Chapter 1: Driving
Me? I'm Carlos Higuera and I drive a bus. That's what I'm doing now, working my way north towards the Oregon border. We've got some people to pick up in the small towns around here. That's good, the roads here are smaller, but they ain't so busy. It gets real boring stuck in a crawl on the freeways near SF or LA. Not so boring driving here, back from the coast. Get to see a lot of nice country too. We get a lot of people from these small towns on the bus. Good folks, always polite. Their kids can be kinda noisy though. Got three of my own, so I know. Lupe, she's sixteen and the oldest. Alvaro is eleven with twelve-year-old Rosamaria in the middle.
"Turn left at the next intersection."
Yeah, yeah, I know. I can read the sign you damned stupid machine. I don't mind it playing my music for me, but when it tells me stuff I can see for myself it gets me. Looks just like a music player, but it's got sat-nav and a bunch of other stuff as well. Slips into my pocket just fine. Don't have no maker's name on it either; Lupe wanted to know if I could get her one in pink. Pink! Why do girls always want stuff in pink? Beats me. Pink don't go with Lupe's skin neither, and she's showing a lot of skin these days. Gets a father to thinking things a father shouldn't be thinking, not about his daughter anyhow. Maria ain't complaining though. She's my wife, Maria, and she gets the benefit when I get to thinking about that stuff I shouldn't. We ain't so young any more, but we ain't so old either.
"Pull up by the supermarket entrance."
Again the dumb machine comes out with stuff I know. There's five people standing there waiting: a man, two women and two kids. Kids look about nine or ten -- just a bit younger than Alvaro. Usual kinda bunch we pick up in these small towns. Never less than three, mostly more.
I pull up the bus right by them. I like to get the door just by where they're standing so they don't have to walk none. Right on the button, as usual. Me? I'm good. I may only be a bus driver, but a man's gotta have pride in what he does. Gotta keep your self-respect. That's important.
Leona gets up to check them. She's dressed up like a tour guide -- white blouse, blue jacket, blue skirt. Well, she is the tour guide, sorta. She's got the list, checks off the five new people and gets them on the bus. Hand luggage only. That's a good thing about these trips: hand luggage only. Means I don't hav'ta get out and open up the passenger luggage bay for them at every stop. Saves hassle. Leona settles the five of them in and gets back to her seat.
Sometimes we get extras. There's always a few spare seats on the bus so Leona can fit them in. A couple of times we had to put a few of the younger kids on their mothers' laps for the last part of the journey to free up some seats. Standing in the aisle ain't allowed. Not on my bus. Between me and Leona we get it sorted out. She's this small hot-looking black lady, but she can get real fierce when she wants to. She don't take no shit when she's in that sort of mood. You sit where she tells you to sit, yes ma'am.
This bunch is no trouble. They get sat down quick and we're off again. The machine is still telling me stuff. Most of the time I ignore it. Gets useful in some of the larger towns I ain't so familiar with, but these small towns are no trouble. Not enough streets to get lost in.
I've driven buses for years, working for a company in Reno. It was a family firm, owned by the son of the guy who started it. The grandson, Junior Jr. we called him, drove a bus as well. Small business, but good to work for. Junior Sykes didn't pay top rate, but he'd let you have time off when you needed it, like when one of the kids got sick. And you'd still have a job waiting when you got back. Some of the other companies, they made you clock off every time you had to go pee. They paid more, but they wanted your soul. I didn't need that, so I passed on the extra money.
We don't spend a lot and Maria brings in some extra with her cleaning jobs. Lupe's a good kid and she helps her mama after school some days, so she does her bit as well. We ain't rich, but we do all right.
One day us drivers turned up for work and there was no sign of Junior, or his wife -- she helped out in the office -- or his son. Junior hadn't left any word that he'd be off, so we were all puzzled. We already had the schedule for the day, so we just carried on. Had to call in one of the standby drivers to replace Junior Jr. on his route, but that wasn't a big problem.
When we got back at the end of the day, there were these new people in the office waving a load of paper, all legal stuff with Junior's signature on it. Junior and his family had all been extracted by the Confederacy! We were now owned by some company called Orevoa Holdings. Never heard of them before. We were all expecting the worst from them, but they ain't bad. Not the personal touch that Junior had, but they could've been a lot worse. They did get rid of a few people; Junior had already given them warnings and Orevoa gave them their pink slips right off. They brought in replacements to fill the gaps, so we didn't get landed with extra work. That suited me fine. I enjoy my work, but I want to do other stuff as well. I got a family to raise and a man needs time to do that if he's gonna do it right.
