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Academy Exercise

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Academy Exercise

by Sheila Clark

Ask the male students at Starfleet Academy to name their least favourite subject and at least ninety out of every hundred will say "Survival".

Ask the female students the same question and probably ninety nine out of every hundred will give the same answer. The only reason it is not a unanimous 100% is the presence of a handful of students, most of whom plan to go into Security, who happen to be as interested in athletic pursuits as academic ones - if not more interested.

Indeed, physical education of any kind was not liked, especially by the women, but most students did reluctantly accept the need for it; in the enclosed environment of a starship or even many starbases there was no other method of exercising. But Survival? Those of the first year cadets who were wanting a career in navigation or engineering knew that their chances of seeing alien planets was almost non-existent. Their lives would be spent in space, their planetfalls on civilised shore leave planets! What need did they have for Survival? Security would need it, yes - but for anyone else?

The authorities knew - of course - that the subject was unpopular; it always had been. But what had never been publicised was that occasionally - very, very occasionally - in the past (and even more rarely in the present) ships had been damaged, their crews left with no option but to land on the nearest available planet, to survive as best they might without the advantages that modern technology could give them until rescue came; and on one occasion, in the very early days of spaceflight, rescue had not come for over twenty years, and then only by chance - and by that time most of the crew had resigned themselves to life on what was, fortunately, a not-too-hostile world, and had established what the Federation realised had to be accepted as a colony. So Starfleet Academy continued to include Survival as a compulsory subject.

They might have to attend the lectures, but no power on earth served to make many of the first year cadets listen. The athletic ones listened, but found that they often knew a lot of the basics. The conscientious ones listened, even when they didn't feel that the subject was applicable to them, and some of what they heard stuck in their minds, for Lt. Yde knew his subject and was, if they would only admit it, very interesting. But many of them did not listen - indeed, many of them deliberately missed the lectures, once they discovered that Yde, unlike many of the Academy staff, made no attempt to track down absentees - trusting to luck and an evening spent glancing over the notes of a conscientious friend to get them a passing grade at the exams - until the date for the first exams arrived.

The shock came when they discovered that the Survival exam was not, as they had fondly expected, a written one, but a practical one. Their lecturer, who had appeared oblivious of the lack of interest, now showed himself to be the possessor of a streak of what the absentee cadets could only call sadism; the cadets who attended the lectures preferred to call it a sense of humour, while admitting that it was indeed sadistic. The last lecture before the exams was given to the handful of first year students who attended regularly and was composed of a number of tips calculated to help them pass. The absentees, on the other hand, simply found an unsigned note in with their mail the next day, telling them to report to the main hall at ten hundred hours that morning. And in the hall they found Lt. Yde - and beside him the Principal. The students were informed that they were to be beamed to one of the orbiting space stations and from there beamed down to somewhere on Earth. They were to treat the planet as a Prime Directive world - they must avoid being seen by any inhabitant, and they had three days to find their way to the nearest police station. To help them they would each be given three maps; one was of the area where they were, the other two were of areas with a similar geography but would be of no guidance whatsoever. They could travel singly or in pairs - but nobody would be allowed to team up with a student who had attended the lectures. Indeed, that would be impossible, for those students had already left.

* * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, the conscientious students had been beamed down a little earlier.

Jean-Luc Picard looked down at the snow, into which his feet had sunk a couple of inches, then glanced round, his eyes opening rather wide as he realised that he and his companion had been landed within two or three metres of a sheer precipice which dropped down to a small lake that was below the snowline. Beyond it the ground sloped gently down towards some trees. In the distance he could see snow-topped hills. Beside them were the rucksacks they had packed with what they considered survival necessities, and, beside them, two ice axes that they had not included. He glanced at his companion. "What do you think, Jack?"

Jack Crusher frowned. "I think it looks faintly familiar. It reminds me of a mountain my brother and I climbed three or four years ago." He looked at the distant hills, trying to assess how far he and his companion were from them, his eyes eventually settling on a hill whose summit was little below them. "Yes! That hill over there... "

Picard followed Crusher's pointing finger. "What of it?"

