Chapter 1: Rules for the Pickup

I froze for a moment. "Jason ... Look to your eight o'clock."

"What?" Jason said, staring at me.

"Look over your left shoulder and back toward the entrance," I said. "Am I seeing what I think I am?"

Jason turned in his seat. "I don't ... Oh shit. Mark, that's definitely a marine. Do you think... ?"

Jason's next words never came. The marine had raised his right hand. He dropped it quickly and the windows to the outside were blocked by a grey field.

"And we're being picked up," I said softly as I looked over to my right. Morgan and Jessica were intent on their lunches and had not noticed the change. The rest of the restaurant had started to buzz with excitement as people looked over and saw the field.

Jason nodded. My friend put a hand on Letty's shoulder. The woman looked at her in surprise.

"What my love?" Letty asked.

Jason used his thumb to point to the wall near the entrance. "We seem to have finally ended up inside the barrier. Guess what that means?"

"Oh my, oh my!" Letty said excitedly. "Are you telling me that you're sure?"

"All right everyone, stay calm! I've been through two of these already today and I'd like this one to be simple!" a voice boomed out.

The place actually got louder. I stood up to look around the place. As I did Ashley ran over.

"Mark, I'm sorry," she said.

"What?" I asked as I turned to give her a quick kiss.

"You won't be able to get me pregnant and have me walk to receive my diploma with your baby inside me. I wanted to do that for you," she said.

"I'm sure we'll find a way for you to do that someday," I said fondly. "Now, I need you to get everyone organized. Make sure Matti, Erica and especially Angelique don't watch what's about to happen."

"Quiet!" the voice that had boomed out roared, silencing everyone in the room. "I know all of you have heard about pickups. Some of you have probably been through one. We're starting to see a few repeat customers for the conk pool. Now, I'm Sergeant Walter Bailey. It's my job to make sure you don't disrupt the smooth running of this operation. If anyone causes trouble I will be happy to stun you and leave you right by the door."

"Actually that would be a booth you stuff them in, Sergeant," another slightly calmer voice said. "You might be sick of these, but we do have some rules to follow. First, please wait until I have talked to all the sponsors before you start the orgy. I want this done without all of the confusion most of these have. We tried this last stop and it worked. So when I call your name, get up here. And do it fast."

The room quieted down as the Sergeant stood just in front of the cash registers. "Cunningham, Morgan!" he shouted.

I looked over as Morgan stood up, beyond him I could see Kelsey turning to look at him. Her eyes were wide and wild as Morgan started to walk towards the Sergeant.

"Milken, George," the Sergeant continued.

A man emerged from the food preparation area. He shrugged as he walked past his stunned coworkers.

"Norbert, Walter," the Sergeant said.

"Norbert?" Jason said. "I never knew that was his last name."

"It's his father's last name. I heard his mother registers Walter under her last name when she's signing him up for school. But he isn't eighteen so he couldn't make it official," I whispered.

Walter was strutting up to the Sergeant. "I'm bad, I'm bad," he chanted.

The sergeant just glared at Walter as he approached. "If you're done," he growled.

Walter snapped to an approximation of attention. "Sorry sir."

"I'm not an officer. Now put your back against that counter and wait for me to finish," the Sergeant growled.

Walter dashed over to the order counter and put his back against it. The Sergeant glared at him for another moment before turning back to the seating area. "Owens, Lawrence."

"Can you please use Larry!" a man in his late thirties shouted back as he stood up. The man shook his head as he walked up to the counter.

"We use your official name," the Sergeant responded. "If you don't like it, talk to the AI after the pickup and get it changed. Parker, Mark!"

I got up. From the corner of the restaurant I could hear someone begin to screech in outrage only for the sound to be cut off.

"Idiot," I said under my breath as I walked to the front to stand next to Morgan.

"Me?" he asked.

"Roberts, Jason!" the Sergeant shouted.

I nodded over towards the corner. "Kelsey is here. She's not happy that I am."

"She had a crush and didn't allow for the possibility that you had some common sense," Morgan said as Jason jogged over to join us.

"One more, Thornton, Jessica!"

"Go Jessica!" Kathy and Milli shouted as our friend jumped to her feet. She walked over to join us.

"Oh god, the rug muncher gets to go," Walter complained. "She doesn't have the balls to be a fighter."

The Sergeant charged over to Walter and pushed him back into the counter. "What was that recruit? Did hear you disparage one of your fellow soldiers? Are you suggesting that perhaps I cut your balls off and give them to Recruit Thornton?" the man bellowed.

Walter looked confused. The rest of us just stood staring at the situation as the grizzled sergeant loomed over our former friend.

The Lieutenant hurried over and looked at all of us. "Let him up Sergeant. Although if he can't keep quiet, I'll allow you to take him into the bathroom and start training him."

