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Sabotage in Space By Carey Rockwell Characters: 12048

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Space Academy, U.S.A.!

This was the dream and goal of every boy in the thrilling year 2354, when mankind had reached out beyond the bounds of Earth and had conquered space, colonizing planets and blazing trails to distant worlds deep in the black void of the outer universe. To support the ever-growing need for trained spacemen to man the rocket ships that linked the planets and distant satellite outposts, the Solar Alliance, the government of the solar system, had erected Space Academy. It was there that the most promising boys were trained to become members of the Solar Guard to patrol the space lanes and keep peace in the universe.

Organized into tight, hard-hitting units of three, the Academy cadets were trained to work together under the most severe conditions. Their waking hours were spent in one of two places; in powerful rocket cruisers, blasting through space on endless training missions, or at the Academy in classrooms and lecture halls, where they studied everything from the theory of space flight to the application of space laws. A very important course of study was the theory of government. For, above all else, the Solar Alliance was a government of the people. And to assure the survival and continuance of that democratic system, the officers of the Solar Guard functioned as the watchdogs of the space democracy, entrusted with the vital mission of making sure the government reflected the will of the people.

As a practical approach to this course, the Academy officials had established a Cadet Council for the settlement of disputes and infractions of rules by the cadets. It was to this cadet governing body that the fight between the Polaris and the Capella units was referred by Major Connel.

The Academy had buzzed with talk since the fight, and sides were drawn hard and fast. Both units were extremely popular and the arguments raged through the dormitories as to which unit was at fault.

Meanwhile, the Cadet Council decided to have a full trial to give each unit a fair chance to defend itself against the charges. A judge and jury were selected and lawyers appointed for each side. Finally a date was set for the trial.

During this time, Tom, Roger, and Astro were confined to their quarters. They did not talk much, each conscious of the fact that should the Cadet Council decide against them, they might be expelled from the Academy. The same was true about the Capella unit, of course, but the Council might decide the Polaris had instigated the whole affair. Roger was particularly silent, since his actions in obtaining the study spools had started the whole chain of disastrous events.

The boys did not know which cadet would be appointed to defend them until late the following afternoon when there was a knock on the door, and a small, thin cadet, wearing a thick pair of eyeglasses that gave him a decided owllike look, entered the room.

"Alfie Higgins!" cried Tom.

"The Brain!" yelled Astro.

"Glad to see you, pal!" shouted Roger.

The three cadets surrounded little Alfie and pommeled him playfully in their joy at seeing another cadet. Alfie merely looked at them gravely.

"Hello, Tom, Roger, Astro," he said somberly.

"What are you doing here?" asked Tom. "We're not allowed visitors."

"I'm not a visitor, Tom," replied the little cadet. "I'm your defense lawyer." He glanced at Roger and Astro. "I hope that will be satisfactory to you."

"Satisfactory!" exclaimed Tom. "Alfie, we couldn't ask for anyone better."

"That's right, Brain," said Roger. "You're the boy for us."

Astro grunted his approval. "Yeah."

"Well, in that case," said Alfie, opening his brief case, "I would suggest that we get right down to the facts. The trial is tomorrow."

"All right, Alfie, we're ready," said Tom. "I suppose you want to hear the whole thing."

"If you don't mind," said Alfie, adjusting his eyeglasses. "You start, Roger."

Sitting around the room, relaxed, yet concerned, the four cadets discussed the details of the case. Alfie took copious notes, occasionally interrupting Tom or Roger or Astro to ask a pointed question.

They talked for nearly four hours before Alfie was finally satisfied that he knew all the facts. He left them with the same somber attitude he had when he first arrived, and when the boys were alone, they each felt a chill of fear. The full meaning of a defense lawyer hit them. They were in serious trouble. After a few moments of silence, Tom rose and went into the bathroom to take a shower. Astro flopped on his back in his bunk and went to sleep. Roger began throwing darts idly at his "solar system" over his bunk. It was a map of his own design depicting the planets revolving around the sun, only each planet was represented by a picture of a girl, and his own grinning countenance was the sun. He was known to have made dates by throwing a dart at the map blindly and taking out the girl whose picture he had hit.

When Tom returned a few minutes later, he looked at his unit mates and shook his head. Never, in all the adventures they had shared or all the tough situations they had been in, had either Roger or Astro given up as they seemed to be doing now.

"And," thought Tom miserably, "with good reason too! I feel like tossing in the sponge myself."

* * *

The huge Space Academy gymnasium had been converted into a temporary courtroom, and at ten A.M. the following day the cavernous chamber was packed with all the cadets who could get off duty, in addition to a liberal sprinkling of Solar Guard officers and instructors who were keenly interested in their pupils' handling of orderly democratic procedure.

