Part 4

Lieder found himself relieved to disembark the bus. He’d never experienced mass transit without the intrusive rumbling of engine or clacking of railroad. He had watched the city whiz by, but was numb to the constant changes in velocity the vehicle had made. If he’d been blindfolded, he wouldn’t have been able to tell that he was riding on a road that twisted its way to the thirteenth floor of a superstructure.

  It was what humanity had strived for since the wheel was invented. Still, that made it too comfortable for comfort. While he didn’t miss any of the annoyances of Winkle-era public transportation, these new improvements were somehow unnerving.

The double-decked vehicle lifted off the ground and hummed away as soon as Lieder was clear. He ambled away from the road and inspected his impromptu destination.

The room resembled a commercial parking garage of his time. The only feature that would make it seem unusual back then was the pattern of metallic roadway carved into the concrete. The contrast between the dark gloss of the street and the familiar grey of cement provided a clear indication of where pedestrian and vehicle were welcome to travel.

The room was vast, but he still understood that this lot couldn’t be occupying much of this floor’s space. Each level seemed large enough to need its own dedicated parking structure. If the building was filled to even half capacity, trying to put all of the parking in one place would turn into a traffic nightmare. It was a wonder that the structure could support its own mass.

A series of signs guided him to the exit, where a directory constituted most of the wall next to the door. It invited Lieder with prompts to zoom and scroll through a bird’s-eye diagram of this floor, one that was too big to fit on a single screen.

Lieder didn’t need to tinker with the display in order to determine his destination. A restaurant was just a few rooms down the hall.

There didn’t seem to be any apparatus for opening the door, so Lieder took a tentative step towards it. The barrier reacted by retreating into its ceiling compartment, granting him access to the hall beyond.

“Please join us in welcoming his grace, Lord Lieder.” The recording of a young woman’s voice emanated from within.

Lieder scowled as he passed the threshold. It wasn’t surprising for this system to be able to detect a human’s presence and open the door for them, but could it really deduce their identity? Even that might be fine enough, but to announce the arrival to everyone inside, complete with title…

Was ‘Lord’ actually seeing common usage in this age? Was ‘Lord’ really his rank?

He tried to remember what he knew about the old British Peerage, the establishment that must have inspired this current one. Wasn’t ‘Lord’ a generic title, appropriate title for any male member?

The hallway was very similar to the interior of a two-story shopping mall. Lost in contemplation, Lieder almost failed to notice two young women standing near the door of the closest shop. They were frozen in bent posture, heads bowed in his direction.

“Please, um, carry on,” Lieder requested, sheepishly rubbing the back of his head. He hoped he wouldn’t have to keep doing this.

They straightened back up, revealing excited grins. In polite silence, they proceeded into the store.

What kind of status did he have that evoked this reaction from people? Why had he, of all people, been granted such a thing? Who had what in mind for him when they ordered his revival?

Every question seemed to derive its answer from the agenda and identity of this person. Under normal circumstances, he felt like he could ignore such a conundrum and carry on with life until he stumbled upon the factor he had been missing. Normally, though, he had responsibilities, obligations, hobbies, or even simple possessions to occupy himself with. Now, all he had were his clothes and his title.

Lieder arrived at his destination and glanced at the marquee above its door. The Cool-N’-Airy Diner was emblazoned across the top half. The bottom half continually scrolled through their menu.

Lieder stared into the tinted-opaque window, contemplating his options. There’d been hope that it would, but seeing this establishment had not helped him reach a conclusion for the other question that plagued him.

The hospital had been inconclusive, since his revival seemed to be billed to his mysterious benefactor. The bus had been driverless, and Lieder had watched several people get on and off without paying a fare, so that experience had also not provided any indication.

This would be the first time he’d attempt a monetary transaction in this world. He had every right to be naïve about how currency was handled, but he still dreaded the embarrassment of having to walk into a random establishment and ask the employees about how money was supposed to work.

Should he offer to trade something? Ask if he could work for them in exchange for the food?  Maybe it was best to just request directions to the nearest equivalent of a bank?