The Sergeant smiled. It was a wicked smile that promised lots of pain for Walter should he speak up again. Walter just leaned against the counter and said nothing.

"I can keep him quiet, Lieutenant," the sergeant promised.

"Good," the officer said. "Now, I'm sure you have seen all or part of the special where they gave the men three hours to choose their partners. I can't give you that much time. Officially you get an hour, but I'm in no mood to sit through an hour of torturing the girls who try to get picked up. Make your choices and then get over to the teleport. We'll have a marine near it."

"Now, I don't know if you heard, but your conks arrive on the ship naked," the officer continued.

"Conks?" Lawrence asked.

"Conks, Concubines. Basically the girls or boys you are bringing with you. The instant they step on that pad you own them and are responsible for them. Part of that is they will arrive on the ship naked," Sergeant Bailey offered.

I raised a hand. The Lieutenant glared at me for a moment before nodding. "This isn't a classroom. If you have questions wait for the end, but in this case I'm guessing it's about your girls arriving naked."

"Can they carry something?" I asked.

"You can have them carry items," the Lieutenant said with a nod. He then looked more serious.

"Now, there are some rules to pickups. Don't fight over the girls. Remember you can make them look like whatever you want once you are on your way. Looks won't really matter. For now find a girl who wants to be with you. Or boy," he added nodding to Jessica.

"Now, a couple of my troopers will be passing around card readers. These are a great little toy that wasn't used in the special. You just put someone's CAP card under it and you can see the sub-scores. It turns out that your CAP score is compiled from a number of different factors. Those factors include how submissive someone is, how high their libido is and how intelligent they are. Use these. Finding a submissive girl who loves to please is rare, but trust me having one in your home pod makes the end of the day a lot better," the Lieutenant said.

"I think he just described my sister," Jason whispered to me.

"Or Letty or Jana," I whispered back.

"Also, on the no fighting rule. No one can be forced to be a Conk or to audition. If a girl tells you that she doesn't want to audition you damn well better leave her alone," the Lieutenant said firmly.

"But I see some girls I know want to put out," Walter whined.

Jason and I brought our right hands up and smacked our foreheads in unison at this.

Jessica giggled. "Synchronized facepalms. And you timed it just right. I give it a nine, but the Romanian judge only awarded a three. Not enough angst he said."

"Recruit," Sergeant Bailey growled. "Do I need to have you stand with this one while we finish the briefing?"

"No," Jessica said girlishly. She moved to stand next to Morgan.

The Lieutenant nodded. "That's about it. My men will pass out the readers. While they do that I'll brief the potential pool for your Conks. They will be told much the same you have. They can say no, they will have to get naked. Also I'm going to get the children moved into the play area. Technically you can use it for auditions, but I'd rather not traumatize the kids for no reason. Keep it in the seating area."

"Am I forgetting anything Sergeant Bailey?" the Lieutenant asked.

"No," Sergeant Bailey replied. "Give me one moment to straighten out this one recruit and they can go have their little orgy."

The sergeant frowned and turned to look Walter in the eye. I was tempted to walk over and listen, but a marine strode over to stand in front of Morgan and me. "Do I really need to hand you card readers?" he asked.

The voice sounded familiar. I looked up and realized that this mountain of a man had Paul Bowman's face. "Paul! I thought you vowed to avoid pickups forever."

Paul blushed. "I met a girl," he whispered.

"And she finished healing you. Well, I'll accept a card reader. I just might want to peek at the scores my ladies have. For academic purposes," I said with a wink.

Morgan laughed and shook his head. "I'm good, unless you have to hand one out. I'll just stroll over and help my ladies get ready for the teleport."

"That's easy," Paul said. "Get them out of their clothing. The pickup transports demand that. And make sure they understand that they will be property once they step on the teleport."

"They've talked about it," I admitted as Paul handed me a card reader. It was a strange device that reminded me a bit of a magnifying glass for readers. It had a handle that led to a small screen. The scanning unit was on one side and it was obvious that you'd hold a card under the screen to read it.

"Well, I do wish you luck. I'm on a pickup team so once the ship is full I transfer to another ship while you head off to your new home," Paul said

"Private Bowman! Are you finished?" the Lieutenant shouted.

"Yes sir!" Paul said as he came to attention.

"Then let the men go find their conks. Just watch for any problems. The scanners said there were no weapons, but you can't be too careful," the Lieutenant commanded.

Paul nodded one last time before heading towards one of the restaurant's doors. He scanned the still stunned customers as he headed to his station.

"Well, shall we go and get our ladies to disrobe?" Morgan said with a smirk.

I nodded as we left the order counter and headed back into the restaurant's seating area.

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