This was my tenth pickup, and frankly it didn't look too promising. They'd picked a popular watering hole that was featuring the first two drinks free for ladies. Granted there was a large selection of women to choose from, but I didn't think I'd find what I was looking for.
Let me explain a bit about myself. My name is Jim Fellows and I'm sixty-seven, although after the Confederation treatments you wouldn't know it. I look twenty-six and fit. I'd been married to the same wonderful woman, Pearl, for forty-five years when she died from an AAA (Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm) in a podunk town on our way to camp in the Grand Tetons.
It was a case of criminal negligence on the part of the ER doctor, one he and the hospital paid a large fortune to ameliorate. I asked him three times to check for AAA, since it had killed her mother, and the arrogant son of a bitch told me, in barely understandable English, that he was the doctor, not me, and he would treat my wife for what she had, not what I dreamed up.
I got the whole thing on my phone's recorder. I watched my wife suffer for almost eight hours before she finally died. At least he gave her morphine, which eased her pain.
But, I digress. It was shortly after she died that the Confederacy showed up and began passing out CAP scores. I took the test, but before I would agree to volunteer I forced the AI to allow me to attend as many pickups as needed to find concubines who would be compatible with me. I guess a lifetime of working with Artificial Intelligence paid off for me because it was in my contract.
So this was my tenth pickup on my third ship and I'd only found one concubine. Actually, she wasn't really what I was looking for, but was the granddaughter of a dear friend. A real jackass was getting ready to give her a test drive with no intention of taking her when I stepped in. Jessica found someone else on the ship she wanted and is now pregnant with her first child. Her sponsor is a good man, and they're safe on the planet we've been assigned to. Now, I was back on Earth trying to fill my quota.
I waited patiently in my new nano suit while the marines sorted out the volunteers from the crowd and then isolated those who didn't want to go from those who wanted to be concubines. I'd been arguing with the AI for weeks that my task would go faster if I were allowed to check the scores of the would-be concubines before the volunteers began taking their test-drives. But I'd been unable to get around the "all volunteers are to have an equal opportunity" subroutines.
Resigned, I began at the end of the line reading CAP sub-scores, and as I feared, women who were enticed by a couple of free drinks didn't have what I was looking for. The sixth woman I checked was about three-fifths compatible and I had started to question her when I realized something unusual was happening.
One of the would-be-concubines had just asked for the volunteer's CAP card! I stopped in mid-sentence and watched as the volunteer sneered back "I've got a 6.5 and that's all you need to know horse-face!"
In a pleasant voice she answered "I'm sorry, but I need at least a 9.6." She then politely added, "Good luck with your search." I was a little shocked by the clear lack of interest she'd shown, after all she was asking to be selected. I was also intrigued. To be fair, to call her horse faced was unkind... to a horse! She was tall, probably over six feet, if she'd had proper posture. Given her shapeless outfit, it was hard to know what her figure looked like, but I could tell from her arms that she was skinny. The outfit surprised me too. Not only was she the only candidate who was fully dressed; she was the only one who wasn't wearing clothes designed to show off her assets. She had good skin, but it had that pasty look that said that she spent all her time under artificial light. It was hard to tell much about her hair, other than that she'd never bothered to have it styled.
The volunteer, who needed a second or two for her dismissal to sink in, turned an interesting shade of puce and showing amazing speed, ripped open her blouse putting two small and not particularly well shaped breasts on display.
I've often heard the expression "my jaw dropped," but I had never experience it until what happened next. It wasn't that the woman attempted to slap the volunteer, but that she was allowed to connect! Not only did she a five-fingered-handprint, but the female marine standing next to the jerk stopped his retaliation!
The woman made no attempt to cover her breasts, but in a voice cold enough to freeze nitrogen said, "Never cast your pearls before swine! Now, leave before I'm forced to hurt you."
I know that they'd announced that "No meant no" when testing a would-be-concubine, but I'd never seen it actually enforced, or need to be. I handed back the CAP card to the woman I'd been talking to and walked over to the anachronism. She was young, I'd guess no more than twenty-two, and was totally unconcerned about what had happened
"You do know volunteers with a 9.6 are about as scarce as hen's teeth, don't you?" She gave me an indulgent smile, but made no effort to cover her breasts... she might have been more attractive if she had.
"Actually, I won't settle for anything less than a 9.8 but I didn't want to embarrass him. I didn't have high hopes for this pickup, but it was convenient; so I thought I see how they're done first hand."
She said it with such quiet confidence that I ignored the implication that she'd been able to anticipate this pickup and asked, "Why do you think you need someone with that high a score? I mean, I can understand someone wanting to know more about her sponsor, but what could one volunteer do for you that another couldn't.
