Just How Bad Can a Day Get?

by starfiend

Copyright© 2019 by starfiend

Science Fiction Story: If the day starts bad and gets worse, just how bad can it get? Malcolm is about to find out.

Tags: Science Fiction  

Authors Note

This story takes place in Thinking Horndogs Swarm Cycle universe. You should at least read his Average Joes and possibly Pick Up 18 stories first. You also need to have read Akarge’s Fly By before reading this story.

Thanks to Thinking Horndog for letting me play in his universe. Thanks also to Omachuck, Smiley Smith, Zen Master, Nuke Danger and probably others for pointing out errors. Any remaining are mine and I claim copyright on them :)

Today started badly and just got slowly worse.

Three days ago my eighteen-year-old son had been CAP tested, got a 7·1, and volunteered. But of course there was no collection. 7·1’s are not exactly exciting. If he’d been in the nine’s they would have taken him straight away. Then this morning he got call-up papers, told he had been drafted into the army, and that he had to report to Bracknell in Berkshire. Of course, we just happened to live in the middle of the north York moors, so two hundred plus miles away from where he was expected to go.

The post has always been a bit erratic around here, but these days it was positively awful. By the time he actually opened the letter after a late breakfast, he was already an hour late reporting. The letter should have arrived a week ago: it was posted ten days ago, after all; if it had just arrived yesterday, it wouldn’t have been quite so bad.

I rang the number on the letter while Darren quickly packed a small bag. The person I spoke to on the other end did not seem at all happy that Darren was late, and was not inclined to believe me when I told him the letter had only arrived that morning. When I reminded him that the Royal Mail was still fucked up from Thorn’s damaging tenure as PM, and that we lived in a small village in the middle of nowhere, an hours drive from the nearest sorting office, he seemed to reluctantly accept what I was saying.

“He will be there today,” I told the voice at the other end, “but it will be a few hours. I’ll drive him to Leeds now and he’ll be on the next train out of there.”

There was a brief silence and I could hear keys tapping. “The next train out of Leeds is in thirty-five minutes, make sure he’s on it. That’s the 12:44 to Kings Cross.”

“No!” I snapped. “I’ve just told you, it’s at least an hour’s drive to Leeds, and that’s on a good day. An hour-twenty is far more likely.” I was angry and had added twenty minutes to the actual times.

There was an angry snort. “Very well. The 13:44. If he’s not on that one we will count him as a deserter, the penalty for which could be as severe as execution.”

I gasped in shock. “I’ll make sure he’s there.”

“Do that,” snapped the voice, and the call was cut off.

The day was starting badly.

My wife and daughter accompanied us on the mad dash to Leeds railway station. They would quite happily go into the city centre and do some shopping. To our complete surprise the roads were so clear it took us under forty minutes, so Darren had about fifty minutes to wait for his train south. We had missed the previous train by just five minutes. When we checked the departures board, we saw that his train had been delayed by fifty-five minutes. If the previous train had also been delayed ... but it hadn’t. Damnation. We had an hour and three-quarters to kill.

We went across the road and into a pub to order a meal while we waited. It was part of a pub chain, and in the past it the food had been pretty good. I just hoped it still was.

The pub was surprisingly busy, but looking around I quickly realised that most of the customers were students from the nearby university.

“Are you serving food?” I asked the barman.

“Yeah.” He passed me over a menu.

“Can I have three more please?”

He passed them over without a word and I passed them on.

A couple of minutes later I placed our order. Mixed grill with steak done rare for me, steak and ale pie, with chips, for Darren, Claudia my wife had a salmon rissole with salad, and Davina, my terminally shy fifteen-year-old daughter, had a chicken salad with baked potato. We all ordered soft drinks and then found a table to sit at. It was actually difficult because the room was so crowded, but we eventually found a corner of a larger table. When the other occupants saw we were eating, they actually moved around a bit to give us more room.

I nodded my thanks to them.

We sat and chatted for a while, expecting the meal to take a while to come, but to our surprise, within fifteen minutes it had arrived.

