As a steady stream of cars go up and down the road outside, people going hither and yon for purposes only they know, it is Monday 31 May 2010 and Memorial Day (Observed). Last year I intended to write a SF short story for Memorial Day. Alas, it got bogged down in a side project of wondering how Arlington National Cemetery would look and function nine centuries from now. That needs some thought, still. So as my own modest contribution to the commemorative events of the I have written a different SF story -- this one in much smaller venue.
"Memorial Day-II" by Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon Friday 24 May 2880 Ottawa Bypass MI, USA, Nordamericano, Earth The Skat drove by him in a hurry, bearing four shirtless young men already well tanned. They hollered some youthful expression of exuberance, probably thrilled to have cut school after lunch in order to start the three-day weekend early. One boy turned back to stare -- surprised to see a man in dress black uniform walking along the side of the old road. Master Chief Petty Officer Daniel Hoogerhyde (Ret.) didn’t mind. The walk westward to Placid Waters Cemetery was hot, but pleasant enough. At 0700 hours this morning an intense thunderstorm had crashed through town and he’d thought the walk would feel like he was hiking through a humid swamp. But the front had brought high pale blue skies and a stiff dry wind, so despite the 29° temperature, he wasn’t miserable. By the time he reached the marker stake, he could see the boys had parked up on the adjoining Picnic Hill and were playing some sort of catch game. Life went on and he wasn’t annoyed by their presence. He was, however, wondering how’d they react to the coming proceedings. Another uniformed figure came marching stately up the road. Hoogerhyde knew Master Gunnery Sergeant Leo McMasters, USFMC -- they’d served together on many of these details. He noted that the gunnery sergeant’s listing on his data glasses no longer had the Retired tag. "Master Chief," the Marine nodded tersely when he arrived. "Master Gunny," Hoogerhyde replied. There was no further reason to talk until the other four arrived. And then when the tandem linked bubble cars arrived, the two senior NCOs were able to point and direct everyone to their tasks without so many words either. The three enlisted personnel came from two American terrestrial military services to fill in. The lone Fleet officer of the detail, Lieutenant (j.g.) Anne Leslie Aage, moved stiffly. All he knew of her was that she’d been burned in a reactor accident somewhere hundreds of light years from here and had been sent home to Grand Rapids on Earth for rest and recuperation leave. Still, she walked with them, carrying the flag stand base, as the flag and rifle lockers were lugged up the hill to the grave site. The cemetery staff had already dug the perfectly edged hole, placed the brass frame with the support straps, and erected the tent. The electric gravetender sat silently with its load of dirt and carefully rolled up patch of sod. With the arrival of the military honor guard, all they needed was the funeral party. Hoogerhyde raised the white cloth over the newly laser cut stone and inspected it. SPC2 CECILIA GRACE STAAT USFS DELFT (CCB 52) † 5 APRIL 2859 - 26 MARCH 2880 IN SCHOOL · SOCCER · SPACE OUR DEAR GIRL ALWAYS THOUGHT OF OTHERS FIRST The epitaph seemed to match the report he’d gotten from the Fleet Chiefs Association, which was considering Staat for recognition as the next enlisted spaceman to be named on a Callisto frigate. One by one they removed the five flags from the locker -- State of Michigan, United States of America, Nordamericano Confederation, United Nations of Earth and the banner of the Unified Star Fleet -- unfurled them and placed them in their holders. A farmer’s bubble truck rolled up and a local high school student stepped out in a perfectly pressed suit and carrying a brilliantly polished brass cornet. Hoogerhyde put away the military music player as this young man was very good on the cornet. The boy’s mother would wait quietly in the bubble truck for the service to end. A single bip! in his ear signaled the approach of the funeral party. The six military men and women aligned themselves on the road below and came to attention. Hoogerhyde could see the four boys on Picnic Hill had stopped their games and were now leaning against their vehicle, watching. The hearse glided to a halt directly in front of the detail, while a linked train of bubble cars followed with the mourners. With few called orders required, the six members of the funeral detail took possession of the casket and, with great precision, marched one step at a time up the hill to the grave site. The first time Hoogerhyde had borne a casket, he’d been terrified that he might drop it. Now he knew the wisdom of having six bearers split the load and, truth be told, this was not the heaviest casket he’d ever taken up the hill to Placid Waters. The family had selected the familiar American stars and stripes to be draped on the casket, rather than the more stark, black Unified Star Fleet banner. The graveside service for Specialist 2 Cecilia Staat was short. The private church service had been the place for long eulogies and remembrances. The flag was folded, stiffly and precisely, and handed to Staat’s parents by Hoogerhyde, On behalf of a grateful nation and people. The young cornet player performed the Last Call, then Hoogerhyde piped Now Departing on a bosun’s whistle and the casket lowered