Manuel Krug had had a busy day.
He felt cruel about turning her off. “Later,” he said, as the terrible spikes of sound met in his brain. “We have to get up now. The patriarch is waiting for us. We’re going to the tower today.”
Clissa pouted. They tumbled from bed; instantly the damnable sonics ceased. They showered, breakfasted, dressed. “Are you sure you really want me to come?” she asked.
He said, “My father made a point of inviting you. He thinks it’s high time you saw the tower. Don’t you want to go?”
“I’m afraid I’ll do something foolish, say something naive. I feel so awfully young when I’m around him.”
“And the other people — Senator Fearon, and the scientist, and whoever else — Manuel, I feel embarrassed already!”
“All right. All right.”
“And remember: the tower is going to strike you as the most marvelous enterprise of humanity since the Taj Mahal. Tell him that after you’ve seen it. Not in so many words, but getting the idea across your own way.”
“He’s really serious about the tower, isn’t he?” she asked. “He actually expects to talk to people in the stars.”
“How much will it cost?”
“Billions,” Manuel said.
“He’s draining our heritage to build that thing. He’s spending everything.”
“Not quite everything. We’ll never hurt for cash. Anyway, he made the money; let him spend it.”
“But on an obsession — a fancy—”
“Stop it, Clissa. It isn’t our business.”
“Tell me this, at least. Suppose your father died tomorrow, and you took charge of everything. What would happen to the tower?”
Manuel set up the coordinates for their transmat jump to New York. “I’d halt work on it the day after tomorrow,” he said. “But I’ll gut you if you ever let him know that. Get in, now. Let’s go.”
* * * *
Naturally there were compensating benefits when you went the other way. In the summer of ’16, on the day before his wedding, Manuel and some of his friends of the Spectrum Group had raced the dawn westward around the world. They began at 0600 on a Saturday in the Amboseli Game Preserve, with the sun coming up back of Kilimanjaro, and off they went to Kinshasa, Accra, Rio, Caracas, Veracruz, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Auckland, Brisbane, Singapore, Pnompenh, Calcutta, Mecca. No visas were needed in the transmat world, no passports; such things were too obviously absurd with instantaneous travel available. The sun plodded along, as always, at a feeble thousand miles an hour; the leaping travelers had no such handicap. Although they paused fifteen minutes here, twenty minutes there, enjoying a cocktail or nipping a floater, buying small souvenirs, touring famous monuments of antiquity, yet they constantly gained time, pressing farther and farther backward into the previous night, outstripping the sun as they sped about the globe, striding into Friday evening. Of course, they lost all they had gained when they crossed the dateline and were dumped into Saturday afternoon. But they nibbled away the loss by continuing westward, and when they came round to Kilimanjaro again it was not yet eleven on the same Saturday morning from which they had departed, but they had circled the world and had lived a Friday and a half.
You could do such things with a transmat. You could also, by timing your jumps with care, see two dozen sunsets in a single day, or spend all your life under the blaze of eternal noon. Nevertheless, arriving in New York at 1140 from California, Manuel resented having had to surrender this segment of morning to the transmat.
His father greeted him formally in his office with a pressure of palms, and hugged Clissa with somewhat more warmth. Leon Spaulding hovered uneasily to one side. Quenelle stood by the window, back to everyone, studying the city. Manuel did not get along with her. He generally disliked his father’s mistresses. The old man picked the same type every time: full lips, full breasts, jutting buttocks, fiery eyes, heavy hips. Peasant stock.
Krug said, “We’re waiting for Senator Fearon, Tom Buckleman, and Dr. Vargas. Thor will take us on the grand tour of the tower. What are you doing afterward, Manuel?”
“I hadn’t thought—”
“Go to Duluth. I want you to get to know something about the plant operations there. Leon, notify Duluth: my son arrives for an inspection trip early this afternoon.”
Spaulding went off. Manuel shrugged. “As you wish, father.”
“Time to extend your responsibilities, boy. To develop your management capacities. Someday you be boss of all this, eh? Someday, when they say Krug, they mean
“I’ll try to live up to the trust you’ve placed in me,” Manuel said.
He knew he wasn’t fooling the old man with his glibness. And the old man’s show of paternal pride wasn’t fooling him. Manuel was aware of his father’s intense contempt for him. He could see himself through his father’s eyes: a wastrel, a perpetual playboy. Against that he held his own image of himself: sensitive, compassionate, too refined to brawl in the commercial arena. Then he tumbled through that image to another view of Manuel Krug, perhaps more genuine: hollow, earnest, idealistic, futile, incompetent. Which was the real Manuel? He didn’t know. He didn’t know. He understood less and less about himself as he grew older.