Some of the older guys went too, like my good friend Charlie. I missed him, he was fun to have around so long as you didn't talk about the Confederacy. He was over fifty-five, so they paid up his pension as if he was sixty and let him retire early. I said before, they treat us OK; good people to work for. Charlie and his wife moved to some place in California so he could get away from the Confederacy. He liked that 'Confederacy Free State' thing they have.
It's small roads to where the next set of passengers are waiting, so I keep on with the driving. We're up near Shasta here, so we need a good driver. I have reliefs, but they ain't as good as me. I let them do the bigger roads and freeways, while I get my rest. The small roads I do. Big bus on a small road needs a good driver.
Today's relief is Ethan, he's this big black guy. Ordinary big, not big big. I figure he's six-one. Not like one of those Confederacy Marines. They're six-seven and in a different league. I saw one once by a CAP testing place in Reno. Big big, like I said. Ethan is sitting front nearside, next to Leona. He has the window while she has the aisle. Figures. She's getting up at each stop while he's not moving until we switch drivers.
The other relief is Mike. He fills in when Ethan is off doing something else. He's five-nine, only a couple of inches taller than I am. Thing about Mike is that he's about five-nine wide as well as tall. Call him square; he does. He has to turn sideways to go through doors. Looks real solid.
Leona, Ethan and Mike joined after Junior got himself extracted. They're new crew, not old crew. I was old crew for a time, I just did the stuff I'd been doing before, like when Junior was running things. Tours around Reno; runs to the airport; trips around the desert. Lotsa sand in the desert -- I've seen it. Lotsa times. Probably OK when you see it for the first time, the tourists seem to like it anyway. They keep paying for it, so I'll keep driving 'em.
Along with the new crew, they got in some fancy new buses. New routes as well. At first it was only the new crew that got the new routes and the new buses, not us old crew. That had me worried for a while. Then they started putting some of us old crew on the new routes, sharing with the new crew. Not all of us, just some of us. Not all the time either, the guys still got some of the old routes as well as the new ones. It was a good sign though. Us old timers weren't all being shunted off into a corner with a pink slip as the next stop.
The new boss, a guy called Perry Davis, called me in one day, "Carlos, do you want to train on the new buses and start working the new routes?"
Hell yes I did! "Yes, Mr. Davis. I'd like that." The new management was more formal than Junior ever had been. Junior had always been 'Junior', never 'Mr. Sykes', but the new guys are different. I'm fine with that. They're paying the wages so I'll call them 'Mister' if they want me to. So he tells me...
What the... "¡Idiota! ¡Tu padre folla los cerdos y tu madre es una puta!"
Who does that dumbass think he is? There are two lanes on this road and I get to use this one! You get out of my fucking lane, asshole! You're going the other way so you keep to your side of the damned road. That guy could do with my stupid sat-nav -- he needs it to tell him which side of the road to drive on. Moron.
Even with that dumb sat-nav, I like these new buses. They can do a lot of things that don't seem obvious at first. They use a lot less diesel, plenty of acceleration and the power steering is real good. Nice and smooth.
I do need the sat-nav for the next pickup. It isn't in a town at all, just where some dirt track joins the road so there ain't no signs to follow. Looks like there are some cabins up behind the trees and three families waiting by the side of the road. Leona checks them all off on her list, gets them settled and we're moving again. Leona's good. She lets people know what to do and they do it. Keeps everything smooth and easy.
Sometimes there's trouble. Once this guy turned up with a .45 in a shoulder holster under his jacket. I didn't see it, but Leona did. Either that or the bus did; these new buses can do a lot of stuff that ain't obvious. The bus told me through my sat-nav earpiece, so I turned around to watch. Mike was on as relief driver that trip. Boy can he move fast, como un rayo. He had the guy with the gun pinned down so quick you could hardly see it. Leona took the gun out of his holster and told the guy to sit down and shut up.
"That's mine," he whined. "I got a right to carry it."
"Not on this bus you don't," she told him. "You sit yourself down quietly or we'll dump you right off." She meant it too, and he could see she meant it. She's real good at getting her message across loud and clear. The guy grumbled a bit, but he sat down. Couldn't really do anything else. He could see she'd have carried through and put him off the bus. I wasn't so sure she'd have told me to stop the bus before she did it, she was that mad. His piece disappeared somewhere and I never saw it again.
