Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein

  “—so it’s worth your while to perfect your knowledge of Basic even for social purposes. However, if you speak a word the machine can’t find on its list, it will just ‘beep’ complainingly until you come to its rescue. Now about math—I see you have a condition in tensor calculus.”

  “Yes, sir,” Matt admitted. “My high school didn’t offer it.”

  Wong shook his head sadly. “I sometimes think that modern education is deliberately designed to handicap a boy. If cadets arrived here having already been taught the sort of things the young human animal can learn, and should learn, there would be fewer casualties in the Patrol. Never mind—we’ll start you on tensors at once. You can’t study nuclear engineering until you’ve learned the language of it. Your school was the usual sort, Dodson? Classroom recitations, daily assignments, and so forth?”

  “More or less. We were split into three groups.”

  “Which group were you in?”

  “I was in the fast one, sir, in most subjects.”

  “That’s some help, but not much. You’re in for a shock, son. We don’t have classrooms and fixed courses. Except for laboratory work and group drills, you study alone. It’s pleasant to sit in a class daydreaming while the teacher questions somebody else, but we haven’t got time for that. There is too much ground to cover. Take the outer languages alone—have you ever studied under hypnosis?”

  “Why, no, sir.”

  “We’ll start you on it at once. When you leave here, go to the Psycho Instruction Department and ask for a first hypno in Beginning Venerian. What’s the matter?”

  “Well… Sir, is it absolutely necessary to study under hypnosis?”

  “Definitely. Everything that can possibly be studied under hypno you will have to learn that way in order to leave time for the really important subjects.”

  Matt nodded. “I see. Like astrogation.”

  “No, no, no! Not astrogation. A ten-year-old child could learn to pilot a spaceship if he had the talent for mathematics. That is kindergarten stuff, Dodson. The arts of space and warfare are the least part of your education. I know, from your tests, that you can soak up the math and physical sciences and technologies. Much more important is the world around you, the planets and their inhabitants—extraterrestrial biology, history, cultures, psychology, law and institutions, treaties and conventions, planetary ecologies, system ecology, interplanetary economics, applications of extraterritorialism, comparative religious customs, law of space, to mention a few.”

  Matt was looking bug-eyed. “My gosh! How long does it take to learn all those things?”

  “You’ll still be studying the day you retire. But even those subjects are not your education; they are simply raw materials. Your real job is to learn how to think—and that means you must study several other subjects: epistemology, scientific methodology, semantics, structures of languages, patterns of ethics and morals, varieties of logics, motivational psychology, and so on. This school is based on the idea that a man who can think correctly will automatically behave morally—or what we call ‘morally’. What is moral behavior for a Patrolman, Matt? You are called Matt, aren’t you? By your friends?”

  “Yes, sir. Moral behavior for a Patrolman…”

  “Yes, yes. Go on.”

  “Well, I guess it means to do your duty, live up to your oath, that sort of thing.”

  “Why should you?”

  Matt kept quiet and looked stubborn.

  “Why should you, when it may get you some messy way of dying? Never mind. Our prime purpose here is to see to it that you learn how your own mind works. If the result is a man who fits into the purposes of the Patrol because his own mind, when he knows how to use it, works that way—then fine! He is commissioned. If not, then we have to let him go.”

  Matt remained silent until Wong finally said, “What’s eating on you, kid? Spill it.”

  “Well—look here, sir. I’m perfectly willing to work hard to get my commission. But you make it sound like something beyond my control. First I have to study a lot of things I’ve never heard of. Then, when it’s all over, somebody decides my mind doesn’t work right. It seems to me that what this job calls for is a superman.”

  “Like me.” Wong chuckled and flexed his arms. “Maybe so, Matt, but there aren’t any supermen, so we’ll have to do the best we can with young squirts like you. Come, now, let’s make up the list of spools you’ll need.”

