Chapter 13 – Baronies

There was silence in the van for a moment, then Borne laughed.

"That's very forthright of you," FX said.

"But I mean it," Svetlana insisted. "Attend: These neb-runners also deal in androids, do they not? That is what I have heard, and it makes sense. Instant people are illegal and thus dangerous, and you only need them for jobs that need initiative and dedication. It must be much easier to run off instant androids and sell them legally. And an android trade would make a good cover for a neb trade."

"All very true," said FX. "We were planning to investigate android importers. You're suggesting we work at both ends and investigate android buyers too?"

"Yes. Starting with me."

"Who did you buy your androids from?" FX asked her.

"Actually, I did not buy them. They were given to me by my parents. Some were bought by them, others were bred on my parents' plantation. My parents bought their stock from Android Breeders' Guild of Earth."

FX pulled out a notebook and scribbled with his fingertip. "ABG is a very big, very reputable company. So your androids are almost certainly clean. But we'll check. For practice."

"How will you check?" Isaiah asked. "What's the difference between a normal android and a neb-android?"

"'Sheb,'" said FX. "Psychically created androids are called shebs. A sheb almost certainly has the genetic code of the psychic who created it, for one thing, even if it looks like a normal android. But we have three people in this van who can read histories. The simplest way to check is to see if the android started life as a baby android or as an adult." He looked expectantly at Svetlana.

She nodded. "I have checked about half of my android staff. They are all normal."

FX hesitated. "I hope you were discrete."

Jeanette sighed. Svetlana glanced from one to the other and answered, "Yes, I was. No one knows I checked. Including the androids. I did not know if you wanted to work covertly."

"He does," said Jeanette.

"I do," FX echoed. He turned to Jeanette. "I don't like tipping my hand."

Jeanette nodded. "Old habits die hard."

"What's the advantage of declaring ourselves?"

"Never mind. I'm sure it's good strategy. It's just that you're doing it out of habit, not thought."

"I'll think it over later, if you like. After we decide on a cover story."

Isaiah turned to look out the window, leaving FX and the others to compose their story. The van was running along a highway now, parallel to a wide river, the Tudor. A residential area ran on the other side of the road. They were near the edge of the city.

The van glided onto a launch ramp and took to the air again, skimming down the river at the same low altitude at which it had crossed the bay. It passed over tugs and timber barges, and soon was beyond the city of Kingston altogether.

Forest flanked the river, now – blue forest. Sky blue, navy blue, robin's-egg blue, nearly pure laser-blue. The double sunlight sparkled complexly off the azure leaves. Isaiah feasted his eyes; it was a long time since he had seen a forest, blue or green or any other color.

There was a lull in the conversation (or argument) about the cover story. The android coughed. It was such a human sound, light and inconsequential. The android was very nearly human, far more so than Daima or Isaiah's friends Max and Matthew, a neo-cat and a computer. Humans could even cross-breed with some androids, Isaiah had heard, though the hybrids were sterile.

In fact, androids were developed from human tissue, by scientists working for the psi lord of Amsterdam, about eleven decades ago. No sooner had Terran Space and Philippia made contact, ten years ago, than labor-hungry Philippia had begun buying androids. Self-reproducing, largely self-healing and self-training, they had all the advantages of human labor and none of the disadvantages, since they could not suffer or rebel.

The limbic system of an android brain was not stimulated by the rest of the brain, but by organs resembling the electrical sensors of sharks and eels. Androids had no emotions; instead, they were programmed, in childhood, through those organic radio transceivers in their heads. In adolescence, their limbic systems lost even the transceiver connection and the radio became only an inter-android communications channel.

At the moment, it was illegal for Carmelites to buy, sell, or own androids. It was the same on Aurelius. On Capek, any androids were confiscated and sent to habilitation clinics. On Earth, they were status symbols. On many worlds, they were taxed or rationed or restricted in other ways, to prevent competition with human labor.