Only a couple more groups to pick up this trip. Both in towns, so I don't need the moron machine directing me. It does anyway. I ignore it, I know my way you dumb computer.
After the last pickup we get to the bigger roads close to I-5, so I pull over and let Ethan drive. These new buses have great seats for the passengers. Really comfortable. Easy to sleep in, they sort of shape themselves to you. The driver's chair doesn't do that. Don't want the driver falling asleep on the job. No sir, not a good idea at all. I just doze next to Leona while Ethan takes us up the Interstate to the Oregon border.
"Can you all please pick up any trash you have. We'll soon be coming through the bus to collect it so we leave things clean for the next set of passengers."
That's Leona, standing by Ethan and talking to the people. She must have a small mike on her somewhere, because the bus is playing what she says through its speakers, so they can all hear her.
She gives me a plastic sack and the two of us go down the bus collecting trash. At the back I throw it in the recycler. The kitchen is back there with a small replicator for drinks or snacks and the recycler. After I finish, I stay at the back to keep an eye on things.
Leona is up at the front making another announcement, "We have now crossed out of California into Oregon," she told them. "That means that we are no longer subject to the Confederacy interdict on California and we can shortly begin extracting you."
It can be, ahmm... , entertaining at this stage if some of the women strip. I can't see much from behind, with the seat backs in the way. Of course, once they stand up out of their seats...
Leona, as always, tries to spoil my fun. "There is no need to disrobe now, but if you do, then please keep all your clothes with you. We don't want to leave any mess in the bus." No ma'am. Nobody wants to leave any mess in the bus, not when Leona tells you not to.
"I will call you forward in your family groups," she continues. "Please stay seated until I call your group. When I call your group, collect all your luggage, together with any discarded clothing, and move towards the front of the bus. There is a transporter here. Once I have confirmed consents, you should walk forward onto the transporter pad and keep walking forward. There are more people coming through behind you, so you need to keep moving forward on the other side. You can carry young children if you need to. Once you are through the transporter, stay together in your groups and follow all orders from anyone in a uniform."
My job is to keep people sitting down until Leona calls them, and to help with luggage and stuff. I can get a case down from the rack while mama holds her baby.
Leona gets the first group moving. She always starts with one of the small families: sponsor, two concubines and not too many kids. That lets her repeat the explanation for all those nearby and lets them see the procedure. That's why I have to keep the aisle clear, so everyone can see what's happening and let them know what to expect. She makes sure there's always a small group sitting at the front every trip. She's well organized. Everything runs smoothly with Leona. If it doesn't, then she frowns at it and it gets right back into line.
There's a transporter pad set in the aisle floor, up near the driver's seat. Leona does the consent thing with the first group, "Do you, Mr. Sponsor, accept Ms. Concubine as your concubine?" Ain't never seen anyone rejected, though I suppose it could happen. All the groups we get on the bus are pre-packs, so they've all gotten to know each other already. They've all been checked out in advance as well. Don't want no Earth First people fucking things up for everyone else. No fucking on this bus; Leona wouldn't allow it anyway. Some couples try for blowjobs, but she tells them to stop. Likes to keep things calm and clear does Leona.
Once the first few groups are through, everyone can see what's coming and it all goes smoothly. Most sponsors aren't stupid and they all want to get this done quickly and easily. CAP testing seems to weed out the worst of the assholes. Not all of them, but there aren't as many assholes on these trips as on the normal tourist trips. 'No sir, I can't make that other family move, just because your kid wants a window seat.' You arrived late, you stupid bastard, so you get what's left. Some days I really hate assholes.
The Confederacy doesn't extract from California, but it never promised not to run buses through there. That's what the new buses and the new routes are all about. All the special things that the new buses can do have to be Confederacy tech. They've never exactly said so, but I'm sure that Orevoa Holdings are just a front for Confederacy work on Earth. Stuff they don't want "Confederacy" stamped all over too obviously. No fingerprints. What's that phrase? Yeah, 'plausible deniability'.
That reminds me, I never did finish telling about me getting to drive the new buses. That boy racer interrupted me: big car, tiny pito. Mr. Davis wanted me to turn up for an interview and he wanted Maria to come along as well, which I hadn't expected. She can't drive a bus so why did he want to see her? I told him she was working, so he paid her for the day. They're good people with the money, they made sure we didn't lose out. I was puzzled why he wanted her along as well, but he wasn't saying. He was paying and I wanted to get on the new crew, so we went along with it.
