Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein

  “What? This is no time to joke. I sent for a regiment of marines, equipped for amphibious operations.”

  “Maybe you did, but this is what you got—total. Lieutenant Thurlow is in command, but he got a crack on the skull so I’m temporarily filling in for him. You can talk to me—what’s the situation?”

  Burke seemed dazed by the knowledge. He stared without speaking. Oscar went on, “Snap out of it, Stinky. Give us the data, so we can work out an operation plan.”

  “Huh? Oh, it’s no use. It’s utterly hopeless.”

  “What’s so hopeless? The natives seem friendly, on the whole. Tell us what the difficulty was, so we can work it out with them.”

  “Friendly!” Burke gave a bitter laugh. “They killed all of my men. They’re going to kill me. And they’ll kill you.”

  “Okay,” agreed Oscar. “Now that that’s settled, I still want to know the score. Suppose you pull yourself together, Burke, and tell us what happened?”

  The merchant rocketship Gary, built by “Reactors Ltd.” and transferred to the family corporation “System Enterprises,” was a winged rocket especially fitted for point-to-point operations on Venus. The elder Mr. Burke had placed his son in command, backing him up with an experienced crew; the purpose of the trip was to investigate a tip concerning ores of the trans-uranic elements.

  The tip had been good; the ores were present in abundance. Young Burke had then undertaken to negotiate exploitation rights with the local Venerian authorities in order to hold the valuable claim against other exploiters who were sure to follow.

  He had not been able to interest the local “mother of many” in his wishes; the swamp he wanted, she gave Burke to understand, was tabu. However, he was able to intrigue her into visiting the Gary. Once aboard the ship he again tried to get her to change her mind. When she turned him down again he had refused to allow her to leave the rocket ship.

  “You mean you kidnapped her,” said Matt.

  “Nothing of the sort. She came aboard of her own free will. I just didn’t get up and open the door for her and went on arguing.”

  “Oh, yeah?” commented Oscar. “How long did this go on?”

  “Not very long.”

  “Exactly how long? You might as well tell me; I’ll find out from the natives.”

  “Oh, well! Overnight—what’s so criminal about that?”

  “I don’t know just how criminal it is here. On Mars, as I learned in school and as I’m sure you did too, the punishment would be to stake you out on the desert, unprotected, for exactly the same length of time.”

  “Hell’s hells—I didn’t hurt her. I’m not that silly. I wanted her cooperation.”

  “So you twisted her arm to get it. You held her prisoner, in effect kidnapped her by enticement and held her for ransom. Okay—you kept her overnight. What happened when you let her go?”

  “That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I never got a chance to turn her loose. I was going to, of course, but—”

  “Sez you!”

  “Don’t get sarcastic. The next morning they attacked the ship. There must have been thousands of the beasts.”

  “So you turned her loose?”

  “I was afraid to. I figured as long as we held her nothing much could happen to us. But I was wrong—they poured something on the door that ate it right away and they were in the ship before we could stop them. They killed my crew, just overran them—but we must have gotten at least twice as many of them, the brutes!”

  “How come you’re still breathing?”

  “I locked myself in the comm room and sent out the call for help that got you here. They didn’t find me there until they went through the ship, compartment by compartment. I must have passed out from the fumes when they melted their way in—anyhow I woke up while they were bringing me here.”

  “I see.” Oscar sat a while and thought, his knees pulled up under his chin. “This is your first time on Venus, Stinky?”

  “Well, yes.”

  “I thought so. It’s apparent that you didn’t know just how stubborn and difficult the Little People can be if you start pushing them around.”

  Burke looked wry. “I know now. That’s why I distinctly called for a regiment of marines. I can’t imagine what the Department was thinking about, to send three cadets and a watch officer. Of all the brass-hatted stupidity! My old man will raise plenty of Cain about it when I get back.”

  Tex gave a snort of disgust. “Did you think the Patrol was invented to keep a jughead like you from having to pay for his fun?”