As the cadet judge opened the proceedings, Commander Walters, Major Connel, Captain Strong, and Lieutenant Wolchek, unit commander of the Capella crew, watched intently from their seats in the back of the gym. Up forward, at two small tables immediately in front of the Council's platform, the Polaris and Capella units sat rigidly, while their defe

nse lawyers arranged papers and data on the table for quick reference. Little Alfie Higgins didn't say a word to Tom, Roger, or Astro, merely studied his opponent, Cadet Benjy Edwards, who was acting as attorney for the Capella unit. Edwards, a beefy boy with a florid face, looked across the chamber and sneered at Tom. The young cadet repressed a quick shudder of anger. There was bad blood between the two. Once, Tom had found Edwards bullying a helpless group of Earthworm cadets, forcing them to march and exercise under a broiling Martian sun for no reason at all, and Tom had put a stop to it. Edwards had taken every opportunity to get back at Tom, and now he had his best chance.

From the beginning, the trial was argued bitterly. Though the issues were clear-cut-illegal possession of the study spools, out on the quadrangle after hours, and fighting-Edwards tried to accuse the Polaris unit of irrelevant infractions. But Alfie Higgins was his equal. From the beginning, he admitted that the Polaris unit was guilty of the first charge, but made a strong claim that they had more than made up for the infraction by risking censure to return the spools to their rightful owners. In addition, he forced Tony Richards to admit that he had accepted Roger's apology. The Council agreed to drop that charge and to hold the second charge in abeyance, since both units seemed to have had good reason for being out after hours. Benjy Edwards scowled but could find no reason to object to the Council's decision. Alfie, on the other hand, broke into a smile for the first time that morning. He turned to the Council and announced that the only point of issue was the fight and who struck the first blow.

In the back of the room, Connel turned to Strong. "I, personally, am going to sign the pass for a week's leave for Alfie when this is over," he said. "I never saw such a ding-blasted brain in operation in all my life."

"He really slipped one over on Benjy Edwards all right," muttered Strong, his voice tinged with pride.

In front of the Council platform, Alfie turned to the judge.

"I would like to call to the stand, if the court please," he said in a clear voice, "Cadet Tom Corbett."

Tom walked to the chair, was sworn in, and sat down, facing Alfie.

"Cadet Corbett," Higgins paused, and then asked almost casually, "did you strike the first blow?"

"No," replied Tom.

"Dismissed," said Higgins suddenly. "Call Roger Manning to the stand, please."

Roger rose, and passing Tom on the way back, took his place on the stand and repeated the oath.

Alfie looked at Roger calmly and in a clear voice asked, "Cadet Manning, did you strike the first blow?"

"No."

"Dismissed," said Alfie. "Please call Cadet Astro to the stand."

The cadet audience began to murmur and sit forward tensely.

"What the devil is he doing?" growled Connel.

Strong grinned. "Blast me if I know, Lou," he said. "But wait and see. I'll bet you ten credits it's a lulu."

Astro was sworn in and Alfie waited for the room to become quiet.

"Cadet Astro," he said finally, "you have heard the other members of the Polaris unit state, under solemn oath, that they did not strike the first blow. Now, I ask you to consider carefully your answer. Did you, Cadet Astro"-Alfie paused dramatically, and nearly shouted the final part of the question-"strike the first blow?"

"No!" bellowed Astro.

"Dismissed," said Alfie quickly, turning to the Council. "Gentlemen," he said, "he did not strike the first blow, nor did Cadet Corbett, nor Cadet Manning. And I will not insist that the three members of the Capella unit be asked the same question, since I concede that they are three impeccable gentlemen who could not strike the first blow in a common fight."

As the audience in the courtroom burst into a roar, Benjy Edwards jumped to his feet.

"Your honor," he appealed, "I insist that the Capella unit be allowed to take the stand and deny the charge-"

"Your honor," interrupted Alfie, "the Polaris unit makes no charge. They freely admit that the Capella unit could not, I repeat, sir, could not have struck the first blow. And the Polaris unit-"

"Your honor-!" cried Edwards. "I insist."

The cadet judge rapped his gavel. "Polaris counsel will speak."

"Thank you, your honor. I just wanted to say that the members of the Polaris unit defer to the Capella unit. I submit, your honor, that it was nothing more than a misunderstanding and that both sides should be punished or freed."

"Is that all?" asked the cadet judge.

"Yes, sir," said Alfie.

"Counsel for the Capella unit may speak now. Do you insist on having your defendants brought to the stand to swear they did not start the fight?"

"Your honor-" began Benjy. But Alfie had already planted the seed. There were shouts of "Give it to both of them" from the gym.

Red-faced, Edwards held up his hand and appealed for quiet. "Your honor," he began at last, "after consultation with the members of the Capella unit, they have directed me to state that they are willing to abide by the suggestion of the Polaris counsel."

As the cadets in the courtroom roared their approval, the cadet judge consulted quickly with the members of the Council. A decision was reached quickly. A verdict of conduct unbecoming cadets was brought against both units, with orders for a strong reprimand to be placed on their individual official records. In addition, each unit was denied leaves and week-end passes from the Academy until the end of the term, four weeks away. All spare time was to be spent on guard duty.

"You are to report to Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Rush for further orders on all time not actually accountable for in Academy schedules," concluded the cadet judge. "Dismissed."

The case was closed with a loud roar of approval from the entire cadet audience, who had seen justice done and democracy in action. Tom, Astro, and Roger looked at each other and smiled. They were still Space Cadets.

* * *

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