Read Survey Ship Online

Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Speculative Fiction

Survey Ship

Survey Ship
Survey Ship

Survey Ship Bradley, Marion

Survey Ship

How do you make a spaceman?

You start the same way that you start to make a chess master, a ballet dancer, a trapeze performer, or any other difficult and complex task demanding highly trained and concentrated skills, physical or mental; you start when the future professionals are too young to know whether that is what they want out of life, or not. Six is not too young.

United Nations Expeditionary Planetary Survey — UNEPS — starts every year with one hundred five-year-olds, discovered, in early testing, to be both mentally and physically superior.

There is neither elitism nor egalitarianism about the selection. The child of a World Controller or a United Nations Senator cannot be bought or bribed in; while any beggar from the gutters of Bombay or Chicago who notices that his child is exceptionally bright can bring him to a local center for testing. A hundred are chosen; after a year of preliminary, concentrated education, fifty of them are returned to their parents or guardians. They have, for the rest of their lives, no trouble at all in getting scholarships to whatever schools, colleges or graduate schools their parents choose for them, and they never have to worry about unemployment. Even the failures are superior.

Between six and seventeen, nine or ten more will be dropped because of accident, illness, or some previously undiagnosed physical problem; or sometimes, the intensive group living and training turns up a serious emotional instability. Once again, the dropouts
have no trouble in finding highly paid, highly challenging work for the rest of their lives. At twelve, with the equivalent of an ordinary college degree, they begin to specialize, according to each one's particular talent; mathematical, verbal, mechanical, linguistic. Most of them have more than one talent. The mathematical genius with no talent for words, or the creative verbal child with no talent for sciences or mechanical skills, doesn't belong in this training; they usually get weeded out before seven.

By seventeen when they “graduate,” the remaining forty or so are highly trained polymath specialists. It goes without saying that they are keyed up to fever pitch. On this calm December night in Australia, the Southern Cross blazing down from the zenith, the UNEPS Academy was darkened; but there was little sleep for any of the forty-three members of the class who would graduate tomorrow.

Tomorrow, at least thirty of them would fail; the final humiliating washout. Failure was a relative term, of course. Those who remained were assured of work, if not with UNEPS, with governments, space authorities, colonies, teaching, training, administration; the present President of the Academy, and the Secretary of the United Nations Space Authority, were both such “failures” and no one outside the Academy ever thought of them as failures at all. But for the lucky graduates — never more than ten, or fewer than four — there was a universe at their feet, if they could live to claim it.

For those graduates were given a UNEPS spaceship, a Survey Ship, with only one instruction for their final test:

Find us a planet. Find us a planet that UNEPS can colonize.

The lucky ones would be revered, worshipped, envied, and sometimes hated, especially by their classmates. Their nicknames, and their faces, would be known all over Earth within seconds of their selection. Their nicknames — but never their names, or the country of their origin. For, while the UNEPS Academy is in Australia, it is not subject to the current government
of Australia; and the candidates, as soon as it is known that they will remain in UNEPS at the age of six, lose their names, and their nationalities, forever. They represent, not South Africa, or Mexico, or the United States, or England, but the United Nations — and Earth. They are, in the truest sense, Earthmen. No one knew, for instance, whether the present Secretary of the Space Authority was a black from Harlem, Haiti or Nigeria; whether the Academy President, who was known simply as Miri, her Academy nickname bestowed at seven, had been born in California or Hong Kong.

Every student's life, from his sixth year, is aimed at this goal; and all through their training, they know that only one in five — at the highest and most favorable odds — can possibly make it. Sometimes only one or two in a class can qualify. That year there will be no Ship. For each class is trained intensively as a unit — to function as a perfect team with the other members — and only with the members, of that one class. One surviving member of a non-qualifying class could not possibly be expected to merge with four or six or eight crewmen from a year other than his own.

And so on that last night, forty-three candidates lay awake, wondering, and dreading, and fearing, and there was little sleep. For at least thirty-three of them, these twelve years would end in failure. It didn't matter that their lives would be secure, filled with riches and rewards; it would still be failure. For their whole lives had been aimed toward sending them out on a Survey Ship.

There was a rumor floating around the school — nobody knew where it had started — that this year only six had been chosen.

Every one of the forty-three secretly believed that when that Survey Ship left Earth's orbit, he or she would be on it.

And at least forty-two of the forty-three secretly knew, in his or her despairing heart, that he, or she, would be left behind.

Every one of them had different ways of dealing with the tensions of that last night.

Survey Ship

Peake and Jimson were together, as always, playing a Schubert Nocturne in the Music Room.

Earlier that day there had been the ceremony — broadcast by satellite all over the world — where the forty-three graduates passed on their torches to the forty-two remaining in the class who would graduate next year. Peake had been the leftover one, the one who had to stand with his class without a torch to hand to anybody, so that he had stood there, holding the torch awkwardly until it was unobtrusively taken and put out by one of the administrative personnel. That was the kind of person Peake was; tall, black and gangling, with rumpled hair and beaky features, his legs just a little too long for his uniform trousers; he was the one you always expected to trip over his own big feet, or spill the soup all over himself. Like a giraffe, he looked all-hung-together-anyhow, and awkward, and he was quiet and diffident as the result of catastrophic clumsiness in adolescence. But, like the giraffe, his loose parts somehow fitted; he never broke even the most delicate bit of laboratory equipment, and his huge, ham-sized, double-jointed fingers, now moving caressingly over the frets of the violin, had the precision of a surgeon — which is what he was.

