Copyright © 2015 by Timberwoof Lupindo
Not for redistribution.
The final journeywoof had checked in at the Admissions desk. Timber and Timby were chatting with some of the other cadets.
“So you’re Timber and you’re Timby,” said a woof with black fur.
“No. I’m Timber.”
“Gah. You both look alike! How do we tell you apart?”
“It’s obvious,” said another woof. “Look at their eyes. Timber’s eyes are yellow; Timby’s eyes are brown. And Timby’s a little smaller.”
An officer entered the room.
“Attention!” he said.
Timber and Timby stood up. Timby tapped the shoulder of the cadet still sitting next to him; he put away his book and stood up.
“That means stand up straight, facing me, and listen to every word I say. I am Colonel Ashbow, Commandant of the Academy. That means everyone here follows my orders.
“Though you were invited, you’re all volunteers here: you accepted our invitation. We expect you to stick with it. Space is a dangerous place. It takes courage, brains, and strength to survive. You all have each in some measure; over the next four years we will develop them to the fullest. Every one of you was the smartest kid in your class. But let me warn you: Here, you’re only average. Everybody here is as smart as you are.
“Some of you may have argued with teachers over whether the smaller moon rotates; everybody here knows it does and that’s why it looks like it doesn’t. And those of you who did: nice work. That’s the sort of dedication to the truth we expect from you.
“Some of you are the sons or grandsons of famous people.”
Ashbow looked for and found Timber and Timby with his eyes. They both stood stiffly at attention.
“Just to make it clear, that won’t help you here. You are expected to study and learn on your own strengths.”
“Sergeant, close the door.”
The admissions officer closed the outer door to the office and stood by it. Some of the cadets were a little worried about what was about to happen, but were too busy standing at attention to do anything.
“Cadets, strip off your clothes and fold them neatly.”
“Aroo?” said a cadet with reddish brown fur on his head and white fur on his paws.
“What?” asked Daschiel.
“Do you have a hearing problem? You are cadets of the Woofheim Space Academy! What are you doing in civilian clothes? Strip!”
Timber and Timby stole glances at one another and took off their traveling clothes as fast as they could … and tried to be neat about folding them up.
“At ease. That means stand naturally. Look around. Look at each other.”
He waited and watched as the cadets got over their shyness and looked at the other cadets in the room.
“Moments ago you were a bunch of journeywoofs from all over the planet. Your clothes set you apart. Now you are journeywoofs at the Space Aademy; the only differences are your sex, the color of your fur, and whether you still have tails.”
The colonel’s tail twitched in his tailsock.
“The training directorate, in consultation with the Kr’awwk legation, considered having all the cadets shaved on the first day—“
There were noises of consternation.
“—But we told them that would be going too far. We won’t be shaving you. Today. We also won’t be neutering any of you. Today.”
Some of the inmates visibly squirmed, but the colonel ignored this. Timber tried to hide a smirk. Timby pinched his knees together.
“Now pay attention. I’m going to open this door. You will file out of here in a neat line. You will come to a supply sergeant. He will provide a box and in it you will place all your personal belongings except your civilian ID card. You will take the box and your ID card to the window. The sergeant there will take your box and stow it safely, and take your ID card and trade it for your Cadet ID card. You will take your Cadet ID card to the next window where you will be issued your Cadet Backpack. The pack will contain uniforms, boots, headgear, and a datapad. For the next six weeks those will be your possessions. Now move!”
The naked woofs did as they were told. Even without their traveling clothes, it was still apparent that they came from many parts of their world. They ranged in color from black through brown and gray to tan and white, in various patterns. But taken as a whole, they all looked rather similar: upright-walking bipedal descendants of wolves, furry, pointy ears, protruding snouts … naked and carrying their worldly possessions in cardboard boxes.
Timber handed him his ID card and box of stuff. The sergeant took it, found the cadet ID card, and handed it back.
“Lupindo, Timberwoof. Here you go.”
Timber looked at it. It was Timby’s ID card.
“Sir, this is not correct,” said Timber.
“Don’t call me Sir, I work for a living. What do you mean, this is not correct?”
“This is his card,” Tiber said, indicating his cousin.
“Aren’t you Timberwoof Lupindo?”
“Yes, Si—Sergeant. I am. But so’s he.
“Wise guys. You. Show me your ID card.”
Timby realized that it was not easy to smirk while naked.
The sergeant looked the ID cards over and compared them to their owners.
“Ahum. How do we tell you apart?”
“I’m Timber and he’s Timby. He’s a little smaller than I am. And the color of our eyes.”
The sergeant sighed.
“Timber Lupindo, verify that this is your ID and your possessions.”
Timber looked at the ID card; it was his. The box was the one he gave him.
“I verify it, Sergeant.”