"Actually, that isn't my only requirement, but anyone with a score of 9.8 or above would certainly be offered a planetary governorship, and I want to be a governor's wife."
If she'd used any other tone, I would've immediately lost all interest. I hate social climbers and the only thing worse is someone who's power hungry too. I just didn't get that feeling from her.
"My name's Jim, what's yours?"
She held out her hand for and old-fashioned handshake, "My name's Teresa."
"You do know that you're not applying for the role of wife, but something very close to slavery don't you?"
"Yes, well, I'm quite prepared to do all the sexual things that my husband might want to do. I've made a study of sexual acts, and while I might find some uncomfortable, I'm prepared to be an active participant as long as my needs are met too."
I was a bit stunned at the flatness of her voice, "Have you had a lot of sexual experience?"
"Of course not, I'm not married! My daddy told me that if I wasn't ready to marry the guy, what made me think I was ready to risk having a baby with him. All birth control has risks, and it just made good sense to me. I haven't met a man I thought I might want to have babies with, yet."
"You do know that one of your prime duties will be to have your sponsor's babies, don't you?"
"Yes, I like the idea of having babies, with the right man of course."
"You're prepared to become a part of a harem with someone you've known less than an hour? That doesn't make sense to me."
"The Confederacy sub-scores will tell me as much about a man as months of dating would, and if we're a good match that'll be enough... of course, he'd have to forgo all his other choices if he wants me, I'll only go as a wife. I mean, I'll have to obey him, be a proper Victorian wife. I mean I'll be modern about the sex but I'll be the perfect subordinate wife. That won't be a problem for me with the right man."
"You have a submissive side?"
"Not really, but I'm prepared to accept the role to get what I need... I can live with having to make all of my body available, actually that sounds fun, but I'll put up with all the rest as long as I have time and resources to pursue my passion."
I stepped back and blinked several times. There wasn't an ounce of arrogance in her tone or body language yet she'd made it clear that she thought she was worth what she was asking. "Do you think you'll find who you're looking for, someone who will want you that much?"
"My father told me a story about a man who found a perfect pearl, and sold everything he had in order to buy it. I'd come home crying because I was the only girl in sixth grade that no boy had given a Valentine card. He told me I was a pearl of great price and if a man wasn't prepared to give up everything for me; he wasn't worthy of me. I believed him, and I still do."
That was the second reference to pearls she'd made. It gave me a weird feeling.
"Where's your father now, do you still live at home?"
"I still live at home, but both my parents were killed in a private plane crash right after my freshman year in high school. I've lived alone there ever since. Look, I don't mean to be unkind, and I am enjoying talking to you, but if you aren't what I need, shouldn't we both be looking for someone else?"
I smiled, "That might be true, but we can probably waste a few more minutes. Aren't you scared of what will happen to you when the dickheads get here? Isn't that a good reason to settle for less than your ideal?"
She frowned, "I've heard that we're supposed to be scared of the swarm, but I haven't been able to figure out why."
I started to say, "Because they'll eat you like an apple when they get here," but clearly she'd heard that and still wasn't scared. "Why aren't you afraid of them?"
"Well, if they do come here, I suppose we'll have to get rid of them, but that shouldn't be too hard. Of course I wouldn't do it personally, but I can think of at least two maybe three things that should work. The problem will be getting rid of them without committing genocide. It just depends on..."
"Not too hard!" I blurted, she'd been so nonchalant that I couldn't help it. I suddenly wondered if I HAD been wasting my time. "Would you mind if I look at your CAP card?"
She frowned, looked me straight in the eye, and I could see her make a decision, "Not if you don't mind me looking at yours. I do have to tell you that except for the intelligence rating I've altered most of the rest. I just couldn't seem too..."
"Do you know the penalty for counterfeiting your CAP card...?"
"I didn't change the card, I just made sure I scored what I wanted to when I took the test so it doesn't show my real personality." She said as she handed me her card and took out her own reader. It wasn't a Confederacy reader, it had a sleek human design, and I suspected it might have a few extra features built in.
I was nonplused; "No one can cheat on the CAP test...."
"I told you I didn't cheat; once the test started I figured out the algorithm and then I just made sure I got the scores I wanted, not my real scores, except the intelligence test. I couldn't bring that one down enough.
She already had my card in her reader and was studying it carefully before I looked at her overall score, a 6.4! I checked her intelligence score. It was a ten, but had an asterisk. It was beyond the ability of the Confederacy to measure! She had a 2.8 in aggression, and everything else was a 6.4!
