Tom, Roger and Astro were as happy as they had ever been in their lives. Surrounded by Tomís family and Rogerís mother, it would have been impossible to add another ounce of joy to the mixture. Tomís father decided that it was time to bestow the final honors of the day. In a fairly convincing manner, Mr. Corbett called, "Atten...Hut!". The new officers snapped to perfect military posture as required in the order.
"Men, it has come to my attention that all three of you are out of uniform!" Now nose to nose with Roger, Mr. Corbett demanded, "Mister, hand me your kit!" Roger presented a small box which had been given to him along with his diploma and commission. Mr. Corbett opened the box and handed the contents to Mrs. Manning, who reached up and pinned the silver rockets to the collar of her sonís tunic.
"Your father would have been proud of you, son!"
The usually brash, blond-headed young man embraced his mother as they both began weeping.
Mrs. Corbett confronted Astro, a huge youngster of Venusian descent. Astro never knew his father and his mother died when he was very young. Tomís family, upon meeting him for the first time four years ago, immediately accepted him as their own. Receiving the lieutenantís bars from Mr. Corbett, she tried to reach up to Astroís tunic. Astro, still maintaining his stiff posture, bent at the waist to allow his adopted mother access to his collar. While she pinned the silver rocket on his collar, she said in a shaking voice, "We love you son...we love all of you." After having the bars pinned in place, Astro gently hugged the petite lady and then returned to attention, red-eyed and sniffling.
Mr. Corbett accepted the plastic box from Tom and started to pin them on his sonís collar. He then saw the look of admiration in his youngest sonís face.
"I think that this ceremony should be performed by someone who is very special to all of us." He then barked the order, "Officer Corbett.. Front Rank Firing Position!"
Tom bent his right leg at the knee and place his left knee in the soft grass. The elder Corbett handed the small polished rockets to Tomís kid brother, Billy, who joyfully attached them to Tomís collar. Then, stepping back two paces, Billy gave his big brother a smart salute and Tom returned it as briskly as it was received. Tom knew how much Billy admired him and he was just as proud of his kid brother, who wanted to join the Cadet Corps as soon as he was eligible. That thought troubled Tom because he knew that Billy would not be attending his beloved Space Academy, but he would study at the new facility in San Francisco.
"Tom!", called his mother.
Tom dropped his thoughts as he returned to the celebration at hand.
"Why donít you boys pick up the rest of your things and get your assignments before we go home? Weíll meet you at the monorail station."
"Okay, Mom. Weíll be there in a half-an-hour."
The three new officers ran back to the tent, retrieved their cadet uniforms and packed them into the compact cases that were provided. They then double-timed to the barracks room and Section Forty-two-D, which had been their home since late summer of Twenty-three Fifty. The boys checked every square inch of the room for any remaining personal possessions. Satisfied that everything had been cleaned up, they started toward the door.
Astro turned back to look at the room one last time. "You know, itís kind of tough leaving here."
Roger, looking around the room said, "Yeah! Well, itís always tough leaving home and friends behind."
Tom grabbed the door handle and motioned his friends through the opening. As he closed the hatch, he said, "In two months there will be three new green earthworms living here. I hope that they become the friends that we are. This is their home now. Our new place is in space."
On the ground-floor of the dormitory, hundreds of new officers in their black and gold uniforms crowded around monitors that scrolled through the long list of names and the assignments that they would report to in September. Astro already knew his assignment. He had learned of it almost a year ago in a private conversation with Dr. Dale during a top-secret mission. Nonetheless, he would have to act surprised when his name came up. Occasionally shouts of joy could be heard as a new ensign was given a choice duty station. Others grunted or otherwise showed disapproval if they were assigned to less desirable positions.
A high-pitched, yet gravely, voice came from behind the trio. "Hi, fellas! Have you found your new posts yet?"
Astro spun around and instinctively looked down at the five-foot seven-inch form of Alfie Higgins. "Alfie-boy! Donít you look spiffy!"
Indeed, the diminutive spaceman would be respected by any law-abiding citizen and feared by those who had no regard for the law. The black and gold uniform changed Alfieís appearance for certain, but there was something else different about him that Astro couldnít figure out.
Roger turned around and grabbed Astro by the arm. "Holy Rings of Saturn, Astro! You pulled a six-month stint on Callisto for something called Impulse Propulsion Science, and then you report to Lou Conell in San Francisco as Deputy Project Administrator for the new academy!"
