Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein

  “What list? Oh, you mean the ‘Passed’ list. Don’t bother me, children—you’re talking to a free man.”

  “So they finally bounced you?”

  “Like fun! Resignation accepted, effective today. I’m going in business with my father.”

  “Going to build sky junk, eh? I don’t envy you.”

  “No, we’re starting an export line, with our own ships. The next time you see me, just remember to address me as ‘Captain.’” He moved away.

  “I’ll ‘captain’ him,” Tex muttered. “I’ll bet he resigned by request.”

  “Maybe not,” conceded Matt. “Girard is a smooth character. Well, we’ve seen the last of him.”

  “And a good thing, too.”

  Tex was missing after lunch. He showed up after nearly two hours. “I worked it. Shake hands with your new shipmate.”

  “Huh? No fooling!”

  “Fact. First I located Dvorak and convinced him that he would rather have a ship in the circum-Terra patrol than the Aes Triplex—so he could see his girl oftener. Then I went to see the Commandant and pointed out to him that you guys were used to having the benefit of my advice and would be lost without it. That’s all there was to it. The Commandant saw the wisdom of my words and approved the swap with Dvorak.”

  “Not for that reason, I’ll bet,” Matt answered. “Probably he wanted me to continue to look out for you.”

  Tex took on an odd look. “Do you know, Matt, you aren’t so far wrong.”

  “Really? I was just kidding.”

  “What he did say was that he thought Cadet Jensen would be a good influence on me. What do you think of that, Oscar?”

  Oscar snorted. “If I’ve reached the place where I’m a good influence on anybody, it’s time I cultivated some new vices.”

  “I’d be glad to help.”

  “I don’t want you, I want your Uncle Bodie—there’s a man of the world.”

  Three weeks later, at Moon Base, Oscar and Matt were settling into their stateroom in the Aes Triplex. Matt was not feeling his best; the previous evening at Tycho Colony had been late and noisy. They had taken the last possible shuttle to Moon Base.

  The ship’s phone in their room sounded; Matt answered it to get the squeal out of his ears. “Yes? Cadet Dodson speaking—”

  “Officer of the watch. Is Jensen there too?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Both of you report to the Captain.”

  “Aye aye, sir.” Matt turned a troubled face to Oscar. “What’ll I do, Oz? The rest of my uniforms are over at the base tailor shop—and this one I’ve got on looks as if I had slept in it.”

  “You did. Wear one of mine.”

  “Thanks, but it would fit me like socks on a rooster. Do you suppose I have time to run over and pick up my clean ones?”


  Matt rubbed the stubble on his chin. “I ought to shave, anyhow.”

  “Look,” said Oscar, “if I’m any judge of skippers, you’ll do better to show up naked as an oyster and with a beard down to here, than to keep him waiting. Let’s get going.”

  The door opened and Tex stuck his head in. “Say—did you guys get a call to report to the Old Man?”

  “Yes—Tex, can you lend me a clean uniform?”

  Tex could. Matt crossed the passageway to Tex’s tiny room and changed. He belted in tightly at the waist, distributed the wrinkles in back, and hoped for the best. The three headed for the cabin.

  “I’m glad I don’t have to report by myself,” Tex announced. “I’m nervous.”

  “Relax,” Oscar advised. “Captain McAndrews is supposed to be a very human sort of a guy.”

  “Hadn’t you heard? McAndrews is detached—busted his ankle. At the last minute the Department ordered Captain Yancey to command the expedition.”

  “Yancey!” Oscar let out a low whistle. “Oh, my sore feet!”

  “What’s the matter, Oscar?” Matt demanded. “You know him?”

  “My father knew him. Father had the fresh-foods contract for the port at New Auckland when Yancey—Lieutenant Yancey, then—was portmaster.” They stopped outside the commanding officer’s cabin.

  “That ought to give you an inside track.”

  “Not likely! They didn’t get along.”

  “I wonder if I did right,” Tex mused darkly, “when I wangled the swap from the Oak Ridge?”

  “Too late to fret. Well, I guess we might—” Oscar stopped speaking, for the door in front of them suddenly opened and they found themselves facing the commanding officer. He was tall, wide-shouldered, and flat-hipped, and so handsome that he looked like a television star playing a Patrol officer.