Isaiah had not devoted a lot of thought to the android issue. So far, he found it confusing. On the one hand, creating an emotionally crippled race of slaves looked clearly monstrous. On the other hand, whoever felt strongly about the android issue, it certainly wasn't the androids. No emotions; it said so right there in the spec. Could you abuse a creature who couldn't suffer?

Isaiah stared at the back of the chauffeur's head and suddenly realized he could now check for himself that androids had no emotion. He started to reach out telepathically, then hesitated. If he made himself aware of the android's emotions (or lack thereof), he also made the android aware of his emotions. This might confuse it. He looked out the window. They were about ten meters up. Isaiah decided he did not want to confuse the pilot.

They rounded a bend in the river. A break in the trees came in sight. There stood a dock, with some boats moored to it and a coat of arms, red and yellow, mounted on a piling. Beyond lay peacock-blue lawn, a stretch of vegetable garden, and then a cluster of buildings. Some figures worked in the garden. Androids? The plantation swept past and vanished as the van followed the next bend of the river.

"Right, then," said FX, summing up. "We'll just say Jeanette had a nasty run-in on Carmel with the locals, and our group helped get her out of trouble. She's visiting Svetlana to recover from the terrible experience and Svetlana generously invited the rest of us to come along. We're all just tourists."

"In uniforms?" asked Isaiah.

"I'll glamour them. As I said."

"Sorry." Apparently this point had been covered while he stared out the window and mused on androids.

"And we don't hide that Borne is her brother, but we claim he runs a little solo tour ship and we were his passengers when he came to rescue his sister."

"All right," said Isaiah. "Where are we from?"

"Wherever we're really from. Where are you from, anyway?"

"Earth, originally. Europe."

"Oh. Well, read up on some current Earth news as soon as you can."

Isaiah nodded and turned back to the window, where another plantation was gliding by. This one had a boathouse, blazoned in blue and yellow. Then there was another long stretch of woods.

Several plantations later, the air-van veered to the right and landed on the drive behind another dock. Three figures stood waiting to greet them and Isaiah reflected that all of them were transgenic – two androids and a neo-dog.

"Welcome back, madam," said the dog as soon as Svetlana was out of the van. He was a big, short-haired creature, built like a mastiff except for the blockier, brainer head, and the firm lips, designed for speech. All neo-dogs had zebra-striped coats, to make them easily distinguishable from ordinary eo-dogs. His stripes were black on fawn, almost tiger-like, but many of them were hidden under his green jacket, blazoned with Svetlana's gold bear and stripe.

"Hello, Grieze. Friends, this is Gerard Grieze, my castelan." Svetlana went on to introduce the travelers to Grieze individually. She did not introduce the other two figures, a pair of androids. They were of a labor clone, big, beefy, and moon-faced. Like the chauffeur, they were blazoned to the eyeballs.

After introductions, Svetlana led them down the path toward a long, low house of white wood. Some scaffolding at one end showed it was not quite finished. Likewise, the vegetable gardens on either side of the path were still being plowed and planted for the first time. "I shall tell Grieze the real story," Svetlana announced. "He is officially in charge of security here, and should know."

Isaiah heard Grieze behind them, giving orders to the androids about the luggage. "You should also tell the chauffeur not to mention our real story," he said. "It heard the entire discussion, after all."

"Oh! Yes, good idea. Though these androids hardly ever volunteer information. They certainly don't gossip."

"Good," said Isaiah.


An hour later, Isaiah was seated in the dining hall, watching Philippian aristocracy at work. In some ways, it was a faithful imitation of European feudalism. Svetlana sat at the head of a long table, flanked by two more long tables. Around her, arranged in degrees of precedence, sat the rest of the residents of the baronial plantation. Behind Svetlana hung a banner bearing her arms. All very medieval. But...

The hall was made of pale wood, not stone, and most of it looked raw and unfinished. The servitors were androids, indistinguishable from the chauffeur. And neo-apes and neo-dogs made up many of the folk at the table.