We turned up at this place in town. Not the bus depot, one of those office buildings with half-a-dozen company names outside. Sure enough, 'Orevoa Holdings' is one of them. Me and Maria go in and talk to some guy. Strange thing is that I can't remember half of it. Bits of it I can remember, but the rest is real fuzzy. Somewhere in there I got this run-down on the new buses as well. I can't remember that part at all -- I think I slept right through it. It seemed to have sunk in though, despite me being asleep.
Like I said, I remembered some of it, and so did Maria. I could talk to her about what happened, but as soon as I started talking to other people about it, I got to feeling real sick to my stomach. Maria told me the same thing. She could tell her friends that I was driving the new buses at work, but that was all. She couldn't say anything about the important stuff. Even though it involved Lupe, we couldn't tell her either. I keep meaning to talk to Mr. Davis about that, to see if we can let her know.
The big secret? They're going to extract us! For definite. Don't know when, don't know where -- they didn't tell us. But they promised us that the Confederacy will extract me and Maria, along with Alvaro and Rosamaria. Neither Maria nor me have the CAP score, so they'll find a sponsor for all four of us. That means we'll stay together as a family. That's gonna be hard, seeing another man with my Maria. Real hard. OK, I'll probably get to fuck his other concubines, but that's only going to make it worse for her. We've talked about it a lot. Then we look at the kids. This isn't about us, it's about them. If we have to do it, then we have to do it. Sometimes we've had to do stuff we didn't want to do, for the sake of the kids. Guess we'll have to do it again. Still gonna be hard though.
They also promised a place for Lupe. I know she's been looking for a sponsor to take her. I even think I know who it might be -- her best friend, Carlita. But that's no good if she isn't with Carlita when the exclusion field goes up. If Lupe hasn't been picked up before we go, then she comes as well. They didn't say they'd keep her with us, so she'll probably be with different sponsor. That's OK. I really don't want my sponsor to tell me, 'Now you fuck your daughter.' I think about it, who wouldn't with the amount of skin she shows, but thinking isn't doing. It's Maria who gets the benefit, and only Maria. Mind you, Lupe's tetas remind me of what Maria's used to look like back when we got married. Maybe if I talk nice to my new sponsor, he'll let her have them like that again. Now there's something to think about.
I'm sure that other guys working the new routes got the same offer I did. We don't talk about it, but it's there. Before, there was always the fantasy about which celeb was going to select you at a pickup. The guys don't talk about that any more. That was a fantasy, these days it's real. We're guaranteed to go.
All these new routes I drive have been for pickups, like this one. As soon as we cross the border out of California, Leona puts them through the transporter.
She sees off the last of this bunch of passengers and we finish clearing the trash. The bus seems to know where stuff is hiding, so it points me to a couple of candy wrappers that kids had stuffed down between the seats. There isn't a lot of extra trash because the bus cleans itself overnight. Things like muddy footprints just disappear. It's the bigger pieces it wants me to handle. I remember something about 'nanites' from my training, but it's fuzzy.
Ethan's still driving, so I settle back down next to Leona and let him take us to Medford airport. We get there almost an hour before the flight from LA is due, so I get out and walk around for a bit. You spend too much time sitting down on this job, so I like to walk when I can. Keeps things moving.
The walk lets me remind myself of what's painted on the side of the bus this time. These new buses can change their paintwork, so they look different most trips. They're always changing the name on the bus as well. It's never Orevoa or anything like that, probably security or something. There are some Earth First terrorist types around in California, and in Nevada too, so there's no point in advertising who the bus belongs to. It only gets changed at the depot in Reno, but it's different every trip. I said it before, these new buses can do a lot of stuff that ain't obvious.
The flight is only ten minutes late and Leona is ready waiting by the bus as the people start coming out of arrivals. Only three groups for us on this flight, though one has slipped in an extra concubine and her two kids. She doesn't have a sponsor, but they'll find her one up on the moon. A bit like me and Maria really. She's taking a leap in the dark, hoping for a good sponsor to take her and her kids. Leona lets her on the bus, so her CAP scores can't be all that bad. Her two kids seem well looked after so she probably has good motherhood scores. She should do OK, the Confederacy wants good mothers. Maria's got a good score there as well so I'm hoping that will help us when our turn comes.
These new buses have tinted windows, so people can't see in when we send our passengers through the transporters. Knowing what they can do, I wouldn't be surprised if the tinting gets a bit darker when the transporters are actually being used. Lots of Confederacy technology built into these things. Mostly computer controlled I think. There's a lot more than that dumb sat-nav on board.
