Tom Armstrong made his way to a vacant table, sat down and surveyed the scene inside Sadie's. Low lighting, dark décor. The place wasn't too noisy -- the music was kept down to a reasonable level and nobody was shouting. It was almost a restaurant rather than a club, though there were more vertical drinkers clustered round the bar than you'd expect in a restaurant. All the men here were well-groomed and sharply dressed; as expected given the price of entry. If you could afford to get in, then you could afford good clothes as well. Almost everyone was a high earner, mostly relaxing after a day at work. That accounted for the good ratio of sponsors here. These men were all prosperous, working in good jobs, many with good CAP scores. Men. Then Tom noticed: a lot of men and no women. Where were the women?
Looking round, Tom noticed the dance floor, off in a corner. Shit! This was the wrong club. Well, it was the right club, as selected by the AIs, and no doubt had the high proportion of sponsors the computers had predicted. The problem was that the AIs hadn't registered all the relevant facts.
This forced a last minute change of plan. He used his internal AI link to contact his backup team, «Eve, we have a problem. I'll have to switch you out. Danny, we'll use you as my number two on the inside.»
«Yes, Corp. What's the problem?» Eve asked.
«You might not get past the doorman, Eve, and even if you did you'd be too obvious. Danny won't be. We don't want to make waves before we announce ourselves, so get back into your uniform. You can come in with the rest of the team.»
«Danny will stand out you know?»
«Not as much as you think. In a way he'll fit in better here than I do.»
«OK, Corp, you've got me intrigued. Danny's getting changed out of his uniform now.»
Tom could see Danny as soon as he came in. At full enhanced size he was head and shoulders above the others in the club. Tom noticed Danny pause just after he entered and a big grin settle on his face. As Tom had expected, Danny was far quicker to pick up what it was about this place. Danny went to the bar to get his drink, included in the entry price, and came over to Tom's table. "I can see why you made the switch, boss." He leaned forward and whispered, "Camouflage." Then he quickly kissed Tom on the cheek.
Tom managed to cover his shock. Privates did not kiss corporals, either on the cheek or on duty. Not male privates anyway. Still, Danny was right. This was a gay club, so two men kissing each other here was not a problem, and it did make for good camouflage by helping to distract from Danny's two metre height.
Danny continued with a grin, "I didn't know you visited this sort of club, boss. If I'd known earlier, I'd have made a move on you." Danny was gay, which was why Tom had switched him in for Eve. Despite his size, he fitted in well. He was even eyeing up some of the men on the dance floor, and they were doing the same back. He was giving off the right vibes for this place, which Tom wasn't. Camouflage again.
Sadie's being a gay cub wasn't a problem in itself -- sponsors were sponsors, whatever their sexuality -- but it did have an impact on how they were going to run the extraction. "I can only see one woman here," Tom pointed out.
"One?" Danny asked, looking surprised.
"Behind the bar. You must have noticed her. You were talking to her." There was an older woman, about forty and displaying an impressive cleavage, serving behind the bar.
"Sorry to disappoint you, boss. I got a close look at her while she was getting my drink, she's trans, not cis, so she doesn't count. She's Sadie and she owns the place."
"Hence the name I suppose. Very original."
"Got it in one, boss." Danny switched to their internal link; this part of the conversation was not to be overheard. «You can check with the AI, Corp, but I don't think there are any extractable women in here at all.»
«Damn, they'll have to pick women from the pool in the moon then.»
«Some of them won't be happy with that, » Danny observed. «We might need to twist a few arms. Still, they probably won't have as many kids for the backup teams to collect.»
The AI broke into their conversation, «Premises confirmed secure. No threats have been detected. Private Singleton is ready to proceed.»
«Go Kendrick, » Tom ordered, setting the extraction in motion.
The AI had already taken over the club's electronics, so the music died and the lights came on full. Two more full size Confederacy Marines, Kendrick and Jack, appeared through the door. Tom and Danny put on their armbands, palmed their stingers and stood up. The AI patched Tom through the club's PA system, "Gentlemen, I'm sorry to interrupt you. I am Corporal Tom Armstrong of the Confederacy Marines and this is an extraction."