  It was a long list. Matt was surprised and pleased to find that some story spools had been included. He pointed to an item that puzzled him—An Introduction to Lunar Archeology. “I don’t see why I should study that—the Patrol doesn’t deal with Selenites; they’ve been dead for millions of years.”

  “Keeps your mind loosened up. I might just as well have stuck in modern French music. A Patrol officer shouldn’t limit his horizons to just the things he is sure to need. I’m marking the items I want you to study first, then you beat it around to the library and draw out those spools, then over to Psycho for your first hypno. In about a week, when you’ve absorbed this first group, come back and see me.”

  “You mean you expect me to study all the spools I’m taking out today in one week?” Matt looked at the list in amazement.

  “That’s right. In your off hours, that is—you’ll be busy with drills and lab a lot. Come back next week and we’ll boost the dose. Now get going.”

  “But—Aye aye, sir!”

  Matt located the Psycho Instruction Department and was presently ushered into a small room by a bored hypno technician wearing the uniform of the staff services of the Space Marines. “Stretch out in that chair,” he was told. “Rest your head back. This is your first treatment?” Matt admitted that it was.

  “You’ll like it. Some guys come in here just for the rest—they already know more than they ought to. What course was it you said you wanted?”

  “Beginning Venerian.”

  The technician spoke briefly to a pick-up located on his desk. “Funny thing—about a month ago an oldster was in here for a brush up in electronics. The library thought I said ‘colonies’ and now he’s loaded up with a lot of medical knowledge he’ll never use. Lemme have your left arm.” The technician irradiated a patch on his forearm and injected the drug. “Now just lay back and follow the bouncing light. Take it easy…relax…relax…and…close…your…eyes…and…relax…you’re…getting—”

  Someone was standing in front of him, holding a hypodermic pressure injector “That’s all. You’ve had the antidote.”

  “Huh?” said Matt. “Wazzat?”

  “Sit still a couple of minutes and then you can go.”

  “Didn’t it take?”

  “Didn’t what take? I don’t know what you were being exposed to; I just came on duty.”

  Matt went back to his room feeling rather depressed. He had been a little afraid of hypnosis, but to find that he apparently did not react to the method was worse yet. He wondered whether or not he could ever keep up with his studies if he were forced to study everything, outer languages as well, by conventional methods.

  Nothing to do but to go back and see Lieutenant Wong about it—tomorrow, he decided.

  Oscar was alone in the suite and was busy trying to place a hook in the wall of a common room. A framed picture was leaning against the chair on which he stood. “Hello, Oscar.”

  “Howdy, Matt.” Oscar turned his head as he spoke; the drill he was using slipped and he skinned a knuckle. He started to curse in strange, lisping speech. “May maledictions pursue this nameless thing to the uttermost depths of world slime!”

  Matt clucked disapprovingly. “Curb thy voice, thou impious fish.”

  Oscar looked up in amazement. “Matt—I didn’t know you knew any Venerian.”

  Matt’s mouth sagged open. He closed it, then opened it to speak “Well, I’ll be a—Neither did I!”

  The Sergeant crouched in the air, his feet drawn up. “At the count of one,” he was saying, “take the ready position, wit
h your feet about six inches from the steel. At the count of two, place your feet firmly against the steel and push off.” He shoved against the steel wall and shot into the air, still talking, “Hold the count of four, turn on the count of five—” His body drew up into a ball and turned over a half turn, “—check your rotation—” His body extended again, “—and make contact on the count of seven—” His toes touched the far wall, “—letting your legs collapse softly so that your momentum will be soaked up without rebound.” He collapsed loosely, like an empty sack, and remained floating near the spot where he had landed.

  The room was a cylinder fifty feet in diameter in the center of the ship. The entire room was mounted in rollers and was turned steadily in the direction opposite to the spin of the ship and with the same angular speed: thus it had no net spin. It could be entered only from the end, at the center of rotation.

  It was a little island of “free fall”—the free-fall gymnasium. A dozen youngster cadets clung to a grab line running fore-and-aft along the wall of the gym and watched the sergeant. Matt was one of the group.

