Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein

  “You like the space marines, don’t you?”

  “Why, yes.”

  “Why not switch over and join a man’s outfit? You’re a likely lad and educated—in a year I’d be saluting you. Ever thought about it?”

  “Why, no, I can’t say that I have.”

  “Then do so. You don’t belong with the Professors—you didn’t know that was what we call the Patrol, did you?—the ‘Professors.’”

  “I’d heard it.”

  “You had? Well, we work for the Professors, but we aren’t of them. We’re…well, you’ve seen. Think it over.”

  Matt did think it over, so much so that he took the Mars-to-Venus problem back with him, still unsolved.

  It was no easier to solve for the delay, nor were other and more complicated problems made any simpler by virtue of the idea, buzzing in the back of his mind, that he need not belabor himself with higher mathematics in order to be a spaceman. He began to see himself decked out in the gaudy, cock-pheasant colors of the space marines.

  At last he took it up with Lieutenant Wong. “You want to transfer to the marines?”

  “Yes. I think so.”


  Matt explained his increasing feeling of frustration in dealing with both atomic physics and astrogation.

  Wong nodded. “I thought so. But we knew that you would have tough sledding since you came here insufficiently prepared. I don’t like the sloppy work you’ve been doing since you came back from Luna.”

  “I’ve done the best I could, sir.”

  “No, you haven’t. But you can master these two subjects and I will see to it that you do.”

  Matt explained, almost inaudibly, that he was not sure he wanted to. Wong, for the first time, looked vexed.

  “Still on that? If you turn in a request for transfer, I won’t okay it and I can tell you ahead of time that the Commandant will turn it down.”

  Matt’s jaw muscles twitched. “That’s your privilege, sir.”

  “Damn it, Dodson, it’s not my privilege; it’s my duty. You would never make a marine and I say so because I know you, your record, and your capabilities. You have a good chance of making a Patrol officer.”

  Matt looked startled. “Why couldn’t I become a marine?”

  “Because it’s too easy for you—so easy that you would fail.”


  “Don’t say ‘huh.’ The spread in I.Q. between leader and follower should not be more than thirty points. You are considerably more than thirty points ahead of those old sergeants—don’t get me wrong; they are fine men. But your mind doesn’t work like theirs.” Wong went on, “Have you ever wondered why the Patrol consists of nothing but officers—and student officers, cadets?”

  “Mmm, no, sir.”

  “Naturally you wouldn’t. We never wonder at what we grow up with. Strictly speaking, the Patrol is not a military organization at all.”


  “I know, I know—you are trained to use weapons, you are under orders, you wear a uniform. But your purpose is not to fight, but to prevent fighting, by every possible means. The Patrol is not a fighting organization; it is the repository of weapons too dangerous to entrust to military men.

  “With the development last century of mass-destruction weapons, warfare became all offense and no defense, speaking broadly. A nation could launch a horrific attack but it could not even protect its own rocket bases. Then space travel came along.

  “The spaceship is the perfect answer in a military sense to the atom bomb, and to germ warfare and weather warfare. It can deliver an attack that can’t be stopped—and it is utterly impossible to attack that spaceship from the surface of a planet.”

  Matt nodded. “The gravity gauge.”

  “Yes, the gravity gauge. Men on the surface of a planet are as helpless against men in spaceships as a man would be trying to conduct a rock-throwing fight from the bottom of a well. The man at the top of the well has gravity working for him.

  “We might have ended up with the tightest, most nearly unbreakable tyranny the world has ever seen. But the human race got a couple of lucky breaks and it didn’t work out that way. It’s the business of the Patrol to see that it stays lucky.

  “But the Patrol can’t drop an atom bomb simply because some pipsqueak Hitler has made a power grab and might some day, when he has time enough, build spaceships and mass-destruction weapons. The power is too great, too awkward—it’s like trying to keep order in a nursery with a loaded gun instead of a switch.

