December 31, 2064
Ridge Farm, South Barre Mass.

The family spent another twenty minutes perusing the maps and then began to peel off, going back to their own activities, The maps were left on the dining room table for the time being. Too special to immediately put away - they were something to be savored. The adults had begun to walk toward the kitchen when something caught Frank's eye.

"Do you want one of the boys to take this duffel bag upstairs for you?" Frank asked.

Duffel bag is Army and I'm not a dog-face. Marines carry seabags, McQueen thought, but realized that no one in the Celina family would possess that little bit of knowledge. He would have to modify his thinking.

"Marines call it a seabag, Dad," Kylen said, patting her father on the back.

McQueen gave Kylen a quick glance. She had once again surprised him. Now where did she pick up that bit of knowledge? he wondered. She is taking all this seriously.

"No, thank you. I'll take care of it," McQueen said to Frank.

Kylen took McQueen by the arm. "Come on, you have yet to admire our Christmas tree. It is pretty spectacular this year." She steered him into the living room. "There are a couple presents under there for you."

McQueen stopped in his tracks. He looked obviously uncomfortable. After the books the family had given him at Thanksgiving, he had not anticipated that there would be anything else. He didn't want to have to sit in the middle of the family - the center of attention - and have to open gifts. McQueen wasn't all that good at apologies, good-byes, or receiving gifts and compliments. He was somewhat short of experience in those areas. People learned the art of those social amenities through experience - through years of participation. McQueen had been nervous enough about the maps. His gift had been a success, and he had calmed down. Now he was tense again. Kylen sensed his discomfort.

"There's just one from me and there are a couple from Bridee." She paused and looked him over. "Thirteen-year-old girls are new thing for you, aren't they."

McQueen bristled a bit at her implication - that he didn't understand the situation. After all he had just last week spent a day with Glen Ross' family. Hell, he had known Glen's youngest since the day she was born. McQueen was rather proud of the fact that he could feed and burp a baby without too much assistance. He could change a diaper if the need arose. Until that moment he hadn't realized that somewhere along the line the Ross kids had moved from calling him 'Tee' and measuring their hands against his to calling him 'Colonel McQueen' and maintaining a respectful distance. They had been happy to see him, but McQueen felt that they were relieved when he left right after dinner. It might be just the way that Natural Born kids grew. But McQueen became uncomfortably aware that the children recognized his thousand-yard stare. The kids probably caught a faint scent of battle following him as well. They were old enough now to understand what he did - what their father did. But Kylen was, of course, correct - he knew next to nothing about the workings of teenaged girls. She spared him the need to answer.

"OK. Just remember ten and three. Sometimes thirteen-year-olds are three and sometimes they are ten times three."

"They can act like a three-year-old or a thirty-year-old. The trick is that you never know which one you are talking to. Never be condescending. Oh, yes, then there is the omniscience thing."

McQueen shook his head.

"Omniscience begins at around age thirteen and lasts until about age nineteen or twenty. Trust me on this. I remember," Kylen confided.

"Well, then, how do you suggest I handle this?" McQueen asked.

"Delicately. She spent a great deal of thought on your gifts."

He now felt even more apprehension. He would have to go through opening presents, and now he knew that Kylen wanted him to be good at it. It was important that he be good at it ... for Bridee ... and for Kylen, who spoke again.

"We tell her that you are going to open her presents. You just need to remember that she took a lot of effort to get these for you. You will know what to say." Kylen could tell that McQueen wasn't sure if he believed her. "You will know. You will," she encouraged him with a soul-warming smile. He was suffused with her total confidence in him.

"Bridee, come in here, please," Kylen called, maneuvering the Colonel into the living room, seating him in the middle of the couch. She brought three packages out from under the tree and placed them next to McQueen. Bridee and Kylen perched themselves on either arm of the couch - innocently, but effectively blocking his lines of retreat.

"This one is one of two from me." Bridee handed him a box, which McQueen opened. He parted the tissue paper and pulled out a woolen scarf. The wool was of high quality - soft, almost buttery. It would keep him warm, and it wouldn't be 'itchy.'

"I noticed that you didn't have a scarf. And it is *winter* and it is a special scarf," Bridee explained. It was obvious to McQueen that she was just as nervous as he was. She wanted desperately for him to like her gift.

"It's very nice. Thank you." He was genuinely touched, but his appreciation sounded hollow to his own ears. Like her sister and her father, Bridee saw the little things. She paid attention to details. *'Tell her, he thought. "It was thoughtful of you to notice that I needed something like this." For McQueen, however, there was a bit of a problem. No matter the quality of the wool - the feel of the scarf: It was something that he would never have chosen for himself - something he would never wear. The scarf was plaid: It was a black, red and gold. Something he had seen somewhere before, but couldn't remember where. A beautiful piece, but plaid? Well, I could just wear it here so she won't feel bad, he bargained with himself.

"It goes with your second gift. Here," Bridee said, smiling as she handed him the second gift.

Well, she didn't run from the room crying - so far so good, thought McQueen.

