However, the meeting did not take place as scheduled. Quinn went to the infirmary late in the evening of that day, the forty-seventh onboard the JACOTOT, and remained there all the next day and most of the day after that. He had some sort of previous illness and his starving himself brought on a relapse that responded poorly to treatment because of his weakened condition. It was not until late in the afternoon of day forty-nine that he was able to meet with the other cadets. Everyone sat around the wardroom in their space suits with their helmets in hand so that everyone’s face was visible.
“I have summoned everyone here to discuss the present situation. As all of you are aware, we no longer have enough rations to survive the remaining one hundred twenty six days of our examination. Even if we were to remain on half rations, we could not survive since the time remaining after the last of the food was consumed would be longer than any human could be expected to live without food. Even at quarter rations, we could not survive. An even if we were able to survive the food deficit, the water situation is just as critical and just as unsurvivable. The only issue to discuss is at what point do we activate the panic button, now or when the last of the food and water have run out. I invite your comments on the question.”
Ostrom rose, “Captain, we’ve been talking about this amongst ourselves for the last two days now. We be all agreeing that it makes no difference when we fail, so we might as well be getting the bad news over with so we be trying to be getting ready for the next time. Be pushing it now and be getting it over with. If we wait, we might be getting killed in the next problem the Navy be having for us because we be too weak to do whatever needs to be done.” He looked around at the nodding cadets and sat down.
Quinn looked at the seated cadets and nodded to himself. Without another word he walked out of the wardroom and, with the others trailing in a loose mob, went to the bridge. Once there, he lifted the cover off the panic button and gave the button a vicious push. The remained in the pushed position and everything went black for a second as all power went off and then returned.
“I.N.S. JEAN JOSEPH JACOTOT, this is the I.N.S. JOHN FREDERICK CHARLES FULLER. Stand by for boarding. We will unseal your main entrance hatch in seven hours. You are ordered to be prepared to depart the JACOTOT at that time. You will be in your space suits and will bring with you all items issued to you prior to your boarding the JOCOTOT or which you brought with you and nothing else. If there are any special situations that we must be aware of, inform us now, otherwise you will maintain radio silence until our arrival. Over.”
The cadets looked at each other, they had nothing to say.
After a pause, “I.N.S. JEAN JOSEPH JACOTOC, this is the I.N.S. JOHN FREDERICK CHARLES FULLER signing off.”
“Since my tenure as Captain is about to close, my final orders are to return to your quarters, prepare for departure and meet at the main entrance airlock in six hours fifty minutes. Any time that you do not require for your departure preparations is yours to do with as you please. Your actions are to be consistent, of course, with proper manners and decorum. You are dismissed.”
he cadets filed off the bridge and back to their quarters. It took only about half an hour to get ready to depart the JACOTOT. Carrying their gear, they wandered to the wardroom. The conversations were sparse and subdued. Everyone seemed morose and depressed. Most ate something now that they no longer needed to worry about their rations lasting. Finally, the time arrived for them to go to the main entrance airlock and they shuffled to the area.
As the cadets stood around the airlock, waiting for something to happen, they felt a strong thud and then a series of weaker thuds coming from the general area of the outer airlock door. After a few moments, the inner door cycled shut. When it opened, several space-suited figures entered the corridor. Nine of the ten moved past the cadets. That remaining one motioned for the cadets to follow him or her, it was impossible to tell the gender of someone in a space suit, as he or she reentered the airlock. The cadets crowded in and the figure cycled the outer door open.
Jus a few dozen meters away lay a huge spaceship, hanging in space like a whale to the JOCOTOT’s minnow.
Irving’s voice sang over the radio, “Good God, a Dreadnought it is!”
“Quiet! Yo are ordered to maintain radio silence.” It was a female voice that snapped that, and obviously it was not Irving, Corrbet or Jackson.
As the figure led the cadets to the other ship, they passed dozens of space-suited figures flying to the JACOTOT. Elder tried to count them but was not sure if he had made an accurate count. He did end up counting two hundred twelve figures going to the JACOTOT, most towing large containers, including the nine that had stayed when the cadets left.
The figure cycled them through an airlock on the Dreadnought-sized ship and took them to a locker room where she removed her suit. Then, once the cadets had followed her example, the Ensign led them to a conference room nearby and watched them through the door. She had not said a word since she had snapped her comment on radio silence.
Inside the conference room was a heavily decorated Fleet Captain, sitting at the head of a conference table.
“Come in Cadet Trainees, please be seated. Hello Michael, I haven’t seen you for at least three years. You’ve shaped up well.”
“Great-great-uncle Arleigh? I mean, good day Fleet Captain Paxton.”
“Sit down Michael. I will not jump you for remembering family ties, especially since I surprised you. Moreover, for the rest of you, sit down. I am not here to cashier the lot of you. You passed the examination, and are hereby promoted to Cadet.”
It was at least a minute before the room was quiet enough for the Fleet Captain to continue.
“Since all of you are in the Navy, yo are required to obey orders. Moreover, this order is one that you must obey. You will never speak about this test when someone who might be taking this test in the future may overhear such conversation. Every person that enters the Academy takes this test or one of the similar tests we administer and you are not to compromise the test for any person who might take it in the future.”
