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 experienced 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 leave 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 it down."
"Oh!" Well!" She shrugged. "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."