Chapter 1

Dawn

Jane Davidson drifted up from sleep, resting halfway between unconsciousness and wakefulness. The bedroom was dimly lit by the night-light so she could tell that Jai, the pod AI, had not yet begun the morning's wake-up cycle by depolarizing the window. Beside her she could hear her sister concubine Anjali breathing softly as she still slept. By now Jane was well used to the shorter day on Waller, about fifteen minutes less than Earth's 24 hours. It had bothered her a bit when she first arrived but that wasn't a problem for any of them now. Even for Anjali, the most recent arrival from Earth, about two years ago. Jane smiled to herself; she had some time to relax before the thunder of tiny feet began her work for the day.

Five years after landing on Waller there were eleven children in their pod. Viv, the third of Keith's concubines, was on the pod's upper level having been up there with the kids overnight. Her youngest child, Helen, was only two months old so Viv was still breast feeding her. There was no point in Helen waking all three of them when she wanted a feed. Until Helen was weaned Viv would be backing up eleven year old Julie in looking after all the children at night. She was close-by in case there was something that Julie couldn't deal with immediately. When Jane's next baby arrived in four months time she in her turn would be on nightly childcare support duty until her new child was off her breast.

Keith, their sponsor, was away on deployment with his Marine unit, the Second Company. He was due back late next month when he was planning to get Anjali pregnant. Jane missed him and she missed the sex he provided. He allowed them to play with each other, or to visit the brothel, when he wasn't around but somehow she didn't want it as much when he was away. She suspected that her medical nanites were turning down her sex drive when he was away. When it was just the three of them there were kisses and cuddles but not a lot more, though Viv had her special arrangement with Ulrika. Jane's hand drifted idly towards her pussy, but her heart wasn't in it, and besides she didn't want to wake Anjali.

Thinking about the day ahead, she knew she would be working in Finches' Restaurant for the afternoon. Maybe that would be a good excuse for a family lunch out before her shift started. They were ahead on their budget so they could stand the cost. Perhaps she could suggest it to Viv and Anjali over breakfast?

As she lay there, her mind wandering, Jane saw that the window was beginning to stand out against the darker wall around it. Jai was starting the morning wake-up sequence by gradually increasing the amount of light it was letting in. All too soon it would start playing music to make sure that both she and Anjali were awake. Moving slowly so as not to disturb her sister concubine she got out of bed and headed to the bathroom for an early start to her day.

In the bathroom mirror Jane saw a woman who looked to be twenty five years old with wavy light brown hair and a tight young figure from her chest upwards. The five-month bulge of her pregnancy rather spoiled the effect lower down. Still, she knew that the nanites could put everything back into shape again afterwards. She had been twenty nine when she was extracted with two kids already under her belt. She was now thirty four in Earth years with three more children to her name. Keith had not changed her appearance much, she was still recognisably the same woman who had left Earth. He had not wanted to upset Sam and Julie by changing her too much; they needed to be able to recognise their mother after she emerged from the med-tube. Some other sponsors had not been so sensible and had endured a stressful few weeks with unhappy kids in their pods wondering about the strange woman that had seemingly replaced their mother.

'Not bad looking, ' she thought to herself as she stroked her bump. At least there was no more morning sickness. She hadn't suffered too badly with this one; the nanites couldn't prevent it entirely but they were able to help keep the vomiting within reasonable limits. She'd had an awful time with her first two, but the four pregnancies since extraction had been much easier. Confederacy medicine did have its advantages.

As Jane went back into the bedroom her sister concubine was just getting up. Anjali had arrived two years ago on the first Cube Ship to call at Waller, the Mount Olympus. She was only nineteen when she had joined Keith's family and he had kept her looking about that age. Her black hair was so long that she could almost sit on it. She had the South Indian 'Auntie' look, with rather more padding than either Jane or Viv. She had asked Keith to make her look that way and he had agreed. He was usually reasonable about small things like that, besides it made her very comfortable to cuddle with.

