Chapter 1: First Period
Major James MacAllistor shivered in the nosebleed seats of the municipal arena. "And just why are we here again?"
"I got a call from an old friend who needs volunteers and concubines to fill out a colony called Thule, which is an ice planet. It's home to the Twelfth Marine Assault Brigade, the Chosen Frozen. And he wants volunteers and concubines who are already well acclimated to cold weather."
"And so you got the bright idea to come home to Brantford. Why this?" MacAllistor demanded.
"Because ... ICETHEPUCKICETHEPUCKICETHEPUCK! — look around you. What do you see?"
"My breath, mostly."
"Have the medical nanites check your eyesight." He switched to subvocal, keeping MacAllistor in the loop. 'AI, if we were to do an extraction here right now, what could we expect?'
'Tribune Whitefeather, there are one hundred thirty-two potential volunteers and one hundred fifty-seven potential concubines, plus one hundred forty-seven dependants.'
Major MacAllistor blinked. There certainly weren't too many in the stands, and the kids on the ice were too young to be sponsors. "That many? How?"
"We have three games here tonight — a Minor Midget, a Minor Peewee and a Bantam. That's six teams of seventeen kids each. The Minor Midgets and Bantams will have their own CAP cards, and most of them — being heavily involved in a game that involves and rewards quick thinking, fast reaction times, aggressiveness and teamwork — will have CAP scores of 6.5 or greater, plus there's the coaching staff. That's about 80 right there. There are two referees who are handling the younger games, and a third who will join them for the Minor Midgets, all three of them here tonight have CAP scores in the volunteer range. That should be no surprise as the referees are former youth players themselves. The Minor Peewees and Bantams have their parents with them, and at least one parent will have a volunteer-level CAP score, even if the Minor Peewees are too young to score yet — they're 11 years old. Most of the males who are over 13 will be volunteers, and some of the females will be as well — especially the five female players on the two Bantam teams. Most of the Minor Peewees will also CAP score in the volunteer range when they turn fourteen. Four teams are in the dressing rooms, getting ready for tonight's games. Their audiences are down there as well, or over there in the snack bar."
"So we're going to hit this rink?"
"No, not tonight. I've got bigger prey. This is just to reconnoitre, and make plans for the actual hit, this weekend in Sault Ste. Marie. Shoot it, SHOOT IT!! Ah, wide."
"The Soo. We're going to extract a hockey tournament. If I were that coach, I'd pull the goalie."
"WHAT? Are you mad?"
The Tribune's mind was not fully on the job of reconnoitring. "Not at all. Their opponents are a man short for the next two minutes because of that cross-checking penalty, and that would put six forwards against four. If they score during this power play, being two goals back this gets them within range of getting a tie."
"No, no, no, I mean about extracting at a hockey tournament."
"The tournament in question is a double, that is it is two tournaments in one, a Minor Peewee class and a Peewee class. Minor Peewees are 11 years old, and Peewees are 12 year olds, although I expect some of the Peewees will have turned 13 by now. That means we get lots and lots of actual volunteers, as their dads will tend to score high, and in a year or two lots and lots more volunteers as the kids themselves should score in the volunteer range when they start hitting 14 years of age. The dads should extract lots and lots of puck mommies and their offspring, and hopefully a lot of puck bunnies as well. Thirty-two teams of seventeen kids each; because of their age most of them will be escorted by both parents. Any siblings will also likely be present, especially younger siblings, which translates into minimal post-extraction dependant pick-ups. We should come close to filling a kilopod."
Down on the ice, a tiny figure bulky with protective padding went dashing for the visitors' bench. At the same time a regular player from the same bench skated madly for the knot of players standing around a circle visible through the ice just outside the home team's blue line. "Ah, see? They're taking my advice." The referee dropped the puck, and the knot of hornets began to swarm again, sticks frantically checking in an effort to steal the little disk of black frozen rubber. "HUSTLE, GENTLEMEN! HUSTLE!" Tribune Whitefeather exhorted.
To the Major, their reconnoitre had uncovered little more than a mass of whirling blades and clashing sticks. Despite his quilted jacket and knitted gloves, he still felt cold in the arena. The high-impact polystyrene seats, never intended for anyone who had taken the standard Marine body modifications like MacAllistor and Whitefeather, were cramped and hard. Even with an empty seat separating them, Whitefeather kept knocking the Major's arm and spilling his popcorn into his lap. MacAllistor didn't quite see the attraction of ice hockey at the moment.
