has a commercial Identity Scanner with her and she’s been catching a peek at all our identity bracelets.” Quinn’s left arm came up and he looked at his wrist area, there was no identity bracelet there, like the others he had stopped wearing it aboard the JACOTOT. “We all match up with who we say we are, we’re all cadets and not some outsider. After all, it’s a felony to have a false identity bracelet and the Navy isn’t above the law.”

“If it is s you say, that would explain why I discovered her departing my quarters in a surreptitious manner. However, have you done enough investigating to ensure that she is not some saboteur?”

“Captain, there is no saboteur. The Navy does not need one; the problems they put in the ship are enough to test us. They do not need a saboteur making trouble. Think about it; remember that incident where Cadet Trainee Irving was first injured? What was the system that had power when it shouldn’t have?”

“I believe it was the security system, one of the secondary back-up power lines.”

“What if there is no one from the Academy on board with us? You want to have the security system operating to catch a saboteur; maybe the Navy is using it already to watch over us. Wait  a minute; it was Cadet Trainee Corrbet you saw?” At Quinn’s nod, Elder went on. “She said something about your signet ring back about that time. I think it was when she relieved me on the bridge. Maybe she had just looked at it and knew you had to be young enough that you had to be a Cadet Trainee like the rest of us.”

“That would indeed satisfactorily explain that incident and such an explanation relieves my mind of the incident. But as for the security system, there would be some indication of such surveillance and no such indication has been discovered.”

“All right, maybe not.” Elder was not too happy to drop his line of reasoning since he was not too sure of Quinn’s reasoning, but he had nothing to continue the point with. “But there is no reason to keep after a saboteur that doesn’t exist. We have seen no sign of a saboteur except that one incident, right Captain? And that was Cadet Trainee Corrbet making sure that you are who you say you are.”

Quinn sat quietly in his chair and, after a couple of minutes, he leaned forward again and placed his head in his hands. Elder realized Quinn was not going to continue the conversation, so he switched to the radio circuit and listened to the others while checking the program in the main computer. The program was in a wait state, waiting for a command to come from outside the program. The chatter of the cadets over the radio was in the background as he worked.

It was almost an hour after MacBeath started for the bridge that he said, “Bridge, this is Cadet Trainee MacBeath. I’m in the corridor just outside the bridge waiting to get your offering, so you can start opening the blast door now.”

“Roger Cadet Trainee MacBeath. Wait out there, no use you coming in just to go out again. The Captain will join you. Shine your lights on the bottom of the door so he’ll be able to see.” Then, switching to audio, “Captain, Cadet Trainee MacBeath is outside the door. When I get the door up, you go out. He’ll have his lights on the bottom of the door so you can see. I’ll stay here and keep watch until we restore power since we shouldn’t try to raise the door too often.”

“Very well Cadet Trainee Elder. Farewell for the moment. I will return and also keep watch in case the solving of this crisis should take an inordinate period of time.”

Elder started working the manual door opener. Once the door was off the deck enough, MacBeath had his lights on the bottom of the door so it was easy to judge, Quinn slid under it and darted out into the corridor. Elder let the door down once MacBeath told him the Captain was clear of the door.

Elder went back to the Main Computer console and tested various codes and commands as he thought of them. None worked. He tried to access other programs and found, to his surprise, that he could not. Before, there was always the ability to operate more than one program at a time; but not while the computer was in this waiting state it seemed.

Once the other cadets called in to say that they were in their space suits, and were sent to work on the power problem, Elder found he had nothing to do except listen to what the other cadets said on the radio channel. He gave up on the computer, sticking out his tongue at it for two whole seconds, and then went to his portable computer. He was going to end up an expert on the one game he had on it.

However, just before he started in on his recreation, he had a flash of insight. Quinn was as insecure as he was. While Elder had been talking with Quinn just now, Quinn had shown signs that he had been afraid, afraid of failing. Quinn was just an Emir, the lowest of the nobility, barely ranking above the knights, almost a commoner. Unless his family dies, he had no chance of succeeding to his father’s title. He had to succeed at this, or something, in order to become noticed enough to gain status on his own. Elder was not looking for a title, his goal was financial, but Quinn’s whole life was with the nobility and the Navy. He probably hoped for some title in one of the new colonies. That could explain the fancy talk and his drive to succeed on the JACOTOT in such a spectacular fashion. Probably no group had ever repaired the JACOTOT or other ship completely. If Quinn’s group did it, he would be famous. Elder began feeling a bit less sorry for himself, other people were insecure also and for reasons other than an ugly face.

Time passed as it has a habit of doing, despite human desires and plans. As the rest of the cadets worked to repair the power problem, Elder listened to their comments with half an ear, the repairs were not going well. No lights except the small helmet lights on the space suits made seeing things, mush less repairing them, difficult.

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