  “The space marines are the Patrol’s switch. They are the finest—”

  “Excuse me, sir—”


  “I know how the marines work. They do the active policing in the System—but that’s why I want to transfer. They’re a more active outfit. They are—”

  “—more daring, more adventurous, more colorful, more glamorous—and they don’t have to study things that Matthew Dodson is tired of studying. Now shut up and listen; there is a lot you don’t know about the setup, or you wouldn’t be trying to transfer.”

  Matt shut up.

  “People tend to fall into three psychological types, all differently motivated. There is the type, motivated by economic factors, money…and there is the type motivated by ‘face,’ or pride. This type is a spender, fighter, boaster, lover, sportsman, gambler; he has a will to power and an itch for glory. And there is the professional type, which claims to follow a code of ethics rather than simply seeking money or glory—priests and ministers, teachers, scientists, medical men, some artists and writers. The idea is that such a man believes that he is devoting his life to some purpose more important than his individual self. You follow me?”

  “I…think so.”

  “Mind you this is terrifically oversimplified. And don’t try to apply these rules to non-terrestrials; they won’t fit. The Martian is another sort of a cat, and so is the Venerian.”

  Wong continued, “Now we get to the point: The Patrol is meant to be made up exclusively of the professional type. In the space marines, every single man jack, from the generals to the privates, is or should be the sort who lives by pride and glory.”


  Wong waited for it to sink in. “You can see it in the very uniforms; the Patrol wears the plainest of uniforms, the marines wear the gaudiest possible. In the Patrol all the emphasis is on the oath, the responsibility to humanity. In the space marines the emphasis is on pride in their corps and its glorious history, loyalty to comrades, the ancient virtues of the soldier. I am not disparaging the marine when I say that he does not care a tinker’s damn for the political institutions of the Solar System; he cares only for his organization.

  “But it’s not your style, Matt. I know more about you than you do yourself, because I have studied the results of your psychological tests. You will never make a marine.”

  Wong paused so long that Matt said diffidently, “Is that all, sir?”

  “Almost. You’ve got to learn astrogation. If deep-sea diving were the key to the Patrol’s responsibility, it would be that that you would have to learn. But the key happens to be space travel. So—I’ll lay out a course of sprouts for you. For a few weeks you’ll do nothing but astrogate. Does that appeal to you?”

  “No, sir.”

  “I didn’t think it would. But when I get through with you, you’ll be able to find your way around the System blindfolded. Now let me see—”

  The next few weeks were deadly monotony but Matt made progress. He had plenty of time to think—when he was not bending over a calculator. Oscar and Tex went to the Moon together; Pete was on night shift in the power room. Matt kept sullenly and stubbornly at work—and brooded. He promised himself to stick it out until Wong let up on him. After that—well, he would have a leave coming up one of these days. If he decided to chuck it, why, lots of cadets never came back from their first leave.

  In the meantime his work began to get the grudging approval of Lieutenant

  At last Wong let up on him and he went back to a normal routine. He was settling into it when he found himself posted for an extra duty. Pursuant thereto, he reported one morning to the officer of the watch, received a briefing, memorized a list of names, and was issued a black armband. Then he went to the main airlock and waited.

  Presently a group of scared and greenish boys began erupting from the lock. When his turn came, he moved forward and called out, “Squad seven! Where is the squad leader of squad seven?”

  He got his charges rounded up at last and told the acting squad leader to follow along in the rear, then led them slowly and carefully down to “A” deck. He was glad to find when he got there that none of them had gotten lost. “This is your messroom,” he told them. “We’ll have lunch before long.”

  Something about the expression of one of them amused him. “What’s the matter, Mister?” he asked the boy. “Aren’t you hungry?”

  “Uh, no, sir.”

  “Well, cheer up—you will be.”

  Interplanetary Patrol Cadet Matthew Dodson sat in the waiting room of Pikes Peak Catapult Station and watched the clock. He had an hour to wait before boarding the New Moon for Terra Station; meanwhile he was expecting his roommates.