As Lieder stared into the black restaurant window, he began to notice that the unfamiliar face staring back at him didn’t belong to a stranger; distracted by his economic plight, he failed to recognize that he was looking into his own eyes.

He knew he was young again, but he hadn’t realized that his body was still this early into its development. The surplus of hair on his scalp and the absence of any in his ears had been apparent, but to think he’d be experiencing the end of puberty again…

Again, unanswerable questions surfaced: had they grown an unconscious body for a decade and a half in order to facilitate his revival, or had they somehow accelerated the clone’s growth to this stage of development? If the latter, why hadn’t they aged it a bit further?

He forced his curiosity aside, resolving to find the answers when he had the time and resources. For now, at least this body looked more like a person who had a genuine need for answers to the questions he’d be asking.

The same voice that had announced his arrival from the parking lot was there to greet him as he entered the restaurant.

“Please join us in welcoming his grace, Lord Lieder.”

He groaned. There had to be a way to opt out of these introductions.

A light shining near his feet caught his attention. Turning his gaze to the floor, he discovered a message displayed beneath the translucent tile in front of him.

Please follow me to preferred seating!

Lieder paused for a moment, confused. How would it manage its claim, by drawing him a map?

He shook his head as though to clear it. There was little chance that the owners would rely on their customers’ ability to memorize even a simple map. In hopes that the word choice was not an accident, Lieder took a step forward. If ‘follow me’ was an appropriate phrase, it would mean that the message would move along with him.

The display blinked off as his foot made contact with that tile, with a clone immediately lighting up under the next one.

Savvy to the concept, Lieder followed the light around the corner and on through the dim restaurant. He wondered how he could ask about payment if the entire service was this automated.

The light led him up a flight of stairs and onto a large terrace. In the instant he stepped inside its bounds, the scenery transformed; the dark, sterile décor of the restaurant replaced with the canopy of a lush rainforest.

Glancing back at his feet, his guiding tile remained illuminated among the fallen foliage of the muddy jungle floor.

Any vacant table is yours to claim. Thanks for your visit!

The patio’s occupation was sparse, so Lieder slid into the booth nearest the entrance. The bench and table were disguised as dead, mossy logs, but his hesitation for sitting on such an object was offset by the fact that they still felt like the clean plastic cushion that they were.

As his seat conformed to his weight, a rectangle of light broke through the illusion of mossy bark on the faux tree-table. The window displayed an interactive menu of the restaurants dishes. Though the lack of any obvious pricing confused Lieder, he was relieved to find a ‘Summon Servant’ button towards the bottom of the screen.

Lieder tapped this portion of the screen and leaned back with a sigh of relief. He had been dreading the idea that he might have to commit to a bill without understanding its conditions.

It wasn’t long before he heard the approach of rapid, purposeful footsteps. Lieder turned to look at the terrace entrance, mindful of the possibility that the server might not know which specific table had called them. The man directed his gaze at Lieder as he climbed the disguised stairs, obviously aware of where the call had come from.

He wore a one-piece uniform, and like the hospital staff’s, it was absent of any obvious seams, zippers, or buttons. Unlike the nurses’, the garment tightly adhered to his body shape, causing the legs and arms to seem longer.

He bowed slightly upon arriving, a gesture that revealed his black hair to be slicked back and cemented to his head.

“Thank you for calling. Your desire, my imperative.”

Again: Your wish is my command. Lieder rolled his eyes, wondering if everyone that ever talked to him was obligated to do their best Federation genie impersonations.

“Yeah, hi,” Lieder replied, ignoring the waiter’s reverence. “I just have a couple of questions… I’m probably going to sound kind of ridiculous, so just bear with me.”

“Anything, Lordship,” the waiter replied, still bowed.

“I’m in a… unique situation at the moment, one that makes me unable to pay you,” Lieder managed.

“I’m afraid not, sir, I would have to contact an authorized member of the Culinary family if you wished to make a donation.”

“Donation?” Lieder repeated, confused. “Maybe one day, but right now, I can’t even afford to pay for a meal.”

