A story in the Swarm Cycle Universe
The Swarm Cycle Universe
The Swarm Cycle Universe is © 2007-2013 The Thinking Horndog
Note to readers: This story is a direct continuation of Pickup In a Hurry http://storiesonline.net/s/72967 It cannot be read separately!
Arrival on the ship was like observing an experiment designed to demonstrate chaos theory. At least that was how it seemed to James. The marines in charge of the circle jerk cum orientation eventually got the crowd to be quiet enough for them to have everyone sit. James told Zenobia to remain standing. He truly feared that if she got down that it would take a forklift truck to get her up again. The marines got everyone moving toward medical evaluations. The ship's AI agreed with him that Zenobia should have one of the first slots as her weight constituted a fairly severe health risk. Perhaps not so severe as heart trouble or anti seizure meds but still a weighty risk. Therefore they had allowed her to remain standing. James put Su Mi in charge of the group while he escorted Zenobia to the med center. The technician there had barely squeezed Zenobia into the med tube. When the lid was closed, he told James that it would be at least 24 hours before they had a good reading on what would be required to make Zenobia able to maintain a healthy weight.
James gave an order that, if it wouldn't endanger her health, she be shrunk by enough to enter and leave the med tube without the squeeze that had happened this time. The technician looked at the readout of the machine and repeated that the minimum time someone as grossly obese as Zenobia would require was 24 hours. He explained that the nanites could only work so fast in removing her excess body mass. He also explained that the main thing that would be done was to rebuild any of her joints and connective tissues while assigning nanites to balance her hormones as the issue seemed to be at least in part a matter of glandular imbalance. The remainder of the weight would have to come off as if she was losing weight naturally. Although she would probably require several short trips to the med tube to help keep her skin taut, any real sculpting of her body would have to wait until the fat came off. "Sir, with all due respect, the woman masses nearly 300 kilos. It's a wonder she's still able to move," the tech told him as a final shot. With that chore taken care of, James returned to his other concubines.
The marines or the AI (James wasn't sure which) assigned him a pod and he lead the rest of his concubines off to get better acquainted. The first comment out of Serena's mouth when they entered the living quarters was, "What an ugly place!"
Looking at his two youngest concubines, James asked, "Which one of you is responsible for your body art?"
"I did them," Serena said hesitantly.
"AI," James said to the air around him.
"Yes..." a disembodied voice answered, James thought almost hesitantly.
"With the proviso that I get final approval of the result," James said, "my concubine, Serena has permission to change the color of the walls and furnishings of this pod."
There was a slightly longer hesitation this time before the AI answered James. Finally it said, "Aspirant Parker, it shall be as you've ordered. My hesitation was because this ship is not used to new recruits being aware of the workings of its equipment."
"Confederacy ships have been picking up recruits for most of six years now and you think that every one that you pick up will still be in awe of you like you were some visitation of an angel? You better get over yourself. The fact is that more and more information is filtering back to Earth. That is why groups like whoever attacked your interdiction field today are getting to be more able to react in time to hurry you," James said. "I'm certainly no rube and I was watching that Starbucks for more than a month. I came to your party better prepared to hunt the hunters than you did. The first thing I started doing when I heard about the Sa'arm was consider whether or not to join the Army. I decided though that if I did, I'd probably not be able to emigrate. So I went with the next best choice. I signed up for classes at a local dojo. I also started to take hard science classes, even if it was only one at a time at the local community college. I intended to be able to emigrate if there was ever an opportunity. My first CAP test was 6.4, so I tried to find everything I could about the CAP test. I may not know exactly what made the difference in my scores over the years but I can make some guesses. I took responsibility for myself. I took direct action to improve my chances and finally I set out to learn everything I could about the Confederacy. I haunted your web site and tracked down any rumor about what happened after a pick up. I know this pod and the ship it is attached to are controlled by an AI. I'm not sure if they are discrete individuals or essentially the same individual when the Pod is connected to the ship. So basically I have a fair idea of what you are and what to expect from you. At this time all of my concubines have basic privileges. That is that you will answer their questions if they ask you and that unless an unsafe condition exists outside of the pod you will open the door and let them go in and out as they please. If there are restrictions on them being outside my pod without me accompanying them then of course that restrictions take precedence. For the present they are not allowed to bring any one into the pod without my permission. They may choose their own meals but I prefer that we eat together as much as possible.
"Is it reasonable to assume that you will remain my residence even when I arrive at my duty station?" James asked.
"Yes," the AI answered sounding a bit diffident.
"Then in the case that I am killed in action you will provide basic services to my concubines and notify the Civil Service Officer of the station of their status, unless I have recorded a will giving them to someone else. If the will is not operable, or a Civil Service Officer is not available you will provide basic service to my concubines until such time as a Civil Service Officer is available. The permission for my concubines to leave this pod becomes inoperable in case of my death, however, and you will not open to anyone except the Civil Service Officer if I'm not available or dead."