Crusher grinned. "It's called Little Pap. We're in Scotland, on top of Lochnagar. That's a real bit of luck - "

"Maybe not," Picard commented. "I doubt he would be so blatant as to send anyone to his home area, but I think Yde is pulling out all the stops to swing things so that the students who paid attention to the course have every opportunity of passing. Remember - he asked us, right at the beginning, if any of us had orienteering experience? If I remember, you said then that you'd had at least one walking holiday in Scotland that included route-finding."

"So I did." Crusher thought about it for a moment. "Yes - he did push a bit to find out where I'd been, too... You could be right, Jean-Luc. Let's see - Howard Sulley said he'd climbed in the Alps - we can check with him. If that's where he ended up - "

"We can be pretty sure Yde cheated - this time - to give us the best possible chance. I wonder where he will send the others?"

"I doubt it'd matter. They could be beamed down in the middle of Central Park and still fail - because they aren't even going to know how to keep themselves warm at night."

"That's true," Picard admitted. He dug into his pack for the three maps they had been given. "This one is Norway... Here's Scotland. Where are we?"

Crusher studied the map for a moment, then pointed. "Here. Lochnagar. There's Little Pap. The direct path down passes on this side of it."

Picard peered at the map. "Where's the nearest town? Or at least the nearest place that'll have a police station?"

Crusher nibbled his lower lip. "Probably Braemar. It's to the north-west, and it's all empty territory between here and there."

"Probably?"

"We're about midway between Braemar and Ballater, which is a little bigger." He indicated the two places on the map.

"There seems to be a track leading towards Ballater," Picard said slowly. "All right, we'll head for there."

Crusher grinned. "We don't have to worry too much about anyone seeing us. This is all pretty deserted countryside; a few climbers and walkers, perhaps a shepherd or two... I know we're meant to avoid being seen if possible, but we can pass ourselves off as walkers easily enough."

Picard looked round the deserted landscape again, just as a lone climber appeared round a bend a few metres away from them.

"Afternoon," he grunted as he passed, clearly intent on reaching the summit.

They nodded a polite response, then as the climber passed out of earshot Picard commented, almost in a whisper, "You know, Jack, I've been thinking. Yde may be giving us an advantage this time, but I suspect he may have set a trap or two as well, to see if we have been paying attention as well as attending lectures. With that in mind, that track looks just a little too inviting. Is there an alternative route?"

"Yes. That path goes down to one end of a lake. If we go down this way, we come out at the other end of the same lake."

Picard scowled at the map. "Still too obvious. We still have to follow a road after that. Suppose we ignored both Braemar and Ballater; where else could we go?"

Crusher looked down at the map. "Kirriemuir. It's not on this map. But you're talking about - oh, fifteen miles of road to get to it, too."

"And Yde did say we should report to the nearest police station... so that does rather limit us to Braemar or Ballater. The road to Ballater is the most obvious... so I think we should head for Braemar."

"It'll be rough going, there's no direct track."

"We have three days. We shouldn't need that long, but I think we would be better to take two days and avoid the traps than aim to do it in one day and be caught."

"Well, when you put it that way...

Picard looked at the sky again, frowning. It was just beginning to cloud over from the east; a three-quarter full moon was climbing towards the zenith. "Jack - it was early morning when we left - very early morning. But the sun is setting."

"We're eight hours ahead of Academy time here."

"Ahead? So we have last night to live again?"

"You could put it that way."

Picard grunted as he looked over the barely-dimming landscape. "Jack - that climber is still sitting at the summit."

"Huh? I'd expect him to be heading down again - it's getting late."

"I know."

"What's in your mind?"

"Might he be the first trap?"

"What do you mean?"

"Prime directive, Jack; remain unseen by the natives. And what has the Academy done?"

Crusher's eyes widened. "Beamed us down close to someone they must have known was there."

"Yes." Picard passed a thoughtful hand over his mouth. "How long before it's dark?"

"Here, at this time of year? Possibly an hour. But the moon'll give us quite a lot of light for at least another six hours."

"Unless it clouds over." Picard indicated the eastern horizon.

"I don't think they'd have sent us somewhere like this if the weather forecast was bad."

Picard nodded his acceptance of the comment. "We don't want to lose any of the daylight, though," he decided. He gazed at the map for a moment longer. "The direct route to Braemar would be to follow the path down to here, then cut across that way - " he pointed across towards the distant trees. "On the other hand... If that climber is a trap, we want to lose him if we can. Could we lose him by going that way?"

