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art by Shane M. Gavin

Angel Plantation

Tina Connolly lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and young son, in a house that came with a dragon in the basement and blackberry vines in the attic. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Fantasy, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the anthology Unplugged: Year’s Best Online SF 2008. Her debut fantasy novel Ironskin is forthcoming from Tor in October 2012, with a sequel in 2013. She is a frequent reader for Podcastle, and is narrating a 2012 flash podcasting venture called Toasted Cake. In the summer she works as a face painter, which means a glitter-filled house is an occupational hazard. Her website is tinaconnolly.com.

Five Angels sat around the outdoor table with its tall glasses of agave nectar, each with its aloe spear. It was a four-sided table, and Angel Jerome was the loser of the unconscious display of precedence, being stuck in a bulky armed chair that would not scoot into his allotted bit of corner table. He tried to look as though he didn't mind, though he was shorter (and slighter) than the rest, and had to lean past Angel displays of bronze-muscled arms and diamond-gold wings to get his drink.
He thought holding onto his drink might give him confidence, but the iced drink was wet in the heat, and it left an uncomfortable stain on his upper thigh.
The discussion was of the treatment of organslaves, as usual. They were at Angel Merusha's plantation, and he owned gobsmacking acres of that cash crop, tobacco. "I have found that they respond very well to humiliation," he said. "I've made them worship me, so that my slightest disappointment whips them to greater effort."
"But do you ever try rewards?" said Angel Hestain. "That's really the thing, you know. A promised visit to Angel Ruth's brothel will keep them harvesting wheat at twice their usual speed."
"Reward all you like," said Angel Samuel, "But there's nothing better than old-fashioned fear."
"No, no, worship," said Angel Merusha. "See, look at them now."
They turned and looked at the plantation where a hundred copies of Angel Merusha, each as tall, strong, and buff as he (but minus the wings, naturally) worked diligently over the rows of waving tobacco leaves. Three organslaves stood at a respectful distance, fanning the Angels, and another one stood partway down the lawn, chopping at a large block of wood.
"What is he doing? said Angel Samuel. "You shouldn't allow them to have weapons."
"No, no," said Angel Merusha. "They are making a statue of me. It was their own idea. A little broader in the shoulders," he called out.
"You may be onto something," said Angel Oliver. "How exactly do you inspire worship again?"
"Random punishment," said Angel Merusha, leaning forward. "Your bed is flooded, or mosquitoes fill the sleeping house, or simply you are made an example of on some hot sticky afternoon. When you don't know where plagues are coming from, your respect shoots up, because you can do nothing to pacify it."
"So, fear then," said Angel Jerome before he thought.
The four Angels turned to examine him as though he were a louse on an organslave.
"So you're the new kid that Angel Hestain invited," said Angel Merusha. "To hobnob with the top of Angel society." He sucked the aloe from his spear, tossed it over his shoulder to a waiting organslave. "Angel Samuel has 85 organslaves to work his ranch. Angel Oliver has 110 for his cotton plantation. I myself have just commissioned five more to bring me up to 92. And you have exactly how many organslaves?"
Angel Jerome swallowed. He could feel his Adam's apple bobbing in a ridiculously fearful motion. "Eight," he said.
"Angel Hestain," said Angel Merusha. "You are aware that I don't care to have just anybody on my famous back porch?"
Angel Hestain looked not one whit dismayed. He leaned back on his bulky arms and laughed. "You may as well deal with this kid now," he said, "for he'll be running the city soon enough. He's got this new-fangled thing he calls--what? Technolaggy, loggy--?"
"Indeed," said Angel Merusha, brushing this aside. "Something you can neither eat nor wear. And just for our edification, how do you inspire your eight organslaves to feats of greater technolaggy?"
Angel Jerome twisted in his seat, for how could he explain to these men how different his copies made him feel? How, for the first time he had people who understood him, how in this muscled society of Angels jealously hoarding their cargo cult technology, he had eight people who cared about him, who laughed at his obscure jokes, and were just as inspired by researching the forgotten past and their strange computers as he?
Eight people he cared about, but how could he explain that to these men who saw their multiple selves as something to subdue, quickly and firmly, before the tables could be turned.
He took a sip of the sweet agave, reached past brawn and feathers to put it on his small slice of the table. "We're friends," he said.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Author Comments

I am fascinated by any sort of technology, both fantastical and science fictional, that someone else knows how to operate but our protagonist (and/or their society) does not. It immediately creates a story-within-the-story, a gap in time and knowledge. I've also always been interested in the relationship between the alpha and the beta clones. The former shows up frequently in my stories; this was my first time playing around with the second.

- Tina Connolly
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