By MultiMapper
Copyright ©2002-2009 MultiMapper and CSU Productions.
All Rights Reserved.

For full disclaimer and Copyright information visit Copyright/Disclaimer Page. Continuation of viewing this document is deemed acceptance of all terms on the preceding link. While these stories are provided for free, I would appreciate it if those who were able would consider contributing to this artist via my Patreon.

Chapter 2

A strange rhythmic pulsing drew Valaan from the depths of his sleep.

"Whoever set the alarm for this early is gonna die." Rich said in a low raspy voice.

"Sorry." Terry said nervously as he fumbled to turn off his alarm clock.

Although the idea of more sleep was attractive to Valaan, his curiosity about Terry was enough to cause him to get up to start his day.

"I'm sorry I woke you, Valaan." Terry whispered in a rush.

"I'm not bothered." Valaan said gently.

Terry stopped his frantic movement as he looked at Valaan with surprise, then broke into a broad, cheerful smile as he said, "Good. I'm? glad."

"Why do you want to wake up so early?" Valaan asked in a whisper, trying to be considerate of the other people in the room.

"I wanted to have breakfast and get an early start on studying. Like an early morning cram session. I seem to remember things better that way." Terry said hesitantly as he watched for Valaan's reaction to his reasoning.

After a moment to consider what he wanted to do, Valaan asked, "Would you like some company?"

"Yeah. If you'd like to, that would be great." Terry said happily, then looked around to see if his talking had disturbed anyone.

"I must attend to my morning ablutions, then I will be ready to join you." Valaan whispered carefully.

Terry looked at Valaan with question, then hesitantly asked, "Does that mean that you need to go to the john?"

Valaan smiled at the question and responded, "Something like that. It's just one term that I use to include all the things I do each morning before I start my day."

"Oh. That's handy. Give me a second to get my stuff together and I'll go do my ablutions too." Terry said, then hurried to his locker without waiting for a response.

Valaan smiled as he went to his bunk to spread it up and gather his own things.

* * * * *

"Are you going to shower?" Terry asked when he noticed Valaan getting his towel out of his locker.

"Just a brief rinse. It helps me to feel more awake and aware. I will only be a moment." Valaan said, as he skinned out of his sleep pants.

"I'll give that a try too. I think I'll need every advantage I can get today." Terry said quickly, his tone and nervous energy betraying his anxiety.

Unlike the previous evening, Terry didn't try to hide the devices as he took them off his wrists and ankles.

"Why are you so nervous?" Valaan asked as he paused to wait for Terry to be ready.

Terry looked at Valaan with surprise at the blunt question, then hesitantly responded, "I guess because this is all new to me. I feel completely out of place here."

Valaan chuckled as he said, "Believe me, Terry. I know that feeling."

Terry stared at Valaan with disbelief. Valaan chuckled? A Vulcan chuckled?

"Did I do something wrong?" Valaan asked with concern at Terry's look of awe.

"No. I'm sorry. I just... I always heard that Vulcans didn't laugh." Terry said quickly.

Valaan sadly nodded, then motioned to the shower room, indicating that he was ready to go.

* * * * *

When Terry and Valaan were both under the shower's spray, Terry hesitantly asked, "You're not like other Vulcans, are you?"

"No." Valaan said quietly. "I am different."

There was a long moment of silence.

When both had finished their rinse off, Terry quietly said, "It's okay to be different."

Valaan quirked an eyebrow at Terry, prompting him to expound on his statement.

"I mean... It's really okay. I like that you're able to laugh and smile. It makes it a lot easier to talk to you." Terry hurried to explain.

Valaan toweled himself dry as he said, "I'm glad you approve. I try to restrain my emotions, but... as you've seen, I don't do it very well."

"You don't have to hide your emotions with me. I think I'd rather know what you're feeling." Terry said thoughtfully as he took slow, careful steps back toward the locker room.

Valaan smiled and gave, a single nod before walking ahead of Terry to prepare for the day.

* * * * *

Once both were dressed in their uniforms, they made their way back toward the barracks.

"I was thinking that we could put our stuff away and grab our data padds, then try to figure out what we need to study during breakfast." Terry said as they walked down the hall.

"Yes. Although I skimmed through the study materials, I couldn't find anything to indicate which areas of study we should focus on in preparation for today's activities." Valaan said slowly.

"Me either." Terry said simply, then led the way into the barracks.