Keith was interested in genetic diversity, which was one of the reasons he had chosen Anjali. She had been working in a call centre in Hyderabad when the entire site had been extracted. It was Anjali who had named the pod AI 'Jai' after a friend of hers from work. He had been one of the computer support people, and the AI's voice reminded her of him. When the Mount Olympus arrived at Waller she was among a number of concubines still unclaimed so the Governor had allowed some sponsors to have one additional concubine. Keith only had two then and had a clean record so he was one of those allowed a supernumerary. Anyone with too many disciplinary marks against them, or who had a record of mistreating concubines, didn't qualify. Anjali had already been pregnant when she disembarked so Gireesh was not Keith's child. Both Jane's Fran and Viv's Charlie weren't Keith's either, but had been fathered by other sponsors. He seemed to be aiming at roughly every third baby having a citizen other than himself as a father.


Morning

The first thing Jane did when she arrived in the kitchen was to talk to the pod AI, "Jai, is Viv up?"

"Yes Jane, she is."

"Link me through to her please." There was a slight click to let Jane know that the AI had made the connection.

"How are things up there Viv?" she asked. "Do you need me or Anjali to help?"

"No thanks Jane, things are fine", Viv's voice came through the link. "Julie is up and helping already. Sam is in the bathroom and will be out to help shortly. Everything is under control."

Having reassured herself that getting the kids up was proceeding to plan, Jane started preparations for breakfast. As soon as she arrived Anjali pitched in as well. This morning Jane wore a green skirt and white T-shirt while Anjali was in one of her brightly coloured saris, today's was mostly blue. As usual she wasn't wearing a choli, the short blouse. All she had on above the waist was the end of her sari thrown over a shoulder.

The kids nearly always wanted the same things for breakfast every morning; they could be very conservative in their eating habits. With Jai's help Anjali soon had the replicator turning out the required portions of cereals, waffles, eggs, milk, OJ and the rest. Jane had just finished setting the table when the brood started arriving from the pod's upper level. Julie, the younger of Jane's two from before they were extracted, arrived with the first batch of young ones. Jane and Anjali kissed each of them to a chorus of "Morning mummy Jane" and "Morning mummy Anjali". With Julie's assistance they managed to get them all seated before Viv and Sam, Jane's eldest, arrived with the rest shortly after. Another round of kissing and sitting ensued. Sam was distracted by Dawn getting out of her chair and by mistake called his mother "mum" rather than "mum Jane". She had to gently correct him on that. All of Keith's concubines were mothers to all of the children no matter who their actual birth mother was.

"How were they Julie?" Anjali asked. "Any problems overnight?"

"No, they were all fine," Julie replied, I didn't have to get up once. "How was Helen, mummy Viv?"

"I only had to feed her once," Viv replied, "and she got back to sleep very quickly." She looked down, smiling, to check on her baby who was feeding again, eagerly suckling at a breast. "You were a very good girl Helen, weren't you."

Turning back to the other adults she continued, "It's nice to have had a reasonably restful night."

As usual Viv was just wearing a skirt; this morning's was short and white as if she was going to play tennis. Being topless was much more convenient for feeding Helen. Sam was getting an eyeful of both Viv and Anjali though, at thirteen and full of hormones, he would get excited over almost anything female and alive.

Altogether there were nine children born on Waller, ranging from Alice who was almost five through Bob, Charlie, Dawn, the twins Eve and Eddie, Fran and Gireesh to Helen the newest arrival at just two months old. Keith insisted on the names being in alphabetical order so he could keep track of them. He could be a bit of a geek about having things organised the way he wanted. Jane's new child would have a name beginning with 'I'. Keith sometimes called it 'iBump', the sort of computer joke that amused him. At the moment she was inclining towards Isaac for a boy or Iona for a girl. She didn't want to ask Jai which it was; in some obscure way she felt it might bring bad luck if she knew her new child's sex in advance.

Julie and Sam helped Anjali by distributing the food to the appropriate destination as it came from the replicator. At eleven and thirteen respectively they were almost adults and took their responsibilities helping their younger siblings seriously. As a reward they got a wider range of choices for their own breakfasts. Most of the food even managed to end up inside the children, though inevitably there was some that missed small mouths.

The three concubines discussed their plans for the day in between spooning food into the younger kids and keeping an eye on the others. In theory Jane was the senior concubine and in Keith's absence the others had to do what she said, but she thought it better to try to get agreement on most things. That wasn't really a problem as Viv and Anjali were both reasonable and all three of them were committed to doing their best for the children.