I've been booked into some place for the night, but I ate there once before and the food is tasteless muck. I know a good Mexican place in Medford, so we go there to eat. You know all those stories about papa's friend's wife's nephew Pedro who's opened this little Mexican Cantina? Yeah, I get those. Problem is, Pedro is a lousy cook. He's a genuine Mexican all right, but that don't make him a good cook. I tried a few places around here and I know some good ones. Leona and Ethan, they don't much like the really hot stuff. Mike loves it though, when he's with us. He's a Brit, (accent and all), and blames too many curries back in England before he was extracted.
After we've eaten I take the bus on to the motel. Leona and Ethan transport out to wherever they go at night. I don't think it's on the moon, they sometimes talk about 'on board' as if it's a spaceship. Leona's an Ensign, which sounds like Navy, so maybe they're on some ship in orbit. They'll transport back down tomorrow morning. I just get to stay in the motel.
Girls? Yes, they're available, if you want to pay. I don't, not since I got married. Maria would have my cojones for earrings if I did. Before I married her? Well ... I wasn't married then, was I. Didn't always have to pay for it either.
In the morning Leona has her passenger lists ready for the day, while me and Ethan look at the planned route. First stop is the airport again to meet a couple of flights. Fast from there down to Sacramento, then collecting people out to the Nevada border and finish in Reno. Ethan will take us to Sacramento and I'll do the rest.
At the airport, the first flight, from LA, is twenty minutes late, but the SF flight is on time so we're able to keep to schedule. We transport all the people off the bus before we hit the California border. No extractions allowed from inside California. The airport jobs don't make as much mess in the bus; people aren't on board long enough to make a mess before we send them through. I just rest until Sacramento, when I take over from Ethan and suffer with the moron machine telling me what I already know. We're close enough to Reno that I've driven some of these roads in the old buses, back when Junior still ran things.
The pick ups all go smoothly. These people know this bus is something to do with the Confederacy, so they're all ready to follow orders. They don't know they'll actually be going straight from the bus to the moon. We tell them that we'll be taking them to some place outside California where we can extract them. Well we are, but not the way they're expecting.
Only one extra this time. Some kid had just passed his fourteenth birthday. He hadn't been tested -- no CAP testing in California -- but we take him anyway. He'll get tested on the moon. His mother was the sponsor for that group. Leona took the time to reassure her that she'd be able to keep him if he didn't make 6.5. A 'supernumerary' she called it.
That got me to thinking. I'd assumed that me and Maria would be with a man as sponsor. What about a woman sponsor? Not near as many of them as men, but there are some; Lupe's friend Carlita for one. That might make things easier for us. Easier for me, for sure. I don't know what Maria would think about going with a woman, I haven't talked about it with her. Not the thing to ask your wife, not without a damned good reason anyway.
We transport this batch as soon as we cross into Nevada, like always. No problems. Some of these trips we finish with another airport pickup at Reno, but not this time. Either no flights due in or some other crew was on it. I just take the bus back to the depot. At least the sat-nav shuts up. Once we're this close to home, it assumes I know my way. Good.
I manage to text Maria when we stop at some lights, so she's waiting for me once I park the bus and clock off. Sometimes she can't make it if her client doesn't let her go, but most of the people she cleans for are OK. We can't afford two cars and she needs one more than I do. No, I don't get the city bus. Have you seen the way some of those people drive? The city cut the contract to the bone, so they're either too new, or lousy drivers. You get what you pay for and the fools in City Hall don't seem to realize that.
Maria drops me at home and drives straight back to finish her work. Alvaro has soccer after school today, but Rosamaria is due back at her usual time. Lupe calls to say she's seeing her friend Carlita after school. She seems to spend half her time over there, and Carlita spends the other half with us.
I'm watching the idiot box -- nothing on, but I watch it anyway -- when Rosamaria arrives.
She dumps her school books on the table and dumps herself on my lap in a swirl of long black hair. That's nice. She's growing up now and some days she's too grown up to sit on her papa's lap. Today she's not too grown up and she feels really good sitting there. Comfortable. I put my arms around her and give her a squeeze.
"What did you do in school today, mi hijita?
"We did the Swarm. Are they really going to come and attack us, Papa?"
"No, of course not," I reassure her. "Papa will drive his big bus all over them and squash them flat, como una tortilla. You'll be safe, just you see."
She giggles and snuggles into my chest. That feels great.
Looking down at my daughter, I realize that I'll do whatever I have to do to keep her safe. If I can't do that, then I won't be a man. If that means I become someone's slave, then so what? Rosamaria will be safe and I'll still be a man.
