Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein

  Matt found his throat almost too dry to answer. Tex’s chubby cheeks ran with tears and he made no effort to wipe them.

  Lieutenant Brunn was a source of information for the first couple of days of the investigation. He described the Pathfinder as in good shape, except for the damaged door. On the third day he suddenly shut up. “The Captain doesn’t want the board’s findings discussed until he has had time to study them.”

  Matt passed the word on to the others. “What’s cooking?” demanded Tex. “What can there possibly be to be secret about?”

  “How should I know?”

  “I’ve got a theory,” said Oscar.

  “Huh? What? Spill it.”

  “The Captain wants to prove a man can’t die of curiosity. He figures that you are a perfect test case.”

  “Oh, go soak your head.”

  Captain Yancey called them all together again the following day. “Gentlemen, I appreciate your patience. I have not wanted to discuss what was found in the Pathfinder until I had time to decide what should be done about it. It comes to this: the planetologist with the Pathfinder, Professor Thorwald, came to the unmistakable conclusion that the disrupted planet was inhabited.”

  The room started to buzz. “Quiet, please! There are samples of fossil-bearing rock in the Pathfinder, but there are other exhibits as well, which Professor Thorwald concluded—Dr. Pickering and Commander Miller and I concur—concluded to be artifacts, items worked by intelligent hands.

  “That fact alone would be enough to send a dozen ships scurrying into the asteroid belt,” he went on. “It is probably the most important discovery in System-study since they opened the diggings in Luna. But Professor Thorwald formed another conclusion even more startling. With the aid of the ship’s bomb officer, using the rate-of-radioactive-decay method, he formed a tentative hypothesis that the planet—he calls it Planet Lucifer—was disrupted by artificial nuclear explosion. In other words, they did it themselves.”

  The silence was broken only by the soft sighing of the room’s ventilators. Then Thurlow exploded, “But Captain, that’s impossible!”

  Captain Yancey looked at him. “Do you know all the answers, young man? I’m sure I don’t.”

  “I’m sorry, sir.”

  “In this case I wouldn’t even venture to have an opinion. I’m not competent. However, gentlemen, if it be true, as Professor Thorwald certainly thought it was, then I hardly need point out to you that we have more reason than ever to be proud of our Patrol—and our responsibility is even heavier than we had thought.

  “Now to business—I am very reluctant to leave the Pathfinder where she is. Aside from sentimental reasons she is a ship of the Patrol and she is worth a good many millions. I think we can repair her and take her back.”

  Matt took part in the rebuilding of the inner door of the Pathfinder’s airlock and the checks for airtightness, all under the careful eye of the chief engineer. There was little other damage inside the ship. The rock, or meteor, that had punched the gaping hole in the inner door had expended most of its force in so doing; an inner bulkhead had to be patched and a few dents smoothed. The outer, armored door was quite untouched; it was clear that the invader, by bad chance, had come in while the outer door was standing open.

  The plants in the air-conditioner had died for lack of attention and carbon dioxide. Matt took over the job while the others helped in the almost endless chores of checking every circuit, every instrument, every gadget necessary to the ship’s functioning. It was a job which should have been done at a repair base and could not have been accomplished if there had actually been much wrong.

  Oscar and Matt squeezed an hour out of sleep to explore 1987-CD, a job that mixed mountain climbing with suit-jet work. The asteroid had a gravitational field, of course, but even a mass the size of a small mountain is negligible compared with that of a planet. They simply could not feel it; muscles used to opposing the tenacious pull of robust Terra made nothing of the frail pull of 1987-CD.

  At last the Pathfinder was cast loose and her drive tested by a scratch crew consisting of Captain Yancey at the controls and Lieutenant Novak in the power room. The Aes Triplex lay off a few miles, waited until she blasted her jet for a few seconds, then joined her. The two ships tied together and Captain Yancey and the chief engineer came back into the Aes Triplex.

  “She’s all yours, Hartley,” he announced. “Test her yourself, then take over when you are ready.”

  “If she suits you she suits me. With your permission, sir, I’ll transfer my crew now.”