Inside the second box was a matched set of coffee mugs - heavy and white, with an emblem. It was the coat of arms for the clan McQueen.

"Kylen said she didn't know if you were given the name McQueen or if you chose it later," Bridee explained, referring to the practice of InVitros changing their names when they achieved their emancipation. It had been a common practice during the Civil Rights Movement of the twentieth century. Many people of color had changed their names - shedding so-called 'slave names' for names with personal significance. "I told her that it didn't matter if you kept the name they gave you or if you changed it - it didn't matter because, either way, in the end, you chose it for yourself. I researched the name. I looked up the motto, and I think that even if you weren't actually technically born into it, you belong in the clan anyway." She pointed to the motto of the coat of arms on the mug the Colonel held in his hand. "See? 'Constant and faithful.' It's kind of like Semper Fi, isn't it? They only came in sets of two, but I thought you could leave one here. That way you can have your own mug whenever you come home. When you come to visit, I mean. I know that you like coffee. You take it black." Bridee became aware that she was chattering like a wind-up toy, and that the Rookie was staring at her. She suddenly became unbearably self-conscious and stopped speaking so abruptly that the resulting silence was a shock - to herself, and to McQueen and Kylen. The silence was worse than the chatter, so Bridee spoke again, but slower and more softly.

"The scarf. Itís the McQueen tartan. I called five different places to find it. Kylen had to take me to Worchester to get it. I wanted the gift to mean something - for it to be special."

McQueen stood up. Bridee was instantly silenced. He drew his wallet out of his jeans and took out a small laminated card. It was his membership to the 127th Association. It had been a loose organization of current and former members of the squadron. A two-page quarterly newsletter and a reunion/party once a year. Now there were only former members. The squadron was gone. He handed Bridee the card. One side was black with the red, gold and white insignia of the 127th. "That's what the patch for my old squadron looks like. It is very very important to me," he said.

"They are the same colors that are in the scarf," Bridee said breathlessly. She knew that she had selected something that he would think was special. It was an amazing thing. She was incredibly relieved. She smiled openly up into his face.

Bridee then considered the card for a second time before reluctantly returning it to McQueen. Part of her wanted to keep it. "Did you know about the name and the motto?" she asked.

"No. No, I didn't." McQueen had never bothered to look it up. It was a name he had been given by strangers, not a name inherited from an affectionate family. But McQueen had never thought of himself as having any other name. He had never really thought to change it because he had built a life that was basically useful. His own life had forged the meaning of his name: There had never been a need to look it up. "Constant and faithful," he whispered.

"Yeah, I thought the same thing," Kylen said.

"Now open Kylen's present," Bridee said.

"Can I do that later?" he asked. McQueen brought his seabag over to the table. "It's not much, but I brought a few things." He opened the bag and pulled out - fresh from down south - mesh bags filled with oranges and grapefruits. He pulled out what appeared to be a rolled-up sweatshirt. He lifted a bottle of champagne from the folds of the shirt, and then he handed the bottle to Kylen "There are three more of these," he said with false gravity. Impulsively he pulled the tags off of the new sweatshirt and tossed it to Bridee. McQueen had never worn it. Just a gray sweatshirt with the eagle, globe and anchor. "For you," he mumbled.

The girl was thrilled. "Is it real?" she asked. "I mean - a real Marine Corps sweatshirt?"

"Got it on the base," McQueen asserted.

"Thank you. No really, thank you. Can I put it on?"

"It's yours. You can do whatever you want."

Bridee excused herself and went upstairs with her treasure. I bet that Cooper has one like this. I just know it, she thought.

"She is up there now with the shirt imagining how Hawkes would fill it out," Kylen said gently, amusement evident in her voice.

McQueen gave her a look of surprise.

"No. Don't worry. That was perfect, McQueen."

He reached into the bag again and brought out a small gift, modestly wrapped in plain white paper. He tossed this to Kylen. She was surprised and speechless for several seconds.

Is that all it takes to keep her quiet? he thought. They opened their presents together.

McQueen unrolled a wall hanging. Japanese characters on a plain white linen cloth suspended from a slender bamboo rod.

The characters had been executed in an unpracticed hand. They were rough and unpolished, as if the calligraphy had been done by a small child. McQueen remembered that Kylen had once told him that she had tried calligraphy - and that she didn't have the self-discipline for it. She had been correct. Sumi-e was not her form, but she had done this for him. Suddenly the obviously amateur artwork he held in his hand became one of the most elegant pieces he had ever seen. He wondered how many pieces of linen she had gone through to come up with this - her best effort. How many rough drafts and pieces of practice paper? Where had she found the characters? They certainly weren't common. She had left the statement - the poem - unfinished, which was actually a very Eastern device. Kylen had spent a great deal of time on this - had given it great thought. The hanging read: 'Shakespeare is easy...í

"It's life that's hard," he said softly, completing the verse they had composed during the worst part of their trip home. Kylen was pleased and felt at home in his company.

