By the pre-Federation calendar, the date was June 12, Twenty-three Fifty-five. For each of the more than seven-hundred blue-clad cadets, is was a day that they would remember for the rest of their lives. Four years of intensive study, hard work and operational experience would be concluded in less than forty-five minutes. Cadets Tom Corbett, Roger Manning and Astro of the Polaris training unit stood stiffly at the front of Company Aís ranks. Each Company consisted of thirty ranks of three-cadet units. The right column contained the Radar operator/Astrogator of the units. The center column was made up of the control deck/command cadets, and the left column bore the power deck/engineers of the units. Astro, the power deck cadet of the Polaris, unit carried a guidon lance which was topped with a bright blue pennant with the word Polaris embroidered in gold upon it. And so it was with the long line of power deck cadets lined up behind him. Each unit was proud to be carrying itís unit identity for all to see. Every one of the slate-blue uniforms was perfectly pressed and the accouterments were polished until they shone like Titan crystal.
All eight companies were assembled on the west side of the main Space Academy administration building, which was dominated by the magnificent Tower of Galileo. The tower provided visitors and high-level administrators with a panoramic view of the entire complex of Titan crystal buildings, the quad, the immense flightline and the distant mountains that provided a measure of seclusion for the Solar Guard Training Academy.
Hidden from view, on the east side of the building, on the grass of the quad, was a ceremonial review stand and a large array of canopied bleachers which had been erected for the comfort of family and friends of the cadets. At exactly twelve- hundred hours, a lone scarlet-uniformed figure strode to position ten yards in front of Tom. A color-guard of three red-clad NCOís silently marched into position ten yards in front of him.
Tomís heart swelled as the color-guard unfurled the flags of the Space Academy, the Solar Guard and the Class of Twenty-three Fifty-five. Tom averted his eyes to each side as he glanced at his unit-mates. He could see the pride in their faces as well!
The heavy, squat figure in red turned to face the blue columns and began screaming at the top of his lungs. "Four years ago, I first met you maggots at the monorail station. At that time I believed that this was the most motley group of earthworms to crawl through the portal onto Academy grounds. When I told you that I was Chief Warrant Officer Mike McKenny, half of you were so unsure of yourselves that you couldnít remember your own names. I put the fear of God and the Guard in you. That was good.... It meant that I did my job. In twenty minutes I will do something for both the first and last time... I will salute you as officers of the Solar Guard. At the end of the ceremonies, I will take leave of the Academy and the Guard as I enter into retirement. Men, it has been an honor to supervise your training, God speed and Spacemanís Luck to all of you."
With a perfectly executed heel-turn, Mike McKenny called, "Cadet Class of Twenty-three Fifty-five..... Preeesssent Harms!"
The radar and control deck cadets reached to their scabbards and drew the polished swords in one sweeping motion. The power deck cadets brought the guidons to the front.
The blade of each sword or staff of the guidon snapped into place across the right shoulder of each cadet.
The Space Academy band began playing the Space Cadet March as the long line of cadets began moving northward to the end of the main building complex. As CWO McKenny reached the end of the building he called, "Right wheel....Harch!". As each row of cadets reached that spot, the outer member of the unit swung in an arc as the inner member marched in place until a ninety-degree turn had been completed and all three unit-members were again marching abreast behind Mike McKenny. At the center of the quad, Mike repeated the order and the column began marching southward between the review stand and the bleachers. As the column arrived, cheers and joyful tears filled the bleachers on the east side of the quad. CWO McKenny called "Eyes... Right!" and the color guard dipped the flags as they passed the review stand. Tom and Roger brought the hilts of their swords up to eye level as Astro dipped the guidon in salute to the senior officers. Now looking to the right, they were reassured to see Commander Walters, Major Conell and Major Wellington returning their salutes. As the column reached the southern edge of the quad, Mike McKenny ordered, "Left Wheel... Harch!", and the cadets disappeared behind the bio-studies building and entered a large air-supported tent which had been temporarily put up for the event. After all cadets were inside, the band began playing the Spacemanís Hymn which was followed by welcoming speeches to the guests.
Mike McKenny ordered the cadets to break ranks. "Cadets! You will find your new kits in unit-marching order. Change your uniforms and assemble on the north side of the tent in five minutes!", he growled. "And make sure that you are all dressed properly... Donít make me look like a space-monkey!" Having given his final order, Mike silently walked out of the tent. He approached a young lieutenant, saluted and said, "Sir! I have the honor of presenting the Solar Guards of Twenty-three Fifty-five."
The young officer returned the salute and waited for the new ensigns to assemble.
Inside the tent, all of the boys had stripped to their underwear and were inspecting their new uniforms. Astro trembled slightly as he held up the black tunic with the gold trim.
"Tom, I donít know if I deserve this!"
Tom gave Astro a reassuring smile. "Sure you do Astro! Youíve worked hard and accomplished more than you realize."
Roger, pulling on his trousers, said, "I didnít come all the way back from Mars Academy to have you get cold feet on me. Now climb into that uniform, jet-wash!"
Tom and Astro were grateful that Commander Walters had allowed Roger and T.J. Thistle to rejoin their old units for graduation. T.J., as much as he was a member of the Polaris unit, was a Martian and his family appreciated the fact that he was allowed to graduate at home.
Tomís entire family, father, mother, sister and kid brother, were all in the stands, along with Rogerís mother, waiting for their sonsí reappearance as officers. Astro had no living family, but for the last four years Tomís family had come to know him as a son and brother.
