Chapter 1

Lucinda Everest looked at her CAP card for the umpteenth time. Six point one. Her eyes welled up with tears.

Her eldest daughter Lacey came out from her bedroom. Lucinda glanced up at the clock: Ten PM. "What's wrong, Lacey?" she asked, hoping that it was something Mommy-curable.

"I heard you crying," Lacey replied, as her mother reddened. "Is something wrong?"

Is something wrong? How do you tell your ten-year-old, precocious though she might be, that Mommy is worried her three daughters' fate is to become Sa'arm chow?

"It's nothing," she lied, getting up and giving her daughter a hug. "I was just sorting out which bunnies to take to the rabbit show. Go back to sleep."

The Sa'arm were still expected to invade Earth in about another six years. Somehow, despite her having a CAP score of less than 6.5, she had to figure out some way of getting her and her brood off planet. For the umpteenth time she cursed the drunk driver who had demolished her husband's car so many years ago, leaving her alone to raise Lacey, Corrie, now eight, and six-year-old Kate.

She thought again of that day a little over a year ago when her friend James Rabb had taken some of her bunnies and left for the stars. She wondered if a hutch of rabbits was a suitable legacy to leave to future generations of humans, or just a patently ridiculous one.

Maybe she could get into some sort of pre-pack, she wondered? Tucking her eldest offspring in, she headed for her own bed and a restless night of worry.

Tri-County General Hospital was modern, efficient, clean and still well-staffed, despite this area of Georgia losing many high-CAP people to the Confederacy. Medical staff tended to be less aggressive, which led to lower CAP scores, which led to fewer chances to be picked up.

The uniforms were largely unchanged from before the days of the Average Joes TV series, despite society's adaptations to the new reality. The only exceptions were that hemlines had gone up and bras were now considered optional, and Doctor Victor Walden didn't want to make bet on how many of the comely female doctors and nurses around him weren't wearing panties either. He knew for a fact that in Emergency and other areas where scrubs were the order of the day that many ladies didn't bother wearing a thing under them, and they had frequently opined that it beat out having to throw out underwear soaked with patients' fluids. The males continued to dress largely as they had before.

"Hey, VW!" called out his opposite number on the day shift, Robert Proust. "Doc Proctor wants to see you."

Victor winced at his initials, cursing mentally that his parents hadn't given him another first name. Any other first name. At least one that didn't make everyone associate his initials with a German automobile. In high school, his much-detested nickname had been "Bug", now to alumnae he was Doctor Bug, which made him sound like an entomologist rather than the top-rated trauma resident he was. "See me about what?" he demanded shortly.

"Dunno," Robert shrugged. "Just said that when you came on duty, to go see him." Robert leered at the handsome resident. "You been boinking his secretary again?"

Victor shivered. "Of course not, I still have some standards." His brow furled in puzzlement. Now what could THAT be about, he wondered?

Sid Cheevers surreptitiously watched as his granddaughter Vickie dealt with the rather tall, burly customer. It wasn't that the customer was threatening, but at six-foot-six, broad-shouldered, well-muscled and obviously fit, he was quite intimidating and at 13 Vickie was quite vulnerable if he chose to make any untoward advances. For that matter, with that size differential Sid would be quite vulnerable as well. The woman who had arrived with Vickie's customer and was currently meandering about the plants in the greenhouse, was the same size and shape and likewise quite intimidating.

Sid had owned and operated this garden centre in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley since before Vickie was born, and she loved to help her grandfather on evenings and weekends. Her experience had made her quite knowledgeable in the ins and outs of horticulture, and she hoped to specialize in the field in university.

The rest of the customers Sid and his staff could handle, but these two made him nervous, and he couldn't explain why.

"Excuse me, sir, could we have a word? In private? In your office?"

He jumped. He hadn't noticed the woman had left the greenhouse, nor had he heard the woman sneak up behind him. She would make a good thief, he decided.

Then he had a look at the ID she was proffering. Ah, that explained a lot — and yet, where was the interdiction field? Intensely curious, he led the way to his tiny corner office.

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