"Whoooo-weee!", bellowed Astro. "Hot rockets! I get to build something big!"
Alfie knew that this was a choreographed show and he didnít think the big Venusian was a very convincing actor.
Roger then asked Alfie, "What did you pull, bitty-buddy? Astrophysics? Cosmology? Some of that Quantum-Quasar-Quark crud?"
"Not at all.", said Alfie. "In fact, Iím going to be the chief astrogator on the new science ship Hawking."
The former Polaris unit-mates patted Alfie on the back and congratulated him for pulling a space assignment. Roger was amazed. Alfie had always been a Brain, that is, a cadet who specialized in the sciences rather than flight duty. Over the years he had learned not to question the decisions made by his superiors, but he couldn't help wondering, "How did that happen?"
Astro shouted, "Tom! Youíve been assigned to an undesignated ship by Solar Council Ambassador Taylor!"
Tom gulped hard. He knew that this would take him far from Earth and his family for a long time.
"Whatís your post, Roger?"
"Donít know. It hasnít come up yet!"
The boys watched while the list scrolled slowly around. What they saw, shocked them all.
"Manning, Roger, Lt. SG: 55:9:14, Report to Asteroid Penal Institution, Destroyer DE731, Radar/Gunnery Officer"
"Iíll be a son-of-a-space monkey! I canít believe that I pulled The Rock for my first duty!"
Tom tried to console his friend. "Cheer-up Roger! Weíll all have to pull this duty sometime! At least youíll get it out of the way early."
"Maybe,", said Roger, "but Iíll just get my jets rusty sitting on that asteroid for a year! Other than escorting mail, supply and prisoner transfer ships through the dome-locks, there wonít be a whole lot to do!"
Astro tried to change the conversation. "Well fellas, we can talk about this later. Lets go back to the monorail platform and catch that shuttle back to New Chicago for some of Mrs. Corbettís home cooking!"
Tom looked at Alfie and asked, "Are you going home too, Alfie?"
"Yes, my parents are waiting for me outside. It will be good to be back with them for a while."
Astro reached out to shake Alfieís hand when he suddenly realized what was different about the young man. "By Lunaís Craters, Alfie-boy! Youíve got new glasses!"
Alfie smiled and nodded at the big man.
Astro continued his observation. "Well, Alfie, I must say itís quite a change from those monstrous black-rimmed Mars Water bottles that youíve worn for the last four years! Thin gold frames and suspended lenses... Now you donít look like a Brain! In fact, you look like some kind of executive!"
Alfie tapped the rocket-bars on his collar and said, "You big lummox! I am an executive!"
The boys-turned-men laughed, exchanged good-byes and exited the hall in search of their families. On the way back to the monorail platform, Dr. Joan Daleís limousine pulled-up beside the trio. The rear doors swung upward revealing the lovely blond astrophysicist and the commander of the Polaris, Captain Steve Strong. Tom held out his hand to assist Dr. Dale out of the jet-car as Steve approached from the rear. Both of the crewís mentors were smiling broadly. Steve reached out to shake the hands of his former students. Joan, particularly fetching in a yellow dress of Venusian silk, congratulated them all.
After the greeting died away there were a few awkward seconds of silence as each of them realized that from this day on, their lives would no longer intersect on a regular basis.
Steve nervously cleared his throat and said, "Gentlemen, Joan and I have an announcement to make. Joan, the honor is yours."
Joanís cheeks turned a pale crimson as she held out her left hand. "Boys.... I mean, Gentlemen, Steve has asked me to marry him and I have accepted."
Her ring-finger sported a huge blue/white diamond which was mined on Venus. It was called a Sirius Stone because of the intense coloration that matched that of the brightest star in the sky. Astro let out one of his Venusian whoops that stopped everyone in the area in their tracks as they tried to figure out what the commotion was all about. Steve said that the ceremony would be held on Mars during the summer leave and that his old unit-mate, Addy Garcia, would be his best man. Congratulations were passed all around and Joan gave each of the new officers a hug. As the doors on the limousine began to close, Steve called out to his former students, "Spacemanís Luck!" The three friends returned the blessing as the jet-car began to accelerate toward Atom City.
During the long monorail ride to the civilian spaceport, the threesome and their parents planned out the activities of the summer. Astro looked forward to days at the beach. Roger was enthused about enjoying the big city life. Tom didnít care what they did, as long as they did it together.