Chapter 1: The Letter
"Yes, Sir, terribly sorry to have to disturb you. It's a receipted delivery. Please sign on this electronic device." The trim young Post Office employee handed the recipient a signature scanner and stylus.
The homeowner signed and handed the device back to the young lady.
"Thank you Sir. Have a good day, Sir."
Retired US Army Ranger Major Robert Collins accepted the envelope from the cute girl and closed his front door. Behind him, he could hear his wife Mira ask, "Who was it?"
"Just some postie, dropping off registered mail." He ripped open the package and scanned the enclosed sheet. "Oh, no. Honey, General Covey has died. His funeral is in Minneapolis this weekend."
"But that's only two days off," protested Mira, entering the living room. Like her husband, she was trim, fit, brown-haired, hazel-eyed and in her late 40's, although shorter than he. The marks of two children, both now grown and extracted, were not visible on her trim form. "That doesn't give us much time to change our plans."
"I know, we're supposed to be at your sister's. But I think we need to go there — and take our pre-pack." As she blinked, he expanded, "There will be enough old war horses there that the Confederacy might just decide to go for an extraction. The letter from his lawyer points this out. Hopefully they'll be honourable enough to let us get the service over first."
As retired Technical Sergeant Chuck Yassateague handed the electronic signature scanner back to the petite young lady in the postal service uniform, he wondered briefly if she needed a sponsor — and then remembered regretfully that all four of his slots were filled.
He shut the door and retreated into his apartment, slicing the envelope open as he did so. He was disappointed to find he was reading about his former commanding officer's demise, as he'd always regarded Steel-eyed Sam Covey to be not only a fair and humane officer but also a crackerjack tactician. If the Confederacy hadn't had a chance to extract this man, then he'd have been more than useful defending Earth when the Sa'arm arrived.
Without giving it too much thought, Chuck picked up his phone and began calling the first of his pre-pack.
Henry O'Neil didn't even wait to close the door before he tore open the envelope bearing the sad news. His reaction was pure grief — Sam and he had been roommates back in their West Point days, and had shared innumerable tours of duty together. It seemed that wherever you saw Sam, you saw Henry — the Shipping and Handling crew. On their last tour before retiring, they'd both been to the Puzzle Palace, working on anti-Sa'arm tactics in a joint Army/Marines task force.
He sat down in his chair and had himself a good cry. He'd remember the good times, and the bad, like the time back at the Point when they were on maneuvers several counties away. They'd led their squads on a mock assault on what turned out to be a women's college dorm. Turned out the location was no accident: Sam was dating a cute blond-haired junior there. It further developed that the junior had a cute red-headed roommate. The following weekend, after the two boys had repaired the chain-link fence their squads had cut through two nights previous, they took the ladies out to dinner. The dinner had been but the first of a series of dates, and after Sam and Henry's graduation there followed two weddings, first Sam and Betty and then Henry and Fiona.
He wondered if Sam's three kids knew yet. As all three — and their families — had been extracted over a year ago, he doubted it very much. At least Sam's grandkids wouldn't be facing the Sa'arm.
His wife would be home from shopping soon. He'd better call the rest of his pre-pack and order them to join him. Fortunately Minneapolis wasn't that far away.
It had been yet another long hot day at his shop in Minneapolis' suburbs, and Brad Fitchley had been hoping to relax with a good book before dinner. The knock on the door disappointed him; he'd been hoping it was the buxom blond Shelley Valentine, his next-door neighbour, rather than a stupid registered letter. Still, he conceded as he wished the young lady a good day, she was cute. A little young for his current tastes, but still cute.
After reading the enclosed missive, he sat down to think of the kindly old man he knew of as his sister's father-in-law. His job as a gunsmith had brought him and the now-retired general together; dinners with the two families had joined his daughter Jessica and Sam's son Simon at the hip. Last he heard, the two had been extracted, Simon now being Fleet Auxiliary and the second officer on some ship somewhere. Jessica had managed to get word that Brad was a grandfather twice over now, that she was content with her life, and that she thought the world of her fellow concubines.
Brad wondered if Sam had had a heart attack while playing paintball. Sam gleefully played an aggressive game, as if he were back in some of the pestholes that his country was forever sending him to. Brad had learnt almost as much about small-unit tactics from Sam's paintball games as if he'd been sent to a military school.
He realized with a start that he had to get his pre-pack together, like the letter recommended. With a CAP score of 6.9, he got two, and while he'd have preferred to take his wife (the drunk driver blowing a magnificent BAC of 0.16 and a CAP of 3.1 had taken care of that two years back) he had an agreement with Shelley Valentine and her 17-year-old daughter Michelle to take them along as his concubines. There was no Mr. Valentine to worry about, as she had divorced him a decade previously.
Robert Mondale closed the door almost absently, opening the letter on the way back to his study. He was overcome with grief to learn his old friend and former commanding officer had expired.
His wife Carla came in with an aperitif. He showed her the letter from the law firm Falafel & Associates. "We'll have to get Rita and the twins along." Rita Morales was her cousin, a divorcée with two eight-year-old daughters, fraternal twins. Personally, Bob and Carla were grateful that Rita's ex had decided to divorce her, as that meant they wouldn't have to deal with the jerk and his 4.3 CAP score. With Bob's CAP score of 6.9, he'd been happy to agree to take both his wife and her cousin.
Robert remembered his time in the military fondly. He'd served out his four years to pay off the Army college scholarship, but quit the Services to go into something more stable for his family than the regular rotations offered. He was now living in Seattle, working for a firm of architects on homes, apartments and various industrial buildings and was fast-tracked for a partnership position. It was dull compared to tromping around some romantic, exotic destination. But it was far safer than having someone trying to shoot your ass off in that romantic, exotic destination; and he wanted his two young boys to actually experience a father rather than be told how Daddy died in some long-forgotten war or 'police action'.
Still, he'd kept in touch with his old Ranger commander, and on Sam's infrequent trips to Seattle, engaged him in nostalgic games of paintball and philosophical discussions carefully disguised as fly-fishing expeditions.
Within an hour of each other, all five of General Sam Covey's old friends had been notified, and had in turn notified their pre-packs. Those four living outside of the Minneapolis area had made arrangements to fly in to the Minneapolis — St. Paul International Airport that Friday night.
The clerk at the vehicle rental counter at the airport was amazed: three bookings for large-capacity vans. It looked like it would prove an unusual weekend.
He had no idea just how unusual the weekend would prove to be.
The pert blond in the U.S. Postal Service uniform stood before the tall grey-clad figure drinking from a dark brown and red disposable coffee cup promising the contents to be 'toujours frais'. "Mission accomplished," she reported. "No issues."
"Excellent, thank you."
"Sir, about my sister?"
"Patience, Grasshopper. She appears to remain unaware of the true situation, which is how we need it to be. Everything should be fine. I'll have her tell you about it when she gets here," he reassured the woman. "For now, you have other duties to perform. Dismissed, and again, thank you."