We had been eating for probably no more than a couple of minutes, and the food was wonderful, when there was a shriek from the other end of the bar. The sound level, already loud, rose a little, then suddenly went quiet.

“Quiet!” yelled a voice. “This is a Confederacy extraction.” There were so many people in the room that I couldn’t actually see who was speaking, but he was loud. “Our AI tells us there are thirty-three sponsors in the room right now. If any of those sponsors wants to be extracted, come up to this end of the bar. Now please.”

“Sugar!” said Darren, looking at his barely started lunch. “I wanted to be extracted, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed.”

“Why not love?” asked Claudia.

“Because active military personnel are not allowed to volunteer.”

“But you’re not yet actively serving,” I pointed out. “Go up there and ask. If that’s what you want.”

Darren sighed and took another mouthful of his pie “I’m not sure,” he said, Four of the six other people at that table had also left. I sighed. Did I want to go? I had a 7·7 so I could take three extra women. I was taking Claudia, I still fancied her and even at forty-three she still had a figure to die for, though she now dyed her hair weekly to hide the grey. I was more concerned about what would happen to Davina. She was a lovely girl: intelligent, almost super-intelligent in fact, but not especially pretty, and as already mentioned, incredibly, almost pathologically, shy and introverted.

I sighed yet again. I seemed to be doing that a lot, and took a bite out of my steak. Ooh, that was lovely. The four of us sat for a while, just listening to what was going on around us, while we were eating.

A moment later a large and very attractive woman in BDU arrived at the table. “Neither of you two interested?” she asked us softly. “You are the only two sponsors not up front.”

“I don’t know whether I’m allowed,” Darren said again. She frowned and was about to ask why not, when he passed over the letter. I explained about the letter arriving late and that we were just waiting for the next train south.

“Right,” she said firmly. “You are allowed, if you want to. You have been called up, but because you haven’t actually been, erm, enrolled, sworn in, yet, you are not an active serving member of the UK armed forces, so you can ignore this letter. But the only way you can do that is if you go with this extraction. There are no more extractions planned for the UK today, this week, so by the time of the next one,” she grinned at us wolfishly, “and I’m not telling you when or where that will be, you’ll already have signed on the dotted line and wouldn’t be able to take up the offer anyway.”

Darren thought for a moment, took another mouthful of his food, and then nodded. “Okay. I’m in.” He looked longingly at his dinner then laughed. “Oh well, I’m sure the Confederacy will give me something to eat.”

The woman smiled slightly and nodded, and spoke softly into, well, I wasn’t sure what, and I couldn’t hear her, but she was definitely talking to someone.

“You’ve got a couple of minutes to eat, but you won’t have time to finish ... actually, just take it up front with you.” Darren nodded and picked up his plate and wandered off. I never saw him again. She turned to me just as one of the young men who had left a couple of minutes earlier returned. He pointed at Claudia then raised his eyebrows questioningly. He was probably only a couple of years older than Darren. Claudia looked shocked, then glanced at me, glanced back and nodded firmly.

“Claudia,” I said, startled.

“He asked me before you did.” She said firmly. She held her hand out to Davina, but the young man forestalled her. “I only want one more, and you’re it. Sorry. She’s too old to come as a dependant, and I can only take two concubines and you’re the second.”

“I will take you,” I said hurriedly to her, as I saw her hesitate.

“I’m sorry. Even if you had asked first, I would have said ‘no’. I actually don’t want to come with you.”

My jaw dropped. “But ... but... , “

“I’m no longer in love with you. Oh I’m sure I still care about you in my own way, but I don’t love you any more and I want a change.” She turned to the young man. “Lead on.” That was the last I ever saw of Claudia.

The day was getting worse.

“Daddy?” Whispered Davina, huddling up close to me, fearfully.

“Do you want to go?” asked the marine, of me.

“I guess so. I’m just concerned about my daughter. She’s only got a 4·4 CAP and she’s incredibly shy and insecure. It would need a special type of person to be able to take her. If she wants to go.”

