Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein

  A scooter is a passenger rocket reduced to its simplest terms and has been described as a hat rack with an outboard motor. It operates only in empty space and does not have to be streamlined.

  The rocket motor is unenclosed. Around it is a tier of light metal supports, the passenger rack. There is no “ship” in the sense of a hull, airtight compartments, etc. The passengers just belt themselves to the rack and let the rocket motor scoot them along.

  When the scooter was clear of the ship the cadet in the hangar pocket turned the launching cradle, by power, until the scooter pointed at Terra Station. The pilot slapped the keys in front of him; the scooter took off.

  The cadet pilot watched his radarscope. When the distance to the Station was closing at eighty-eight feet per second he cut his jet. “Latch on to the Station,” he told Matt.

  Matt plugged in and called the station. “Scooter number three, Randolph—scheduled trip. Arriving nine minutes, plus or minus,” Matt sent, and congratulated himself on having studied the spool on small-craft procedures.

  “Roger,” a feminine voice answered, then added, “Use out-orbit contact platform Bee-for-Busy.”

  “Bee-for-Busy,” acknowledged Matt. “Traffic?”

  “None out-orbit. Winged Victory in-orbit, warping in.”

  Matt reported to his pilot. “No traffic,” repeated the oldster. “Mister, I’m going to catch forty winks. Wake me when we’ve closed to a mile and a half.”

  “Aye aye, sir.”

  “Think you could bring her in?”

  Matt gulped. “I’ll try, sir.”

  “Figure it out while I’m asleep.” The cadet promptly closed his eyes, floating as comfortably in free fall as if he had been in his own cubicle. Matt concentrated on the instrument dials.

  Seven minutes later he shook the oldster, who opened his eyes and said, “What’s your flight plan, Mister?”

  “Well, uh—if we keep going as is, we’ll just slide past on the out-orbit side. I don’t think I’d change it at all. When we close to four thousand feet I’d blast until our relative speed is down to about ten foot-seconds, then forget the radar and brake by eye as we pass along the side.”

  “You’ve been studying too hard.”

  “Is that wrong?” Matt asked anxiously.

  “Nope. Go ahead. Do it.” The oldster bent over the tracking ’scope to assure himself that the scooter would miss the Station. Matt watched the closing range, while excitement built up inside him. Once he glanced ahead at the shining cylindrical bulk of the Station, but looked back quickly. A few seconds later he punched his firing key and a plume of flame shot out in front of them.

  A scooter has jets at both ends, served by the same interconnected tanks, fuel pumps and piping. Scooters are conned “by the seat of your pants” rather than by complex mathematics. As such they are invaluable in letting student pilots get the feel of rocket ships.

  As the distance decreased Matt felt for the first time the old nightmare of rocket pilots: is the calculated maneuver enough to avoid a crash? He felt this, even though he knew his course would slide him past the corner of the mammoth structure. It was a relief to release the firing key.

  The oldster said, “Can you spot Bee-for-Busy when you see it?”

  Matt shook his head. “No, sir. This is my first trip to Terra Station.”

  “It is? And I let you pilot! Well, there it is, ahead—third platform down. Better start braking.”

  “Aye aye, sir.” The scooter was passing along the side of the Station and about a hundred yards out, at the speed of a brisk walk. Matt let Bee-for-Busy approach for a few moments more, then gave a short, experimental blast. It did not seem to slow them much; he gave a somewhat longer blast.

  A few minutes later he had the scooter almost dead in space and practically abreast their contact point. He looked inquiringly at the pilot. “I’ve seen worse,” the oldster grunted. “Tell them to bring us in.”

  “Randolph number three—ready for contact,” Matt reported, via radio.

  “We see you,” the girl’s voice answered. “Stand by for a line.”

  A line, shot by a gun, came sailing out in perfectly flat trajectory and passed through a metal loop sticking out from the scooter. “I relieve you, sir,” the pilot told Matt. “Shinny out there and make that line fast.”

  A few minutes later the scooter was secured to platform Bee-for-Busy and the cadets were filing into the platform’s airlock. Matt located Oscar and Tex in the suiting room and they undressed together. “What did you think of that contact?” Matt said to them, with studied casualness.

