Entrance Examination, Chapter Eighteen

On the evening of day twenty-eight the poker game was subdued. Since Elder, Corrbet, Jackson and Clarke were on the same shift, a gift from Quinn perhaps, they were able to have their game even though the schedule was a bit off now. And Ostrom, being the fifth cadet on the shift, declined the invitation to join the game and found other recreation. That night Elder, although overall slightly a loser, finally won a hand that he dealt. Corrbet continued her streak as the biggest net winner.

The next incident happened while Elder was standing watch on the bridge and the rest of his shift was starting their work on life support. He was sitting at the Main Computer console, watching for some warning concerning what the program was going to do next when he recognized a command code going to the flight control system and hit the general alarm.

Elder shouted over the intercom system, “Flight control failure! Strap down everyone! Someone come to the bridge and help me pilot the ship until we can solve this problem!”

The ship lurched violently to the port just then, throwing Elder out of his seat before he could strap himself onto the seat. Before he could get back into the seat, he was thrown up as the ship dove. He did grab the seat, and got himself seated before the next maneuver happened. He had one strap in hand and was grasping for the other when a violent turn threw him onto the console in front of him, then into the seat, then onto the deck where he slammed into the Engineering Console. He felt the snap as at least one rib broke. The sudden pain was another indicator that something was seriously wrong. The ship settled into a straight course for a short time. His brain staggered by the pain, Elder raised himself up enough to reach the intercom on the Engineering Console.

Arduously forcing himself to speak, Elder said, “Someone, I need medical help. I have broken some ribs I think. Father, you’re the best with the computer, get up here to help whoever is going to pilot.” Elder then fell back into the chair and began groping for the safety straps.

Before he could strap himself into safety, the ship began another violent series of maneuvers and he was thrown out of the chair and into another console, he did not bother to learn which one it was. A rib on the other side snapped and he screamed in pain. Both sides of his chest were in agony each time he drew a breath and he began worrying about one of the broken ribs puncturing a lung during the violent maneuvers.

During the next pause, Elder found  his way into a seat and strapped himself down. He no longer had to worry about being thrown against various consoles. Now all he had to worry about was how to get to the infirmary safely. Or rather, that was all he had to worry about once he was relieved from the bridge. He glanced at the clock on the console in front of him and learned that it had been only five minutes since he had first recognized the command code beginning this crisis. He could see the bridge door. He saw that, as he expected, the blast door was down.

“Elder, this is Cadet Trainee Houston. I am in the elevator, just reaching your deck. I am going to run as fast as I can to the bridge. Have the door open for me.”

It was too painful to talk, so Elder just looked over the console for the door controls. He saw that he would have to transfer that control to this console. Painfully he moved his arms to use the controls and made the switch. Then he used the override to force open the blast door and keep it open until the override was released.

Dropping his arm back down to a position tat did not disturb him much, Elder muttered a short prayer of thanks that someone had been close by when he needed them. Halfway through the prayer, the violent maneuvers started again. Houston would have a hard time getting to the bridge.

However hard it had been to do it, Houston made it to the bridge, sliding through the doorway, ricocheting off the doorjamb like a pool ball bouncing off a rail. Grabbing the chair in front of the Navigation Console, he twisted himself through a series of acrobatic contortions and deposited himself safely thereon. With quick movements, he strapped himself in and said, “Good thing I took gymnastics when I was younger. How are you doing? You look like hell.”

Straining to speak, Elder gasped, “I broke ribs I think.”

“That has to hurt. Do not talk, I know just how painful broken ribs are, I broke mine when I was twelve. Can you send me the control program? If you can get the program over here, with what the codes mean, I can try and control this thing.”

Elder nodded and did the task. Houston looked at it for a few moments, and then said, “The program is running normally. I don’t see anything for flight control.”

Elder grunted as he called up a duplicate display of the program. “You’re right. I’ll check what’s already done.” With the one hand that hurt least when he used it, Elder ran some commands. “The program isn’t running flight control. It started it and gave control to something else. Tell the Captain.”

“Right.” Then over the intercom, “Captain, this is Cadet Trainee Houston. I am on the bridge with Cadet Trainee Elder. The computer program is not doing this. It did something at the start, but now all the flight controls are being controlled from somewhere else.”

