"Is anything the matter, sweetheart?" I asked cautiously. I had known Marjorie long enough to realize something was bothering her when she started prattling about nothing in particular. She had been doing nothing but talk ever since we sat down for drinks at this restaurant/bar she wanted to try. Before we arrived, she had been unusually quiet. I knew something was bothering her, but I didn't know what.
"No, nothing's the matter at all," she responded.
"Hmph! Why don't you go ahead and tell him and get it over with?" said the waitress as she placed our second round on the table. Sarah was the name of our cocktail waitress if her nametag was accurate. She had started out the evening with a cheery disposition. She wasn't so cheery now.
"Excuse me," Marjorie hissed. "We're having a private conversation."
Sarah ignored my girlfriend and continued. "I've seen it countless times since I started waiting tables. Of course it has been happening a lot more since we were all told those lizard men were on their way."
The "lizard men" Sarah was referring to were the Sa'arm, a race of sentient beings from another part of the galaxy. They descended on a planet like locusts and killed and consumed everything in their path, leaving the planet totally lifeless. It was not unlike what Humanity had been in the process of doing to planet Earth except the Sa'arm were much quicker and much more proficient at it. Earth had been warned about them by the Darjee, another race that belonged to an interstellar league called the Confederacy. Earth just happened to be in the path of what the mass media started calling the Swarm. They were about nine years away at the time of the first warning. They appeared to be unstoppable.
The Darjee did not warn us out of the goodness of their hearts. They had an ulterior motive. The Confederacy practiced a radical form of non-violence to such an extent that they would not defend themselves even if it meant their ultimate demise. Since the Confederacy was also in the path of the Swarm, they decided to get someone to defend their interests. They looked for a suitably aggressive race and found us. They sought volunteers to fight the coming menace. In exchange for volunteering the man or woman would be relocated to a colony world out of the immediate path of the Swarm.
The Darjee wouldn't just take anyone as a volunteer. The candidate had to take a CAP test which measured capacity, aptitude and potential. Scoring was on a ten-point scale. A 6.5 was the minimum score required for volunteers who were at least 14 years of age. Those scoring below 6.5 could still go if they were sponsored by a volunteer, but only as a concubine. Concubines were for all intents and purposes slaves. They would be used for sex, breeding babies and raising children. Children under 14 years of age were treated as sponsors in training until the all-important CAP test on his or her 14th birthday. National laws no longer applied to someone the moment they volunteered to become a sponsor or concubine. The sponsor literally had the power of life and death over his or her concubines.
Despite the risks to both volunteer and concubine there did not seem to be any shortage of volunteers or concubine wannabes. No one wanted to become Swarm chowder. CAP tests eventually became mandatory in many countries. Confederacy Marines would show up at a public venue and throw up some kind of barrier around the perimeter. Then they would call up the volunteers/sponsors. Those that wanted to become concubines auditioned for the sponsors. Even spouses of volunteers weren't immune from the need to audition if they did not have that magic 6.5 CAP score. Sponsors could take between two and eight concubines plus dependents depending on their scores. The auditions usually became public sex orgies.
Not everyone who had a qualifying CAP score wanted to volunteer. Some wanted to stay and defend Earth from the invaders. Some wondered aloud why the Confederacy was not interested in defending our planet. Their answer was that Earth was not a member of the Confederacy. Why could Earth not be a member of the Confederacy? The answer was because of Humanity's violent nature. Earth First was the most radical of the "defend Earth" faction. They despised the Confederacy and the volunteers whom they labeled traitors. They liked nothing better than to break up an extraction and had no problem using deadly violence. I was sympathetic with those that wanted to fight the Swarm on Earth, but not enough to support Earth First or refuse to be extracted if the opportunity ever presented itself. I mean I am an accountant. I played board and video games for relaxation. I studied history as a hobby. I was not exactly the warrior type.
"I'm about to go to the manager and have you fired," Marjorie threatened, interrupting my wool-gathering.