  “All right, I guess,” answered Tex. “What about it?”

  “I made it.”

  Oscar raised his eyebrows. “You did? Nice going, kid.”

  Tex looked amazed. “The pilot let you jockey it? On your first trip?”

  “Well, why not? You think I’m kidding?”

  “No, I’m just impressed. May I touch you? How about an autograph?”

  “Oh, come off it!”

  They were, of course, in the free-fall part of the Station. As soon as they had stowed their suits, they hurried to the centrifuged belt frequented by the traveling public. Oscar knew his way around somewhat, having changed ships at the Station when he was a candidate, and led them to the door at the axis of rotation—the only possible place to pass from the free-fall zone to the weight zone.

  From the axis they went down several levels, past offices and private quarters to the first of the public levels. It was, in effect, a wide, brightly lighted street, with a high ceiling and with slideways down the middle. Shops and restaurants lined it. The slideways curved up and away in the distance, for the corridor curved completely around the Station. “This,” Oscar told them, “is Paradise Walk.”

  “I see why,” agreed Tex, and gave a low whistle. The others followed his gaze. A tall, willowy blonde, dressed in some blue wisps of nothing much, was looking in the display window of a jewelry shop.

  “Take it easy, Tex,” advised Oscar. “She’s taller than you are.”

  “I like them tall,” Tex answered. “Watch me.”

  He sauntered over to the young woman. Matt and Oscar could not hear his opening remark, but it did not offend her, for she laughed. Then she looked him up and down with cool amusement and spoke. Her voice carried quite clearly. “I am married and at least ten years older than you are. I never pick up cadets.”

  Tex appeared to tuck his tail between his legs and slunk back toward his friends. He started to say, fiercely, “Well, you can’t rule a guy out for try—,” when the woman called out:

  “Wait a moment! All three of you.” She came up to them and looked from Matt to Oscar, “You are youngsters, aren’t you?”

  “Youngster cadets, yes, ma’am,” answered Oscar.

  She fumbled in her jewelled pouch. “If you want to have some fun and meet some younger girls, you might try this address.” She handed Oscar a card.

  He looked startled and said, “Thank you, ma’am.”

  “Not at all.” She moved away and managed to lose herself in the crowd at once.

  “What does it say?” demanded Matt.

  Oscar looked at it, then held it out. “Read it.”

  Terra Station First Baptist Church

  Ralph Smiley, D.D., Pastor


  #2437, Level “C”

  Tex grinned. “Well, you can’t say I scored a clean miss.”

  There ensued an argument. Matt and Tex wanted to go at once to the social hall; Oscar insisted that he was hungry and wanted some civilized food. The longer they argued the more reasonable seemed Oscar’s case. Finally Tex switched sides and Matt gave in to the majority.

  He regretted it a few minutes later, when he saw the prices on the menu. The restaurant they selected was a tourist trap, a fancy dining room with an adjoining bar. It had human waiters instead of automatic tables and items were priced accordingly.

  Tex saw the expression on his fac
e. “Relax, Matt,” he told him. “This is on me—Pop sent me a check.”

  “Oh, I wouldn’t want to do that.”

  “Want to fight?”

  Matt grinned. “Okay, thanks.”

  Oscar said, “How hard shall we punish you, Tex? Tea and toast?”

  “Anything you want. Let’s really celebrate. Which reminds me—I think we ought to have a drink.”

  “Huh?” said Oscar. “And have an M.P. catch us? No, thank you.”

  Matt started to protest but Tex stood up. “Just leave this to Father Jarman. It’s high time you two poor, underprivileged outlanders tasted a real old Southern mint julep.” He started for the bar. Oscar shrugged.

  Tex scouted out the bar before entering. There were no cadets, of course; more important there were no officers and no marine M.P.’s. The hour was early and the bar almost deserted. He went up to the bartender. “Can you make a mint julep?” he asked.

  The bartender looked up and answered, “Beat it. I’m not supposed to serve you liquor. This is off limits to cadets.”

