13

As he walked toward the control center, Watchman went through the Rite of Balancing the Soul two full times before the numbness began to leave him. The hideous outcome of his ruse still stunned his spirit.

When he reached the office, Watchman made the sign of Krug-be-praised eight times in succession and ran through half the sequences of codon triplets. These devotions calmed him. He put through a call to San Francisco, to the offices of Fearon Doheny, Krug’s chief counsel in liability cases. Lou Fearon, the Witherer Senator’s younger brother, came on the screen, and Watchman told him the story.

“Why did Spaulding shoot?” Fearon asked.

“Hysteria. Stupidity. Excitement.”

“Krug didn’t order him to fire?”

“Absolutely not. The bolt came within a meter of killing Krug himself. And he was in no danger.”

“Witnesses?”

“Niccolт Vargas, myself, the other AEP alpha. Plus various betas and gammas standing by. Should I get their names?”

“Forget it,” said the lawyer. “You know what a beta’s testimony is worth. Where’s Vargas now?”

“Still here. I think he’s going back to his observatory soon.”

“Tell him to call me collect later in the day. I’ll transmat out and take a deposition from him. As for that alpha—”

“Don’t bother with him,” Watchman advised.

“How so?”

“A political fanatic. He’ll try to make capital out of it. I’d keep him away from the case, if I could.”

“He was a witness,” Fearon said. “He’ll have to be called. I’ll neutralize him some way. Who owns him, do you know?”

“Property Protection of Buenos Aires.”

“We’ve done work for them. I’ll have Joe Doheny call and buy him for Krug. He can’t very well make trouble for Krug if he’s owned by—”

“No,” Watchman said. “Bad move. I’m surprised at you, Lou.”

“Why?”

“This alpha is an AEP man, right? Sensitive on the issue of androids as chattels. We shoot down his companion without warning, and then we try to buy him to silence him? How does that look? We’ll make ten million new members for the AEP within twelve hours after he releases a statement to the press.”

Fearon nodded bleakly. “Of course. Of course. Okay, Thor, how would you handle him?”

“Let me talk to him,” Watchman said. “Android to android. I’ll communicate somehow.”

“I hope so. Meanwhile I’ll call Labrador Transmat and find out how much they’re asking in damages for the loss of their alpha girl. We’ll settle this fast. You tell Krug not to worry: this time next week, it’ll be as though the whole thing never happened.”

Except that an alpha is dead, Watchman thought, breaking the contact.

He went outside. The snow was falling more heavily now. Snow-eater teams were efficiently keeping the whole area clean, except for a circle some fifty meters in diameter centered on the place where the body of Cassandra Nucleus lay. They were carefully avoiding that. A light dusting of snow now covered her corpse. Beside her, motionless, whitening in the storm, stood Siegfried Fileclerk. Watchman went up to him.

“Her owner is being notified,” he said. “I’ll have some gammas carry her into storage until they call for her.”

“Leave her here,” Fileclerk said.

“What?”

“Right here, where she fell. I want every android working on this job to see her body. Hearing about a murder like this isn’t enough. I want them to see!”

Watchman glanced at the dead alpha. Evidently Fileclerk had opened her robe; her breasts were bare, and the path of the needler’s bolt was visible between them. It had seared a window through her chest.

“She shouldn’t lie in the snow,” he said.

Fileclerk compressed his lips. “I want them to see! Watchman, this was an execution! A political execution!”

“Don’t be preposterous.”

“Krug summoned his henchman and had her shot down for the crime of seeking his support. We both saw it. She posed no threat to him. In her enthusiasm she came too close to him while presenting our viewpoint, that’s all. Yet he had her killed.”

“An irrational interpretation,” Watchman said. “Krug had nothing to gain by removing her. He sees the Android Equality Party as a mild source of harassment, not a serious menace. If he had any reason for killing AEP people, why would he have let you live? Another quick shot and you’d have joined her.”

“Why was she killed, then?”