“Oh, my sincerest apologies for misunderstanding you! You’re inquiring about compensation? We appreciate the offer, but the Cool-N’-Airy Diner humbly declines any offer of compensation from members of the Peerage. Please forgive me for assuming you knew, I forget that there may be communities where that is not the tradition.”

Lieder was puzzled. He had hoped that his title might earn him some trust, but it seemed unthinkable that it forever excused him from paying for his food. How could an economy work this way? What was money used for, if not food?

Perhaps he was simply too used to the idea that money was required for everything, no matter how menial. Given enough time, anything could change, and many things clearly had.

Lieder had a cavalcade of questions prepared when he had pressed the button to call this man, but looking at him now, his mind had gone blank. His correspondent stood rigid in his stance, head still bowed and eyes closed. Lieder couldn’t be sure, but the waiter seemed to be trembling.

Lieder sighed, “That was my main issue, thanks very much for your help. Sorry if I interrupted something.”

“No, it was a privilege to assist you.” the waiter seemed uncomfortable with Lieder’s consideration. “Thank you for that opportunity. Shall I excuse myself?”

“Feel free.”

He took one last glance at the employee as he walked away. It was becoming progressively harder to believe that the Peerage was met with this kind of care wherever they went.  For the bulk of human history, the different social classes had usually received differing levels of treatment, but as society progressed, the upper class had become proportionately more vulnerable to the opinions of the lower classes.

The Peerage’s immunity to the common perspective seemed like a huge step backward. Ideologically, a person could earn this kind of reverence, but there was very little chance that most of these people had done anything to deserve this exaltation.

He believed himself to be proof of that theory. Even if they somehow knew about everything he’d done in his life, there was nothing there that would warrant this level of respect.

Lieder couldn’t comprehend the idea that technology could progress so far under this system. It seemed inevitable that too many great minds would have been repressed into uselessness. Still, it was possible that human behavior had evolved in a way that defied his understanding of it.

Through that inexplicable sense which seems to accompany old age, Lieder knew that he was being talked about. He turned his head to the left, just enough to let him determine what was lingering in his peripheral.

The servant he’d summoned was standing at the top of the stairs leading to the terrace, locked in his shallow bow as an unfamiliar man in robe-like regalia spoke to him. The expression on this new correspondent’s face was hard to classify; Lieder couldn’t decide whether he was frightened, confused, amazed, or skeptical.

He glanced back and forth from the waiter to Lieder, his lip and jaw movement slowing or stopping every time his gaze drifted Lieder’s way.

Lieder could extract two possibilities about the nature of the conversation they were having: the newcomer either knew Lieder’s identity and was specifically looking for him, or he suspected that Lieder fit the profile of some targeted demographic.

After a few moments, the newcomer shooed the waiter as though he were an invasive fly. As the employee complied, the stranger’s posture and facial expression underwent a subtle transformation. His back straightened to convey confidence and his jaw slackened into a casual smile.

Lieder groaned as he approached. This man wasn’t here to find Carl Orionne Lieder, missing person; he was here to meet Lord Lieder, prospective client.

Lieder hated salesmen.

“It would be an honor if I may make your acquaintance, Lord Lieder,” the stranger greeted when his approach brought him within speaking range. “May I join you?”

“Feel free.” Lieder made a point to use the same words that he had with the waiter.

“Appreciations.” His tone implied that he would have been surprised if Lieder had denied him. He slid onto the bench on the opposite side of Lieder’s table. “I was browsing through TerrAble and heard the introduction for a surname I didn’t recognize. Forgive my curiosity, but you piqued my interest, and because of that I followed you here. That servant believed you’re either new to the area or visiting, was he correct?”

“Yeah.” Lieder was nonchalant. “For the most part, I think he’s right. Brand new.”

“Well then, let me, Viscount Ronald Broker, be the first to welcome you to Reverence. Just to be clear, how is your surname spelled? Is it L-E-A-D or L-I-E-D?”

“L-I-E-D,” Lieder responded, genuinely impressed. Nobody had ever guessed that his name was spelled that way just by hearing it before. Truly, since it sounded identical to the word ‘leader,’ he’d expected that nobody would ever guess correctly.

