Island Paradise – Part 1: Chapter 07

By Joshua Ryan

Chapter 7: Investing Is Easier Than You Think

The tea and scones were served on a table in the Major’s office, by a young white slappie who did his work deftly and silently.  I always hate it when waiters insist on talking with you.  Once they know what you want, they should bring it and go away.  But this slappie had been well trained.

The Major took some time to discuss the possibility of what he called “a business connection”—the investment idea again—and presented me with a colorful brochure entitled “The Profits of Penology.”  I complimented its appearance and said that I would welcome the opportunity to obtain more information.  He complemented my discernment and we exchanged cards.

That part was a bore, but on the whole it was a pleasant conversation.  The curtains were drawn back, revealing the pretty vines, hung with blossoms, that trailed around the bars outside the window.  Rays of sunlight warmed the room, awakening the incandescent blue of the Major’s uniform, turning the slappie’s necklace into a flash of silver and his short blond hair into a cap of gold.  It was good to see slappies in short sleeves again.  This one had the slightest, most delicate covering of hair on his arms . . . .   If this was life on St. Bevons, maybe it was worth an investment.

“So,” I said, as the slappie poured me a second cup, “they’re not all bald at the Station.”

“Only the freshmen,” the Major replied.  “When their training is finished, their proprietors may groom them as they please.  In this case, the Program itself is the proprietor, and Jojo here is permanently attached.  Jojo, tell this gentleman who you are, where you come from, and how you became a slappie.”

Jojo set down his tray, came to attention, and spoke.

“Sir, I am Jojo.  I am 22 years old.  I am from the Netherlands.  Sir, I am a slappie because I volunteered to join the Program sir.  Sir this is now my home sir.”

His speech, which was delivered in the stilted accent of the educated Dutch, was not so much spoken as recited.  I wondered how many times Jojo must have entertained the Major’s visitors in this way.

“May I ask a question?” I said.

“Certainly,” the Major smiled, evidently proud of his servant.

“Are you enjoying your life as a slappie, Jojo?”

Jojo paused a second longer than, perhaps, he should have.  “I am enjoying my life very much sir.”

I liked that pause.  It meant that Jojo wasn’t enjoying it—not very much, anyway.  If you have any of the sadist in you, that’s what you bought your ticket for.  Major Timmons seemed happy too.

“But Mr. Lansing,” he said, “you had turned the topic to the grooming and maintenance of slappies.  Jojo, bend down and show the gentleman your collar.”

The slappie bent before me, and I finally got a chance to examine one of those necklaces I’d been noticing.  The thing was a solid piece of steel.  “As you see,” the Major said, “that little tag hanging from Jojo’s collar bears the initials SLP.  That is simply the generic mark of the headquarters servant.  But look more closely and you can view what is stamped on the front of the collar itself—an attachment that must always be worn with this feature at the front, in case any freeman wishes to inspect it.”

“It seems to be . . . It’s a number.  20256.”

“Correct.  A proprietor, once there is one, names the participant and may change its name as he wishes.  The State Labour Program, for instance, is Jojo’s proprietor, and Jojo is the name we gave him.  The proprietor may, within the scope of certain regulations, alter the participant’s appearance—by, perhaps, piercing the ears or nipples, fitting it with a snout ring, and so forth.  He may give the slappie some fanciful name—such as ‘Jojo’!  But the participant’s number is provided once and for all by the state registration system.  It never changes.  It is the slappie’s real, legal, and permanent name.  But have you noticed anything else about this collar, Mr. Lansing?”

“It’s . . . it appears to be a perfect circle.  I don’t see any joints or hinges.  How would he get it on and off?”

“Very good, Mr. Lansing, very good.  The hinge is visible only under magnification—a real work of art.  But the collar is put on only once.  After that, it will never come off.  The lock is permanently closed.  You need have no humanitarian concerns, however.  The alloy of steel in these collars does not chafe the neck in any way.  The superiority of this alloy renders the hinge and lock quite imperceptible to the touch.  This is an expensive material, but we feel it enhances the slappie’s value.  And of course it is only a one-time expense.  You may resume your normal posture, Jojo, and wait for orders.”

Jojo straightened, silent and immobile, took five steps backward, and stood at attention, with no more emotion than a robot would have shown while its serial number was being discussed.

“Jojo,” the Major said, “illustrates the good results of our outreach efforts.  A relatively small but increasing quantity of dissatisfied youth is coming our way.”

“How do they . . . get interested in the Program?  Find out that they’re able to volunteer?  Even find out that it exists?”