I looked at Davina. “Darling,” I said softly. “Do you want to go? Do you want to go to the stars? In an extraction?”

She shuddered but didn’t actually say no. Or yes for that matter. “I don’t know,” she eventually whispered. “I’m...” she didn’t finish the sentence, just looked down. I had no idea what she was thinking.

“Shall we go and see if we can find someone to take you?” I asked her softly. “Someone who will look after you? Someone you like the look of?”

She shrugged uncomfortably.

“Come on darling. I really need you off the Earth. Away from those creatures. Where it’s safer. Please love?”

She nodded ever so slightly.

I took hold of her limp hand and towed her gently to the front. She followed me reluctantly, but she came.

Either the collection process was much faster than I’d been led to believe, or we’d taken a lot longer than I thought, as by the time we got to the front, there were only three other sponsors left still looking for concubines. All three looked at Davina and shook their heads. “Please.” I begged one. “I need my daughter taken to safety.”

“Not interested,” he said. “Look around. There’s far prettier and more willing.” He pushed past me and grabbed a girl who looked about the same age as Davina, but one who had stripped off totally, and was frigging herself lewdly. It wasn’t attractive or sexy. None of the women I could see interested me even slightly.

Less than a minute later and I was the only sponsor left. Davina was still with me, holding on tight. “Shit!” I muttered.

“You comin’ or not?” growled the corporal in charge. “You’ve got thirty seconds and then we’re gone.”

I looked at Davina and sighed. I decided in that moment I would take her, but then I would swap her as fast as I could. Hopefully within a few hours. A day or two at most. I nodded, “Yeah. Taking my daughter. For the moment anyway,”

“Let’s see your cards.”

I handed them over.

“You can take three more.”

I looked around again and shuddered. “No. Thank you.”

“You sure? You may not get the chance again?”

“I’m sure,” I said, but then I spotted the young woman who had brought our meals to the table. She wasn’t attractive, less even than Davina, but there was just something interesting about her face, and although we’d only spoken a few words earlier, I remembered her fascinating voice. I pointed. “Actually, I’ll take her. If she’s interested.”

The corporal turned and looked. “Fine. You. Come here.”

The girl, who actually looked quite young, sidled nervously over.

“Would you like to come with me and ... Davina here?” I decided at the very last moment not to mention that Davina was my daughter, primarily because I had no intention of keeping her for too long.

“Are you sure sir?” she asked timidly. “I’m not exactly pretty.” There was that voice. It gave me the shivers. But good shivers.

“Take your top off please. Let me look at you.”

She hesitated a long moment before taking her top off. When she started to remove her bra as well I stopped her. She had nice skin, a flat abdomen above the waistband of her trousers, and small boobs held in by a plain white, slightly tatty, bra. She seemed to have a nice figure, a bit on the skinny side perhaps, but certainly not unpleasant.

The corporal gasped, looking at her back.

I didn’t get the chance to ask her to take her trousers off. “‘Ere, where’s Joyce?” came a shout. A male shout. A drunken, savagely angry shout. The girl in front of me cringed.

“Yes.” I said almost coldly. “I’m taking you. If only to get you away from whoever that is.”

“My uncle,” she whispered. “But we’ve got to go now.”

“Where’s that good for nothing whore gone?” demanded the drunken voice.

“Right. You three. Stand on that green circle there,” said the corporal. He looked, and sounded, murderously angry. Fortunately not with us though.

I watched as a huge bear of a man appeared. He was wearing a badly stained white tee-shirt, equally stained jeans and mismatched, unfastened trainers. It looked like he hadn’t shaved in over a week, and I wasn’t sure he’d washed in that time either. The tee-shirt rode up above a massive pot belly, but his thick biceps didn’t look flabby at all.

I watched as the Corporal tried to stop him, but he had spotted the girl and his voice raised in anger and fury.