 Since the topic of their discussion had been Lieder’s familiarity with the city, he knew that Ronald was welcoming him to Reverence, the name of a city, not reverence, a word for the state of receiving worship. Still, Lieder observed irony in the statement; it sounded like Ronald was congratulating Lieder on the amount of undue respect that people had been directing at him.

With his first exposure to the city’s name, Lieder realized that this might prove to be a valuable opportunity. So long as this man suspected that Lieder had something he wanted, Lieder could use him as a source of information.

“I’m curious:” Ronald continued. “If you’ve never been here, may I ask what brings you here now? And are you here to stay?”

This opportunity elicited renewed caution. While his first impulse had been to annoy Ronald enough to make him go away, now he needed him to stay long enough to answer some of his countless questions.

Ronald was a Peer, and Lieder feared that this meant he that he was supposed to act snobbish around him. This would make for a very painful conversation.

Lieder hated the people he’d be mimicking.

“A simple question, but the answer’s fairly complicated. Are you familiar with the term ‘Winkle?’”

Ronald paused for a moment, frowning in contemplation. “It sounds familiar, but I can’t recall where I might have heard it.”

“Yeah, I suspected as much,” Lieder sympathized. “To put it simply, it’s a reference to people who underwent a certain procedure a very long time ago. Basically, this process converted the person’s consciousness into electronic data, which was stored for a time when…”

“Oh!” Ronald’s eyes lit up in epiphany. “I remember now, it’s been so long since I’d last heard of it! Yes, the people from the past, that’s what they called them.”

Lieder was gleaning information from tiny bits of data implied by Ronald’s questions. It was an ability he’d honed long before his revival from the electronic grave, and while it was a delicate process with a massive potential for error, Lieder was practiced enough to rely on it.

He smiled slightly. His guess about the word ‘Winkle’ had been accurate, but more importantly, he was now certain that the Winkle phenomenon was no secret to the public. Further, it seemed that innumerable others had been revived before him.

 “Ah, good, you do know something of the situation. That’s expedient. Yes, the reason you’re unfamiliar with the name ‘Lieder’ is that I am, myself, a Winkle. One that was awakened a little earlier today, in fact.”

“Is that right?” Ronald’s eyes widened, his tone thick with an aloof sort of surprise. “That is fascinating! It had been so long since Winkles were the moment’s focus, I think I’d just assumed I’d never meet one, but here I am talking to a Winkle that was brought back just today.”

The words ‘moment’s focus’ struck Lieder as peculiar. Perhaps it was another way of saying ‘flavor of the month,’ or ‘all the rage’?

“Really, I’m the first you’ve ever met? That’s too bad. I’m curious about other Winkles, and was hoping you could share some info about them.”

“Well, I can certainly tell you what I’ve been told. I have good reason to believe it’s accurate.”

“That’s very kind of you,” Lieder tried to repress the urge to be blunt. “Do you happen to know why most Winkles are revived? There’s a lot that’s changed since my time, but from what I understand, the company that handled the digitization process hasn’t been around for a very long time, so I can’t imagine that anyone’s legally obligated to reverse the procedure.”

“Yes, you understand that part quite well. I doubt that even the Lord of the Tombs family could tell you how long it’s been since you underwent that stasis. Indeed, to wake a Winkle, it must be ordered by a Peer, and it usually has little to do with any pretenses the Winkle might have agreed to before the operation.”

“So why might a Peer want to wake a Winkle? What would you say are the most common reasons?”

“There’s a multitude, as you might imagine. The only thing that surpassed the outrage over the fact that the Tombs had kept this stuff in obscurity was the demand for access! Families wanted to implement the genes for some recessive or otherwise lost traits. Understand, some of this stuff could easily be solved by a quick visit to a cosmetician, but there’s a certain flavor to being able to say your child was naturally born with red hair and green eyes. Red hair! Can you imagine? I mean, of course you can, it wasn’t uncommon in your time, but until Winkles were introduced, it was unthinkable that people were ever simply born that way.”

Lieder offered a polite laugh to appease and encourage his new acquaintance, eager for him to continue his excited rambling.

