Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein

  “Oh. Maybe someday you’ll teach me your secret. Yes, leave your club behind; there aren’t any girls in the Randolph.”

  “Is that good?” demanded Tex.

  “I refuse to commit myself.” Matt studied the pile. “You know what I’d suggest? Keep that harmonica—I like harmonica music. Have those photos copied in micro. Feed the rest to the cat.”

  “That’s easy for you to say.”

  “I’ve got the same problem.” He went to his room. The class had the day free, for the purpose of getting ready to leave Earth. Matt spread his possessions out to look them over. His civilian clothes he would ship home, of course, and his telephone as well, since it was limited by its short range to the neighborhood of an earth-side relay office.

  He made a note to telephone home before he packed the instrument. Might as well make one other call, too, he decided; even though he was resolved not to waste time on girls in his new life, it would be polite to phone and say good-by. He did so.

  He put the instrument down a few minutes later, baffled to find that he had apparently promised to write regularly.

  He called home, spoke with his parents and kid brother, and then put the telephone with things to be shipped. He was scratching his head over what remained when Burke came in. He grinned. “Trying to swallow your penalty-weight?”

  “I’ll figure it out.”

  “You don’t have to leave that junk behind, you know.”


  “Ship it up to Terra Station, rent a locker, and store it. Then, when you go on liberty to the Station, you can bring back what you want. Sneak it aboard, if it’s that sort of thing.” Matt made no comment; Burke went on, “What’s the matter, Galahad? Shocked at the notion of running contraband?”

  “No. But I don’t have a locker at Terra Station.”

  “Well, if you’re too cheap to rent one, you can ship the stuff to mine. You scratch me and I’ll scratch you.”

  “No, thanks.” He thought about expressing some things to the Terra Station post office, then discarded the idea—the rates were too high. He went on sorting. He would keep his camera, but his micro kit would have to go, and his chessmen. Presently he had cut the list to what he hoped was twenty pounds; he took the stuff away to weigh it.

  Reveille and breakfast were an hour early the next day. Shortly after breakfast the call-to-muster ran through Hayworth Hall, to be followed by heart-quickening strains of “Raise Ship!” Matt slung his jump bag over his shoulder and hurried down to the lower corridors. He pushed his way through a throng of excited youngster cadets and found his assigned area.

  Muster was by squads and Matt was a temporary squad leader, as his name came first, alphabetically, in his squad. He had been, given a list; he reached into his pouch and had an agonizing moment of thinking he had left it up in his room before his fingers closed on it. “Dodsworth!”




  He was still working through Frankel, Freund, and Funston when the oldster mustering the entire corridor shouted for him to report. He hurried to a conclusion, faced around, and saluted. “Squad nineteen—all present!”

  Someone tittered and Matt realized suddenly that he had used the scout salute, rather than the relaxed, open-palmed gesture of the Patrol. His cheeks burned.

  A brassy amplified voice called out, “All deck parties report.” In turn, the oldster in Matt’s corridor called out, “Third deck party, all present.” When all reports were in there was a momentary silence, long enough for Matt to have a spine-tingling anticipation of what was to come. Would they? But they were doing so; the voice over the speaker called out: “Dahlquist?”

  Another voice—heard only through the speaker—replied, “I answer for him.”

  It went on, until the Four were mustered, whereupon the first voice stated, “All present, sir.”

  “Man the ship.”

  They mounted a slidewalk, to step off in a large underground room, far out under Santa Barbara Field. There were eight large elevators arranged in a wide circle around the room. Matt and his squad were crowded into one of them and mounted to the surface. Up it went, much higher than had been necessary to enter the test-flight rocket, up and up, close by the huge bulk of the Bolivar.

  It stopped and they trotted across the drawbridge into the ship. Inside the airlock stood a space-marines sergeant, gaudy and splendid who kept repeating, “Seventh deck! Down the hatch to your own deck—step lively!” He pointed to the hatch, down which disappeared a narrow, vertical steel ladder.

