A Meeting of Suits
A collab of Gilt and AzulvistaFeaturing Antonio de Lebrón, Alfonso de Carvajal & Rafael Mendoza.
“With all respect, vizconde…”
“Of course, yes, señor
de Lebrón, could you explain exactly why you’ve come with us today?” Three men of very different rank all sat together in a plush but otherwise unremarkable shuttle interior, the air already beginning to thicken with tobacco smoke.
“Duque de Caravajal, Señor de Lebrón here is a member of the Republic’s diplomatic corps, just as you and I are. When it comes to foreign affairs, he is every bit as qualified as us.” Rafael’s public-facing chops had yet to warm up for their upcoming visit, but nonetheless he played the peacekeeper, trying to keep the two wildly diverging patrician personalities aboard from becoming too obvious to the latest and flashiest of the new kids on the block.
“I can speak for myself Mendoza, thank you.” Antonio rolled the edge of his cigar carefully around the ashtray built into his seat, his other hand resting around a crystal glass filled with nothing but seltzer. “To answer the question no doubt coming though, because I have been tasked to do so by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and I intend on carrying through those directives. You may be our most well-known face here on the meeting place de Caravjal, but it’s not your duchy to rule as you please.”
“Nor is it a waystation for passing-by señors
such as yourself to come in and whirlwind around like you own the place, then flit off to some distant system without any other member of the corps with you.” Alfonso’s moustache bristled a little, but he otherwise kept his composure, punctuating the end of his sentence with a slow pull on his cigar.
“Perhaps, duque, we can see what Antonio brings to the table this rotation? After all, you’ve never seen the man conduct diplomacy before. I’m sure it’ll be an enlightening experience.” Rafael snuffed the stub of his cigarette out, then slowly pulled himself to his feet.
“Arrival time in three minutes. We should make ready gentlemen.”
Docking with the Rainbow was, thankfully, a smooth process. Three-hundred years of accepting guests on and off had made this experience painless, if a little bland. There would be docking fees involved for a Giltian, but here in the Meeting Place, all mentions of money were suspended until you were entered into the city proper. For the sake of PR.
There was, of course, more than one dock, just as any prospering city must have more than one gate. The closest to the three Azulvistans was a large, somewhat messy and industrial affair run by Oldwell, the only company conservative enough to employ more humans than stamps. A metal wall opened up to let them in, hardlight shielding holding in the atmosphere for just a moment, and then it slid shut behind them with an echoing bang. They were guided to a randomly assigned place by lights and a polite, English-accented AI voice. This particular spot only had a few other Meeting Place guests in it- scattered around were ships of bronze, curved beaks like the Giltian's prefer, one with a black "X" scrawled over its corporate logo. The men did not know it, but they were parked within spitting distance of a pirate ship.
There was a long pause from the three men as they stared out at the strange dock, then one by one turned to each other. “Put on a good show, then you get to the front gate and they can’t be bothered to actually greet you.” Antonio flicked the end of his cigar down to the ground in a pointless display towards a cheerily corporate automated greeter, repeating the same sentence over and over again.
“Welcome aboard the Rainbow, Gilt’s largest ship! Would you like to hear about nearby attractions? Please mind the step.” But a hovering holograph sign over a large, open, metal door told them where they could head for something called the "Old India Marketplace," and there a greeter was welcoming anyone coming in.
Normally, with such an obvious class divide between the three men, they’d walk in a single file line, but here, things seemed far more fluid. Antonio and Alfonso walked two abreast, and although Rafael trailed behind the duo, his job was altogether quite different, his dataslate already open and an inch-long microdrone buzzing around his ear, recording every moment.
The greeter welcomed them, asked again if they’d like directions to local attractions, bars, stores or anything else, and offered them a credit chip that would be accepted at most stores until a proper currency exchange rate could be worked out. There was a pause from the three men, then finally Rafael spoke up.
“Hello there. I believe there’s been a misunderstanding - we contacted an official to arrange a meeting for foreign diplomatic delegates, not a tour around your vessel. I have the transcriptions if you require them.”