“Get here you little tart!” He began to move towards us, flexing those huge muscles. I thought I heard the sound of bacon frying on a griddle. That spitting hissing sound as the water in the bacon met the hot fat of the griddle. I knew it was some sort of weapon as I saw three Confederacy soldiers firing something at him. It seemed to have no effect though, but then the corporal fired two shots in quick succession from a pistol, followed by two more a second later. The man went down, yelling in anger and rage as both his knees were shot from under him.

“You are the very sort of creature that needs to be put straight in the front line facing the Sa’arm. You are...” The corporal shook his head again and shot the man, quite deliberately, in the crotch and then again in the stomach.” The huge man gave an incredibly loud and high pitched screech of pain. I could almost imagine glass shattering at the sound.

He looked up and saw that I was still watching, my mouth open in shock. I’d had the presence of mind to grab the girl, Joyce, and hold on to her tightly. Both she and Davina were sobbing in terror.

“I’m sorry you all had to see that,” he told us quietly but firmly. “I did tell you to get on the transporter pad.”

The day was getting worse.

Joyce seemed to want to pull away and go to her uncle. Presumably to tend to him. Something I guessed she had been doing for a long time.

“No,” I told her softly. “The soldiers will ‘look after’ him.” I glanced around and saw a glowing green disc on the floor. That was probably the transporter that had been mentioned. I took the two girls towards it, and stepped gingerly on.

I brief moment of weightlessness, dizziness and nausea later and I was grabbed and pulled firmly to one side, ‘my’ girls thrust into my arms.

“Over there,” came a firm voice. The man who had grabbed me was pointing off to my left. “Find an empty square and go sit in it.” He turned away from me and I looked in the general direction he had pointed. There were a lot of people, but as I went in that direction, I saw that there was a grid painted onto the floor, making the outlines of boxes roughly three metres by two. Squares! Huh!

I found one that was both against a wall and had a couple of empty ‘squares’ on all the other sides and led the girls to it. Sitting down with my back to the wall, I pulled the two still sobbing girls down and cuddled them against me. The both tried to burrow into me. I think it was just the warmth of human presence they needed after seeing such a horrible sight.

I felt the wall behind me give a little, and when I looked I realised it was just a movable partition wall. While I waited I looked around. Most of the occupied squares only had a few people in, three to five at most. A few had a lot more, though in those cases the extras were all children. I did a quick estimate and decided there were something like two hundred, maybe slightly more, squares, and about three-quarters had people in. The room itself I guessed at about forty by fifty metres with a relatively low ceiling, probably no more than three metres above us. There seemed to be no decoration or other adornments on the walls, all of which were a pale grey in colour. I quickly counted four doors on the opposite wall, three on one of the end walls and two on the other. I guessed there were likely to be about four doors on the wall I was leaning against. But it was only a guess and I wasn’t about to disturb the two girls cuddled up to me. I looked carefully around, but there were far too many people and I could see neither Darren nor Claudia.

I looked around at everyone in the room. I spotted one couple having sex, but everyone else seemed to be just sitting, talking softly in their small groups. I guessed that each square could hold about a dozen people if they were all close enough, or young enough, to sit on laps. There was a small amount of noise, but it was far from loud. Most of the women were naked or in a state of partial undress, but none of them seemed in any way bothered by it.

I was instantly aware when Joyce’s sobbing stopped. I pulled her a little closer and kissed the crown of her head. She gave another little sob, almost more a hiccup, then seemed to relax against me though her arms around me seemed just as tight. Davina’s sobbing had also softened. She too was starting to relax. I kissed her as well. And the three of us just sat and waited.

It wasn’t long before something happened, but by that time both girls were snoring softly. Soundly asleep.

There was a slight ‘tick’ noise, almost like a switch, then a voice spoke over hidden speakers.