* * * * *

After arriving in the cafeteria, both walked through the serving line and made their selections.

Once they were seated, they began to look over their data padds.

"Do you have a list of classes that are gray?" Terry asked cautiously.

"Yes. If you select those classes, you'll see that they require you to select other, prerequisite classes before they are available to you." Valaan said slowly.

"Oh, yeah. I guess you're right." Terry said thoughtfully.

"It seems that I have the ability to select all the classes that are offered to new crewmen, even those that are not included in my specialty." Valaan said carefully.

"Yeah. Maybe this is like a menu for us to pick and choose what classes we want to take first." Terry said speculatively.

"Yes. I think you're right." Valaan said slowly.

"This general operations class looks easy, and I think it's required before you can take a bunch of the others." Terry said as he was reading.

"The protocol class appears to be much the same." Valaan said absently.

"I see three or four other classes that look that way." Terry said in concentration.

"Have you looked at the 'path' option?" Valaan asked curiously.

"No. What does that do?" Terry asked as he looked up from his padd.

"It appears that you can add a list of classes to the menu and it will show you the Starfleet postings for which you will be qualified." Valaan said in concentration.

Terry nodded, then started to select courses on his touch screen.

Valaan was reading over the overview of one of the courses, when Terry said, "Val, look at this."

Terry held out his padd and indicated a box at the bottom.

After a glance at Terry's padd, Valaan looked at the indicator on his own padd.

"It seems that this gives the date that we will be eligible for Starfleet service." Valaan said with realization.

"August, 2006?" Terry asked with a whimper.

"Yes. You have only one course of study added to the path, so If you were to take only one class per term, it would take until that date to complete the minimum requirements, even at the accelerated rate." Valaan said seriously.

Terry let out a sigh of relief and said, "Right. I wasn't thinking. Let's see if I can get that graduation date down a little."

After a long, silent moment, Valaan quietly said, "You called me Val."

Terry looked up from his padd, then thought back over his words. Finally he said, "Yeah. I guess I did. Sorry."

"No. I'm not offended. I was just curious to know why you chose to truncate my name." Valaan said slowly.

Terry shrugged and said, "I don't know. I just did it."

Valaan slowly nodded, then said, "I think I like it. 'Val' sounds much like a Human name."

"Yeah. I guess it does." Terry said consideringly.

Valaan smiled distantly as he said, "When I was young, I almost convinced myself that I was Human; that someone had made a mistake and switched me with a Vulcan child just after I was born. Of course, it is obvious that I am Vulcan, but... I suppose at the time, it was an attempt to explain and accept my... difference."

"Would you like to have a Human name?" Terry asked quietly.

Valaan looked at Terry with surprise, momentarily diverted from the initial point of their conversation.

At Terry's look of question, Valaan considered, then quietly admitted, "It seems silly, but I suppose that I would like that. It would be like the realization of a childhood dream."

"How would you feel if I called you Valentine?" Terry asked cautiously.

Valaan looked at Terry uncertainly, then reluctantly said, "Although I might enjoy that, the process of changing one's name might be laborious and I doubt that I could give a logical reason to justify it."

"My real name is Terrance, but nobody calls me that. If your friends call you Valentine, that's just as good as having your name 'officially' changed." Terry said carefully.

Valaan thought about the words, certain for some reason that it just couldn't be that simple.

"We'd better finish up so we can get to the practice field. I'd like to get there a little bit early." Terry said decisively.

"Yes. I think that would be good." Valaan said, turning his attention back to the padd in his hands.

* * * * *

Valaan and Terry arrived at the practice field, carrying their data padds, not having any idea of what they were going to be doing.

The moment they walked outside, Valaan knew that he was going to have difficulty. The temperature, though not terribly cold by Human standards, was very uncomfortable for him.

"Early birds." A burley man dressed in sweats said absently when he saw Terry and Valaan approach.

Before either could ask, the man said, "You can leave your gear over on the benches."

Valaan and Terry sat their padds where the man had indicated, then walked back onto the field and waited to be told what to do next.

"What are your names, cadets?" the man asked in an authoritative tone.

"Cadet Harper, sir!" Terry answered in a clear, firm voice.

Valaan was a little surprised by Terry's uncharacteristically bold response, but decided that he probably knew what he was doing and responded, "Cadet Valaan, sir!"