Kylen opened the small box he had given to her. Inside the box, nestled in cotton wool, were two small gold bars - the 'butter bars' of a second lieutenant. Kylen plucked one out of the cotton and placed it in the palm of her hand - testing its weight. She had accepted a position with Marine Intelligence as a civilian employee. The job came with the assimilated rank of second lieutenant. McQueen had not been thrilled with the concept and had told her as much. She was technically not entitled to the bars and could not wear them. McQueen would know this, but the gift demonstrated his ultimate understanding of why she had taken the job - his blessing, if you will. She smiled to herself and examined the pin more closely. There were a few very fine scratches on the bar. She picked up the second pin. It, too, had one or two small scratches. Kylen had a sudden and intense emotional realization. These had been McQueen's bars. The former slave, the InVitro, had worn these when he had become an officer. They were a symbol of his achievement. He had saved them in a box lined with cotton batting. He had hung onto them for what? Ten, maybe twelve years? Kylen could imagine the box in the corner of his top drawer. He had dug them out of his storage locker to bring to her - to give to her this piece of his life. It was a remarkable gift.

"I'll keep them safe for you," she whispered, and her voice cracked.

McQueen could see that she had understood. He had known that in the end she would, but had thought that he might have to explain. Her insight was another present in and of itself.

"I know," he whispered back.


Dinner was somewhat rushed. The members of the family each seemed to have their own agenda. Conversations were truncated and in the shorthand language common to tightly knit families.

McQueen had agreed to spend New Year's with Kylen and her family based on her solemn oath that it would be a small, quiet affair - nothing like Thanksgiving. About half of the members of the tribe would be celebrating elsewhere. She had promised that the 'little kids' had their own party planned and wouldn't be a bother. It was now 2100 and the kitchen was starting to fill up with teenagers and college kids - about a dozen all told. Promises, promises, he thought ruefully as he entered the living room, eager to get away from the growing mirth and confusion. He walked into the middle of a bargaining session. Allston and Emrys were haggling with their father, Ewan, and Kylen.

"We didn't think of it til we saw the Colonel's maps," Allston said.

"We can just turn on the power. It'll warm up fast," Emrys interjected.

"NO," the three adults answered together.

"But, Dad," Allston tried again.

"Don't even think about it," Frank answered in the universal tone of an irritated parent.

"It's just out there empty," Emrys chimed in.

"And that is the way it's going to stay. Forget it."

"Give it up, guys. You can party at my place or you can sit around in the kitchen with us." Ewan gave his younger brothers a choice - and the choice was obvious. Emrys and Allston turned away in defeat.

"The door is unlocked. Take a good look around. It had better look the same when I come home," Ewan called after them.

Frank looked mildly embarrassed that McQueen had walked in on the confrontation. "Ewan offered them his cottage for a party - now they want to move it over to Connor's project.'"

"Maybe the college kids, but not Allston, Eithne and their crew. No way," Kylen chimed in.

"Oh? So speaks the voice of wisdom and experience?" Frank teased her.

"The cottage is here," Ewan said, crossing into the dining room and indicating it on one of the maps. It was a small structure on a side road across the road and only about fifty yards from the main house. "And here is The Dream." Ewan pointed to the indistinct area of the map that McQueen had questioned earlier. It was a good half a klik (kilometer) from the house.

"I want to check in on them during the evening, and frankly, I don't feel like walking that far," Frank admitted.

McQueen gave a low laugh of amusement and recognition. "I learned that trick from one of my old C.O.s. Let your people blow off some steam every now and then. Check in on them - be a reminder - but don't hang around."

"Do you do that with Nathan and the 58th?" Kylen asked, mildly shocked.

"They haven't needed that in a while. They know their limits," McQueen told her. His pride in the group was obvious.

Kylen was becoming increasingly frustrated. The small disk with the greetings from the Wildcards was still undiscovered, resting in the branches of the Christmas tree. I should have known that he wouldn't spend time looking at the tree. That he wouldn't feel curiosity about the decorations. It really isn't his style.

"Let's clear out the 'wrecking crew,' Kylen said, referring to the gang of kids in the kitchen. She pushed her brother and father toward the noise in the other room and spoke to McQueen over her shoulder. "You go into the living room. We'll join you shortly." A few moments later Bridee, wearing the marine corps sweatshirt, appeared at McQueen's side.

"Kylen said that I was to show you the tree." She gestured toward it. "There it is," she said, just a touch sullen, clearly not happy with being dismissed from the activity in the other room.

"Why does she think I need to be shown a tree?" he asked.

Bridee, to his surprise, carefully considered his question. "Maybe it's because our ornaments all mean something. Birthdays, vacations, big events - and we made a bunch of them too. They are pretty neat."

OK, I'll play along, he thought. "Show me," he said.

Bridee began to point out different ornaments - explaining the history and significance of each. The one Christmas that Amy and McQueen had spent together - really together - she had put up a Christmas tree purchased already decorated by a designer in Mobile.

McQueen thought about his earlier conversation with Bridee. "I never thought of changing my name. Have you?" he asked.

