“I think maybe that wasn’t very honorable,” said Timber. He, Timby, and two others were walking away from the Space Academy’s cafeteria, giggling about the pran they had pulled on Daschiel.
“That’s right. Daschiel was being a total tailhole,” said one of the cadets who had made their escape with them.
“Oh, hell! Where are we supposed to be?”
“Right. This way, think.”
“Cadets, halt!” someone yelled.
The four almost stumbled into one another as they halted and stood at attention.
“Where are you going?” asked the officer.
“Uh. Back to the classroom?”
“I think you need to be back with your group. Isn’t that them over there, with that sergeant?”
They turned and looked.
“Uh. Yes, Sir.”
“Well, get your asses over there! Now move!”
The cadets ran to catch up with the rest of their group, who were just then exiting the cafeteria. They slowed down as they approached and tried to nonchalantly join up.
The sergeant turned and faced them. Daschiel and Fidibus were standing behind him, looking smug.
“Ah,” said the sergeant. “Good of you to join us. Follow me to your quarters.”
The sergeant turned and led the way from the cafeteria across the campus to a dormitory. The cadets followed him up the stairwell. On the fourth floor the door opened to a long room; at the far end was another door. Against the wall on either side, in four groups, were boxes open on the sides and containing bedding, with drawers below. Each one was just big enough to comfortably hold a woof.
The sergeant stood in front of one of the boxes and addressed the cadets.
“Cadets, gather round. Colonel Ashbow has returned to his duties. I am Sergeant Stagblood.”
Timber tried not to giggle; he really did.
“I will be your instructor for the next month. The first thing you will learn is the use of these bunks. These are training mockups; we’re not likely to suffer an actual atmospheric blowout here in Tarkel City.”
A few cadets laughed.
“You think this is funny? Lupindo, Lupindo, Tarkel, Fidibus! Front and center!”
The four cadets made their way through the others to face the sergeant.
“Cadets, make room; clear back space from the center here to these four bunks. You four, stand in the middle here.”
Timber thought he knew what was about to happen. He suspected this had to do with the kerfuffle earlier; his heart raced.
“I understand there was an altercation in the mess earlier involving these four cadets. You seem to like being the center of attention, so you’re going to demonstrate how to get into a vacuum safety escape trunk.”
Timber looked around. Daschiel was on his right, Fidibus behind him, and Timby on the other corner.
“Your bunks are configured like vacuum safety escape trunks. You will each occupy one bunk. You will get to like it in there; if your ship or station has a blowout, this will be your cozy escape from death by vacuum.
“You will notice that these bunks are open. That’s for two reasons: One, to let the laundry in there air out, and two, to be ready in case of an emergency. I’m going to say ‘Go’. Then you four cadets race to your nearest bunk. Get in and whack the Close button. Last one in stays all night. Go.”
Timber almost missed the sergeant saying “Go”—almost. He ran for the bunk on his left. Something hit his ankle and he tumbled to the carpeted floor.
“Fuck!” he yelled. He got up and leaped into the bunk he had picked out as his. Backpack still on his back, he twisted around and found the Close button, conveniently large. He slammed it. A transparent cover slid down out of the top of the box and sealed him in. Had he made it in time? He looked out of his box and saw that the sergeant had tackled Daschiel and was pinning him to the floor. Beyond, he could see that Timby and Fidibus were in their boxes.
The sergeant got up off Daschiel and said “Go!”
Daschiel got up and ran into his box; he fumbled a but but apparently found the Close button because the bunk closed.
The sergeant addressed the cadets; Timby could hear him through the intercom.
“Never … ever … impede or hinder someone getting into a vacuum safety trunk. For that lovely stunt, you’re staying in there all night, Cadet. Have you done latrine duty?”
“What?” asked Daschiel.
“Have you gone to the latrine and had a bowel movement? Have you made poopy?”
“Uh, No. Sergeant.”
“In that case, you get to demonstrate what a cadet does when sealed in his vacuum safety trunk. Cadets, gather round and watch. Seven of you per trunk.”
Timber’s eyes went wide. What?
“That’s right. All four of you are going to demonstrate. First, take off your back packs.”