Viv was still on maternity leave from the Biology Station. She had been studying biology in college when she was extracted so she was assigned there as a lab assistant for her communal work time. Her maternity leave was very generous of course given that the primary purpose of concubines was to breed. Even when she did go back to work she would still be part time. Neither Jane nor Anjali had a permanent job assignment like Viv's; they were both generalists and assigned to whatever work needed doing. Jane preferred that, it gave her more variety. Anjali liked it as well because she found it a lot more interesting than doing endless identical days in the call centre. None of the concubines had a full time job, even specialists like Viv were expected to spend a good part of each day helping look after their family's children.

Jane used her afternoon in the restaurant to bring up her idea that they all have an early lunch there before her shift started. The others agreed that it was a good excuse to get out of the pod and meet people so Jane got Jai to set up the booking for everyone. Anjali was assigned to playschool duty this morning. Julie asked if she could go along and help. She wanted to do as much work with children as she could since, even at eleven, it was clear that she was not going to make the CAP score needed to be a citizen. As she would be a concubine she wanted to get lots of experience looking after children. Jane and Anjali agreed that she could go. That would let Sam get to the sleep-trainer in the morning because he had football practice later.

In the afternoon Viv would escort the rest of the younger kids to take their turn at playschool. Anjali would look after the ones who were still at home with help from Viv once she returned. They didn't settle who would do the collecting but left it up to Viv and Anjali to decide at the time. Julie could do her sleep-training in the afternoon while Sam was at football. Neither Julie nor Sam had school today. With sleep-training they only needed to spend about a quarter of their time actually in school doing the labs and practicals that they couldn't get from a sleep-trainer. As well as his afternoon football practice Sam had Pathfinders in the early evening while at the same time Julie had Sutlers. They were both old enough to make their own way there and back so nobody was needed to accompany them. Later in the evening Anjali and Jane were planning go over to visit Laura and Bonnie's pod.

Once Viv had burped Helen and everyone else had finished eating or playing with their food, Alice and Bob helped with cleaning up the breakfast debris by dumping plates in the recycler. Alice could get very indignant about the amount of food that some of the younger ones managed to get everywhere except in their mouths. The twins could be particularly bad, trying to feed each other but not always hitting the target.


Late Morning

With the post-breakfast round of toileting, wiping faces and brushing teeth completed Anjali and Julie got Bob, Dawn and the twins ready to go off for a morning at playschool. Normally Jai suggested which kids went so they were in different groups every time and all got their fair shares. Today however Fran got whiny and insisted on going with the twins. Anjali was happy to cope with one extra since she had Julie along to help so Fran was allowed to go as well.

Jane, Sam and Viv herded Alice, Charlie and Gireesh to the front door to wave Anjali, Julie and the others off for the morning. They would meet at Finches' for lunch.

Once they got back inside Sam asked his blonde mother, "Can you help me with my homework please mum Viv?"

She turned to Jane, "Will you be all right looking after the others for a bit Jane?"

Jane nodded, "OK, but don't be too long. Remember that Sam needs to do his sleep-training this morning."

"I'll keep an eye on the time," Viv replied. She smiled at Sam, "Sure Sam, I'd love to help you. I just need to put Helen down first. Do you want to come up with me?"

Sam grinned, "Thanks mum Viv. I won't keep you for too long." He paused, embarrassed, realising what he had said. "Erm ... that didn't come out quite the way I meant it to."

"That's all right Sam," Viv smiled, "I know what you meant to say." She reached out and ruffled his hair with a grin.

Sam stayed quiet, not wanting to put his foot in it even more, and followed her to the gravlift while smoothing his hair back down.

Jane watched them go. Her son was going to have sex with her sister concubine. Just 'homework' was always sex-ed homework, otherwise it would have been 'physics homework' or whatever. At thirteen Sam was not allowed full sex, but oral was certainly on the menu. It was strange to think that her little boy was growing up so fast. Back on Earth, before the Swarm, he would probably have waited until maybe fifteen or sixteen, but here in the colonies oral sex officially started at thirteen with full adulthood at fourteen. In less than a year he would be an adult and a sponsor. With his predicted CAP score of 6.5 to 6.8 he would have two concubines of his own. His homework now was part of his preparation for that responsibility. He had sometimes asked Jane to help him, which she had done gladly. By the time Sam had reached thirteen Jane had already helped a number of other thirteen year old boys, and girls, at school, at Sutlers and at Pathfinders so her inhibitions about oral sex with kids that age had long gone. She suspected that her nanites could have had something to do with it as well.

