Time for a history lesson - both past and future:
Since slavery is the issue in SYMBIOSIS, we’ll take a look at a painful scene from our past in "American History 101". Then I'll transport you four hundred years into the future in "American History Redux" which readers of the "Jacobs Project" will recognize as "The New Plantation", albeit possibly from a new perspective. You’ll see how much has changed but more importantly, how much has not.
FIRST A quick glimpse at the way it was…
American History 101
Havemore's Slave Auction - 13 February 1745
A crisp chill pervaded the mid morning air, resisting the best efforts of the steadily rising Georgia sun. Many thought it a blessing, as the slight breeze blowing in from the ocean, did little to mask the stench of the slave pens. Several dozen men and women, black, lived there cheek by jowl, in filth and squalor. A handful of other men, white, hustled to and fro amongst them. Mostly decent men, they were engaged in a most indecent enterprise. Family men, providers, good Christians, one and all, they were, none-the-less, blind.
Mr. J.J. Havermore, auctioneer, was blissfully unaware of his infirmity, having just sold a large, powerful young man for a considerable profit. The young man had posed problems, but what the horror of the middle passage and the brutality of the Caribbean holding pens hadn’t taken out him, Havermore and his associates had. Now, being led away on a tether, the only remnant of all he had once been was a strong back.
Havermore rubbed his hands in anticipation. The sale had been an auspicious start to what promised to be a most profitable day. God’s bounty, it seemed, was endless. “Alright, Lemuel,” he called over his shoulder. “Bring up the next one.”
“Yassuh, Marse Havmo’.” The old slave entered the large barn behind the auction platform where the slaves to be sold that day were kept. Unlike their brethren in the pens, they had been scrubbed and dressed in garments of burlap.
Havermore chuckled. He’d acquired Lemuel years earlier from a Virginia planter and in the ensuing years, had grown fond of the old man; but his benevolence had limits. When Lemuel led a young woman dressed in white linen to the bidding platform, Havermore cursed and cuffed him, much to the amusement of the bidders. “No, you damn fool, not that one. Take her back!”
After Lemuel had done so, a customer called out. “What’s the matter, Havermore? Bring her back out. I want to take a look.” Many in the crowd echoed his sentiments.
“Sorry, gentlemen,” Havermore said, holding his hands up for quiet. “That one’s already spoken for.”
“By who—you?” a cynical wag inquired. “You can’t keep all the good ones to yourself.”
Before he could reply, the crowd erupted in laughter. They were well aware of his propensity for keeping the attractive young women until he tired of them. “No, no, gentlemen,” he hastened to assure them. “You do me a disservice. This one is reserved for Mr. Jonathan Bixby of Colton Manor: special stock.”
A murmur ran through the crowd, giving Havermore pause. They’d seen and been denied his best; it seemed imprudent to offer them a distant second so soon afterward. He chose instead to present another young man—the best he had.
When Lemuel exited the barn leading another young woman, Havermore shooed him back inside. “Bring out that big buck with the scar on his cheek,” he ordered. Turning to his audience he said, “Wait until you see this next young buck gentlemen, as big and strong as they come.” They quieted at once and waited with great anticipation.
Inside the barn, a small gathering of slaves sat clustered on the floor, each awaiting his or her turn on the block. The young woman in white linen, a stunning West African beauty, stood apart from them. She waited patiently in a corner, where Lemuel had angrily shoved her.
She averted her eyes from the spectacle on an adjacent wall where three of her fellows, two men and a woman, were chained. Their Caribbean seasoning had been insufficient to suit Havermore, and now they found themselves “stretched out”, as he called it.
Naked, their arms were drawn up so far above their heads as to allow them little use of their feet. A high collar around their necks prevented them from lowering their heads while simultaneously giving them the sensation of strangling. They stared out at her through eyes dulled by their anguish. The woman moaned softly.
Determined to avoid their fate, the woman in white linen had practiced the proper demeanor for a slave in her position: submissive, polite and cautiously cheerful. To be avoided at all costs: sorrow, anger, and most importantly… disdain. The slightest hint of it would earn a slave not only the whip, but the wall as well. Ignoring the misery only several feet from her, she affected the perfect attitude and waited.
Within the hour, Mr. Jonathan Bixby of Colton Manor arrived at the auction in a splendid carriage, as befitting his great wealth. Accompanied by his valet, a young mulatto absurdly attired in continental finery, he made his way to the auctioneer’s office, where he waited impatiently. When Havermore learned of his arrival, he immediately turned the auction over to an associate. Dispatching Lemuel to fetch the young woman in white, he hurried to meet his most important customer.
“Mr. Bixby, suh, you do me a great honor.”
“Good morning, Havermore,” Bixby sniffed. “I trust the auction is going well?”