  “I didn’t ask you if this was off limits—I asked you if you could make a mint julep.” Tex slid a bill across the counter. “Three mint juleps, in fact.”

  The barman eyed the bill. Finally he caused it to disappear. “Go on back into the dining room.”

  “Right!” said Tex.

  A few minutes later a waiter placed a complete tea service in front of them, but the teapot did not contain tea. Tex poured out the drink, splitting it carefully three ways, in tea cups. “Here’s to you, chums—drink up.”

  Matt took a sip. “It tastes like medicine,” he announced.

  “Like medicine?” Tex protested. “This noble potion? I’ll meet you at dawn, suh—coffee and pistols for two.”

  “I still say it tastes like medicine. What do you think of it, Oscar?”

  “It’s not bad.”

  Matt pushed his aside. “Aren’t you going to drink it?” asked Tex.

  “No. Thanks, Tex, really—but I think it would make me sick. I guess I’m a sissy.”

  “Well, we won’t waste it.” He picked up Matt’s cup and poured some into his own. “Split it with me, Oscar?”

  “No. You go ahead.”

  “Okay, if you say so.” He poured the rest into his cup.

  When the food they ordered was served, Tex was no longer interested. While Matt and Oscar were busily chewing he kept urging them to sing. “Come on, Oscar! You can learn it.”

  “I can’t sing.”

  “Sure you can. I’ve heard you sing, with the Hog Alley band. I’ll sing the verse, we’ll all clap, then hit the chorus together: ‘Deep in…the heart of… Texas!’ Like that.”

  “Shut up,” said Oscar, “or you’ll be deep in the heart of trouble.”

  “Killjoy! Come on, Matt.”

  “I can’t sing with my mouth full.”

  “Look,” said Oscar to Matt, in a tense, low voice. “Do you see what I see?”

  Matt looked and saw Lieutenant Wong entering the far end of the dining room. He went to a table, sat down, looked around, spotted the table of cadets, nodded, and started studying a menu. “Oh, mother!” Matt breathed softly.

  “Then we’ll sing ‘Ioway,’” announced Tex. “I’m broad-minded.”

  “We won’t sing anything. For the love of Mike, Tex—shut up! An officer just came into the joint.”

  “Where?” demanded Tex. “Invite him over. I don’t hold any grudges. They’re good boys, all of ’em, the stinkers.” Matt shot a quick glance at Lieutenant Wong and was dismayed to see the officer crooking a finger at him, beckoning. He got up and walked stiffly toward the officer.


  “Yes, sir.”

  “Go back and tell Jarman to quiet down before I have to come over there and ask him what his name is.”

  “Uh—aye aye, sir!”

  When he got back to the table, Tex was already quiet and appeared sobered but very much puzzled. Oscar’s usually pleasant face was dark with anger. “What’s the verdict?”

  Matt reported. “I see. Wong’s all right. Well, we got to get him out of here.” Oscar flagged the waiter, then opened Tex’s pouch and paid the bill.

  He stood up. “Let’s go. Pull yourself together, Tex, or I’ll break your neck.”

  “Where to?” asked Matt.

  “Into the ’fresher.”

  Fortunately it turned out that they had that room to themselves. Oscar marched Tex to a washbasin and told him to stick his finger down his throat. “Why?” objected Tex.

  “Because if you don’t, I’ll do it for you. Look, Matt—can you take care of him? I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

  It was nearly twenty minutes before Oscar returned, bearing a carton of hot, black coffee and a tube of pills. He forced the coffee and half a dozen of the pills on the patient. “What are the pills?” Matt wanted to know.—

  “Thiamin chloride.”

  “You seem to know your way around?”

  “Well…” Oscar wrinkled his brow. “Venus isn’t like Earth, you know. Still sort of wild and woolly. You see a lot of things go on. Drink the rest of the coffee, Tex.”


  “The front of his uniform is all messed up,” said Matt.

  “So I see. I guess we should have undressed him.”

  “What’ll we do? If he goes back like that, there will be questions asked—bad ones.”