“Will everybody please sit down in the square they were assigned, or selected. If you are currently in a different square, please move to your square now. If you have yet to find or be assigned a square, please find one as quickly as you can. If any sponsor has an adjacent, empty square, and can see people looking for a square, please raise your hand now.” I still had an empty square in front of me, but the squares either side were now occupied. When I looked up however, I couldn’t see anyone looking for a space. There was a pause while the few people still standing, slowly sat, then the voice spoke up again. “If you all look at the ceiling of the room you are in, you will see a large, coloured, number. The colour is the block you are in. The number is the floor within that block of the room you have been assigned to. Within the square you are sitting in is another number. That is the room number. Please take a moment to locate all that information.”

I hadn’t noticed the number on the ceiling earlier, but now I looked and discovered that I, we, would be in green block, floor seventeen, room fifty-one. I assumed from the way the voice was talking that this message was being broadcast to a number of different areas. That might explain why I couldn’t see Darren or Claudia.

A few minutes later the voice spoke again. “The room you are currently in is the assembly room for your floor and block. You will come here for assignment, some basic training and some initial orientation. It is used as a training area, for meetings and as a function room for military and social purposes.”

There was another short pause. “Over the next few days you will all be put through a medical scanner to determine any immediate health problems. Except for emergencies, this is just a scan. During this time you will also be split into five separate cadres. These will be marine, navy, fleet auxiliary, civil service, and other. If you have a particular desire to be in a particular cadre, this will be taken into account, but even so you may not get what you want.”

There was a slightly longer pause and I got the impression that the speaker had actually been interrupted. “For those that hadn’t already worked it out,” the voice began again. “You are not on a space ship.” There was a small murmur of surprise around the room. “This is Lunar Exit Station Copernicus. You are on Luna, Earth’s moon. Approximately ten kilometres below the surface of the Copernicus crater on the Earth facing side of Luna. Over the next six weeks you will be transferred to transport ships to be taken to your final destinations. Your rooms are temporary for that period of time only, please do not damage them. Other people have to use them after you have left.”

There was another pause. “This base runs on Zulu time. Effectively Greenwich Mean Time. Please adjust your watches et-cetera to eleven-fifty-one on my mark.” There was a long pause. A good thirty seconds. “Mark.” I pressed the button to set my watch. There was a short pause. “You will now be sent to your suite until such time as your orientations can be made and destinations determined. Beside the number in each square is an arrow. This points in the direction of the door you will exit by. It will generally be the closest door to you. When you get to your suite, the sponsor must put their thumb on the plate outside the door and state their name to identify him or herself to the system. This will key the lock to you, and at the same time will open the door for you and your concubines. If there is more than one sponsor in a suite, each sponsor must do this, with the first to do so naming subsequent sponsors. Please now make your way to your suites.”

I found the number again and the arrow next to it. It was only when Joyce stood up with her back to me that I realised what the corporal in the pub had got so angry about. There were dozens of fine welt scars across her back. The poor girl had been whipped or caned repeatedly. I couldn’t help gasping in horror. Davina heard me and also looked at Joyce’s back. Her hand went to her mouth in shock. Joyce also heard me and turned. Realising what I had now seen, her face, her whole body, just seemed to crumple in fear.

The day really was getting worse. I pulled her gently into my arms and hugged her, kissing the top of her head once more. I said nothing, but pulled Davina into the hug as well, so that the two of us were hugging Joyce together.

“It’s okay,” I said after a while. “Let’s go find our flat, or whatever it is, and we can talk.”

It took us only a few minutes to get to our suite. There were just four rooms. A bathroom, two large bedrooms and an even larger sitting/dining area. The two bedrooms were obviously designed to accommodate far more people than this. One had a single bed in it, but it was huge. A super-king is six foot wide by six-foot-six long. This was bigger again. It would not be difficult to fit five people in it, though they would likely have to cuddle up fairly close. The second bedroom was slightly bigger, but it had a number of smaller beds in it. I counted quickly. There were seven. Most looked to be standard singles of about three by six, but two looked slightly narrower. For younger kids maybe.

“Bloody hell,” I murmured. “How many is supposed to fit in here?”

I was startled when I got an answer.

