% Your Trip to Torei % Gospodin % 10 Jan 2012
Your first view of Torei from space is a bit of a disappointment, all told. You suppose you've seen realistic images before, but the picture of the planet in everyone's heads is the stylized diagram used for their celestial ensign: a grey globe circled by a green sash at the equator, black ziggurats sprouting clouds from the poles.
Whenever someone spots the image above a starport berth, wild tales fill the corridors and canteens. The Toreans have no shipyards of their own, and the sight of their flag on a second-hand haulier or cruise vessel is often the only hint that anything may be different within. You always hear one or two maintenance techs swearing oaths that they serviced it and saw a brothel of chattel slaves inside, or customs clerks confiding that one entry on the manifest is code for human cargo.
In the years you've been starfaring, you began to think of the planet itself as a bit of a tall tale in its own right. That's why you're a little disappointed to come into high orbit and not see cartoonish terraforming pyramids jutting visibly out into space, no irridescent green band edging sharply onto grey badlands. In some ways, it loses some of the magic to see that it's just another spherical planet with clouds, city lights, and a space elevator sticking like a splinter into low orbit.
But if the view from space is mundane, even as you dock at the elevator's top, the view from the surface is breathtaking. Immediately at the border control desk you found yourself transfixed by a sea of local female beauty. Border agents, car attendants, and shop girls are all stunning in their glistening slick-wear uniforms and jangling heavy jewelry. You discover a whole service industry run and staffed by gorgeous women.
You remember reading that women on Torei outnumber men nine to one, a result of the entire population descending from bio-engineered vat embryos. Thousands of years ago the un-manned AI ships arrived to begin terraforming, and they carried with them a DNA bank of plants and animals to kick-start the native flora and fauna. Everything that lives and breathes on Torei, tourists excluded, came over as dessicated seeds or frozen eggs and spermatozoa.
Breeding is always easier if you have a harem of females fertilized by a single carefully-chosen stud. Bootstrapping a population was the primary goal of the colonization AIs, and they tuned the human genome to produce Y chromosomes in only 10% of sperm. Planetbuilding by the numbers, engineered by calculating artificial minds. It makes for quite a beautiful crowd, though, you have to admit.
While walking a busy street, you catch your breath as you notice an emissary of an AI walking through the crowd. You have a circle of friends back home with an uncanny interest in these women, dressing up in black catsuits and faceless egg-shaped costume helmets to emulate their isolation laminates. You may even have enjoyed a good show or two where dancers pretended to be slaves of the machines in their own burlesque way. But none of your research prepared you for actually encountering one in person, however momentary.
You can't imagine what she sees through that helmet of hers, or what the computers at the poles allow her to see and hear. Her toned legs stalk forward like those of a greyhound, her laminated body sliding glossily between the real objects of the world you live in. A suit designed to protect the human body from the harsh environment outside the atmosphere-generating ziggurats now protects the human mind from the comforts of the lush world on the equator. You shudder, feeling a twinge of regret for ever fantasizing about their plight.
In the diplomatic compound at the anchor of the space elevator's immense tower, you have easy access to a number of independent equatorial nations on Torei. Centuries ago the fertile band of agricultural kingdoms joined together in a single empire, but now they each scrabbled for a thin stripe of land connecting to the neutral territory that leads up to orbit and out to the greater galactic civilization. The nations on the antipode of the elevator are harsh and bitter, but they are the bread basket of Torei and they have the same pride in their agricultural life as you'd find in any agrarian world.
Each of the neighboring "ringdoms", as they're sometimes called, has erected a tower of its own next to the space elevator. The value of land next to the Way Up is so high that it would be wasteful not to. You explore the towers idly, tourist districts showing you exactly the forced sort of "local color" you saw splashed across all of the holiday pamphlets that brought you here.
Each kingdom has its own culture and society, but there are a few constants. First and foremost is that every nation on Torei permits and recognizes the chattel slavery of women. The degree to which it is practiced and how depends on the rule of the realm, but a slave on Torei will never find an abolitionist haven anywhere on the planet.
You play a little in the pleasure palaces, along with all the other tourists. You did your research, and you know that the women serving you are all freewombs or freeclits working under contracts entered into with knowing consent. Most real slaves only service their own masters or mistresses, and never deal with off-worlders. It still makes you wonder what kind of society would create a population of such beautiful creatures so eager to enter into this line of work. You convince yourself it's at least partly to do with differing sexual mores.
The parties are wild and intense and like nothing even your little kinky communities back home ever managed to enjoy. It's really true what they say, you think, and you wonder why it isn't enough for you.
From the top of the tower belonging to the republic of Osshaz, you can see the subtle curvature of the planet. You look toward the South and imagine, some impossible distance away, a computer with a body the size of this whole country. It breathes in the core of the world and breathes out the air you're living on now. Utter fancy anywhere near anywhere, but out on this most distant of human settlements, it has been a simple fact for millennia.
And when that computer wants to see what the rogue humans around the equatorial belt are up to, it simply sends itself there, wrapped around living bodies and playing in their heads. If it could feed them and maintain itself without the bounty of these free states, it would rub them out tonight. And its twin to the North is no different.
You lay awake on your hotel bed, thinking of the tar-black ghost of a woman you saw earlier. Your mind is trapped in a loop, undistractable. And then there's a visitor at the door, ringing the precise moment that the clock rolls over. You let her in, her black featureless head showing your own face in its reflection.
She is all business, wordlessly holding out the contract on a smooth obsidian slab. She silently adjusts the terms as you haggle, but you're not really speaking to her. You're making deals with a computer half a world away.
The two polar arcologies have been trading manufactured goods to the equator in exchange for food and other agricultural materials for centuries. But now the grain belt is happy to get what it needs by selling sex to the greater cosmos, and it's squeezing the poor ziggurats out. With things left as they are, the habitability of this world will be compromised within a decade, and that's why the two of you are negotiating right now.