  “Well?” he snapped. “Don’t stand chatting outside my door. Come in!”

  They filed in silently. Captain Yancey sat down, facing them, and looked them over, one after the other. “What’s the trouble, gentlemen?” he said presently. “Are you all struck dumb?”

  Tex found his voice. “Cadet Jarman, sir, reporting to the Captain.” Yancey’s eyes flicked over to Matt.

  Matt wet his lips. “Cadet Dodson, sir.”

  “Cadet Jensen, sir, reporting as ordered.” The office looked at Oscar sharply, then spoke to him in Venerian.

  “Do these ears detect some echo of the speech of the Fair Planet?

  “It is true, thou old and wise one.”

  “Never could stand that silly talk,” Yancey commented, relapsing into Basic. “I won’t ask you where you are from, but—is your father in the provisions racket?”

  “My father is a food wholesaler, sir.”

  “I thought so.” The Captain continued to look at him for a moment, then turned to Matt. “Now, Mister, what is the idea of the masquerade? You look like a refugee from an emigrant ship.”

  Matt tried to explain; Yancey cut him short. “I’m not interested in excuses. I keep a taut ship. Remember that.”

  “Aye aye, sir.”

  The Captain settled back and struck a cigarette. “Now, gentlemen, you are no doubt wondering as to why I sent for you. I must admit to a slight curiosity as to the sort of product the old school is turning out. In my day, it was a real course of sprouts and no nonsense about it. But now I understand that the psychologists have taken over and the old rules are all changed.”

  He leaned forward and fixed Matt with his eyes. “They aren’t changed here, gentlemen. In my ship, the old rules still obtain.”

  No one answered. Yancey waited, then went on, “The regulations state that you shall pay a social call on your commanding officer within twenty-four hours after reporting to a new ship or station. Please consider that the social call has commenced. Sit down, gentlemen. Mr. Dodson, you will find coffee over there on your left. Will you please favor me by pouring it?”

  Forty minutes later they left, feeling quite confused. Yancey had demonstrated that he could put them most charmingly at their ease and had displayed a dry, warm wit and a gift for telling anecdotes. Matt decided that he liked him.

  But just as they left Yancey glanced at his clock and laid, “I’ll see you later, Mr. Dodson—in fifteen minutes.”

  Once they were outside Tex demanded, “What’s he want to see you for, Matt?”

  “Can’t you guess?” answered Oscar. “Look, Matt, I’ll tear over to the tailor shop for you—you can’t do that and shave, too, not in fifteen minutes.”

  “You’re a lifesaver, Oz!”

  P.R.S. AES Triplex blasted from Moon Base thirteen hours later in a trajectory intended to produce an elliptical orbit with its far end in the asteroid belt. Her orders were to search for the missing P.R.S. Pathfinder. The Pathfinder had been engaged in radar-charting a sector of the asteroid belt for the Uranographic Office of the Patrol. Her mission had taken her beyond the range of ship-type radio; nevertheless she should have reported in by radio nearly six months earlier, at which time she should have been approaching conjunction with Mars. But Deimos Station, around Mars, had been unable to raise the Pathfind
er; she was presumed lost.

  The possible locations of the Pathfinder were a moving zone in space, defined by using geometry, ballistics, the characteristics of the ship, her mission, and her last reported location, course, and speed. This zone was divided into four sectors and the Aes Triplex was to search one sector while three other Patrol vessels covered the other sectors. The joint task was designated “Operation Samaritan” but each ship was independent as they necessarily would be too far apart to be commanded as a task force.

  While searching, the rescue vessels would continue the Pathfinder’s mission of charting the space drift that clutters the asteroid belt.

  In addition to the commanding officer and the three cadets, the company of the Aes Triplex included Commander Hartley Miller, executive officer and astrogator, Lieutenant Novak, Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Thurlow, Bomb Officer, Lieutenant Brunn, Communications Officer, Sublieutenants Peters, Gomez, and Cleary, assistant engineer and communications watch officers respectively, and Dr. Pickering, ship’s surgeon, along to care for survivors—if any were found.