Senator Fearon stepped from the transmat.
Krug said, “Henry, you know my son Manuel — the future Krug of Krug, he is, the heir apparent — ?”
“It’s been many years,” Fearon said. “Manuel, how are you!”
Manuel touched the politician’s cool palm. He managed an amiable smile. “We met five years ago in Macao,” he said gracefully. “You were passing through, en route to Ulan Bator.”
“Of course. Of course. What a splendid memory! Krug, this is a fine boy here!” Fearon cried.
“You wait,” Krug said. “When I step down, he’ll show you how a
Manuel coughed and looked away, embarrassed. Some compulsive sense of dynastic need forced old Krug to pretend that his only child was a fit heir to the constellation of enterprises he had founded or absorbed. Thus the constant show of concern for Manuel’s “training,” and thus the abrasive, repetitive public insistence that Manuel would some day succeed to control.
Manuel had no wish to take command of his father’s empire. Nor did he see that he was capable of it. He was only now outgrowing his playboy phase, groping his way out of frivolity the way others might grope their way out of atheism. He was looking for a vehicle of purpose, for a vessel to contain his formless ambitions and abilities. Someday, perhaps, he might find one. But he doubted that Krug Enterprises would be that vehicle.
The old man knew that as well as Manuel did. Inwardly he scorned his son’s hollowness, and sometimes the scorn showed through. Yet he never ceased pretending that he prized his son’s judgment, shrewdness, and potential administrative skills. In front of Thor Watchman, in front of Leon Spaulding, in front of anyone who would listen, Krug went on and on about the virtues of the heir apparent. Self-deluding hypocrisy, Manuel thought. He’s trying to hoax himself into believing what he knows damned well won’t ever be true. And it won’t work. It can’t work. He’ll always have more real faith in his android friend Thor than he will in his own son. For good reason, too. Why not prefer a gifted android to a worthless child? He made us both, didn’t he?
Let him give the companies to Thor Watchman, Manuel thought.
The other members of the party were arriving. Krug shepherded everyone toward the transmat banks.
“To the tower,” he cried. “To the tower!”
* * * *
Clissa had gone to the edge of hysteria. “Don’t look,” Manuel told her, folding his arms about her as the wallscreen in the control center showed the scene of the lifting of the block from the corpses. To Spaulding he said, “Sedative. Fast.”
The ectogene found him a tube of something. Manuel jammed the snout against Clissa’s arm and activated it. The drug leaped through her skin in a soft ultrasonic spurt.
“Were they killed?” she asked, head still averted.
“It looks that way. Possibly one survived. The others never knew what hit them.”
“The poor people.”
“Not people,” Leon Spaulding said. “Androids. Only androids.”
Clissa lifted her head. “Androids are people!” she blazed. “I don’t ever want to hear something like that again! Don’t they have names, dreams, personalities—”
“Clissa,” Manuel said gently.
“—ambitions,” she said. “Of course they’re people. A bunch of
Spaulding was rigid, eyes glassy with rage. The ectogene seemed to tremble on the verge of an angry retort, but his fierce discipline saw him past the moment.
“I’m sorry,” Clissa murmured, looking at the floor. “I didn’t mean to get personal, Leon. I — I — oh, God, Manuel, why did any of this have to happen?” She began to sob again. Manuel signaled for another sedative tube, but his father shook his head and came forward, taking her from him.
Krug cradled the girl in his immense arms, half crushing her against his huge chest. “Easy,” he said, hugging her. “Easy, easy, easy. It was a terrible thing, yes. But they didn’t suffer. They died clean. Thor will look after the hurt ones. He’ll shut off their pain centers and make them feel better. Poor Clissa, poor, poor, poor, poor Clissa — you’ve never seen anyone die before, have you? It’s awful when it’s so sudden, I know. I know.” He comforted her tenderly, stroking her long silken hair, patting her, kissing her moist cheeks. Manuel watched in astonishment. He had never seen his father so gentle before in his life.
But of course Clissa was something special to the old man: the instrument of dynastic succession. She was supposed to be the steadying influence that would guide Manuel to an acceptance of his responsibilities, and she also was charged with the task of perpetuating the name of Krug. A paradox, there: Krug treated his daughter-in-law as though she were as fragile as an ancient porcelain doll, but yet he expected a stream of sons shortly to begin to flowing from her loins.