as the master gunnery sergeant and the three enlisted men fired the requisite volleys into the air. As expected, it was these sharp reports which caused the most visible reaction from the mourners. Ceremonial amounts of dirt and single flowers were tossed into the grave -- the cemetery’s crew would complete the covering later -- and the funeral was over. All per the 2866 revision of the Manual of the Unified Star Fleet Funeral Service. After the funeral party and the young cornet player had departed, the master chief noted the four boys trotting down from Picnic Hill. He continued to help stow the flag and rifle lockers, then walked with the others to the tandem bubble cars. Once stowed, the master gunnery sergeant began his walk back to town. "Excuse me, sir?" one of the boys stepped up to ask Hoogerhyde, after the tandem had left. He was immediately elbowed by one of his buddies. "Don’t call him ‘sir’. He’s got chevrons and rockers on his sleeve -- that makes him a chief." Hoogerhyde smiled. "You seem to know something of the military." The second boy nodded. "My brother serves in the Michigan National Guard. He’s a corporal, chief." "Master chief," Hoogerhyde said, tapping the patch on his sleeve. "But I’ll forgive someone who knows army ranks from trying to keep track of the navy -- sea or space." "You’re Fleet, aren’t you? Space navy?" "Correct. The Unified Star Fleet." "And who got buried?" "Specialist 2 Cecilia Staat." The boys seemed to know of the family. "Was she killed in the war?" "The interstellar war with the aliens?" The second boy blushed, it seemed such a crazy thing to talk about. They’d never found any aliens out nearly a thousand light years from Earth -- and then the first ones they find seemed hell-bent on killing humans? Insane. And yet very, very real. "No," the master chief said. "The war started just a week ago. We can move information fast, but bringing casualties home? That’ll take a couple of months." "Oh." The first boy seemed disappointed. "But don’t worry. Specialist Staat is still a hero. She spotted something wrong with someone running to board her ship -- turned out the man was trying to get a bomb on the Delft. She stopped him long enough for ship’s security to stop him permanently. Unfortunately, her efforts cost Staat her life. Space is a dangerous game. Even without alien attackers." The boys thought about this. Three headed back to their Skat –- but the one with the brother in service remained. "What else can I answer for you?" "How come not all of you were in Fleet uniforms?" "There’s not a need for a large Unified Star Fleet presence in West Michigan," Hoogerhyde said. "And Ottawa Bypass is a pretty small town." "Oh... yeah." "The two sailors were U.S. Navy Reservists -- sea navy. The army lad, like your brother, is a Michigan National Guard soldier. Their service is Earthbound, not in space. Not yet anyway. "As for the Fleet personnel, Lt. Aage is going in early for her reentrant physical. I expect she’ll be lifting within a week. The master gunnery sergeant has come out of retirement to go and serve in this new war. He’ll leave in thirty days." "Not immediately?" "Fleet is vast, but there are only so many billets to fill and so many transports -- the pencil-neck Personnel people on the Moon have a lot of logistics they have to work out with so many to move around." "I see." "I think you do. Look, son, I’m not a recruiter -- I’m not here to try to convince you to join up with Fleet or for any service. But... Monday is Memorial Day Observed. That’s the reason you’re getting this nice three-day holiday weekend. All I ask is that you take a moment on Monday to remember all who have served in the military, on land, sea, air or space. Can you do that?" "Yeah, master chief, I can do that." "Then take care, son. And enjoy a little of this lovely day, even after this somber ceremony." "Thanks!" Relieved to be released, perhaps, the boy ran off and hopped onto the back of the Skat and the four boys roared off towards the lake. And you, Master Chief, the boy hadn’t asked, are you going back in? Hoogerhyde didn’t know. Perhaps. Maybe. Probably he should. But he’d been right to tell the boy that Fleet Personnel was flooded with old-timers like him begging to be let back in during the last week. There’d be an update from the Fleet Chiefs Association on it. An interstellar war with an unknown alien race who attacked Fleet ships without warning or challenge. Ships were being damaged or even destroyed in battle. There’d be more spacemen coming back to Earth to be memorialized. Someone had to be here to stand for them. He imagined there’d be a couple of waves of new recruits and returning officers and NCOs. It was unlikely that this war would be short -- he’d already heard one idiot on the viddie news suggest that it’d be over by Christmas. That old misguided chestnut seemed to surface with every war fought over the last ten centuries. He figured they’d be in this war for years. There’d soon come a time when Fleet would be hurting for experienced master chiefs. When, unfortunately, he could imagine there’d be more injured and recuperating come back home to help serve on these funeral details. There was a time coming when he might return to space. But for now, there were still the men and women who’d already given their lives in service to humanity. For now, his duty was to stand and honor them. And he’d be back on Monday, planting small flags next to graves stretching back five-hundred years. He could live with that.