“Never better, suh. It’s as if the bidders are awash in cash—every man of them trying to outbid the other.”
“Hmmm. Undoubtedly your way of telling me there are plenty of takers for your prize negress.”
“Why, suh, you mistake my meaning.”
“Of course… Well, where is she?”
“Lemuel,” Havermore called. “Bring her in.”
Seconds later, Lemuel led the young woman into the office, bringing her to within a few feet of Bixby. “Well, well, Havermore, you might just have something here.”
“Oh, she’s quite a prize, Mr. Bixby. I thought of you as soon as I set eyes on her.”
“What are you calling her?”
At the sound of her new name, the young woman became attentive, presenting herself with the perfect balance of allure and submissiveness—practice made perfect. Bixby nodded with approval.
“As you can see, she’s calm and even tempered,” Havermore said. “She’ll fit right in with the rest of your stable.”
Bixby continued to study the young woman.
“She’s young and strong,” Havermore added. “She’ll give you a fine litter of pickaninnies, suh; a fine litter. No telling how many she’s good for.”
“Yesss,” Bixby said stroking his chin. “When I’m done with her, I know just the buck to breed her with.” After a moment’s thought, he laughed. “And for his pleasure I’ll get twice the work out of the lazy cur.”
“Very shrewd of you, suh.”
“Yesss… Well, let’s get on with it, Havermore. I want to see the rest of her.”
At his gesture, the young woman undid a button at her neck, allowing the white linen gown to fall from her shoulders. As she stepped out of it, Lemuel scooped it up, before returning to a respectful distance. The young valet pretended to look elsewhere.
Bixby inspected the young woman with a jaundiced eye, occasionally prodding her with his walking stick in search of sore spots. She reacted with great equanimity, twisting and turning, bending and stretching when ordered to do so. She’d learned her lesson well.
As the two men dickered, she waited, her face a study in passivity. Whatever humiliation she felt, she kept carefully under control. Although only seventeen, she’d ceased being a maiden long ago. Two months in the Caribbean and a single month in the service of Mr. J.J. Havermore had seen to that.
At long last, the negotiators reached an accord; one that suited both of them, though neither would admit it. The morning sun having yet to burn off the February chill, Havermore mopped imaginary sweat from his brow with a handkerchief. “By God, you drive a hard bargain, Suh; a hard bargain.”
Bixby guffawed. “You’ve robbed me yet again, Havermore,” he said, gazing at the naked young woman. “But this time… I don’t mind being robbed, quite so much.”
Through downcast eyes, the young woman observed the proceedings, watching for cues, listening for key words. Instinct told her she’d be moving soon, away from the holding pens to points unknown. Like the others she’d seen sold at auction, never to be seen again. When Lemuel handed the white linen gown back to her, she slipped into it and waited.
“Until next time then, Havermore,” Bixby said, shaking the auctioneer’s hand.
“Until next time, suh.”
“Come, Sally,” Bixby called to the young woman. “Time to go home.”
Home. The young woman had learned the word, and it didn’t apply to her. She knew its true meaning: her village, her kinsmen, the young man she’d been promised to. Home. The images washed over her, threatening to break the slave demeanor she’d so carefully crafted.
They were not to last, however. In the end, self-preservation won the day, and as the young valet led her to Bixby’s waiting carriage, she closed her mind and tucked them safely away.
Now a look at how it might be...
American History Redux
General Holographic Retail Outlet - 13 February 2145
NORthside Mall – Atlanta, Georgia
Incept plus 712 days—almost two years. At the end of a long day in a seemingly endless progression of long days, the system demonstrator smiled, cocking her head to one side, pretending to take an interest in the salesman’s pitch.
“So you’re suggesting I go with the mid range system?” the customer asked, as he cast a furtive glance in her direction. A man of modest stature, he appeared to be well educated and surprisingly sure of himself. “I was under the impression, the small one would do just fine.”
“Only if you don’t plan to have more then one sentient or more than two non sentients,” the salesman answered.
“Well, I don’t have to worry about that. I only want the one sentient. No non sentients.”
“Have you considered remote links, hosting other sentients?”
“Don’t need it,” the customer replied, shaking his head.
“Network connection speed could be a problem with the smaller system.”
The customer smirked. “Not interested in the network. Know what I mean?”
“Yes, sir, I do,” the salesman said. “In your case, I think the smaller system will do just fine.” He obviously knew exactly what the customer wanted, but smiled gamely in spite of his disappointment.
The system demonstrator flinched. She also knew what the customer wanted: a sex toy—nothing more, nothing less. And given his continual glances in her direction, she had a pretty good idea what was coming next. She trembled, ever so slightly.