When she gets back, Lupe asks, "Papa, Carlita's dad has invited us all over to celebrate his birthday, Friday night. Can we go? Will you be free?"
"Let me check my schedule first," I tell her. Good, I'm not away that night. I'm clear on Saturday as well, so I won't have to hold back. No, I never get that drunk, but I don't feel right driving if I'm not at my best. I'm not as young as I was, so it takes longer for me to recover.
"OK, Lupe, I can make it. I'll look forward to it." I will too, Miguel and Pilar are good friends. With Lupe and Carlita practically living in each other's apartments there's no way we can't be. They have a young son, Tomas, who is about the same age as Alvaro. He likes that, it gives him another boy to play with. He's still at the age when girls are silly. That's going to change soon and I'll have even more to worry about. Who'd be a father?
"Thanks, Papa," with a kiss from Lupe. That's good. Even just a daughterly kiss from Lupe. Maria is going to have a good night tonight, I know. I was away in Oregon last night, so...
We all have a good time on Friday over at Miguel's. He's turned forty, three years younger than me, so everyone is teasing him about being an old man. He's playing up to it and asking me for advice about retirement homes and walkers. Who needs enemies when you have friends like Miguel!
Maria and I take our two younger kids back home before it gets too late, leaving Lupe to stay the night. She and Carlita are happy enough chattering together and don't need mama and papa getting in the way.
The next Wednesday evening I'm home again. I'd been on one of the old routes, taking tourists around the sights of Reno. Useful thing to do if it's your first visit; lets you see where things are and how they look. Miguel had called earlier and asked if he, Pilar and Carlita could visit that evening.
It's almost Alvaro's bedtime when they arrive and Maria hustles him and Rosamaria straight to bed. She quickly stops their complaints and gives me one of her, 'this is important, ' looks. I tell the two of them to do what their mama says, and wait to see what's up. Miguel, Pilar and Carlita look more serious than usual. This obviously ain't just a social visit; Carlita almost never looks serious. As soon as the younger kids are in bed the four women go into the kitchen, leaving me with Miguel. That really worries me, this is getting very serious.
"Do you know Carlita's CAP score?" he asks me. We've talked about the Confederacy, so he knows I don't have any problems with it. He doesn't know everything of course, but he knows I won't go off on some Earth First rant like Charlie would have.
"Not exactly," I reply. "Lupe did say she had a good one. Enough to take four people with her."
"She does. She was going to take me, Pilar, Lupe and a boy." My heart leaps at Miguel's words. I'd suspected before, but this confirms it, Lupe is safe! And she'll be with her best friend. I'll miss my girl, but I could hardly have arranged things any better for her if I'd tried.
He reaches into his pocket, pulls out his CAP card and puts it on the table face down. "I got retested on Monday, after my birthday. I had a six point four. That's a big incentive to work for a better score."
"That's for sure," I nod. Six point four. That must be hard for Miguel; the most frustrating score possible. Just a tenth of a point short ... Wait a second, did I hear him right? "You said, 'had'?"
Miguel turns his card over to show me the big 6.5 on it.
I collapse back in my chair like someone has punched me in the gut. It takes a few seconds for me to collect myself. "Congratulations, Miguel." I don't know what else to say. What do you say to someone who gets a ticket to a new life? To a life, even. Anyone left behind isn't going to have much of one, once the aliens arrive.
Miguel looks down at his card, then back up at me. "This changes Carlita's plans of course. I can go myself and I'll be taking Pilar with me."
That makes sense. Miguel isn't going to leave his wife behind and Carlita can make her own way.
He carries on talking, "That leaves Carlita with a problem. She doesn't have any experience as a mother; she was relying on Pilar and me to supply the parenting experience she and Lupe don't have."
I begin to have an idea of what he's getting at. This might get real hard. "Carlita needs an experienced mother, so Maria..."
"She also needs a man," Miguel interrupts, before I can get any further. I'm sure he can read my thoughts on my face.
A man. It can't be! "You mean..."
He nods. "You and Maria would make great replacements for Pilar and me. Carlita knows you both very well. She likes you both. You're practically family already."
That knocks me out again. Miguel waits quietly while I recover. We can hear the sound of the women talking in the kitchen. Maria and I already know we'll be getting off Earth, but not who our sponsor will be. Carlita. Yeah, I can live with Carlita as our sponsor. Like Miguel says, she already knows us and we know her. We'd guessed that she'd want to take Lupe, and that's not a problem. It isn't too much of a change to think of her as our sponsor as well. For sure she'll be a hell of a lot better than some random guy the Confederacy picks out for us.
