Let me first thank my editors, Mike Mulligan and George Allen. Still, after their suggestions I've made other changes, I can't help it, every time I read it I think of a better way to say something or ... you get the idea.
I cracked a bleary eye at the rose petal filled tub in the bridal suite at the Driscoll Hotel in Austin and wondered if I had the energy to drag myself over to it. I was so drained that I'd risk drowning if I fell in.
Prying my other eye open, I tried to locate my bride. Exhibiting more of her apparently bottomless energy she was fully dressed and was typing furiously at the hotel's antique desk. I tried to get irritated, but couldn't muster the energy.
Last night, after the most utilitarian wedding imaginable, I'd taken Teresa to Austin's famous 6th street for a round of clubbing at the many live music venues. It hadn't seemed to lighten the mood she'd held all through dinner. I don't know how death row inmates act at their last meal, but I'm pretty sure Teresa gave a sterling emulation.
After champagne, I'd gone into the bathroom to allow her time to get ready for bed. When I returned, my naked bride was reading a tech manual on her PDA. She'd glanced up and said, "Will this take long, I just found a great article on the use of exotic alloys in sub-micro manufacturing."
I studied her intently to see if she was either teasing or perhaps trying to cover nervousness, and had to conclude that she had indeed, just found an article she'd found more interesting than losing her virginity. I admit I verged on getting vexed, but decided that in this case ignorance was an excuse.
Fifteen minutes later, following her first orgasm, I decided my demure bride had metamorphosed into a succubus! I was fighting for my life!
When I'd had my apparent age regressed from sixty-seven to twenty-six I'd taken the opportunity to have the medical unit give me a recovery time measured in mere minutes. Little did I know just how much drain on my body my new stamina would engender. The woman almost killed me, but-- damn it, I was certain that by daylight I'd at least diverted her attention from that damn article.
The blow to my pride was sufficient, just barely, to get me to walk over to see what she was working upon. After translating a paragraph that contained more polysyllabic words than I knew existed, I said, "Sweetheart, we didn't invent sex..."
Rounding on me with the quickness of a snake she gave me an indignant look and said, "Of course not, or the race would have not survived. However, I've done a survey of the available studies and I've not found anything like the psycho-physical and emotional responses you induced in me..."
I interrupted, "Angel, if you want to understand love making, you go to the poets and erotic literature, not Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine!"
She gave me a puzzled look and I continued, "Besides the first time is never as good as after a couple gets to know each other more intimately."
I saw the look I'd come to know only too well last night, "No, honey, we both need to eat first, and we really need..." We did get to eat ... later, much later. I don't remember what it was but I distinctly remember dipping something into a sauce filling Teresa's navel, and whip cream, I remember whipped cream.
I also know that I slept again, because that must have been when Teresa, a page at a glance reader, with the closest thing I've ever seen to a photographic memory discovered StoriesOnLine dot net and Literotica dot com. It took all my persuasive power to convince her that some of the acts described by the writers on those sites simply weren't physically possible. I'm not sure my dear wife was convinced but I'll admit I'm looking forward to proving it in the near future.
When we checked out and were heading for a place I'd leased on Lake Travis I asked Teresa if her article on exotic alloys had proved as interesting as she'd thought. She got a stunned look for a second and with an evil grin said, "Who gives a rip! WE might not have discovered sex, but I HAVE, and you're right it does get better with practice. How long until we get to this place you've leased?"
I laughed and said, "How's the search for my other nineteen concubines coming? I'm on a bit of a deadline. During the months and the ten pick-ups I've spent looking for you, I've also been setting up to fill all three of the thousand-pod-ships I've been allocated for the research planet I'm supposed to head. We've got 17 days before those three ships are to begin their pick-ups and once they're done, we're gone for good."
Teresa surprised me. I thought the comment about getting to our place for more sex had been a joke, but looking at the conflict on her face it clearly wasn't. I watched her struggle to bring her mind around to what we'd agreed would be her responsibility.