His more experienced friend turned his attention back to the map for a minute. Then he shook his head. "No. But we could lose him if we took the long way round."

Picard glanced at him.

"We go down this way, as if we'd decided to head for Ballater. There's bound to be somewhere we can hide to lose him if he follows us, even if it's among the trees here." He pointed. "Of course, if he doesn't follow us, there's no problem.

"Then we go up the track here on to the high ground again. We cut across Broad Cairn here, heading towards Tolmount, and just before we reach it we join this track that drops down to Callater, and approach Braemar from the south." He began to fold the map, thrust it into his pocket and slung one of the packs onto one shoulder, then, picking up one of the ice axes he marched off in a south-easterly direction, towards a dip in the plateau. Picard took a moment to put the second pack on properly, took the other axe, and followed.

After a couple of minutes, Crusher glanced back and paused for Picard to fall into step. "He's following us. It could be chance, but maybe not."

They set a fairly fast pace for the snow was bearing well and the slope not too steep at first, but after a while they left the snow behind and the path got steeper and very uneven, treacherous in the fast-dimming light. Ahead of them they could see the moonlight shining on the water of a long, narrow lake.

After a while, with daylight gone and only the moon lighting their way, Crusher glanced back. "Quick - into the heather! Lie flat!" he hissed, and they dived off the track behind a heathery hummock and lay still, heads down so that the white of their faces would not betray them.

Two or three minutes passed before they heard the thud of footsteps that passed them without hesitation. Crusher waited another minute before he looked up. The dark figure was still visible - just - heading on downhill.

They waited for fully ten minutes before carrying on. As they reached the bottom of the hill, Crusher pointed. They could see the moving shape dark in the moonlight, heading unhesitatingly round the end of the lake.

They followed until they came to the foot of the track that would take them back onto the plateau on the other side of the lake, and set off up it.

It was a long, hard slog. Both men were reasonably fit, but the steady climb was tiring and they were glad when they reached the top.

Once there they paused for a breather. Crusher glanced round and without consulting his compass indicated confidently, "That way. "

Picard nodded, and they set off again. It was pleasant walking in the clear moonlight across what was a good firm surface; and although it was cold, it was not uncomfortably cold.

They had not gone far when the moonlight suddenly faded. Picard looked up. A cloud had covered the moon. They could still see quite well, however; what light there was was enhanced by the whiteness of the snow, and their pace hardly slackened. The cloud drifted away and the moon shone clear again, but they could see that it was only the first of many; the clouds were no longer hugging the horizon but spreading across the entire sky.

They found themselves on top of a rise, almost without realising that they had been climbing. This time Crusher took a compass reading before heading down the other side towards another high point two or three miles away. Suddenly a gust of wind caught them as the moon was once again covered, and with it came some flakes of snow. They stopped and looked at each other in the failing light as the wind gained in strength and the falling snow whirled past them, thicker and faster.

"What's the quickest way to low ground?" Picard asked. "Never mind Braemar - we have to get off this plateau."

Crusher shook his head. "There's no short cut from here. Half an hour ago we could have dropped off the eastern side of the plateau; now we're at a point where it's as easy to go on as turn aside."

"Can we follow our route in these conditions?" Picard asked grimly.

"No. We'll have to dig in and wait for daylight."

Picard peered round. "Over there - there's already a sort of space beside that boulder."

They stumbled over to where the swirling wind had indeed left a narrow gap between a huge boulder and a neighbouring snowdrift. Using their ice axes they dug into the drift, hacking out blocks of frozen snow which they used to build walls between the drift and the boulder. There was a gap left at the top, but both men knew that they would need to leave an air hole.

Inside the snow hole, Picard switched on his torch, and in its light they unpacked their rucksacks. The empty packs were deep, and they thrust their legs into them, pulling the top flaps around their waists; then they sat, leaning back against the cold snow wall of their refuge. Crusher broke a slab of chocolate in two and handed half to his friend, who took it with a nod of thanks.

It was draughty at first in the hole, but slowly the draught lessened and they realised that their air hole was being covered by drifting snow; and as the draught lessened they gradually felt themselves becoming warmer as their body heat, trapped in the enclosed space, raised the air temperature.

Neither felt particularly tired, and they talked spasmodically about their plight. A lot would depend on how long the storm continued; but they had, they decided, a good chance of surviving unscathed. And of course a rescue party would probably be out looking for them as soon as it was realised that they had run into such adverse conditions. This was, after all, a test - the first of the course; not the real thing.