To his guests Krug now said, “Too bad we end the tour this way. But at least we saw everything before it happened. Senator, gentlemen, I’m grateful that you came to see my tower. I trust you come again when it’s a little more finished. Now we go, eh?”
Clissa seemed calmer. It troubled Manuel that not he but his father had been the one to soothe her.
Reaching out to take her, he said, “I think Clissa and I will head back to California. A couple of hours together on the beach and she’ll be steadier. We—”
“You are expected this afternoon in Duluth,” said Krug stonily.
“Send for household androids to fetch her,” he said. “You go to the plant.” Turning away from Manuel, Krug nodded to his departing guests and said to Leon Spaulding, “New York. The upper office.”
* * * *
“When will you come?” she asked.
“Early this evening, I guess. We have a date in Hong Kong, I think. I’ll get back in time to dress for dinner.”
“I have Duluth to do. The android plant.”
“Get out of it.”
“I can’t. You heard him tell me to go. Anyway, the old man’s right: it’s about time I saw it.”
“What a bore. An afternoon in a factory!”
“I have to. Sleep well, Clissa. Wake up with this ugly thing that happened here left far behind. Shall I program an erasure wire for you?”
“You know I hate having my memory tampered with, Manuel.”
“Yes. I’m sorry. You’d better go, now.”
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you,” he told her. He nodded to the androids. They took her arms and led her into the transmat.
He was alone, except for a couple of unknown betas who had arrived to take charge of the control center in Watchman’s absence. He walked coolly past them into Watchman’s private office at the rear of the dome, pushed the door shut, and nudged the input of the telephone. The screen lit up. Manuel tapped out the call numbers of a scrambler code, and the screen responded with the abstract pattern that told him his privacy was guaranteed. Then he punched the number of Lilith Meson, alpha, in the android quarter of Stockholm.
Lilith’s image glowed on the screen: an elegantly constructed woman with lustrous blue-black hair, a high-bridged nose, platinum eyes. Her smile dazzled. “Manuel? Where are you calling from?” she asked.
“The tower. I’m going to be late.”
“Two or three hours.”
“I’ll shrivel. I’ll fade.”
“I can’t help it, Lilith. His majesty commands me to visit the Duluth android plant. I must go.”
“Even though I’ve rearranged a week’s shifts to be with you tonight?”
“I can’t tell him that,” Manuel said. “Look, it’s only a few hours. Will you forgive me?”
“What else can I do? But how dull to have to go sniffing in vats when you could be—”
“It’s known as noblesse oblige. Anyway, I’ve become a little curious about the android facts of life since you and I — since we — Do you know, I’ve never been inside one of the plants?”
“Never. Wasn’t ever interested. Still not interested, except in one special angle of it: here’s my chance to find out what sort of things are under that lovely scarlet skin of yours. Here’s my chance to see how Krug Synthetics makes Liliths by the batch.”
“Are you sure you really want to know?” she asked, dropping her voice into cello range.
“I want to know all there is to know about you,” Manuel said earnestly. “For better, for worse. So forgive me for coming late, will you? I’ll be taking a Lilith lesson in Duluth. And I love you.”
“I love you,” said Alpha Lilith Meson to the son of Simeon Krug.
* * * *
Manuel now toured those stations of the way like a visiting proconsul, weighing the work of the underlings. He rode in a plush bubblecar as seductively comfortable as a womb, which glided along the fluid track that ran the length of the building, high above the operations floor. Beside him in the car was the factory’s human supervisor, a neat, crisp, fortyish man named Nolan Bompensiero, who, although he was one of the key men in the Krug domain, sat tense and rigid, in obvious fear of Manuel’s displeasure. He did not suspect how resentful Manuel was of this assignment, how bored he was, how little he cared to brandish power by making trouble for his father’s employees. Manuel had only Lilith on his mind. This is the place where Lilith was born, he thought. This is the way that Lilith was born.
At each section of the factory an alpha — the section supervisor — entered the car, riding with Manuel and Bompensiero to the end of his own zone of responsibility. Most of the work at the plant was under the direction of alphas; the entire giant installation employed only half a dozen humans. Each alpha looked as tense as Bompensiero himself.
Manuel passed first through the rooms where the high-energy nucleotides constituting DNA, the basic building-block of life, were synthesized. He gave half-hearted attention to Bompensiero’s quick, nervous spiel, tuning in only on an occasional phrase.
