The Fleet Sergeant added, «Did you find exhibits relating to their present competence to take the oath of enrollment? If so, what?»

«We found,» the older one said, «appended to each record of physical examination a duly certified conclusion by an authorized and delegated board of psychiatrists stating that each of them is mentally competent to take the oath and that neither one is under the influence of alcohol, narcotics, other disabling drugs, nor of hypnosis.»

«Very good.» He turned to us, «Repeat after me — «

«I, being of legal age, of my own free will — «

» ‘I,’ » we each echoed, » ‘being of legal age, of my own free will — ’ «

» — without coercion, promise, or inducement of any sort, after having been duly advised and warned of the meaning and consequences of this oath — «

» — do now enroll in the Federal Service of the Terran Federation for a term of not less than two years and as much longer as may be required by the needs of the Service — «

(I gulped a little over that part. I had always thought of a «term» as two years, even though I knew better, because that’s the way people talk about it. Why, we were signing up for life.)

«I swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the Federation against all its enemies on or off Terra, to protect and defend the Constitutional liberties and privileges of all citizens and lawful residents of the Federation, its associated states and territories, to perform, on or off Terra, such duties of any lawful nature as may be assigned to me by lawful direct or delegated authority — «

» — and to obey all lawful orders of the Commander-in-Chief of the Terran Service and of all officers or delegated persons placed over me — «

» — and to require such obedience from all members of the Service or other persons or non-human beings lawfully placed under my orders — «

» — and, on being honorably discharged at the completion of my full term of active service or upon being placed on inactive retired status after having completed such full term, to carry out all duties and obligations and to enjoy all privileges of Federation citizenship including but not limited to the duty, obligation and privilege of exercising sovereign franchise for the rest of my natural life unless stripped of honor by verdict, finally sustained, of court of my sovereign peers.»

(Whew!) Mr. Dubois had analyzed the Service oath for us in History and Moral Philosophy and had made us study it phrase by phrase — but you don’t really feel the size of the thing until it comes rolling over you, all in one ungainly piece, as heavy and unstoppable as Juggernaut’s carriage.

At least it made me realize that I was no longer a civilian, with my shirttail out and nothing on my mind. I didn’t know yet what I was, but I knew what I wasn’t.

«So help me God!» we both ended and Carl crossed himself and so did the cute one.