Authors: Lisa Lace
Tags: #Romance / Fantasy
Life isn't worth living without an Internet connection. I'm always on the computer, video chatting, and even reading books on my phone.
It was natural for me to use the TerraMates app to find a husband.
I didn't know they would match me with a sexy alien who was afraid of high technology and send me to a mysterious planet where the penalty for having a smartphone was execution!
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I walked out of the childcare facility wand stepped onto one of the transporter pads that had finally been installed around town, entering the coordinates closest to my second job. Some people refused to use the transporters. They were afraid their bodies might not emerge at their destination. Not me.
If there was a new device or gadget, I had it. If there was new technology somewhere, I was the first in line to try it. I swiped my phone over the payment processor and waited, tapping my fingers nervously against my thigh.
The moment stretched too long, and I bit my lip. Not again. A beep sounded, and the screen lit up:
Transaction incomplete due to insufficient funds
I couldn't believe it. I just got paid. How could my mother have spent it all already? I angrily pressed my lips together. Now I would have to dip into my college savings for everyday expenses, and that made me upset.
I had worked in different places since I was twelve years old. I had started out babysitting and working under the table at my father's restaurant. Then I got a job at a summer camp while I was in high school. When the restaurant closed, I got another job as a waitress at a fancy high-end restaurant where I made huge tips in addition to my paycheck.
When I finished high school, I started working at a childcare center, taking care of three and four-year-olds and running the preschool program — plus my job waiting tables at the new restaurant in the evenings. I was chronically exhausted and frankly, a little depressed at how little my life resembled my dreams.
I wanted to be a teacher. I had always wanted to, as long as I could remember. I wanted to walk into my classroom and see a bunch of sweet little shining faces looking up at me. I wanted to create fabulous lessons that would engage the kids and have them learning new things in such interesting ways that they wouldn't even know they were learning.
I wanted those sweethearts to come in and give me hugs and apples and pictures of people with arms coming out of their heads. And I wanted to be well-paid so I wouldn't have to work so hard anymore.
I also wanted a pony.
The screen was still flashing the insufficient funds message.
Right. Like I would ever get to become a teacher.
I tried not to get down on myself, but ever since my parents got divorced, my mother's life had taken a turn for the worse. She could hardly take care of herself anymore. She was always shopping for great 'deals', as she called them, and spending all the money. I needed to move out. Even if I had to pay all the rent myself, I could still save more if she wasn't spending everything I made. But I didn't see how she would manage without me.
What did I have to show from all my years of saving? I had saved nearly every penny, working summers and weekends, and almost every weeknight after school. Now that I had a full-time job, I tried to keep half my paycheck. My money disappeared like water down a drain.
I stepped off the transporter pad and began walking up the street. There was a cold drizzle coming down, and my uniform was getting damp. The restaurant was a thirty-minute walk away. Even though I took quick steps, I wasn't sure if I would make it on time.
How much did I have saved? Only one year's tuition. I didn't even want to go to the best university. All that work and I could only pay for one measly year. The thought made me want to cry.
I needed five hundred thousand credits to go to school and get an education degree. Tears sprang to my eyes as I walked. I wondered if I would ever be able to get that much money. I had been denied a student loan twice before because my mother couldn't pass the credit check. My father? I didn't know where he lived now or if he was even alive.
I sniffed and wiped at my eyes behind my Internet-connected glasses. When I blinked, the time popped up in front of my retinas. Shit. I was going to be late. I couldn't look like a mess when I got to work, so I made myself stop crying. It wouldn't help matters. The prettier I looked, the better the tips. I fixed my make up as much as I could. I stood up straighter.
I would earn the money somehow. I would figure it out. I would become a teacher.
I had made this vow before to myself. Today with the clouds and the rain and the insufficient funds message, it was a bit much to take. Combined with being late for work...my manager hated when I was late...it all just seemed so hopeless. I sighed. The suffocating feeling of being trapped in a life I didn't want and had never asked for weighed me down.
If only there was some other way to get the money. But any other way was probably against the law. If I couldn't get a loan and it would take me years to save, the only other option for getting that much money was taking it.
I wouldn't do that. I snorted at the thought. I couldn't steal.
But if only there were a way to get the money that wasn't stealing...I felt my heart longing for some other way. An easier way than working my fingers to the bone for the next ten years. At this rate, I would be dead of exhaustion before I even had a chance to go to college.
If only there were some other way.
That night, as I sat on my bed at midnight, trying to relax enough to go to sleep, I pulled out my phone. Sometimes when I feel bad, I'll buy myself a new app. It's the only indulgence I allow myself because they're not very expensive. I know it sounds like something my mother would do: buying stuff when you're feeling down. But it was a small thing, and it made me happy.