"That is most unusual," the AI said.
"I know my fellow men," James said shortly. "Indeed with that thought in mind, you will not open to anyone but me or my concubines until I otherwise order. The only exception shall be that you will open for the Civil Service Officer."
"I have to open to the ship's commander," the AI told James.
"Only in an emergency, otherwise wait for the Civil Service Officer," James ordered.
"Aspirant Parker," the pod AI intoned from its disembodied local somewhere in the walls of the unit, "the ship's captain, Major Spelling, wishes to see you as soon as you can get decent."
"Please highlight a path to the nearest shower. I assume it has a dispenser that can produce a uniform for me?" James asked. A lighted stripe showed up on the floor so he addressed the concubines saying, "Until I get things sorted out, Su Mi is in charge of the pod if I'm out. That may change but the worst way to get it to change is to argue with her or me about it."
James hesitated for a moment longer to see that everyone in the pod understood what he had told them. When he got a nod of acknowledgment from each of his concubines he headed off to the shower. He hoped that soon he would be able to have time to learn more about the people he had just coerced into slavery. In his mind he didn't hesitate to name what he had done, using the coming of the Sa'arm as a beater in order to drive people into his sphere of influence. The fact that the Confederacy had in essence conspired with him was of little moment. The fact remained that he could have stayed on Earth. But he had set out to avail himself of a pickup, where he would have the requirement to take other humans as slaves while he became a servant to the very forces that were reshaping humanity to their ends.
James showered quickly and found a plain gray uniform in a dispenser that the AI pointed him to when he had been blown dry in the shower chamber. "What branch does this uniform represent?" James asked as he struggled with the unfamiliar fastenings of the clothing.
"This is the uniform for an officer cadet who has not declared his branch. It is similar to the color of the Civil Service branch because you've essentially been assigned to them until you choose a service branch," the AI explained.
"Is there a sleeptrainer available in this pod?" James asked.
"Then as soon as I have the time available, please schedule a session for me that will give me at least a basic understanding of military courtesy and the service branches available to me."
The AI gave its assent and James headed back into the main room of the pod. "I suggest that you all shower and then work with the AI to make a model of what sorts of body modifications you would like. I may not agree with all of them but for the most part I want happy concubines. So I will take your preferences into consideration when I am making the final decision as to what modifications to have done," James told his concubines, who were still sitting in the main room looking more than a little lost.
"Aspirant Parker," the AI intoned, "if you would please follow the green line, it will take you to the captain's office."
James followed the line to what appeared to be another pod. This one though had a sign over the door that read: 'Asian Princess, Major Spelling commanding'.
The door opened with a soft whoosh as James approached. He could see a man with a bit of gray at his temples and a receding hairline seated behind a desk. "Come on in, Mr. Parker," the man James assumed was Major Spelling ordered when the door was completely open. The major waved James toward a chair that sat across the desk from him. As James seated himself, Major Spelling said, "I imagine that you're wondering why I called you here rather than let you go through the regular routine of being enhanced and choosing how you will remodel your concubines. To put it bluntly, I'm still arguing with the AI about keeping you on board and outward bound. Those knives and that gun you pulled out have the AI's all over the system in a tizzy. Personally, I think that someone who thinks like you is far too dangerous not to have on my side. So with that out of the way, here is the main other dilemma that we're facing: you were not among those we were intending to pick up. Frankly, the research colony where we're headed with this load of eggheads is not going to be comfortable with the level of aggression that you've already shown by bringing undetectable weapons to the little dance we called today.
"I need to be out of Earth orbit by the time your concubine is out of our sick bay. So, if you're not going with me, I hate that you have your property stuck in my med-tube.
"But that is not the worst thing you're facing. Right now, the way things are going, you have two choices being offered by the people in charge of extractions from Earth. You have not declared your service and you have no prior military experience, however AI's and the powers that be have slotted you as an officer candidate. But there is no officer training school in the entire human diaspora.
"Oh there are academies, but they are focused on training young people. Therefore everyone, especially the AIs, are afraid you won't fit. Thus, you are currently being assigned the duties of a Civil Service officer trainee, because that is the one service that it is assumed that you will learn on the job.
"I have to tell you that so far as I can tell, that is the most thankless job anyone has. I for one don't like the fact that you've been assigned it without you specifically volunteering for it."
The major paused as if to gather his thoughts. "Where was I?" he asked somewhat rhetorically. "Oh yes, your choices. You can come along with my ship which will be hauling a load of colonists out to someplace that they hope will be out of the way of the Sa'arm so that they can try to think up ways to communicate with the Sa'arm. Or you can transfer over to the Moon base and hope that they can find you transportation away from here before the Sa'arm overrun them.
"Just between you and me, I might take the chance that leaving Earth orbit will get you out of the way of the Sa'arm. Because if you go over to the moon base, they will always be trying to find you a place to be, but someone will always need you as his dogsbody ... So which do you want to do?" Major Spelling asked.