  It had been a good leave, he supposed; he had done everything he had planned to do—except joining the others at the Jarman ranch at the end; his mother had kicked up such a fuss at the idea.

  Still, it had been a good leave. His space-burned face, lean and beginning to be lined, looked slightly puzzled. He had confided to no one his tentative intention of resigning while on leave. Now he was trying to remember just when and why it had ceased to be his intention.

  He had been sent on temporary duty to the P.R.S Nobel, as assistant to the astrogator during a routine patrol of circum-Terra bomb-rockets. Matt had joined his ship at Moon Base and, at the conclusion of the patrol when the Nobel had grounded at Terra Base for overhaul, was detached with permission to take leave before reporting back to the Randolph. He had gone straight home.

  The entire family met him at the station and copted him home. His mother had cried a little and his father had shaken hands very vigorously. It seemed to Matt that his kid brother had grown almost incredibly. It was good to see them, good to be back in the old family bus. Matt would have piloted the copter himself had not Billie, his brother, gone straight to the controls.

  The house had been redecorated throughout. His mother obviously expected favorable comment and Matt had given it—but he hadn’t really liked the change. It had not been what he had pictured. Besides that, the rooms seemed smaller. He decided that it must be the effect of redecorating; the house couldn’t have shrunk!

  His own room was filled with Bill’s things, although Bill had been temporarily evicted to his old room, now turned into a hobby room for his mother. The new arrangements were sensible, reasonable—and annoying.

  In thinking it over Matt knew that the changes at home had had nothing to do with his decision. Certainly not! Nor his father’s remarks about posture, even though they had stuck in his craw—

  He and his father had been alone in the living room, just before dinner, and Matt had been pacing up and down, giving an animated and, he believed, interesting account of the first time he had soloed. His father had taken advantage of a pause to say, “Stand up, son.”

  Matt stopped. “Sir?”

  “You are all crouched over and seem to be limping. Does your leg still bother you?”

  “No, my leg is fine.”

  “Then straighten up and square your shoulders. Look proud. Don’t they pay any attention to your posture at school?”

  “What’s wrong with the way I was walking?”

  Bill had appeared in the door just as the subject had come up. “I’ll show you, Mattie,” he had interrupted, and proceeded to slouch across the room in a grotesque exaggeration of a spaceman’s relaxed and boneless glide. The boy made it look like the amble of a chimpanzee. “You walk like that.”

  “The devil I do!”

  “The devil you don’t.”

  “Bill!” said his father. “Go wash up and get ready for dinner. And don’t talk that way. Go on, now!” When the younger son had left his father turned again to Matt and said, “I thought I was speaking privately, Matt. Honestly, it’s not as bad as Bill makes out; it’s only about half that bad.”

  “But—Look, Dad, I walk just like everybody else—among spacemen, I mean. It comes of getting used to free-fall. You carry yourself sort of pulled in, for days on end, ready to bounce a foot off a bulkhead, or grab with your hands. When you’re back under weight, after days and weeks of that, you walk the way I do. ‘Cat feet’ we call it.”

  “I suppose it would have that effect,” his father had answered reasonably, “but wouldn’t it be a good idea to practice walking a little every day, just to keep in form?”

  “In free-fall? But—” Matt had stopped, suddenly aware that there was no way to bridge the gap.

  “Never mind. Let’s go in to dinner.”

  There had been the usual round of family dinners with aunts and uncles. Everyone asked him to tell about school, about what it felt like to go out into space. But, somehow, they had not actually seemed very interested. Take Aunt Dora.

  Great-aunt Dora was the current family matriarch. She had been a very active woman, busy with church and social work. Now she was bedfast and had been for three years. Matt called on her because his family obviously expected it. “She often complains to me that you don’t write to her, Matt, and—”

  “But, Mother, I don’t have time to write to everyone!”

