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   Midshipman Henry Gallant at the Academy

1
Threadbare

Still a boy, not yet a man, Henry Gallant dug his stiff fingers deep into his pockets. He shivered as the bitter-cold wind clawed through his threadbare clothes.

“Do you see it?” asked the elderly woman beside him, pulling her shawl tight around her. The overhead streetlamp offered little illumination as they squinted down the dark, winding dirt road.

 

“Not yet,” said Gallant, standing on his tiptoes.

The woman was a head shorter than him with a careworn face that the chill air made rosy. Her elegant features revealed that she had once been a beauty, and while time had weathered her, she had aged gracefully.

Gallant stomped his feet impatiently while his mind was already racing, considering the prospects for his future.

She asked, “Will you visit me when you get liberty?”

“Of course, Grandmother,” he said, but he had no idea when that might be.

“You know I’ve always tried to do my best, ever since . . .,”

Gallant took a deep breath and wrapped his arms tight around his chest.

“They were heroes, you know,” she said softly.

“I know,” he said as the painful memory boiled up.

She had told him many times about the meteor that struck the family outpost on Phobos when he was a child. His parents had only seconds to seal him in an escape pod and couldn’t save themselves. The picture his mind conjured up was of their selfless act.

Since that ordeal, he had become obsessed with controlling his emotions. He had learned to set his own rules of behavior, things he would allow himself to express and things he wouldn’t.

He kissed her gently on her forehead. “You gave meaning to my parents’ sacrifice by caring for me all these years.”

Her work as a clerk by day and a seamstress at night had been taxing but necessary to make ends meet.

She said, “You have been a blessing to me. Your freelance programming helped us manage.”

She brushed back a tangled lock of brown hair from his forehead and said, “I wish I could have done more to mend your clothes.”

“There’s nothing wrong with them,” he said. He stretched his arms wide as proof, but he was careful not to tear open a seam. “They’re perfect.”

Anxiously, he stared down the road, wishing the bus had wings.

Several minutes later, he said, “I think I see lights.”

She brightened. “You’ll soon have a brand-new uniform.”

While the bus approached, his grandmother continued to give him last-minute advice and encouragement, but he couldn’t concentrate on her words. As he looked into her eyes and saw her love, he could only feel guilt at leaving her alone. He planned to send her his meager midshipman’s allowance. It wouldn’t be much, but it was all he could do. 

It will be all right, he thought.

The bus sputtered to a stop in front of them. A creaking door opened.

Gallant barely had time for a quick hug and kiss before getting aboard. He carried a small bag that contained a change of underclothes and a few toiletries. He made his way to a rear window seat and waved as the bus departed.

He watched her figure wave back as it faded into the shadows. The darkness seemed to swallow her like a living thing.

Gallant sat next to a woman holding a small spaghetti-armed child. He remained quiet, staring straight ahead. 

The night was dark and cold along the remote, meandering mountain road. During the first hour of his journey, he worried about leaving his grandmother alone in their tiny mountain cabin. Although it was set in a pastoral valley with a natural spring, it lacked many modern conveniences.

Besides his financial contribution over the years, he helped her by taking care of daily necessities. He cleaned the solar panels and maintained the storage batteries. Unfortunately, home delivery in rural areas had not yet taken hold, so he undertook the long jet-flyer trip to the nearest store. Now she would have to manage on her own, and her arthritis had been acting up. 

How will she manage without me?

His emotional baggage shifted during the second hour.

While he bounced around in the obsolete vehicle, self-doubt crept in. All his weaknesses, failings, and fears blossomed full form into his mind. He had never been aboard a spaceship, wasn’t a legacy, and didn’t even know a space officer. Most likely, he would be hazed, ridiculed, and driven out as undesirable within a week.

His frown deepened with each passing mile, and he began to wish he had never applied for admission to the academy. Finally, he considered getting off and catching the return bus.

I’m getting too good at predicting adverse outcomes, he thought.

Gallant decided that untrustworthy emotions wouldn’t control him. Instead, he would let his logical mind guide him. He tried to calculate his chances of success. Then, after weighing the pros and cons, he thought,

I must be bold.

He straightened his spine, lifted his head, and vanquished guilt and fear. 

Either I make it, or I die trying! 

That’s all there was to it. Everything changed after that. As daylight trickled over the last hill, the road broadened into a smoothly paved highway. The sun’s resilient brightness lifted his spirits.

He couldn’t wait for the adventure to begin.

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