“Oh? Not a problem at all, I’ll just comm with management on that real quick.” The woman, standing inside a small booth, pressed an unseen button, and her next words were only a muffle to the Azulvistans. Some kind of holographic distortion around her mouth made lips unreadable, but body language says she was having a quick, tense interaction with someone over a speaker. The distortion vanished and she said: "Alright, just one moment. We'll have a st- an associate of mine escort you to where you can go." A few moments passed before a door inside her booth opened and let out a very human-looking stamp; the only tell-tale sign that anything was different about her was the faint, electric-blue glow of her eyes. The glow wasn't necessary, even, but it was a signal to her human owners that she had cybernetic software installed. The Azulvistans would not know this, but she could see a perfect map overlay of the Rainbow- she is probably the only person onboard never to get lost.
"My name is Suz," said the stamp. "If you'll follow me? I can lead you to a representative."
“Interesting to see obvious enhancements like that,” quipped Antonio. “That sort of thing must be rather common around these parts then?”
“Oh, my enhancements are the most common kind,” said Suz, humbly, and because she was trained to downplay her inhumanity. “Only so we won’t get lost.”
Men in tow, she led them through the door to the Old India Marketplace.
Behind the door was- everything. At least, that's what your senses told you, and it was hard to argue with them. The Rainbow was not a place that could spare any sort of space. Every inch seemed to be full. Of color, of sound, of smell, of even the gentle vibrating humm of the spaceship. The men exited out onto a particular "street" that was about fifteen feet across and led off straight for about thirty feet, before branching off into multiple directions. The overall feel of this place was like being in a tunnel- the ceiling arched darkly overhead, and the men were walled in on either side of the passage. Where the road split ahead, some of the branches led upwards like ramps, or downwards into unknown darks.
It was a baffling amount of room to see inside a spaceship. Of course, the Azulvistans weren’t unused
to the idea of making your ships a little bigger and more luxurious at the cost of practicality - even their pride frigate had seen itself enlarged and with excess comforts like carpeting and panelling put into place for the inevitable swathe of high-ranking officials and officers who rotated through its halls, but his was altogether on another level. If spaceships were mankind reclaiming life from the void, this was an indulgence of life on a completely different scale.
The Rainbow has few overhead lights. There were no streetlights, either, even though this was clearly the equivalent of a street. Instead, the multicolored hue of this whole place came only from its neon advertisements. This was a corporate-sponsored marketplace, and that means little storefronts punctuated the space every few steps. Some of the stores jutted out onto the walking path, obtrusively. One sold momentos. One repaired sym bodies.
The three men took it all in slowly, their pace now greatly reduced from when they’d been tromping through the parking lot like docking bay. They craned their necks, here Rafael would poke his head down an alleyway, camera drone zooming off and up to capture an overhead shot, there Antonio would pause to examine a stall, rapping a knuckle against its construction.
Between the grander stores, little metal or wooden stands were set up. Here the men and women behind them were not under the employ of Oldwell, but- living the true Giltian dream- were enterprising individuals, selling foods or gadgets or clothing they'd tell you that they produced themselves, but which they probably bought Giltside. The time-honored Giltian tradition of haggling meant that speech was in the air. Talk mostly like English, but with Chinese and Indian fluidly slipped in every odd sentence, as if the three languages had just spent centuries in a blender together. Teenagers leaned against the store walls and women chatted. You had to dodge and “excuse me” your way through.
And from the sound and looks, it continued in every direction.
"We're close," said Suz. "It'll just be to the right and up, then we'll take a quick ride up an elevator, and I'll introduce you to the man you can speak to. I am only a stamp, of course-" her bosses had forgotten to tell her not to mention it- "but if you have any questions, let me know, and I'll answer as best as I know how."
The obvious question was fielded near-immediately by Alfonso. “A ‘stamp,’ you say? A social caste you have?”
"Oh, I'm sorry, I don't know what a caste is," said Suz, sounding exactly like an Old Earth AI being given a request it didn't understand. "I'm a stamp. If you'd like, you may scan my code, or if you have any concerns, I can give you some contact info for my originators at Rivertown Gene-" before she could say that very important word, "factory," she was cut off by a crate-carrying man shoving his way through her. "I'm sorry!" she told him, even though it was not her fault.
The three men glanced at each other. Although ‘factory’ hadn’t been said, there was enough information from just the word ‘gene’ and the fact she apparently had a ‘code’ to be scanned for the basic implications to be grasped. This was interesting. Rafael’s fingers rattled across his datapad as the men continued.
