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..."
Fortunately, he'd spoken louder than he'd intended. Sadie turned to face him, "Looking is free, soldier. Any more will cost you." With a smile, she pulled her already low neckline lower, letting her breasts fall out over the top. She even got some cheers from the guys stripping on the dance floor.
As Jack walked towards her, she waggled her shoulders to show off her assets. Jack mused aloud, "Man, those puppies really ought to ship."
"Back off buster!" Sadie complained. "They're mine, and I've got the receipts to prove it. I'm keeping them!"
Kendrick broke up the party, "Hey Jack, get your white ass back over here. She ain't goin', so let her be."
With a regretful smile for Sadie, Jack went back to work.
Eve offered a card reader to the doorman, but he refused it, "I don't want any of the guys from here. I've got a wife and our kids are under fourteen. I'll pick a second woman on the moon."
"We'll pick up your kids. If you wife is with them we'll collect her as well. You just need to let us know where and when to go so they'll be together." The AI had fed her his name and score: Marco DiMichele, CAP 6.5. "I'm assuming you're straight and not bi?"
"Yeah, I'm straight."
"Didn't some of the guys here make a play for you?" Eve asked, curious.
"A lot of them flirted with me. Comes with the job really -- in a straight club the girls flirt; in a gay club the guys flirt. Some got more serious, so I politely discouraged them. If they didn't get the message then I talked to Sadie and she barred them. She runs a tight ship. It wasn't a big problem. The men who can afford this place aren't stupid."
Marco towered over Eve. He was almost as big as a fully enhanced Marine, well over six feet. His size suited his job.
"How come you're shorter than most of the others?" he asked her.
"I wasn't enhanced, so I don't immediately look like a Marine," she explained. "I was due to come in after the corporal, he's the short guy over there." She pointed Tom out. "The two of us normally go in early to scout things out before the barriers go up and the big boys arrive."
"I wouldn't have let you in. Women only get in accompanied by a member."
"That's what the corporal thought once he got inside, so he left me back with the rest of the team," Eve explained. "Now that I've seen inside, I'd have been too obvious, even if I had got in. The idea is not to be noticed, not at first anyway."
This was turning out to be a very strange extraction indeed. When Tom released the sponsors to go and pick out their concubines, there wasn't the usual rush to pick the best prospects first. Only about half of them moved over towards the dance floor, with a few giving wistful glances back at Marco the bouncer.
That left a small crowd of sponsors not apparently interested in selecting a concubine. Puzzled, Tom asked Conrad, the self-appointed spokesman, "Why aren't you selecting anyone?"
"I only have two slots. You've said I have to take one woman from the Moon and you'll be picking up Neil, my significant other. That's the two I'm allowed, so you might as well ship me out now."
Tom mentally kicked himself. There weren't any women here, so everyone was having to keep at least one vacant slot. That cut down the number of concubines they needed to pick from the group here before transporting out. Combine that with extracted husbands and boyfriends... "Thanks for the explanation, Conrad. Do you know where Neil will be now? We'll get the supplementary extractions started right away."
Conrad looked at his watch. "He'll be visiting his mother for about the next forty minutes. I can give you the address."
Helen opened the door to see a wall of green in front of her. There was a name tag over the breast pocket in the wall: Petrescu. For her it was at eye level. Looking up she came to a face.
"Mrs. Atkins?" the giant asked.
"Yes, is something wrong?"
"No ma'am, nothing is wrong. We're here to see a Mr. Neil Everett-Atkins. We understand he's visiting you."
His "we" told Helen that there were actually two of them. Just as well, since she couldn't see anything beyond the first green giant. "Yes, he is. You'd better come in. He's in the lounge." She turned and led the two Marines inside. "Two gentlemen to see you, dear."
As soon as he saw them, Neil burst out, "You're Confederacy Marines, aren't you?"
"Yes we are, and you should be Neil Everett-Atkins."
"Yes. Why are you here?"
"We have extracted a Conrad Everett," the Marine explained. "He has requested we pick you up to be his concubine. Do you accept?"
Neil had already discussed the possibilities with Conrad, so he knew what to do, "I accept of course, but I thought that you didn't pick up partners?"
"The AI has registered your acceptance. Now get naked, you're a concubine."
Neil glanced at Helen, who was looking at him, smiling. "I've seen it all before, dear."
He turned his back to her and started to undress. The Marine explained, "Conrad negotiated a special deal; you got lucky."
Neil smiled and carried on undressing. He was average height and blond, like his mother. Conrad always said he had a nice smile. He didn't have a great physique, not like some of the muscle-bunnies he saw in the clubs. Ah! They must have picked up Conrad from Sadie's. He sometimes went there after work. Neil didn't understand why they'd come for him as well, but he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. He'd be able to stay with Conrad! They'd obviously both struck lucky. "Do I have to walk out naked?" he asked.
The Marine just pointed to his partner who was setting up the transport nexus. "You need to take your CAP card with you, they'll want it upstairs."
Neil dug into his jacket to retrieve his card. Seeing that the transporter wasn't ready yet, he went to hug his mother goodbye. "Look after yourself, mum."