“Beyond that, some families were able to determine that some of their ancestors were Winkles, and I think everyone is curious to know what their ancestors were like. It’s only natural that they’d want to wake them up, right? Then there are the families that are always in need of labor, and Winkles were an obvious source of Sapients, so…”

“Ah, forgive me for interrupting,” Lieder raised his arm and opened his palm to stop the man. “Sapients? That’s not a term I’ve heard before.”

“Of course, I’m sorry, I should have guessed! There are two sentient species on the Earth, and the lesser are known as Sapients. Superficially, they’re virtually identical to us Peers; that’s what makes them such a valuable resource, after all. Still, it’s well-known that it’s impossible for a Sapient to masquerade as a Peer, so that difference is not only very real, but very obvious to modern science. That discovery truly was a breakthrough, but I’m losing sight of the subject here…”

Lieder was having an extremely hard time hiding his outrage over what he was hearing. He had assumed that the Peerage and lower class were simply that: different classes. But this man was insinuating that they were actually different species, and one was measurably superior to the other. Could this really be the common perspective?

“So this difference between Peers and Sapients is evident even in people from our time? Is that why I was revived with a title in the Peerage?”

“I would imagine. Are you surprised?”

“Not particularly,” Lieder lied, though he was reluctant to continue this charade.  The number of unanswered questions was growing with each answer he received, and if that trend continued, he’d need to keep Ronald interested. For that, he would have to pretend to be someone he wasn’t. “If I am surprised, it’s because I’m a Peer due to some genetic difference, not the accomplishments of my past. Then again, maybe being born with advantageous DNA is what led to my success…”

“Certainly! It’s no coincidence!” As Lieder expected, his new acquaintance was delighted by the theory. He’d perceived it as validation of the Peerage’s superiority. “Your accomplishments and lineage are intrinsically connected; although, while it would be your genetic code that awarded you Peerage status, I’ve never heard of a Winkle becoming a Lord. I’m sure that’s exceedingly rare, so if you desire an acknowledgement of your deeds, I believe that’s what your Lordship is. You have every right to be proud.”

Lieder resisted the urge to scowl. It seemed that there was a hierarchy of ranks within the Peerage, and ‘Lord’ was most likely towards the top of this ladder. While Lieder could put that power to good use, he was utterly clueless over why he’d be awarded that title.

“Forgive me if I indulge in that right, then.”

“Speaking of your Lordship, might I ask what the Lieder family’s specialty is?” Ronald asked, his demeanor crafted to suggest that the question was far more casual than it really was.

“Specialty?” Lieder’s repetition was reflexive.

“I mean, ‘lieder’ registers with my Lexicon as a word for ‘art song,’ but I didn’t want to just assume from that. Do you deal in some form of entertainment industry? Perhaps you’re a collection of musicians?”

Ronald’s reference to the word ‘lieder’ registering in a ‘Lexicon’ insinuated that he wasn’t simply using it as another word for ‘vocabulary;’ it had to be the name for some kind of device that deciphered unfamiliar words for him. He hadn’t used any electronics since he’d confirmed the spelling of Lieder’s name, implying that this mysterious dictionary was implanted in his brain. Lieder couldn’t be sure, as it hadn’t translated ‘Winkle’ for him, but that could easily mean that Ronald just had an outdated database.

More importantly, Ronald was making a strong implication about how the economy worked in this era. By tying his last name to his occupation, he was assuming that they had to be related; to Lieder, this meant that Peerage families doubled as businesses, with their surname describing the goods or services they provided.

Ronald’s last name, Broker, would certainly fit this hypothesis; it suggested that he could be anything from a salesman to a lawyer to an agent.

If the surname matched the family business, Lieder wondered if the Tombs family was a group of morticians. This prospect didn’t seem quite right, though, if they were in charge of Winkle awakening.

“I’m afraid a purpose is on the long list of things I don’t have right now. Lieder was my surname before my digitization; as far as I know, I’m the Lord of a one-person family. I guess I need to come up with some sort of enterprise, or perhaps it’s chosen for me?”