“This is a standard room for a sponsor with four concubines and up to eight children of various ages. Since you have only two concubines and no children, we will be moving you to a smaller room shortly.”

“Oh erm. Who are you? And erm, I’m actually allowed four?”

“This is the artificial intelligence, AI, allocated to this sub block of apartments. Can you please all put your CAP cards into the small slot by the computer terminal in the main room.”

“Oh, erm, yes, sure.”

The three cards went into the slot, and a few moments later the voice spoke again.

“Welcome Malcolm Parker. I see you have not made a determination of the kind of role you would like. Since you are a long distance trucker, would you be interested in joining the fleet auxiliary?”

“Um, yeah, I guess so. What would I be doing?”

“That may depend. The fleet auxiliary runs most of the transport ships from the very largest cube ships right down to the smallest. It also runs most of the cargo and courier ships. Fleet auxiliary may also be used to transport ships, including warships, from the building yard to their point of deployment. You may also...” there was a pause “ ... you may also be used much the same way as your Royal Navy’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary is used, to refuel, restock and re-arm war ships close to the front line.”

“Yeah. Okay. That sounds good. Erm, where would my concubines be?”

“That would depend on your exact deployment and role. Looking at your history it is suggested that you would most likely be better on a limited crew cargo ship. As such you would probably have one concubine with you while the others would be left at your home planet, wherever that might be.”

“Okay. Yeah. Okay. I can go for that.”

“Thank you. That has been noted on your record. I will arrange for a fleet auxiliary officer to come and see you and talk about your selection. You are short two concubines. There are seventy-one spare concubines at the moment, mostly female, but some male.”

“Only female,” I interrupted quickly.

“Understood. There are fifty-seven spare female concubines at the current time. If you wish to choose now, you may.”

I looked at both Davina and Joyce. “Not right now,” I said softly. “I need to sort things out here.”

“Understood. Please report to the assembly room at fifteen-fifty this afternoon, with your concubines. In the mean-time, food is available from the replicator. Use the computer terminal to request information and entertainment. Until you have had your proper initial orientation, it will give very little information, and the main door will be locked so that you cannot leave unless requested or ordered to do so. Do you have any questions?”

“Um, no, not really, but, what about these body changes that we are supposed to get?”

“That will all be explained in your orientation. If that is all?” it paused for a moment, “then I suggest you see to your concubines.”

I wasn’t sure what it meant by that, but I had a horrible feeling it meant sex. I looked at Joyce. “How old are you darling?”

“Sixteen. Sixteen last month.”

“I was fifteen last month,” murmured Davina to Joyce. “The eleventh.”

Joyce’s jaw dropped, then she laughed and pulled Davina into a hug. By a pure fluke of chance, Joyce was exactly one year, to the day, older than Davina. Both girls giggled and I hoped that that was enough to start a friendship. But then my heart dropped as I had another thought. “Shit,” I thought, “what the hell am I going to do with Davina?” I’d have to ask at the orientation later. I looked at my watch. Not much after midday. I frowned. Oh yeah, I’d not long changed it. We had three and three-quarter hours to kill.

I sat us all down on the nice long sofa. Although I hadn’t intended it, the girls both curled up next to me, one on each side. I put my arms lightly around them, then gently caressed Joyce’s back. “What happened here darling?”

“My aunt and uncle.”

“Both of them?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

There was a pause and I could feel the girl tense up a little. “Don’t worry,” I whispered. “We are all real friends here. I won’t allow any harm to come to you.”

She gave a funny little sob and then started talking. “My parents were in prison. They were arrested by the Patrol. They were accused of being sympathisers to the Americans and to the Confederacy.”

“Were they? Sympathisers?.”

“Not to the Americans specifically, no, but they did believe in the Confederacy, and supported it. They were arrested just before, or was it just after, I can’t remember now. It was about the time the Swarm first arrived. When they got to Saturn the first time.”

“Oh, right?”