“—water, ammonia, methane, hydrogen cyanide, and other chemicals — we use an electrical discharge to stimulate the formation of complex organic compounds — the addition of phosphorus—
“—a simple process, almost primitive, don’t you think? It follows the line of the classic Miller experiment of 1952 — medieval science, right down there on the floor—
“—the DNA determines the structure of the proteins in the cell. The typical living cell requires hundreds of proteins, most of them acting as enzymes, biological catalysts—
“—a typical protein is a molecular chain containing about two hundred amino acid subunits linked together in a specific sequence—
“—the code for each protein is carried by a single gene, which in turn is a particular region on the linear DNA molecule — all of this of course you must know, forgive me for restating such elementary material, forgive me, I only wish to—”
“Of course,” Manuel said.
— and here, in these vats, we make the nucleotides and join them into dinucleotides, and string them together to form DNA, the nucleic acid that determines the composition of—”
Lilith, from those vats? Lilith, from that stinking brew of chemicals?
The car drifted smoothly forward. An alpha supervisor departed; another alpha, bowing stiffly, smiling fixedly, entered.
Bompensiero said, “We design the DNA templates, the blueprints for the life-form we wish to create, but then the task is to make the living matter self-replicating, since surely we cannot build an android cell by cell ourselves. We must reach what we call the takeoff stage. But naturally you know that the DNA is not directly involved in protein synthesis, that another nucleic acid acts as an intermediary, RNA, which can be coded to carry the genetic messages laid down in the DNA—
“—four bases or chemical subunits, arranged in varying combinations, form the code — adenine, guanine, uracil, cytosine—”
“—in these vats — you can almost imagine the chains forming — the RNA transmits the DNA instructions — protein synthesis is conducted by cellular particles called ribosomes, which are about half protein and half RNA — adenine, guanine, uracil, cytosine — the code for each protein is carried by a single gene, and the code, inscribed on messenger-RNA, takes the form of a series of triplets of the four RNA bases — you follow?”
“Yes, certainly,” said Manuel, seeing Lilith swimming in the vats.
“As here. Adenine, adenine, cytosine. Cytosine, cytosine, guanine. Uracil, uracil, guanine. AAC, CCG, UUG — it’s almost liturgical, isn’t it, Mr. Krug? We have sixty-four combinations of RNA bases with which we can specify the twenty amino acids — quite an adequate vocabulary for the purpose! I could chant the whole list for you as we travel this hall. AAA, AAG, AAC, AAU. AGA, AGG, AGC, AGU. ACA—”
The alpha who was traveling with them at the moment coughed loudly and clutched his waist, grimacing.
“Yes?” Bompensiero said.
“A sudden spasm,” said the alpha. “A digestive difficulty. Pardon me.”
Bompensiero returned his attention to Manuel. “Well, no need to run down all the sequences. And so we put together the proteins, you see, building up living molecules in precisely the way it happens in nature, except that in nature the process is triggered by the fusion of the sexual gametes, whereas we synthesize the genetic building-blocks. We follow the human genetic pattern, naturally, since we want a human-looking end product, but if we wished we could synthesize pigs, toads, horses, Centaurine proteoids, any form of life we chose. We pick our code, we arrange our RNA, and presto! The pattern of our final product emerges precisely as desired!”
“Of course,” said the alpha, “we don’t follow the human genetic code in
Bompensiero nodded eagerly. “My friend here brings up a vital point. In the earliest days of android synthesis your father decided that, for obvious sociological reasons, androids must be instantly identifiable as synthetic creations. Thus we introduce certain mandatory genetic modifications. The red skin, the absence of body hair, the distinctive epidermal texture, are all designed mainly for identification purposes. Then there are the modifications programmed for greater bodily efficiency. If we can play the role of gods, why not do it to the best effect?”
“Why not?” Manuel said.
“Away with the appendix, then. Rearrange the bony structure of the back and pelvis to eliminate all the troubles that our faulty construction causes. Sharpen the senses. Program for optimum fat-versus-muscle balance, for physical esthetics, for endurance, for speed, for reflexes. Why make ugly androids? Why make sluggish ones? Why make clumsy ones?”
“Would you say,” Manuel asked casually, “that androids are superior to ordinary human beings?”
Bompensiero looked uneasy. He hesitated as if trying to weigh his response for all possible political impacts, not knowing where Manuel might stand on the vexed question of android civil rights. At length he said, “I think there’s no doubt about their physical superiority. We’ve
“Yes,” Manuel said. “Certainly.” He pointed toward the distant floor. “What’s going on right down there?”
“Those are the replication vats,” said Bompensiero. “The chains of basic nucleic matter undergo division and extension there. Each vat contains what amounts to a soup of newly conceived zygotes at the takeoff stage, produced by our build-up procedures of protein synthesis instead of by the sexual process of the union of natural gametes. Do I make myself clear?”