But Picard, although he said nothing, remained uncomfortably aware that they had left the most direct route to safety; a search would in all probability concentrate on the territory north and possibly east of where they were.

* * * * * * * *

Lazlo Zinkin was about half way along the path that bordered the narrow lake when he finally admitted himself that he had lost the two men he was supposed to be following. They must have been suspicious of his presence, though he was quite sure he had done nothing to lead them to realise that there was anything untoward in his being there. Just how had Yde expected him to remain unseen up there on that barren plateau? He had had no choice but to try to remain invisible through being completely visible.

Even following them down the unexpected route they had taken could have been chance; he was sure that in his first year he would not have suspected a chance climber in an area where climbers were quite common.

He sat on a convenient rock for a few minutes, thinking back.

Yes - they must have dodged him just about the foot of the hill. The path there had wound round boulders and there were places there where they had definitely been out of sight for several minutes. He had assumed that he knew the route they had taken, and been completely fooled by them.

A cloud covered the moon and he glanced up, noting without alarm the way the clouds were beginning to mass. Even through a fairly thick bank of clouds a nearly full moon would give some light. They would be all right.

As for himself - set to follow the 'beginners', to make sure they did not get into trouble, as part of his third year test - he had definitely failed, and might as well admit it.

He touched his communicator. "Zinkin to base."

"Base here. Report." It was Yde's voice.

"Sir, I've lost Picard and Crusher. They must have suspected something; on reflection, I think they dodged me nearly an hour ago. I'll carry on for a while just in case they're still ahead of me, but I'm certain they're not."

"Behind you?"

"I can't see anyone moving, and I can see back along the track for a good long way."

"All right. Exactly where are you?"

"They came off the mountain by a track that led to the wrong end of the lake. I'm about half way along the side of the lake, heading for the road."

"Go on to the road, and report in again from there."

"Yes, sir."

At the base, Yde grinned cheerfully at the communications officer, who was an old friend. Lamming grinned back, but said, "Your man sounded a bit down."

"It won't do Zinkin any harm to fail; it may cut him back down to size. He's been getting too cocky lately."

* * * * * * * *

Zinkin was still some way from the road when the moon disappeared again and the first flakes of snow fell. The wind was picking up, too; and as the snow whirled round him he quickly realised that conditions on the plateau would be becoming extremely difficult, and activated his communicator again.

"Zinkin to base. Sir, there's a blizzard blowing up."

Yde heard the urgency in the cadet's voice and glanced at Lamming. "Check the weather updates for the British Isles," he muttered. "I'll be in the transporter room." Lamming nodded and Yde raised his voice. "Transporter - lock on to Cadet Zinkin's co-ordinates and energise." He left the communications room, moving briskly.

In the transporter room, he found Zinkin still covered with now-melting snow, and decided that the third year cadet had not been exaggerating the conditions. He reached over to flick on the intercom on the transporter console.

"Yde to operations room. Scan a radius of ten kilometres around co-ordinates 41 - 26/81, and inform the transporter room the minute you find anyone."

"Aye, sir."

Yde turned back to Zinkin. "Report, Mr. Zinkin."

The cadet gave a helpless shrug. "It was impossible to avoid letting them see me - the top of that mountain is an almost completely featureless plateau - so I pretended to be a climber and went past them to the summit. I waited there until they had committed themselves to a route, then I followed them. By that time the light was fading, but there was enough moonlight to give some visibility. But the path they took - towards the bottom of it I couldn't keep them completely in sight, and I think that's where I lost them. I don't know whether they were suspicious and hid until I passed them or whether they just took a different route from the one I expected them to take at a point when they were out of my sight - there is an alternative path that goes onto the high ground again." He wiped some melted snow away from his eyes. "It was getting pretty rough on the low ground, sir; on the plateau... "

Yde nodded acknowledgement as the intercom buzzed. "Yde here."

"We can't pick out any definite readings at the co-ordinates you gave us, sir. The weather conditions are extremely bad and the sensor pattern is breaking up."

"Very well. Keep trying."

"I'm sorry, sir," Zinkin said miserably.

Yde shook his head and said quietly. "They had their instructions too; it's not your fault if they took them a little too literally."