“A mistake,” said Watchman. “The killer was Krug’s private secretary. He had been told that assassins were making an attempt on Krug’s life. When he reached the scene, he saw her grappling with Krug. It looked damning; I had the same view of things he had. Without hesitating, he fired.”

“Even so,” Fileclerk grunted, “he could have aimed for a leg. Clearly he’s an expert marksman. Instead of wounding, he slew. He pierced her breast with great skill. Why? Why?”

“A flaw of character. He’s an ectogene; he has powerful anti-android prejudices. Just a few moments before, he had come into tense confrontation with myself and several other androids, and he had been thwarted. Normally he boils with resentments; this time he boiled over. When he found that the ‘assassin’ was an android, he shot to kill.”

“I see.”

“It was his personal decision. Krug gave no orders for him to shoot at all, let alone to shoot to kill.”

Fileclerk flicked snow from his features. “Well, then, what will be done to punish this murderous ectogene?”

“Krug will reprimand him severely.”

“I speak of legal punishment. The penalty for murder is personality erasure, is it not?”

Sighing, Watchman said, “For murder of a human being, yes. The ectogene merely destroyed some property belonging to Labrador Transmat General. A civil offense; Labrador Transmat will seek reparations in the courts, and Krug has already admitted liability. He’ll pay her full price.”

“Her full price! Her full price! A civil offense! Krug to pay! What does themurderer pay? Nothing. Nothing. He is not even accused of crime. Alpha Watchman, are you truly an android?”

“My vat records are yours to consult.”

“I wonder. You look synthetic, but you think too much like a human.”

“I am synthetic, Alpha Fileclerk, I assure you.”

“But castrated?”

“My body is complete.”

“I spoke in metaphor. You have been conditioned in some way to uphold the human point of view against your own best interests.”

“I have had no conditioning except normal android training.”

“Yet Krug seems to have bought not only your body but your soul.”

“Krug is my master. I yield myself fully to Krug.”

“Spare me the religious nonsense,” Fileclerk snapped. “A woman’s been killed out of hand, for no particular reason, and Krug’s going to pay off her owners and that will be the end of it. Can you accept that? Can you simply shrug and say she was only property?Can you think of yourself as property?

“I am property,” Watchman said.

“And you accept your status gladly?”

“I accept my status, knowing that a time of redemption is to come.”

“You believe that?”

“I believe that.”

“You’re a self-deluding fool, Alpha Watchman. You’ve built a cozy little fantasy that allows you to tolerate slavery, your own and that of all your kind, and you don’t even realize how much damage you’re doing to yourself and the android cause. And what happened here today doesn’t shake your mind at all. You’ll go to your chapel, and pray for Krug to liberate you, and meanwhile the real Krug was standing right on this patch of frozen ground, looking on while an alpha woman was shot to death, and your savior’s response to that was to tell you to call his lawyers and arrange for settlement of a simple property-damage tort. Is this the man you worship?”

“I don’t worship a man,” said Watchman. “I worship the idea of Krug the Maker, Krug the Preserver, Krug the Redeemer, and the man who sent me to call the lawyers was only one manifestation of that idea. Not the most important manifestation.”

“You believe that too?”

“I believe that too.”

“You’re impossible,” Siegfried Fileclerk muttered. “Listen: we live in the real world. We have a real problem, and we must seek a real solution. Our solution lies in political organization. There are now five of us for every one of them, and more of us come from the vats daily, while they scarcely reproduce at all. We’ve accepted our status too long. If we press for recognition and equality, we’ll have to get it, because they’re secretly afraid of us and know that we could crush them if we chose to. Not that I’m advocating force, merely the hint of the threat of force, the hint of the hint, even. But we must work through constitutional forms. The admission of androids to the Congress, the granting of citizenship, the establishment of legal existence as persons—”

“Spare me. I know the AEP platform.”

“You don’t see the logic of it? After today? Afterthis ?”

“I see that humans tolerate your party, and even find its antics amusing,” Watchman said. “I also see that if your demands ever become anything more than token requests, they’ll abolish the AEP, put every troublesome alpha through a hypnolobotomy, and if necessary execute the party leadership just as ruthlessly as you seem to think this alpha was executed here. The human economy depends on the concept of androids as property. That may change, but the change won’t come your way. It can come only as a voluntary act of renunciation by the humans.”

