This story takes place in Thinking Horndogs Swarm Cycle universe. You should at least read his Average Joes and possibly Pick Up 18 stories first.
Thanks to Thinking Horndog for letting me play in his universe. Thanks to Brooke, Tomken, Justin Radically and in particular to Omachuck, and probably others, for pointing out errors and helping me turn out a good story. And to Gordon Johnson for catching a few silly errors as well. Any remaining errors are mine and I claim copyright on them :)
I am lying on the grass in Hyde Park in central London, not far from the Serpentine. It’s a beautiful day, tomorrow is my seventeenth birthday, and for some reason it feels like my life has just got far more complicated. How?
Well, I have just taken the CAP test and got a score of 7·7, which you’ll have to admit is pretty good for someone of my age. The problem is, I have three kinks in my life which have the potential to make life very awkward for me. And this was where my quandary lay.
As my birthday is at the end of August, I am one of, if not the youngest in my school year. Normally my dad tries to take my birthday off as a holiday and then extends it to the August bank holiday weekend. This year my birthday fell on the Tuesday after the bank holiday, but due to some last minute complications at work he was going to have to work on that day. This disappointed us all, so for the bank holiday itself, as it was such a glorious day we had gone into the city centre and to Hyde Park.
It was as we were walking along Oxford Street that we had spotted a Confederacy recruiting centre. There was a lot of low-level worry and talk in the press, but in general the Confederacy was pretty much ignored. It wouldn’t be too long before that would all change very drastically, but for now, people were pretty much neutral.
As none of us had a CAP card, me, both my parents and my elder sister all decided to try our hand at the test and see if we could ‘win’ one. Yes, I know that’s not the way it really is, but that’s the way we saw it, understood it, at the time.
Two guys were sitting there looking incredibly bored. It’s illegal in the UK for any form of shouter to be outside any shop to try and persuade people to come in. It doesn’t matter what sort of shop or establishment, the only type of advertising has to be static boards. Sandwich boards carried by people are allowed, but the carriers themselves are not allowed to advertise or to ‘call’, just walk. That’s all very different for a temporary, licensed, market stall, but this was a shop.
Oxford Street was incredibly busy, even for a bank holiday when legally all shops except the smallest have to stick to Sunday trading laws. That is, they could open for no more than six hours, starting not earlier than ten in the morning and closing not later than five in the afternoon. Despite the bustle, the Confederacy ‘shop’ was empty of customers.
The two men looked up when we walked in and stood, welcoming us with broad smiles.
“Hello,” said Dad. “How do we go about getting these cards?”
“No worries,” said one who had a broad Australian accent. “Hello, I’m Alasdair. Come on in, we can do three at a time. Sorry but the fourth will have to wait until the first is finished.”
Dad looked a bit puzzled.
“These are only small premises,” we were told, “and there’s only room for three testing machines.”
“Oh, I see,” Dad answered, his frown almost vanishing. “Okay then, Toby, you go first,” he said, addressing me, “it’s your birthday.”
The second Confederacy official, who had spoken only to give his name, Tom, looked it me in slightly puzzled interest. “You turned fourteen today?”
I shook my head. “Seventeen, tomorrow.”
“Ah,” his slight puzzlement cleared. “Oh. You should really have taken it before now you know.”
I shook my head. This was something I really did know something about. “Nah. You forget, it’s not a legal requirement in this country. In your country,” for he had a very distinct American accent, “I know it’s a requirement, but not here. Anyway,” I grinned, “I’m here now.”
I knew some of the others in my year at school had CAP cards, but most didn’t, or at least, weren’t admitting to it. I knew of one girl with a failing score, about a 5·5 I think, and I knew of a few boys with passing scores. But out of about a hundred and sixty in the year, only eighteen had, or admitted to having, a card and a score.
I was led to a funny looking thing that looked a little bit like one of those sit in video game machines, except this seemed to be a bit more enclosed.