Bridee gave him a shy smile. "Sometimes. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a prettier name - something more exciting or musical - like Aislen - but my name is pretty good. It's who I am. Besides, it can change all on its own. I can be Bridee or I can be Bridgid. So that's kind of neat. I mean, my nickname isn't something silly like Push or Dozer or Mouse."

"Or 'The Rookie,'" McQueen teased.

Bridee turned crimson. "You weren't supposed to know that."

"I'm not stupid." He gave her a half smile.

"Yours was the first. The first nickname I ever gave anybody. I didn't do it on purpose."

"I know."

"It just sort of happened ... Colonel McQueen? ... What is your first name? ... If I may ask?"

McQueen took in a deep breath. People had ridiculed his name for his entire life. "Get ready," he told her. "It's Tyrus."

"Whoa," she whispered.

McQueen waited for the usual why-did-they-do-that question, but Bridee did not go that route.

"That's an old name. It might even be older than mine."

"It might be, at that," he agreed, and turned again to the Christmas tree ornaments.

The two people with the ancient names - a bond now shared between them - went through another half dozen explanations before McQueen finally spotted the disk. He snatched it from the branches and turned to see Kylen, grinning like an idiot, standing by the doorway to her father's study. With a theatrical sweep of her hand she gestured him into the study.

"It took you forever to find that," she whispered as he passed her. "The viewer is on," she said, closing the door behind him, leaving him alone with the 58th.

Bridee came up behind her older sister.

"He knew about 'The Rookie,'" Bridee whispered, horrified.

"Of course he did, Baby." Kylen smiled and gave her little sister a hug. The two went out into the kitchen.

McQueen's hand was poised to insert the disk into the viewer when he hesitated. He pulled back his hand and looked at the bit of plastic, turning it over in his fingers, hating to admit to himself that a lot of personal weight rested in the small silver grooves.

Screw it, he thought. He pushed the disk into the slot and punched 'play.'

There on the screen was Cooper Hawkes, which was a bit of a surprise. He had a determined expression on his face. Vansen, Damphousse, and West were arranged like a human halo around Hawkes shoulders. They all looked eagerly into the monitor.

McQueen heard Kylen's voice. "Cooper? Cooper Hawkes?"

Hawkes' expression changed to one of delight when Kylen recognized him.

McQueen hit 'pause.' He wanted to take a moment to read their faces. It was something he had always done when they had returned from a mission - examined them all for signs of stress and fatigue. Who looked strong? Who looked fried? Did anyone look high and to the right? I'd order Damphousse back to sick bay for the once over though, he thought to himself. But the Wildcards looked centered. Tired, but generally good to go. McQueen felt his emotional response growing. Don't just sit here staring at the screen, he ordered himself. He decisively hit the 'play' button.


McQueen didn't keep track of how many times he watched the disk, but at the end of the images, the action of hitting 'rewind' and 'play' became part of the rhythm of the whole recording.

"Wait, let me change the disk" - rewind - play.
"Wait, let me change the disk" - rewind - play.
"Wait, let me change the disk" - rewind - play.

When he finally felt that there was no more new information to be gleaned from viewing it, McQueen punched 'eject', pocketed the disk and left Frank's study. Thirty minutes had passed.

The house was now remarkably different. The lights were dimmed, and the only sounds were the strains of The Messiah playing softly in the living room and the muffled sounds of a quiet conversation coming from the kitchen. McQueen moved to the Christmas tree. He was half-tempted to place the disk back in among the branches - his first ornament. Maybe ... someday ... maybe.... he thought.

McQueen heard Kylen come up behind him. She hadn't tried to sneak into the room, but she moved quietly. Respectfully. She's learned she can't sneak up on me, he thought with mild amusement. She handed him his Marine Corps mug. Inside - two fingers of scotch.

"Thank you," McQueen said without looking at her.

"We started without you," she replied.

"No. I mean, thank you." he looked down at her.

"Merry Christmas, Six," she smiled back up at him. "It was Cooper's time, after all."

"Do you know what that means, Kylen? How significant it was for Hawkes to give Nathan the time?"

Kylen didn't answer. She had inkling, but really didn't know.

"A person can sell their phone time. The Brass turns a blind eye to it. I paid off my Harley selling off my communication time in bits and pieces. For Hawkes to give away his time ... It is significant." On several different levels, he reflected.

"Merry Christmas, Coop," she whispered.

McQueen and Kylen contemplated the tree in companionable silence for a few moments.

"The big guy?" he finally asked her with feigned irritation.

"It's what came to mind," she said easily.

McQueen gave her a quick once-over. She was speaking the truth. She hadn't wanted to use his name over an unsecured channel, and it was the substitute that she had come up with in a split second. Kylen had no idea of the fact that he had once reamed the entire squadron - rather personally - because Wang had referred to him as a 'guy.' Actually it was sort of funny in an 'only Kylen' kind of way. What McQueen did not quite yet grasp was the fact that only Kylen could get away with it.

"What is going on in the kitchen?" he asked.