The man made a quick note on his data padd, then said, "Not every test you will be given will be announced."

Valaan fought the urge to look at Terry to see if he understood the meaning of the vague statement.

"If the others all pass, they'll never even know that this was a test." the man continued frankly.

From his tone of voice, Valaan assumed that he would not welcome questions.

"What's your name, Cadet?" the man asked as he looked past Valaan and Terry.

"Cadet Crewman Sharan, sir!" Sharan said as he fell into line at Valaan's side.

The man looked at his padd, then gave an impressed nod as he absently said, "Promising."

"You can stow your gear over there, Cadet Sharan." the instructor said with a casual gesture toward the benches.

Valaan fought to keep himself from visibly shivering. He was cold to the point that it was becoming distracting.

The instructor's mood seemed to change, if possible, becoming even more serious as he walked away. He sat his padd on the nearest bench, then returned to the increasing group of cadets.

In a somewhat louder voice than before he said, "In two minutes, we will begin a five mile hike. Anyone who hasn't joined us at that time will be taking a much shorter hike... back to the barracks to gather his or her belongings."

The man glanced to an ensign who had just joined him and silently confirmed that the ensign would be letting any stragglers know that they had 'failed' the unannounced test.

Valaan chanced a glance to his side, past Sharan, to see that the next person in line was Melanie and beyond her were the rest of their bunkmates.

It seemed curious that the instructor hadn't asked the others' names when they arrived.

"I am Lieutenant Rybak. Each morning you will report to me at 06:00 so that when you've completed your academic studies, I can also assure Starfleet that you are in adequate physical condition to perform your duties."

"Cadets! Move out!" the Lieutenant called as he started walking.

* * * * *

By the end of their first mile, Valaan was finally beginning to feel less cold.

The pace that the instructor set was brisk, but not at all difficult for Valaan to keep up with.

Although he tried to keep his attention focused ahead of him, he couldn't help but notice that some of the others were carrying data padds and a few even had the cloth tool bags that they had been given after orientation.

Valaan was somewhat surprised when he realized that both Rich and Roger seemed to be winded after only three miles.

In contrast it seemed that Terry, who was so much smaller than the rest of them, seemed not to be having to exert the slightest effort.

"Let's pick up the pace! We're going to run the last mile!" Lieutenant Rybak called suddenly.

Valaan was only too happy to comply with the order. The increased pace might help him to finally feel somewhat warm.

* * * * *

"How many did we lose, Ensign Morrow?" Lieutenant Rybak asked as soon as they arrived back at the practice field.

"Eleven, sir." the young officer said hesitantly.

"More than usual." Lieutenant Rybak said absently as he accepted his padd from the Ensign.

"D 7 B arrived as a group." Ensign Morrow said regretfully.

"And left as a group." Lieutenant Rybak said absently, then asked, "Did they say it?"

"Yes, sir." Ensign Morrow said shyly.

Lieutenant Rybak shook his head in bemusement, then looked at the group of cadets who were all waiting patiently for his next words.

"Something to remember, Cadets." he said in a booming voice, "Life isn't 'fair'. Starfleet isn't 'fair'. Excuses are useless and counterproductive. If you're told to be somewhere, it's an order. If you can't follow orders, we don't need you."

After a momentary look around the group to see that his message had been received, Lieutenant Rybak looked at the Ensign and asked, "Do you have their class assignments?"

"Yes, sir." Ensign Morrow said smartly, then faced the group of cadets and said, "Your next class will begin at 09:00. Once I've told your group where your class is located, you are dismissed."

Valaan estimated that they had nearly an hour before they were expected to class. That would give him plenty of time to shower and prepare.

"...D 7 T, Room 310..." Ensign Morrow called out, then paused while Valaan's group left the field.

"I'll get our padds." Terry said as he hurried to the benches.

"Thank you, Terry." Valaan said with a slight smile as he walked to join the rest of his class group.

"No problem." Terry said cheerily.

"Here you go Sharan." Terry said as he handed Sharan his padd.

"Thank you." Sharan said in a slightly puzzled voice.

Terry smiled, then jogged over to give Valaan his padd.

* * * * *

The rest of the group were all obviously hungry and decided to go to the cafeteria before showering. Valaan and Terry shared a glance as they walked and silently agreed that they would go along.

As the group of cadets walked into the cafeteria, Terry quietly said, "Valentine and I were looking over the study materials before calisthenics and figured some things out."

