Entrance Examination, Chapter Twenty

The final repair was finished early on day thirty-five. Quinn naturally called another general meeting. Since only one shift was awake, he waited until the other woke up out of consideration. The meeting was in the wardroom so that the newly woken shift would not have their breakfast delayed. No one stood a bridge watch since Quinn thought that no crises would happen immediately after the conclusion of another one.

“I thank you for your efforts in the course of this last crisis. To give a brief recounting of events up to this point, the pattern has been life support, flight control, power, flight control, and life support failures. If the pattern continues, we can expect another life support failure in the near future, then flight control, power and so forth. However, there is the possibility that another pattern will begin. This pattern, now recognized, could be changed since we might have a sense of security now that we have deduced it and might anticipate its continuance. If that is the case, we have no means of predicting the next crisis. Are there any suggestions concerning these two possibilities?”

Ostrom lifted his hand and said, “Captain, I be thinking we be not able to expect a repeat of this last cycle. If that cycle be repeating that would be giving us an edge in solving problems the throw at us. What other problem areas be there?”

“There is not a multitude of possibilities since the weapons have been removed. Life support, flight control and power comprise perhaps ninety percent of the active equipment present on board the JACOTOT.”

Brushing her hair back, Jackson spoke up, “So, unless the galley or infirmary start acting up, we can expect one of the Big Three to act up again, only in a different pattern. We have gone over this ship end to end at least twice and we have not prevented a single problem, except that last gravity problem and that was an accident. The technical manuals have too many gaps for us to know what to do except in the most general terms, what we have learned and done has been in spite of what the Navy gave us in the way of support knowledge. We might as well just sit around and wait for the next problem to happen for all the good our work has been.”

“Your assessment of what systems we may expect to cause a problem is undoubtedly correct; however, I do not concur with your stated plan of action. While I cannot foresee any reason to continue the two-watch system, I believe that we must continue to attempt to prevent future crises by maintaining our repair efforts. In addition, it may very well be that the Navy, as part of the examination, is expecting us to continue working. Failure to do so might be grounds for failing the examination, would you desire to have progressed this far only to fail because we ceased working on the job when we should have kept going? We have been through too much already, let us continue in a manner that will allow us to hold our heads erect when we depart here, regardless of what conclusion to this examination may occur. We will continue our repair efforts, but with a variant of the three-shift rotation that we began with. Cadet Trainees Elder, Corrbet and Jackson, since you have just risen from your sleep, your watch will be the one to start from this point. The rest of us will follow in this sequence: Cadet Trainees MacBeath, Sloan, Irving, then Cadet Trainees Clarke, Houston and Father Lester. Executive Officer Ostrom and I will maintain back-to-back bridge watches so that the rest of you will be able to more effectively perform your work. Are there any questions? No? Very well, this meeting is terminated.”

The cadets began this portion of their examination building up their database on the JACOTOT. A week passed without event.

It was while the cadets on Elder’s shift were on duty and were reloading the food processors in the galley on day forty-five that the next problem came to their attention.

“Cadet Trainee Elder, the computer is rejecting the supplies. It says the food is bad, spoiled. Bring some more food and let’s get this thing filled up.”

“No problem Cadet Trainee Corrbet. What’s spoiled?”

Corrbet looked at the readout. “Lots 445, 446 and 447.”

“That’s the stuff from Storage Bay Six. I’ll get some more and be back in about ten minutes.”

Elder went to Storage Bay Six and checked the inventory. Lots 473, 474 and 475 were the same provisions as the lots the computer said were spoiled. He loaded them onto the hand barge and pushed them to the galley where Corrbet began loading them into the proper storage containers. She stopped after a  moment.

“These are spoiled also; not all of them, just lots 474 and 476. Lot 475 is good. Can you get some more? Perhaps we ought to start checking the rest of the stores before bringing them here. We could set the spoiled stuff to one side so we don’t have to keep going back and forth like this.”

“I’ll swing by Engineering and get a portable scanner. Do you know what to look for?”

“No. Maybe Cadet Trainee Jackson knows. I’ll call her and ask.” Corrbet walked over to the intercom station and paged Jackson.