"We're just putting together some hors d'oeuvres. We'll bring them out in a few minutes."

"Marines call that 'small chow'." He said it on purpose - to make her laugh. He succeeded.

The adults - Frank, McQueen, Ewan and Kylen - spent the next hour or so in relaxed conversation. Kylen had not lied: New Year's Eve at the Celina's was most definitely a low-key affair, which suited McQueen to a tee. For the first time he heard the War discussed within the walls of the house - albeit in the broadest of terms. They broke out the champagne as midnight approached.

Donning their coats, they took a moment to watch the ball fall in Times Square and then immediately McQueen was lead outside to the front yard. The kids had left Ewan's and were filing into the open space.

Frank spoke. "I know that this year outdoor lighting was prohibited for energy conservation, but I figure that well.... A few minutes ... we all need to have faith ... to have hope." With that he pointed a handheld remote at the barn, and instantly a large star nailed to the peak of the roof was illuminated. The teenagers cheered, and someone produced sparklers.

"Why, Six, I believe that is your star," Kylen whispered. She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and handed him a lit sparkler before he could react.

McQueen watched the group hug and kiss - wishing each other Happy New Year. What a Brave new world to have such beings in it, he thought.

January 1, 2065

Even though it was still dark, McQueen was not the first one up. He could hear Frank and Ewan down in the kitchen. Coffee before going out to the barn, I guess. He was a bit embarrassed for no good reason, but he wasn't used to anyone beating him to the punch in the morning. He_was_ used to having a few minutes to himself, whether it be at Loxley or at Steinbeck's Clinic. Someone was always awake and about on the Toga. He made his way to the kitchen.

Morning greetings were passed between the three men. The exchanges were brief. They had all stayed up way later than usual the night before, but the farm was - in a sense - not unlike the Marine Corps. There was always something to do first thing in the morning.

"Going for a hike, Colonel?" Ewan asked good-naturedly.

"If it's all right. I thought I'd look things over on foot," he responded, gesturing to his new boots - boondockers. "Thought I'd start to break them in."

"As long as you don't care what you step in," Frank joked mildly.

"Not a problem. Whatever it is - I've stepped in worse," McQueen joked back easily. Frank gestured toward the milking parlor. "Gotta go. Breakfast in about two hours." He and Ewan left the house. A few seconds later McQueen could hear the father and son harmonizing as they crossed the yard. It was not a song he recognized. He finished his coffee and hit the road. He had only two hours to reconnoiter.

During his recon McQueen found three separate places around the farm where symbols and characters had been carved into the lintels of doorways. Some had been crossed out and some repeated. They were InVitro symbols. Like the dispossessed from centuries past - gypsies, runaway slaves, hobos - freed or escaped InVitros had established a system of symbols, which they used to mark property. McQueen knew what the symbols were, but he did not know what most of them meant. He had never attempted to live amongst civilians ≠ natural-borns. He had only learned one or two of the most common symbols: Those that signified if it was safe to enter a restaurant or a store. He could only interpret one symbol - one that appeared in all three places. It was a circle divided into quarters by a cross: 'Here live kind and generous people." He took a moment to memorize the other carvings. Hawkes would know what they meant.

One hundred and fifteen minutes later McQueen entered the milking parlor for the first time. It was gleaming and as clean as possible. But the one thing that hadn't ever really occurred to McQueen was the fact that real animals were cared for here. The place had the distinct smell of milk, of course. Fresh milk. He had never thought about the smell of the liquid before - unless of course it was spoiled or ripe - but this was the scent of absolutely fresh milk, rich with cream. There was also the earthy smell of the animals and the smell of the grain they munched while being milked. It was warm and damp. The cattle were all washed off prior to milking - a process some seemed to enjoy more than others. The floor was almost continuously being sprayed down by one of the two men. There was a rhythmic hum and swish of the milking machines, and McQueen could see the heavy white liquid moving through glass pipes to what he assumed was a holding tank of some kind in the next room.

"Here," Frank said, smiling as he handed McQueen the hose. He gestured to the InVitroís boondockers. McQueen sprayed off his boots, and then moved off to a place that looked to be out of the way. He leaned against the wall watching the activity. It was smooth - economical - and obviously well drilled by both men.

"Did you have a good walk?" Frank asked.

"I need to speak with both of you," McQueen called over the hum, cutting right to the heart of the matter. "Is there somewhere we can talk without the kids?"

"We can have breakfast over at the cottage, I suppose," Frank offered.

"Good. I want to discuss something that may be very important," McQueen offered. He braced himself before making his next statement. He knew that it was something that neither man wanted to hear. "I want to go over a few things. I want to give you some ideas of what to do.... What to do if things don't go well."

The Celina men both stopped what they were doing. McQueen's tone of voice left no doubt as to what he had meant. He had produced the maps - had walked the property - to get ideas of how to best protect the family in the event that Earth defenses fell - what to do if they were invaded.

"What do you know that we don't?" Frank whispered.