“Quite,” said Manuel, staring in fascination at the quiescent pink fluid in the great circular tanks. He imagined he could see tiny specks of living matter in them; an illusion, he knew.
Their car rolled silently onward.
“These are the nursery chambers,” Bompensiero said, when they had entered the next section and were looking down on rows of shining metal vaults linked by an intricate webwork of pipes. “Essentially, they’re artificial wombs, each one enclosing a dozen embryos in a solution of nutrients. We produce alphas, betas, and gammas here in Duluth — a full android range. The qualitative differences between the three levels are built into them during the original process of synthesis, but we also supply different nutritional values. These are the alpha chambers, just below to our left. To the right are the betas. And the next room, coming up — entirely gammas.”
“What’s your distribution curve?”
“One alpha to 100 betas to 1000 gammas. Your father worked out the ratios in the beginning and they’ve never been altered. The distribution precisely fits human needs.”
“My father is a man of great foresight,” said Manuel vaguely.
He wondered what the world would have been like today if the Krug cartel had not given it androids. Perhaps not very different. Instead of a small, culturally homogeneous human elite served by computers, mechanical robots, and hordes of obliging androids, there might be a small, culturally homogeneous human elite served only by computers and mechanical robots. Either way, twenty-third century man would be living a life of ease.
Certain determining trends had established themselves in the past few hundred years, long before the first clumsy android had staggered from its vat. Primarily, starting late in the twentieth century, there had been the vast reduction in human population. War and general anarchy had accounted for hundreds of millions of civilians in Asia and Africa; famine had swept those continents, and South America and the Near East as well; in the developed nations, social pressures and the advent of foolproof contraception had produced the same effects. A checking of the rate of population growth had been followed, within two generations, by an absolute and cascading decline in actual population.
The erosion and almost total disappearance of the proletariat was one historically unprecedented outcome of this. Since the population decline had been accompanied by the replacement of men by machines in nearly all forms of menial labor and some not so menial, those who had no skills to contribute to the new society were discouraged from reproducing. Unwanted, dispirited, displaced, the uneducated and the ineducable dwindled in number from generation to generation; and this Darwinian process was aided, subtly and then openly, by well-meaning officials who saw to it that the blessings of contraception were denied to no citizen. By the time the masses were a minority, genetic laws reinforced the trend. Those who had proven themselves unfit might not reproduce at all; those who merely came up to norms might have two children per couple, but no more; only those who exceeded norms could add to the world’s human stock. In this way population remained stable. In this way the clever inherited the earth.
The reshaping of society was worldwide. The advent of transmat travel had turned the globe into a village; and the people of that village spoke the same language — English — and thought the same thoughts. Culturally and genetically they tended toward mongrelization. Quaint pockets of the pure past were maintained here and there as tourist attractions, but by the end of the twenty-first century there were few differences in appearance, attitudes, or culture among the citizens of Karachi, Cairo, Minneapolis, Athens, Addis Ababa, Rangoon, Peking, Canberra, and Novosibirsk. The transmat also made national boundaries absurd, and old concepts of sovereignty melted.
But this colossal social upheaval, bringing with it universal leisure, grace, and comfort, had also brought an immense and permanent labor shortage. Computer-directed robots had proved themselves inadequate to many tasks: robots made excellent street-sweepers and factory workers, but they were less useful as valets, baby-sitters, chefs, and gardeners. Build better robots, some said; but others dreamed of synthetic humans to look after their needs. The technique did not seem impossible. Ectogenesis — the artificial nurturing of embryos outside the womb, the hatching of babies from stored ova and sperm — had long been a reality, chiefly as a convenience for women who did not wish to have their genes go down to oblivion, but who wanted to avoid the risks and burdens of pregnancy. Ectogenes, born of man and woman at one remove, were too thoroughly human in origin to be suitable as tools; but why not carry the process to the next step, and manufacture androids?
Krug had done that. He had offered the world synthetic humans, far more versatile than robots, who were long-lived, capable, complex in personality, and totally subservient to human needs. They were purchased, not hired, and by general consent they were regarded by law as property, not persons. They were slaves, in short. Manuel sometimes thought it might have been simpler to make do with robots. Robots were things that could be thought of as things and treated as things. But androids were things that looked uncomfortably like people, and they might not acquiesce in their status of thinghood forever.
The car glided through room after room of nursery chambers, silent, darkened, empty but for a few android monitors. Each fledgling android spent the first two years of its life sealed in such a chamber, Bompensiero pointed out, and the life rooms through which they were passing contained successive batches ranging in age from a few weeks to more than twenty months. In some rooms the chambers were open; squads of beta technicians were preparing them to receive new infusions of takeoff-level zygotes.