  “And now, gentlemen, let’s try it again. By the numbers—One! Two! Three!” by the count of five, at which time they all should have turned in the air, neatly and together, all semblance of order was gone. There were collisions, one cadet had even failed to get away from the grab line, and two cadets, refugees from a midair skirmish, were floating aimlessly toward the far end of the room. Their faces had the bewildered look of a dog trying to get traction on smooth ice as they threshed their arms and legs in an effort to stay their progress.

  “No! No! No!” said the sergeant and covered his face with his hands. “I can’t bear to look. Gentlemen—please! A little coordination. Don’t throw yourself at the far wall like an Airedale heading into a fight. A steady, firm shove—like this.”

  He took off sideways, using the traction given him by his space boots, and intercepted the two deserters, gathering one in each arm and letting his momentum carry the three bodies slowly toward the far end of the grab line, “Grab on,” he told them, “and back to your places. Now, gentlemen—once more. Places! By the numbers—normal push off, with arrested contact—one!”

  A few moments later he was assuring them that he would much rather teach a cat to swim.

  Matt did not mind. He had managed to reach the far wall and stay there. Without grace, proper timing, nor at the spot he had aimed for, but he had managed it, after a dozen failures. For the moment he classed himself as a spaceman.

  When the class was dismissed he hurried to his room and into his own cubicle, selected a spool on Martian history, inserted it in his projector, and began to study. He had been tempted to remain in the free-fall gymnasium to practice; he wanted very badly to pass the “space legs” test—free-fall acrobatics—as those who had passed it and qualified in the use of basic space suits as well were allowed one liberty a month at Terra Station.

  But he had had an extra interview with Lieutenant Wong a few days before. It had been brief, biting, and had been concerned with the efficient use of his time.

  Matt did not want another such—nor the five demerits that went with it. He settled his head in the neck rest of his study chair and concentrated on the recorded words of the lecturer while scenes in color-stereo passed in front of him, portraying in chill beauty the rich past of the ancient planet.

  The projector was much like the study box he had used at home, except that it was more gadgeted, could project in three dimensions, and was hooked in with the voicewriter. Matt found this a great time-saver. He could stop the lecture, dictate a summary, then cause the projector to throw his printed notes on the screen.

  Stereo-projection was a time-saver for manual subjects as well. “You are now entering the control room of a type A-6 utility rocket,” the unseen lecturer would say, “and will practice an airless landing on Luna”—while the camera moved through the door of the rocket’s pilot room and panned down to a position corresponding to the pilot’s head. From there on a pictured flight could be made very realistic.

  Or it might be a spool on space suits. “This is a four-hour suit,” the voice would say, “type M, and may be worn anywhere outside the orbit of Venus. It has a low-capacity rocket unit capable of producing a total change of speed in a three-hundred-pound mass of fifty foot-seconds. The built-in radio has a suit-to-suit range of fifty miles. Internal heating and cooling is—” By the time Matt’s turn came for space-suit drill he knew as much about it as could be learned without practice.

  His turn came when he passed the basic free-fall test. He was not finished with free-fall drill—there remained group precision drill, hand-to-hand combat, use of personal weapons, and other refinements—but he was judged able to handle himself well enough. He was free, too, to go out for free-fall sports, wrestling, bank tennis, jai alai, and several others—up to now he had been eligible only for the chess club. He picked space polo, a game combining water polo and assault with intent to maim, and joined the local league, in the lowest or “bloodynose” group.

  He missed his first chance at space-suit drill because a battered nose had turned him into a mouth breather—the respirator for a type-M suit calls for inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. But he was ready and anxious the following week. The instructor ordered his group to “Suit up!” without preliminary, as it was assumed that they had studied the instruction spool.

  The last of the ship’s spin had been removed some days before. Matt curled himself into a ball, floating free, and spread open the front of his suit. It was an unhandy process; he found shortly that he was trying to get both legs down one leg of the suit. He backed out and tried again. This time the big fishbowl flopped forward into the opening.