"Nothing. Nothing solid," McQueen spoke hastily. Well, I can see I'm screwing this up, he thought and then spoke. "I don't know anything more. The situation seems to be at a stalemate, but I ... I didn't want to leave here ... to leave here without.... "

"I had thought we could go up to the Adirondacks," Frank said.

"I don't advise that. The Chigs work with the AIs. Going into the mountains didn't help during the AI Wars. It was one of the first places the AIs targeted. Sanctuary in the mountains is too much the cultural icon. Terrorism - attack the supposed strongholds and bring them down first. Mountain retreats would be targeted. No, I actually think that the farm could be a pretty good place. The barns and silos are good landmarks: great for dead reckoning - flying without instruments."

"Well, wouldn't the enemy want to bomb us then?" Ewan asked.

"If they are good landmarks for us, they'd be good for them as well," McQueen said.

"You want to give us ideas. To give us options," Frank said softly.

"Yes, Sir," McQueen answered. "I think Kylen should be involved as well."

"Well, we will just get her up then," Frank said, placing a hand on McQueen's shoulder to convey his trust.

One of the cows gave an irritated bellow. She was out of grain. The noise brought all three men out of their thoughts. The Celinas finished up the milking with McQueen watching, and then the three walked over to the cottage.

Kylen nursed her coffee in the relative quiet of the kitchen. She had had way too much of McQueen's champagne the night before, and was now feeling *every* sip. The teenagers were still in bed. Her father and Ewan should have been in from the morning milking, but weren't eating breakfast, as was their habit. Colonel McQueen was nowhere to be found, which meant that he had undoubtedly gone for a morning walk in the snow, maybe even a run. He was getting around better every day. He'll be gone soon too. They aren't going to let him go too much longer, she thought.

The phone rang. Kylen groaned as she rose to answer it.

"Get your act together, Celina. The day is wasting. Bring the maps over here to Ewan's," McQueen ordered over the wire, and then hung up on her.

"Aye, aye, Sir. And good morning to you too, Sir," she grumbled, and called into question McQueen's dubious parentage with a nonstop string of sarcasm as she gathered the requested items, put on her coat and made her way through the cold air of the morning to Ewan's cottage, muttering to herself the whole time.

Ewan caught site of her as she entered his yard. "Whoa, I'd say a hangover of about five on the Richter scale." He turned to McQueen, laughing ironically. "Better you than me, Colonel."

"Get her some coffee and some aspirin," McQueen said softly - almost solicitously. Frank was again left to wonder about the dichotomies of the man's behavior.

McQueen thanked Kylen as he took her coat. He then spread the maps on Ewan's table. Kylen bolted the aspirin that Ewan handed her and sipped her coffee. The men had thrown together a breakfast. Omelets of some kind. The smell was making Kylen's stomach roll. "OK, I give. Why are we all here? Why didn't we just do this over at the house?"

"Because I didn't want to have this discussion in front of the younger ones. We can fill in Connor and Christian later," Frank said. "Colonel McQueen approached your brother and me this morning with some potentially important proposals."

Kylen was instantly awake and attentive.

McQueen was well pleased with the change in her demeanor. He needed her clear-headed. He knew that she habitually planned escape routes. When it came to the safety of the farm and her family, Kylen undoubtedly had thought of a few things herself by now.

"Can you take me out to see Connor's project? I'd like to see the inside. I've walked around the outside of it." McQueen said.

Ewan opened a drawer in his desk and removed a ring of keycards. "Let's go." The four went to Ewan's truck - a model that had always been called a 'pickup.' McQueen easily hoisted himself into the open backend of the vehicle and held out his hand to Kylen.

"The fresh air will do you good," he told her.

"It's cold. Are you doing this to punish me?" she asked.

"Consequences of your own actions, Sailor," he teased. "The champagne was good, wasn't it? I think I chose well. Consider your options carefully. Back here with me, bouncing along with the wind in your face, or up front crammed into the overheated cab with your father, brother and the smell of eggs and bacon."

Her stomach rolled again. Kylen held up her hand to silence him. McQueen grabbed it and helped her clamber onboard. He banged on the roof of the cab - the universal signal to move out.

In a few minutes they were at "The Dream." It had been Connor's doctoral project in construction engineering. On the south side there was a semicircular wall of polymeric panels dug into the side of the rolling hill, a wall about ten meters at the base and about four meters at the highest point. The footprints of McQueen's visit earlier in the morning were visible in the snow. They crisscrossed the area. He had given the place a good going over. The combination of materials and their angle was what had caused the skewed images on the scan. Ewan quickly plowed the snow away from the front of the wall and unlocked a small door in one of the panels. He entered the structure, and in moments the panels folded back on one another revealing a wall of glass. The rest of the group followed Ewan into the structure. Frank spoke.

"Connor's project was the use of excavating instrumentation he had designed in conjunction with the structural aspects of the building. The two things happen simultaneously. We all called it Dozerís Daydream. When they were building it I called it the 'Nightmare,'" Frank chuckled, but he was clearly proud of the achievement. "It actually went in incredibly fast. Plumbing and wiring took the longest, but with a four-man crew the whole thing was up and ready to go in three days. Connor always makes it sound so easy, but I find that I never can quite describe it.

