Chapter 4 - Amazing Grace
The funeral home director, a short, young Oriental man with an air of calm efficiency and eternal caring, ushered them into the chapel sharp at noon. Even though there were just the five friends and the six sets of concubines and dependants, their numbers almost filled the room. Everyone was hushed, as the oak pews and vaguely Gothic Revival style lent an air of solemn dignity to the affair. The director nodded at the minister and closed the doors.
The casket had been placed at the front of the chapel, centred and still open. A selection of the incredible profusion of plants had been placed at the head and foot of the casket, all the better to prove to all Earthly beings that here lay the body of a beloved father, husband and friend.
The Reverend (nobody had gotten his name) opened his notebook, placed a pair of reading glasses on the tip of his nose, and addressed the audience in suitably subdued tones.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are here to celebrate the life of General Samuel Covey, United States Army, Retired. We shall start with a prayer."
Everyone bowed their heads, atheists included. After all, it's only polite. The prayer proved unusually brief. For that matter, it proved... unusual.
"For what we are about to receive, oh Lord, let us be truly thankful. Amen."
Heads snapped up. 'Say,' Henry thought to himself, 'isn't that Grace? What the Hell?'" He could see his fellow mourners were just as puzzled - if not outraged.
"Now, before we start our eulogies, perhaps a few words from our corpse."
To everyone's astonishment, the Reverend reached his hand in and intoned, "Rise, rise and walk with me!"
"But I am a mortal, and liable to fall!" came a completely unexpected voice... from the casket. Ronnie almost fainted, and one of the funeral home employees rushed over with smelling salts.
"There with but a touch of my hand and you will be supported in more than this, Ebeneezer Scrooge!" responded the Reverend.
The body in the casket sat upright and turned to look at the assembled crowd. They looked back, open-mouthed. All but Betty, whose silent laughter shook her body.
The corpse of the late General Covey glared at Henry. "Falls overboard like a British Tar indeed. Humph." He continued to glower. "I fall overboard BETTER than any British Tar ever dreamt of."
"Um, forgive me," Brad stumbled, still trying to gather his wits. "Aren't you... aren't you supposed to be dead?"
Sam shrugged modestly. "I got better."
"What IS going on here?" demanded a still-shocked RC.
Sam looked over at the Reverend. "It's your show. I'm just playing the part of Yorick."
The Reverend turned toward the assembled congregation. "Perhaps I should introduce myself properly. I'm actually Tribune William Whitefeather, from the Office of Special Extractions. And this, as unusual as it has been, is indeed an extraction." He helped Sam from his wooden box. The two bowed to the audience like a magician and his assistant.
"But... why? How?" Chuck was still confused.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the life of General Covey had been threatened - not by words, but by deeds, someone had made at least one attempt on his life. That person was a member of an Earth First cell that had taken on the task of preventing General Covey from being extracted. That, plus the crying need of a new colony for a top-notch military commander and if possible a kernel of experienced officers and NCO's for the Marine Brigade its raising, led me straight to the General's door."
"Then the letters? From the law firm?"
"Both fakes. There is no law firm named Falafel & Associates. Falafel is a middle-eastern food staple. The postal clerk who bewitched so many of you? A Fleet Auxiliary lieutenant. The device that recorded your signature? A hypnosis device that compelled you men to read and obey that letter, to come here today, and to be sure to bring your pre-packs with you. And General Covey's death? Faked using Darjee medical technology. Any Earth medical technology would have thought the General was singing with the choir invisible, but in reality he was in stasis pending a cue to the AI from me." He removed his glasses. "Non-prescription lenses. Thanks to Darjee technology, glasses and contacts are just not required." He gestured to the back of the room. "Even the funeral director and his assistant are fakes - he's Sub-Decurion Chan, she's Navy Lieutenant von Grosse, a nurse from the hospital ship Mary Seacole. These men you see who seemed to suddenly appear around me? Confederacy Marines." On cue, six armoured, armed Marines hustled into the chapel from a side room at double-time.
"And what of the Earth First cell?"
Tribune Whitefeather smiled mirthlessly. "Let's just say they're no longer a threat."
Whitefeather took a breath in. "Now I know you're all pre-packs, so I'll put it this way: this is your one-and-only chance to change your minds. You're going, or you're not. If you're going, I want to see every concubine naked as they day she or he was born, right now." He nodded at them. "Yes, now."
Slowly at first, in disbelief, but then in a happy rush, the concubines stripped.
"As soon as your concubines are appropriately unattired, sponsors, please lead your families over to that side room, where you will find a transporter nexus. Go through that nexus to find yourselves on your way to your new life in heaven. Hurry now, my children!"
As the stream of volunteers, concubines and dependants left through the nexus, Tribune Whitefeather, still resplendent in clerical collar and frock, stood and shook their hands. "Bless you, my Child, bless you!"
After the last of the Marines had departed for the Kilo class colony transport Princess Elizabeth, "Reverend" Whitefeather turned to the other two officers.
"Shall we repair to the manse?"
"Maybe it's time you had some leave," suggested Sub-Decurion Chan. "You're enjoying yourself way too much." Commanders leave a dust-off last, so first the Sub-Decurion and then the Lieutenant stepped through the portal and vanished.
As last officer on the scene, the Tribune looked around at the piles of clothes to ensure nothing was left behind. Setting the nexus up for drone retrieval, he stepped through to his home ship, the John Cabot.
|Lordship Mayhem's Stories||Swarm Home|