"Valentine?" Sharan asked cautiously.

"Yeah. We thought that while he's on Earth, he should have a more Human sounding name." Terry said dismissively.

"Are you alright with that Valaan?" Melanie asked uncertainly.

"Yes. I agree with Terry that my true name sounds very... formal. You are all welcomed to address me as Valentine or Val, if you choose." Valaan said carefully.

"Sure. Whatever." Roger said as he broke away from the group and walked toward the serving line.

"We're going to get our food, then you can tell us about what you've found." Melanie said with a grin.

Valaan nodded his acceptance, then watched as the group walked away.

"That was alright wasn't it?" Terry asked quietly as he walked to the nearest unoccupied table.

It took a moment for Valaan to understand the reason for Terry's concern.

"Yes, Terry. It is quite alright." Valaan said with a gentle smile, then added more quietly, "Thank you."

* * * * *

"Okay, what have you guys found?" Rich asked as he approached the table.

"Do you want to explain it Val?" Terry asked casually.

Valentine took a moment to consider his words before saying, "Terry and I discovered the 'path' program on the padd. We reasoned that you can add the classes that you want to take into that program and it will calculate not only when you will be eligible for Starfleet service, but also for which positions you will be qualified."

"It's like a career planner for your entire time at the academy." Terry summarized.

"I saw that program there, but I thought it was just a file maintenance thing." Melanie admitted shyly.

"We also noticed that all the courses seem to be listed as being 1 month long." Terry said seriously.

"Yeah. I noticed that last night." Roger said thoughtfully. "I guess that's why they call this the accelerated course."

"There are some requisite classes that must be completed before one is eligible for Starfleet service, but there are other classes that can be taken at any time. It seems that you are allowed to take as many or as few classes as you would like." Valentine said as he looked at the group.

"Sounds good. I think I'll do better if I can pace myself." Roger said honestly.

"I would prefer to devote extra effort to completing my training as quickly as possible." Sharan said frankly.

After a moment, Melanie said, "Then I guess it's good that they have it set up this way, so you can both do things the way you want."

Valentine smiled at the statement and nodded his agreement.

"What about you Val? Are you going to be the tortoise or the hare?" Rich asked with a grin.

Valentine was pleased with himself, knowing that many Vulcans wouldn't understand the obscure reference.

"The hare, I think. Like Sharan, I am willing to devote the extra time and effort so that I may complete my training in as short a time as possible." Valentine said thoughtfully.

Melanie glanced from Valentine to Sharan, then slowly said, "Me too."

"Well, the rest of you can knock yourselves out if you want. I don't mind being called a tortoise. Just remember how that race ended." Rich said frankly.

"I'm on the tortoise team." Roger said simply.

"Me too." Terry said, then cast an apologetic look in Val's direction.

Valentine smiled at Terry to assure him that he didn't disagree with his decision.

"I guess we'd better get a move on if we're going to get cleaned up before our first class. Is everyone ready?" Melanie asked cheerfully.

"If we're all done, let's go." Rich said as he stood.

Sharan glanced uncertainly at Val for a moment before standing to join the others.

* * * * *

"Everyone, please find a seat and sign in on your terminals." A stern looking man in a Starfleet uniform said from the front of the room.

"I am Lieutenant Commander Gibbs. You will address me as such." He said firmly and seemed to be confirming that his message had been understood before he continued, "E-1 cadets. I don't know if you realize just what you're in for, but now that you're here, you'd better hang on with both hands and not let go for anything... or you're gone."

Glances flew around the room at the menacing statement.

"In the accelerated course, the washout rate is over 70%. I'm sure you don't understand why that is, so I'll explain it now."

"On the terminals in front of you, each of you have your aptitude tests. You also have a list of classes offered. You have class books on your padd. You also have a list of the required courses that all crewmen MUST pass."

"Your class group has scheduled times that you may visit the labs where you may gain practical experience in your field of choice. Be aware that there isn't any lab requirement for your standard classes. The labs are provided to allow you to gain hands-on experience to aid in your understanding of the course study materials."

"At the end of week two, three and four, there will be a test on the courses you've taken. Each concentrated course study is 30 days, at the end of that time, you will choose the next month's courses. You must pass at least one class every 30 days, or you're out. Period. If your grades drop to a point where it's impossible for you to pass, you will be asked to leave. It would be a waste of time, your time and ours, for you to continue." Lieutenant Commander Gibbs said firmly.