* * * * * * * *

It was nearly twenty four hours before the operations room reported that the blizzard was easing. During that time two of the conscientious first year groups had reported back, their members somewhat shamefaced that they had not thought to shake off the casual 'native' they had seen; and eight of the 'absentee' first year cadets had run into trouble and had had to be helped by the third year cadets assigned to follow them. Nothing had been heard of the others, but Yde was not worried about them - yet, for the experienced cadets had not reported any difficulty. He was worried about Picard and Crusher; it had been no part of his intention to endanger any of his students.

Several more hours passed, during which another pair of cadets had to be bailed out of trouble. "Sensor readings are now coming in true, sir," the duty lieutenant in the operations room reported. "Scanning the area in question."

"Lieutenant - you could be looking for bodies." Yde hoped it was not so, but he could not ignore the possibility.

"Aye, sir."

There was a lengthy silence before the intercom clicked into life. "No readings inside the designated area, sir... alive or dead."

* * * * * * * *

Inside the snow hole, the hours dragged past. The temperature rose until it was surprisingly comfortable, and both men dozed for a while, but their cramped positions in the small hole did not encourage relaxation. After a while, Crusher poked the shaft of his ice axe up through the snow roof close to the boulder and a sudden draught blew in for a moment, replenishing their fresh sir, and bringing some flakes of snow with it; but the hole quickly covered over again. They ate some more chocolate and talked spasmodically, and every hour opened up their air hole again. As a result, they realised that the blizzard was blowing over almost as soon as it did.

"What do you think, Jack?" Picard asked. "Dare we go on?"

"I think we can," Crusher replied. "It'll be harder going with all this fresh snow, but if we're where I think we are, we should be going downhill soon."

They wriggled out of their rucksacks, pushed the emergency gear back into them, and fought their way out of their refuge. It was daylight; the clouds were blowing away, revealing blue sky and a red sun rising in the east.

"I wonder how that climber got on?" Picard said as Crusher took a quick compass reading.

"It probably wasn't as bad on the low ground. Come on." Crusher set off, sinking knee-deep in the snow as he went.

They took turns breaking the trail. After about an hour they found themselves looking down a fairly steep slope to another lake; the ground around it looked as if it had had very little snow.

"This side of the mountain was sheltered," Crusher commented. "It's a straightforward run down there," he added confidently. He sat down and allowed himself to slide, although he held his ice axe ready to stop himself should it be necessary. Picard hesitated for a moment, then followed suit, and in far less time than he would have expected, they reached the bottom.

There, the going was relatively easy; there was very little fresh snow and they strode out, making good time now that they had a firm surface underfoot. The path took them along the course of a frozen stream for nearly an hour, then along the side of the lake, becoming a track as it left the water's edge; another hour found them at a road.

"Nearly there," Crusher said cheerfully. "We can't help being seen now if there's traffic on the road, but we can pass as climbers."

They started off up the road, but they had gone less than a kilometre when they felt themselves seized in a transporter beam. They materialised to find themselves facing a worried-looking Lt. Yde.

Yde took a deep, relieved breath as he saw for himself that both men were clearly fit and well. "You're all right," he said quietly.

"Yes, sir," Picard replied.

"What happened? Report."

"When the blizzard blew up we dug a snow hole, sir. Once the weather cleared, we carried on."

"Yes, of course," Yde commented.

* * * * * * * *

The first Survival class of the new term saw a full complement of first year students attending. Lt. Yde looked round the intent, mostly slightly cowed faces, and smiled pleasantly.

"First of all, you will find your marks for last term's test in the envelopes I am about to hand out," he said. "I think I don't need to tell you that most of you failed completely, nor need I go into details here; you will find those with your reports. Several passed with varying degrees of success; but the top marks go to Cadets Crusher and Picard, who, in accordance with their instructions to treat the planet as a Prime Directive world, managed to shake off the third year cadet assigned to follow them and make sure they did not run into difficulties, and then, when the weather changed unexpectedly, throwing them into an extremely dangerous situation, did all the correct things and were finally detected from the space station barely half an hour from finishing the test under their own steam.

"Mr. Crusher, your results... Mr. Picard... Mr. Ahmed... Mr. Sulley... "

* * * * * * * *

Survival remained an unpopular subject... but it became a well-attended one...