As far as I, and my reader, could tell it was an authentic CAP card, but I decided to check with the AI.
"The card is authentic, but the scores are impossible...." There was a long pause, "This subject is of great interest. She was asked to volunteer at the time she took her test, refused, and then disappeared. If you can convince her to be your concubine, she will not count against your quota, in fact, you will be authorized to pick an additional nine concubines. We will authorize ten additional concubines if she will volunteer. She will be required to work in research...." Another long pause, "She will be allowed to select any area she wishes to work in if she will volunteer and also explain how she has obtained her scores."
Now that was very, very interesting! I knew the aliens would not allow anyone to be forced into volunteering, and it seemed as they wanted Teresa even more than they wanted me! A Pearl of great price indeed!
After a quick glance I had to ask, "Why were you here today? You're not from here, and I can't believe you'd drive a hundred miles for two free drinks."
She continued to study my card and replied absently, "I calculated this would be the next pickup... you have some very interesting sub-scores. I didn't think I'd be able to find scores like yours, we should continue our conversation. Would you like to go someplace quiet, without all these distractions?"
"Perhaps, but you do know about the interdiction field? We're sort of trapped here until they take that down."
"Oh! Well, I can open that if you'd like. I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it here in time so I designed this to allow me in if I was late." She held up another slickly designed gadget. "I could use it to leave if you'd like. If they leave without us, I've already calculated several other nearby pickups."
Again the unusual tone, she might have been talking about the local bus schedule, and I knew that only the AI knew the schedules! Could she have...?
"Have you hacked the AI?"
Her head jerked back, and I actually saw injured innocence. "I didn't hack anything! I just asked for the protocols when I took the test, and AI gave them to me. I had to design an interface, but that wasn't hard."
"What is it that you do? What sort of job do you have that allows you to make your gadgets?"
She blushed, "I think I'm listed as a professor of advanced nano-technology at the University. They told me I had to have a title to keep accounting happy and to justify my expenses, but I've never been asked to teach classes. I just do my research and someone takes care of all the rest. The University has assigned extra grad students whenever I've asked; they've really been very nice. Is my title important to you? I know it is to some of the faculty, I've never understood why, I'm sure I can find out if you'd like."
I had a great aunt that used the expression "vexed." I've never known exactly what it meant until I saw her expression. She was VEXED!
"I really don't want to leave them, it's really a little embarrassing. They've given me everything they can, but it's going to take years get my lab where it needs to be. I've looked at Confederacy technology, and they already have what I want.
"I finally decided that I'm going to have to leave if I'm not going to waste years. Do you think I should give them notice? I read that being picked up takes care of all that legal stuff, not that I ever signed a contract. "
She took a deep breath and I heard something new in her voice when she said, "So, if you can get me my lab setup I'll be your wife."
AI's response was so loud I thought for a second it was audible, "Your destination planet is already designated for research, and this subject will be given whatever she wishes if she will volunteer." There was another long pause, "and you will be allowed twenty concubines."
"I think I can manage what you're asking, but how do I know I'd like you as a wife?"
She blinked several times, and I saw another expression I've never expected to see. She was gob smacked! "Oh, um... I thought if I'd agree to be your sex slave and do any other silly game you want to play.... I mean if I'd let you make my body into whatever you want it to be, let you change me to look like your favorite fantasy and change my looks as often as you wish, that that would be enough. I suppose you could make me a virgin over and over and I'll act the part. I'm not sure about being constantly pregnant, but I guess that's part of the deal with the Confederacy."
"There's a lot more to a wife than sex. I had a wonderful wife for forty-five years, and sex was not what kept us together or made us so happy. You say I'm a very good match for you, how do I know you're a good match for me? Then there's the idea that you think you can defeat the dickheads. How do you plan to do that?"
"As I said, I could never do it personally. I couldn't even tell someone else how to do it. That's why I refused to volunteer. I just couldn't kill another mother's child... The easiest way would be biological attack, but that's not my field. I do know we can design nanobots that can do the same thing."
I'd done that jaw-dropping thing again. A phrase I remember being attributed to Gordon Dickson by Jerry Pournelle in "Lucifer's Hammer" came to mind, " Trouble rather the tiger in his lair, than the sage among his books. For to you, kings and armies are things mighty and enduring, but to him they are but toys of the moment to be overturned by the flick of a finger or the turning of a page."
"Don't look at me like that! I said I couldn't do it personally. I couldn't kill a sentient being; I'm just saying that since I know how to do it, others can do it too."