“My older brother had recently been ordered to join the Patrol. He was a bit of a trouble maker, a bit rowdy, and into drugs. Not heavy drugs, but he was told join or get sent to prison. I think that’s what made my parents so angry they did something that got them arrested. My baby brother was six and he was taken into care. I don’t know where he is now, they wouldn’t tell me. I was visiting my cousin at the time so my aunt and uncle took me in. I’m not sure, but I think because my dad was arrested they started being harassed by the Patrol. He and my aunt began to take it out on me.”

“What did your uncle do?”

“He was a bricky, a good one. But he got hurt in a fall a few years ago and was made redundant on medical grounds. I know he got compensation because the accident wasn’t his fault. My Aunt’s brother and his wife were managing that pub. The one we were collected in. They were doing okay, but they wanted to own it. So when Uncle Rick got his compensation he used it to help buy the pub outright. He didn’t work in it though. I’m not sure what he actually did, but I don’t think it was exactly legal. Or at least, only on the edge of legality.”

“Oh?”

“My aunt was an ex model. Not a fashion model. A glamour and nude model. I think she may even have done a bit of soft-core porn at one time. I’m pretty certain she never had sex with him, but she used to give my cousin hand-jobs and blow-jobs. I think she wouldn’t let him touch her though.”

“Fuckin’ hell.” I thought. “What a wonderful family.”

She continued rambling. “I have an idea she still does on-line porn. They wouldn’t let me have a boy friend and my cousin reckons it was because they were grooming me. He thinks they were going to try and sell my virginity and stream it live.”

“Fuck,” I gasped out loud. “What the ... I’m guessing from that that they never got the opportunity?”

“No. But I think it would have been soon. Very soon.”

I had a sudden thought. Was that why her uncle had turned up right at that moment? “Did your uncle drink in that pub regularly? Was he there normally?”

“My aunt was usually upstairs when the pub was open. Her brother was in charge of the bar and his wife the kitchen. She was mostly nice. My uncle drank there sometimes but wasn’t there very often.”

“Ah. So his turning up at that moment was a bit odd?”

She thought about it. “Yeah. Maybe. He’d had to have already been inside when the confederacy arrived. though.”

“Oh yeah, true, So...” I thought about it. In reality there was no way of guessing why he had been there. He may have just been there for a drink, it was lunch-time after all. He may have been there to collect Joyce. He may have barged into the collection just to protect what he considered a potential future investment. I shrugged mentally.

“I also guess you are a virgin?”

She nodded.

“So they physically and possibly emotionally abused you, but they didn’t sexually abuse you?”

She was starting to cry now so I pulled her closer to me. “I’m sorry love. I didn’t mean to upset you. Forget I asked that. It was unnecessary for you and unworthy of me. It’s all in the past. Let’s forget him and move on with our lives.”

She nodded. Next to me, Davina was shivering, and I don’t think it was the cold.

Davina was scared and shy, Joyce was an emotional wreck. Could the day get any worse?

It could.

We were all shocked into immobility when, moments later, a penetrating siren began to sound. After a few seconds it cut off.

“EMERGENCY. LISTEN CAREFULLY.” There was a short pause. The next voice was quite obviously human, where previous voices had pretty much all been artificial.

“LISTEN UP PEOPLE! As you may or may not know, there is a battle going on above our heads, in space.”

“Wonderful,” I thought. I hadn’t seen any news that day, though some news of what was happening over our heads, out in space, usually filtered through.

“A little over twenty-five minutes ago a large swarm ship was very badly damaged in combat. Unfortunately it is still pretty much in one piece and it is heading straight for us. It’s going to hit in exactly one hour and forty minutes. That’s just one hundred minutes people.”

“What? I gasped. But of course no one answered.

The day was still getting worse.