“It is true, there are some difficulties in that area.  We have always practiced a certain degree of discretion.  Potential critics should not be alerted unnecessarily.  But it is possible, though admittedly not as easy as we would wish, to discover the information online.  Not easy for persons of our age, Mr. Lansing!  But the younger population—with them, the sky is the proverbial limit.  In some countries, we have also developed a web of, shall we say, sympathizers among–what are they called in the US?  College guidance counselors.  They are trained to identify the kinds of dissatisfaction or frustration that our Program can address.  And lately, we have been attempting to maximize the number of volunteers by suggesting the possibility of initial assignment to St. Bevons’ resort, hotel, or other hospitality locations.  These establishments are, as we say, ‘labour hungry.’  The use of Program participants allows them to minimize staff while instituting the ‘no-tipping’ policies that are so popular with guests but so difficult with free labor.  We have found that for Program participants, ‘resort’ is an attractive term.  It conjures images of good times, does it not?”

“Yes it does.  Is that why Jojo is here?”

“I am not sure what its particular motivation may have been.  We have had no difficulties with Jojo.”

“I didn’t mean . . . .”

“That Jojo is here under false pretenses.  Certainly not.  Fortunately or unfortunately, we are not allowed to offer positive guarantees of labor location to prospective volunteers.  Predictably, however, volunteers tend to come much more from dissatisfied members of the leisure class than from populations inured to manual labor.”

“But I imagine that many of your . . . participants are dissatisfied with their own lot in life, whether it was chosen or . . . unchosen.  What keeps them from . . . deserting?”

“If one of them wishes to leave our employ, it will be instantly recognized by its garb, the distinctive slappie browns.  Any slappie found WITHOUT its uniform will be severely punished, as soon as caught.  And it will be caught.  The collar will give it away.”

“Yes, the nondetachable collar.”

“The wonders of technology!  And it is not simply that the collar is a visible sign of the slappie’s status.  It is also a tracking device.  Embedded within the collar is an electronic element accessible at all times to a central control.  One sets the slappie’s boundaries—the radius of a mile, a city block, a hundred feet, whatever may be desired—and if the boundaries are crossed, the slappie is located and apprehended.  Suppose that you obtain one or more slappies . . . .”

“Would that be allowed?  I’m not a citizen of St. Bevons.”

“But of course, Mr. Lansing.  Frankly, this is another way in which we encourage your investment.  If you purchased and maintained a residence on St. Bevons, at the value of 500,000 or more in St. Bevons dollars, you would be free to lease any number of our participants.  It is something to consider.”

I took another long look at Jojo.  “Yes, it is,” I said.

“Suppose you did so.  In that event, you could arrange for your slappies to be limited to your property, or to a certain part of it, or to a certain part of the neighborhood.  If they crossed those boundaries they would automatically be tracked and taken into custody.  Escape in any form is most unlikely.  This is an island, after all.”

“Couldn’t a slappie get the assistance of, well, family or friends, who might smuggle him off the island?”

“This too is most unlikely.  When Jojo became a slappie, his former name ceased to exist.  It cannot be connected to his number, location, or proprietor.  He would be almost impossible to find.  It goes without saying that slappies are not permitted to communicate in any way with anyone off the island.”  He swiveled slightly in his chair.  “That is a good thing, is it not, Jojo?”

“Yes sir.  Certainly sir,” Jojo said, still standing at attention.

“Many slappies,” the Major went on, “welcome this severance from family and friends.  They have a rare, a very rare, opportunity—the opportunity to begin a new existence.  They might well be envied, don’t you think?”

“Yes, certainly.”  It was a fact.  Everybody wants to change, but almost nobody gets to do it.  Even I . . . .  I was retired, I had money, I could do what I wanted.  But if I knew what I wanted, would I be spending a vacation talking to this guy in an electric blue uniform?  It was just an escape, just a bit of role play.  Living on St. Bevons—would that be more of the same?

“And put it in this light, Mr. Lansing.  When a freeman rises in the morning, his first thoughts are of the duties and decisions of the day.  The decisions, and the attendant risks.  I am certain that you have felt this, Mr. Lansing.  But when a slap boy is summoned to a new day of service, he knows none of that.  There are no decisions, there are no risks.  If his owner—I use our shorthand term, Mr. Lansing; we know that they are in law merely lessees and what we call proprietors—if his owner wishes him to pick up a broom, he will pick up the broom.  If his owner wishes him to sweep with it, he will sweep.  When there are no orders, he is . . . switched off.  Awaiting the next command.  No cares.  No worries.  I am sure you see my point.”

“I do.  It is, in a way, an enviable life.”  I looked over at Jojo, staring forward, switched off.  It was a good thing to see.  It was a work of art.  I realized that, except on St. Bevons, you never have the chance to just look at someone, look all you want, without any fear of repercussions.  And except on St. Bevons, you never have the duty to just stand and stare, and not to think.