"Why so many neo-beasts?" Borne asked him. Borne sat on Isaiah's right. To his left was Jeanette, then Svetlana. Opposite them were FX and Vivian, then Canorus and Daima. As guests, they ranked seats near the head, and must have displaced the people just below them. Isaiah glanced over their faces but saw no immediate signs of resentment.

"Opportunity," he told Borne. "Philippia is labor-hungry. Back in Terran Space, few neo-beasts can qualify as legal adults, and those few find people don't take them seriously. No one will hire them. But the Philippians will. So, for the last five years or so, there's been a steady stream of neo-beast immigrants to Philippia. I'm not sure how they'll take it if they don't rise through the hierarchy at the same speed as humans."

Svetlana spotted an android standing at parade rest and beckoned it over. "You told me you were curious to read an android's mind," she said to Isaiah. "Try now. Jeanette and Canorus will check out its origins."

Isaiah felt the psi-tingle as they revved up their powers. He looked up at the android and wondered if discovering its origin might be simpler than a psychic probing. It had a pin on its collar, reading "18."

"Eighteen, where did you come from?" he asked.

"I was bred on the estate of my lady's parents," the android answered, "out of Six."

"And they purchased all the single digits from ABG," Svetlana said. "Eighteen, these people are going to examine you. It will be a telepathic examination, in part, so you may notice unusual thoughts. They are not illness or damage, so do not worry."

"Yes, my lady." Eighteen did not even look interested, much less worried.

Isaiah cleared his mind and reached out for the android's. He was immediately aware of Jeanette's contact, the strong impression of her presence. The android's presence seemed a neutral background to hers. Peripherally, he felt the presences of the other people in the room, but his attention, following Jeanette's, pointed toward the android. Together, they worked down to the empathic level.

... And nearly missed it. Dazed? Bored? Depressed? No, the android was none of those. If Isaiah needed any proof that he was not imagining his telepathic contacts, he had it now; he had never imagined such a vacuous equanimity; if he had ever experienced this state, he had ignored it, and no wonder.

Telepathy was always a reciprocal contact. The android could read them as deeply as they read it. But it did not. It had not been told to, and so did not bother. It was not even interested in its unprecedented mental experience, or in the relatively intense emotions of its readers.

Isaiah probed deeper. Verbal thought was equally absent; the android had no need to think just now. At the sensory level, it was ignoring them and thinking about the layout of the table and room. The conceptual level showed it was planning its actions for removing the salad dishes.

Isaiah could not yet go deeper by himself. He followed as Jeanette sank further, into the level of conscious memory and on into unconscious. Isaiah wordlessly offered his mnemonic help. Jeanette smiled (and though his eyes were closed, Isaiah felt the affect), and told him to look for the earliest possible memories.

In short order, Isaiah found some memories of Eighteen as a toddler, imitating its parent, Six. He felt a certain satisfaction in being able to read another's memories. It was the first time he had done it except in lessons.

No, he realized he had falsely referred the satisfaction. This was Eighteen's memory of the satisfaction it took in imitating Six. Isaiah followed a flash of insight up and down the associative paths of Eighteen's mind. This tiny, temperate, sober emotion was apparently the whole of Eighteen's motivation in life. And even that had been driven by radio stimulation, the parent Six sending training signals into the brain of the infant android.

Jeanette, meanwhile, had forged all the way back to the birth trauma. Well, the birth memory. It had not been particularly traumatic. Eighteen had spent only six months in its parent's womb, and had been born correspondingly small, though in no way premature. Infant memories showed the starkly neat rooms of an android barracks, the grounds of a Philippian estate, occasional images of the young Svetlana and her parents.

She dropped the link. Isaiah followed suit, blinked, and looked around. Canorus was gazing sourly at Eighteen. "Find anything?" he asked the Melior.

Canorus shook his head. "This thing has led a very dull life."