  “Let me think.” Presently he said to Tex, “Go in there—” Oscar indicated one of a row of ’fresher booths, “—and take off your uniform. Hand it out and lock yourself in. We’ll be back after a while.” Tex seemed to feel that he was being consigned to the salt mines, but there was no real opposition left in him. He went. Shortly thereafter Matt and Oscar left, Oscar with a tightly rolled bundle of a cadet uniform under one arm.

  They took the slideway half around the Station, through crowds of gorgeously dressed and hurrying people, past rich and beckoning shops. Matt enjoyed it thoroughly.

  “They say,” said Oscar, “that this is what the big cities used to be like, back before the Disorders.”

  “It certainly doesn’t look like Des Moines.”

  “Nor like Venus.” Oscar found what he was looking for, an automatic laundry service, in a passageway off the waiting room of the emigrant zone. After a considerable wait the uniform came back to them, clean, pressed, and neatly packaged. It being Terra Station, the cost was sky high. Matt looked at what remained of his funds.

  “Might as well be broke,” he said and invested the remainder in a pound of chocolate-coated cherries. They hurried back. Tex looked so woebegone and so glad to see them that Matt had a sudden burst of generosity and handed the box to Tex. “Present to you, you poor, miserable, worthless critter.”

  Tex seemed touched by the gesture—it was no more than a gesture, since candy and such are, by ancient right, community property among roommates.

  “Hurry up and get dressed, Tex. The scooter shoves off in just thirty-two minutes.” Twenty-five minutes later, suited up, they were filing into the airlock, Tex with the chocolates under his arm.

  The trip back was without incident, except for one thing: Matt had not thought to specify a pressure container for the candy. Before Tex could strap down the box had bulged. By the time they reached the Randolph the front and left side of his space suit was covered with a bubbly, sticky mess compounded of cherry juice, sugar syrup, and brown stains of chocolate as the semi-liquid confection boiled and expanded in the vacuum. He would have thrown the package away had not the oldster, strapped next to him in the rack, reminded him of the severe penalties for jettisoning anything in a traffic lane.

  The cadet in charge of the hangar pocket in the Randolph looked Tex over in disgust. “Why didn’t you pack it inside your suit?”

  “Uh, I just didn’t think of it, sir.”

  “Hummph! Next time you will, no doubt. Go on inside and place yourself on the report for ‘gross untidiness in
uniform.’ And clean up that suit.”

  “Aye aye, sir.”

  Pete was in their suite when they got back. He came out of his cubicle. “Have fun? Gee, I wish I hadn’t had the duty.”

  “You didn’t miss much,” said Oscar.

  Tex looked from one to the other. “Gee, fellows, I’m sorry I ruined your liberty.”

  “Forget it,” said Oscar. “Terra Station will still be there next month.”

  “That’s right,” agreed Matt, “but see here, Tex—tell us the truth. That was the first drink you ever had—wasn’t it?”

  Tex looked shamefaced. “Yes…my folks are all temperance—except my Uncle Bodie.”

  “Never mind your Uncle Bodie. If I catch you taking another, I’ll beat you to death with the bottle.”

  “Aw, shucks, Matt!”

  Oscar looked at Matt quizzically. “Easy on that holier-than-thou stuff, kid. Maybe it could happen to you.”

  “Maybe it could. Maybe some day I’ll get you to chaperone me and find out what happens. But not in public.”

  “It’s a date.”

  “Say,” demanded Pete, “what goes on here? What’s it all about?”

  Life in the Randolph had a curious aspect of timelessness—or, rather, datelessness. There was no weather, there were no seasons. The very divisions into “night” and “day” were arbitrary and were continually being upset by night watches and by laboratory periods at any hour, in order to make maximum use of limited facilities. Meals were served every six hours around the clock and the meal at one in the “morning” was almost as well attended as breakfast at seven hundred.

  Matt got used to sleeping when he could find time—and the “days” tumbled past. It seemed to him that there was never time enough for all that he was expected to do. Mathematics and the mathematical subjects, astrogation and atomic physics in particular, began to be a bugaboo; he was finding himself being rushed into practical applications of mathematics before he was solidly grounded.

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