Jimson, leaning over the keyboard, was very differ-ent; small, blonde, almost chubby — not overweight; the diet and exercise program of the Academy pre-vented that. But he had round features, and would never be tall; at seventeen he hadn't started shaving yet. His hands, though, looked even more muscular and competent than Peake's; they could span more than an octave. He had wanted to follow Peake into surgery or medicine, but they'd talked it over, at fifteen, and, knowing that two with the same specialty would never be chosen for the same crew, had decided to go different routes. Specialization was always the gamble; every-body in your own specialty was even more your rival than everyone else in the Academy.

Peake let his last note die, stood unmoving while Jimson played the final cadenza; ornate, cheerful, decorative. A good, unemotional choice for tonight, he thought, nothing that could bring on sentiment. Jimson rose, sighed a little, and watched Peake replace his violin in its case on the numbered rack. There were forty-three of them; everyone in the Academy played some instrument, all beginning together in Suzuki violin classes at five.

They walked together to their adjacent cubicles; and, as always, turned into the nearer one, which was Jim-son's. The cubicles had already been stripped; tradi-tionally, before the torch ceremony, all mementoes of the twelve years of training were thrown away, given away, or passed down to anyone in the next class who could use them. Ship members would take nothing from this life — except their own musical instruments — aboard the Ship; and gradually it had become customary for all members of a graduating class to part with their possessions as if each was going to the life of a Ship. Everyone would have to rebuild a new life

Jimson sprawled full-length on the cot; Peake crouched in the single chair, which was, like almost everything else, too small for him. At seven, David Akami had already been taller than anyone else in the class; he had been dubbed “Pike's Peak” which the years had gradually shortened to Peake.

“You've got surgery, deep-space navigation, geology, agronomy,” Jimson repeated, obsessively, “I'm worried about that damned geology. I knew I ought to go into organic chemistry instead! And since all my other specialties are in the biological sciences — ”

“They aren't going to get anybody on the crew who doesn't have at least one overlap with somebody else,” Peake said gently, smiling at his friend, “It's a plus, if anything, that you can move outside the field of Life Sciences. You have linguistics and life support, too — I don't think the overlap matters all that much. Look, Jimmy,” he went on, “We took a calculated risk and we have to be ready to stick by our decision. The two of us are right at the top of the class; nobody except Ching has a higher grade-point average — ”

“But they don't always go by marks, and you know it,” Jimson said, gloomily. “They take in compatibility, and personality, and there's something else too, that a couple — like us — might have trouble adjusting to living with others . . . that's why they want us not to make permanent commitments, on the chance that we'll be separated if one makes Ship and the other doesn't — ”

“Hey Jimson, what's all this?” Peake interrupted with a grin. “We went all over that three years ago, and decided we had two choices; break up, or make us into such a great team they'd want both of us! At the worst, we'll both stay Earthside; at best, when that Survey
Ship pulls out, we'll both be on it, you in Life Support and me in Medic ...”

Jimson glared at his friend. “No, that's not the worst and you know it,” he flung at him, “the worst would be that one goes and the other stays — and I ought to have known it years ago, damn it, why did I let you sell me a deal like that? A good Life-Support man who was a surgeon too — that would have been sure to get on the Ship!”

Peake looked at him in dismay; in twelve years in the Academy, each as the other's closest friend, they had never exchanged a harsh word. “Jimson, that's not fair; we decided it together. And anyhow, it would be too late to worry about it now. Are we going to spend our last night together fighting?”

“Yeah, you know it's going to be the last time, too, don't you?” Jimson flung at him with enormous bitterness, “You set it up just fine, didn't you, to eliminate at least one rival?”

Peake stared in consternation. But he had been intensively trained in group living and the avoidance of conflict. He unfolded his long legs, towering over the boy in the cot.

“I'm not going to quarrel with you, kid. I hoped we could spend tonight together — I think we both need it. But if you feel this way it wouldn't do either of us any good. Look, you'll feel better tomorrow, Reuben.” The use of the private name, rather than the Academy-imposed nickname, was as much a caress as the dark fingers touching Reuben Jamison's light hair.

“Take it easy, kid. Save a seat in the auditorium for me if you get there first. Look,” he added, eager to comfort, “whatever happens, the decision's made — one way or the other, nothing we can do is going to change it. Get some sleep, Reuben. It's settled, right or
wrong, it's done. Relax.”

Jimson flung after him, in sick misery, “Yeah, the decision's made, all right! You don't think they're going to take a pair of queers on their Survey Ship, do you?”

Peake, heartsick, closed the door.

The chapel was an afterthought in the Academy, built in, and still functioning in the style of, a time of agnosticism or atheism among the Establishment; teachers, and therefore almost all the students, were militant atheists. It had been built to appease a small pressure group who had been very vocal about the need for it, but there was no longer, even on paper, an official UNEPS chaplain. The chapel was used, now and then, for concerts of chamber music, and one of the Recreation Officers numbered, far down on the list of his purely nominal duties, that of chaplain and counselor.

Ravi sat there now, cross-legged, silent, breathing in and out almost imperceptibly. Small, dark-skinned, with sharply handsome features, he had been given his nickname because of a chance resemblance to a legendary musician from his own country of origin. Now, deep in meditation, for a time surface thoughts played back and forth across his mind.

It is done. They have made the choice. It is too late for wish or regret. In his heart Ravi was not sure he wished to be sent away from Earth, although his only memories of his world, outside the clean mathematical world of the Academy, were fragmentary; burning heat, blistering sky or torrential stinking rains, the festering sores of beggars crowding, which sometimes haunted him in uneasy nightmares. So that he wondered, sometimes, with something he was too well-trained to identify properly as guilt; why am I here, clean, fed, pampered, and they dying outside there? Images re-

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