Timber tried to ignore the fact that seven other cadets were watching his every move. It was tricky to move in the cozy confines of the container, but he was able to take his pack off his back and set it aside.
“Now, take off your uniforms.”
Timby suspected this was coming. He sighed and unclipped the tailsock from his left epaulet, unzipped the zipper, and wriggled out of the uniform. He set that aside as well.
“That wasn’t so hard. Now look around you. In the back of the trunk are some cabinet doors. These contain water, food, urine bags, and diapers. Find one labeled Diaper and open it up. Take a diaper out.”
There were giggles from the watching cadets.
“If you think this is funny, you can do the exercise, too. The diaper has a label on the front; you’ll want to be able to do this in the dark. Put that on you; don’t be shy. Wrap it between and around your legs, then fasten the tape on either side. Reach behind yourself and fit it over your tail. Well done. I hope you’re comfortable in there.
“Colonel Ashbow informs me that you all paid attention during his lecture on Pack Values. Apparently some of you weren’t paying such close attention. Space is dangerous. It will kill you without thinking about it. So you have to think.
“Tarkel here seemed to think it would be clever to trip another cadet, thereby guaranteeing that he would not be last in his trunk. That’s not how we do things here at the Academy. We do things as a pack. Together.”
Some of the cadets standing around had worried looks on their faces. A few wars were pointed down in submission.
“That’s right. We’re all spending the night in our trunks. Cadets, line up in the center of the room, one trunk each. When I say ‘Go’, get in your trunk as fast as you can and close it.”
He watched the cadets line up at the ready. Some of them twitched in nervous anticipation.
Timber couldn’t see many of the other trunks, but he could hear the commotion and the thumps of trunks slamming shut.
“You saw the demonstration of how to get out of your uniform and into a diaper. Cadets, do it now!”
The sergeant walked up and down the dormitory and looked just enough to verify that each cadet was getting into a diaper.
“Well, you’re all grown-up woofs by the looks of things. No one screwed this up too badly. You’re all on liberty from now until lights out … but you get to stay in your bunks. Get your backpacks out and retrieve your datapads. Register your datapad with your name and the number on your ID card. Explore the datapad; learn its functions. Write a letter home, play some space games, do the homework for tomorrow’s lessons.
“Set your bunk windows to transparent. We’re going to check on you now; this is your last chance to panic.”
The sergeants walked past each of the bunks in their sections and made eye contact with the occupants. Timby gave him the thumbs-up sign. The sergeant returned it; Timber set his window to opaque.
There was a commotion at the next bunk. Timber heard the sergeant talking.
“Cadet, look at me. Take a deep breath; let it out slowly. You are safe. Nothing will harm you. Look at me. Look around your bunk. Reach all around with your arms. Good. … No, I’m not letting you out. You’re perfectly safe. Take a deep breath, Cadet. Relax. … Close your eyes. Imagine sitting in a field under the open sky, stars and the Great Arc of stars over your head. Breathe deep. You can breathe. You’re safe. … Now open your eyes and look at me. Tell me where you are.”
“I’m in a box, a small box. I don’t like it.”
“Can you breathe?”
“Can you move?”
“What’s the problem?”
“I don’t like it in here. It’s too tight.”
“It’s comfortable in there. It’s cold hard vacuum out here. You don’t want to be out here. You’re safe in there. Close your eyes; go back to that field with the stars. Now you’re in a cozy sleeping bag, nice and wrm. Breathe. Good. Relax. Can you breathe?”
“Is there a problem?”
“Uh. Less, Sergeant.”
“Nice action, cadet. Keep working on that wide open field. Your packmates are all here with you. Packmates, speak up.”
“Hey, buddy. We’re here.”
“Yeah, woof. You’re good. We’re in that field with you.”
“Breathe easy, woof.”
“How are you doing, buddy?”
“I’m okay. Just a little scared.”
“We’re all scared, Cadet,” said the sergeant. “But you’re safe. Read a book; listen to music. Then sleep tight; we’ll wake you in the morning. Nice action, cadets. Take care of your packmate.”
“Good night; sleep tight. You’ll need it in the morning.”
He and the other sergeants left through the far door.
“I guess we’re stuck in here for the night,” said Timber.
The cadets regroup at the dormitory, where they discover some special features of the bunks.