“But sir, why the test? Could not a computer examination have done whatever needed to be done? Why put our lives at risk?” Corrbet spoke what was on everyone’s mind just then.
“The answer is simple Cadet Corrbet. No compute test can equal the real thing. We had to know how you would react to emergencies and to surprises. Psychological testing can only go so far, and that is not far enough or good enough for what we need. We implied that you were going to be in a group of ten and you found yourselves in a group of eleven. In space, surprises like that, if you do not react properly, can kill you and your crew. You were put through a series of problems that could have killed you if you did not react properly. We needed to know how you would react. Could you have been killed? Yes. Every year we have some cadets die. Out of the millions who take the test every year, some pass, some fail, and even fewer die. That is a risk we must put you through in order to ensure that the Navy is led by the best officers we can obtain. Weeding out those who are less than the best will continue while you are at the Academy. The class you enter will graduate between fifty and a hundred cadets out of the approximately three hundred that start. That would normally be too few to continue the Navy, but we graduate five classes a month. That is something else we do not want known, but it is not as highly secret as the test you just went through. Now that we are finished collecting the cadets in this system, we will take you to the Academy. You will face tough challenges there and in your Navy career, but you have passed what is probably the toughest challenge you will face for a long time. You have shown yourselves to be able, resourceful and adaptable, you lasted the longest of any cadet group in this system. You should do well.”
The rumble came. “But sir, the briefing officer told us…”
“Yes Cadet Sloan, you were given a bad briefing. Not bad in that we lied to you, because we did not lie, we just misled you. The test is scheduled for one hundred seventy five days, but that includes the preliminary portions you took back on your home planets. In other words, the schedule refers to the entire test, not just this portion. We could not give you a full briefing since that would invalidate the test. You were told that and that was no lie. The Navy cannot tolerate lies. You had to be confused and worried so that we could test your response to the various situations created for you. Once you got through the life support failure on day thirty-five aboard the JACOTOT you were home free. The food shortage was designed to ensure that the test ended with you under the impression that you had failed. That was not cruelty on our part, we needed to see how you would react. A psychological test of how yo stood up to failure.”
Elder spoke up, “Sir, what if we had discovered the food problem earlier? Was the food always bad?”
“No Cadet Elder, the food had to be good so that if you had checked it out before the power failure, you would have found good food. The food is stored in special containers that will ensure that the food goes bad at that time. It is the same with the water. No one has ever wondered how the water goes bad. Just sitting there, it cannot go bad. We have to tamper with it.”
“Fleet Captain Paxton, sir, if the Navy had no one with us to monitor us, and watch over us, how did you know how we did during this test?” Everyone guessed that Jackson’s over formality was a cover for her nervousness.
“Cadet Jackson, you and Cadet Elder had a lot of trouble trying to get the security system to work, didn’t you?” At their nods, he went on, “The security system was working the entire time you were on the JACOTOT, but we were monitoring it. Naturally, we could not let you have it work for you. We learned about everything you did. From your efforts to learn who the ‘eleventh’ person was – and Cadet Corrbet, you deductive work was very good, your desire to enter Naval Intelligence might just be realized – to your efforts to become a team and crew, to your repair efforts. We watched it all so we could evaluate you both individually and as a team. Cadet Elder, your work with the computer was excellent. You got further than most other Cadet Trainees did in that regard. Your skills with people are also something we expect to nurture. our bringing my Great-great-nephew out of his funk at the end was well done. For all of you, if there had been an emergency that you couldn’t handle, we would have been on the JACOTOT within minutes.”
“But sir, you took seven hours to reach us.:” Jackson eyes went wide. “Oh, another test?”
“Yes Cadet Jackson. It was part of the test. the FULLER has been alongside you for the entire test. Your sensors never show the FULLER or whatever shi is alongside. Indeed, you have never left the system, we faked the Jump out here with drugs. If you had been more experienced with Jump, we would have given you another test, but there was no need. Cadet Irving has had the most experience with multiple Jumps and hers were several years ago.” The Cadets looked at each other with confusion. “If you had followed up on your initial suspicions about the engines starting, you might have deduced that another ship was nearby. No one ever follows that line of reasoning; every group of Cadet Trainees misses that one important clue.” The Cadets looked at each other with some chagrin. “And, we never had to worry about your flight path since you never moved the entire test. The acceleration compensators are rigged to simulate flight. The JACOTOT stayed in one place. We controlled everything that happened, the control program is another fake; one that no one ever properly investigates either; if anyone had, they might discover the control center we have in the Main Weapons Bay. Perhaps because we set the situation up to discourage it. We expect some casualties but we try to minimize the number as much as we can.”
The Cadets looked at each other, and then at the Fleet Captain.
“The test is over Cadets, and so is this briefing. You will be escorted to your quarters where we will start you on your studies. There are twenty-three other teams already in study from other ships and now we sail for the Academy. You are dismissed Cadets.”
At the beginning of this book, I worried where to start this tale. Now, at the end, I have no worries about ending this tale here. If you wish to learn more about Jesip Dwight Roger Allen Elder, you will not learn it here. This tale is done and the rest of his life story as an officer in the Imperia Navy obviously does not belong here. Therefore, this is goodbye. At least, it is goodbye for now.