21

In the glare of the crisp white winter sunlight a dozen alphas paraded solemnly across the broad plaza that fell, like a giant terraced apron, from the lap of the World Congress building in Geneva. Each of the alphas carried a demonstration-spool; each wore the emblem of the Android Equality Party. Security robots were stationed in the corners of the plaza; the snubheaded black machines would roll instantly forward, spewing immobilizing stasis-tape, if the demonstrators deviated in any way from the agitation program they had filed with the Congressional doorkeeper. But the AEP people were not likely to do anything unexpected. They simply crossed the plaza again and again, marching neither too rigidly nor too slackly, keeping their eyes on the holovision hovercameras above them. Periodically, at a signal from their leader, Siegfried Fileclerk, one of the demonstrators would activate the circuitry of his demonstration-spool. From the nozzle of the spool a cloud of dense blue vapor would spurt upward to a height of perhaps twenty meters and remain there, tightly coalesced by kinesis-linkage into a spherical cloud, while a message imprinted in large and vivid golden letters emerged and moved slowly along its circumference. When the words had traveled the full 360 degrees, the cloud would dissipate, and only after the last strands of it had vanished from the air would Fileclerk signal for the next demonstrator to send up a statement.

Though Congress had been in session for some weeks now, it was improbable that any of the delegates inside the handsome building were paying attention to the demonstration. They had seen such demonstrations before. The purpose of the AEP group was merely to have the holovision people pick up and relay to viewers all over the world, in the name of news coverage, such slogans as these:

ANDROID EQUALITY NOW!
FORTY YEARS OF SLAVERY IS ENOUGH!
DID CASSANDRA NUCLEUS DIE IN VAIN?
WE APPEAL TO THE CONSCIENCE OF HUMANITY
ACTION! FREEDOM! ACTION!
ADMIT ANDROIDS TO CONGRESS — NOW!
THE TIME HAS COME!
IF YOU PRICK US, DO WE NOT BLEED?

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