Miguel sees my decision on my face. "I'll get the women." He stands up and goes to the kitchen.
I'm not stupid. I know that the real decision had already been made in the kitchen, if not before. This is family, and when it's about family it's the women who make the decisions. Us men just pretend to think about it and then agree with what they've decided. Miguel hadn't so much been asking me as telling me.
Maria is smiling as she comes in, I smile back and nod to her. That's OK then. I take a good look at Carlita. Before, she was Lupe's friend. Now ... She's taller than Lupe and, I have to admit, better looking. Both of them have black hair, Lupe's is long while Carlita keeps hers cut shorter, at shoulder length. White blouses, tied over their tetas, with tight cut-off jeans. They often wear the same clothes. Lupe's hips are wider, she takes after her mother in that way. I like my women with a bit of shape to them. Carlita's hips are narrower and her breasts bigger, but they'll sag like her mother's when she gets older. Maria's have dropped a bit, but not as much as Pilar's. Lupe likes her food too much, as does Maria. I don't mind, I like Maria's cooking too and I've put on weight as well since we married. Yeah, we can live with Carlita.
Lupe sees the look I give Maria and comes to sit next to me. She kisses my cheek and smiles a really big smile. "Papa, I'll be so happy to have you and Mama with me and Carlita."
"You agree then?" Carlita asks me.
Maria smiles again as Lupe squeezes my hand. "Yes, Carlita, I agree." I know when I'm outnumbered and don't have a choice. "There is one thing though," I continue. "About Lupe..."
Carlita grins. "Maria said you'd be worried about that. I'll find another man for her when she needs one." She glances at Miguel.
Miguel! For Lupe? Well, I would be doing things with his Carlita, and there are worse choices for my girl. Lupe is smiling too, so I suppose she and Carlita have already talked about this. The women always talk about things first before letting us men know.
Carlita is still talking, "Of course there's nothing to stop Lupe asking you herself, if she wants to."
Shocked, I look at Lupe. She tries to look sexy, breathing in to stick out her tetas and fluttering her eyelashes at me. Then she loses it and starts giggling. "Sorry, Papa. I do love you lots, but not that way."
That's a relief, she had me worried there for a moment. Then Carlita throws me another zinger, "In a few years, Rosamaria might want to ask you as well."
Rosamaria! I've been so worried about Lupe that I haven't even thought about Rosamaria. That's unthinkable! She'll be fourteen, though, in less than two years. Carlita is thinking ahead. Probably why she's a sponsor and I'm not.
"I can always say no."
"Sure," Carlita confirms. "I won't make you if you don't want to. But you might change your mind later."
"OK, I can live with that." No way am I going to fuck either of my daughters. It will be difficult enough for me doing that with anyone other than Maria, even with Maria's permission.
Carlita settles herself into a more serious mood. "I still need a fourth concubine. Before daddy had his retest, we were testing some of the boys from school."
"We?" I glare angrily at Lupe. I know what 'testing' means these days, when a sponsor is 'testing' a concubine.
Lupe stares right back at me. I can see Maria behind her, frowning and shaking her head slowly. My wife is right of course. Lupe is a concubine, near as, and she would have had to do what Carlita told her.
I take a deep breath, "Were you careful?"
"Yes, Papa. I was careful."
That's a relief. "I hope you didn't tell Padre Francisco." The Pope is a good man, but he does have some blind spots. He's not married, so he doesn't have any teenage daughters to worry about. Sometimes you have to do what you have to, not what you ought to, despite what Padre Francisco says.
Lupe doesn't even bother to answer, she just gives me one of those, 'I'm not that stupid, Papa, ' looks she does so well.
I'm not OK with that, not really. Some punk has been with my daughter and I want to kill him, whoever he is. I hide it though. Some stuff life throws at you, you just have to suck it up. Carlita is in charge here, not me. I'm in the same position as Lupe; we both have to do what our sponsor tells us.
The talk of testing, brings up a thought. "Carlita, will you want to test me?"
"You've already been tested. You passed," she tells me.
A pity nobody takes a picture of my face just then, I must look really really stupid.
Carlita manages to stop laughing long enough to say, "Maria says you'll do fine."
Maria! Why do women always talk about things they shouldn't talk about? Maria is laughing too, along with Carlita and Lupe. Even Miguel is grinning.