It seemed to her that Sam asked 'mum Viv' or 'mum Anjali' a little more often than he asked her. Perhaps he still remembered the time back on Earth when she had been his only mother. He had been eight when they were extracted so he probably had some memories of the time before they arrived on Waller. Julie had been six then so she likely didn't remember much of Earth; she would have more memories of Waller than of Earth.

Charlie and Gireesh had already started playing. Charlie was doing something with building bricks and a toy Marine which she didn't quite follow. Gireesh was trying to fit plastic shapes into the correct hole. Jane left them to it and took Alice into the kitchen to help with the final clean-up. In theory the pod nanites would clean everything overnight, but they couldn't always deal quickly enough with the larger lumps. Besides, even though they were having lunch out, Jane wanted the kitchen clean, ready for the children's tea. Jai could watch over the two boys for the moment; the AI made an excellent child monitor.

When they had finished cleaning Jane gave the young girl a hug and a kiss, "Thank you Alice, you were a big help."

"I love you mama Jane," Alice replied, giving her a quick kiss in return.

"And I love you too dear." Hand in hand they went back into the main room where the boys were still playing. Charlie had thrown the poor Marine away to one side for the moment. Gireesh managed to get the right shape into the right hole and was rewarded with a short burst of music, much to his enjoyment.

Shortly afterwards Viv and Sam came back down from the upper level. Sam quickly disappeared to start his sleep-training. Once he had gone, Viv said, "He's getting pretty good at his 'homework' these days. I think he'll have a couple of happy concubines after he gets tested."

Keith had kept Viv looking about twenty, the same as Anjali. Her hips were still as narrow as they had been when she was picked up. He had left Jane's hips wider; he said he liked the variety. As the senior concubine he kept Jane at a nominal twenty five to help indicate that she was in charge. In contrast to Jane's brown, Viv had blonde hair and Anjali had black of course. They joked that if Keith ever got a fourth concubine she would have to be a redhead in order to complete the set.

The effects of Viv's five children had all been erased by the nanites of course. Her breasts were still larger than usual because Helen was not yet weaned but that too would be corrected in its turn. Five, because the twins were hers; she had only had four pregnancies. Keith had got her pregnant on the voyage from Earth so her first, Alice, was born only eight months after they arrived on Waller.

The twenty year old Viv had been working in a coffee bar during the summer to make some money for her college biology course. Jane had been there with Julie and Sam, taking a break from shopping, when the grey interdiction field had come down and the extraction had started. Viv had stripped immediately. Jane had found it more difficult with both her kids there. She was worried that at six and eight they would be confused and upset at what their mother was going to have to do. She had done it though, and managed to go through with the test drive that Keith had insisted on. She had even completed a sixty-nine with Viv; Keith had wanted to check that his two prospective concubines were going to get on with each other.

Jane had managed to surprise Keith by asking to see the scores on his card. "If I'm going to commit myself and my kids to you then I need to know more about you than how well you fuck," she had explained.

Keith was initially on his back foot, but he did take a few seconds to think about it. "That's reasonable," he said and handed his card and reader to her.

A typical response from him, as she was to learn. He usually thought about things before reacting, and he could recognise and respect an effective argument. Looking at his card she learned his name, Keith Davidson, as well as seeing enough about his personality to agree to be his concubine. He wasn't perfect, but he looked like he would treat them all well.

In the event Jane's initial worries about her children's reaction were unfounded. Julie was more puzzled than upset while Sam was old enough to know some of what was going on and why. School had taught him about the arrival of the Swarm and the evacuation of part of Earth's population. Luckily for Jane, having two well behaved and obviously well looked-after kids had done a lot to sell her to Keith as a good mother for his own future children. As ever with Keith, he had thought about things in advance and wanted an experienced mother as one of his two picks. He was looking for someone who could supply the child-raising experience that Viv lacked.

Alice asked the blonde concubine, "Mama Viv, please can I go and play on the trampoline?"