"Wait a second; that sort of 'bot would have to be self-replicating. I've been told that an all-in-one 'nanobot' would be the size of a baseball, which of course couldn't do the micro work required. A generalized self-replicating 'bot would have to be much larger."
Her eyebrows shot up and she had a puzzled look on her face, "Oh? I don't know who told you that. I mean, if we use the Confederacy model that would be true, but their design is far from optimal. That's my passion. I've got a whole new generation of 'bots designed but my lab can't build them. I need a Confederacy lab to do it. I mean the general purpose 'bots, not the killer kind. As I said, I wouldn't design those personally. Besides, those can be done with our own tech, or at least what the Confederacy has given us. They don't have to be general purpose, you just have to have a couple of Swarm to test them on... that's another part I just couldn't do."
She paused, and if it weren't impossible I would have sworn she was accessing the AI. Then she turned to me and in a humble voice asked, "Would you let me show you my real scores? I think I'm a good match for you. The only thing I'm really worried about is our age difference, but I'm really very mature for my age. I'll be what you want...."
"You still want me give up a harem? What about when you're not in the mood?"
She gave me the same look that Pearl used to give me when I was being dense. "You can tweak my libido to whatever you want. The only time I won't be 'in the mood' is when you're not."
She paused again and her expression turned wistful, "I don't know what love is, but I will hold no part of myself back from you. I will give you my complete respect, loyalty and devotion."
She took a deep breath, let it out in a rush, "Do you think you might... could fall a little in love with me... when you make me look like... well you know who you want me to look like, don't you?"
She stood there, her breathing now shallow, so vulnerable. This wasn't the confident scientist, who took Universities wooing her as naturally as breathing. No this was the girl who'd been rejected in her first blush of womanhood. I could see that her heart could be crushed as easily as the most delicate orchid.
Her lips didn't tremble, there weren't tears in her eyes, but they were nearby. Through those liquid eyes, I saw into her soul and it touched me... but I'm sixty-seven, I will not act like some mushy teen.
Still, I felt my face soften and while I'd tried for gruff, I'm afraid I sounded more choked as I said, "Love doesn't work that way. I'll accept that you think your scores are perfect for me, but if I'm going to give up everything for you, I need to know you. We need a few weeks for courting...."
"But won't you have to change me first...?" there was a tiny but emotionally charged hesitation, "I've been told I'm not very pretty...."
In those few words I saw her huge dike of denial tremble. All the pain, all the nasty comments were being held back by her loving father's few words about pearls. Before I understood what I was doing, I was dismantling my own thick, high walls, walls built since Pearl's death in order to shore up hers "As you said, we can change your looks later, if you really want to, but those are so unimportant...."
Before I could finish, a brilliant smile made my words true. The danger was gone, the troubled waters stilled and I saw what I'd only seen in Pearl: unconditional commitment. If my bladder hadn't been renewed, she would have scared the piss out of me. In forlorn desperation, I changed the subject.
"Can you really break through the interdiction barrier?" She gave me a look I knew too well. It was the one Pearl gave me when she was saying "I'm going to let you get away with changing the subject, but we're not done yet." I tried to ignore it and plodded on, "Do you have any idea how dangerous that is? Can you think what would happen if it fell into the hands of something like Earth First?"
She gave me a blank look, "Earth First? Isn't that one of those old environmental groups? Why would they want one? Besides, anyone could build one. The AI was quite plain about how it was done. All I had to do was build a diverter to...."
"How many people know about that little device?"
"No one, I actually built this myself. I didn't think I'd need it but I worried that my timing forecast might be off so I did."
I admit, I was a tiny bit skeptical; so, after checking with AI about a safe location, she opened a door exactly like the one I'd heard about being done at a state fair, and we left.
Once we got to her car, she gave me a different card, and her reader. I sat in the passenger seat and studied it. She was right, a perfect match. She gave me Pearl's look that said, "You remember that conversation we interrupted? We're going to finish it now."
I cleared my throat, "Teresa, having a harem never really appealed to me. I'm a one woman sort of man, but I hate not to use our slots to evacuate..."
She interrupted me, "I never meant that we shouldn't take people with us, I don't think the Eugenics concept works well with humans, but there are all sorts of people who would make our colony more pleasant. The CAP test doesn't score artistic talent very highly, and while I'm not a big fan of most 'modern art' I do think we need to have all the arts to have a decent society. Perhaps you could use your nineteen slots..."
I smiled, I knew I'd found my perfect pearl, and nothing was too high a price.... I just didn't want to let her know it yet. It was going to be hard enough trying to keep up with her, but oh what interesting times it would be!
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