Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein

  “He did? Say, that covers an awful lot of ground. Why, that means a senior cadet can order us to do almost anything. You mean it’s covered by law that an oldster can tell me how to part my hair?”

  “Just precisely that—you happened to pick the very words Lieutenant von Ritter used. An oldster can’t tell you to violate a regulation—he can’t tell you to take a poke at the captain and he can’t order you to hold still while he takes a poke at you. But that’s about all that limits him. Mr. von Ritter says that it’s left up to the good judgment and discretion of the senior, and table manners were very definitely Mr. Dynkowski’s business and not to forget it! Then he told me to report back to Ski.”

  “Did he crow over you?”

  “Not a bit.” Tex’s brow wrinkled. “That’s the funny part about it. Ski treated the whole affair just as if he had been giving me a lesson in geometry. He said that now that I was assured that his orders were according to regulation he wanted me to know why he had told me how to eat my pie. He even said he could see that I would regard it as improper interference with my private life. I said I guessed I didn’t have any private life any more. He said no, I had one all right, but it would feel pretty microscopic for a while.

  “Then he explained the matter. A patrol officer is supposed to be able to move in all society—if your hostess eats with her knife, then you eat with your knife.”

  “Everybody knows that.”

  “Okay. He pointed out that candidates come from everywhere. Some of them even come from families and societies where it’s good manners for everybody to eat out of one dish, with their fingers…some of the Moslem boys. But there is an overall way to behave that is acceptable anywhere among the top crust.”

  “Nuts,” said Matt. “I’ve seen the Governor of Iowa with a hot dog in one hand and a piece of pie in the other.”

  “I’ll bet it wasn’t at a state dinner,” Tex countered. “No, Matt, it made sense the way he told it. He said pie wasn’t important, but it was part of a larger pattern—for instance that you must never mention death on Mars or to a Martian.”

  “Is that a fact?”

  “I guess so. He said that in time I would learn how to ‘eat pie with a fork’ as he put it, under any possible circumstances on any planet. He let it go at that.”

  “I should think he would. I take it he lectured you all evening?”

  “Oh, my, no. Ten minutes, maybe.”

  “Then where were you? You still hadn’t come back to your room, just before taps.”

  “Oh, I was still in Ski’s room, but I was busy.”

  “Doing what? Stroking his brow?”

  “No.” Tex looked mildly embarrassed. “I was writing—‘I will always eat my pie with my fork’ two thousand times.”

  Tex and Matt attempted to explore the ship and did in fact visit every deck that was open to them. But the power-room door was locked and a space-marine guard kept them from entering the passageway leading to the pilot room. They tried to get another view from the ports in the recreation room but found that a degree of order had been instituted; the master-at-arms of that deck was requiring each cadet that entered to state that he had not yet had a chance to look out before the cadet was allowed to tarry.

  As for the other passenger decks, they found that when they had seen one, they had seen all. Shipboard refreshers interested them for a while, as the curious and clever modifications necessary to make a refresher function properly in space were new to both of them. But four hours is too long to spend inspecting showers and fixtures; after a while they found another fairly quiet spot to loaf and experienced for the first time the outstanding characteristic of all space travel—its monotony.

  Much later the ship’s speaker blared, “Prepare for acceleration. Ten minute warning.”

  Strapped down again, each in his place, the boys felt short blasts of power at rather long intervals, then a very considerable wait, after which there was the softest and gentlest of bumps. “That’s the drag line,” remarked the sergeant in Matt’s compartment. “They’ll warp us in. It won’t be long now.”

  Ten minutes later the speaker announced, “By decks, in succession—discharge passengers.”

  “Unstrap,” said the sergeant. He left his midships position and posted himself at the hatch ladder. Transferring passengers was a lengthy process, as the two ships were linked by only one air lock each. Matt’s party waited while four decks forward of them were emptied, then they pulled themselves along the ladder to the seventh deck. There a passenger port was open but beyond it, instead of empty space, was the inside of a corrugated tube, six feet in diameter. A line ran down the center of it and was made fast to a padeye in the ship. Along this line swarmed a steady stream of cadets, monkey fashion.

