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Akhmim, a beautiful, charming harni, an intelligent, machine-bred creature, also enters Hariba's new household. Occupying the lowest stratum of society, harni are despised—and feared—by their "superiors" for their ...
Akhmim, a beautiful, charming harni, an intelligent, machine-bred creature, also enters Hariba's new household. Occupying the lowest stratum of society, harni are despised—and feared—by their "superiors" for their cool detachment. And though he is considered less than human, Akhmim asks Hariba troubling questions she cannot answer, questions that cut to her soul.
Hugo Award-winning author Maureen F. McHugh has imagined a breathtaking story of humanity and individuality, creating a society in which two misfits defy rigid conventions as they dare to do the impossible...fall in love.
How I came to be jessed. Well, like most people who are jessed, I was sold. I was twenty-one, and I was sold three times in one day, one right after another; first to a dealer who looked at my teeth and in my ears and had me scanned for augmentation; then to a second dealer where I sat in the back office drinking tea and talking with a gap-toothed boy who was supposed to be sold to a restaurant owner as a clerk; and finally that afternoon to the restaurant owner. The restaurant owner couldn't really have wanted the boy anyway, since the position was for his wife's side of the house.
The jessing itself happened rather quickly, at the first dealer's. There was a package with foreign writing on it, from the north across the sea, so even the letters were strange and unreadable. He made me lean my head back and open my mouth, and he sprayed the roof of my mouth with an anesthetic. Then he opened the package and took out the tool to do the jessing. Watching him, I had leaned my head forward a bit and closed my mouth. "Lean back," he said. I leaned back again and looked at the ceiling. The roof of my mouth felt thick, as if I had drunk something that scalded it, except of course that it didn't hurt. I felt the pressure of something pressed against the roof of my mouth and there was a sound like a phffft.
I was more afraid when he'd done it than I'd been before. It was done. I couldn't back out. The jessing process was happening somewhere in my brain and I was changing. Jessing is supposed to enhance natural loyalties, butright then I wasn't feeling loyal to much of anything — even my mother's voice was raw on my nerves. Scared! I was so scared I could feel the sweat under my arms.
I wasn't really sold, of course. It's just that the medicine they use to do the jessing is made in the E.C.U., not here in Morocco. It's black-market and costs. The dealer has to get paid a lot, and that money goes against the bond that I owe to my owner. Not really owe, it's more money than I'll ever make unless maybe I save everything, never buy as much as a pair of earrings, and work for fifty years. And besides, when you're jessed, you're not supposed to want to leave. You're supposed to be trustworthy.
Sitting with the gap-toothed boy at the second dealer's, I still didn't feel loyal. I felt irritable and annoyed and nervous. I had expected never to feel that way again. I had expected my loyalty would be absolute, like the loyalty of a soldier, or a saint.
When Mbarek-salah came and hired me, I still didn't feel anything, not even when the dealer pronounced the trigger words. I didn't know at the time that the actual jessing process takes weeks, sometimes even months. I never felt like a soldier, though. I learned the sad fact that I couldn't give my life away, that anywhere I went, there I was. If a girl asked me tomorrow if she should be jessed, I don't know what I'd say. It's not a bad life. It's better than being an old maid in the Nekropolis, the part of the old city where I grew up. I'd have to ask her: What are you leaving?
I have been with my present owner since I was twenty-one. I'm twenty-six now. I was a good student, I got good marks in math and literature, so I was bonded to oversee cleaning and supplies. That's better than if I were a pretty girl and had to rely on looks. Then I would be used up in a few years.
I like my owner, like my work. But now I'd like to go to him and ask him to sell me.
"Hariba," he'd say, taking my hand in his fatherly way, "Aren't you happy here?"
"Mbarek-salah," I'd answer, my eyes demurely on my toes. "You are like a father and I have been only too happy with you." Which is true even beyond being jessed, praise God. I don't think I'd mind being part of Mbarek's household, even if I were unbound. Mostly Mbarek pays no attention to me, which is how I prefer things. I like my work and my room.
It would all be fine if it weren't for the new one.
I have no problems with AI. I don't mind the cleaning machine, poor thing, and as head of the women's household, I work with the household intelligence all the time. I may have had a simple, rather conservative upbringing, but I've come to be pretty comfortable with AI. The Holy Injunction doesn't mean that all AI is abomination. But AI should not be biologically constructed. AI should not be made in the image of humanity.
It's the mistress's harni. It's a very expensive, very pretty toy, the kind of thing that the mistress likes. It cost more, far more than my bond. For what it costs my widowed mother could stop selling funeral wreaths and live comfortably in her old age.
It comes over to our side sometimes — the master says that since it isn't human, it's allowed. There is no impropriety — it's never alone with the mistress. In fact, now, after having it a couple of months, she pretty much ignores it, which would be virtuous if she did it out of any sense of morality, but the truth is it's like...