  “Why, you—”

  “Quiet, Burke. And never mind the side remarks, Tex. This is an investigation, not a debate. You know the Patrol never sends marines until they’ve tried negotiation, Burke.”

  “Sure, that’s why I specified marines. I wanted them to cut the red tape and get some action.”

  “You were kidding yourself. And there’s no point in talking about what you’ll do when you get back. We don’t know yet that we can get back.”

  “That’s true.” Burke chewed his lip and thought about it. “Look here, Jensen, you and I were never very chummy in school, but that’s unimportant now; we’re in the same boat and we’ve got to stick together. I’ve got a proposition. You know these frogs better than I do—”

  “People, not ‘frogs.’”

  “Okay, you know the natives. If you can manage to square this and get me out of here, I can cut you in on—”

  “Careful there, Burke!”

  “Don’t get on your high horse. Just hear me out, will you? Just listen. Do I have free speech or don’t I?”

  “Let him talk, Oz,” advised Tex. “I like to watch his tonsils.”

  Oscar held his tongue, Burke went on, “I wasn’t going to suggest anything that would smirch your alabaster character. After all, you’re here to get me out of this; it’s my business if I want to offer a reward. Now this swamp we staked out is loaded with the stuff—trans-uranics, all the way from element 97 through 104. I don’t have to tell you what that means—101 and 103 for jet-lining alloys; 100 for cancer therapy—not to mention the catalyzing uses. Why, there’s millions in catalysts alone. I’m no hog; I’ll cut you all in…say for ten per cent apiece.”

  “Is that all you have to say?”

  “Not quite. If you can work it so that they’ll let us go and leave us alone while we jury-rig some repairs on the Gary so that we can get away with a load this trip, I’ll make it twenty per cent. You’ll like the Gary; she’s the sweetest job in the System. But if that won’t work and you can get me back in your ship it’s still worth ten per cent.”

  “Are you through?”


  “I can answer for all of us. If I didn’t consider the source, I’d be insulted.”

  “Fifteen per cent. There’s no need to get shirty; after all, it’s absolutely free just for doing what you were ordered down here to do anyhow.”

  “Oz,” said Matt, “do we have to listen to this tripe?”

  “Not any more of it,” decided Jensen. “He’s had his say. Burke, I’ll keep this factual and leave my personal opinions out of it. You can’t hire the Patrol, you know that. In—”

  “I wasn’t offering to hire you, I was just trying to do you a favor, show my appreciation.”

  “I’ve got the floor. In the second place, we haven’t got a ship, not at present.”

  “Huh? What’s that?” Burke seemed startled.

  Oscar gave him a quick resumé of the fate of the jeep. Burke looked both amazed and terribly, bitterly disappointed. “Well, of all the gang of stupes! Just forget that offer; you haven’t got anything to sell.”

  “I’ve already forgotten it and you had better be glad I have. Let me point out that we wouldn’t have been making a jet-landing in a jungle if you hadn’t made an ass of yourself and then called for help. However, we hope to recover the jeep if I can manage to smooth out the trouble you’ve caused—and that’s no small job.”

bsp; “Well, of course if you can square things and get your ship back, the offer stands.”

  “Stop talking about that clumsy piece of bribery! We can’t possibly promise you anything, even if we wanted to. We’ve got our mission to carry out.”

  “Okay—your mission is to get me out of here. It comes to the same thing; I was just being generous.”

  “Our mission isn’t anything of the sort. Our prime mission is what the prime mission of the Patrol always is: to keep the peace. Our orders read to investigate a reported native uprising—there isn’t any—and ‘keep the peace.’ There’s not a word about springing Girard Burke from the local jail and giving him a free ride home.”


  “I’m not through. You know how the Patrol works as well as I do. It acts in remote places and a Patrol officer has to use his own judgment, being guided by the Tradition—”

  “Well, if it’s precedent you’re looking for, you’ve got to—”

  “Shut up! Precedent is merely the assumption that somebody else, in the past with less information, nevertheless knows better than the man on the spot. If you had gotten any use out of the time you spent as a cadet, you’d know that the Tradition is something very different. To follow a tradition means to do things in the same grand style as your predecessors; it does not mean to do the same things.”