  Matt hitched his jump bag out of his way and lowered himself into the hatch, moving fast to avoid getting his fingers stepped on by the cadet who followed him. He lost track of the decks, but there was a sergeant master-at-arms on each. He got off when he heard, “Third deck!”

  He was in a wide, low cylindrical compartment, the deck of which was covered with plastic-foam padding. It was marked off in sections, each about seven feet by three and fitted with safety belts.

  Matt found an unoccupied section, sat down, and waited. Presently cadets stopped dribbling in, the room was crowded. The master-at-arms called out, “Down, everybody—one to a section.” He then counted them by noting that all sections were filled.

  A loudspeaker warned, “All hands, prepare for acceleration!” The sergeant told them to strap down and remained standing until all had done so. He then lay down, grasped two handholds, and reported the third deck ready.

  “All hands, stand by to raise!” called out the speaker.

  There was a long and breathless wait.

  “Up ship!” shouted the speaker.

  Matt felt himself pressed into the padding.

  Terra Space Station and the school ship Randolph is in a circular orbit 22,300 miles above the surface of the Earth, where they circle the Earth in exactly twenty-four hours, the natural period of a body at that distance.

  Since the Earth’s rotation exactly matches their period, they face always one side of the Earth—the ninetieth western meridian, to be exact. Their orbit lies in the ecliptic, the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, rather than in the plane of the Earth’s equator. This results in them swinging north and south each day as seen from the earth. When it is noon in the Middle West, Terra Station and the Randolph lie over the Gulf of Mexico; at midnight they lie over the South Pacific.

  The state of Colorado moves eastward about 830 miles per hour. Terra Station and the Randolph also move eastward nearly 7000 miles per hour—1.93 miles per second, to be finicky. The pilot of the Bolivar had to arrive at the Randolph precisely matched in course and speed. To do this he must break his ship away from our heavy planet, throw her into an elliptical orbit just tangent to the circular orbit of the Randolph and with that tangency so exactly placed that, when he matched speeds, the two ships would lie relatively motionless although plunging ahead at two miles per second. This last maneuver was no easy matter like jockeying a copter over a landing platform, as the two speeds, unadjusted, would differ by 3000 miles an hour.

  Getting the Bolivar from Colorado to the Randolph, and all other problems of journeying between the planets, are subject to precise and elegant mathematical solution under four laws formulated by the saintly, absentminded Sir Isaac Newton nearly four centuries earlier than this flight of the Bolivar—the three Laws of Motion and the Law of Gravitation. These laws are simple; their application in space to get from where you are to where you want to be, at the correct time with the correct course and speed, is a nightmare of complicated, fussy computation.

  The “weight” pressing Matt into the padding was four gravities—Matt weighed nearly six hundred pounds. He lay there, breathing with difficulty, while the ship punched its way through the thick soup of air and out into free space. The heavy weight bound down the cadets while the Bolivar attained a speed of some six miles per second and climbed to an altitude of 900 miles.

  At the end of five minutes and a few odd second
s the drive stopped.

  Matt raised his head, while the sudden silence rang in his ears. The master-at-arms detected Matt’s movement and others. He shouted, “Stay where you are—don’t move.”

  Matt relaxed. They were in free fall, weightless, even though the Bolivar was speeding away from the Earth at more than 20,000 miles an hour. Each body—ship, planet, meteor, atom—in space falls continually. It moves also with whatever other motion it has inherited from its past experience.

  Matt was acutely aware of his weightlessness, for his stomach told him about it, complainingly. To be on the safe side, he removed a sick kit from his jump bag, but he did not put it on. He was feeling queasy; it was not as bad as it had been on his test flight, not half as bad as the “bumps.” He hoped to get by without losing his breakfast.

  The loudspeaker sang out, “End of acceleration. Four hours of free fall.” The master-at-arms sat up. “You can unstrap now,” he said.

  In a matter of seconds the compartment took on the look of a particularly crowded aquarium. One hundred boys were floating, swimming, squirming in every attitude and position between the deck and the overhead. These two barriers no longer seemed like floor and ceiling since up-and-down was gone; they were simply walls which rotated slowly and erratically for each observer as his own body turned past them.