“Do you have any additional questions, Mr. Lansing?”  The Major glanced briefly at his watch.

I took the hint.  He was suggesting that I was worth maybe one more question.  So I tried to make it a big one.

“Suppose I wanted to establish residence on St. Bevons, and . . . avail myself of the obvious investment opportunities, what is the process for acquiring property and the requisite . . . staff?”

“Oh, good question, Mr. Lansing.  Our real estate market is the same as other people’s.  Any local agent can help you.  I would, of course, advise you to buy when the ratio of our dollar to your own is most favorable!  But you know that.  As to staff, of course you mean slappies.  Come with me, and I will show you.  You are dismissed, Jojo.”

Jojo bowed and vanished.  I followed the Major back to the lobby and along a hallway terminating in two large swinging doors, upholstered in green leather–like the doors of an old-fashioned theater.  And that’s what it was—a theater, or at least an auditorium.  Dark, the way such places are, and not very large, but generously appointed, with thick carpets and three semicircles of wide leather seats.

“This is unexpected,” I said.

“It shouldn’t be.  We treat our clients well.  This is our Show Room.  No film screen, but . . . .  Allow me to provide some stronger light.”

He flipped a switch, and lights came up on a wide stage.

“You see,” the Major said, “how it is arranged.  This is where you may view and then, if you wish, purchase your slappies.  The usual process is to subscribe to our sales updates, which include pictures and data for every slappie available—whether graduating from the freshman gang or having been returned to us by a former proprietor.  That does not happen very frequently, but some employers do, for one reason or another, end their contract, return an item, and accept reimbursement from the Program on a pro rata basis. There are formulas for this.  There are also some consignment sales—from heirs, for instance, who wish to liquidate their holdings.  A few sales are concluded privately, for one reason or another, but most take place at our regular viewings.  The audience assembles, the slappies are arrayed on stage—you see the numbers painted at the various positions on the floor—and our clients have the opportunity of contracting for the slappies they desire.”

“So the slappies stand in those positions, and they’re auctioned off.”

“It is not exactly like an auction, Mr. Lansing,” he said in a faintly hurt tone.  “If you have your heart set on the slappie in, shall we say, Position 3, you may wish to agree to the set price.  But should another client also be interested, then we will see a contest of bids.  And if no one is prepared to meet the price as advertised, there will ordinarily be a reduction, and buying or bidding can proceed from there.”

“Very interesting.  It must be a tense moment for the slappies.”

“Oh, I suppose.  It makes no difference.  They will go with the winning offer.”

“And if no one is interested?  Or interested enough to pay even the reduced price?”

“Then of course the item is withdrawn.  It may be offered again, at some later time.  Or it may be taken by the state and put to work for public purposes.”

“Like Jojo?”

“Oh yes.  Although in that case, the item was never offered for lease.  It was always designated for use at headquarters.”

“I see.”

“Naturally, not every slappie is suitable for the same use.  The difference is made by considerations of height, weight, health condition, docility, physical attractiveness, and so forth.”

I don’t know how this thought came to me—I was looking at the bare stage with the black numbers painted on the floor—but I was wondering, would someone like me be suitable for life as a slappie?   I mean, despite my visits to the health club, which admittedly could have been more frequent, would I be considered too out of shape for that kind of service?  And was I too old for anyone to want me?

“And so forth?” I said.

He must have been reading my thoughts, because he said, “For instance, we see slappies in your age bracket, and even older.”  Maybe he saw my flash of resentment at the word “even,” because he continued, as if happy to console me in some way, “A slappie of mature years often adapts more easily to a life in service.  He is more used to fitting into the social structure.  He has often developed habits of deference that can be transferred to this environment.  Intelligence, it is true, is little valued, but the experience of social submission can be worth a good deal.”

Were his eyes appraising me?  If so, I had enough intelligence to know that the scan wasn’t picking up any “habits of deference.”  As if he knew that, his next words were, “Now, however, I am afraid that I must call attention to the time.  I very unfortunately have another meeting beginning quite soon . . . . ”

Back in the lobby, he gave me more brochures, a hefty booklet entitled “Dominion of St. Bevons: Regulations Governing the Leasing and Maintenance of State Labour Program Participants,” made sure that I still possessed his card, urged me to follow up with any further questions, mentioned the “unique pleasures of life as a proprietor on St. Bevons,” and ushered me out the door.  Outside, looking back at the façade of the State Labour Program office, I could hardly believe that I had been there for only about two hours.

To be continued …

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2 thoughts on “Island Paradise – Part 1: Chapter 07”

  1. Since this is part 1 I wonder if in a future part we will get to see inside the head of one of those young volunteer slappies? Feel what those boys are thinking and feeling when they get drawn into the program and in their new slappy life after

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