"Yes dear, and give my love to Conrad."
"I will." Neil released his mother and quickly walked over to the transporter.
Helen watched him disappear as he stepped onto the disc. "He'll be all right, will he?" she asked.
"Yes he will, ma'am," the Marine reassured her. "He does what he's told and that's the most important thing for a concubine. We're sorry to have bothered you. We'll be on our way now."
The two Marines left, the silent one carrying the transporter.
As he lay beside his new female concubine, Conrad could hear her sniffling. "What's the problem, Denise?" he asked. He was worried that he'd done something wrong. He was not completely inexperienced with women, but he'd only actually done it twice before being extracted. Both times were while he was still at university and trying to work out exactly where his sexuality sat on the spectrum. Neither of the women had come back for more, so he'd assumed that he wasn't very good. That had been a long time ago though, and he'd stuck to men ever since.
"I don't think this is going to work," Denise sniffled. "I know you're trying your best, but it's not working. I can tell that your heart isn't in it and that spoils it for me. I don't think it will last long-term."
Despite her criticism of his performance, Conrad felt relieved that Denise had spoken up. He had come to the same conclusion himself -- that this wasn't going to work -- and he'd been dreading telling Denise that he was going to have to put her back in the concubine pool. She was really nice, an excellent mother and she and little Sophie had fitted into the new extended family really well. Except ... Except the sex wasn't working. Denise wanted it and wouldn't be getting enough if she stayed with them. Neil just wasn't interested and Conrad could perform, but reluctantly. That meant it wasn't working for Denise; she wasn't getting enough and when she did it wasn't good quality, despite all Conrad's efforts. Once a fortnight wouldn't be enough for her and would be too much for Conrad. Nobody was to blame, but the situation couldn't continue.
Conrad decided it would be better to wait before any final decisions. "I think you're right Denise. Let's talk about it in the morning, when we've both slept on it."
After breakfast, Denise took Sophie to kindergarten while Conrad briefed Neil on last night's conversation and the plans he'd made. When Denise returned they were both sitting on the sofa, holding hands. Conrad was taller than Neil and darker. Heavier too; he really ought to exercise more. Confederacy medicine could fix that of course, but somehow it felt like cheating. Neither of them were looking forward to this one bit. It wasn't anyone's fault, but it still wouldn't be easy for any of them. Denise came in and sat down, ready to talk.
"You agree that this won't work for us long-term?" Conrad asked Denise.
"Not long-term, no. I could stand it for a month or two, but by then I'd be climbing the walls. I don't fancy being farmed out to a different stud twice a week, so I think it's best if I go back into the pool now. Here on the moon there are a lot of new sponsors looking for concubines, so I have a better chance of finding someone suitable. Once we're on the ship everyone will have filled their quota, so I'd have a lot less chance of finding a good sponsor."
Conrad was relieved. He'd thought that being put back into the pool would be difficult for her, since she'd only just been picked from it. "You won't mind being back in the pool then?"
"It's not ideal, Conrad, but I can stand it. In the pool, I'll have the right to say 'No' so I can avoid the obvious predators and time wasters. I can't do that here, though it's never been a problem." She smiled at the pair of them to soften the impact of her words.
"Well, you may not even have to go back there," Conrad explained. "We've done a little matchmaking with some help from the AI."
Denise sat quietly, listening.
"We know a straight guy who's still looking for his second concubine. He's a good man, and he'll treat you right. The AI says that you will be a good match for each other. We can't guarantee that he'll take you, but he's agreed to give you a chance. We've set up a test drive for you with him later today. He's already got his wife and two young boys, both a little older than Sophie. We think it's worth you giving him a try. Otherwise you can go back into the concubine pool, with a glowing report on your time here with us. Apart from the sex thing, which is our fault really, you're an ideal concubine."
Denise collected herself. "Thanks Conrad, Neil. You say this man..."
"Marco," Neil supplied, interrupting her.
" ... this Marco is a good man?"
"Yes," Neil confirmed. "He was the doorman at a club we used to visit. The one where they picked up Conrad."
"What branch is he with?" Denise asked.
"AI?" Conrad enquired.
"Private DiMichele has volunteered for the Marines," the AI told everyone.
"How much did you have to shrink him to fit the height restrictions?" Neil asked, smiling.
His joke completely missed the AI of course. "Private DiMichele had his height increased by three point eight centimeters."
Conrad explained to Denise, "Marco was a big guy even before we were all extracted, he didn't need a lot extra to get to Marine size."
Denise nodded her understanding. "OK, I'll see him. If we don't hit it off I can always go back into the pool."
The three of them hugged, and Denise went off to repair her face. She needed to look her best for Marco.
Conrad woke up with Neil's hand on his morning wood. "Mmmm, you're awake then, dear."
"Just about. Are you after a little something then, Neil?"
"No, I was after a big something. If you really loved me, you'd have yourself extended to twelve inches. Then you could thoroughly ravage me and savage me."
"Hmmm, a nice idea, but there might be a problem. I'd have to turn you into a giraffe so you could still give me deep-throat."
"A giraffe?" Neil mused. "That might be fun. I could look down superciliously on all those big Marines."