“Thank you Cadet Trainee Houston. Remain on the bridge. The remaining cadets will begin searching for the instigator of these maneuvers. Captain …”

“Hold it Captain. Cadet Trainee Elder is badly hurt; he has some broken ribs. All this maneuvering is painful to him and just breathing hurts. You should send a couple of people up here with a stretcher to take him to the infirmary.”

“That is correct; he did mention that fact when he first alerted the crew of this crisis. Cadet Trainee Elder, you have my deepest and sincerest apologies for failing to remember that fact. I and someone else will take you to the infirmary. Captain out.”

“It’s a good thing you were here. I could not have spotted what the computer was doing; I am not that good with the computer. It may have hurt, but you probably saved us hours of needless work.”

Elder just nodded in reply, smiling slightly to himself in spite of the pain. It was true; he was good with the computer. That had been proved to him repeatedly, it was time to accept it.

For the next twenty minutes, Elder fought the pain as the violent maneuvering bounced him around even though he was secured in the chair. Houston could give no help since he had his hands full trying to counter the maneuvers of the ship. Elder couldn’t guess if it would be worse for him if Houston just let the ship fly itself rather than to try to counter each move as it happened. However, he cold dimly realize that the ship could fly itself into a hazard like the asteroid field, and Houston was trying to prevent that increased danger.

It was after those twenty minutes of torture that Quinn, Jackson and Sloan came onto the bridge carrying a stretcher. They were in their space suits and the stretcher was clipped to Quinn and Sloan, adjusted for their different heights. Jackson grabbed Elder and as he released the straps holding him to the seat, she threw him onto the stretcher using a judo throw. She then hurriedly strapped him down.

“Sorry about the toss Elder, but speed counts.”

“No ‘fense.” He did not even mind her poor manners.

“Is he securely strapped onto the stretcher?” Sloan’s rumbling voice hurt the breaks in Elder’s ribs.

“Yeah, let’s go. Captain, you warn me if you need me.” And Jackson began running off.

“Captain, will you need someone else to help?” Houston asked as the others began walking carefully off the bridge.

“No Cadet Trainee Houston. Cadet Trainee Jackson is moving to the fore so that she will be able to clear our way, reducing the delays so that our travels will proceed as effortlessly as can be expected under these trying conditions. She will assist us in the infirmary removing Cadet Trainee Elder from the stretcher for medical treatment. Father Lester is already at the infirmary preparing the equipment.”

“How about the repairs?”

“We have yet to discover the equipment that is causing these maneuvers. Cadet Trainees MacBeath and Irving are attempting to trace the control lines and it is expected that their actions will provide success.”

Houston could not ask any more questions since the stretcher team was now out the door and away from the bridge. It was just as well, Houston suddenly realized that the ship was no longer maneuvering. It was on a steady course. Trying the helm controls, he discovered that they were dead.

On the intercom, “Cadet Trainee MacBeath, this is Cadet Trainee Houston. I have lost flight control. What’s happening down there?”

“Cadet Trainee Houston, what’s the problem? What’s our course?”

Looking at the Navigation console, Houston started to reply and then he noticed the main display screen. “Oh God. Straight into the sun. We are flying into the sun again. We are aimed dead center at the sun.”

“Don’t panic Cadet Trainee Houston, we don’t have a problem. If I remember right, we have a couple of weeks before it gets critical. That is plenty of time to keep us out of Hell. We will try to get you flight control again. Cadet Trainee MacBeath out.

Houston sat helplessly and alternately shifting his attention between the Main Display Screen and the Main Computer Console.

In the center of the ship, in the infirmary, Quinn worked medical machines as he aligned and repaired Elder’s broken ribs. “There are only three ribs that require repair. You are lucky Cadet Trainee Elder, there could have been damage to the lungs or other internal organs. I do not believe that a transfusion will be required since the internal bleeding appears to have been slight. Capillary bleeding only with no arteries or veins involved. The Knitter should have your ribs repaired in just a few moments.”

The medical equipment did its job; moving Elder’s ribs back into position and knitting the bones back into one piece again. Once that was done, Elder’s chest ached but he was whole again. This time his was the only injury; all the others had been able to prepare themselves enough so thanks to his warning. Even “Hard-Luck” Irving was uninjured. Once he had gone to his quarters and got into his space suit, he joined the repair effort in the flight control system. Everyone there was wearing their space suit as well, in order to prevent accidents from causing serious injury. Slowly the cadets were learning to minimize the dangers of their training ship examination.

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