She led them to a golden, intricate door that looked out-of-place against the metal spaceship wall, something that looked more like it would exist in a fancy hotel. "Here, our elevator." Where an Old Earth equivalent would have a panel with a dozen plastic buttons, one for every floor, the Rainbow's take on an elevator had nothing at all. You simply stepped inside, and Suz said "EBS Old Plaza, Offices, Office 76, Mr. Federov," and the gilded doors slid shut.
"Elevator," was the wrong word, because it went not only up but sideways, diagonally and every other direction you could imagine, but it did so smoothly and without too much feeling of inertia. There was no window and it was impossible to tell where they were going or how far. The feeling of being in this elevator was, you could say, very much like taking a nap as a child and waking up in a different room, not having any idea of how you got there. The four waited to the sounds of jazz-pop. Suz hummed the familiar song.
This was not actually an unusual experience for the Azulvistans. After all, their own vessels used a similar concept to get you around. They called them ‘translocators’ rather than ‘elevators’ when they didn’t just take you up and down, but it was hardly as if that would throw them. Not when so much else about this vessel was so strange already.
When the doors slid open again, they were already standing inside a totally new environment, a large but somewhat bland lobby decorated with white, soft couches, glass tables with complimentary cookies on them, and windows overlooking another crowded hodgepodge space not at all unlike the Old India Market they had just exited from. It could have taken them to any of a hundred other places like this one. The schematics of the Rainbow has been known to drive unprepared engineers to madness.
"Mr. Fedorov resides here, when he is onboard the Rainbow. This is his private apartment-office. He has been told to expect you- just within the third door, on the right, his sym assistant said. Would you like me to knock for you?"
“No thank you,” Alfonso nodded at the woman. “We’ll take it from here.” He stepped forward imperiously, raised a fist, then rapped three times, loudly, on the door.
The loud knocks were answered by footsteps, and then the doorknob turned and a blue robot, tall and thin and of a somewhat feminine design, opened the door.
"Ah, you must be the Azulvistans?" She didn't wait for an answer, since she had good facial recognition and the stamp had already seen them. "Andrei, your guests have arrived."
"Ugh," said Andrei. She let them into the sparse office. Andrei sat behind an elevated, wooden desk, and three fairly comfortable chairs were already pulled out in front. The rest of the room was mostly empty, sans a mandatory meeting table that- not being needed tonight- was pressed up against a far wall, and the tinted window that occupied the wall across from Andrei from ceiling down to floor.
"You may sit down," said the blue sym. "I'll be glad to remain standing," and she took up position beside Andrei. He was wearing a suit, his black hair slicked back and one ear with a black stud earring, and would've looked nice if it weren't for his general demeanor of a man having a Bad Day.
Of the three men, only Alfonso took a seat. Rafael remained standing, lifting a hand out for the microdrone to settle down, the ever-so-faint whine of its tiny engines cutting out so he could safely stash it away. Antonio instead took up a position to Alfonso’s right, reaching into a pocket to draw out a long, heavy metal case, carefully easing out a cigar. “You smoke?” He glanced up.
"Smoke what?" Andrei asked. "Oh, nevermind, yeah, I smoke. Blue Girl, make that thing do whatever it's supposed to do." The sym took the cigar and lit it, handed off to Andrei. He took an experimental drag.
With that handled, Antonio snipped his own cigar, Alfonso taking the opportunity to draw his own case out too. Rafael’s cigarettes would not be making an appearance, the man still rattling down the conversation in diplomatic shorthand. With the third cigar of the room now lit, Alfonso would begin.
“So you are… Andrei Federov? Is that right? Were you the one who took our initial message, or was that someone else?”
"It was someone else. Most of these things are handled below my pay grade, and then they send it up the line to see who's important enough to meet foreign diplomat types, and then my mother, she's the CEO - I work with the Earnest, Smithers and Black corporation, by the way, that's who you're talking to here - she says 'Oh, Andrei will do it,' and then she tells her sym and her sym tells Blue Girl and Blue Girl tells me at, unfortunately, six in the morning and then here you are. Nice to mee-" Andrei finished the greeting in hard, hacking coughs. The look he gave the cigar was accusatory. "Man, what's in this thing?"
“Santa Florian Cigars,
” Antonio said with a smirk. “On Old Earth, they considered Cubanos
the best of the best. The Lebrón plantation offcuts make Cubans look like tea leaves.” He extended a hand. Andrei shook it. “Incidentally, I am Señor Antonio de Severino Manuel José de la Cruz, of the march de Lebrón.”
