Day after day the cadets plodded on through the food check, deciding quickly to ignore all the other problems on the JACOTOT since the food problem quickly grew to alarming proportions. As the check wore on, Quinn grew withdrawn and broody, rarely leaving his quarters and leaving effective command to Ostrom, screwing up the work schedule he had drawn up earlier. Even Father Lester could not bring him out of his quarters, try as he could to do so. The work schedule fell to pieces as the cadets tried to learn the scope of the problem, hoping that it was not as bad as it first appeared.
Each of the cadets reported to Quinn about the various things that were happening on the ship and while in Quinn’s quarters tried to get him to come out. Even pointing that avoiding his bridge watch was making it harder on the others did no good. Elder made his attempt on day forty-seven, the fifth day of short rations. Quinn sat at his computer terminal in his space suit.
“Captain, or maybe I should call you something else since a Captain wouldn’t be hiding from problems, the inventory of Storage Bay Nineteen shows ninety-three percent of the foodstuffs stored there are ruined. Even if Storage Bay Seven has one hundred percent good food, we are in serious trouble. There is not enough food, even with short rations, to last the rest of the examination. We run out of food in a month and water in two months. Do we push the panic button now or wait until we completely run out of food?”
“Discuss this issue with Executive Officer Ostrom. I am engaged with an undertaking of my own.”
“What undertaking? You tell everyone that you are doing some secret project and use that to shut him or her up when they try to talk with you. We selected you as Captain of this ship when we first started this test and you have done a pretty good job of it up to this last problem. This isn’t to say that you’ve been perfect, or that everyone loves you, but why give up now?”
“You are dismissed Cadet Trainee Elder. Depart from my quarters immediately.”
“No, I won’t. You have given up as Captain, so you cannot order me around and do not think you will physically throw me out. Someone has to make you accept our responsibility again and it’s my turn.”
“It may be your turn as you put it; however, it is my decision and my life. I desire to work on this task alone and without your interference. Depart my quarters, now.” Quinn rose to his feet, steadying himself against the desk as he did so.
Elder stepped forward and pushed Quinn back into the chair at the desk. As he did so, he noticed the compute terminal. Taking a second look, he recognized the codes on the screen. “You’re trying to break the encryption on the control program? Why? How is that gong to get us food or water?”
Quinn tried to stand again, Elder pushed him back into the chair.
“You’re weak as hell. When did you eat last?” The pattern fell into lace. “Quinn, you’re starving yourself to try and increase the food for the rest of us!” Elder moved quickly over to the intercom station and paged Father Lester.
“Yes my son?”
“Father, get to Quinn’s quarters and bring some food. I do not think he has eaten since we discovered the bad food. Bring Sloan or someone else to help feed him if need be.” Elder was too angry with Quinn for politeness now.
“That explains a lot my son. I will be right there. With food and Cadet Trainee Sloan.”
As Elder turned away from the intercom, he saw Quinn holding his head in his hands, leaning on the desk.
“Even if you never ate again, we couldn’t last the entire test period now. Why die for nothing? Actually, worse than nothing; remember the briefing officer said that we pas or fail as a team. If you die, we all fail. Damn it Quinn, there is no way we can pass this examination. Why die for nothing?” Maybe bad manner would bring Quinn around, Elder had to penetrate his armor and get him interested in the living again.
“There is merit in that argument, I had forgotten that this examination is for all of us cadets in total. A group of ten as I mind my memory, not eleven. Can you state without doubt that if ten cadets depart this ship upon the successful completion of this examination, the Navy will not admit those ten? If I were here by error, would my presence be construed as a failure of the examination? Settle this question for me Cadet Trainee Elder.”
“I don’t know the answer and I don’t care. If the Navy sent you here, then you have to leave here, and alive. Moreover, even if you starve yourself, we cannot finish the test. We don’t have enough food or water to make it through the remaining one hundred twenty eight days even without you, so why die? The test is over. We cannot complete the test. In spite of your suspicions about there being eleven of us instead of ten, you have molded us into a team, a crew. Be proud of that fact.”