  “Hey, you guys!” yelled the sergeant. “Grab on to something and listen to me.” Matt looked around, found himself near the overhead, spotted a handhold, and grasped it. “It’s time you kids learned some traffic rules for free flight. You got to learn to zig when the other guy zags. If you happen to meet the Captain and you zig when you shoulda zagged and bump him, he ain’t going to like it. See?”

  He stuck out a scarred thumb. “Rule one: all groundhogs—that’s you and don’t try to tell me anything different—are required to hold on with at least one hand at all times. That applies until you pass your free-fall acrobatics test. Rule two: give way to officers and don’t make them have to shout ‘Gangway!’ Besides that, give way to anybody on duty, or busy, or with his hands full.

  “If you’re moving aft, pass inboard of the man you meet, and contrariwise if you’re moving forward. If you’re moving clockwise, figuring ‘clockwise’ from the bow end of the ship, you pass the man you meet outboard and let him pass inboard—contrariwise for counterclockwise. No matter what direction you’re going, if you overtake a man you pass inboard of him. Is that all clear?”

  Matt thought it was, though he doubted if he could remember it. But a remaining possibility occurred to him. “Sergeant,” he asked innocently, “suppose you’re moving directly in or out from the center of the ship—what do you do?”

  The sergeant looked disgusted, which gave his face an odd appearance to Matt, as their two faces were upside down with respect to each other. “You get what usually happens to jaywalkers—okay, so you’re moving across the traffic: just stay out of everybody’s way. It’s your lookout. Any more questions?”

  No one answered; he went on: “All right, go out and look around the ship—but try to behave yourselves and not bump into anybody so you’ll be a credit to deck three.”

  The third deck had no ports of any sort, but the Bolivar was a long-jump transport; she possessed recreation rooms and viewports. Matt started forward, seeking a place from which to get a glimpse of the Earth.

  He remembered to pass outboard as he pulled himself along, but apparently some passengers had not been indoctrinated. Each hatchway was a traffic jam of youngsters, each trying to leave his own deck to sightsee in some other deck, any deck.

  The sixth deck, he found, was a recreation room. It contained the ship’s library—locked—and games equipment, also locked. But it did have six large viewports.

  The recreation deck had carried a full load of passengers. Now, in free fall, cadets from all other decks gradually found their way to the recreation deck, just as Matt had, seeking a view of outside; at the same time the original roster of that deck showed no tendency to want to leave their favored billet.

  It was crowded.

  Crowded as a basket full of kittens—Matt removed someone’s space boot from his left eye and tried to worm his way toward one of the ports. Judicious work with his knees and elbows and a total disregard of the rules of the road got him to the second or third layer near one port. He placed a hand on a shoulder in front of him. The cadet twisted around. “Hey! Who do you think you’re shoving? Oh—hello, Matt.”

  “Hi, Tex. How’s it going?”

  “All right. Say, you should have been here a few minutes ago. We passed one of the television relay stations, close by. Boy, oh, boy, are we traveling!”

  “We did, huh? What did it look like?”

  “Couldn’t see much of it, must have been ten miles away, maybe. But, with the time we’re making it was just there she comes and there she goes.”

  “Can you see the Earth?” Matt squirmed toward the port.

  “Natch.” Tex gave way and let Matt slide into his place. The frame of the port cut across the eastern Atlantic. Matt could see an arc extending almost from the North Pole to the Equator.

  It was high noon over the Atlantic. Beyond it, bright in the afternoon sunlight, he could make out the British Isles, Spain, and the brassy Sahara. The browns and greens of land were in sharp contrast to the deep purple of the ocean. In still greater contrast stood the white dazzle of cloud. As his eye approached the distant, rounded horizon the details softened, giving a strong effect of stereo, of depth, of three-dimensional globularness—the world indeed was round!

  Round and green and beautiful! He discovered presently that he had been holding his breath. His nausea was quite gone.

  Someone tugged at his leg. “Don’t stay there all day. Do you want to hog it?”