He could see one hockey mom, whose little one obviously played for the short-handed home team, frantically pound on the glass rimming the rink. "ICE IT!! ICE IT!!" She seemed ready to lose bladder control, she was hopping up and down so hard. Noisemakers were blaring or clapping or whatever, the small crowd was cheering and stomping their feet, and everyone — everyone except the Major — was really into the game.
Suddenly, one of the visitors got the blade of his stick on the puck just to the left of the goalie. He managed to get some altitude on his shot, which arced gracefully for the top corner of the net on the goalie's glove hand side. As MacAllistor held his breath, the glove came up and the puck was snatched from midair. He exhaled, and dimly began to realize why his Civil Service friend found the game so exciting. It definitely was fast-paced.
"What's a 'puck bunny'?" the Major wanted to know.
"The hockey hero's trophy girlfriend. Or trophy wife. Or one of each if he has the CAP score."
"And a 'puck mommy'?"
"A devoted mother who has a kid playing hockey. Like these mothers here in the stands."
The ref dropped the puck at the circle to the left of the goal and the game resumed. A pass went across the front of the net; one of the visitors back-handed the puck net-ward and this time managed to get it past the goalie. The scoreboard now read Home 3, Visitors 2, Period 3, Time 3:32. The seconds remaining in the penalty vanished, as with that goal the penalty was deemed fully served and both teams were back up to full strength. As Whitefeather soared to his feet to cheer along with the rest of the crowd, he jostled MacAllistor's elbow. MacAllistor found himself in the middle of a precipitation of popcorn. He looked forlornly at his suddenly emptied popcorn bag, lost three rows down.
As the crowd resumed their former rumbling, MacAllistor asked, "So we could go in here tonight and get more than enough volunteers to fill up an Aurora class?" He brushed kernels of popcorn from his hair and lap.
"Yes, but I've got my eye on filling a kilopod. That'll give Mike all the additional fighting strength he needs. And we can expect that many at this weekend tournament, as they're all AA teams. GET IN THAT CORNER!! DEKE!! DEKE!!"
"What does 'double-A' signify?"
"Of the three levels of competitive youth hockey, that's the second highest. 'AAA' is the highest in this league, they're almost guaranteed to end up in the professional leagues when they graduate, but they've got the fewest teams. 'A' is the regular, they're good but not likely turning pro. Below that we've got house leagues, which are more recreational than competitive and are usually centred around a single arena. NO!" he shouted in disgust as the whistle blew. "Idiot. You passed to a man offside. Think, dammit, think!!"
"Say, why'd you bring me and not Chan?"
"First, you'd be leading any Marine extraction team, he'll be back up in the kilopod Grey Goose. Second, he's an Atlanta boy, he's not only not interested in hockey, he's not interested in winter sports period. At least you like winter sports."
"Golf is not a winter sport."
"Try playing it with a florescent orange ball. Anyway, hockey has never done well in any part of the continent where in the winter the typical inhabitant sees more ice in his drink than he does on his local pond. And that territory would definitely include Atlanta."
The game ended at 3-2 for the home team. As the Zamboni flooded the ice for the next game, Whitefeather convinced the arena manager to give the two of them the nickel tour of the facilities. ("We're managing a similar facility in a small town in northern Saskatchewan, and just thought we'd see how you big-city boys do things. Here, look at my card. Yes, it's one of those new fancy electronic ones.") The AI took advantage of the opportunity to scan the Zamboni and ice-making machinery.
"Well?" Whitefeather asked, as the two of them resumed their seats for the Minor Midget game.
"It has ... possibilities," the Major conceded. "The problems I foresee — everyone's going to be armed, if not with firearms at least with sticks and skates."
"Granted. But it'll be in a controlled access facility, a single four-pad arena with a banquet hall attached. Everyone entering will be checked for weapons by Confederacy Marines in private security company uniforms. There are exhibition games on Friday which will guarantee that all the teams will be there in time for the next day's extraction, and a kickoff breakfast on Saturday morning that all teams and parents must attend. We extract right after breakfast before the first teams start for their dressing room, and promise everyone we'll finish out the tournament at Thule."
MacAllistor nodded. Yes, this could well work. And yes, it could well devolve into a disaster.