“No, I have failed. I will have failed my family. That, I will not accept.”
“What failure? Tell me, what did you do that you should not have done? What did you fail to do that you should have done? You didn’t fail; you did a pretty damn good with a bunch of Cadet Trainees who were babies in diapers compared to now.” There was someone at the door, so Elder called out, “Come in” in order to prevent Quinn from trying to keep them out. “Captain, you have to learn to face defeat as well as success. That is all this is, a defeat, and a minor one at that. The Navy beat us this time. Next year, I intend to try again if I’m allowed, and whatever the Navy throws at me, I’m going to pass it.” Elder looked at the two entering the room, one was Sloan. That was obvious by the person’s size. Elder could not tell who the other was, but he guessed it was Father Lester. “Cadet Trainee Sloan, if Quinn won’t eat what you and Father Lester brought, grab him and the Father and I will force feed him. Well Captain, will you eat?”
Quinn looked at Father Lester, then at Sloan. Each was carrying a tray of food. “I will partake of the nourishment you have brought. Do not expect me to approve of this technique that you are using to force me to eat. I still believe that my actions were proper. However, I must accept that the Navy has found a crisis that has beaten us. We will proceed from that beginning and continue forward.” Quinn took his helmet off, leaned forward and began sampling some of the food from the two trays that Sloan and Father Lester placed on his desk.
Sloan spoke up as soon as he placed the tray on the desk, “Go easy at first Captain. Your stomach will probably not be used to food and if you eat too much, or too fast, you’ll get sick.” Sloan’s rumbling voice shook the drinks giving them ripples.
“I will take cognizance of the issue and proceed carefully.”
“My son, would you like someone to stay with you? Just for conversation, after all, you have been absent fro us for some tie now and since you ae still our Captain, you should be informed of all that has happened.”
“I give you thanks for the offer, but I will decline Father. I a aware of what has transpired. After all, you and the others have endeavored to rouse e into returning to active participation since I began this project of mine. I have not been uninformed of events. Moreover, I will continue with this repast after you depart. Please inform the remainder of the crew that I desire a general meeting tomorrow after the noon meal. This predicament will be discussed at that time and a decision will be rendered concerning our future actions aboard the JACOTOT. Good day gentlemen.”
After a short glance at each other, the three cadets left Quinn to himself. In the corridor outside his room, they stopped and conversed.
“Father, do we dare trust him? Shouldn’t one of us stay with him?” Sloan rumbled, holding the other two lightly by their arms so that they would not walk away from him.’
“With what excuse my son? The best excuse to stay was to inform him about what has been happening and he rejected that one. Rightly so, since we have been stopping by his quarters to tell him about everything that has happened in an effort to get him to take action.. What other excuse could we use? The only other reason I could have given was that I do not trust him to live up to his word and I could give no reason for that lack of trust. Quinn doesn’t lie.”
Elder spoke up as he lifted Sloan’s hand off his right arm. “Did either of you notice what was on his terminal? The control program. He has been trying to crack that program, for how long I do not know. He was not giving up, but he was going to be noble while solving this crisis. Probably something to do with his family honor, he said something about not being able to face his family if he failed this test.”
Sloan nodded and rumbled, “Back when he was questioning everyone about their background, when he was trying to discover who the eleventh person was, he and I had a long discussion about families. He mentioned then that his family was strong on Navy service. All of his father’s family served in the Navy until they had to take over their hereditary position if they had one. In addition, most of his mother’s side as well. He is related to this Grand Admiral or the previous one if I remember what he said. He was not trying to impress me or brag, it was just something that came up after I talked about those of my family who had studied on Bes. And I have a lot of artists In my family. I think he’s afraid that if he fails, his family will all think poorly of him.”
“That would explain much of this my son. However, since he was raised in such an environment, he should be capable of facing this problem without any more help from us now that he realizes that he has no choice. Come children, let us be off and inform the others of the general meeting.”