  “So? Very well, Captain—take command and carry out your orders. Log it, Mister,” Captain Yancey added, over his shoulder to the officer of the watch.

  Thirty minutes later the split crew passed out through the air lock of the Aes Triplex and into the air lock of the other. P.R.S. Pathfinder was back in commission.

  Remaining with the Aes Triplex was Captain Yancey, Lieutenant Thurlow, now executive officer and astrogator, Sublieutenant Peters, now chief engineer, Cadet Jensen, chief communications officer, and Cadets Jarman and Dodson, watch officers, all departments—and Dr. Picketing, ship’s surgeon.

  Commander Miller, captain of the Pathfinder, had one less officer than Captain Yancey, but all of his officers were experienced; Captain Yancey had elected to burden himself with the cadets. He would have assumed command of the derelict himself and taken his chances with her, except for one point—the law did not permit it. He could place a master aboard her and put her back in commission, but there was no one present with authority to relieve him of his own ship—he was prisoner of his own unique status, commanding officer operating alone.

  In her original flight plan it had been intended that the Pathfinder should make port at Deimos, Mars, when Mars overtook her and was in a favorable position. The delay caused by the disaster made the planned orbit quite out of the question; Mars would not be at the rendezvous. Furthermore Captain Yancey wanted to get the astounding evidence contained in the Pathfinder to Terra Base as quickly as possible; there was little point in sending it to the outpost on Mars’ outer satellite.

  Accordingly reaction mass was pumped from the Aes Triplex to the smaller ship until her tanks were full and a fast, fairly direct, though uneconomical, orbit to Earth was plotted for her. The Aes Triplex, using an economical “Hohmann”—type,* much longer orbit, would mosey in past the orbit of Mars, past the orbit of Earth (Earth would not be anywhere close at the time), in still further, swinging around the Sun and out again, catching up with Earth nearly a year later than the Pathfinder. She had mass to accomplish this, even after replenishing the Pathfinder, but she was limited to time-wasting, but fuel-saving, orbits more usual to merchant vessels than to ships of the Patrol.

  Matt, in one of his multiple roles as assistant astrogator, noticed a peculiarity of the orbit and called it to Oscar’s attention. “Say, Oz, come and look at this—when we get to perihelion point, the other side of the Sun, we almost clip a cloud off your hometown. See?”

  Oscar looked over the charted positions. “Well, darn if we don’t! What’s the nearest approach?”

  “Less than a hundred thousand miles. Well tack on her a bit—the Old Man is a heller for efficient orbits, I find. Want to jump ship?”

  “We’d be going a trifle fast for that,” Oscar commented dryly.

  “Oh, where’s the old pioneer spirit? You could swipe one of the jeeps and be gone before you’re missed.”

  “Gosh, I’d like to. It would be nice to have some leave.” Oscar shook his head sadly and stared at the chart.

  “I know what’s eating on you—since you’ve been made the head of a department you’ve acquired a sense of responsibility. How does it feel to be one of the mighty?”

  Tex had come into the chartroom while they were talking. He chipped in with, “Yeah, come on, Oz—tell your public.”

  Oscar’s fair skin turned pink. “Quit riding me, you guys. It’s not my fault.”

  “Okay, you can ge
t up now. Seriously,” Matt went on, “this is quite a break for all of us—acting ship’s officers on what was supposed to be a training tour. You know what I think?”

  “Do you think?” inquired Tex.

  “Shut up. If we keep our noses clean and get any chance to show some stuff, it might mean brevet commissions for all of us.”

  “Captain Yancey give me a brevet?” said Tex. “A fat chance!”

  “Well, Oscar almost certainly. After all, he is chief comm officer.”

  “I tell you that doesn’t mean a thing,” protested Oscar. “Sure, I’ve got the tag—with nobody to communicate with. We’re out of range, except for the Pathfinder, and she’s pulling away fast.”

  “We won’t always be out of range.”

  “It won’t make any difference. Can you see the Old Man letting me—or any of us—do anything without staring down the backs of our necks? Anyhow, I don’t want a brevet. Suppose we got back and it wasn’t confirmed? Embarrassing!”