“Astonishing.” Ronald said, quiet and slow in his awe. “Not only was a Winkle granted a place in the Peerage, and not only is he a Lord, he’s allowed to charter a new family. Lordship, I believe this is a historic first! I don’t see how this could have happened without it being huge news. You must have accomplished some incredible things in your life, to be given this sort of honor!”

“Can’t say I’m too surprised.” Lieder lied. Truthfully, he had no idea how anyone could justify giving him awards of this magnitude.

There had been achievements in his life, but in his mind, they could only be called ‘achievements’ because future generations would never know about them. Even if these people had uncovered his past, it was hard for him to fathom how society would see them as anything but controversial.

It would all come back to Abramian. If he could determine whether or not that name was known to his benefactor, he’d know whether or not this status had been granted because of his exploits.

“Forgive me, but this is an opportunity I can’t resist,” Ronald began. “If it’s a welcome gesture, I’d like to offer my services to your budding family. I understand that you might not feel equipped to accept or decline right away, but know that the Broker family always has the capacity to further any agenda…”

Lieder couldn’t suppress his disdain for Ronald as he rambled on about his offerings. He knew it wasn’t fair of him, but Lieder had a history behind his hatred for salesmen. To him, it was intrinsic to the conflict that defined his generation.

The concept of money fulfilled a very important purpose, but like most concepts, it was one that could become obsolete. Every time a society adopted a currency, some proportion of its people would have their lives ruined by its corrupting influence. That proportion had risen to a volatile high in Lieder’s youth.

There had been some resolution to that, but as long as there was a need for currency, there would be misguided people whose entire lives revolved around the illusion it created. Perhaps it wasn’t fair of him to believe so, but Lieder detected toxicity in labels like ‘salesman’ and ‘investor.’ It would be hard for anyone bearing a label that might fit into this Broker family to make a good impression on him.

Perhaps they still filled a necessary niche, but Lieder had no obligation to like these people. As long as he bore in mind that there were exceptions to every rule, he felt no guilt over this bias.

Ronald seemed to personify the negative stereotypes. As he continued to advertise himself as a product for sale, Lieder had a harder time withholding his opinions.

Ronald stopped abruptly, a belligerent frown overtaking his face. “Have I said something to offend you? Forgive me, I was under the impression we were having an amicable conversation.”

Lieder was surprised by the statement. Had he failed to keep his expression neutral?

“I understand the appeal of the SympaThreadic line, but you should understand the risk you take before wearing it.”

Lieder looked down to find the cartoon on his shirt staring straight forward with wide eyes, his hands on his cheeks and his mouth rounded in a startled expression.

Lieder had forgotten all about it. He didn’t know what kind of animation it had been playing while Ronald had been pitching his services, but apparently, Lieder’s negative opinions had come through. A surge of annoyance towards the fictional man on his shirt began to well up in Lieder.

The character changed its posture to look up at Lieder, cowering and shivering as though fearful of his wrath.

Lieder’s animosity melted away, and he actually smiled. He liked this shirt.

“Oh! Please, forgive me, I forgot all about this thing,” Lieder started, already formulating a plan to salvage the situation. “Try not to be offended, those feelings weren’t directed at you. I was just frustrated by how, as you noted, I’m in no situation to know whether or not I can accept your offer. I really see no reason why I had to be shoved out into the world without knowing why I was awakened or what was expected of me. I’m feeling some anger towards those who deprived me of information after I was awakened, that’s all.”

Ronald looked regretful, and Lieder was sure that he had believed his lie.

“Ah, I jumped to conclusions! See, I’m the one who should know the risks of the S-T line, and I still fell into the trap! I shouldn’t have assumed anything, I apologize.”

“It seems there’s no harm done,” Lieder observed, making a point to have his emotions match his agenda. “I’m famished, you mind if I order something?”

“Of course not, I’ll probably do the same.”

Lieder smiled and began to peruse the menu. Intending to sound distracted and casual, he initiated the conversation he’d been wanting to have all along.

“So, the Peerage and the Sapients… tell me, Ronald exactly what kind of privileges do the Peerage have over the lower class?”