"Now that I have you, Carlos," Carlita goes on, "I don't need a boy. I'll pick a girl from school who'll fit in with me and Lupe. Daddy needs a second, so I'll look for a girl for him as well."
Miguel smiles and shrugs. Carlita is offering to pimp us a couple of hot high school teens. I'm not complaining and neither is he.
"Don't worry, Papa," Lupe says, "I'll make sure she picks a nice one for us to share."
To share! Well ... If I'm not going to be with Lupe, then who else will there be for her? She's obviously started having sex -- I still want to kill that punk -- and she isn't going to stop. Carlita won't tell her to stop; those two think too much alike. I glance at Maria. She isn't happy either, but her look is saying 'we have to do this', not 'we won't do this'. Everyone knows that the rules for sex are different after you're extracted. I tell her, "I'll trust you then, Lupe."
"We've already started looking," she says. "I'm sure you'll like whoever Carlita picks."
Yeah, Carlita picks. Not 'Carlos picks', not 'Maria picks', not even 'Lupe picks', but Carlita picks. That's the big change. My family is going to the bottom of the pile. We've known about it in theory: do everything your sponsor says. Here it is for real, right in front of us. Gonna take some getting used to. "OK, Lupe. I'm sure you'll give her some good advice. And make sure whoever she is can cook good."
Carlita is taking Maria and Lupe's advice, I think. Between the three of them, they know the sort of girl I like. I get to see a few of the possibles, just about, as Carlita and Lupe drag then through the apartment to Lupe's room, but that's all. I'm forty-three, so any girl around sixteen looks good, unless she has a real bad attitude. I know Maria and Lupe won't let Carlita pick one like that, they're gonna have to live with her too.
I think Miguel is actually testing his prospects. Not me, I trust the women. He's a sponsor, so he can push things further than I can. I'm still married to Maria, and that means something. She hasn't said so, but I'm sure she's happier this way. I know our marriage ends once we step onto that transporter, but that's still in the future. We need to take this slowly, one step at a time.
Carlita doesn't force things. I don't bother hiding my reluctance, so she knows how I feel. I'm not a sponsor, but she is, and I'm certain she and Lupe are testing some of the girls. They aren't shoving it in my face, so I can pretend to ignore it. Happy? No I'm not, but I know this is a small piece of what's coming. I'm working on getting used to it. Maria is a big help. She's sensible and knows when we have to bend. Us men are sometimes too stubborn to know that. We need our women to slap us around the face and tell us we're being stupid. Maria is a good teacher, so I've learned enough over the years to get the message before she has to slap me.
Miguel picks an Anglo girl, Dee Peters. Tall, big tetas, blonde, blue eyes and only fifteen. I know Miguel likes them big, but not that he likes them so young. Yeah, they're legal at fourteen now, but fifteen!
The joke is on me when Carlita chooses Kim Valdez. She's sixteen, but she looks as if she's thirteen, just like a boy with no womanly shape at all: no hips, no waist and no tetas. She's pretty, a really nice face with the Asian look. She gets that from her Vietnamese mama. Her dad is Chicano, for the Valdez. Carlita and Lupe get along well with her. She's quiet around me, but in Lupe's room she chatters away as much as the other two. As part of her test she cooked a Vietnamese meal for us, which was real good, so Maria and Lupe were listening to me after all. I like Kim, she's a nice kid. She looks too damn young though.
Carlita was doing more than pimping her friends. She'd found this e-mail address that let her talk to the Confederacy, so she started setting up two pre-packs for Miguel and herself. When I found out, I sent something to Orevoa, to let them know. I couldn't tell Carlita I'd done that, even thinking about telling her made me feel a little sick to my stomach. Didn't get any reply, but I wasn't really expecting one. They'd pass it on so the Confederacy could connect Carlita's messages with my family and the promise they'd made.
One morning I'm eating breakfast when Maria comes in with the mail. She opens one of the letters, reads it and straight away picks up the phone.
"Pilar, did you get a letter as well?"
I'm sitting there puzzled.
"All of you? Including Carlita and Dee?"
It's really frustrating only hearing one half of this conversation.
"Yes, we have one for Kim as well."
Finally Maria finishes her call and passes the letter to me: "Dear Señora Higuera, Please find enclosed..."
Five tickets for a bus trip: Maria, Lupe, Rosamaria, Alvaro and Kim. No ticket for me. I'm expecting it, even before I check my schedule, but I laugh anyway. Me? I'm driving the bus.