9. Academics

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15 of Woof Space Cadets Well, they are space cadets, which means they have to take real academic classes.

This chapter is kind of sparse, diving right into the lectures. Some of them provide geographic background; others provide cultural depth. And the last one gives me an introduction to the next chapter.


Copyright ©2015 Timberwoof Lupindo

Not for Redistribution

  1. Woofheim System

"Cadets, please sit.

"I am Brother Arnolf, Chief Astronomer at the Wester Wood Observatory. At the Academy I have the official rank of Instructor-Captain. I follow in the footsteps of earlier Chief Astronomers, not the least of which is Timberwoof Lupindo, whose invention of the reflecting telescope and the observation of the vessel from the Outer World led to making contact with the galactic civilization. I am honored to have as students two of his grandsons.

"Woofheim is but one of two pawfuls of worlds that orbit our sun, and has but two of its many dozens of moons. ...

Timby sat restless. He had read all this before; why was he wasting his time in this class? He turned and stared out the window.

"Timby Lupindo, stand at attention."

Timby shook his head. Oh, shit. He thought he heard Daschiel snigger.

"Timby Lupindo, your grandfather was not only a noted astronomer and our culture's first spacefarer, he was also a literary scholar. Before he turned to astronomy, he wrote some interesting papers about the shared literary history of Tarkel and Woofheim."

Timby held his breath and stared wide-eyed at the instructor. Captain Arnolf went on.

"Perhaps if you are not satisfied following him to the stars, you can try to match his prowess in literature. But not here at the Space Academy. You are here to become a Spacefarer. And you can't rest on your grandfather's accomplishments; you must achieve your own triumphs. You can start by paying attention and earning first marks in this class. I will accept no less from you. Or your eponymous cousin."

Timby swallowed. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Timber glare at him. He felt his ears and nose get hot; his heart was beating faster. He folded his ears back and hung his tail down.

"Sit down," said Arnolf.

Timby sat as ordered. He paid close attention to the rest of the lecture: the names of the planets, their sizes, compositions, distances from the sun, numbers and sizes of major moons, and the two belts of small planets ...

The sun is an average yellow star in the middle of our classification system: not too big, so it won't burn itself out for several billion years; not too small, so it gives us enough heat and light. But even so it's not a nice place.

The first two planets are rocky and barren. Their cores are solid, and so their magnetic fields are too weak to create any kind of shield from the sun's wind. The first world is too hot for anything to survive long, so we've just observed it from afar. The second world is hot as well ... instrumented craft we've sent there have survived a few days. It has rocks.

The third planet is our own blue gem in a hostile ocean of cold, hard vacuum. The core is heated by radioactive decay and so is still molten. This causes volcanoes and continents to move around. The magnetic field that's generated is disorganized and changing; it resembles the cheese made back home, the kind with holes in it. Our alien friends tell us that this is a temporary condition; within a thousand years the field will stabilize and the heavenly lights will retreat to the poles.

We have two moons which with the sun cause the greater and lesser tides.

Next, where one might expect a planet, is an asteroid belt: lots of piles of rock. The distribution follows a power law: for each given size range, there are ten times as many that are one tenth the size. Some mining operations have begun out there; you Cadets may become pilots of ships that ferry them out there and back.

Then comes the giant of our system: the great ringed gas giant, the brightest star in our night sky. It shepherds the asteroid belts on both sides and prevents planets forming there, with the same sorts of interactions as its own moons form a system of rings of gas and ice and dust. Ahead and behind the sun-orbit of this planet are collections of asteroids. Those places might make good spots for space stations, if you can plot an orbit that doesn't get too close to the asteroids orbiting there.

The second asteroid belt has much the same composition as the first. It's farther out and sunlight is less intense, so it has not seen as much mining activity as the inner.

Beyond the second asteroid belt are three more large gas planets. Each has a dozen or more moons and a system of rings.

The sun is surrounded at great distance by a cloud of watery, dusty comets, some of which visit us from time to time.