  The ship contained no marines, unless one chooses to count Dr. Pickering, who was technically a staff corps member of the marines rather than a member of the Patrol. I think every task in the ship would be performed by the officers or cadets. Time was when the lowliest subaltern in an infantry regiment had his personal servant, but servants are so expensive a luxury in terms of fuel and space and food to lift through millions of miles of space. Besides that, a few manual tasks are a welcome relief from boredom in the endless monotony of space; even the undesirable chore of cleaning the refresher was taken in turn by the entire ship’s company, in accordance with custom, except for the Captain, the Executive Officer, and the Surgeon.

  Captain Yancey assigned Lieutenant Thurlow as training officer who in turn set up the jobs of assistant astrogator, junior communication watch officer, junior assistant engineer, and assistant bomb officer and arranged a schedule of rotation among these—quite unnecessary—positions. It was also Mr. Thurlow’s job to see to it that Matt, Oscar, and Tex made intensive use of the one study projector available to the cadets.

  The Executive Officer assigned other tasks not directly concerned with formal training. Matt was appointed the ship’s “farmer.” As the hydroponics tanks supply both fresh air and green vegetables to a ship he was responsible for the ship’s air-conditioning and shared with Lieutenant Brunn the tasks of the ship’s mess.

  Theoretically every ration taken aboard a Patrol vessel is pre-cooked and ready for eating as soon as it is taken out of freeze and subjected to the number of seconds, plainly marked on the package, of high-frequency heating required. Actually many Patrol officers fancy themselves chefs. Mr. Brunn was one and his results justified his conceit—the Aes Triplex set a good table.

  Matt found that Mr. Brunn expected more of the “farm” than that the green plants should scavenge carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with oxygen; the mess officer wanted tiny green scallions, fragrant fresh mint, cherry tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, new potatoes. Matt began to wonder whether it wouldn’t have been simpler to have stayed in Iowa and grown tall corn.

  When he started in as air-conditioning officer Matt was not even sure how to take a carbon-dioxide count, but shortly he was testing his growing solutions and adding capsules of salts with the confidence and speed of a veteran, thanks to Brunn and to spool #62A8134 from the ship’s files—“Simplified Hydroponics for Spaceships, with Growth Charts and Additives Formulae.” He began to enjoy tending his “farm.”

  Until human beings give up the habit of eating, spaceships on long cruises must carry about seven hundred pounds of food per man per year. The green plants grown in a ship’s air-conditioner enable the stores officer to get around this limitation to some extent, as the growing plants will cycle the same raw materials—air, carbon dioxide, and water—over and over again with only the addition of quite small quantities of such salts as potassium nitrate, iron sulphate, and calcium phosphate.

  The balanced economy of a spaceship is much like that of a planet; energy is used to make the cycles work but the same raw materials are used over and over again. Since beefsteak and many other foods can’t be grown conveniently aboard ship some foods have to be carried and the ship tends to collect garbage, wastepaper, and other trash. Theoretically this could be processed back into the cycles of balanced biological economy, but in practice this is too complicated.

  However, all mass in an atomic powered ship can be used, if desired, as reaction mass, mass for the rocket jet. The radioactive materials in the power pile of an atom-powered ship are not themselves used up to any great extent; instead they heat other materials to extreme temperatures and expel them out the rocket tube at very high speeds, as a sort of “steam” jet.

  Even though turnip greens and such can be used in the jet, the primary purpose of the “farm” is to take the carbon dioxide out of the air. For this purpose each man in the ship must be balanced by about ten square feet of green plant leaf. Lieutenant Brunn, with his steady demands for variety in fresh foods, usually caused Matt to have too much growing at one time; the air in the ship would get too fresh and the plants would start to fail for lack of carbon dioxide to feed on. Matt had to watch his CO2 count and sometimes build it up by burning waste paper or plant cuttings.

  Brunn kept a file of seeds in his room; Matt went there one “day” (ship’s time) to draw out Persian melon seeds and set a crop. Brunn told him to help himself. Matt rummaged away, then said, “For the love of Pete! Look at this, Mr. Brunn.”

  “Huh?” The officer looked at the package Matt held. The outside was marked, “Seeds, melon, Persian—jumbo fancy, stock #12-Q4728-a”; the envelope inside read “Seed, pansies, giant variegated.”

