Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein

  Oscar stared off into space a moment. “It beats me,” he said. “The only thing I can think of is catalyst chemist—they must have catalyst chemistry down to the point where they can do things without fuss that we do with heat and pressure.”

  “Why try to figure it out?” asked Tex. “You’ll probably get the wrong answer. Just let it go that they’ve forgotten more about chemistry than we’ll ever learn. And we get the ‘go’ juice.”

  For two days a steady procession of little folk had formed a double line from the water’s edge to the Astarte, bearing full bladders toward the ship and returning with empty ones. Thurlow was already aboard, still attended by his patient little nurses. Burke was brought to the ship under escort and turned loose. The cadets let him alone, which seemed to disconcert him. He looked the ship over—it was the first he had heard of it—and finally sought out Jensen.

  “If you think I’m going to ride in that flying coffin you’re greatly mistaken.”

  “Suit yourself.”

  “Well, what are you going to do about it?”

  “Nothing. You can stay in the jungle, or try to persuade the city mother to take you back.”

  Burke considered it. “I think I’ll stay with the frogs. If you get through, you can tell them where I am and have them come get me.”

  “I’ll tell them where you are all right and all the rest of it, too.”

  “You needn’t think you can scare me.” Burke went away.

  He returned shortly. “I’ve changed my mind. I’m coming with you.”

  “You mean they wouldn’t have you.”


  “Very well,” answered Cadet Jensen, “the local authorities having declined jurisdiction, I arrest you under the colonial code titled ‘Relations with Aborigines,’ charges and specifications to be made known to you at your arraignment and not necessarily limited to the code cited. You are warned that anything you say may be used in evidence against you.”

  “You can’t do this!”

  “Matt! Tex! Take him in and strap him down.”

  “With pleasure!” They strapped him to an acceleration rest mounted in the galley, where, they had agreed, he would be the least nuisance. Done, they reported it to Jensen.

  “See here, Oz,” Matt added, “do you think you can make any charges stick against him?”

  “I rather doubt it, unless they allow our hearsay under a ‘best evidence’ rule. Of course he ought to be strung up higher than the Milky Way, but the best I expect is to get his license revoked and his passport lifted. The Patrol will believe our story and that’s enough for those items.”

  Less than an hour later Thurlow’s nurses left the ship and the cadets said good-by to the mother-of-many, a flowery, long-winded business in which Oscar let himself be trapped into promising to return some day. But at last he closed the outer door and Tex clamped it. “Are you sure they understand how to keep clear of our blast?” asked Matt.

  “I paced off the safety line with her myself and heard her give the orders. Quit worrying and get to your station.”

  “Aye aye, sir.”

  Matt and Oscar went forward, Oscar with the ancient log tucked in his sling. Tex took station at the hand throttles. Oscar sat down in the co-pilot’s chair and opened the log to the page of the last entry. He took a stub of pencil that he had found in the galley, wet it in his mouth, entered the date, and wrote in a large hand: RECOMMISSIONED.

  He paused and said to Matt, “I still think we ought to shift the command.”

  “Stow it,” said Matt. “If Commodore Arkwright can command the Randolph with his lights gone, you can command the Tart with a busted wing.”

  “Okay, if that’s the way you want it.” He continued to write,

  O. Jensen, acting captain

  M. Dodson, pilot and astrogator

  W. Jarman, chief engineer

  Lt. R. Thurlow, passenger (sick list)

  G. Burke, passenger, civilian (prisoner)

  “Muster the crew, Mister.”

  “Aye aye, sir. Call your name, too, Oz?”

  “Sure, its a short list as it is.”

  “How about Stinky?”

  “Of course not! I’ve got him billed as cargo.”

  Matt took a deep breath and, speaking close to the speaking tube so that Tex could hear, called out: “Lieutenant Thurlow!”

  Oscar replied, “I answer for him.” He glanced back at the lieutenant, strapped in the inspector’s rest where they could keep an eye on him. Thurlow opened his eyes with the puzzled, questioning look he always showed on the rare occasions when he seemed to be aware of anything.




  “Here!” Tex called back, his voice muffled and hollow through the tube.

  Matt said, “Dodson present,” then wet his lips and hesitated.


  Oscar was about to reply when Thurlow’s voice came from behind them: “I answer for him.”

  “Martin!” Matt went on mechanically, too startled to stop.

  “I answer for him,” said Oscar, his eyes on Thurlow.


  “I answer for him,” came Tex’s voice.


  “Wheeler’s here too,” Tex answered again. “They’re all here, Matt. We’re ready.”

  “Complement complete, Captain;”

  “Very well, sir.”

  “How is he, Oz?”

  “He’s closed his eyes again. Raise ship when ready.”

  “Aye aye, sir. According to plan—raise ship.” He grasped the wing controls and waited. The Astarte reared on her belly jets, drove up and forward and into the mists of Venus.

  Passed Cadets Dodson and Jarman, freshly detached from the P.R.S. Pegasus, at Terra Station out from New Auckland, climbed out of the Randolph’s scooter and into the Randolph herself. Cadet Jensen was not with them; Oscar, on despatch authorization from the Academy, had been granted six months for leave at home, with the understanding that he would be ordered to temporary duty in the course of it, to accompany the first consul to the equatorial regions to his station and assist in establishing liaison.

  Matt and Tex showed their orders to the officer of the watch and left with him the inevitable copies. He gave them their rooming assignments—in Hog Alley, in a room with a different number but otherwise like the one they had had. “Seems like we never left it,” remarked Tex, as he unpacked his jump bag.

  “Except it seems funny not to have Oz and Pete around.”