“Although this base should be safe, we are under a few miles of rock, and we have force shields, but we have been told the force of landing will be roughly equivalent to a twenty-one kilo-ton nuclear bomb. This means we are going to evacuate you. In approximately thirty minutes a transport cube ship, The Happy Hunting Grounds, is going to do a fly-by collection. We will have exactly twenty-eight minutes to transport between four and five hundred thousand people. This means you need to be ready to go when we say. It means you need to move when we tell you to, and where we tell you to, and not argue. We cannot, will not, waste time arguing or discussing. This is not a democracy, this is a military dictatorship. You will do what the marines tell you to do, and you will do it promptly and without discussion.”

There was a pause, just long enough for me to take stock. Fuck. I looked at the two girls and suddenly realised, to my chagrin, I still hadn’t got Joyce a new shirt to replace the one we’d left in the pub in Leeds.

“In a few minutes your door will open. When it does, exit and follow the directions of the marines waiting for you. Small children must be carried. If you have too many smaller children for the number of adults, there will be marines to assist. You may be told to hand them over to your immediate neighbour. If so, you will be reunited on board ship. You will be going up in groups of between fifteen and twenty. This means two, three, maybe even four family groups will be crammed onto the pads at the same time. You will be sharing one apartment when you get on board. There will be more shortly.”

The voice clicked off. I looked at the two girls.

“Shit,” I said. “AI, is there time to create Joyce a replacement top?”

“No.”

“Okay.” I looked at Joyce and shrugged. “Sorry babe. I forgot.”

She just gave a weak shrug in reply. I honestly don’t think she cared, she was too busy being scared.

We waited, but while we did, I spoke softly to Davina. “Look darling, I’m going to have to find you a proper sponsor at some point. I was hoping... , “ My voice trailed off as I saw the utter despair and horror showing in her eyes.

“Please no Daddy,” she whispered. “I’m scared.”

“Me too darling.”

The speakers came on again. “Stand by your doors. As soon as it opens, move swiftly out. You have one minute.”

In fact our door opened just thirty seconds later. We exited in a hurry. Our apartment was actually quite close to the assembly room, we were the third door down that particular corridor. The two doors before us had opened at the same time as ours. Looking behind me there were two marines quite deliberately separating us from the people behind us. It looked like we would be joining the two families in front. We moved swiftly down and were formed into a long, snaking queue of blocks of people separated by the marines. It was barely organised chaos and the noise was horrendous. A man just in front of us, I assumed he was a sponsor, was bickering loudly with another woman and trying to argue with one of the marines. Another two women were trying to control three or four squalling children, all of whom looked under four years old.

Our block was at the front of our queue, but there were three other queues as well.

A marine sergeant, fully armed and looking really quite scary turned to us a raised his voice effortlessly.

“In nine minutes we will start sending you up to the transport ship coming in. We are trying to empty this base as fast as we can, and this floor is one of the closest to the surface, so is going early. We have limited time, so you will move on command or be knocked unconscious and left behind.”

A moment later a different marine grabbed one of the squalling infants and dumped it into my arms. I looked down. The face was so screwed up I couldn’t tell whether the child was a girl or a boy, nor how old, though it looked very young. Weeks rather than months. Davina took it from me and began to coo over it softly. The child quietened briefly, but then quickly picked up its caterwauling. I shuddered. Joyce joined my daughter and the two tried, only partially successfully, to calm it. I stood immediately behind them, paying far more attention to the marines in front of me than what was happening elsewhere. I wanted to ensure that if there were any holdups, we wouldn’t be responsible. I knew from my own experience that hold-ups early on in a chain of events can have a catastrophic effect later on.

“FIVE MINUTES!” This was an automated call.

“We will be going in turn from each queue,” the sergeant told us. “You people will be the third on, get yourselves ready. We will be moving fast.”

We just waited, the tension slowly rising.

“TWO MINUTES!”

The large, square, transport pad in front of us went from grey to red and roughly twenty people from the queue opposite ours were pushed onto it.

The tension rose further, but so did the noise. The other sponsor was still trying to argue with a marine. He was getting quite obnoxious, I thought. The marine was completely stonewalling him.

I put my hand lightly on the sponsor’s shoulder. “Chill!” I said softly.

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