  In his turn, Matt grabbed the line and pulled himself along. Fifty feet beyond the air lock, the tube suddenly opened out into another compartment, and Matt found himself inside his new home, the P.R.S. Randolph.

  The P.R.S. Randolph had been a powerful and modern cruiser of her day. Her length was 900 feet, her diameter 200, making her of moderate size, but her mass, as a school ship, was only 60,000 tons, more or less.

  She was kept ten miles astern of Terra Station in their common orbit. Left to the influence of their mutual gravitations, she would have pursued a most leisurely orbit around the ten-times-more-massive Terra Station, but, for the safety of traffic at Terra Station, it was better to keep in a fixed position.

  This was easy to accomplish. The mass of Earth is six billion trillion tons; the mass of Terra Station is one hundred-million-billionth of that, a mere 600,000 tons. At ten miles the “weight” of the Randolph with respect to Terra Station was roughly one thirtieth of an ounce, about the weight on Earth of enough butter for one half slice of bread.

  On entering the Randolph Matt found himself in a large, well-lighted compartment of odd shape, somewhat like a wedge of cake. Clumps of youngster cadets were being herded out exits by other cadets who wore black armbands. One such cadet headed toward him, moving through the air with the easy grace of a pollywog. “Squad nineteen—where’s the squad leader of squad nineteen?”

  Matt held out his arm. “Here, sir! I’m squad leader of nineteen.”

  The upperclassman checked himself with one hand on the guide line to which Matt still clung. “I relieve you, sir. But stick close to me and help me round up these yahoos. I suppose you know them by sight?”

  “Uh, I think so, sir.”

  “You should—you’ve had time.” Matt was chagrined to find, in the next few moments that the new squad leader—Cadet Lopez—knew the squad muster roll by heart, whereas Matt had to refer to his copy to assist him in locating the members. He was not really aware of the implications of order and efficient preparation; it did impress him as “style.” With Matt to spot and Lopez to dive, hawklike, all the way across the compartment if necessary, to round up stragglers, squad nineteen was soon assembled near one exit, where they clung like a colony of bats.

  “Follow me,” Lopez told them, “and hang on. No free maneuvers. Dodson—bring up the rear.”

  “Aye aye, sir.”

  They snaked their way through endless passages, by guide line across compartment after compartment, through hatches, around corners. Matt was quite lost. Presently the man just head of him stopped. Matt closed in and found the squad gathered just inside another compartment. “Soup’s on,” announced Lopez. “This is your messroom. Lunch in a few minutes.”

  Behind Lopez, secured firmly to the far wall, were mess tables and benches. The table tops faced Matt—under him, over him, or across from him—what you will. It seemed an impractical arrangement. “I’m not very hungry,” one youngster said faintly.

  “You ought to be,” Lopez answered reasonably. “It’s been five hours or more since you had breakfast. We’re on the same time schedule here as Hayworth Hall, zone plus eight, Terra. Why aren’t you hungry?”

  “Uh, I don’t know, sir. I’m just not.”

>   Lopez grinned and suddenly looked as young as his charges. “I was just pulling your leg, kiddo. The chief engineer will have some spin on us in no time, as soon as we break loose from the Bolivar. Then you can sit down on your soft, round fanny and console your tender stomach in peace. You’ll have an appetite. In the meantime, take it easy.”

  Two more squads filtered in. While they waited Matt said to Lopez, “How fast will the ship spin, sir?”

  “We’ll build up to one gravity at the outer skin. Takes about two hours to do it, but we’ll eat as soon as we’re heavy enough for you groundhogs to swallow your soup without choking.”

  “But how fast is that, sir?”

  “Can you do simple arithmetic?”

  “Why, yes, sir.”

  “Then do it. The Randolph is two hundred feet through and we spin on her main axis. The square of the rim speed divided by her radius—what’s the rpm?”