Alfonso’s head snapped across to look at Antonio, confusion wrinkling his face. ‘March’ meant that the man was a marqués, and custom dictated that an heir could use their parent’s title in formal settings… And yet Antonio had only ever referred to himself as señor. In fact, so confused was he that he had entirely forgotten to be insulted by the lesser-ranking man introducing himself first, a mistake he was quick to rectify.
“Duque Pedro Luis Maria Fernández Alfonso Leoncio Alvarez De Caravajal, twice-duke of Veragua.” The Republic still hadn’t given up on that particular claim.
“Rafael Menoza,” the last man finally spoke up. “Of Esperanza, although I’m not of nobility.”
"Hey, neither am I,” said Andrei, “so you're in very good company, Rafael. Although I do have a long lineage, if those are appealing to you all. My family was in business back even in the Old Earth days. Have you ever heard of the Russian Oligarchs? If I add 'great-' to the word 'grandfather' enough times, eventually I'll run into some wealthy ancestors before the Fall of Old Earth. One of them started off in oil or something. Fuel of way back when."
“Way back when indeed. Azulvista never ended up with fossil fuels to begin with, but all that means is we’ve had to diversify.” Antonio nodded with understanding.
Not as much had changed for Gilt. Andrei’s forefathers pulled up fossil fuels from the earth to power society, and now…
He says, remembering his job for a moment: “Of course, we at Earnest, Smithers and Black are doing much the same thing today, in a kind of way. We are the biggest producer of stamps, the second biggest of sym bodies. We also have large stakes in all kinds of energy production and mineral extraction, especially Giltside extraction. Don’t worry, we’re highly diversified and all that- you know, a megacorp and everything- but those are the spots we’re proud to stand out on. Energy, minerals and stamps. We're the ones who keep the world rolling.”
“Ah, yes, there was a mention of ‘stamp’ already, but we’ve not had that explained to us. Are these ‘stamps’ a caste? Human-looking robots? Some kind of… Clone?” Alfonso eased himself forward, curiosity clear across his face.
"Sort of, almost, and yes," said Andrei. After a pause, he realized they were waiting on him to elaborate. "They're synthetics," he sighed a bit, "part cybernetic and part biological, made in cloning chambers. They're not human. They can look human, they can talk and work and walk around being all creepy, but only about half of their DNA really comes from us. The other half is animal, or something unique the nerds made in a lab."
"Or, harvested from the alien species native to Gilt and Argent," added Blue Girl. "Then cybernetics are added, body and brain. They are partly AI. With all that, it's debated whether they have much… humanity, or what the people of the past would have called a 'soul,' but they are created to enjoy doing particular tasks, and those are the tasks their buyers usually put them to."
A look passed across the three Azulvistano’s faces, and they slowly turned to look to each other.
<”Cybernetic and biological crossover is one thing,”> Alfonso had switched to Spanish once again. <”But animal and alien? I should not be the only one concerned here.”>
<”They seem to be fully integrated into society. This one’s a PA to an executive of some kind.”> Antonio gestured towards ‘Blue Girl.’
<”’People of the past would have called a soul?’> Rafael raised an eyebrow as he typed away.
<”Designing beings with
a soul, and then enslaving them would be terrible. But is designing something that could
have a soul, and then intentionally leaving it out not worse?
>” Alfonso shifted in his seat.
Blue Girl laughed politely, if a little tensely, and said in Spanish: <”Oh, no, I am not a stamp. I am fully AI. If any part of me looks biological to you, let me know, I’ll need to get that checked out.“>
<“Fucks sake.”> Antonio paused for a moment, then realising his swearing had been totally intelligible, followed that up with another <”Fucks sake!>”
“I admire how you speak English perfectly, but when you use English swear words in Spanish, it suddenly has an accent,” said Andrei, with no hint of irony.
There was a brief pause for a moment from Antonio, before he mumbled out a few words that sounded suspiciously unkind towards someone’s mother.
“Apologies for the sudden language switch,” Alfonso glanced over towards Andrei. “What you’ve said would be a tad controversial back home.”
Andrei nodded. He couldn’t speak Spanish. “Don’t worry about the stamps, if that’s what this is about. They’re not unhappy. Hell, they’re probably happier than we are.”
Blue Girl said, “They are. Like me, they were designed to most enjoy being helpful and serving a purpose for their creators. If you offer a stamp a choice of anything to do, this is what they would pick, and so would I.”