Ronald sighed in contemplation. “Where do I start? I’m no expert on how things worked in your time, so it’s hard to highlight the big changes. Let’s see; a Sapient is to a Peer sort of like a pet animal is to a Sapient. The analogy fails in some areas, but it’s close enough.”

“Are they considered property?” Lieder asked.

“In a sense. Actually, for most of them, that’s essentially the situation. The thing that keeps a Sapient in the employ of any particular family is the knowledge that they have almost no chance of finding work with another family. When a Sapient is dismissed or tries to quit, you almost never hear of another family adopting them. Unless, of course, the old family endorses the transfer. They are technically free to leave a family, but if they ever want to work again, they won’t.”

“So Sapients make up the bulk of the work force?” Lieder avoided dwelling on how Ronald’s tone suggested that Lieder should believe that this was how society was supposed to work. “In terms of manual labor and customer service and the more menial jobs, I mean.”

“Yes, naturally, you catch on quick. I imagine a lot of what you refer to as ‘manual labor’ is handled my machinery now, but there are still innumerable tasks that require Sapient employ. Anything that’s not automated and doesn’t require a Peer’s intellect is handled by Sapient workers.”

“And the tasks that require a Peer’s intellect are things like research, delegation, marketing, artistry, and such?”

“Indeed, it’s all very intuitive.”

Lieder resisted the urge to assert that it shouldn’t be.

“So it seems. If there’s not much movement of workers between positions, though, I wonder if it might be hard for me to recruit them when I do have a proper agenda.”

“Oh, don’t worry too much about that. There’s still a surplus of unemployed workers. The average Sapient employee is able to support the recreation of many of its relatives, and often enough a Peerage family will hire an entire Sapient household to fill a single position. The Sapients simply send someone that’s available whenever a task needs attention. To my understanding, those that are entirely unemployed are typically content, they’re guaranteed food and shelter and basic amenities of course, but it’s considered such an honor to be employed by the Peerage that you’ll rarely find a Sapient that would turn down any offer you make.”

 Unable to recognize any dish that was listed on the table’s touch screen, Lieder selected an item named ‘Cheesaucer,’ paired it with a glass of water, and confirmed his order.

The screen melded back into the illusion of decaying tree that disguised their booth.

“So in regards to those outside a Peer’s personal employ, what kind of relationship do Sapients share with us?” Lieder was still concerned about the idea that his nurse’s life was in danger over the way she had treated him before discovering he was a Lord. “Ever since I awoke, everyone has been remarkably polite towards me. Does the pet analogy still fit, like a Sapient’s pet animal toward a Sapient that isn’t its master?”

“Yes and no. This is one of the areas where that analogy can breed confusion. Like a Sapient’s pet towards another Sapient, they’re expected to treat us with the same respect they would treat their master. However, should a Sapient’s pet misbehave toward a Sapient that isn’t its master, it’s impermissible for that Sapient to punish the pet. They must report it to a proper mediator, who will then investigate and administer any appropriate judgments on the offending Sapient or its pet.”

“So a Sapient that misbehaves towards a Peer that isn’t its master can be punished freely by the afflicted Peer?” Lieder asked, certain that the nurse’s fear towards him had been justified.

“Mostly. It’s considered impolite, but when it does happen, it’s usually over an offense extreme enough that the rightful master ends up perceiving the retaliation as appropriate. You actually hear more arguments over one Peer rewarding another’s Sapient than you do over a punishment. That’s equally impolite. In either case, though, that’s usually all it amounts to: an argument.”

“I think I see.” Lieder cupped his chin in his hand as he contemplated the situation. “That’s why the waiter said that he’s not authorized to accept compensation. This must be a restaurant that’s focused on Sapient customers. If a Sapient restaurant accepted payment from a Peer, it could cause confusion over whether they’re rewarding another family’s Sapient, which is considered rude.”

“That’s a factor. Honestly though, the only time a Peer pays for a meal is when the dish is exotic.” A whimsical smile tugged at Ronald’s lips. “I must say, we don’t shy from our exotic dishes. Peerage cuisine is still a big business.”