After getting a nod from Jane, Viv agreed and got sun hats for the children. They all went out of the pod into the yard. It was sunny of course, this being the Dry season. It was usually cloudy in the Wet season, though not always raining, while Winter was variable but not as warm. Having only three seasons avoided arguments about whether the fourth season should be called 'autumn' or 'fall'. Overall Waller was warmer than Earth; Anjali said it felt only a bit cooler than Hyderabad though they were further from the planet's equator here.

Alice immediately ran to the trampoline and started playing, Gireesh went straight for the sandpit while Charlie decided to try football, kicking a ball into the small goal set up at the far end of the garden. Sam scorned it of course because it wasn't anywhere near full size, but it was big enough for the smaller kids. Gireesh spent his time building piles of sand and smashing them with great glee.

Waller was a desert planet; not dry, just without any plant life. The only native life was in the oceans and that was all single-celled bacteria. The only land species were those few shipped in from Earth. The Biology Station had imported some Earth grasses that would grow here so there was a small patch of lawn, but most of the yard was sand or child-friendly soft matting, such as around the trampoline. Jane felt that it could really do with some flowers to brighten it up. Maybe she could suggest they get some brought here from Earth. The bright artificial colours of the trampoline, the tent and the children's clothes somehow didn't compensate for the relative lack of natural colours. The planet-wide desert also meant dust storms. Jane had heard some tall stories from the old timers about what things were like before the force-field dome had been fully in place to protect the town during the dry season. These days dust storms weren't a problem, at least not inside the dome, and the grasses were being spread outside it to try to bind the sand and reduce the problem.

Gireesh decided he was tired of playing in the sandpit and joined Charlie. Charlie tried to show Gireesh how to kick the ball, though not with a great deal of success. Where the ball went, and how far, was anyone's guess. Gireesh was hugely amused and laughed happily whatever happened to the ball. He even laughed whenever his kick missed completely and the ball did nothing at all. Eventually Charlie decided that he would kick while Gireesh would throw. Even then he was not a lot better, but he laughed anyway. Shortly afterwards there was a burst of extra noise from the boys. Gireesh had managed to get the ball to trickle over the line into the goal. Both concubines showered him with suitable congratulations, not forgetting to praise Charlie for teaching him so well.

The native life had evolved photosynthesis, so Waller had gone through its own version of the Oxygen Catastrophe. However the planet still had less oxygen than Earth so living on Waller was like living up a mountain back home, with reduced oxygen in the atmosphere. Even the grasses the biologists were growing here were originally from the Andes or the Himalayas so they were adapted to the low oxygen levels. Everyone had special nanites to help them when they were outside. Inside the pods and other buildings there was extra oxygen mixed into the air-conditioning to make things closer to Earth normal. Reduced oxygen also meant less ozone so the township's force dome filtered the sunlight to keep out the excess ultra-violet. One legacy of the time before the dome was the shade provided over many of the walkways near the centre of town. Anyone working outside a dome still had to take precautions, just like in the early days.

"Mama Viv! Mama Jane! Look at me!" Alice was insistent that they admire her bouncing on the trampoline in her green dress. She couldn't much more than jump straight up and down yet but Viv and Jane dutifully applauded her anyway.

The pod itself occupied a lot more of the plot that it had initially. While in transit it had to fit onto the ship; after landing it was free to expand to about three times its original dimensions. Some of the earlier pods, nearer the centre of town, still had the external conservatories that were added to allow the inhabitants to sit in the sun while still being protected from excess ultra-violet light. Once the dome was in place they were no longer needed as, in effect, the entire town became one big conservatory.

Just then Jai said something to Viv through her collar, though Jane couldn't hear the exact words over the noise of the children playing. She looked over at Viv who told her, "Jai says Helen's awake. I'll go and bring her out."

All the concubines wore collars. They hadn't been available for the first few years, which had made it difficult to contact an AI when outside. The collars had appeared a few months before the Mount Olympus had arrived on its initial visit. They let everyone contact the AIs from anywhere in or near the town. Once they were old enough children got either wrist units or bluetooth-style earpieces so they could stay in contact as well. Viv soon emerged with Helen in a baby sling and she and Jane settled down under the sunshade to chat and watch the other three children playing.