  “Okay, okay—you can skip the lecture.”

  “I need some information from you. Had the Little People here ever seen a man before you came along?”

  “Uh…why, they knew about men, a little anyhow. Of course there was Stevens.”

  “Who was Stevens?”

  “Mineralogist, working for my old man. He did the quickie survey that caused us to bring the Gary in. Oh, there was his pilot, too.”

  “And those are the only men these natives have encountered, aside from the crew of the Gary?”

  “So far as I know, yes.”

  “Have they ever heard of the Patrol?”

  “I doubt it—yes, they have, too. At least the boss mother seemed to know the native word for it.”

  “Hmm…that rather surprises me. So far as I know the Patrol has never had any occasion to land this near the equator—and if it had I think Captain Yancey would have briefed us about it.”

  Burke shrugged. Oscar went on, “It affects what we’re to do. You’ve stirred up a mess, Burke. With the discovery of valuable minerals here, there will be more men coming along. The way you’ve started things off there could be more and more trouble, until there was nothing but guerrilla warfare between the natives and the men, everywhere you looked. It might even spread to the poles. It’s the Patrol’s business to stamp out such things before they get started and that’s what I construe our mission here to be. I’ve got to apologize and smooth it over and do my darnedest to correct a first bad impression. Can you give me any more information, anything at all, that might help me when I try it?”

  “I don’t think so. But go ahead—soft-soap the old girl any way you can. You can even pretend to take me away from here under arrest if it will do any good. Say, that might be a good idea! I’ll be agreeable to it just as long as I get out.”

  Oscar shook his head. “I might take you out under arrest, if she wants it that way. But as far as I can see you are a perfectly legal prisoner here for a crime under the local customs.”

  “What in the world are you talking about?”

  “I might point out that what you’ve admitted doing is a crime anywhere. You can be tried for it on Terra if she wants it that way. But it really doesn’t matter to me, one way or the other. It’s no business of the Patrol.”

  “But you can’t leave me here!”

  Oscar shrugged. “That’s the way I see it. Lieutenant Thurlow might snap out of it at any time, then you could take it up with him. As long as I’m in charge I’m not going to jeopardize the Patrol’s mission to try to help you get away with murder—and I do mean murder!”

  “But—” Burke looked wildly around him. “Tex! Matt! Are you going to let him side up with those frog-people against a man?”

  Matt gave him a stony-eyed stare. Tex said, “Button your lip, Stinky.”

  Oscar added, “Yes, do. And go to sleep. My arm hurts and I don’t want to be bothered any more with you tonight.”

  The room quieted down at once, even though none of them got to sleep quickly. Matt lay awake a long time, worrying out their predicament, wondering whether or not Oscar could convince the frog mother—he thought of her as such—of the innocence of their intentions, and repeatedly blaming himself for the disaster to the jeep. Presently he fell into an exhausted sleep.

  He was awakened by a moaning sound. It brought him wide awake at once and to the lieutenant’s side. He found Tex already awake with him. “What is it?” he asked. “Is he worse?”

  “He keeps trying to say something,” Tex answered.

  Thurlow’s eyes came open and he looked up at Matt. “Maman,” he said querulously. “Maman—pourquoi fait-il nuit ainsi?”

  Oscar joined them. “What’s he saying?”

  “Sounds like he’s calling for his momma,” said Tex. “The rest is just gibberish.”

  “Where did that bladder get to? We could give him a drink.” It was found and again the patient drank, then seemed to drop at once to sleep. “You guys go back to sleep,” said Oscar. “I want to snag a word with the guard that brings us our next meal and try to get to see the big mother. He’s got to have some medical attention, somehow.”

  “I’ll take the watch, Oz,” Matt offered.

  “No, I can’t sleep very well anyhow. This darn thing itches.” He held up his damaged arm.

  “Well—all right.”