"How much ground is overhead? McQueen asked.

"I think that itís about three meters at the highest part of the structure. I don't remember all the specs, but I remember that it had to be at least three meters." Ewan said.

That explained to McQueen why the building hadn't shown up clearly on the shallow scans. A subsonic would find it - would find anything - but even then there was a possibility it could be mistaken for a natural phenomenon if you weren't familiar with local geology. The smudge on the scans had been a small heat signature from the panels warmed by the sun.

"Power?" McQueen asked.

"How much do you want?" Ewan asked in return, opening a panel and throwing a few more switches. The entire interior of the building was illuminated.


"Not right now, but that's no problem."

"Right answer," McQueen said, and began to walk around the space. He estimated that it was - give or take - about six hundred square meters. The place went further back into the hill than he had originally thought. It opened up - became larger as you moved away from the front. He noticed that here and there along the floor and the walls there were pipes. Plumbing had been roughed in. There were some skylights covered with snow.

"Water?" McQueen asked.

"Connor dug an independent well. There is a holding tank for.... What is it, Dad? A thousand gallons?"

Frank nodded in the affirmative. McQueen grinned. This place was the Holy Grail - and the family apparently had never considered it.

"Purpose?" the Colonel asked Ewan.

"Dwelling." Ewan said, unconsciously falling into McQueen's speech pattern. "Or storage. Connor's original idea was a bachelor pad ... then he got married and it was going to be the honeymoon house, but by the time he built it Karin was born he wanted to give her a room with a view. One of us will take it over someday."

"I thought I might retire over here," said Frank.

McQueen spent another ten minutes looking the place over. He gestured Frank to his side. "This is impressive. I can tell you this: There are Brass in the Seabees and Army Corps of Engineers who would mess their pants to get a hold of Connor." McQueen could tell that his admission upset Frank - scared him. Of course, no man really likes to think of his children going off to war. No sane man. "Look, if Connor's number comes up in the draft, tell him to stay out of the Navy: much as I'd like to have him around to take care of business - but the Seabees are front line - worse even than the Army Corps of Engineers, which isn't a picnic."

"What about space construction?" Frank whispered urgently. The two men were on the same page: How to keep another Celina sibling safe.

McQueen paused for a moment. He looked over at Kylen. She was talking to Connor's twin, Ewan, who had a farm deferment. She was standing over by the glass wall. McQueen registered that Kylen probably had had her fill of living underground, but some things couldn't be helped. McQueen then became aware that for the first time he was trying to keep an extraordinary talent - Connor - out of the military. It was a strange and conflicting emotion. Then he considered Frank's question.

"No. No, too obvious a target." He looked straight into Frank's face. It seemed clear that the older man didn't quite get the picture. "I'd do it," he confessed. "Knock out your enemies' ability to build and service space vehicles? I'd do it in a heartbeat. Tell Connor to stay in the civil sector - to volunteer if he has to."

Frank was forced to look away. It wasn't in horror over McQueen's admission. Not at all. It was, in fact, the realization that to protect his children he would do exactly what McQueen had suggested. He finally looked back at the Marine. "I understand, Ty," he said, using the younger man's given name for the first time. This was, in Frank's estimation, a first-name conversation. "This is a dreadful thing. "I just want to keep as many of them safe for as long as I can," Frank Celina confessed.

"I know. That's why we are out here freezing our butts off. Look, Mr. Celina - Frank - in a war the first casualty is the truth, and the second thing that fails are 'best laid plans.' A plan may fail, but if you have a plan you have knowingly or unknowingly already formulated a backup. If you don't have a plan you are doomed to failure. You have had to see that in Kylen. You have had to see her always reading things - weighing her options - outlining plans and choices. She survived."

"Then let's go get warm and make some plans," Frank said.

McQueen crossed the space and turned off the power, signaling it was time to go.

The four spent the rest of the morning at Ewan's discussing how best to turn The Dream into the family shelter. What to finish inside of the structure. When and how to tell the younger children. What to store there. Ways in which the blurred heat signature could be better camouflaged. After the initial horror of the whole idea had passed, the Celinas all bent to the task. McQueen enjoyed working with "problem solvers" and with Frank, leading by example - here was a family full of problem solvers, it seemed.

McQueen had a flash - what seemed to him to be a good and workable idea. He opened his mouth, began to speak and then halted abruptly. I don't know if they are ready for this - if they can handle this, he thought.

"What?" the three Celinas asked together. Their unison of thought and speech momentarily stunned the Marine.

"It was just an idea," he said softly, filling in the silence while the others waited.

"Put it on the table, Ty," Frank insisted.

"It's sort of.... unpleasant," McQueen admitted.

"None of this is pleasant," Frank responded gently, encouraging the man to continue.

"Well, every year you must have ... a certain number ... of losses ... among the livestock, I mean," McQueen said quietly.

"A few," Frank replied.