  “Yes, yes. But she’s proud of you, Matt. She’ll want to ask you a thousand questions about everything. Be sure to wear your uniform—she’ll expect it.”

  Aunt Dora had not asked a thousand questions; she had asked just one—why had he waited so long to come to see her? Thereafter Matt found himself being informed, in detail, on the shortcomings of the new pastor, the marriage chances of several female relatives and connections, and the states of health of several older women, many of them unknown to him, including details of operations and postoperative developments.

  He was a bit dizzy when he escaped, pleading a previous date.

  Yes, maybe that was it—it might have been the visit to Aunt Dora that convinced him that he was not ready to resign and remain in Des Moines. It could not have been Marianne.

  Marianne was the girl who had made him promise to write regularly—and, in fact, he had, more regularly than had she. But he had let her know that he was coming home and she had organized a picnic to welcome him back. It had been jolly. Matt had renewed old acquaintances and had enjoyed a certain amount of hero worship from the girls present. There had been a young man there, three or four years older than Matt, who seemed unattached. Gradually it dawned on Matt that Marianne treated the newcomer as her property.

  It had not worried him. Marianne was the sort of girl who never would get clearly fixed in her mind the distinction between a planet and a star. He had not noticed this before, but it and similar matters had come up on the one date he had had alone with her.

  And she had referred to his uniform as “cute.”

  He began to understand, from Marianne, why most Patrol officers do not marry until their mid-thirties, after retirement.

  The clock in Pikes Peak Station showed thirty minutes until up-ship. Matt began to worry that Tex’s casual way might have caused the other three to miss connections, when he spotted them in the crowd. He grabbed his jump bag and went toward them.

  They had their backs toward him and had not seen him as yet. He sneaked up behind Tex and said in a hoarse voice, “Mister—report to the Commandant’s office.”

  Tex jumped into the air and turned completely around. “Matt! You horse thief, don’t scare me like that!”

  “Your guilty conscience. Hi, Pete. Hello, Oscar.”

  “How’s the boy, Matt? Good leave?”

; “Swell.”

  “Here, too.” They shook hands all around.

  “Let’s get aboard.”

  “Suits.” They weighed in, had their passes stamped, and were allowed to proceed on up to where the New Moon stood upright and ready in the catapult cradle, her mighty wings outstretched. A stewardess showed them to their seats.

  At the ten-minute warning Matt announced, “I’m going up for some makee-learnee. Anybody with me?”

  “I’m going to sleep,” denied Tex.

  “Me, too,” added Pete. “Nobody ever sleeps in Texas. I’m dead.”

  Oscar decided to come along. They climbed up to the control room and spoke to the captain. “Cadets Dodson and Jensen, sir—request permission to observe.”

  “I suppose so,” the captain grunted. “Strap down.” The pilot room of any licensed ship was open to all members of the Patrol, but the skippers on the Terra-to-Station run were understandably bored with the practice.

  Oscar took the inspector’s chair; Matt had to use deck pads and straps. His position gave him an excellent view of the copilot and mate, waiting at the airplane-type controls. If the rocket motor failed to fire, after catapulting, it would be the mate’s business to fight the ship into level flight and bring her down to a deadstick landing on the Colorado prairie.

  The captain manned the rocket-type controls. He spoke to the catapult control room, then sounded the siren. Shortly thereafter the ship mounted up the face of the mountain, at a bone-clamping six gravities. The acceleration lasted only ten seconds; then the ship was flung straight up at the sky, leaving the catapult at 1300 miles per hour.

  They were in free fall and climbing. The captain appeared to be taking his time about cutting in the jet; for a moment Matt held to the excited hope that an emergency landing was going to be necessary. But the jet roared on time.

  When they had settled in their orbit and the jet was again silent, Matt and Oscar thanked the captain and went back to their proper seats. Tex and Pete were both asleep; Oscar followed suit at once. Matt decided that he must have missed quite a bit in letting himself be talked out of finishing his leave in Texas.

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