We will be studying these worlds during this year at the Academy. IN subsequent years, you will visit some of them, so pay attention.

Your reading assignment before the next class meeting is the first chapter of your astronomy textbook: The Night Sky.

Class is dismissed.

  1. Subspace Dynamics


The instructor entered the small lecture hall and the cadets saw by the insignia on his uniform that he was a colonel.

"As you were. I'm Colonel Raddelu; I'll be teaching Subspace Dynamics this semester."

He turned to the wall and wrote on it his name, he number of his office, and his messaging contact information. Timber and Timby saw that he had no tail. Out of habit and pride they stood their tails up.

"I'm a tough instructor, but fair. I'll state right now, however, that I will do no favors to any cadet who thinks he can get a special pass because he's the grandson of someone famous."

The colonel shot a glare at the back of the hall where Timber and Timby stood. Timber's tail quivered a bit; he did not know whether to hold it up high out of pride or to tuck it in out of deference to the tailless instructor. Timby stared down the instructor and dared try some defiance: he held his tail high.

"You two should get those clipped; tails have no place in space."

Timby resisted the urge to peel back his lips and show teeth. He knew the colonel had no right to make that demand. But rather than make an issue out of it, he just stood at attention and held his tail high and proud. No Wester Woof ever... and he would not be the first. One of the cadets whispered at Timber and Timby. "You Wester Woofs better watch out. Those tails of yours are going to get you into trouble," said.

The cadet sitting behind Timby batted at his tail.

"Get that tail out of my face, Wester Woof."

"Get your snout out of my tail, cadet," said Timby, and deliberately wagged his tail to hit the cadet in the snout with it. The cadet flinched, but bit down a complaint.

"Oho, good one, Timby. He had that coming."

Colonel Raddelu went on with his lecture.

"Well, that's neither here nor there. Please be seated. General Relativity makes certain predictions that are at odds with what we know about quantum behavior, and these inconsistencies lead to exploitable properties of a Reimannian manifold we shall designate as Subspace. ..."

The cadets sat quickly and took notes furiously. They could tell this was going to be one of the more difficult subjects this semester, and one they all had to get through.

  1. Psychology


The cadets stood as their instructor entered the room.

"Cadets, I'm Instructor-Captain Thomas. I was a professor of psychology at the university here in Tarkel and in Wester Wood. I studied under some of the pioneers in the field, which is not all that old, and with psychologists of various alien races. I have not commanded a ship of any size, but the Academy wanted me to have a rank appropriate for my academic background, so we settled on Instructor-Captain. You may call me 'Captain' for brevity.

"Please sit.

"The material in this lesson is simple; I will cover basic woof psychology as the basis for how a military command pack operates. This may seem all very dry and scholarly to you, but the Admirals of the Star Fleet think you should understand these concepts. I agree with them; that's why I'm teaching here.


"One model for woof psychology that's easy to grasp and seems to make sense based on my research and the observations of a few alien psychologists is the pup-adolescent-pack model. These are three convenient labels for major parts of our behavior, what makes you you and me me.

"The pup likes to suckle when hungry, play when sated, sleep when tired, poop when full, and howl when happy. These are our most basic urges, and someone who indulges them too easily, we call 'immature'. How often has someone told you to stop acting like a puppy?"

Some of the cadets smiled or giggled.

"The next part of our psychology is the adolescent. He or she begins to think on his own, to consider his needs and the needs of those around him. He learns his position in the pack and perhaps tries for a better one. He is eager to learn new skills and want to explore and do things. This is probably the part of ourselves we most often identify as ... our selves.

"Finally, the Pack. As we grow up, we hear what our parents, ants and uncles, and other elders of the pack tell us. We use those messages to create a construct in our minds that speaks to us and tells us what's right and wrong. It's like we carry a small pack of Elders with us all our lives, who help us make correct decisions.

"When there is imbalance in these three parts of our personality, the woof suffers. A woof whose pup dominates everything is not very pleasant to be around; others tend to think he just eats and shits and whines."