“Jackson here, what’s up?” Her lack of manners was normal now, everyone ignored it.

“The computer is rejecting some lots of the food stores, says the stuff is spoiled. Elder is going to do a quick scan of Storage Bay Sex and start setting the spoiled stuff aside. He’ll need a lesson on how to read the scanner so he can detect the spoiled lots.”

“I’m done here for now, I’ll start up to Storage Bay Six with two scanners, Have Elder show up and I will teach him what he’ll need to know. With two of us checking, it will be over quicker. Jackson out.”

Punching another control on the intercom, “Bridge, this is Cadet Trainee Corrbet.”

“Continue Cadet Trainee Corrbet.” It was Quinn, there was no mistaking that voice anymore.

“Captain, we have a problem coming up. I am not sure if the Navy planned it or not. Some of the food stores are spoiled. If I remember right, we have more than enough to last us through the examination, even if half the food is spoiled. However, Cadet Trainees Elder and Jackson are going to start checking the stores with scanners so we will know just how much food we really have.”

“Very well, continue with that program and apprise me of whatever you ascertain. I deem that this is not yet a serious problem, at least not at this time. However, it might be prudent to begin on limited rations until we determine the extent of the shortage. Captain out.”

Elder walked to Storage Bay Six to meet with Jackson and carry out the check of the food stores. While walking, Elder tried to remember what the computer files said about the food stores. Since he always carried his portable computer with him now, he pulled it off its clips and called up the inventory files he had there. The food inventory was one of the files he had. The cadets had been on the JACOTOT for forty-three days, and according to the file, there was enough food for at least another seven hundred. Elder wondered if the food spoilage was widespread enough to be a danger. The briefing officer had said that the test was scheduled for one hundred seventy-five days, and with forty-three gone, that left one hundred thirty-two days left. For the food stores to become a danger, over five sixths of the remaining food would have to be ruined. Probably a lot more than that since the cadets could go on short rations for a while without endangering their health.

Elder reached Storage Bay Six and saw Jackson as she just opened the door to the bay. Dashing through the door right behind her, he asked, “How long do you think it will take to check out the food stores?”

“About a week, at least to do it right.” She handed him a scanner, and then brushed her hair back. “We could do a quick scan in a day or two but we would probably miss a good deal. I have the scanners programmed to give a simple good or not good display. All you have to do is hold the scanner next to the case and activate it.” She pointed to the activation switch. “The scanner will run a test on the case and indicate if the food is good or not in about fifteen seconds. The test is about the same as the galley scanner does. Don’t get too far away from the case, the closer the better. If you are too far away, the scanner will test more than the one case and the results could be wrong. If both cases are good, it’s no problem; but, if you get a bad reading, you won’t know which case it is that’s bad and you’ll have to do it again. Any questions?”

“How far away can I safely get?”

“The scanner beam has an angle of about fifty degrees, so I wouldn’t get father away than the width of the case you are checking. For short people like us, that might be a problem when we have to check something that is stored up high. Sloan or Quinn wouldn’t have much of a problem, but even they couldn’t reach all the cases without using a ladder.”

“How about penetration past the case I’m checking?”

“I’ve set the scanners on short range only so they don’t put out a lot of power. Maximum range is only a couple of meters or so in clear space. Going through something will cut that down considerably. There should be no problem.”

“Two years supply of food to check. This is going to be worse than all the repairs we have done so far. At least they were different enough to not be boring.”

“Dull, boring and necessary. That is the short description of this job. Let’s just hope that the ship doesn’t go into another set of wild maneuvers while we are doing this or we’d end up in the infirmary like Irving.” She brushed her hair back and went to work.

Elder smiled to himself as he turned to the task at hand, Irving had tipped a diagnostic analyzer over and broken three bones in her foot yesterday. Fort-three days into the test and she had been in the infirmary for twelve of them due to various accidents. Everything seemed to happen to her. At least she did not constantly whine about her hard luck around the others.

Case after case of bad food, rarely interspersed with a good case, was checked. The two separated the good food from the bad so that none of the failed cases were taken by accident. Eighty percent of the cases that they checked on their first shift were spoiled to some degree or another and thus unusable.



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