As all the new cadets were digesting that information, Lieutenant Commander Gibbs said, "For the next month, I will be your facilitator."

After a long moment of puzzled silence, Rich finally asked, "You mean we're only going to have one teacher for all these classes?"

"No. I'm not a teacher. You're not in grade school anymore. No one here is going to hold your hand or try to force feed you information. You have been given all the requirements and the tools you'll need. I will be here from nine to noon each day to answer your questions and offer advice. But whether you pass or fail is entirely up to you."

"If there are no other questions..." Lieutenant Commander Gibbs said, then paused.

"...It's time to sign up for your classes. You have until noon to make your choices. At noon, all the classes are locked in and you'll have 2 weeks to prepare for your first exam." Lieutenant Commander Gibbs said firmly, then continued in a more relaxed tone, "If you have any questions during the selection process, I will be here for you."

There was absolute silence as everyone thought about what the next month held for them.

"You may begin." Lieutenant Commander Gibbs said, then took a seat behind his desk.

"Excuse me." Roger said timidly as he raised his hand.

"Yes?" Lieutenant Commander Gibbs asked as he looked up from his terminal.

"Are we allowed to talk to each other?" Roger asked quietly.

"If you like. Just try to be respectful of your classmates and not be unnecessarily distracting." Lieutenant Commander Gibbs said, then turned his attention back to his terminal screen.

Roger nodded, then turned to Rich at his side and began to whisper.

"Are you still planning to be the hare?" Terry asked quietly.

"Yes. It would seem to be more of a necessity given this new information." Valentine said distantly.

"I don't know. I think I'll do better if I'm able to focus more attention on fewer classes." Terry said in thought.

"There is that. But I believe that by taking more classes, there is less chance that I will be unable to meet the minimum requirement for the month." Valentine said carefully.

"You mean flunk out." Terry said in a whisper.

"Yes. That's what I mean." Valentine said frankly.

Terry looked at his terminal screen for a moment, then said, "I still think I'll be better off taking the path of the tortoise and just sticking with a few easy classes this first month, then when I'm more comfortable with doing things this way, I can pick up the harder classes."

"I think that makes good sense." Valentine said with a slow nod of his head. "I'm still going to take the maximum number of classes allowed, and try to complete my Starfleet service requirements as quickly as possible."

"I guess in about a month we'll see who made the right choice." Terry said with a speculative grin.

"I don't recall anyone saying that there was a right choice." Valentine said honestly.

Terry thought about it for a moment, then said, "I guess we'll know in a month."

* * * * *

As soon as the group all settled into their chairs in the cafeteria, Melanie quickly asked, "So who stuck to their original plan?"

"Full boat." Sharan said simply before taking a bite of his food.

"I too have chosen to take a full class load." Valentine said, not feeling especially sure of his choice.

"Me too." Melanie said with a sigh, then looked at the others with question.

"I signed up for General Procedure 1 and Protocol 1." Rich said frankly.

"Me too. They looked like the easiest courses offered." Roger said with a smile.

"I took both of those and Services 1." Terry said shyly.

"You're planning on going into ship's services?" Rich asked with surprise.

"Yeah. My placement tests said that that's where I would probably work out best." Terry said quietly.

"Mine said that too, but I went with my 2nd rank choice which was security." Rich said seriously.

"I'm going for communications tech." Roger said in a distracted tone.

"What about you Sharan? What department are you going for?" Melanie asked cheerfully.

"Communications with a specialization in dynamic adaptive translation software." Sharan said simply.

"Oh, so you and Roger could probably study together." Melanie said with a smile.

"No. We couldn't." Sharan said as he looked her in the eyes.

"Why not?" Melanie asked cautiously, sensing that Sharan wanted her to ask.

"Because I have chosen the 'Path of the Hare'." Sharan said to the group, then looked Melanie in the eyes as he explained, "I will have completed the first level communication classes and moved on by the time Roger chooses to take them."

"Oh yeah. I guess that makes sense." Melanie said, then glanced at Valentine and asked, "Did you go with Engineering?"

"Yes. I chose mostly general courses so I can learn the skills that are required in all areas of engineering, thus increasing my chances to receive a starship assignment." Valentine said seriously.