I tapped on the store, and a page came up, showing different categories. I went through all my favorites but found nothing that interested me. Back on the front page, I noticed a new group. It was called
Love and Relationships
I hadn't had a boyfriend since high school. When would I find time to go on a date when I was working two jobs? In fact, I had turned down a guy who asked for a date tonight. Instead, I came home and hung out with myself. I preferred technology to people. Technology didn't let me down unless I forgot to update my phone.
Love and Relationships
I stared at the category, then tapped it to see what sort of apps were in there. The first one that I saw was one called M8r — as in mate-er. Cute. Developed by a company called TerraMates.
TerraMates? As in find your soul mate?
I tapped on it. What the hell could this app be for?
Oh my God. It was a mail-order bride service.
I giggled. Who would be desperate enough to use an app to arrange their marriage? I read through the description, laughing until I got to the fine print. You had to click twice to get there, but I always did. I never knew what things the app developers were trying to get away with, and I always read everything, especially the fine print.
At the bottom after reading all the other legalese, in what must have been 5 point font, it said they compensated female applicants for the worry and stress caused by leaving Earth and moving far away to an alien planet. At least, that's what I understood from the convoluted legal language.
I sat back in shock. So the men were
? And the women got paid to marry them? Holy shit.
Of course, my next question was
How much do they pay
"Do you wish to become a TerraMates bride, Miss Beauchene?" Mrs. Lynch, the owner of this TerraMates branch, looked over her glasses and down her long and pointy nose at me in an intimidating manner.
I worked with three-year-olds and senile, rich assholes who snap their fingers for my service. I wasn't intimidated easily.
"Actually," I said, ignoring her look and sitting forward in my seat. "I think there's been a bit of a misunderstanding. I wanted to find out more information. I found your app and was curious if your service might be a fit for what I'm looking for."
"Miss Beauchene, the only thing we provide are husbands. If you are looking for anything else, you need not apply," she said curtly.
How could anyone be that bitchy?
"Okay, then. Suppose I did want a husband, how does the process work?"
"You fill out an application and undergo various medical and psychological tests. Based on your application, and your test results, we may approve you. If you are approved, we match you with a male."
"An alien, you mean," I said. I needed everything spelled out.
"Miss Beauchene, please." I sat back to distance myself from the lightning bolts shooting from her eyes. "How are you not an alien to him? We do not tolerate bigotry here at TerraMates and will not approve anyone who displays such tendencies."
I raised both hands. "Hang on a minute. I'm not prejudiced, and as I recall, I didn't say anything derogatory about aliens. I'm trying to keep things straight in my mind. I want to make sure I understand what I'm getting into if I choose to apply to become a bride, Mrs. Lynch. Don't get your knickers in a knot."
"Miss Beauchene, we do not use such vulgar language here. You are already failing the interview portion of the evaluation."
"If I didn't apply yet, how can you start evaluating me?" I asked. My face was becoming hot. This wasn't fair.
"In my experience, Miss Beauchene, whether the woman knows it or not, by the time she arrives at our office, she has already made a decision about entering into an arranged marriage."
I stared at her, my swagger deflating.
"Those who are truly on the fence stay at home and remain on the fence. They don't come to our offices for more information."
I had the feeling if she knew what air quotes were, she would have put them around the words 'more information'.
I sat back and crossed my legs. If this was an interview, I had a few questions myself. "If I'm not passing, what am I doing wrong? What do the girls who pass do instead?"
She folded her hands together in her lap.
"You have an attitude problem, Miss Beauchene, and too much irreverence. You appear independent, which isn't necessarily a desirable quality. To be frank, you're not very pretty. Physical beauty is not a must-have, but it certainly helps."
I sat back in shock. No one had ever told me I was unattractive to my face. I thought about my appearance. I was wearing glasses, and my hair was in a messy braid behind my head. Wild strands of hair were escaping and rioting around my face. I hadn't put on any make-up, and I probably had bags under my eyes from last night.
It was my day off. I was going to pick up some groceries for dinner when I happened to pass by the TerraMates office and thought I would pop in and get a brochure. I wasn't looking particularly glamorous today, but I had always thought I was mildly pretty in a girl-next-door sort of way. Not beautiful by any stretch of the imagination, but easy on the eyes.
What did this woman know anyway?
The receptionist didn't give me a pamphlet. She led me into Mrs. Lynch's office and asked me to wait. Apparently the interview started as soon as Mrs. Lynch walked through the door.
"I'm not saying you shouldn't apply. We have assisted many potential brides similar to you who have been satisfied with their alien husband."
"Happy?" I repeated distantly. I wasn't listening to her. I couldn't get over the fact that I wasn't pretty enough to be a mail-order bride. Surely, an alien who used such a service couldn't afford to be choosy. If they wanted to be picky, they could go and find a three-eyed wife of their own.
"Yes, we have a high rate of..."
"Divorce?" I finished for her. I was confident that was what she was going to say.
"No," she said, giving me a steely glance. "We have a very low divorce rate, which you would know if you did any research on our company. Very few of our women request a divorce when they complete the required year."