  Regretfully Matt gave way to another cadet. He turned and shoved himself away from the port and in so doing became disoriented. He could not find Tex in the helter-skelter mass of floating bodies.

  He felt a grip on his right ankle. “Let’s get out of here, Matt.”

  “Right.” They worked their way to the hatch and moved to the next deck. Being without ports it was not heavily populated. They propelled themselves toward the center of the room, away from the traffic, and steadied themselves on handholds. “Well,” said Matt, “so this is it—space, I mean. How do you like it?”

  “Makes me feel like a goldfish. And I’m getting cross-eyed trying to figure out which side is up. How’s your gizzard? Been dropsick?”

  “No.” Matt swallowed cautiously. “Let’s not talk about it. Where were you last night, Tex? I looked for you a couple of times, but your roommate said he hadn’t seen you since dinner.”

  “Oh, that—” Tex looked pained. “I was in Mr. Dynkowski’s room. Say, Matt, that was a bum steer you gave me.”

  “Huh? What steer?”

  “You know—when you advised me to ask Mr. Dynkowski to put an order in writing if I was in doubt about it. Man, oh man, did you get me in a jam!”

  “Wait a minute—I didn’t advise you to do that; I just pointed out that the regs let you do it if you wanted to.”

  “Just the same, you were egging me on.”

  “The deuce I was! My interest was purely theoretical. You were a free agent.”

  “Oh, well—skip it. Skip it.”

  “What happened?”

  “Well, last night at dinner I ordered pie for dessert. I picked it up, just like I always have ever since I got too big for Ma to slap my hands for it, and started shoveling it in my face, happy as a pup in a pansy bed. Ski ordered me to cease and desist—told me to use my fork.”

  “Yeah? Go on.”

  “I said to put it in writing, please, sir, polite as a preacher.”

  “It stopped him?”

  “Like fun it did! He said, ‘Very well, Mr. Jarman,’ cool as could be, took out his notebook, wrote it out, stamped his thumb print on it, tore out the page and handed it to me.”

  “So you used your fork.
Or didn’t you?”

  “I sure did. But that’s only the beginning. Immediately he wrote out another order and handed it to me. He told me to read it aloud. Which I did.”

  “What did it say?”

  “Wait a minute… I’ve got it here somewhere.” Tex poked around in his pouch. “Here—read it.”

  Matt read, “‘Cadet Jarman—immediately after this meal you will report to the officer-of-the-watch, taking with you the first written order I gave you. Explain to him the events leading up to the first order and get an opinion from him as to the legality of orders of this type—S. Dynkowski, psd. cdt.’”

  Matt whistled. “Oh, oh… What did you do?”

  “I finished my pie, the way he told me to, though I didn’t want it very much by then. Ski was nice about it. He grinned at me and said, ‘No hard feelings, Mr. Jarman. All according to protocol and all that sort of thing.’ Then he wanted to know where in the world I had gotten the idea.”

  Matt felt his neck grow warm. “You told him it was my idea?”

  “Do I look stupid? I just told him somebody had pointed out regulation number nine-oh-seven to me.”

  Matt relaxed. “Thanks, Tex. I’ll remember that.”

  “Forget it. But he sent you a message.”


  “It was just one word: ‘Don’t.’”

  “Don’t what?”

  “Just ‘Don’t.’ He added that amateur space lawyers frequently talked themselves out of the Patrol.”

  “Oh.” Matt tucked this away and started trying to digest it. “What happened afterwards? When you saw the duty officer?”

  “I reported to the duty office and the cadet on watch sent me on in. I saluted and announced my name, like a good little boy, and showed him the two orders.” Tex paused and stared into the distance.

  “Yes? Go on, man—don’t stop like that”

  “Then he most scientifically ate my ears off. My Uncle Bodie couldn’t have done a better job.” Tex paused again, as if the memory were too painfully sharp. “Then he quieted down a little bit and explained to me in words of one syllable that reg nine-oh-seven was for emergencies only and that youngster cadets were under the orders of oldster cadets at all times and in all matters, unless the regulations specifically say otherwise.”

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