“In this room,” said Bompensiero many rooms later, “we have a group of matured androids ready to be ‘born.’ Do you wish to descend to the floor area and observe the decanting at close range?”
Bompensiero touched a switch. Their car rolled serenely off its track and down a ramp. At the bottom they dismounted. Manuel saw an army of gammas clustered around one of the nursery chambers. “The chamber has been drained of nutrient fluids. For some twenty minutes now the androids within have been breathing air for the first time in their lives. The hatches of the chamber now are being opened. Here: come close, Mr. Krug, come close.”
The chamber was uncovered. Manuel peered in.
He saw a dozen full-grown androids, six male, six female, sprawled limply on the metal floor. Their jaws were slack, their eyes were blank, their arms and legs moved feebly. They seemed helpless, vacant, vulnerable.
Bompensiero, at his elbow, whispered, “In the two years between takeoff and decanting, the android reaches full physical maturity — a process that takes humans thirteen to fifteen years. This is another of the genetic modifications introduced by your father in the interests of economy. We produce no infant androids here.”
Manuel said, “Didn’t I hear somewhere that we turn out a line of android babies to be raised as surrogates by human women who can’t—”
Gammas were lifting the dozen newborn androids from the nursery chamber and carrying them to gaping machines that seemed part wheelchair, part suit of armor. The males were lean and muscular, the females high-breasted and slim. But there was something hideous about their mindlessness. Totally passive, utterly soul-empty, the moist, naked androids offered no response as they were sealed one by one into these metallic receptacles. Only their faces remained visible, looking out without expression through transparent visors.
Bompensiero explained, “They don’t have the use of their muscles yet. They don’t know how to stand, to walk, to do anything. These training devices will stimulate muscular development. A month inside one and an android can handle itself physically. Now, if we return to our car—”
“These androids I’ve just seen,” Manuel said. “They’re gammas, of course?”
Manuel was stunned. “But they seemed so … so… “ He faltered. “Moronic.”
“They are newly born,” said Bompensiero. “Should they come out of the nurseries ready to run computers?”
They returned to the car.
Manuel saw young androids taking their first shambling steps, and tumbling, and laughing, and getting to their feet and doing it better the second time. He visited a classroom where the subject being taught was bowel control. He watched slumbering betas undergoing personality imprints: a soul was being etched into each unformed mind. He donned a helmet and listened to a language tape. The education of an android, he was told, lasted one year for a gamma, two for a beta, four for an alpha. The maximum, then, was six years from conception to full adulthood. He had never fully appreciated the swiftness of it all before. Somehow the new knowledge made androids seem infinitely less human to him. Suave, authoritative, commanding Thor Watchman was something like nine or ten years old, Manuel realized. And the lovely Lilith Meson was — what? Seven? Eight?
Manuel felt a sudden powerful urge to escape from this place.
“We have a group of betas just about to leave the factory,” said Bompensiero. “They are undergoing their final checkout today, with tests in linguistic precision, coordination, motor response, metabolic adjustment, and several other aspects. Perhaps you would care to inspect them yourself and personally—”
“No,” Manuel said. “It’s been fascinating. But I’ve taken up too much of your time already, and I have an appointment elsewhere, so I really must—”
Bompensiero did not look grieved to be rid of him. “As you wish,” he said obligingly. “But of course, we remain at your service whenever you choose to visit us again, and—”
“Where is the transmat cubicle, please?”
* * * *
Lilith greeted him in a sumptuous, clinging, floor-length high-spectrum gown. Since it was nothing more than a monomolecular film, it left no contour of her body concealed. She drifted forward, arms outstretched, lips parted, breasts heaving, whispering his name. He reached for her.
He saw her as a speck drifting in a vat.
He saw her as a mass of replicating nucleotides.
He saw her naked and wet and vacant-eyed, shambling out of her nursery chamber.
He saw her as thing, manufactured by men.
Thing. Thing. Thing. Thing. Thing. Thing. Thing.
He had known her for five months. They had been lovers for three. Thor Watchman had introduced them. She was on the Krug staff.
Her body pressed close to his. He brought his hand up and cupped one of her breasts. It felt warm and real and firm through the monomolecular gown, as he drew his thumb across the tip of her nipple it hardened and rose in excitement. Real. Real.