The cadet sitting behind Daschiel batted his tail and snickered. Captain Thomas looked directly at the cadet, who responded by sitting at attention.

"Good puppy," said the captain.

"A woof who lets his adolescent self dominate may seem normal and healthy, but in failing to honor his puppy he may not eat or dance enough, and in failing to take heed of his pack may act selfishly."

Daschiel rolled his eyes; Captain Thomas turned and looked directly at him. The prince straightened his posture and looked down. Captain Thomas continued his lecture.

"And then there are the rare woofs who are dominated by their pack. They may hear voices telling them they dishonor the pack or are a disgrace to woofs everywhere. They may never be able to express their own desires, and thus never contribute to the other members of their pack.

"Woof psychology is an infant science, and we have much to learn about ourselves. Puppy, Adolescent, Pack: the basis of what we know so far.

"So how do they interact? It can get complicated."

Captain Thomas drew six circles on the wall, in two stacks of three.

"Here we have two woofs: puppy, adolescent, and pack represented by these circles.

"I am speaking to you adolescent-to-adolescent. I'm transmitting information, actually pretty much as equals even though I outrank you by about twenty years. But since we agree on the levels, we communicate.

"It's when the lines get crossed that problems happen. For example, if I were to say that I noticed that cadet batting the tail of the other one when I described the Puppy, the cadet in question might think I was talking like this:"

He drew an arrow from the top circle of one woof to the bottom circle of the other.

"Pack to puppy. If I was actually just speaking as an equal, like this,--" he drew an arrow from his middle circle to the other middle circle--"the messages would get crossed and no real communication could happen.

"Always make sure your communication paths are clear. Think about how you are speaking to your superiors and to your inferiors. Think about how they are speaking to you.

"And when you're in bed with your bunk-buddy for the night, feel free to be puppies.

"Any questions? Come on, don't be shy."

"Captain, that seems to have been a bare introduction to the subject. How will we use that in our careers? What's psychology got to do with commanding a starship?"

"Good questions all, Cadet. It has everything to do with command. If you understand what motivates your fellow officers and your crew, you will get the best out of them. But more importantly, if you understand what motivates you, then you will become the best officer you can be. And if you understand the needs of your pack, both your inner pack and the one you lead, then you may become a leader that everyone else wants to follow."

"Thank you, Sir."

"Thank you. So. Section 1 in your text books; discussion at our next meeting."

  1. Preflight Briefing

A missile fired out of a cannon follows a ballistic path. The faster it files, the longer it takes to rise and fall back to its altitude. We could fly an airplane to follow such a parabolic path; on the top arch it would experience microgravity. It would then fly an inverted parabola and experience twice normal gravity, until it returned to its starting altitude and then followed a normal parabola again as though under the influence of gravity.

This passenger airplane has a service ceiling of 13,000 tails; let's set a minimum altitude of 3000 tails. That gives us 10,000 tails of vertical flight. That's 5000 tails up and down at microgravity and 5000 tails down and up at twice normal gravity.

The acceleration of gravity is 10 t/s^2. Cruising speed is 900 kt/h = 250 t/sec. The longest time of flight is for a 45° up-angle at the start of the arc, so that's a vertical speed of 177 t/sec. On the upward path the average speed would be half that, 88 t/sec. We will travel upwards 5000 tails, which at that speed will take 56 seconds. So the upper parabolic arch will take 112 seconds. The bottom arch will take another 112 seconds.

During the bottom half of the arc you will experience about twice normal gravity. That means you will be twice as heavy. Lie down on the floor and relax. Don't move your head too fast.

We will fly westward and make ten such arcs. Then we will turn around and make eight more such arcs. We'll make one arc at the reduced gravity of our second moon, and another at the gravity of the first moon. The fun is over, we all strap in and come for a landing.

Some of you may feel sick from the weightlessness. If you're looking forward to this with some trepidation, that's okay: falling is scary. Sleep in pack-piles tonight if you're so inclined. Tomorrow for breakfast, lay off the heavy foods. Have a nice easy breakfast of milk and cereal; no greasy sausages or eggs.