"So you and Sharan both took the 'Path of the Hare' but in opposite directions?" Terry asked curiously.

"How do you mean?" Sharan asked with interest.

"You both chose to get a 'full boat' of classes, but Valentine is trying for the broadest, most commonly needed skill set while you're going for just one, very unique specialty." Terry said thoughtfully.

"If it happens that there is no need for my specialty when my training is complete, then I can broaden my studies to make my transcript more diverse." Sharan said reasonably.

"And if, when my training is complete, my set of skills are too broad to allow me to stand out from other candidates, I will begin to focus on a specialty." Valentine said carefully.

"Instead of a race between the tortoise and the hare, it's going to be a race between the hare and the hare." Roger said with a chuckle.

"No." Sharan said seriously. "I am not in competition with any of you, only with myself."

"Well said." Valentine quickly responded. "If it helps any of you to motivate yourselves by competing against my achievements, feel free to do so. But please understand that my motivation will be to push the limits of my own abilities. I am not competing with any of you and will be willing to offer any assistance that you need."

"What about the other hare? Does that go for you too?" Roger asked curiously.

"Yeah. Absolutely." Melanie said with a nod.

* * * * *

"What are we supposed to do now?" Roger asked as he walked from the dropoff window in the cafeteria.

"Whatever we want, I guess." Melanie said with a shrug.

"Our class is only until noon. After lunch, we can work in the labs if we want... or study, I guess." Rich said uncertainly.

"I recall that it was mentioned in orientation that study rooms were available in the library. I think I'll go there and begin to read my class books." Valentine said seriously.

"I would..." Sharan began to say, then caught himself.

"If any of you are interested in joining me, you are welcomed." Valentine said, then turned and began walking away.

"Start as you mean to go on." Sharan said, then started walking quickly to catch up to Valentine.

"I guess I should go with the other hares. I'll see you tortoises later." Melanie said with a grin, then rushed to catch up to the pair.

Terry seemed to be undecided about what he should do, but reluctantly followed Rich and Roger back to the barracks.

* * * * *

"I thought we were training for starship duty. From the amount of walking and running they're making us do, you'd think they were training us to walk from planet to planet." Richard Chu grumbled as they walked down the hall.

"And your bitching about it every single day makes it so much easier." Roger muttered at his side.

"Did any of you find out anything from the other cadets about the tests?" Melanie asked abruptly, obviously anxious about the coming exam.

"There's nothing more to know. Every test is different. There is no way to know what the test will be like. One of the guys that I talked to said that even the people giving the tests don't know until the day of the test." Rich said with frustration.

"And they said that the tests are hard. Really, really hard." Roger added grimly.

"One of the guys who's been here for about four months told me that he's been through three class groups. The rest of his group would flunk out and they'd move him to another group." Terry said in an anxious voice.

"Have you heard anything Val?" Melanie asked curiously.

"No. I've been devoting all my time to studying. I haven't had much of a chance to socialize." Valentine said carefully.

"That's what you get for taking the hard classes right at the beginning." Roger said frankly.

"Guys, it's time." Melanie said nervously.

Glances of concern were exchanged before the group walked into their classroom for their first test.

* * * * *

"Before we begin. I will explain how this test works." Lieutenant Commander Gibbs said slowly.

"For each class module that you've taken, you will have one question. Each question has only one correct answer. Simply put, it's pass or fail. This test is one quarter of your grade for the term, which means, if you fail all your modules today, then you may be leaving us after next week's test... which will also be for one quarter of your grade."

"Begin." Lieutenant Commander Gibbs said as he walked to take his seat.

* * * * *

Valentine looked at the first question on his screen carefully. He slowly read through it, then read it again to be sure that he completely understood what it was asking.

Although he remembered studying the historic precedents and applications of the Starfleet codes, the one that the question was referring to was extremely obscure and little more than a technical note.

After carefully thinking through what he wanted to say, Valentine began to key in his answer.

* * * * *

As Valentine finished answering his last question, he noticed that he was the last cadet in the room.

Lieutenant Commander Gibbs seemed to be engrossed in something on his terminal screen and didn't make any indication of noticing when Valentine stood and left the room.

In the hall, he found Terry standing just outside the door, staring vacantly as tears streamed down his cheeks.

Although Valentine had been trained all his life to avoid displays of emotion, he knew that there was only one thing that any 'feeling' being could do in this situation.

