Monday, March 11, 2013

None But the Machine

    The tough part was convincing the public they were human enough to hold office.
    "Sixty seconds till air time," Claudia whispered tapping David lightly on the shoulder, "Don't be nervous.  I'm sure nobody's watching."
    That didn't help.  The room was abuzz with activity, all consolidated along the far wall facing away from David.  After Claudia left, the only pair of eyes directly on him belonged to the camera man expertly manipulating the three cameras into position to catch his best sides.  The cameras rolled along the television studio track, swiveled, and whirred to life, articulate with their own rudimentary intelligence.  He swallowed the last of his glass of water and checked their position.
    "Five seconds," he heard from the intercom.  The cameras in place, the last pair of eyes left him and moved to join the others at the back wall control panel.  The lights slowly swelled on and a small red light flickered within camera one.
    "Good evening," David said stifling a reflexive smile, "It's November the eighth, seven o'clock standard time and we're about to have the results of tonight's election revealed to us,"  It was a rough intro.  Too late now.  He continued, "Forty-one counties have reported in and we're just waiting on two for this neck-and-neck bid for state comptroller.  Joining with me in Wakepaw Commons is Rick Pidgeon, designer of Mr. Charles Montgomery Woodcock.  Hello, Mr. Pidgeon are you there?"
    "I can hear you," a thick Savannah accent filled David's ear.
    From the table a small screen flipped up letting the two converse face to face - or at least the closest parallel they would find.  Rick Pidgeon was a thin man, almost impossibly so with coyote eyes and a confident - if not haggard - appearance.
    "Mr. Pidgeon, you're a veteran of the Political Aggregor project having first campaigned to allow qualified AI candidates to hold office back in your younger days."
    "That was the '68 election you're talking about.  Yes sir.  By that point we had already seen generals, city planners, banana republic dictators, and CEOs run by computer so I got to thinking why not a metal man in the White House?"
    David read from the pop-up cue card on-screen,
    "I'm sure it was an outrageous idea at the time."
    "Clearly it was," he said, "I remember asking about it and coming up against a brick wall with the various requirements.  Must be a US citizen, must be over 40 years of age, must have lived in the continental US at least 15 years, must be living in the United States - which also implies living at all, etcetera.  All overcome."
    "But in your experiences, the benefits outweighed these temporary limitations."
    "The only thing that separates my candidate from you or me is he'd make a much better state comptroller.  And the president elect will make a much better president."
    David's desktop screen flashed red, obscuring the southern gentleman from his view momentarily.  Three words.  Charles Woodcock Elected.
    "I'm sorry, I'll have to cut this short, Mr. Pidgeon.  Ladies and gentlemen, I've just received notice that after a long and contentious campaign Charles Montgomery Woodcock has just been elected.  We'll be joining you with the aftermath of his election alongside news of the latest on the presidential race after these brief messages."
    The camera clicked off.
    "Not that anybody will be watching anyway," Claudia said entering his field of vision, "I'm pretty sure you could just head home now."
    "Ouch, Claudia!" David said, "I'm doing my best!"
    "Don't worry - your job's still intact," she said with a wry smile, "No one cares about local politics.  I don't know why they do state elections the same night as the nationals now.  It's a tough act to follow."
    "What's it looking like?" David asked, "Which of these models is going to be handling things upstairs for the next four years?"
    Claudia looked first through David, and then behind him,
    He turned and watched the digital ticker of stories popping down the screen behind him.  The top two.
    Charles Montgomery Woodcock ( Ind ) Elected State Comptroller.
    Charles Montgomery Woodcock ( Ind ) Involved in Fatal Crash.
    "Talk about bad luck," David said, "This just happened?"
    "Couldn't have been more than a minute ago," Claudia said, "One right after the other."
    A sudden panic welled up in David's chest.  Unexplained.  Desperate.  Inevitable.  He tried to say something, tried to think of a question to ask without betraying his deepest fears.  It made perfect sense.  All he could say was,
    "He did it to himself."
    He stared forward, a long and terrible crease slowly crossing his brow,
    "I don't know."
    "Who would make a machine that destroys itself if it gets elected?"
    The moment passed.  The crease in David's brow smoothed and his hair fled back on his scalp,
    "It could be anyone."
    They stared at each other for a long while.  Claudia narrowed her eyes.  There was an incredulous smile forming at the edges of her strawberry-red mouth,
    "You can't be serious."
    "The perfect crime," he said.  They both chuckled.  She slapped him on the shoulder, "It'll never sell.  Nice try, though.  Look concerned and a little sad when the cameras come back on - just in case someone gets bored with the real news and starts watching us."
    David looked down at the desk console,
    "They won't."
    "Why not?"
    "The president has just been elected."
    "And?" she said.
    "And what?" he said, not meeting her gaze.
    "Five seconds," the intercom broke in, "Claudia, you're in the shot."
    She stood there staring at David with those painted eyes even when the red light on camera one flicked on.  He wasn't sure what they were sharing in that moment other than a look.  A simple look between friends.  Humans.  A long second passed and he turned his gaze to the camera holding still staring them down.  It hung there, waiting for him to speak.  He knew none were watching.  None but the machine.

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