"We need to keep the carcasses and start to bury them ... There," Kylen said, stabbing the map with emphasis. She was pointing to The Dream. McQueen exhaled. Kylen was on the same page, and more importantly agreed with him.

"Dad, the Chigs hate dead things. They seem to be frightened by them. I know for sure that they do almost anything to avoid graves and dead things. On Tellus, I hid in a burial cave for several days. A shallow scan would show the bones. It's a great idea." She reached out without looking and patted McQueen on the arm.

It had come out of her mouth before she could stop herself. She hadn't even realized that she had said it. Living in the burial chamber was something she had never told her family before. Ewan and Frank looked shocked and openly uncomfortable, but Kylen was on a roll and hadn't looked up from the map.

"We could plant an orchard in the area. It will cut down on solar efficiency, but if we kept the trees on the south side it could help the heat signature from the panels. I'll have to compute the shadow lines," she said.

Frank stepped away from the table and sat heavily in a chair. "I had no idea," he murmured. Kylen seemed to wake up and realize exactly what she had said.

Kylen moved to sit on the floor in front of her father, looking up into his stricken face. "Dad, Iím OK. It worked. It kept me safe. Colonel McQueen is right. This can be another line of defense. He isn't suggesting that we slaughter the animals, Dad, just where they should be buried."

Ewan whispered from his place at the table: "Allston's birds."

Kylen and McQueen looked at him questioningly.

Ewan gestured around him. "Obviously, Colonel, we grew up on a farm - grew up with life and death all around us. We have all always known that things die. I don't think that any of us ever had to be told about death any more than we had to be told that animals give birth. When we had pets that died - well, that was hard, but also a necessary learning process. Things you love will one day die. But ... well ... after Tellus, Allston seemed.... Well, he had a real hard time with it, Kylen. We didn't know how hard until that summer. I noticed it first. There was an area in the yard - a little circle where the grass was higher. I didn't think too much about it at first, but after a couple of days I went over and took a look. There was a dead robin on the lawn. Birds die. We all know this and occasionally you find one on the lawn. Allston had mowed around it. He couldn't bring himself to get a shovel and bury it."

"Ohhhhh," Kylen groaned. "Dad, what did you do?"

The strain of the two opposing stories was evident on Frank's face. Disaster had touched his carefully crafted family - his life's work. One of his children had survived by living among the dead, and another had survived by rejecting death altogether. Both concepts seemed unnatural and off center.

"We worked it through as you did," he said. "And we will work this through as well. No, you are right - the idea has merit. If we explain it well, Allston will get it."

McQueen spoke softly. "This life and death thing ... Allston seems to love it here - to love the cattle. Well, they provide food and a way of life that he loves. By doing this thing those beautiful strong animals I saw this morning could continue to serve a purpose. Not only for you, but because you are protected the rest of the herd stands a better chance."

"You are terrifically patient with us. You are a good ... a good and a generous man, T.C. McQueen," Frank said calmly.

The group returned to their work. At noon they broke for lunch. The cover story for the younger kids was that they had spent the morning showing McQueen the farm, which was close to the truth. McQueen took a moment to check his e-mail - looking for orders - his new assignment. He hadn't received a new billet - evidently no one in the Marine Corps had decided what to do with him yet - but there were orders.

Marine Barracks
Eighth and I
Washington, D.C.
01 Jan 2065

Electronic Orders
To Colonel Tyrus C. McQueen, 821-36-97440, USMC

1. You are ordered to report to Marine Corps Barracks Eighth and I, Washington D.C. Report 0700, 08Jan 2065. Quarters reserved at BOQ, Henderson Hall, Arlington, VA.

2. You will proceed by government and/or civilian transportation via USMC Barracks Loxley, Alabama, with Priority AAAAA authorized by TWX H.Q. USMC dated 01 Jan. 2065, Subject "Movement of McQueen, Col. T.C." to final destination.

3. Prescribed uniform of the day 08 Jan 2065: Dress "A" uniform preferred (sword and medals). Due to exigencies of war Dress "B" (ribbons) acceptable.

4. Prescribed uniform evening 09 Jan 2065: Evening dress preferred. Due to exigencies of war Dress "A" or "B" acceptable.

By Direction:
Becca A. Green
Lieutenant General, USMC

McQueen handed the orders to Kylen in disgust.

"But you were just down at Loxley. You have to go back there?" she asked.

"I've been ordered to report to D.C. with all my party clothes. I've got to go to Loxley to get them out of storage. At least the general - or someone on her staff - has that much together," he spoke with sarcasm.

"Who is General Green?"

"She is Deputy Chief of Staff, Aviation."

"Your boss?"

"My boss' boss' boss," McQueen said.

Kylen noted that his voice was tinged with admiration. She must really be something else to evoke that tone of voice, she thought and the asked: "What is this about?"

"Who knows? The Brass has its own ideas. The Corps will tell me when it wants me to know," he said with resignation.

"But Colonel, you are the 'Brass' now," she said, mildly amused.

end book one

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