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© 1997 Ed Pippin

The curly haired youth watched anxiously while the receptionist looked over his papers. This was the moment he had worked towards for many years. Years spent in New Chicago's Armstrong High School, working to finish in the top ten percent of his class, taking extra courses in Astrophysics, Exobiology, Space Medicine and Space Law. All for a chance at a lifelong dream...Space.

As he waited for the receptionist to review his papers, he thought of his last night at home and the reaction of his family to his leaving. His brother Billy was proud, few were chosen to take the entrance exams for Space Academy. Cathy clung to him, realizing her big brother wouldn't be around to listen to her problems or help her with school work. A cadet's time belonged to the Academy.

A 20th century military academy's motto for cadets " No horse, No mustache and No wife" , reinforced the requirement of total concentration to Academy studies. The Space Academy of the 24th century required more than total concentration, it required total commitment at all costs. A commitment that will be especially hard on Cathy who will loose her brother friend.

"Everything is in order" said the receptionist, bringing young man's thoughts back from his family.
"Take this to room A-321 in the Towers building and ask for Chief Warrant Officer McKinney. He'll take you over the bumps and into the first set of tests for the Academy."

"Thank you sir, which slide-walk do I take?"

"No need for the Sir business with me, the only SIR'S here wear Black Uniforms!!"
came the good natured reply "Take slide-walk 22, it passes right by the Towers Building."

"Yes si....I..uh.. thank you" he stammered.

"You're welcome and spaceman's luck." came the gently reply.

As the cadet hopeful turned and left, the receptionist thought to himself.
I see em' everyday, hopeful, anxious, talented and the largest number of them doomed for disappointment. The Academy grist mill chewed'em up and spit them out by the thousands. Only one candidate out of a thousand who passed the preliminaries made it to First Year Cadet. The receptionist had seen it all and done some of it. He had made it to a second year cadet before Astro-Navigation washed him out of the Academy. Yet, the academy was in his blood and he had to be part of it, even if he had to enlist and work on the ground.

"Good Luck fella" he thought ..."you'll need as much as you can get!!!"

Stepping onto the slide-walk, the young cadet hopeful watched as the Academy slowly slid by. The bright green of the athletic triangle broken by the multi colors of the Academy residents: bright red of the enlisted, blue of the cadets, green of the cadet candidates (fondly known as earthworms), and an occasional black uniform of a Solar Guardsman. He was soaking up all of the color while trying to calm his nerves. If he didn't stop shaking he would wear out his skin from the inside.

As the Towers building approached he began to step off of the slid walk, when.....

"Opps.... pardon me!" he said as he bumped into someone.

"That's quite alright" came the reply from the attractive blond. It may have been the dark Blue-Black uniform of an Academy instructor or the manner in which he had almost knocked her over but for a while only mutterings came out of his mouth.

"I didn't..... that is ......I'm sorry...uhh... I wasn't looking......that is...."

"It's ok honest!!!!" she laughed. It was apparent she had bumped into one of the many cadet hopefuls who were taking preliminary exams this week.

"Is there anything I can help you with?" She asked.

"No...YES! ! "

"Well, which shall it be?"

"I'm looking for room A-321 in the towers Building." he said as they stepped onto a solid walkway.
"It's your lucky day, I am heading for the Towers building now. Would you like to walk with me?"

Not trusting his voice, he accepted her offer with a smile and a nod of his head.

As they silently walked toward the Towers building, an arkward few minutes passed ... until finally.

"Have you just arrived?" she asked.

"No mame, I arrived on the Silver Streak this morning."

"The Silver Streak! !! You must have caught the first monorail from the Academy transfer station!!!" She exclaimed. "Not anxious are you?"

She smiled, extended her hand and said " I'm Dr. Joan Dale, welcome to Space Academy."

Reaching to shake her hand he replied " I'm Tom Corbett from Illinois"

Another arkward paused followed until Dr. Dale said with a smile. "Are you frighten of me Tom Corbett from Illinois?"

"Yes mame!!!!" came the honest reply. "I don't know why, but I guess I am."

"Well, why don't we get acquainted? How about taking in that Mercury Ball game over there?"

"I better not, the preliminaries are being held soon and I have to be there."

"You have more than an hour before the exams begin. Arriving to soon may cause you to freeze up before the tests begin. You wouldn't want to do that, would you?" she asked.

With that she took him firmly by the arm and led him onto the slide-walk toward the Mercury Ball game. As the slide- walk carried them toward the game she asked. "What part of Illinois are you from Tom?"

"Jacksonville, right outside of New Chicago." he answered as they stepped off of the slide-walk and onto the field. "It's not a large town, just small automated farms with commuter tubes for those who have to work in the city and students commuting to the universities."

The sideline seats were on the corner of the field and provided an excellent view of the Mercury Ball scrimmage in progress. The game was interesting to watch. The high kicks, crazy spins and wild movement of the mercury ball soaring through the air gave the game a strange unearthly appearance. The unpredictable action of the ball, caused by a vial of mercury inside of it, made it bounce and spin in crazy combinations. The teams never knew where the ball would land, which lead to may interesting and funny plays.

Tom's competitive spirit began to push back his fear of the impending exams and he visible relaxed.

Noting that Tom was relaxing Dr. Dale continued their conversation. "Why do you want to become a Solar Guardsman, Tom?"

He paused for a moment and looked off into space before he answered. " I fell in love with Space when we studied the early years of Space Exploration in elementary school. The early pioneers flew some mighty fragile crafts into space and returned to tell about it. I could never explain why I felt so strong about space travel while others looked on it as part of their everyday life."

"Why do you say that?" She asked.

It was becoming easier for Dr. Dale to talk to him now. Tom didn't realize it but, the first of the examinations for the Space Academy had already begun. The causal meeting with Dr.Dale was part of his psychological evaluation. As part of the Academy's teaching staff, Dr. Dale had run several blocks before she could "arrange" the bump on the slide-walk. She felt a little guilty, but Tom had to be evaluated on a personal level and it was impossible to do so in a classroom interview session. In prearranged interviews, many hopeful cadets were able to cover up fears, prejudices, and quirks that make them questionable candidates for the Academy. This "causal" approach allowed the Academy to take a good look at a cadet candidate with their "hair down". Tom continued with his answer.

" I have always had the urge to climb the highest mountain or discover something new. Does that make any sense to you?" he asked.

"Yes Tom, it makes a great deal of sense." came the reply as she began to get up and steer him towards the Towers Building. "Why don't you visit Galaxy Hall when you finish your written exams? There are some interesting space exhibits in the Rotunda. In the meantime I must hurry and get you to Room A- 321 before the exams begin... come along!!"

With that hurried word the two crossed the Athletic field to the slide walk and began to move toward the fast section of the walkway leading toward the tall, Titan Crystal and duro steel of the Academy buildings.

|...Section 42-D...|
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