On the playa, the final merit badges of the 57th Annual Junior Planeteers Jamboree were being awarded. Marching music filled the air, the holographic flag waved, and overhead, aerial squadrons of Sr. Planeteers flew in tight formation.
Cordoned off to one side of the parade grounds and policed by several unsmiling Sr. Planeteers, were suspended pack master Sergei Cardellini, disgraced cadet Bruno Cardellini, and the collateral damage known as Wolf pack 4002. Despite extenuating circumstances, they had a lot to answer for, but not right now. So for the time being, Wolf pack 4002 slouched dejectedly while their arch rivals, Bear pack 1641 from Armstrong City, Luna, sat on the awards platform.
In space, in a transport returning to the Chen-Glücksbringer consortium, technocrats Patricia Benz and Manuel Zhao assiduously attended to meaningless busy work to avoid making eye contact with their nameless, so-called assistant. Horrifying news reports were already coming out of Hawking colony about a failed industrial espionage attempt by unnamed parties that had caused wide-spread, catastrophic computer malfunctions and a life-and-death threat to the colony itself. The consequences of an inter-colonial scandal were likely be fought in the courts for years. But more importantly, grim-faced Hawking colony officials promised that those who caused the near disaster would spill buckets of red ink from their annual profit reports for a long time to come. The trip home would take several more days, but the nameless assistant’s arrival was not likely to be a joyful one.
“We have come nearly to the end,” said Col. B. Davidson Dubois in his commencement speech, “of what I think could be reasonably described as the most dramatic Jr. Planeteer Jamboree I’ve seen in years.” The assemblage of Planeteers, colony officials, laypeople and reporters chuckled in unison at the sheer understatement of the colonel’s quip. The news of how Bear pack 1641 had saved the colony from a near-fatal disaster had spread like wildfire.
“For awhile there,” said the colonel, “I feared no colony would ever again want to sponsor a Planeteer Jamboree. We should take a moment to appreciate that.” Col. Dubois let a somber silence settle over the audience. He wanted them to realize how close they had come to the death of an ideal.
“The Planeteers adopt the trappings of a military group,” continued the colonel, “but in actuality it’s a civilian organization that encourages young people to develop civic responsibility, do charitable works, and learn skills that will serve them throughout life. What a cadet does in the Planeteers frequently reflects the kind of person they are, and how their mentors raised them. Planeteers often go on to become moral leaders, diplomats, scientists, engineers, and law enforcers—even interplanetary Rangers. These final awards acknowledge some of the finest cadets I’ve ever seen.
“The first award goes to Miyoko Smith of Orca pack 886.”
Miyoko Tomorrow, who was sitting on stage with Bear pack, stood up and quick marched to the podium. If she wasn’t already standing at attention, Miyoko would’ve been shaking like a leaf as Col. Dubois said, “Some of you might know Cadet Smith spread some pretty scandalous scuttlebutt at the Robot Races, and wonder why our newest recipient of the Citizenship in the Solar System merit badge deserves this Meretricious Service ribbon instead of a demerit for circulating rumors.” The colonel lightly pressed the service ribbon against Miyoko’s sash and it stayed in place as if by magic.
“This commendation is a reminder that merit is not a rigid concept,” said the colonel, “and that under the right circumstances, even challenging the rules to champion justice and camaraderie is itself an act of good citizenship.” Then the colonel and the cadet exchanged sharp salutes, and Miyoko floated on a cloud back to her seat.
The colonel resumed the ceremony and called all of Bear pack to the podium. “These next awards are for the Robotics merit badge. This year, two packs were in a tie going into the Robot Races. As I’m sure most of you know, the race did not go as planned. One of the contenders abandoned the field in extremely dramatic fashion, and therefore you might not have noticed that the other contender stayed the course, crossed the finish line, and actually won the race.
“Therefore, I’m proud to announce that this unit citation goes to Pack Master George Dimbleby, and four individual Robotics merit badges go to Bear pack 1641.” A cheer spread across the playa as the colonel attached merit badges shaped like a stylized mechanical man to each pack member’s sash.
The last Bear pack cadet to receive his award was Tommy Tomorrow. His face had been treated for cuts and abrasions, his ribs for painful bruises, and his left arm was encased in a cast to immobilize a hairline crack. Despite his discomfort, Tommy stood stoically and proud as Col. Dubois attached his Robotics merit badge.
Instead of Col. Dubois dismissing Bear pack and moving on, he added a few remarks. “It should be noted that Bear pack 1641 earned their Robotics merit badge under unusual circumstances and extreme duress, of which you know only a few details. The members of Bear pack, lead by Cadet Thomas Cameron, and assisted by Mr. Dimbleby and their friend, Cadet Smith, acted with teamwork, quick thinking, and strong leadership to detect a threat and then act with extraordinary courage to avert a looming disaster.
“For these reasons I’ve cited, each of you is awarded a service ribbon with gold frame for Valor.” The colonel magically attached the commendations to their overwhelmed recipients, and then let everyone take their seat except Tommy Tomorrow.
“Finally,” said Col. Dubois, “I know about Cadet Cameron’s courage and determination first hand. I saw him risk life and limb—and even flat out disobey a direct order, which definitely takes courage—to save everyone in this colony.”
Tommy turned red with embarrassment and whispered, “I’m sorry about that, sir, but I couldn’t—”
The colonel cut Tommy off with a half-smile and muttered, “Tommy, you earned this, now shut up and take it like a hero.”
Once again in full voice, Col. B. Davidson Dubois said, “Tommy Tomorrow, for the extraordinary act of bravery you rendered Hawking colony, the representatives of this colony standing behind me have permanently endowed a special adornment to your Robotics merit badge.” The colonel reached around Tommy’s cast and attached to his Robotics merit badge a gold pip made from ore mined from asteroid 2220 HK itself.
“This special configuration of merit badge and decoration will be awarded only for acts of extraordinary leadership and bravery in the face of extreme danger—dangers which, I for one, hope young Planeteers will rarely encounter in their lives of service. It is with great pride that I hereby announce this special configuration will henceforth be known as the ‘Robot Rebellion’ merit badge.”
This was a good trade, thought Col. Dubois. He had convinced Hawking colony that the Planeteers were not to blame for the robot rebellion; that Planeteers had in fact stopped the rebellion at great personal risk to themselves; and to not sue this Jamboree or censure future ones, in exchange for a well-publicized merit badge adornment that would be a public relations coup for decades to come. You see, as has been mentioned before, B. Davidson Dubois had been a Planeteer in his youth, and had learned skills of strategy that had served him his whole life long.
Col. Dubois engaged the crowd one last time and said in a loud voice, “Let all who witness this day, stand and proclaim, Hip! Hip!—“
“—Hooray!” replied the throng of hundreds of Planeteers, cheering across the dusty playa.
In that moment, finally, and to a degree he could never perfectly put into words but would always remember, Tommy Tomorrow was happy.
— End —
I don’t know too many text stories that come with their own sound effects. The “Washington Post March” is a public domain sound file courtesy of the Internet Archive, and is found at https://archive.org/details/WashingtonPostMarch.
My thanks to MixKit, a media company that sells audiovisual effects, for recently providing a complimentary and license free sound clip of a rowdy crowd (mixkit-people-in-fair-ambience-and-laughter-368.wav) from its free sound effects library (https://mixkit.co/free-sound-effects/crowd/). I’ve been wanting to include such a clip ever since I originally posted this story.