Alice finished bouncing on the trampoline, went over to Viv and asked, "What can I do now mama Viv?"

"What about playing in the tent?" Viv replied. There was a small colourful play tent for the kids set up in the garden.

"No mama Viv. Dawn's not here and its better playing in the tent with her. Can I water the grass instead please?" Alice asked. Once given permission she rushed off to fill her small pink watering can, decorated with brightly coloured flowers, and carefully walked round the edge of the patch of grass, sprinkling water as far in as she could reach.

One of the colony's long term projects was to increase the oxygen content of the atmosphere. The grasses, the pods' own oxygen production and some of the work of the Biology Station were all geared towards that goal. Jane had sometimes been assigned to the algae tanks down by the seashore where the native equivalents of algae were encouraged to grow to produce extra oxygen and, as a by-product, to provide raw organic feed for the town's replicators. The tanks were positioned outside the Biology Station's dome so the algae could get the full impact of the native sunlight they were used to. Earth standard light would have seemed weak to them. That was one of the jobs where Jane had to wear protective clothing.

"Mummy Jane, I'm tired of this," Charlie said. "Can we go play in the park? They have slides and swings."

"Now then Charlie," Jane replied, "what's the special word if you want something?"

"Please can we go play in the park please mummy Jane?"

"That's much better Charlie," she praised him. "Let's see what the others want to do."

"Let me finish this first please, mama Jane," Alice said, "then we can go." Gireesh would go along with everyone else of course. While waiting for Alice to finish sprinkling her current can of water Jane checked with the AI, "Jai, how crowded is the park at the moment?"

"It is busy but not overcrowded," Jai replied. "The children will have to share with others on the apparatus."

That was pretty much what she had expected for mid-morning. It sounded like there would be some other mothers there for her and Viv to talk to as well as other children. "Jai, if we're not back before Sam finishes his sleep-training then let him know we're all at the park."

"Yes Jane."

Jane and Viv grabbed their own sun hats and everyone set off for the park.

On their way they passed Sergeant Stanescu's pod. Both Jane and Viv had fond memories of their times with the Sergeant. He and Keith had been in the same platoon for Marine training and they had risen through the ranks together as the Marines expanded. They had sometimes swapped concubines both as a friendly exchange and as part of Keith's genetic diversity plan; Stan, (his real name was Mugur but everyone called him Stan), was Fran's father. Jane remembered that on one deployment he had saved Keith's life during a Sa'arm counter-attack. By Marine tradition when they got back Keith had loaned her and Viv to the then Corporal Stanescu for a night as a thank you and as a reward. Both she and Viv had enjoyed their night with him. That had been before Anjali had joined them so there had only been the two of them in bed with the Corporal. They had both been happy to fuck him because Keith was a good sponsor. He could be fussy over small details but he was safe and reliable. He was able to channel his aggression exclusively into his role as a Marine and not let it affect domestic life in his pod. They were both very grateful indeed to Stan for saving Keith's life. Neither of them had wanted to lose a sponsor as good as Keith. He could be a bit dull sometimes, and picky about details, but overall he was a very good sponsor. There were certainly worse sponsors around.

Halfway to the playground Gireesh decided that he had walked enough for the moment and Jane had to carry him the rest of the way. "Oh what a big boy you are Gireesh," she told him. "Soon you'll be too big for me to carry and you'll have to walk everywhere." Gireesh just giggled.

Once they reached the park Charlie rushed off to join the other kids already playing there. Viv made sure that Alice would stay with Gireesh before letting the pair of them join in the fun, he was still too young to play here completely unsupervised.

Keith and his three concubines all agreed that it was important for the children to socialise outside their immediate family, so activities like playschool and trips to the park were important. Of course that meant that the family incurred an obligation to the colony for the communal services they were using. Keith was happy with that, indeed he considered it a good investment of his concubines' time as well as giving them something to do while he was away. That was why the three of them were available to be assigned for work to help the colony. The AIs kept track of each family's account. There were limits on how far ahead or behind you could be on your obligations. A simple system of currency was developing, 'obols', which could be used for exchange between families. The limits still applied of course, if you built up too many then the AIs would erase any excess and credit was very strictly limited.