  “Yeah, I keep expecting Oz to stick his head in and ask if we’d like to team up with him and Pete.”

  The room phone sounded, Tex answered.

  “Cadet Jarman?”


  “The Commandant’s compliments—you are to report to his office at once.”

  “Aye aye, sir.” He switched off and continued to Matt. “They don’t waste much time, do they?” He looked thoughtful and added, “You know what I think?”

  “Maybe I can guess.”

  “Well, this quick service looks promising. And we did do quite a job, Matt. There’s no getting around to it.”

  “I guess so. Bringing in the Astarte, a hundred and eight years overdue, was something—even if we had dragged it in on wheels it still would be something. I won’t start calling you ‘Lieutenant’ just yet, but—he might commission us.”

  “Keep your fingers crossed. How do I look?”

  “You aren’t pretty, but you look nineteen times better than you did when we grounded at South Pole. Better get moving.”

  “Right.” Tex left and Matt waited nervously. Presently the call he expected came in, telling him, too, to report to the Commandant.

  He found that Tex was still inside. Rather than fidget under the eyes of others in the Commandant’s outer office, he chose to wait in the passageway. After a while, Tex came out. Matt went up to him eagerly. “How about it?”
  Tex gave him an odd look. “Just go on in.”

  “You can’t talk?”

  “We’ll talk later. Go on in.”

  “Cadet Dodson!” someone called from the outer office.

  “On deck,” he called back. A couple of moments later he was in the presence of the Commandant.

  “Cadet Dodson, reporting as ordered, sir.”

  The Commandant turned his face toward him and Matt felt again the eerie feeling that Commodore Arkwright could see him better than could an ordinary, sighted man. “Oh, yes, Mr. Dodson. At ease.” The elder Patrolman reached unerringly for a clip on his desk. “I’ve been looking over your record. You’ve made up your deficiency in astrogation and supplemented it with a limited amount of practical work. Captain Yancey seems to approve of you, on the whole, but notes that you are sometimes absentminded, with a tendency to become preoccupied with one duty to the expense of others. I don’t find that very serious—in a young man.”

  “Thank you, sir.”

  “It was not a compliment, just an observation. Now tell me, what would you do if—” Forty-five minutes later Matt caught his breath sufficiently to realize that he had been subjected to a very searching examination. He had come into the Commandant’s office feeling nine feet tall, four feet wide, and completely covered with hair. The feeling had passed.

  The Commandant paused for a moment as if thinking, then went on, “When will you be ready to be commissioned, Mr. Dodson?”

  Matt strangled a bit, then managed to answer, “I don’t know, sir. Three or four years, perhaps.”

  “I think a year should suffice, if you apply yourself. I’m sending you down to Hayworth Hall. You can catch the shuttle from the Station this afternoon.

  “The usual delay for leave, of course,” he added.

  “That’s fine, sir!”

  “Enjoy yourself. I have an item here for you—” The blind man hesitated a split second, then reached for another clip, “—a copy of a letter from Lieutenant Thurlow’s mother. Another copy has been placed in your record.”

  “Uh, how is the lieutenant, sir?”

  “Completely recovered, they tell me. One more thing before you go—”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Let me have some notes on what troubles you ran into in recommissioning the Astarte, emphasizing what you had to learn as you went along—especially any mistakes you made.”

  “Uh, aye aye, sir.”

  “Your notes will be considered in revising the manual on obsolete equipment. No hurry about it—do it when you come back from leave.”

  Matt left the Commandant’s presence feeling only a fraction the size he had when he had gone in, yet he felt curiously elated rather than depressed. He hurried to the room he shared with Tex and found him waiting. Tex looked him over. “I see you’ve had it.”


  “Hayworth Hall?”

  “That’s it.” Matt looked puzzled. “I don’t understand it. I went in there honestly convinced that I was going to be commissioned. But I feel wonderful. Why is that?”

  “Don’t look at me. I feel the same way, and yet I can’t remember that he had a kind word to say. The whole business on Venus he just tossed off.”

  Matt said, “That’s it!”

  “What’s what?”

  “‘He just tossed it off.’ That’s why we feel good. He didn’t make anything of it because he didn’t expect anything less—because we are Patrolmen!”

  “Huh? Yes, that’s it—that’s exactly it! Like he was thirty-second degree and we were first degree, but members of the same lodge.” Tex started to whistle.

  “I feel better,” said Matt. “I felt good before, but now I feel better, now that I understand why. Say—one other thing.”


  “You didn’t tell him about the fight I had with Burke in New Auckland, did you?”

  “Of course not.” Tex was indignant.

  “That’s funny. I didn’t tell anybody but you, and I could have sworn that no one saw it. I planned it that way.”

  “He knew about it?”

  “He sure did.”

  “Was he sore?”

  “No. He said he realized that Burke was out on bond and that I was on leave and he had no wish to invade my private life—but he wanted to give me a word of advice.”

  “Yeah? What was it?”

  “Never lead with my left.”

  Tex looked amazed, then thoughtful. “I think he was telling you not to lead with your chin, too.”

  “Probably.” Matt started repacking his jump bag. “When’s the next scooter for the Station?”

  “About thirty minutes. Say, Matt, you’ve got leave of course?”


  “How about picking up my invitation to spend a few weeks on the Jarman spread? I want you to meet my folks—and Uncle Bodie.”

  “Uncle Bodie, by all means. But Tex?”


  “Hotcakes for breakfast?”

  “No hotcakes.”

  “It’s a deal.”


  Robert A. Heinlein

  (1907-1988) is widely acknowledged to have been the single most important and influential author of science fiction in the twentieth century.



  Robert A. Heinlein, Space Cadet

  (Series: # )




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