“See, that too would be… controversial. Although yes, one can’t be a slave if one has no concept of ‘freedom,’ but the idea of denying the ability
to conceptualise freedom…” Rafael paused for a moment, discomfort slowly spreading across both his and Alfonso’s face.
Andrei leaned back in his chair, cigar casually in one hand (he was starting to quite like it already) and asked: “Well, since we’re in a philosophy class, can I ask you- what’s the purpose of freedom? What does it do?”
Antonio and Alfonso glanced at each other, then both men spoke at the same time.
“Allows one to pursue their own path.” Another brief glance at each other, the pair of men clearly surprised that they had actually come to an agreement on something.
“Even plebeians are free to choose their path in life, guaranteed by the Republic’s constitution.” Antonio continued.
“‘A man can do as he wills, but cannot will what he wills’” quoted Andrei. “Yes, we choose our own path, but how do we make the choice? Most people go with whatever we think will make us happiest. But what makes us happy? Well, our sense of happiness is all just biology, y’know, genetic incentives to act a certain way. When you kiss a girl you get a nice rush of endorphins, so you ‘choose’ to kiss her more, but it’s just ‘cause your genes want you to keep doing that until you get a chance to reproduce.” He waved his hand lazily. “We think we choose the things that we think will make us happy, but we can’t even design our own sense of happiness. Same with the stamps. We’re as free as them, except our wants come from nature and evolution- or God, or whoever- and theirs came from us. That’s the only difference.”
“Bullshit.” Antonio said with a smirk. “Humans are not mindless endorphin-pursuing machines. Well, most of us, anyway. If we were, nobody would ever bother to do things that are hard or gruelling. The man who uproots his life to head to the frontier and eke out his living doesn’t do so because it’ll provide him with a rush of endorphins. The fanatic who perches himself atop a lamppost for three months straight is hardly flooding himself with good feelings as the rain pours down upon him. Sure, the base elements of what most would recognise as a ‘good life,’ are controlled by our pursuit of endorphins, but that’s not all that makes one happy.”
“Well, as Mr. Federov has said,” picked up Blue. “The stamps, allowed to pursue their own path, would pursue the very one they are on now. So this is all merely academic. But if we’re going to be debating- would you gentlemen like some coffee?”
Andrei nodded. He would like some coffee, always.
Blue Girl said playfully, “Andrei’s taste in coffee changes every other hour. Sometimes he loads it with milk, sometimes straight black. Once he drowned it in hazelnut flavoring in front of some Oldwell representatives and I think it almost caused a corpo-on-corpo war. We have near everything available. Would our guests like anything?”
Rafael cleared his throat. “Café pingado. Two shots, no sugar.” Alfonso gave an approving nod.
“The same for me. We’ll see if what you have holds a candle to our stuff.”
“Café lungo. One sugar.” Antonio added.
“Now, while I don’t approve of my colleague’s language, what he says holds true. To condense all of the human experience down to merely the pursuit of pleasure is… Shortsighted.” Alfonso quirked an eye towards ‘Blue Girl.’
Blue Girl nodded but, weirdly, didn’t look like she was writing any of their orders down. She just stood there. Robotically. In a moment, a knock at the door finally moved her from her statue stance, and when she opened it, two stamps were already waiting there with the coffee, on a literal silver platter, precisely as described. Cream, milk, flavorings, sugar and the dreaded hazelnut syrup were all present and accounted for.
The stamps who brought it in were of a different kind than the electric-blue, pretty girl who led the Azulvistans about the ship. They were neither electric-blue nor very pretty. At least one was actually ugly
, a reptile thing with loose, green-brown skin and a wise face like a tortoise’s. It had no shell, but it bent forward just a bit, as if its body still thought one should be there. Looks no matter, it moved gracefully and with amazing evenness, bringing down the platter onto the desk quick but without even a shake of the coffee. The other stamp was short, pitch black-eyed, exceedingly slender, spotted with patchy miss-matched skin, and four arms were clasped behind his back; but he was the more human of the two. They both wore uniforms.
The three Azulvistans watched these new stamps warily. Their appearance was certainly something, but it wasn’t their appearance alone that intrigued the trio. The simple fact that they existed in the forms that they did - stooped, wrinkled and inhuman, spoke far more about the Giltian mindset than the prim and polished Blue Girl did.