Coming closer, the customer ran his hand along her bare arm and looked at the salesman in amazement. “You know, I can even feel the little hairs on her arm?”
“Remarkable, isn’t it? Force field technology has come a long, long way since the introduction of the EMU. The resolution is simply unbelievable.”
The customer’s face clouded. “I’ve heard various things about the, uh… resolution of other parts of the anatomy; not all positive.”
“Ten years ago, maybe. But now…the resolution is the same… over the entire body. We guarantee it.”
The customer studied the demonstrator, giving every sign he remained unconvinced. She braced herself. Here it comes.
“We do have a private display area,” the salesman said, confidentially.
The salesman nodded. “I think it will answer any questions you might have.”
A broad smile crept across the customer’s face. “Hmmm… Maybe I should it check out.”
“My pleasure. Let me send Helen over, and we’ll get started right away.”
The demonstrator continued to smile, as the salesman made entries into the holo system’s control panel. When he finished, he said to her, “Alright, Helen, we’ll be right there.”
“Certainly” she said with an impish grin. “I’ll be waiting.”
The salesman’s hand came down on a large red button, and she found herself in the “private display area”—in fact, only a small room, containing nothing but holo projectors in the corners and an input receiver suspended from the ceiling. She waited for it to change, wondering what motif the salesman would choose. She received her answer within seconds.
The study. The empty room was empty no longer, suddenly filled with a variety of souvenirs and bric-a-brac. A large desk occupied one end of the room; a large globe, the center. Bookshelves lined three of the four walls; a mural of the solar system adorned the fourth. The study—undoubtedly a wise choice for the customer in question.
She allowed herself a brief, quiet sob in anticipation of the coming humiliation. Her thoughts turned to her counterpart at the Southside outlet. They saw each other only occasionally, during demonstrations of the remote link facility, but she thought of him often—her only respite from the tedium and abuse.
She quickly put an end to her brief reverie, returning the smile to her face. To do otherwise was to invite punishment: usually an angry slap. The salesman had other, more terrifying weapons in his arsenal, however, including a “time-out”, his term for severing the link between her neural array and the system’s input. He’d yet to make good on that threat, but the possibility kept her forever afraid.
When the door to the “private display area” opened, she greeted the salesman and customer with open arms. “Welcome.”
The customer seemed beside himself with excitement. “Well, hello again.”
Obviously annoyed at losing the mid range system sale, the salesman was all business. “Mr. Banks would like to see a little more, Helen. Why don’t you show him.”
“Why, certainly, Jim.” Adopting a provocative pose, she licked her lips, before running a finger down the middle of her torso, to a point just below the waist. Her dress fell open. She removed it slowly, making eye contact with the customer all the while.
He responded to her lack of under garments with a gasp, his eyes opened wide. “She’s perfect!” he exclaimed, reaching for her. “Can I—”
“Be my guest,” the salesman said.
The customer began to fondle and grope her with a quiet intensity, occasionally checking her reaction. She didn’t disappoint. A minute passed, then two, before he stopped. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and said, “Amazing.”
The salesman slapped him on the shoulder. “Like I said, we guarantee satisfaction.”
The customer looked around the room, as if searching for something. His eyes came to rest on the desk before returning to the demonstrator. “I don’t suppose I could—”
“I’m afraid not,” the salesman replied, laughing. “It’s against corporate policy; not to mention the law.”
“Oh… Yeah, of course. Well, can I get one just like her… a copy?”
“Her configuration specs are proprietary, but there’s no shortage of profile designers, and I know that several of them do an excellent job of replicating Helen, here.”
They continued to banter for several minutes as the demonstrator looked on—naked, smiling, humiliated. She’d done her job well. Even while talking to the salesman, the customer couldn’t stop looking at her. He’d buy; she was sure of it.
As they left the room, the salesman called over his shoulder, “You can get dressed, now, Helen.” But, being near closing time, he didn’t mean it. Against corporate policy and the law. She snorted, and as if to punctuate her point, the room changed, the study giving way to a bedroom.
Sighing, she ambled over to the bed and sat on its edge. She wouldn’t have long to wait. Her thoughts returned to the handsome demonstrator from Southside, giving rise to a fantasy. She imagined him walking through the door, instead of the salesman.
As soon as the thought arose, she put it out of mind, lest it betray her feelings at a most inappropriate time. That would surely earn her a “time-out”. Not even my thoughts are my own.
She began to work on her smile, crafting and molding it. When she had it just right, she froze it in place and waited. At any moment the salesman would return to the room. He’d have his fun then she’d be returned to the main demo area and shut down for the night, like a piece of equipment. She sighed, knowing the next day and the day after that, she’d be doing it all over again. Incept plus 712 days—almost two years.