He kissed her. His tongue slipped between her lips. He tasted the taste of chemicals. Adenine, guanine, cytosine, uracil. He smelled the smell of the vats. Thing. Thing. Beautiful thing. Thing in woman’s shape. Well named, Lilith. Thing.
She drew away from him and said, “You went to the factory?”
“And you learned more about androids than you wanted to know.”
“You see me with different eyes now. You can’t help remembering what I really am.”
“That is absolutely not true,” Manuel said. “I love you, Lilith. What you are is no news to me. And makes no difference at all. I love you. I love you.”
“Would you like a drink?” she asked. “A weed? A floater? You’re all worked up.”
“Nothing,” he said. “It’s been a long day. I haven’t even had lunch yet and I think I’ve been going for forty hours. Let’s just relax, Lilith. No weeds. No floater.” He unsnapped his clothing, and she helped him out of it. Then she pirouetted before a doppler; there was a brief rising burst of sound and her gown disappeared. Her skin was light red, except for the dark brown of her nipples. Her breasts were full, her waist was narrow, her hips flared with the impossible promise of fertility. Her beauty was inhumanly flawless. Manuel fought the dryness in his throat.
She said sadly, “I could feel the change in you the moment you touched me. Your touch was different. There was — fear? — in it. Disgust?”
“Until tonight I was something exotic to you, but human, like a Bushman would be, an Eskimo. You didn’t keep me in a separate category outside the human race. Now you tell yourself that you’ve fallen in love with a mess of chemicals. You think you may be doing something sick by having an affair with me.”
“Lilith, I beg you to stop it. This is all in your mind!”
“I came here. I kissed you. I told you I loved you. I’m waiting to go to bed with you. Maybe you’re projecting some guilts of your own on me when you say—”
“Manuel, what would you have said a year ago about a man who admitted he’d been to bed with an android?”
“Plenty of men I know have been—”
“What would you say about him? What kind of words would you use? What would you think of him?”
“I’ve never considered such things. They simply haven’t concerned me, ever.”
“You’re evading. Remember, we promised that we wouldn’t play any of the little lie-games people play. Yes? You can’t deny that at most social levels, sex between humans and androids is regarded as a perversion. Maybe the only perversion that’s left in the world. Am I right? Will you answer me?”
“All right.” His eyes met hers. He had never known a woman with eyes that color. Slowly he said, “Most men regard it as, well, cheap, foul, to sleep with androids. I’ve heard it compared to masturbation. To doing it with a rubber doll. When I heard such remarks, I thought they were ugly, stupid expressions of anti-android prejudice, and I obviously didn’t have such attitudes myself, or I never could have fallen in love with you.” Something in his mind sang mockingly,
He gathered her to him. His hand swept down her satiny skin from her breasts to her belly to her loins. Her thighs parted, and he clasped his fingers over the mount of Venus, as fleeceless as an infant’s, and suddenly he trembled at the alien texture he felt there, and found himself unmanned by it, though it had never troubled him before. So smooth. So terribly smooth. He looked down at her, at her bareness. Bare, yes, but not because she had been shaven. She was like a child there. Like — like an android. He saw vats again. He saw moist crimson alphas whose faces were without expression. He told himself sternly that to love and android was no sin. He began to caress her, and she responded, as a woman would respond, with lubrication, with little ragged bursts of breath, with a tightening of her thighs against his hand. He kissed her breasts and clutched her to him. It seemed then that the blazing image of his father hovered like a pillar of fire in the air before him. Old devil, old artificer! How clever to design such a product! A product. It walks. It talks. It seduces. It gasps in passion. It grows tumescent in the labia minora, this product. And what am I? A product too, hey? A hodgepodge of chemicals stamped out from much the same sort of blueprint-mutatis mutandis, of course. Adenine. Guanine. Cytosine. Uracil. Born in a vat, hatched in a womb — where’s the difference? We are one flesh. We are different races, but we are one flesh.
His desire for her returned in a dizzying surge and he pivoted, topped her, drove himself deep within her. Her heels hammered ecstatically on his calves. The valley of her sex throbbed, clasping him in authentic frenzy. They rocked and climbed and soared.
When it was over, when they had both come down, she said, “That was disgustingly bitchy of me.”
“The scene I made. When I was trying to tell you what I thought was in your mind.”
“Forget it, Lilith.”
“You were right, though. I suppose I was projecting my own misgivings. Maybe I feel guilty about being the mistress of a human. Maybe I
“We can’t help it. We breathe it all the time. We’re reminded a thousand times a day that we aren’t real.”
“You’re as real as anyone I’ve ever known. More real than some.” More real than Clissa, he did not add. “I’ve never seen you clutched like this before, Lilith. What’s happening?”