“So,” said Andrei, wanting to change the subject, and apparently deciding that this time the drink needed four spoons of sugar but no creamer at all, “what’s a plebian?”
“They are-” Alfonso started.
“Why don’t we let the one person here who’s actually a plebe speak for himself, hmm?”
Antonio cut the more senior man off with a smooth interjection, raising an eyebrow to see if the obvious challenge would be taken.
“An excellent idea,” Alfonso managed through gritted teeth. Antonio would
have been disappointed, but this was almost better.
Rafael, glanced between the two bickering patricians then cleared his throat. “There are… Two ways of describing them. The academic way, and the less polite way. The academic way would be to say that they are the majority social group on Azulvista - those whose rights are guaranteed by the constitution, but who do not receive the privileges of the patrician class. The… Less polite way would be to say that they are subjects.”
"Oh, yeah, I've read about those in history classes," said Andrei, already downing the molten hot coffee in a wild disregard for his throat. "So, your patricians head things up, and the plebians do the everyday laboring of society, non? Huh. Classic. Gilt, you guessed by now, we're run by corporations. We have wealth differences, sure, but there's not really enforced classes between humans. I know a man who started as a junior clerk, and now he sits in board meetings with me. We like to let things be more… loose, in Gilt. No real government besides corporate policy. People do what they will, and if they do it smart…" he smiled.
"But let's get down to the real business. I'm here representing EBS. You've seen aboard this ship already what Giltians are capable of. Our economy can produce very fast, and very cheap-" he decided to leave out that this was because of the free labor of stamps and syms, since some things are better left to implication- "and we are eager to make early business connections with dependable nations such as yourself."
Now it was time for Alfonso to take the lead. “I think you’ll find that any nation that has survived has done so by being self-sufficient. Because of this, we are capable of making all the staples and luxuries of living in our home system. If you want to open up our market, you’ll need something we’ve not seen before. So, by all means. Impress us.”
Andrei’s dark eyebrows shot up. “You’re floating on a spaceship bigger than Los Angeles, where four million people live full-time and where you’re told that a government-less society survived for three centuries, and a sentient tortoise just brought you coffee… and you aren’t impressed? What the hell does Azulvista have that’s like all that?” He downed the rest of his coffee in a gargantuan swallow.
Antonio responded with a smirk. “We came from a space station made by a dozen different nations haphazardly bodging together their own engineering that rotates around a world humanity killed three centuries ago, that we arrived at on a ship manufactured in void-docks that can crank out war galleons like a factory makes cars. I’ve seen aliens, robots, robot aliens and alien robots with my own eyes, and we’ve come out of a conflict that saw an entire planet turned into a warzone. Standards here are damn
“Alright. Fine. Challenge accepted. I’ll have work today after all, like one of your plebians. Blue- will you call your coworkers in?”
Blue Girl hummed, “Of course. And pitch on that: may I recommend the defensive model be showcased as well?”
“Love you, Blue.”
“That’s a yes,” she translated. “We’ll have something to show you boys. Will you step out with us? This room is a little small for the matter at hand.”
The five filed out, leaving a mess of drinks and cigars behind- the sign of diplomacy happening between these two cultures, apparently- and emerged into the larger room the Azulvistans had first seen. Already a few fast stamps had pushed the tables to the side, making way for the show. The complimentary cookies were relocated to a smaller table, just beside four comfortable chairs lined up facing what was now an open space.
There were people emerging from a backroom, except they weren’t people. A line of sym bodies filed out, each of a slightly different form. They were all typically gold and gilded,
but some were strong and brutal, who looked fit for either manual labor or melee, and some were sleek and elegant along the lines of Blue Girl. Some male, some female, quite a few just indeterminable; there were about seven in all. The designs tended towards the gaudy and elegant- their movements were mathematically perfect.
Last of all, as if it had been the furthest back in storage, came a design that wasn’t like the others. Though still shiny, it was armored, and its metal hands gripped a gun. It lined up beside the others in brisk, soldier-esque movements. “Don’t worry, don’t worry,” waved away Andrei, now with a cookie in his hand, “the gun’s just a model. We don’t make our combat syms as graceful as the others, but that’s probably the most advanced piece here. Blue, do you wanna do the thing?”