"Fortunately," said Jeanette, "it doesn't care. Do you, Eighteen?"

"No, ma'am."

"Thank you. That's all." Eighteen consummated its fondest wish and started to clear away the salad dishes.

"Perfectly genuine," Isaiah told Svetlana, who nodded.

"At least you have had practice," she said.

"Yes. And now I can tell an android's mind at a single touch. If mind-reading was literature, an android's mind would be a phone directory. I'm sure no human mind, even a neb's, is ever that numb. Not outside a mental hospital."


After supper, Isaiah went to his new room to settle in. Like his cabin on the ship and his cell back on Carmel, it was rather bare; unlike either of them, it was big. The bed could take two very comfortably. The closet was walk-in. A vast window looked out on forest and garden and made the whole place feel bigger still. So did the wood of walls and floors, pale blue and delicately marbled. There were no pictures or rugs, but in a house still under construction, this just said, "The management apologizes for not being opulent ... yet."

Isaiah unpacked, picked out a book, lay down on the bed, and read. It was late in the evening by his body's clock, but Philippia's day was thirty hours long, and sunlight still flooded the room when there was a knock at the door. It was Jeanette.

"May I come in?" she asked.

"Certainly. What is it?"

"I'd like your help with amnesia. I need to forget something."

"All right." He watched her carefully as she entered and sat down. She was irritated. "Can we do this without my finding out what you need to forget?"

"Sorry, no. You'll need to know anyway. This is it: the team – Canorus and Daima, at least – are going to go housebreaking among the nobles and merchants."

Isaiah sat down opposite her, on the bed. "Why?" He did not feel surprised.

"To look over androids. The neb-runners won't try to sell clone shebs; clones are so standardized, any deviations might be noticed; and they're too cheap. So they'll be selling zygote shebs if they sell androids at all. Oh, wait. How much do you know about androids?"

"Enough to understand you. I remember that a 'sheb' is an android created from ectoplasm. I know the clone androids reproduce asexually, by parthenogenesis – that's why they're clones – and are cheaper than the zygote androids, which reproduce sexually and have to be individually bred. Like race horses. Or people."

"Right," said Jeanette. "Zygote androids, including any shebs, are used as high-class servants – valets, technical assistants, things like that."

"And Canorus and Daima need to go housebreaking to locate these androids?"

"They think so," Jeanette said sourly.

"Won't sales of androids leave a data trail?"

"Not really. Androids don't have to be licensed here. There's just the cash transaction."

"So how do they know who's bought androids lately?" Isaiah asked. "How do they even know which houses to break into?"

"From chat boards on the net. There are a couple of open ones on keeping androids, and Svetlana has a subscription to another one. Canorus had Wisper search them for references to buying zygotes around the time of my first visit."

"With what result?"

"Twelve, uh, 'suspects' made purchases in that month."

"And the only way to examine these people's androids is to break into their houses?"

Jeanette sighed. "They worry that a buyer might have got their sheb knowingly, while buying nebs – maybe nebs disguised as shebs."

"Is 'they' Canorus?"

"Mostly. But FX agrees and the others go along."

Isaiah sighed. "And you want to forget about all this?"

"Yes. I want a trigger to forget about it while I'm around Svetlana. If she learned of this– Well, she wouldn't report us, but she could get in terrible trouble if we got caught. I know some voluntary amnesia, but I'm not very good at it. I've been trying to forget this, but I can't."

"I'll be glad to help, then. But why not ask Vivian? Her psychic hypnosis works like a charm. I speak from personal experience."

"She's setting it up for all the others. But I'd rather have you, please."

Isaiah opened his mouth to ask why, then shut it. It was, maybe, too personal a question. Was it just because he was the only one Jeanette was not cross with, at the moment? "Thank you very much," he said. "Now, we have to work out the exact conditions of the trigger."

On to Chapter 14, Tracking
Back to Chapter 12, Philippia
Return to Dragons' Teeth Introduction
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop

Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2013