I wasn't sure if her expression was just pensive or mingled with anxiety. "Jim, I've been looking at profiles and biographies ... I just didn't know I had so little time. Of course I haven't tried to contact any of them. I don't know if they'll agree..."
When the pause became awkward I asked, "I suppose you could make a longer list and prioritize it and just keep going down it until you've filled my quota. You need to keep in mind that some of your candidates might have high enough CAP scores to qualify on their own."
"Oh, I checked on that before I chose them. I've also made sure that they aren't married, although one or two have children under 14 ... if they accept and I'm sure they'll want to take their kids..."
After another long pause, I said, "Teresa, that's the idea, we want to get as many people off Earth as we can, the only problem is that we might be pretty crowded until we get to the planet. Make sure everyone is both tolerant and very compatible"
"I understand that, but I haven't figured out a way to get them all together for a pickup. They're scattered all over the English speaking world."
"That's not a problem so are my candidates and many are in non-English speaking countries too. We'll have universal translators so language won't be a problem. We can treat their pickup like they've been doing for children of concubines, just show up and ask if they want to come."
She looked thoughtful, "Would it be possible to send something like a secure email to ask if they'd be willing to be picked up? If we're going to make individual pickups, we just won't ever send the pickup data. That should keep it from turning in something dangerous."
"Hmmm, that might work for them too; if you have good data on where they are, we'll do a late night time pickup. Make sure they understand that the invitation is for them and their dependents only. Anyone else there will be stunned if they try to come. Just let me know when you have your list together, and if you have a great candidate, I don't see why we can't use a spot for their spouse, after all they're only going to be my concubines in name only."
Teresa gave me a very strange expression and changed the subject. "How are you picking the people you're going to pick up and are you going to try to do them as individuals too?"
"Most will be individual pickup because there's just no way to get them together someplace without too many people noticing. The people I'm picking up are all top defense researcher, engineers and designers. These people all have the equivalent of Top Secret code word clearance. It's just not possible to get many of them at the same location, with the people they've chosen as concubines. Instead I'm using secure phone lines to give them a time window. These folk have the brains and the training to get themselves and their concubines together. The candidates with full-time bodyguards are the only ones I expect any problems with. We might also have a problem with those who work in isolated compounds like the way they set up Los Alamos during WWII. There, the problem, aside from getting the concubines where we can get them, won't be the ones we're picking up, but the ones we aren't.
"It's been a Herculean job to get our numbers down. I've spent most of my life in the defense industry, but I don't know all of these people personally. It's been a nightmare. These people are the prima donnas of prima donnas. They all have staff and most wanted to take all their staff, as part of my quota of volunteers. Most of these folk's staff have scores high enough to volunteer, but not for us. However, our people are also used to budgets and bureaucrats, and all of them can do basic math, they know we can't take everyone. I've had to be a real hard ass and I've refused to even speculate to anyone about who other candidates might be. There are going to be some pissed off people when they find that I haven't agreed with their assessments of who should be the top three-thousand people to design and build weapons systems to defeat the Swarm.
"If that wasn't enough, over half the volunteers have a spouse who has a CAP high enough to also volunteer. I've said that they can come as a couple with a full quota of concubines as long as they will share the same pod until we get to our planet. There are going to be some very overcrowded pods. The average CAP score of all of our volunteers is 8.4. We don't have anyone under 7.6 which means we've got a large number of high nines.
"Forget about pods with private bedrooms on the way out, what we'll have is something close to dorms in most of them. We might even have to have some concubines staying with people who aren't their sponsors just so we don't overload the environmentals on the ships. In all too many ways this is going to look like that picture you've seen of a slave ship with every inch of space used for bodies ... although I think I've read that that ship design was never actually used.
"Anyway you cut it; this is going to be months long nightmare even after we land. Right now we have over thirty-eight thousand people to pick up counting concubines, and all their children. If it all works out we'll do it in a little over a day. If it takes much longer than that people we don't want to know what's going on are going to notice and I don't even want to think about what will happen then.
"With all these logistical nightmares, I think you can see that picking up my other nineteen concubines isn't, well, something that I'll worry about. However, if there are security issues Earth First had a cadre of people that can provide almost anything we need."