Valentine walked to Terry and pulled him into a hug.

"I failed. All three of them, I think." Terry whispered in despair.

"I'm sorry, Terry." Valentine said in a whisper.

"I... I never imagined that a test could be that..." Terry said in a diminishing voice that ended in a sob.

"Let's go to the barracks, I'm sure the others will be there. And I doubt that anyone is happy with this test." Valentine said as he shifted Terry to his side to walk with him.

"How do you think you did?" Terry asked quietly.

"There are three modules that I am certain that I answered correctly. Four more that I am not so certain of. And one that... I guessed." Valentine finished reluctantly.

"Thanks for being here for me Val." Terry said quietly as they walked.

"As I told you when we arrived, 'If we're going to share a room, we should be willing to help each other.'." Valentine said frankly.

"I'm seeing that now. I'm going to have to get really serious from now on or I'm going to be gone in 1 more week." Terry said as they walked into the barracks together.

* * * * *

"Where is Rich?" Terry asked as he looked around.

"I don't know. He finished his test before I did." Melanie said absently.

"How do you think you did?" Valentine asked Melanie quietly.

"I... I don't know. I'm pretty sure I passed the Medical Terminology module and I lucked out on the Protocol question, but the rest... I just don't know." Melanie said with a shake of her head.

"When do you think we'll get the results?" Roger asked quietly.

"Since the test was computerized, it is possible that the results are already posted." Sharan said frankly.

"I guess we'd better sign in and look." Melanie said with apprehension.

The door opening drew everyone's attention.

All of them were surprised to see an unfamiliar young man walk into the room with an empty carry-all container.

"Where is Cadet Chu's bunk?" He asked quietly.

"Right here." Roger said as he pointed.

The man nodded and walked to the indicated bunk.

"What's going on?" Melanie asked quickly, afraid that she already knew the answer.

"I've been sent for Cadet Chu's belongings. he's withdrawn from the academy." The crewman said frankly as he opened Rich's cabinet.

"But why? This was only the first test." Melanie asked helplessly.

"You'd have to ask him. I was just sent to gather his things." The crewman said quietly as he worked.

"He must have realized that since he only took two classes, that he had very little chance of being able to pass either course." Sharan said speculatively.

"How do you think you did Sharan?" Melanie asked, obviously wanting to change the subject.

"I believe that I passed at least some of the courses." Sharan said reluctantly.

"Grades are in." Roger said as he looked at his padd.

Valentine walked to his bunk and opened his locker to retrieve his padd.

"Good luck guys." The crewman said as he took the placard with Rich's name off his cabinet and attached it to the front of the carry-all.

"Thanks." Terry said as he nervously walked to his own bunk.

Valentine signed in on his padd and found the test results link available on his main menu.

Reluctantly, he selected the link and watched as the test results filled the screen.

He wanted to be happy at the news that he had passed six of his eight courses. But the two glaring red failures stood out and filled his vision.

"Shit." Terry whispered as his tears fell.

Valentine put his padd back in his locker then moved to Terry's bunk and sat beside him to offer him comfort.

Melanie glanced over to see Sharan sitting on the unassigned bunk, the other side from Valentine's. Sharan was staring at the padd in his hands with a lost, helpless look on his face.

Without really thinking it through, she climbed down from her bunk and moved to sit beside Sharan.

"We've got two more tests. We can still make it up." Melanie said softly.

"I just... I don't fail." Sharan said distantly.

"You haven't failed. You've just set the bar a little bit higher for your next test." Melanie said gently, hoping that she was saying the right thing.

After a moment to consider the words, Sharan reluctantly nodded his agreement.

"How are you doing Roger?" Valentine asked gently as he held Terry close to his chest.

"I failed them both." Roger said in a whisper.

Valentine held out an arm, inviting Roger into the hug.

Roger weakly smiled at the action, but slightly shook his head in refusal.

"The only way to prevent this from ending badly is to study. Starting now." Sharan said as he stood from Melanie's side.

After a moment, Melanie stood and said, "He's right. Sitting here feeling sorry for ourselves isn't going to help us pass the next one."

"Now that we know how hard these tests really are, we at least have an idea of how hard we have to work to prepare." Roger said with resignation.

"Yes. We should begin now." Valentine said as he shifted Terry to stand at his side.

After a moment to wipe his eyes, Terry straightened and said, "Let's do it."

To Be Continued...