The sergeant looked at him. He used a marker to write TIMBER on the box. He attached a sticky note to the ID card and wrote TIMBER on it as well. He compared Timber’s civilian ID card with the academy one; he stuck the civilian card in a box and handed the academy card to Timber.
Timber took his card and verified again that it was correct—but knew better than to say anything, so he just stood at attention.
“Timby Lupindo. Verify that this is your ID; hand me your possessions.”
“Aye, Sergeant. Verified.”
The sergeant repeated the process with another sticky note, then handed Timby his cadet ID card.
“Thank you, Sergeant. Sorry for the extra trouble.”
“No trouble at all, cadets. Just make sure that in four years I have to call you Sir! Next.”
Timber and Timby followed the cadets ahead of them to the next window.
“Here’s your kit. Take the next spot at a bench.”
The cadets waited, still naked and holding their cadet backpacks, in a room with several rows of wooden benches. Then Ashbow entered the room.
The naked cadets stood at attention.
“Much better. As you were. Open your packs and extract a cadet uniform. Put it on.”
The cadets did as instructed. Their new uniforms were one-piece flight coveralls, orange with white on the chest and gray on the inside legs and arms. Except for the fur on their heads and paws, the uniforms hid the cadets’ unique colorations. They looked around at each other and themselves and saw that they all looked the same. Many of them seemed to stand prouder than they had before.
Daschiel looked about helplessly; he had not been able to get his uniform on. It was as though he didn’t know which end was up and he had the arms inside out.
Fidibus had finished zipping up his uniform, so he turned to his friend.
“Permit me,” Fidibus said.
“How do you people manage?” asked Daschiel.
“Be quiet. Put down your arms.”
Daschiel glared at Fidibus but did as he was told.
Aware that everyone was watching them, Fidibus turned the suit correctly oustide-out, then held it so Daschiel could step into the legs. He helped Daschiel fit his tail into the tailsock, then his arms into the sleeves.
“Now you zip it up yourself.”
Ashbow crossed his arms and watched.
“All finished there?”
Fidibus startled and stood at attention. Daschiel fumbled with the zipper.
“Y-Yes, Sir,” said Fidibus.
“You are a sorry specimen,” Ashbow said to Daschiel.
Daschiel looked up from his work on the zipper.
“Stand at attention when I speak to you!”
Daschiel stopped fumbling and stood, quivering slightly.
“I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but I expect you to get dressed and undressed by yourself. Now strip out of that uniform!”
“Ah … Y-yes, Sir.”
Daschiel pulled the zipper down and clumsily peeled the uniform off himself. He almost stumbled as he tried to step out of the legs. Fidibus stood at attention the whole time, not daring to help.
“Fold it neatly,” said Ashbow.
Daschiel did a half-assed job of it.
“We’re going to work on that … when you're ready to admit you're a cadet and not some kind of self-important snob. Now tell us again who you are.”
“I’m Daschiel Tarkel, Pri—Uh. I am a cadet, Sir. N-nothing more. Sir.” He folded his ears down, closed his mouth, and covered his teeth with his lips. Timber tried not to look surprised; he had not imagined Daschiel could do that.
“Good. You can learn after all. I had my doubts.”
He looked Daschiel up and down.
“You’re out of uniform! Get that uniform on now! Don’t keep us all waiting!”
Panicked, Daschiel unfolded the uniform and fumbled his way into it. He almost fell over trying to get his legs into the pants.
“Relax,” Fidibus whispered. “Move carefully but deliberately.”
The officer glared at Fidibus. Daschiel took a breath, moved more carefully, and managed to get the uniform on. Ashbow stopped glaring; was that a hint of a nod of approval?
“A cadet’s first duty is to his pack. This cadet demonstrated two ways to help: first he tried to do it for the other cadet. Then he showed him how and talk him through it. That is the preferred way. Cadet, never ever do it for him again. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Sir,” Fidibus said.
“Good job on talking him through it.”
Fidibus didn’t know whether to speak, so he bit his lip and nodded slightly.
The officer nodded approval.
“As you were.”
Fidibus relaxed and tried not to be too obvious about sighing in relief.
The officer inspected the cadets’ uniforms.
“Cadets,” he said. “Attach your tailsocks to your left epaulets, like this.”
He turned to show how the strap from the tailsock of his uniform was attached to his uniform at the left shoulder.
“Yes, even those of you without tails.”
He wagged his tail in the tailsock.
The cadets fumbled with their tailsocks but got them in place. Fidibus got his and watched as Daschiel fumbled but finally got his own. Fidibus thought he saw dampness in the fur in the corner of Daschiel’s eye. He’s gotta learn some time, thought Fidibus. Might as well start now.
“Cadets, file neatly out of this room into the next one. One row at a time.”
The cadets trade in their civilian clothes … and lives … for Academy uniforms.