There was a comfortable chair and a computer screen in front of me. There was no keyboard, however Tom lifted a helmet off the floor and gently fitted it over my head.
“Comfortable?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I nodded. The weight of the helmet was uncomfortable when I moved my head, so I just lay back a little and tried to relax.
“Good. Just be yourself.”
I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by ‘be yourself’, and it worried me a little. He closed the door and a few moments later I heard a voice. “Welcome to the Confederacy CAP testing process. The first few questions are just to identify yourself and to get a level of brain activity. Brains are all unique. No two people will have exactly the same brain wave patterns for the same question and answer. By asking some standard questions, we can get a standardised reading of your brainwave patterns. Are you ready to begin?”
“Yes,” I said.
The accent was definitely English, but I couldn’t place it. It was a soft voice and at first I wasn’t even sure whether I was talking to a man or a woman. I started off being asking what day today was, what the date was, and even what colour the sky was. I was asked if I could calculate the cube-root of 343. When I came back with seven with hardly a pause, he, for by now I had decided it was a man’s voice, paused for a longer time then began asking me more and more complex maths questions. Fairly quickly I told him I couldn’t do the maths in my head, but I could do it easily with a piece of paper and a pencil, and told him how I would do it. I was asked a little bit about myself and my family, and then I was told I was going to be asked three simple questions, and I wasn’t permitted to answer any of them until all three had been asked. After asking the questions, I was then told I had to lie on one of them and tell the truth on the other two, but not say which was which. I paused and gave my three answers. “No,” I hadn’t seen my sister naked in the last six months, “No,” I didn’t have a crush on any of my teachers, and “Yes,” I did want to go into space. After those three there was a pause before I had been told that I was lying when I’d said I didn’t have a crush on any of my teachers.
Smiling, and slightly embarrassed, I’d had to agree. I had been asked my name, age, date of birth, national insurance number - which as it happened I couldn’t remember, where I lived, what I did for hobbies etc. I was asked about my schooling. What I liked, “Maths, physics, science in general, IT.” What I hated. “All my English teachers, sports.” What I’d had difficulties with, “History, English literature, French.” And what I’d found easy, “Art, Maths, science, geography.” This seemed to go on for quite a long time, and some of the questions seemed really weird. I was even asked whether I was still a virgin. I was.
I think I was hypnotised next, because I seemed to be in some very odd situations. Looking back I can vaguely remember a burning building, an old lady, and possibly a baby or a dog. Then I seemed to be playing three-dimensional chess and losing badly. Except that somehow I knew there was no such thing. Then I seemed to be actually doing some of those maths questions I had been asked at the start. And more. After that I was walking down a road near to where I lived. Naked. Then I wasn’t naked. Quite. I was wearing just underwear. My mother’s underwear. Except that I also ‘knew’ she didn’t have such skimpy underwear. Then it wasn’t me wearing them; it was a younger woman who I couldn’t quite make out. I just knew I didn’t recognise her, yet we seemed to be talking about mutual friends. Then I seemed to be having a chat with an elderly woman I had easily recognised as my grandmother. Yet both my grandmothers had died before my older sister had been born.
Then it was all over and I was led, slightly shakily, back to a chair. “Here,” said Tom, and gave me a glass of water. Mum and Joanne were already finished, though it looked like Joanne had not been out long. Dad wasn’t around, so I guessed, and quickly had it confirmed, that Dad was in the machine.
“Well that was weird,” I muttered. I opened my mouth to try and talk about it and found myself taking a drink instead.
Alasdair smiled slightly. “You won’t remember anything about the test itself within a few hours or so, and maybe even quicker depending on what you go and do next. Also, while you do remember it, you won’t be able to talk about it.”
“Do we get a card?” asked Mum.
“They are just being prepared now. You can wait until your husband comes out if you want?”
Mum paused and then nodded. “Can I know mine?” I asked hopefully.
“Wait until Greg is here darling,” Mum said softly. “Let’s do it all together. Okay?”
I shrugged, slightly disappointed.
.... There is more of this story ...