"Before I answer that sir, I will need a bit more information. Also if my weapons frighten you or the AIs, it would be a good idea for me to clear out my apartment," James said.
The major looked startled and asked, "Why do you say that?"
"My notes on materials, design, and conclusions about Confederacy technology and how to avoid it are on my computer," James explained.
The major's eyebrows attempted to take flight at James' statement. "I think that answers what is going to happen to you. Let me make some calls; but I would, if I were you, expect to move in the next few hours."
"What about my concubine, Zenobia?" James asked.
"Oh that's right, you rescued a beached whale. I'll see what sick bay has to say about her right now," Major Spelling told James. He got a faraway look for a few seconds and said, "The ship's AI says that in about 6 hours a minimal reinforcement of your concubine will have been accomplished. That means that they will have implanted and programed nanites as well as having begun to work on correcting the glandular problem that caused her to be so fat," Major Spelling explained. "They will be able to let her out of the med tube and the remainder of her returning to a healthy weight can happen over time just like it does with anyone else."
Major Spelling stared at James for a few moments before saying, "My god man, even with the technology we've borrowed from the Darjee, something like that woman is a stretch. Why did you pick her?"
"Simple sir, I looked around for someone who looked like she wanted to join the fun but who was afraid of being rejected, then I invited her to join. I think that, in the long run, she may become the best asset I gained in this whole trip."
"That's all I have for you now, Mister Parker, I suggest that you head back to your quarters and ask the AI there for a bluetooth link so that you can talk to it. Also, get some civilian clothes that you can use to go back to Earth so that you can clean out your apartment."
"I have clothes covered since I brought along what I was wearing. I just figured that it was more polite to wear something that I hadn't been wearing in a boiler room. Other than that I don't see any problem," James said.
Major Spelling looked like he was listening to a voice that no one else could hear for a few seconds. Then he got up and handed James what looked like a standard bluetooth headset for a cellular phone. "That," he said as he placed the device in James' hand, "may look like a bluetooth headset, but it will connect you to the nearest AI as well as acting as a cell phone if you absolutely need one. You need to get on your way to change and then meet a squad of marines in the transporter room."
"A squad of Marines would entirely give away the fact that there is something of interest in my place. I should go alone with a transporter pad and shove my stuff through to someone here," James said.
"I'd feel more comfortable if you had at least one marine as an escort," Major Spelling insisted.
"I would agree to one person if they were someone who hadn't taken the marine standard enhancement. But otherwise no, because a marine is identifiable by his or her size. I might say especially a woman who is two meters tall is unusual enough that most people will assume that she's a marine."
Major Spelling raised his hands in surrender and said, "The Office of Targeted Extraction is going to provide someone who will not stand out to help you with retrieving your goods. It looks like you've attracted the attention of someone who thinks they have a spot where they need you."
"I've never heard of the Office of Targeted Extraction. What do they do, and why would they be interested in me?"
"You need to get on your way Mister Parker, so I'll let their representative explain what they do."
"Yessir!" James snapped as he turned to leave.
" ... for someone who has no military experience, that fellow certainly has a lot of the attributes one would expect from a person with at least some time in service." James heard Major Spelling say.
James didn't pause to say anything to the major, though he did say to the bluetooth set, "If the major or anyone else is interested, they should review the dojo I was attending."
The AI that was supposed to be at the other end of the bluetooth set didn't answer in any way so James continued on his way to his quarters. He was on what he thought should be the last turn when he was joined by a short, slender, black woman who was hurrying in the same direction. When she caught up with him the woman said, "Mister Parker, I'm Signifer McGreggor, and I've been assigned to make sure you get everything that pertains to your theories about Confederacy technology from your apartment."
"I'll need a moment after I get back to my pod," James said as he turned to face the woman.
"Yeah I know," the tiny woman said, "I don't know why but the AI is in a snit with you and didn't tell you that you're actually past your door," Signifer McGreggor told James.
"Well then since you seem to know where I need to go, lead on, Signifer McGreggor," James said, bowing slightly.
"You're certainly more charming in person than predicted," Signifer McGreggor said with a grin.
Signifer McGreggor took a moment to point out the various landmarks (or in this case street signs) that would point James back to his pod. When she was certain that he had learned them, she lead the way back to his pod. "How much stuff do you think you have to get?"
"I'd estimate that it's about three hundred pounds, give or take fifty. I've got a couple of filing cabinets, and a lappy and a tower that both have files that shouldn't fall into the hands of Earth First. I'd like to take my cat of course but that's not a deal breaker in the end, because I collected a bunch more pets that I don't even know very much about when I got picked up."
"That's an odd way to describe concubines," Signifer McGreggor said as we entered my quarters.
"Think about it, Signifer," I said, "would it be better to describe them as slaves?"
"No it isn't," she said, "I think that humanity is going to reap a whirlwind of consequences from this that may be worse than having faced the Sa'arm without Confederacy help."