July 4 2211
The buzzer went off at 8.30 and Jerry muzzily searched for the button. " "Lo" he rasped out.
"Yo man, wassup, Jerry?" came the laughing voice back at him. " Couple too many of them Coors Lights last night, huh?"
"mmph" he replied. Feeling a little more, he said, "Come on, dude, I'm getting older. I can't hang with the young studs like I used to, you know?"
"Shit, Gunny, I remember back in the day, you used to drink us under the table and then run us into the ground the next morning." Said Tom.
"Yeah, well, Ceti Alpha Three was twenty years ago, Tom." He said. "Now I need some coffee and at least a bagel before the old brain starts tracking, you know?"
"Sure thing, Jerry." He said. "Remember that the Parade is at noon. Rally Point is at Farnum's Supermarket."
"Yep, Yep," said Jerry, "just let me get the coffee going." He couldn't resist one last jibe. "At least I can still fit in my uniform, Tom."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah…I hear you, the old lady is on my case about that all the time too…"
"See you at the Parade." Laughed Jerry.
Jerry got on his shorts and slippers, and wandered out to the kitchen to get the coffee pot going. As he did the morning routine, he reflected on how the science fiction writers got so much wrong.
2211 – still no flying cars…the "rubber" in the tires was mostly synthetic, and the cars burned compressed hydrogen, but the people of 200 years ago would still recognize them…and Earth still had no unified "Terran" government. The United States was still a going concern, for all that the Stars and Stripes now had 60 stars, for six huge habitats, two lunar provinces and a Martian State and a recently incorporated group of Asteroid habitats…as well as daughter colonies on several planets in other star systems now.
Jerry looked at his Dress Blues, laid out on the living room couch, all his ribbons and badges in place. His son came out of the hallway and looked at his father.
"Looks good, dad." Said Harry. He stood close, looking at the four rows of ribbons, the orbital drop wings with the four gold stars for his combat drops, the Navy Cross, the Force Recon Badge, the three chevrons and three rockers with the archaic smoking bomb in the middle.
Little Benjy came out of his room and joined his brother. At four, he was too young to understand much of what was going on. He reached out to touch the uniform, but Harry grabbed him and said "Don't touch. It's important that Dad looks good for the Parade today."
Ben might not understand what was up, but he was a good kid, and obedient. He stood and looked, even if he didn't understand much yet, besides bright colors and shiny badges.
They ate breakfast, Jerry with his coffee and a bagel, the kids with their cereal. Jerry accessed the news holos. He frowned as he looked at the headlines. "Damn"
Harry looked up from his holo "What's wrong, Dad?"
"Aw nothing." He said. "The Mukwar of Ceti Alpha three is making trouble again. I hope the talks don't break down again."
Harry nodded. "Mr Henderson was talking about that in Social Studies. He said that it's not exactly a problem unique to America, just something that we keep having. We win a war, then we can't keep the peace. We've been having that problem since the Treaty of Versailles. He was saying the only sure way to win the war was to do as the Romans did with the Carthaginians – "to make a Desert and call it Peace."
"But we don't do it that way." Said Jerry.
"That's what Mr. Henderson said." Said Harry. "So, we try to balance being fair, with trying to make sure they don't come back and fight us again." He shook his head. "Sometimes, our enemies in the last war are our allies in the next one."
"True enough" said Jerry. "That's part of the reason our ancestors came to America in the first place. We were broke, we were defeated, and the safest place to be was to be part of the Nation that had kicked our butts." He smiled. "And nobody can say we aren't good Americans now."
After breakfast, Jerry got Ben ready for the sitter. Harry was marching in the Fourth of July Parade with his Boy Scout Troop, so Benjy was staying with Mrs. Henderson, who took care of many of the neighborhood children.
She was an older, graying lady, but she had a ready smile and was good with the children. Ben certainly loved her. Jerry always slipped her a few extra dollars. Ken Henderson had bought the farm on the USS Archibald Henderson, covering the retreat off Omicron Verde four. Her widow's pension supported her, but it was little enough he could do.
The two of them walked down to the Farnum's Supermarket parking lot, where the Parade was forming up. It was the usual confusion, with marching units and floats jockeying for position.
Harry joined up with his Scout Troop, and Jerry headed over where his AMVETS post was forming up. There was the usual bit of back slapping and greetings. Some guys, you hadn't seen for awhile, and some he'd seen last night at Bingo.
But they all knew how fleeting life could be. It was the combat soldier's mantra. "I might live to see old age, but I will probably not live to see tomorrow."
Well, now, they were seeing old age…but they had all sealed up too many body bags to take it for granted.
He grinned. "Yo, Fareed!" he shouted. A float chair came over. SSgt Fareed Ackbar had lost both legs and an arm to a plasma lance on Tau Alpha Three. "How's it hanging, Gunny?" came the mechanical voice. "Blessed is Allah to give us such good weather for our parade."
Jerry laughed. Fareed had lost his vocal cords to the flames. He could have made his vocal synthesizer sound more human, but he enoyed sounding like a bad 1950's robot. "Turning grey and hanging loose, Sarge. How you doing?"
"Same as always." Laughed Fareed. "Just floating around"
The parade went off as always, the guys stayed in step, more or less, and they fell out at the Town Park for a barbecue. It was a tradition that went back to the very founding of this town, way back in 1811, five centuries ago.
Jerry munched his hot dog, and looked around. He wondered what those long-ago founders might have thought, if they could see this day. So much changed, and yet – so much the same. A Fourth of July, Independence Day Celebration, a parade, a picnic, fireworks tonight.
What would they think of him? – he wondered. He reached out his upper right tentacle to wipe some mustard from Ben's shirt. His species had not even heard of Earth five centuries ago. But his father had come here as a prisoner, fifty years ago, and fallen in love with America.
"America is not a place, but an idea, a collection of ideas." He had told Jerry long ago. "And the strength of America is that it takes idea and strengths from everyone. It is not about a skin color, a race, not even a species. America cares about the person – can you do the job? – that is the question. If you can, then you are welcome here."
The old guy had raised Jerry to be a good American, and had been pleased when Jerry joined the Junior ROTC in High School, and joined the Marines after High School.
He laughed. "Marines beat the snot out of my unit and captured my ass on Degerbah. Sent my sorry butt here to Lancaster, New York. Best thing that ever happened to me. Do us proud, boy."
The old guy was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, not far from the Fairground that now stood where the POW camp used to be. He'd spent forty years as a machinist running a nano-lathe at Blesten and Sons.
As dusk fell, the fireworks started. The kids oohed and ahhed, and enjoyed themselves. Afterwards, they gathered themselves up, and walked home as the fireflies put on a lightshow of their own. Were there anything like fireflies on Degerbah? Jerry wondered. He had never thought to look it up, and he'd never visited the ancestral home of his species.
He put the kids to bed. Ben looked up at him. "Night dad." He said, "Happy Fourth."
Jerry agreed. "Happy Fourth, kid. Sleep well."