“Your factory trip, she said. “Until today I was always sure that you were different. That you hadn’t ever spent one second worrying about how or where I was born, or whether there might be something wrong about what we have going. But I was afraid that once you saw the factory, saw the whole process in clinical detail, you might change — and then, when you came in tonight, there was something about you, something chilly that I knew hadn’t been part of you before—” She shrugged. “Maybe I imagined it. I’m sure I imagined it. You aren’t like the others, Manuel. You’re a Krug; you’re like a king; you don’t have to build up your status by putting other people down. You don’t divide the world into people and androids. You never did. And a single peek into the vats couldn’t change that.”
“Of course it couldn’t,” he said in the earnest voice in which he did his lying. “Androids are people, and people are people, and I’ve never thought otherwise, and I never will think otherwise. And you’re beautiful. And I love you very much. And anyone who believes that androids are some kind of lesser breed is a vicious madman.”
“You support full civic equality for androids?”
“I — well—”
“All androids ought to be equal to humans. But alphas ought to be more equal than the others.”
“You bitch. Are you playing games again?”
“I’m sticking up for alpha prerogatives. Can’t a down-trodden ethnic group establish its own internal class distinctions? Oh, I love you, Manuel. Don’t take me seriously all the time.”
“I can’t help it. I’m not really very clever, and I don’t know when you’re joking.” He kissed the tips of her breasts. “I have to go now.”
“You just got here!”
“I’m sorry. I really am.”
“You came late, we wasted half our time in that dumb argument — stay another hour, Manuel!”
“I have a wife waiting in California,” he said. “The real world intervenes from time to time.”
“When will I see you again?”
“Soon. Soon. Soon.”
“Day after tomorrow?”
“I don’t think so. But soon. I’ll call first.” He slipped his clothes on. Her words cracked in his mind.
* * * *
“By the shore,” a beta valet told him.
Manuel changed quickly, took the freshener, and went out on the beach. Clissa was a hundred meters away, wading in the surf; three long-legged beach-birds ran in giddy circles around her, and she was calling to them, laughing, clapping her hands. He was almost upon her before she noticed him. After Lilith’s voluptuousness, she seemed almost wickedly immature: narrow hips, flat boyish buttocks, the breasts of a twelve-year-old. The dark hairy triangle at the base of her belly seemed incongruous, improper. I take children for my wives, he thought, and plastic women for my mistresses. “Clissa?” he called.
She swung about. “Oh! You scared me!”
“Having some fun in the ocean? Isn’t it too cold for you?”
“It’s never too cold for me. You know that, Manuel. Did you have a good time at the android plant?”
“It was interesting,” he said. “What about you? Feeling better now, I see.”
“Better? Was I sick?”
He looked at her strangely. “This morning — when we were at the tower — you were, well, upset—”
“1648, give or take a minute.”
“I’d better get dressed soon, then. We’ve got that early dinner party in Hong Kong.”
He admired her ability to slough off traumas. He said, “Right now it’s still morning in Hong Kong. There’s no hurry.”
“Well, then, do you want to take a swim with me? The water’s not as cold as you think. Or—” She paused. “You haven’t kissed me hello, yet.”
“Hello,” he said.
“Hello. I love you.”
“I love you,” he said. Kissing her was like kissing alabaster. The taste of Lilith was still on his lips. Which is the passionate, vital woman, he wondered, and which the cold, artificial thing? Holding his wife, he felt no sensation at all. He released her. She tugged at his wrist, pulling him with her into the surf, and they swam a while, and he came out chilled and shivering. At twilight they had cocktails together in the atrium. “You seem so distant,” she told him. “It’s all this transmat jumping. It takes more out of you than the doctors know.”
For the party that night she wore a unique treasure, a necklace of pear-shaped soot-hued glassy beads. A Krug Enterprises drone probe, cruising 7.5 light-years from Earth, had scooped those driblets of matter from the fringes of the ashen, dying Volker’s Star. Krug had given them to her as a wedding present. What other woman wore a necklace made up of chunks of a dark star? But miracles were taken for granted in Clissa’s social set. None of their dinner companions appeared to notice the necklace. Manuel and Clissa stayed at the party well past midnight Hong Kong time, so that when they returned to Mendocino the California morning was already far advanced. Programming eight hours of sleep for themselves, they sealed the bedroom. Manuel had lost track of the sequence of time, but he suspected that he had been awake for more than twenty-four consecutive hours. Sometimes transmat life gets to be too much to cope with, he thought, and brought down the curtain on the day.