“So when a Sapient is punished by someone other than its master, there’s never any intervention from a separate authority?”

“No, it’s well-understood that the Assembly won’t mediate any Peerage quarrels without a majority vote, and it’s hard enough to bring any issue to vote as it is. The easiest way out is to accept the other Peer’s treatment of your Sapient.”

“I’d wager Sapients are very careful to stay in their place, then.” Lieder was curious about what the mentioned ‘Assembly’ was, but didn’t want to change course.

“Yes, they’re very good about knowing where they rank. Especially those without masters; having a master that’s satisfied with their performance will earn them some protection, but without a master, there’s nothing to save a Sapient from an angry Peer.”

“I see. This is pretty intuitive.” Lieder’s words expressed the opposite of his opinion. From what he was hearing, the civics of this generation were several steps behind those of his time. He wondered if there would ever be a way for society to learn a permanent lesson from the mistakes of its past.

Lieder tried to summon another of the countless questions he’d had for a denizen of this era, but found that they’d been tangled in a messy knot of answers and inferences. He couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t sound like a query that had already been addressed.

With a deep breath, he cleared his head and tried to view his situation with a fresh perspective.

He had been approaching this world like he was at war with it, extracting information as though he were a spy in enemy territory. Though Ronald was not a person he trusted, Lieder was too new to this world to have enemies in it. There was no danger in taking his time to learn and process.

“So as long as it’s pedestrian, the food’s free, right?” Lieder was beginning to settle on his next objective.

“Yes, that’s an excellent way to say it.”

“I come from a time when even a seemingly-simple service like that came at some kind of price,” Lieder explained. “Until I get my family’s presence established, can I rely on the idea that I have access to other such amenities?”

“Oh, easily,” Ronald confirmed. “Public Transportation is reliable, but know that it’s crowded. Any business that specializes in Sapients will almost always offer their goods to a Peer without asking for compensation. If it came down to it, you even have the right to quarter in a Sapient household.”

This last statement was all Lieder needed to know to formulate an acceptable agenda. Ronald was telling him that he had the ability to force a Sapient to provide him with shelter. He wouldn’t oppress someone by demanding they house him, but he was almost certain that he could use that privilege to acquire a comfortable place to sleep and think without hassling anyone.

Suddenly, the screens that once housed their menus reappeared in the table, displaying a list of unfamiliar words and a timer counting down from thirty.

“Oh, time to vote. Persuircion, favor to Persuircion!” Ronald tapped the screen in excitement.

Lieder wasn’t sure what they were voting on, but he had a good guess. If he was correct, he wouldn’t care about the outcome. He found Ronald’s selection on the list and tapped it. A smaller window appeared asking him to confirm his choice, which he quickly did.

In an instant, the scenery shifted from the dense jungle that had been projected since Lieder’s arrival. They now appeared to be on a long stretch of beach, the ocean lapping at the disguised terrace edge opposite the entrance. Everything from the stairs and beyond was shrouded by a dense collection of palm trees and tropical plant life.

“Ah, wonderful! Appreciations, Lord Lieder, this one’s my favorite.”

“Think nothing of it.” Lieder shrugged. Peculiarly relieved, he no longer felt a strong dislike for Ronald. “If the two that I’ve seen are any indication, I’m sure all of these selections are quite beautiful.”

“Oh yes, they all have their charm. After all, they’re modeled after places that only a few people ever see. Perhaps more of us would visit the locations if we didn’t have this kind of outlet, and then I’d wonder if the scenery could survive our crowds.”

Lieder smiled, finally a genuine one. At least society showed some signs of progression. If his concept of jungles and beaches really still existed in such a pristine state, then large strides had been made in buffering the rate at which humanity had been consuming the planet.

Content with the progress he’d made since awakening, Lieder felt that it was appropriate to enjoy this experience.

“So tell me, Ronald, what do Peers do to pass the time? Recreationally, I mean.”

“Ah, come now, there’s no universal answer to that question. There are countless indulgences! Although, it is Ricosphere season, which might be as close as you can get to global obsession…”

The End

0 comments about this story Feed