“I’ll do the thing,” confirmed Blue Girl. “Gentlemen,” she said, “these are examples of sym bodies. They are advanced robotic forms capable of doing all tasks that humans can, but much more quickly and powerfully. A sym worker compared to a human employee is typically three to five times more effective and, unlike the human, will not require wages beyond their basic energy costs. Don’t worry, they’re quite efficient. We do not sleep. We do not eat. We do not ever stop working. Unlike stamps, we are not organic at all, although our minds are based roughly on human minds.” She lifted her left hand, and at the same moment, every one of the models before them did the same. “Take note: sym minds and bodies are separate entities. You may purchase the rights to a sym mind, like you would any intellectual property, and then you purchase your physical bodies like these to place them into. A good sym mind- like myself, of course- can control five to ten bodies at a time. Or, if you want, you can simply plug a sym consciousness into a drone ship or plane and let us fly it. A dogfighter is far more effective when it does not have to waste weight on a human pilot. Or, speaking of fighting: when a sym soldier, like the one you see now-” the one with the gun nodded- “is destroyed in combat, the mind is not lost. It can simply exist on any one of your databanks and control multiple combat forms remotely, making a perfect, veteran soldier who never really dies, just changes bodies.”
There was a long pause as the three Azulvistans listened to the speech and looked at each other. Alfonso, reaching up to tug at his moustache, frowned a little. “What you’re describing is a threat. Not a personal one, but a threat to the foundational way of life on any nation that does not consider itself post-scarcity.” The three men were clearly having similar thoughts. If syms became widespread on Azulvista… It would mean mass unemployment. A sledgehammer to the Republic’s entire economic system… And worst of all, it would be profitable
Antonio broke the long silence that had settled over the group. “How much? For a mind and let’s say… Five bodies?” Another long pause. “How about five thousand?”
Andrei stroked his beard that wasn’t there. He went through a phase where he had one, during college; he decided he would be philosophical and start stroking it when he needed time to think about something. He never bothered to unlearn the habit when corporate culture forced him to start shaving again.
“Minds and bodies sell different. Bodies are more consistent. For five of them, I’d say fifty-thousand dolls. For five thousand, we’re talking medium-large numbers now, so economies of scale kick in. That saves nicely. Thirty-two mil, thereabouts. Minds are more individual, since whatever sym might know different things. Usually that gets negotiated by the nitty-gritty bean counters who work for people like us. Or other syms. But the general going rate here in this year’s market, for a batch of the robo-brains who aren’t dumbasses?” His fingers did counting motions, wrangling numbers that were technically large but functionally simple. The economy had entered a hyperactive state since the Gate reopened. Sym minds were selling for a song right now. “It’s about fifty thousand again.” He looked at Blue Girl. “So a mind is worth five times a body, you might say?”
“You might say that,” affirmed Blue Girl. “But I have a feeling these gentlemen won’t know how much dolls are.” She translated it into Azulvistan money for them, based on what Gilt had already studied about the economy of the local superpower.
“And you accept foreign currencies?” Antonio raised an eyebrow, Raphael’s fingers flying to try to keep pace with the information. Andrei shrugged.
<”We can afford five thousand.”> The younger patrician remarked.
<”We? Were you perhaps expecting me to throw the dice on this gamble?” Alfonso was thoroughly unimpressed.
<”Consider it an investment. Fiver thousand? That’s a proof of concept to the syndics.” Antonio folded his arms, then turned towards Raphael. <”And you? You in as well?”>
Raphael blinked a few times in surprise. <”I’m not sure that would be entirely appropriate consid-”>
<”Consider nothing. If you can’t use your position to influence things, what’s the point of having that position. What we pay? They’ll pay triple, at least until they set up their own connections.”>
<”Crude, rude… Shrewd…> Alfonso frowned. <”I can’t very well argue against it. Fine.”> He nodded.
“I believe we have a deal. Doll the five thousand units up, make them look prestigious. More than they will be, anyway. We’ll get you a market. You just need to show them why they should buy.”
Andrei waved his hand in a gesture that was near to being dismissive. “Don’t worry, Mister Señor. Our syms are our art. They will prove themselves to anyone who sees them.” Blue Girl, knowing herself to be first-hand evidence, was happy to nod along.
The trio of patricians turned to leave, Antonio reaching into an inside pocket to draw out a fresh cigar. As he clipped the end, he said only one thing to the two men by his side.
<”Mister Señor? Let us hope their engineers are smarter than their executives.”>
Alfonso let out a polite laugh. Behind them, Andrei was sarcastically waving goodbye.