Almost immediately, Sadie's voice came from behind the bar, cutting into the sudden silence, "Gentlemen? There are ladies here as well!" That got a ripple of laughter, and relaxed the atmosphere a bit.
Tom saw that Eve, the last of his team, had come in along with the doorman. She signalled that the outer hall was clear with nobody left outside.
"Can all the volunteers for Confederacy service move towards the bar please, and can the rest of you gather over round the dance floor."
Tom kept Eve and Danny with him to look after the volunteers, while he sent Kendrick and Jack off to set up the low CAP men ready for the sponsors to look over. Jack was in for a disappointment today; he usually enjoyed ogling the line-up of naked women awaiting selection.
Turning to the group of sponsors, Tom was thinking on his feet. This wouldn't be like any extraction he'd ever done before, so he was going to have to wing it. "OK, gentlemen, as you've probably worked out, this will be rather different from the usual pickups you've heard about." At least that got him some laughs. "You will all need at least one woman each to make babies with, and since there aren't any here, Sadie excepted of course, you'll have to pick one from our concubine pool in the Moon. Apart from your one compulsory female, you can pick who you want to go with you, male or female. Provided they're willing of course."
"What about husbands, boyfriends and kids?" one of them asked. "I already know I don't want any of the other guys from here."
"If the kids are under fourteen and legally yours we'll definitely pick them up if you want them, Conrad," Tom replied. The AI had supplied Tom with the man's name: Conrad Everett. "If your partner is with them, then he can come as well. We don't make special runs to pick up spouses or partners without kids."
Conrad had thought about this situation in advance. He and Neil couldn't stay together all the time, and they didn't have any children. There had been a good chance that he might get picked up without Neil, and here it was actually happening. "How many unattached gay men do you have on the Moon?" he countered. "You might need those special runs to extract some new concubines for us anyway. Why not go straight for the partners we already have, rather than grabbing some random strangers? Like I said, I don't fancy keeping any of the low CAP guys here for the long-term." That got a lot of nods from the others in the group.
Tom thought Conrad had made a good point. There weren't a lot of unselected gay male concubines in the Moon; being heterosexual was well up the list of criteria to get there. These days, with Cube Ships to fill and moonbases to hold any temporary overflow, the AIs were often more flexible about picking up extra bodies. With a quarter of a million people on a Cube Ship there was room for a few extras. If they were going to have to make some special runs anyway ... After an unusually long pause, the AI agreed, «Extraction of partners is specially authorised for this group. The reduced number of dependent children allows this to be done with the currently assigned resources.» Maybe it was trying to make up for missing the fact that Sadie's was a gay club. Did AIs feel guilty about their mistakes?
Guilty feelings or not, at least that simplified things and would help keep people happy. "OK, that was a good point, Conrad," Tom announced to the group. "The AI agrees. As a special concession, your partners will be picked up as long as you can tell us where they'll be. Same deal as for children." Tom could sense the relief from many of them, Conrad included.
Conrad, who was acting as spokesman for the group, came up with another question, "What is life like for gays in the Confederacy? How do we fit in?"
"I'm not the person to answer that, but I know someone who can." Tom turned to Danny and waved him forward.
"There are gays in the Confederacy," Danny began, "and I'm one..."
While Danny was talking, Tom helped Eve hand out card readers to those who wanted them. The AIs had been right on something, there were more sponsors here than you'd normally expect in a crowd this size. Forewarned, they'd brought extra readers with them. It turned out that a lot of the sponsors didn't want one. Tom just shrugged, they'd soon ask for one when they needed them.
Over with the group of potential concubines, Kendrick took charge. "Those of you who aren't eligible or don't want to go, move over to my left, that's your right, and sit quietly at one of the tables. If you want to try for selection, then stay where you are and get naked. Now. Just keep ahold of your CAP cards."
Standing to Kendrick's left, Jack saw Sadie moving to sit down with the stay behinds. "Damn. I really wanted to see those..."
.... There is more of this story ...