When the Governor had first introduced the system, some of the sponsors had chosen not to join in. They only used the bare minimum of communal services and tended to keep their families in their pods all the time. It soon became apparent that the children in those isolated families were not doing as well as those in the more outgoing families who were joining in with the new system. There may have still been a few holdouts left, but if there were Jane wasn't aware of them. Sponsors wanted their dependent children to do well when CAP tested at fourteen and interacting with other children and adults from outside their immediate family was one of the ways to help get a better score. Everyone knew that humanity needed as many recruits as possible for the Marines and Navy if the Swarm were to be stopped.

Like a park on Earth there was some grass, but on Waller nobody was allowed to walk on it. Grass was too valuable for walking on; it was for looking at and for making oxygen. New arrivals often had to be reminded not to take grass too casually. Its rarity gave it a value here that it didn't have back on Earth. Being the Dry season it was not at its best, but at least it was something green. Outside the Dry season the dome would let rain through to help keep it growing well. In Dry season there wasn't any rain of course, just sand, so the dome kept it out. Jane hadn't drawn Park duty for some time, the AI seemed to use more of Anjali's time for that. Not a difficult job, mostly watering the grass, picking up rubbish and sweeping any excess sand away.

Jane saw Doina, Stan's ex-wife turned lead concubine, sitting watching her children play. She went to sit on the bench next to her, with Viv following. "Hi Doina," Jane asked, "how are you doing? You look pleased with life."

"Hello Jane, Viv. Pleased is right. Stan's back so I'm happy, a bit sore and bow-legged today," she laughed. "I've got the children here now because he's having his fun with Alina and Lorna. I claimed senior concubine's rights last night so they're getting their turn this morning."

"Stan's back?" Jane replied, "That means that Third Company's returned then?"

"Yes, Stan got back late last night," Doina told them. "Only a few casualties and none in Stan's squad thankfully. It's not easy having to help the Civil Service deal with the aftermath."

"Yes, I know," Jane agreed.

Keith had made Sergeant three months before Stan, an occasion for much friendly teasing between the two men. Being a Sergeant's senior concubine meant that, like Doina, Jane was occasionally drafted in by the Civil Service to help resettle families when any of Keith's squad had been killed. Nearly all the Marines had made provision for bequeathing their concubines and dependants to a comrade, which meant that those cases were usually not too difficult; the family already knew who their new sponsor would be and were able to stay together. Keith and Stan had made that arrangement reciprocal between themselves so if either was killed then the other would inherit. The difficulty came when both the old and intended new sponsor had been killed so there was a bereaved family left in the Civil Service pool and likely to be split up. It was even worse when a pair of reciprocal sponsors were both killed; that left two families in the pool. Jane had only had to deal with that once and it was definitely not something she wanted to repeat. It had been very distressing for all concerned including the Civil Service officer, Signifer Deussen. She had heard rumours from other colonies of whole Companies killed in action. That must have been an absolute nightmare for whoever had had to deal with the aftermath. Jane knew that she would be devastated if she had to be separated from Viv, Anjali or from any of the children.

Charlie had reached the top of the slide, easily visible in his red shirt, so she and Viv waved to him before he slid down to the bottom. He quickly ran round to join the short queue to wait for his next turn. Jane could see him talking to the other children waiting at the bottom of the slide. Charlie was always very outgoing and would happily talk to anyone. She checked that Alice and Gireesh were still together on the small roundabout. Gireesh wasn't big enough yet for the large roundabout which was why she had told Alice to help look after him.

Doina's collar spoke to her. Turning to them she explained, "Time to get back to Stan, he wants to see some more of the kids." She got up and gathered her family's children together.

They waved goodbye to her and her train of toddlers, watching them go. "I hope I'll be walking like that when Keith gets back," Viv said. "It's been too long since he left."

Jane agreed, "It'll be nice to have a man about the house again."

She felt it would be good for Sam as well. Both school and Pathfinders made an effort to provide male role models for the boys, but it was difficult for them with the great majority of concubines being women. Sam was doing his best for the younger boys but Jane felt he needed more male support for himself. Shortly after they had been extracted Sam had decided for himself to change his name from Sam Smith to Sam Davidson, taking Keith's surname. Jane thought his decision showed that Sam himself was aware that he needed to have a father as well as a mother. Even at age eight he had been able to recognise his need.