  Brunn shook his head. “Let that be a lesson, Dodson—never trust a stock clerk—or you’ll wind up half way to Pluto with a gross of brass spittoons when you ordered blank spacecharts.”

  “What’ll I substitute? Cantaloupe?”

  “Let’s grow some watermelon—the Old Man likes watermelon.”

  Matt left with watermelon that he took along the truant pansy seeds.

  Eight weeks later he devised a vase of sorts by covering a bowl from the galley with the same sponge-cellulose sheet which was used to restrain the solutions used in his farming, thereby to keep said solutions from floating around the “farm” compartment during free fall. He filled his vase with water, arranged his latest crop therein, and clipped the whole to the mess table as a centerpiece.

  Captain Yancey smiled broadly when he appeared for dinner and saw the gay display of pansies. “Well, gentlemen,” he applauded, “this is most delightful. All the comforts of home!” He looked along the table at Matt. “I suppose we have you to thank for this, Mr. Dodson?”

  “Yes, sir.” Matt’s ears turned pink.

  “A lovely idea. Gentlemen, I move that we divest Mr. Dodson of the plebeian title of ‘farmer’ and designate him ‘horticulturalist extraordinary.’ Do I hear a second?” There were nine “ayes” and a loud “no” from Commander Miller. A second ballot, proposed by the Chief Engineer, required the Executive Officer to finish his meal in the galley.

  Lieutenant Brunn explained the mishap that resulted in the flower garden. Captain Yancey frowned. “You’ve checked the rest of your supply of seeds, of course, Mr. Brunn?”

  “Uh, no, sir.”

  “Then do so.” Lieutenant Brunn immediately started to leave the table, “—after dinner,” added the Captain. Brunn resumed his place.

  “That puts me in mind of something that happened to me when I was ‘farmer’ in the old Percival Lowell—the one before the present one,” Yancey went on. “We had touched at Venus South Pole and had managed somehow to get a virus infection, a sort of rust, into the ‘farm’—don’t look so superior, Mr. Jensen; someday you’ll come a cropper with a planet that is new to you!”

  “Me, sir? I wasn’t looking superior.”

No? Smiling at the pansies, no doubt?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Hmmph! As I was saying, we got this rust infection and about ten days out I didn’t have any more farm than an Eskimo. I cleaned the place out, sterilized, and reseeded. Same story. The infection was all through the ship and I couldn’t chase it down. We finished that trip on preserved foods and short rations and I wasn’t allowed to eat at the table the rest of the trip.” He smiled to himself, then shouted at the galley door, “How you getting along in there, Red?”

  The Executive Officer appeared in the doorway, a spoon in one hand, covered dish in the other. “Fine,” he answered in a muffled voice, “I just ate your dessert, Captain.”

  Lieutenant Brunn shouted, “Hey! Commander! Stop! Don’t! Those berries are for breakfast.”

  “Too late.” Commander Miller wiped his mouth.


  “Yes, Dodson?”

  “What did you do about air-conditioning?”

  “Well, Mister, what would you have done?”

  Matt studied it. “Well, sir, I would have jury-rigged something to take the Cee-Oh-Two out of the air.”

  “Precisely. I exhausted the air from an empty compartment, suited up, and drilled a couple of holes to the outside. Then I did a piping job to carry foul air out of the dark side of the ship in a fractional still arrangement—freeze out the water first, then freeze out the carbon dioxide. Pesky thing was always freezing up solid and forcing me to tinker with it. But it worked well enough to get us home.” Yancey backed away from the table. “Hartley, if you’re through making a pig of yourself, let’s run over that meteor-layout. I’ve got an idea.”

  The ship was approaching the orbit of Mars and soon would be in the comparatively hazardous zone of the asteroids and their company of space drift. Matt was rotated, in turn, to assistant astrogator, but continued as ship’s farmer. Tex looked him up one day in the hydroponics compartment. “Hey! Hayseed—”

  “Hey yourself, Tex.”

  “Got the south forty plowed yet? Looks like rain.” Tex pretended to study the blinking lights used to stimulate plant growth, then looked away. “Never mind—I’m here on business. The Old Man wants to see you.”

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