  “I’d jump at the chance,” announced Tex. “It may be the only way I’ll ever get one.”

  “Drop the orphan-child act, Tex. Suppose your Uncle Bodie heard you talking like that.”

  In fact, the atmosphere in the ship was very different, even though the Captain, or Lieutenant Thurlow, or both, supervised them very carefully. Captain Yancey took to calling them by their first names at mess and dropped the use of “cadet” entirely. He sometimes referred to the “ship’s officers,” using the term so that it plainly included the three cadets. But there was no suggestion of brevet rank made.

  Out of the asteroid belt, out of radio range, and in interminable free fall, the ship’s duties were light. The cadets had plenty of time to study, enough time for card games and bull sessions. Matt caught up with his assignments and reached the point where he was digging into the ship’s library for advanced work, for the courses outlined for them when they left the Randolph had been intended for a short cruise.

  The Captain set up a seminar series, partly to pass his own time and partly as a supplement to their education. It was supposed to illustrate various problems faced by a Patrol officer as a spaceman, or in his more serious role as a diplomatic representative. Yancey lectured well; the cadets found, too, that he could be drawn into reminiscence. It was both enjoyable and instructive and helped to pass the weary weeks.

  At long, long last they were within radio range of Venus—and there was mail for all of them, messages that had been chasing them half around the Solar System. An official despatch from the Department congratulated the Commanding Officer on the recovery of the Pathfinder and commended the ship’s company—this was entered, in due course, in the record of each. A private message from Hartley Miller told Captain Yancey that the trip home had been okay and that the long-hairs were tearing same over the contents of the ship. Yancey read this aloud to them.

  In addition to letters from home, Matt received a wedding announcement from Marianne. He wondered if she had married the young man he had met at the picnic, but he could not be sure of the name—the whole thing seemed very remote. There was a letter, too, to all three cadets date-marked “Leda, Ganymede” from Pete, of the having-a-wonderful-time-wish-you-were-here sort. “Lucky stiff!” said Tex.

  “‘Touring the world’—phooey!”

  Other messages poured in—ships’ movements, technical orders, personnel changes, the accumulated minutiae of a large military organization—and a detailed resumé of the news of four planets from the time they had lost contact to the present.

  Oscar found that Captain Yancey did not breathe on his neck in his duties as communications chief—but by then it did not surprise him. Oscar simply was the comm chief and had almost forgotten that he had ever been anything else.

  He felt, however, that he was really confirmed in his office the day a message came in top cipher, the first not in “clear.” He was forced to ask the Captain for the top-cipher machine, kept in the Captain’s safe. It was turned over to him without comment.

  Oscar was bug-eyed when he took the translated message to Yancey. It read: TRIPLEX—CAN YOU INVESTIGATE TROUBLE EQUATORIAL REGION VENUS—OPERATIONS.

  Yancey glanced at it. “Tell the Executive Officer I want to see him, please. And don’t discuss this.”

  “Aye aye, sir.”

  Thurlow came in somewhat mystified. “What’s up, Captain?”

  Yancey handed him the flimsy. The lieutenant read it and whistled.

  “Can you see any way to comply?”

  “You know how much reaction potential we have, Captain. We could manage a circular orbit. We can’t land.”

  “That’s the way I see it. I suppose we’ll have to refuse—dammit, I’d rather take a whipping than send in a negate. Why did they pick on us? There must be half a dozen other ships better located.”

  “I don’t think so, Captain. I think we are the only available ship. Have you studied the movements file?”

  “Not especially. Why?”

  “Well, the Thomas Paine should be the ship—but she’s grounded at New Auckland for emergency repairs.”

  “I see. There ought to be a standing circum-Venus patrol—there’ll have to be, some day.” Yancey scratched his chin; and looked unhappy.

  “How about this, Captain—”


  “If we change course right now we could do it cheaply. Then we could bring her in for atmospheric braking with no further expenditure. Then ease her down with the jet.”

  “Hmmm—how much margin?”

  Lieutenant Thurlow got a far-away look in his eyes, while he approximated a fourth-order solution in his head. Captain Yancey joined him in the trance, his lips moving soundlessly.