"Earth First? I thought you said they were terrorists?"
"There are two organizations and both chose the same name. The one we'll work with are dedicated to defending Earth and there are some good people involved. Frankly, I almost didn't volunteer, volunteering sounded too much like being hired as a mercenary for races who are too "good" to do their own fighting. I don't know if we can stop the Swarm before they get to Earth or not, but the more of them we kill out there, the more likely we can keep them from wiping out Earth.
"The 'friendly' aliens don't really give a damn about Earth; they probably think its destruction would be a good thing, fewer of us "barbarians" to worry about once the Swarm threat is removed. They have to know that one of the biggest problems with hiring someone else to do your fighting is that we might decide that when it's all over there's nothing to stop us from taking them.
"I think that's why they've tried to make it hard for the colony planets to be self-supporting. As long as they control the replicator technology and the AIs are loyal they have a mighty big stick to control us."
Teresa got a look I've come to understand is her brain turning at supersonic speed, then she smiled a smile that made chills run down my back. "Well, if we need, we'll handle that when the time comes. For now I'd like your input on what sort of artists and what kind mix you think would be best."
I hadn't given that even a random thought. "I'm not sure; creativity needs to be the first qualification. No actors though, boiled down to the basics their creativity is nothing more than the ability to lie, to pretend to be someone and something they aren't. Thankfully, that's a rare skill and I don't begrudge them what they earn, but I'd much rather have a screenwriter than an actor or producer. As I think about this, I think I might want to add a few science fiction writers to my core complements. I remember reading an old sci-fi book about an invasion of Earth where all the major sci-fi writers were gathered to spin off ideas about what might work. I remember one of the major writers was called Robert Anson ... which was Heinlein's first and his middle name?
"Don't worry about writers; I think I'll figure out a way to make slots for them in my logistical slop. I say I need someone to write specs and manuals. I've got a few extra slots on each ship for staff...
"I'd say get me some visual artist ... although I've never been able to see the point of any "modern" art, and judging from the way people don't flock to museums of modern art ... it has a rather limited if loyal audience.
"I think I'd put a high premium on music composers. I'd go with the more popular ... but make sure they're still prolific, probably the younger ones with several hits. Make sure you take some who write scores for movies too ... and maybe one hillbilly banjo picker.
I know that we'll have a few architects among the spouses or concubines already picked, but I don't think we have any landscape architects. I need to check to see if we have any talented interior designers, I'm pretty sure we do, but a top talent would be welcome.
"I'd love to have musicians ... but trying to get enough to make a decent orchestra would take too many spaces. Perhaps composers who also perform might be more of a premium. If you can find a good clothes designer I'd consider him ... or her."
A thought struck, "I know there are a lot of gay men in the in the entertainment and cloth trade, but I don't want to take any. I don't have a homophobic bone in my body, but any male concubines I have I want to be interested in getting women pregnant. The goal here is to grow the race. Also, potential concubines who have several children will be given priority over those that don't.
If we have to have to hot bunk triple-deck beds in my pod, I'll be delighted, hmm, I hadn't thought about hot bunking, we probably won't have to farm out concubines or their kids to someone other than their sponsors. It's going to be a three-month trip to the planet ... I'll be glad when we give it a name, and I expect that we'll all be at the ragged edge by that point."
Teresa gave me new wide eyed look I hadn't seen before, "Why don't you name the planet after you? I can't think of a better name than yours!" Her tone was new also, soft, and if I didn't know better ... what was happening to her? She almost sounded like a love-struck teen.
When we got to my rented place, it was much bigger and nicer than I'd expected. If it had been on the Mediterranean it would have been called a villa. It had everything you could wish for, tennis courts, pool, sauna, putting green, and hell; it even had a bowling alley. The view was to die for and it was only with the greatest of difficulty that I was able to force myself to get back to my task of collecting the people I'd chosen. It was much worse than herding cats ... think of trying to get a herd of senior civil service folks, say top level GS-15s to all agree to work together in a windowless cube farm ... with only one coffee pot ... and no meeting rooms!