Helen started crying so Viv lifted her up for a sniff. "You need changing, don't you you stinky little thing," she said as she stood up. "Back in a couple of minutes," she told Jane and headed off to the baby changing room by the playground. The replicator in there could produce anything baby-related so it saved hauling round a lot of baby supplies all the time. There were similar facilities all over town, which was only sensible as one of the main tasks of humanity in the colonies was to out-breed the Sa'arm. Babies, and lots of them, were essential for humanity's future.

Looking over to check on Gireesh and Alice playing on the roundabout, Jane saw that Lawrence, one of the town's two Concubine Representatives, was doing the rounds. Jane waved at him to call him over.

"Hello Jane, what can I do for you today?" he asked.

"Hi Lawrence. Has anyone suggested that the Biology Station import some colourful flowering plants to help brighten up the place? They would help with the oxygen production thing as well."

"Well," he paused as if considering his words, "that idea has been brought up before. Most of the ornamental plants we were used to back on Earth need more oxygen to grow well than we have here. There's also the problem that there aren't any insects here to pollinate them. There's a low priority request for some self-propagating high-altitude flowering plants already in the queue, but the botanists tell me that they're mostly ground-huggers with very small flowers. Probably not what you were thinking of." He shrugged his shoulders apologetically.

"Oh well," she replied, "it was an idea." Changing the subject she asked, "How long before your current term ends? Is it you or Kate who finishes this year?"

The town had two Concubine Representatives, each elected for a two year term. Candidates had to be at least CAP 5.0, have their sponsor's permission and not have been a rep in the last two years. That last condition was to avoid creating a group of permanent politicians, they had to spend at least half their time as an ordinary concubine. The reps provided a conduit for advice and suggestions from concubines into the Civil Service and eventually to the Governor's Office. It was a way to allow concubines to have some small input into how they were governed. Jane had considered standing herself but decided it would take too much of her time away from the children.

"I still have eighteen months to go," Lawrence replied. "It's Kate that finishes in six months." He paused briefly, "There is one piece of news though. Apparently there's a colony called Ishtar that has pet rabbits available. Not quite as colourful as flowers but they are something. They will certainly be fun for the kids. We just need to ship some grass seeds to them in exchange."

"Oh yes," Jane smiled, "I'm sure that the kids would love to have a pet rabbit. That would be nice for them."

Viv re-emerged carrying a changed and smiling Helen as Lawrence left to continue his rounds.

"Viv," Jane said, "I'll go over and play with Gireesh for a bit to let Alice have some time playing on her own."

"OK Jane," Viv replied. "I'll sit here with Helen and keep an eye on her and Charlie."

They all stayed at the park until it was time for them to go back and get ready for lunch. They pulled the kids away from their play and headed back to the pod. As they walked Jane noticed a drone speeding along above the path. "What happened Jai?" she asked.

"A sponsor tripped on a child's roller skate and fell. She injured her head on the edge of the gravlift opening and is unconscious. The drone is delivering a medical transport pad to evacuate her." There were no fast vehicles in town, so any quick movement had to be done by transporters. The only civilian vehicles were slow freight carriers used to deliver stuff from large central replicators, things that were too big for a standard domestic replicator. The roundabouts in the playground had arrived like that Jane remembered. For an emergency like this, a fast drone would deliver a transporter on-site for a quick response. A medical transport pad was larger than standard, allowing a prone body on a stretcher to be transported without having to hold the patient upright. The medics would use the pad to transport in once the drone had delivered it, so they could give immediate assistance before moving the patient onto the pad and sending her back to a med-tube in the medical centre.

Like all concubines, Jane had been given sleep-training in First Aid combined with a practice session. The sleep-training was repeated at six monthly intervals with a practice session every year. It had often proved itself useful for the children's bumps and scrapes. Even with an unconscious sponsor it would have enabled her to be of some help, and to avoid mistakes, until the medics arrived. The medics of course had a much more thorough training. Like Viv they were specialists, permanently assigned to their jobs.

Charlie had noticed the drone as well, "Look mummies, a fast drone! Did you see it?" He almost tripped as he tried to walk backwards while still watching it until it disappeared around a corner.

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