  “Practically none, Captain. After you’ve steadied in circum, you’d have to dive in and accept atmospheric terminal speed, or close to it, before you blasted.”

  Yancey shook his head. “Into Venus? I’d as soon fly a broom on Walpurgis night. No, Mr. Thurlow, we’ll just have to call them up and confess.”

  “Just a minute, Captain—they know we don’t have marines.”

  “Of course.”

  “Then they don’t expect us to deliver police action. What we can do is to send a jeep down.”

  “I’ve been wondering when you would work around to that. All right, Mr. Thurlow—it’s yours. I hand it over reluctantly, but I can’t seem to help it. Never had a mission of our own, have you?”

  “No, sir.”

  “You’re getting one young. Well, I’ll ask Operations for the details while you’re preparing the course change.”

  “Fine, sir! Does the Captain care to designate the cadet to go with me, or shall I pick him?”

  “You’re not going with just one, Lieutenant—you’ll take all three. I want you to leave the jeep manned at all times and I want you to have an armed man at your elbow. The equatorial region of Venus—there is no telling what you’ll run into.”

  “But that leaves you with no one but Peters, sir—not counting the surgeon, of course.”

  “Mr. Peters and I will make out all right. Peters plays a very good hand of cribbage.”

  Details from Operations were slight. The M.R.S. Gary had radioed for help claiming to be imperiled by a native uprising. She had given her position, then radio contact had been lost.

  Yancey elected to use atmospheric braking in any case to save his reaction mass for future use—otherwise the Aes Triplex might have circled Venus until she could be succored. The ship’s company spent a crowded, tiring fifty-six hours shut up in the control room while the ship dipped to the clouds of Venus and out again, a bit deeper and bit slower on each round trip. The ship grew painfully hot and the time spent in free space on each lap was hardly enough to let her radiate what she picked up. Most of the ship was intolerably hot, for the control room and the “farm” were refrigerated at the expense of the other spaces. In space, there is no way to get rid of unwanted heat, permanently, except by radiation—and the kinetic energy diff
erence between the original orbit and the circum-Venus orbit the Captain wanted had to be absorbed as heat, a piece at a time, then radiated into space.

  But at the end of that time three hot, tired, but very excited, young men, with one a little older, were ready to climb into jeep no. 2.

  Matt suddenly remembered something. “Oh, Doctor—Doctor Pickering!” The surgeon had spent a medically uneventful voyage writing a monograph entitled “Some Notes on Comparative Pathologies of the Inhabited Planets” and was now at loose ends. He had relieved Matt as “farmer.”

  “Yes, Matt?”

  “Those new tomato plants—they have to be cross-pollinated three days from now. You’ll do it for me? You won’t forget?”

  “Can do!”

  Captain Yancey guffawed. “Get your feet out of this furrows, Dodson. Forget the farm—we’ll look out for it. Now, gentlemen—” He looked around and caught their eyes. “Try to stay alive. I doubt very much if this mission warrants expending four Patrol officers.”

  As they filed in Tex dug Matt in the ribs. “Did you hear that, kid—‘four Patrol officers.’”

  “Yeah, but look what else he said.”

  Thurlow tucked his orders in his pouch. They were simple: proceed to latitude north two degrees seven, longitude two hundred twelve degrees zero; locate the Gary and investigate reported native uprising. Keep the peace.

  The lieutenant settled himself and looked around at his crew. “Hold your hats, boys. Here we go!”

  * : Hohmann, Dr. Walter—The Attainability of the Celestial Bodies, Munich, 1925. This pioneer work in astrogation, written long before the flight of the Kilroy Was Here, remains the foundation work in its field. All subsequent work is refinement of basic principles set forth by Hohmann.

  With Thurlow at the controls and Matt in the co-pilot’s seat the jeep started down. It started with an orbital speed of better than four miles per second, the speed of the Aes Triplex in her tight circular orbit around the equator of Venus. The lieutenant’s purpose was to kill this speed exactly over his destination, then balance the jeep down on its tail. A jet landing was necessary, as the jeep had no wings.

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