  Matt got a faraway look on his face. Lopez said, “Come, now, Mr. Dodson—pretend you’re heading for the surface and about to crash. What’s the answer?”

  “Uh—I’m afraid I can’t do it in my head, sir.”

  Lopez looked around. “All right—who’s got the answer?” No one spoke up. Lopez shook his head mournfully. “And you laddies expect to learn to astrogate! Better by far you should have gone to cow colleges. Never mind—it works out to about five and four-tenths revolutions per minute. That gives one full gravity for the benefit of the women and children. Then it’s cut down day by day, until a month from now we’re in free fall again. That gives you time to get used to it—or else.”

  Someone said, “Gee, it must take a lot of power.”

  Lopez answered, “Are you kidding? It’s done by electric-braking the main axis flywheels. The shaft has field coils wound on it; you cut it in as a generator and let the reaction between the wheel and the ship put a spin on the ship. You store the juice. Then when you want to take the spin off, you use the juice to drive it as a motor and you are back where you started, free for nothing, except for minor losses. Savvy?”

  “Er, I guess so, sir.”

  “Look it up in the ship’s library, sketch the hook-up, and show it to me after supper.” The junior cadet said nothing; Lopez snapped. “What’s the matter, Mister? Didn’t you hear me?”

  “Yes, sir—aye aye, sir.”

  “That’s better.”

  Very slowly they drifted against a side wall, bumped against it, and started sliding slowly toward the outboard wall, the one to which the mess tables were fastened. By the time they reached it there was enough spin on the ship to enable them to stand up and the mess tables now assumed their proper relationship, upright on the floor, while the hatch through which they had lately floated was a hole in the ceiling above.

  Matt found that there was no sensation of dizziness; the effect was purely one of increasing weight. He still felt light, but he weighed enough to sit down at a mess table and stay in contact with his seat; minute by minute, imperceptibly, he grew heavier.

  He looked over his place at the table, seeking controls that would permit him to order his meal. There were clips and locking holes which he guessed were intended for use in free flight, but nothing else. He looked up as Lopez banged on the table.

  “And now, gentlemen, this is not a resort hotel. Count off, around the table.” He waited until the youngsters had done so, then said, “Remember your order. Numbers one and two will rustle up the calories today, and all of you in rotation thereafter.”

  “Where, sir?”

  “Use your eyes. Over there.”

  “Over there” was a door which concealed a delivery conveyor. Cadets from other tables were gathering around it. The two cadets designated as waiters went over and returned shortly with a large metal rack containing twenty rations, each packed in its service platter and still steaming hot. Clipped to each were knife, fork, and spoons—and sipping tubes.

  Matt found that the solid foods were covered by lids that snapped back over the food unless clipped up out of the way, while the liquids were in covered containers fitted with valves through which sipping tubes might be slipped. He had never before seen table utensils adapted for free-fall conditions in space. They delighted him, even though Earth-side equipment would have served as long as the ship was under spin.

  Lunch was hot roast beef sandwiches with potatoes, green salad, lime sherbet, and tea. Lopez kept up a steady fire of questions throughout the meal, but Matt did not come into his range. Twenty minutes later the metal tray in front of Matt was polished almost as well as the sterilizer would achieve. He sat back, feeling that the Patrol was a good outfit and the Randolph a fine place to be.

  Before turning his charges loose Lopez gave them each their schedule of assignments. Matt’s room number was A-5197. All living quarters were on A-deck which was the insulated outer skin of the ship. Lopez gave them a brief, condescending lecture on the system of numbering the spaces in the ship and dismissed them. His manner gave no hint that he himself had been lost for one full day shortly after his own arrival a year earlier.

  Matt got lost, of course.

  He attempted to take a short cut straight through the ship on the advice of a passing marine and got completely twisted when he found himself at the no-weight center of the Randolph. When he had worked his way back down levels of increasing weight until he found himself at one gravity and could go no further he stopped the first cadet with a black arm band whom he could find and threw himself on his mercy. A few minutes later he was led to corridor five and found his own room.