  Matt was still awake when the curtain opened. Oscar had been sitting cross-legged at the door, waiting; as the native shoved inside a platter of food, he thrust his arm into the opening.

  “Remove thy arm,” said the native emphatically.

  “Attend thou me,” insisted Oscar. “I must have speech with thy mother.”

  “Remove thy arm.”

  “Thou wilt carry my message?”

  “Remove thy arm!”

  Oscar did so and the curtain was hurriedly secured. Matt said, “Doesn’t look as if they intended to powwow with us, does it, Oz?”

  “Keep your shirt on,” Oscar answered. “Breakfast. Wake up the others.”

  It was the same dull fodder as before. “Split it five ways, Tex,” Oscar directed. “The lieutenant may snap out of it and be hungry.”

  Burke looked at it and sniffed. “I’m sick of that stuff. I don’t want any.”

  “Okay, split it four ways.” Tex nodded and did so.

  They ate; presently Matt sat back, burped reflectively, and said, “You know, while I could use some orange juice and coffee, that stuff’s not bad.”

  “Did I ever tell you,” asked Tex, “about the time my Uncle Bodie got incarcerated in the jail at Juarez?—by mistake, of course.”

  “Of course,” agreed Oscar. “What happened?”

  “Well, they fed him nothing but Mexican jumping beans. He—”

  “Didn’t they upset him?”

  “Not a bit. He ate as many as he could and a week later he jumped over a twelve foot wall and bounced home.”

  “Having met your Uncle Bodie, I can well believe it. What do you suppose he would do under these circumstances?”

  “Obvious. He’d make love to the old girl and inside of three days he’d be head man around here.”

  “I think I’ll have some breakfast after all.” announced Burke.

  “You’ll leave that chow for the lieutenant,” Oscar said firmly. “You had your chance.”

  “You’ve got no authority over me.”

  “There are two reasons why you are wrong.”

  “So? What are they?”

  “Matt and Tex.”

  Tex stood up. “Shall I clip him, boss?”

  “Not yet.”

  “Oh, shucks!”
  “Anyhow,” objected Matt. “I get first crack—I’m senior to you, Tex.”

  “Pulling rank on me, eh? Why you unspeakable rat!’

  “Mister Rat, if you please, Yep, in this instance I claim rank.”

  “But this is a social occasion.”

  “Shut up, you guys,” instructed Oscar. “Neither of you is to clip him unless he gets to sniffing around that food dish.”

  There was a noise at the door, the curtain was pushed back and a native announced, “My mother will see thee. Come.”

  “Myself alone, or me and my sisters?”

  “All of you. Come.”

  However, when Burke attempted to pass through the door two of the little creatures pushed him back inside. They continued, to restrain him while four others picked up Lieutenant Thurlow and carried him outside. The numerous party set out down the passageway.

  “I wish they would light these rabbit nests,” Tex complained, after stumbling.

  “It’s light enough to their eyes,” Oscar answered.

  “Natch,” agreed Tex, “but a fat lot of good that do me. My eyes don’t see infrared.”

  “Then pick up your big feet.”

  They were taken to another large room, not the entrance hall, for it contained no pool of water. An amphibian, the same who had viewed them and ordered them taken away on their arrival, sat on a raised platform at the far end of the room. Only Oscar recognized her as such; to the others she looked like the rest.

  Oscar quickened his pace and drew ahead of his escort “Greetings, thou old and wise mother of many.”

  She sat up and looked at him steadily. The room was very quiet. On every side the little folk waited, looking first from the earthlings to their chief executive, then back again. Matt felt that somehow the nature of her answer would show them their fate.

  “Greetings.” She had chucked the ball back to Oscar by refusing to assign him any title at all, good or bad. “Thou sought speech with me. Thou may speak.”

  “What manner of city is thine? Have I, perhaps, journeyed so far that manners are no longer observed?” The Venerian word meant much more than “manners”; it referred to the entire obligatory code of custom by which the older and stronger looked out for the weaker and younger.

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