Gerhardt said he was sure I would eventually contact him about the referral. If only he knew what I had to go through before I made up my mind. Anyway, I was grateful for the opportunity and immediately applied for the capsuleer tests on the portal. A reply came surprisingly quickly. One of the government-run capsuleer corporations sent me an invitation and paid for the transfer to their office which was in another system.

On arrival I was provided with a separate apartment and the receptionist made an appointment for a group induction session next day. Apparently, there were a few dozens of other candidates who, just like me, arrived for testing. I thought about going to the bar in a hope of meeting some of them, but then decided against it – I was going to have the most important test in my life and I didn’t want to botch it because of a hangover. So for the rest of the day I just aimlessly wandered around the station and stayed away from alcohol.

Next day I arrived to the meeting place half an hour before the scheduled time and found there a crowd of fifty or so people who were visibly excited – those were the aspiring capsuleers who had even less patience than I. While we were waiting, I struck a conversation with a girl and found out that my yesterday’s abstinence was not really required. The tests would take a few days and they wouldn’t start immediately. The girl, her name was Lenka, was referred by one of the researcher groups. They were trying to find another profession, in addition to fighter pilots, which would yield a high proportion of successful candidates. Currently, they were investigating various robot operators, and Lenka came to their attention because she was an assistant surgeon who manipulated high precision robotic hands. She also was a Doctor of Medicine which attested her learning ability. I thought that, being an LCQ programmer, I shouldn’t have a problem proving that I was a good learner, but there wasn’t anything in my experience that suggested I’d be any good at piloting the ship by the power of my brain. While I was pondering over my chances of becoming part of the ship, a corporation officer appeared.

The officer introduced himself as Professor Muhamad. He was the head of the testing panel and his job was a fine balancing act: on the one hand he needed to discover as many capsuleers as possible within our group, on the other hand he had to dismiss those who were not deemed eligible as quickly as he could to avoid wasting the corporation’s money. To efficiently achieve those goals they used total surveillance; the candidates should forfeit their privacy for the duration of the tests; those who did not agree should leave immediately. Professor looked at the audience – no one moved.

Professor Muhamad smiled, “Nobody ever leaves at this stage. I wonder if all candidates they send me are exhibitionists.”

“Excuse me, Professor,” interrupted Lenka, “do you mean that there will be surveillance in the bathrooms?”

“And would you leave, Lenka, if I said ‘yes’?” Muhamad said hopefully.

“Err… No, I think.”

“Pity, but that would be too easy, I guess. Anyway, we are not interested in what you do privately, but all your interactions with the external world, be it staff, computers or fellow candidates, will be recorded and inspected. This test is not your typical classroom exam where you have 3 hours to demonstrate your knowledge. What we would like to establish is that after learning something new you are able to quickly make that knowledge an integral part of your life. And that takes a bit more than three hours to check. You will be given 48 hours to learn new things. During that period there will be no surveillance, but after that you will be expected to apply your new knowledge and follow the new rules in every interaction, and at all times. And we will watch you.”

“Professor,” a tall blonde guy raised his hand, “do we really have to go through all this? I have been referred to the tests by Caldari Scientists United research group and they assured me that I had been selected after rigorous screening. Can we save time and go straight to brain-machine interface testing?”

“Not so quickly, Christoffer,” smiled Professor, “that screening only ensures that you have at least some chance of passing the first test. You will be surprised to know how far one can go in one’s very intellectual profession simply by remembering a lot of stuff by rote. If my research is any good then less than 10% of people truly internalise knowledge.”

“So, that means that no more than five people from this group will pass the first test?” asked I, my heart sinking.

“Attention, everyone, that’s the learning mindset we’d like to see,” said Professor cheerfully, “you learn something new and immediately start using it. And to answer your question, Vladimir, if the researchers do their screening well then the proportion of candidates who successfully passes the first test raises to around twenty per cent. What usually pushes it down is capsuleers’ referrals, which I believe should be banned,” and he pointedly looked at me. I felt goosebumps.

“Professor,” Christoffer raised his hand again, “suppose there are ten candidates who successfully passed the first test. How many of them will pass the second?”

Professor Muhamad’s expression became serious and a bit sad. He looked around the audience and said, “Usually, none.”

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