  Tex was already there. “Hello, Matt,” he greeted him. “What do you think of our little cabin in the sky?”

  Matt put down his jump bag. “Looks all right, but the first time I have to leave it I’m going to unroll a ball of string. Is there a viewport?”

  “Not likely! What did you expect? A balcony?”

  “I don’t know. I sort of hoped that we’d be able to look out and see Earth.” He started poking around, opening doors. “Where’s the ’fresher?”

  “Better start unrolling your ball of string. It’s way down the passage.”

  “Oh. Kind of primitive. Well, I guess we can stand it.” He went on exploring. There was a common room about fifteen feet square. It had doors, two on each side, leading into smaller cubicles. “Say, Tex,” he announced when he had opened them all, “this place is fitted up for four people.”

  “Go to the head of the class.”

  “I wonder who we’ll draw.”

  “So do I.” Tex took out his assignment sheet. “It says here that we can reshuffle roommates until supper time tomorrow. Got any ideas, Matt?”

  “No, I can’t say I really know anybody but you. It doesn’t matter as long as they don’t snore—and as long as it isn’t Burke.”

  They were interrupted by a rap on the door. Tex called out, “Come in!” and Oscar Jensen stuck his blond head inside.


  “Not at all.”

  “I’ve got a problem. Pete and I found ourselves assigned to one of these four-way rooms and the two roommates we landed with want us to make room for two other fellows. Are you guys tied down as yet?”

  Tex looked at Matt, who nodded. Tex turned back to Oscar. “You can kiss me, Oscar—we’re practically married.”

  An hour later the four had settled down to domesticity. Pete was in high spirits. “The Randolph is just what the doctor ordered,” he announced. “I’m going to like it here. Any time my legs start to ache all I have to do is go up to G-deck and it’s just like being back home—I weigh my proper weight again.”

  “Yep,” agreed Tex, “if the joint were co-educational it would be perfect.”

  Oscar shook his head. “Not for me. I’m a woman-hater.”

  Tex clucked sorrowfully. “You poor, poor boy. Now take my Uncle Bodie—he thought he was a woman-hater, too…”

  Matt never found out how Uncle Bodie got over his disability. An announcer, mounted in the common
room, summoned him to report to compartment B-121. He got there, after a few wrong turns, and found another youngster cadet just coming out. “What’s it for?” he asked.

  “Go on in,” the other told him. “Orientation.”

  Matt went in and found an officer seated at a desk. “Cadet Dodson, sir, reporting as ordered.”

  The officer looked up and smiled. “Sit down, Dodson, Lieutenant Wong is my name. I’m your coach.”

  “My coach, sir?”

  “Your tutor, your supervisor, anything you care to call it. It’s my business to see that you and a dozen more like you study what you need to study. Think of me as standing behind you with a black snake whip.” He grinned.

  Matt grinned back. He began to like Mr. Wong.

  Wong picked up a sheaf of papers. “I’ve got your record here—let’s lay out a course of study. I see you type, use a slide rule and differential calculator, and can take shorthand—those are all good. Do you know any outer languages? By the way, don’t bother to talk Basic; I speak North American English fairly well. How long have you spoken Basic?”

  “Er, I don’t know any outer languages, sir. I had Basic in high school, but I don’t really think in it. I have to watch what I’m saying.”

  “I’ll put you down for Venerian, Martian, and Venus trade talk. Your voicewriter—you’ve looked over the equipment in your room?”

  “Just glanced at it, sir. I saw there was a study desk and a projector.”

  “You’ll find a spool of instructions in the upper righthand drawer of the desk. Play them over when you go back. The voicewriter built into your desk is a good model. It can hear and transcribe not only the Basic vocabulary, but the Patrol’s special vocabulary of technical words. If you will stick to its vocabulary, you can even write love letters on it—” Dodson glanced sharply at Lieutenant Wong, but Wong’s face was impassive; Matt decided not to laugh.

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