  Most of the section were already in their suits. The instructor swam over to Matt and looked at him sharply. “You’ve passed your free-fall basic?”

  “Yes,” Matt answered miserably.

  “It’s hard to believe. You handle yourself like a turtle on its back. Here.” The instructor helped Matt to tuck in, much as if he were dressing a baby in a snow suit. Matt blushed.

  The instructor ran through the check-off list—tank pressure, suit pressure, rocket fuel charge, suit oxygen, blood oxygen (measured by a photoelectric gadget clipped to the earlobe) and finally each suit’s walkie-talkie unit. Then he herded them into the airlock.

  Matt felt his suit swell up as the pressure died away in the lock. It was becoming slightly harder to move his arms and legs. “Hook up your static lines,” called out the instructor. Matt uncoiled his from his belt and waited. Reports came in: “Number one hooked.” “Number two hooked.”

  “Number three hooked,” Matt sang out into the mike in his helmet as he snapped his line to the belt of cadet number four. When they were all linked like mountain climbers the instructor hooked himself to the chain and opened the outer door of the lock. They looked out into the star-flecked void.

  “Click on,” directed the instructor, and placed his boots gently against the side of the lock. Matt did likewise and felt the magnetic soles of his boots click against the steel. “Follow me and stay closed up.” Their teacher walked along the wall to the open door and performed an awkward little squatting spread-eagle step. One boot was still inside the door, flat to the wall, with the toe pointing inboard; with the other he reached around the corner, bent his knees, and felt for the outer surface of the ship. He withdrew the foot still in the lock and straightened his body—with which he almost disappeared, for he now stuck straight out from the ship, his feet flat to her side.

  Following in order, Matt went out through the door. The ninety degree turn to get outside the lock and “standing” on the outer skin of the ship he found to be tricky; he was forced to use his hands to steady himself on the door frame. But he got outside and “standing up.” There was no true up-and-down; they were still weightless, but the steel side was a floor “under” them; they stuck to it as a fly sticks to a ceiling.

/>   Matt took a couple of trial steps. It was like walking in mud; his feet would cling stickily to the ship, then pull away suddenly. It took getting used to.

  They had gone out on the dark side of the ship. Sun, Moon and Earth lay behind its bulk, underfoot. Not even Terra Station could be seen.

  “We’ll take a walk,” announced the instructor, his voice hollow in their helmets. “Stick together.” He started around the curving side of the ship. A cadet near the end of the chain tried to break both magnetized boots free from the ship at the same time. He accomplished it, by jumping—and then had no way to get back. He moved out until his static line tugged at the two boys on each side of him.

  One of them, caught with one foot free of the ship in walking, was broken loose also, though he reached wildly for the steel and missed. The cadet next to him, last in line, came loose in turn.

  No more separated, as the successive tugs on the line had used up the energy of the first cadet’s not-so-violent jump. But three cadets now dangled on the line, floating and twisting grotesquely.

  The instructor caught the movement out of the corner of his eye, and squatted down. He found what he sought, a steel ring recessed in the ship’s side, and snapped his static line to it. When he was certain that the entire party was not going to be dragged loose, he ordered, “Number nine—haul them in, gently—very gently. Don’t pull yourself loose doing it.”

  A few moments later the vagrants were back and sticking to the ship. “Now,” said the instructor, “who was responsible for that piece of groundhog stupidity?”

  No one answered. “Speak up,” he said sharply. “It wasn’t an accident; it’s impossible to get both feet off unless you hop. Speak up, confound it, or I’ll haul every last one of you up in front of the Commandant.”

  At the mention of that awful word a small, meek voice answered, “I did it, sergeant.”

  “Hold out your hand, so I’ll know who’s talking. I’m not a mind reader.”

  “Vargas—number ten.” The cadet held out his arm.

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