Resplendent in back and gold, Tom, Roger and Astro inspected each others uniforms and adjusted them to perfection. Tom raised the gleaming gold helmet over his head and brought it down slowly, as if he were savoring the moment.
"One minute, men! Assemble now!", shouted the lieutenant from the opening of the tent.
The color guard was in position as the new officers jogged to their proper location in the ranks. The young officer called, "Tennn.. Hut! Present... Harms! Port... Harms! Forrrd... Harch!"
As the three-abreast column filed past the lone figure of Mike McKenny, each of the young men returned his salute for the first and last time. Although Mike was at least twenty yards from the column of marching men, Tom was sure that he saw streams of tears coursing down the craggy features of the veteran Chief. Tom, as well as all of the other new officers, felt a new lump swell in his throat. "Well done, Chief! Well done!", was Tomís thought as the column continued on itís march.
The line of black and gold-uniformed men formed up in front of the review stand. This time the guests were silent as every word and command were listened to with reverence. To the left side of each unitís row stood the command officer of that unit. Captain Steve Strong faced the Polaris unit while maintaining the stoic appearance required for the occasion. Inwardly, he was overflowing with pride in his charges and hoped that he would have them serve with him again.
The orders reverberated off of the Titan crystal buildings. "Company A... left face!" Even in the soft grass, the simultaneous stomp of boots produced a clicking sound as loud as if it had been done on concrete. "Guidon Bearers... Present Standards!" Astro and the other power deck officers took one step toward their former ship commanders and held out the guidons. Steve and the other captains snapped the standards away from the young men who then saluted and returned to their ranks. After all companies had completed the ritual, the order, "Companies...About... Face!" was given. Now, every eye and ear was attentive to the review stand.
Commander Walters began speaking, "Honored guests, officers and men. Today, we commission these fine young men as officers of the Solar Guard. Each has exhibited the fine qualities commensurate with that position in our society....Ö"
Tom listened to the speech, yet he didnít listen. His thoughts were of friends and acquaintances he had made over the last four years and of the adventures he had participated in during that time. He smiled inwardly as he came to the realization that he had, indeed, been lucky to have survived many of the situations that he had been in. He made comparisons among all of the other cadet units and he could think of none that had been involved in matters of security, state, research or law enforcement as much as the Polaris unit. He then thought of the coming social change that only he and Astro knew about. But he and Astro were sworn to secrecy, bound by oath not to let their best friend know about the dawning of a new age for Man.
"And, in conclusion, I am deeply honored to award these commissions today.", announced Commander Walters.
Tomís thoughts snapped back to the present as he realized that the final ceremony was about to begin.
Commander Walters continued, "Before we award the commissions, it gives me great satisfaction to announce that seven of our officer candidates will enter the Solar Guard as full lieutenants. The following men will receive lieutenantís bars along with their commission: Astro, for Meritorious Service in defense of Callisto. Tom Corbett, for Meritorious Service in defense of Callisto. Jefferson Green, for Meritorious Service in the Asteroid Belt. Alfred Higgins, for Meritorious Service in defense of Callisto. Roger Manning, for Meritorious Service during the Venus Uprising. Salvatore Dominico, for Meritorious Service at the Betelgeuse Incident. Kim Sak Tao, for Meritorious Service at the Betelgeuse Incident."
The bleachers erupted with applause as the guests showed appreciation for the valiant acts of the young men. Commander Walters took the opportunity to sip from his glass of water before continuing. "I would like to add my own congratulations to these and the following men. Our long-time Chief of Security, Major Louis Conell has been promoted to Colonel and will oversee the construction and outfitting of the new Space Academy at San Francisco. Chief Warrant Officer Mike McKenny, after thirty-eight years of service will take on his toughest assignment yet... retirement. Major Buford Wellington will assume the position of Chief of Security for the Solar Guard on a full time basis. Our congratulations to all of these men." The crowd again displayed their appreciation with a long ovation.
Unit after unit was called to the podium to receive their commissions while the band played the Solar Guard Hymn. Snappy salutes and wide smiles were the order of the day as each unitís members received his diploma and commission. For Commander Walters, this was the most satisfying part of his job. Each new officer reassumed his position and waited for the last sheepskin to have been awarded.
Major Wellington approached the podium as the last strains of the hymn died away. His face reflected a somber tone as he called, "All companies, About...Face!" Every officer and enlisted man now faced the low mountains in the east. Just above the mountain tops, a reflection of the sun could be seen starting out as if it were the twinkle of a star. A few seconds later, blue-white exhausts of atomic rocket engines were easily recognizable as the reflection grew to become a formation of five bright, silvery Solar Guard Cruisers. "Atten... Hut!", called the major as the formation approached the academy. Everyone in uniform and most of the civilians instinctively came to attention as the five ships crossed academy grounds. The cruisers flew in a formation that described a Christian cross in the air. As the formation flew over the review stands, the left wingman increased to full power and the power deck crewman started injecting tons of water into the exhaust of the atomic engine. A huge plume of white vapor marked the path of the ship as it climbed toward the heavens at a ninety degree angle away from the rest of the formation. The deafening roar from the tribute to the missing men of the Solar Guard helped to cover the sobs and sighs from children and battle-hardened veterans. Even Bull Wellington was moved enough that he found it necessary to pull a handkerchief from his sleeve and wipe his eyes. As the staccato of engine pulses abated, the dark-skinned Major leaned into the microphone. "Solar Guard Academy Class of Twenty-three Fifty-five.... Diss....missed!."
Families and friends rushed from the bleachers, each person looking for their son, brother, grandson or friend. Tending to hugs, cheers and tears of joy, pats on the back and handshakes were the first duty for the new officers.