Entrance Examination, Chapter Nineteen

After three hours, Quinn halted the total repair effort and went back to the shift system since there seemed to be no progress in finding the problem up to that point. Since it looked like it would take several hours, if not days, to find the cause, it made sense to him to him to keep with the two shifts and not wear everyone out unnecessarily.

The repair effort moved from the flight control system to the bridge once the cadets realized that nothing was wrong with the flight control system. The next shift continued the troubleshooting effort there. After Elder had his shift had their sleep, they took over from the other shift while they were tracing control lines that were not in the technical manuals. Elder and his shift traced line after line to no avail and turned the task back over to the other shift in frustration.

This mind-numbing task continued until late on day thirty-two when Elder’s shift found the control box that was preventing the flight control system from operating. Elder had the bridge watch when it was discovered, so he immediately made the course correction to get the ship back into a safe orbit around the sun. The other shift was trickling onto the bridge to take over from Elder’s shift when this happened, so Quinn took the opportunity to call a general meeting.

:If there is a pattern in these crises, we may anticipate a failure in the life support system in the near future. Therefore, we will continue the present shift system until further notice, but will concentrate on the life support system in an effort to prevent this anticipated failure.”

Irving interrupted Quinn, “But Captain, if the life support failure we prevent, know will we ever?”

“We probably would never know. That presumes that we do indeed discover the cause of the next crisis before it occurs. In that eventuality, we would discover what would be the next crisis following only when it occurs. However, the only other option that I could conceive is that we wait until the life support system crisis occurs and then react to it. It is my desire that we prevent at least one crisis during this examination. Are there any other questions that anyone wishes to present at this time?”

There were no questions and so Elder and his shift went to their quarters and the other shift began trying to prevent the anticipated life support failure.

While Elder and his shift were tracing control lines from the Life Support Console the next day, the next crisis happened. It was an insidious crisis, there being none of the obvious indications like the flight control failures. It gave little warning and had little observable immediate effects.

“Cadet Trainee Jackson, you be knowing more about these things than I do, what be this indication mean?” Ostrom, since he had the bridge watch, was sitting alone at the Main Computer Console, giving the others a clear space to work.

“What is it?” Jackson asked as she walked over from the open panel were she and Clarke were installing a tracer on a life support control line.

“A number be increasing on one of the displays. I be not sure what it means.”

Jackson arrived at the Main Computer console, brushed her hair back, looked at the display and moved to the Life Support Console. There she began working several controls.

“It means that the next crisis is upon us. The life support system is not removing carbon dioxide from our air, it is actually adding CO2 to the air. Several other life support functions are reversed also. Wake everybody up; they could die in their sleep. Everyone into space suits again. I am beginning to hate those damn things.” No one flinched at her profanity; everyone was using profanity now, cussing at various pieces of equipment or at the control program several times a day.

Ostrom went to the Captain’s chair and found a control on the arm of the chair. Pulling the cover, he punched the control. A loud, raucous noise blared from the speakers everywhere. Ostrom shouted over the din, “Battle Stations. It should be waking everyone. It be the noisiest alarm on the ship. I been noticing the files on the alarms while I been going through the computer a couple of weeks ago.”

The alarm went for thirty seconds and then quit. The lighting on the bridge went from bright to dim and from white to a dull red. The blast door slammed shut with a thud that shook the bridge. After a moment, the intercom lines were crammed with people trying to call the bridge. Ostrom activated the public address system.

“Attention everyone. That been the Battle Stations alarm. I been using that to ensure that everyone was conscious. The life support system be doing its thing. The carbon dioxide levels be above safe limits and be rising. Be getting into your space suits until we be fixing this. Bridge out.”

“Now, how be I turning the ship back to normal operations?” Ostrom began looking over the Captain’s chair.

Elder started at Ostrom and blurted, “You mean you don’t know how to get out of Battle Stations?”

“I been joking. Of course I be knowing, it been in the file. I just be having to hit the alarm again.” Sure enough, once Ostrom punched the control again and closed the cover, everything returned to normal.

Jackson finished her tests on the Life Support Console. “Carbon Dioxide isn’t out only problem. The life support system is reversing several cleaners and pollutants of all sorts are being dumped into the air. Instead of shutting down, like last time, life support is going haywire. Any bets on whether the air is going to be our only problem?”

The others moved to the Life Support Console. “What do you mean?” Clarke asked, his smile gone from his face.

“If the cleaners are already going crazy, when will the rest of life support follow along? I am willing to bet that very soon gravity goes crazy; so, instead of one gravity, we will have two or three gravities to contend with and temperature control could start chilling everything instead of heating to counter the cold of space, or maybe trying to bake us all. Who knows? But I think it fits.”

“Cadet Trainee Elder, what been that control program be doing? We be able to trace what it did and be starting making repairs before things get worse maybe. Cadet Trainee Clarke, you and Cadet Trainee Jackson be going down to life support section so that when we been found out what is going on, you be able to start repairs; be getting your space suits on the way. Cadet Trainee Corrbet, you be getting our space suits and be bringing them to us on the bridge. Once you been done that, you can be starting with the tracing of any control lines Cadet Trainee Elder finds. With some luck, we be able to prevent any further actions by the computer.”

Ostrom stood by to help Elder as he went to work on the control program. The only hint that he could find was a control code, at least he presumed it was a control code since it wasn’t any code he recognized, or could quickly find, which went out control line 743921. Elder searched for an explanation of what the control code was or what it meant but could find nothing describing it, which was unique.

By this time, Corrbet had returned with the space suits of the others and once Ostrom was suited up, the two of them began tracing control line 743921. Elder called Jackson and told her to hunt for the other end of control line 743921.

Elder kept his hunt for something in the computer to help the search while the others performed the tedious work of tracing the control lines and locating the cause of the trouble. He was still at it when the other cadets came on duty and relieved Ostrom and his crew. Quinn took over the bridge watch so everyone else could trace the increasing number of control lines that could be the source of the trouble. As the cadets traced control line 743921, they learned that it could have sent the command code to at least five other control lines and each of these could have sent the command code to several other control lines. The numbers grew quickly and each control line had to be traced to the equipment at its end to determine if that piece of equipment was causing the problem. The cadets were old hands at this form of maintenance by now, but the sheer number of lines and pieces of equipment kept their progress slow.

The cadets found and neutralized several pieces of equipment that were causing, in part, the problem or which, recognizably, could cause a future problem. The maintenance manuals were discarded in large part since very little of what the cadets found was covered by them. One piece of good news happened on day thirty-four; they kept the gravity control from increasing the ship’s gravity from one standard gravity to three standard gravities.

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