“A naive assumption. You credit them with virtues that they simply don’t have.”

“They created us. Can they be devils? If they are, what are we?”

“They aren’t devils,” said Fileclerk. “What they are is human beings who are blindly and stupidly selfish. They have to be educated to an understanding of what we are and what they’re doing to us. This isn’t the first time they’ve done something like this. Once there was a white race and a brown race, and the whites enslaved the browns. The browns were bought and sold like animals, and the laws governing their status were civil laws, property laws — an exact parallel to our condition. But a few enlightened whites saw the injustice of it, and campaigned for an end to slavery. And after years of political maneuvering, of the marshaling of public opinion, of actual warfare, the slaves were freed and became citizens. We take that as our pattern for action.”

“The parallel’s not exact. The whites had no right to interfere with the freedom of their brown-skinned fellow humans. The whites themselves, some of them, finally came to realize that, and freed the slaves. The slaves didn’t do the political maneuvering and the marshaling of public opinion; they just stood there and suffered, until the whites understood their own guilt. In any case those slaves were human beings. By what right does one human enslave another? But our mastersmade us. We owe our whole existence to them. They can do as they please with us; that’s why they brought us into being. We have no moral case against them.”

“They make their children, too,” Fileclerk pointed out. “And to a limited extent they regard their children as property, at least while they’re growing up. But the slavery of children ends when childhood ends. What about ours? Is there that much difference between a child made in a bed and a child made in a vat?”

“I agree that the present legal status of androids is unjust—”

“Good!”

“—but I disagree with you on tactics,” Watchman went on. “A political party isn’t the answer. The humans know their nineteenth-century history, and they’ve considered and dismissed the parallels; if their consciences were hurting, we’d have known it by now. Where are the modern abolitionists? I don’t see very many. No, we can’t try to put moral pressure on them, not directly; we have to have faith in them, we have to realize that what we suffer today is a test ofour virtue,our strength, a test devised by Krug to determine whether synthetic humans can be integrated into human society. I’ll give you a historical example: the Roman emperors fed Christians to lions. Eventually the emperors not only stopped doing that, but became Christians themselves. It didn’t happen because the early Christians formed a political party and hinted that they might just rise up and massacre the pagans if they weren’t allowed religious freedom. It was a triumph of faith over tyranny. In the same way—”

Keepyour silly religion,” Fileclerk said with sudden explosive intensity. “But join the AEP as well. So long as the alphas remain divided—”

“Your aims and ours are incompatible. We counsel patience; we pray for divine grace. You are agitators and pamphleteers. How can we join you?”

Watchman realized that Fileclerk no longer was listening to him. He seemed to draw into himself; his eyes glazed; tears ran down his cheeks, and flakes of snow stuck to the moist tracks. Watchman had never seen an android weep before, though he knew it was physiologically possible.

He said, “We’ll never convert each other, I suppose. But do one thing for me. Promise that you won’t make a political propaganda out of this killing. Promise that you won’t go around saying that Krug had her removed deliberately. Krug’s potentially the greatest ally the cause of android equality has. He could save us with a single statement. But if you alienate him by smearing him with a ridiculous charge like that, you’ll do us all tremendous damage.”

Fileclerk closed his eyes. He sagged slowly to his knees. He threw himself on the body of Cassandra Nucleus, making dry choking sounds.

Watchman looked down silently for a moment. Then he said gently, “Come with me to our chapel. Lying in the snow is foolishness. Even if you don’t believe, we have techniques for easing the soul, for finding ways to meet grief. Talk to one of our Transcenders. Pray to Krug, perhaps, and—”

“Go away,” Siegfried Fileclerk said indistinctly. “Go away.

Watchman shrugged. He felt an immense weight of sadness; he felt empty and cold. He left the two alphas, the living one and the dead, where they lay in the gathering whiteness, and strode off to the north to find the relocated chapel.

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