"What the heck are you talking about, Miss?" I guess I'm dense but women have always been a mystery to me.
"Shut the hell up, bitch!" Marjorie yelled.
"You still haven't figured it out?" Sarah looked disgusted with me. "She's going to dump you tonight, probably for Lenny sitting over there at the near end of the bar. They've been making eye contact with each other ever since you got here. He's probably told her he's sponsor level and has promised to take her with him if there's a pick-up. By the way, he's not sponsor level. Besides that, he's a player." It took an effort but I resisted the temptation to look toward the near end of the bar.
"You don't know what you're talking about. For your information, I already know Lenny isn't sponsor level. He's a 6.4." It took a few seconds for Marjorie to realize she'd been goaded into revealing her agenda. She had the grace to blush.
"I'll have another, Sarah. Make it a double please." I was going to ask Marjorie if she wanted anything else but Sarah was already walking away.
"Honestly, if you give that slut more than two cents for the tip I'll never speak to you again."
"I'll remember that," I responded. "Um ... so I guess you are breaking up with me?" Marjorie nodded.
"Peter," my soon to be ex-girlfriend said. "You should know you're the nicest guy a girl would ever want to meet."
"Am I that boring?"
She just smiled. "In normal times you wouldn't be, but these aren't normal times, are they?"
"You mean the Swarm?"
"That's exactly what I mean. I mean we seem to be carrying on as if everything is going to work itself out. But what if it doesn't? Those creatures will be here before we know it and then what? Well, I want to live it up. I want live my life to the fullest until they do and then if one of them comes to eat me I can spit in his eye and say to him, 'I hope you choke on it, Gruesome'. That's the way Lenny makes me feel whenever I'm with him. I don't care that he's a 6.4. I wouldn't care if he was a 2.4. If someone came up to me and showed me his 9.4 CAP card and said, "I want you come with me to safety but you'll have to leave Lenny behind", I'd say thanks but no thanks. I'm staying on Earth with Lenny."
"Well, this Lenny must be quite a guy." I was no Mr. Charisma, but I was willing to bet he couldn't protect Marjorie from the Swarm any better than I could.
"Actually he's a self-centered jerk. I just can't help the way he makes me feel." Marjorie's declaration made me smile. I knew a couple of guys like Lenny. No matter how badly a guy like that treated a woman, she'd always come back for more. Sarah returned with my drink and I thanked her.
"It's on the house," she said and left the table, again ignoring Marjorie. I found I did not mind. At least someone was on my side.
"Well, I wish I could live it up myself but unfortunately, I still have to make a living however bleak Earth's future may be." What did Marjorie expect me to do, drop everything else and cater to her?
"Who knows," said Marjorie. "The Swarm might be impressed with your accounting methods and want to hire you, or one of your online gaming friends might actually be one of these creatures and he'd want to keep you around for more gaming." She was in her sarcastic mode now, but I tried not to rise to the bait.
"I can only hope." Gallows humor seemed to hold sway these days no matter where in the world you were. I could also hope that Marjorie got her comeuppance some day.
"I'll be leaving with Lenny. I asked him to be here because I wasn't sure how you were going to react."
"I'm not the violent type. You know that." I kind of wish I were violent. I would have bitch-slapped that smirk off her face.
"I do know that but I wouldn't have blamed you if you just got up and left me sitting here without a ride home." I could not help thinking that Marjorie would have deserved it if I had done exactly that.
"I'd like to think I have a little more class than that." And it's ten times more class than you have I thought. "I hope you and Lenny are very happy together."
"Thanks Peter. I'll be standing by Lenny's side for as long as he wants me." I didn't see any point in prolonging the agony for either of us. Sarah had yet to bring the check. I'd flag her down at the bar.
Just as I grabbed my coat, a gray curtain seemed to drop from nowhere, cutting off all sight and sound from the street just outside the building's windows. There were some short screams from the women, including Marjorie, and some shouts from the men. Then this big guy in a uniform announced he was a Confederacy Marine and that this was an extraction.
.... There is more of this story ...