Needs Denied

“Ser Miriam, could I have a moment of your time?”

Miriam turned. Harold Chase stood behind her, impeccable as usual in a rich brown linen suit. His gaze was calm.

“Of course, Ser Harold. Um.” Miriam looked around for an empty conference room. “How about there?” she said, gesturing toward a large one.

“That would be fine, yes,” he said, walking ahead of her. Chase was typically very soft-spoken — although he’d gotten fairly rowdy over the Meta issue — and usually looked a little bored. Miriam had no idea how he put up with Donna, his obnoxious secretary.

He had been the minority leader in the Congress for the last 15 years, and the spokesperson for the Congressional Committee on Transhuman Relations for the last four. Chase had been in Congress for a total of 53 years, and a public figure for at least 10 years prior. Miriam’s parents hadn’t even come together when Chase started his tenure in Congress.

“I don’t want to take much of your time, Ser Miriam,” Chase said as he took a seat in the conference room. Miriam closed the door and carefully sat a few chairs around the table from him. Congress members didn’t just talk to one another, not casually. They postured and pranced and worked secretively on special projects.

“I’m sure you know that I have plenty of time when it comes to a senior congressmember, Ser Harold,” Miriam said dryly. She actually had plenty to do, but she was also junior enough — two years and running — to know that she still needed to play the game.

She couldn’t wait until she was in Ser Harold’s shoes and didn’t need to.

“Yes,” Chase responded simply. “In short, I want you on the TR Committee.”

“Does this have anything to do with me loitering around your office the other day?” Miriam asked. That secretary of his could have dramatized her visit.

Chase shook his head slightly. “Are you interested?”

Miriam didn’t have to think more than twice. “Yes, but I’m not going to be quiet and meek and let stuff slide.”

He actually smiled slightly. “That’s good. Keep that attitude. I have a variety of projects I want to bring you in on.”

“Projects like the Metas?” Miriam fired back.

Chase’s smile twisted a little as he said, “Yes, projects like the Metas. Projects like Lina. The Hadas and the Nortons.”

Miriam had heard of all of these, of course. They had had reason to need AI-human laws drafted and enacted. “Why me, and why now?” she asked.

He gave a little shrug. “Maybe I’m just looking for another young, clever protegé. My last one didn’t work out so well, you know.”

Lilith Thik, young congressmember and student of Chase’s, had committed suicide by slitting her own throat on the balcony of Chase’s condo here in the city. She had been covered in a variety of bodily fluids in addition to the blood.

“No, I suppose she didn’t,” Miriam said slowly. Chase seemed a little warmer now; warm enough that he was joking about his dead protegé. Miriam wasn’t sure this was an improvement. “All right, sensei. What’s the first order of business?”

“It depends. How well have you been keeping up with the bills coming through the TR Committee?”

“I keep a close tab on things, especially lately,” she said, hoping to draw him out a bit on the subject of the Metas.

“Good,” Chase said simply. “I need you to be my majordomo in the Appropriations Committee tomorrow. They want to talk about the so-called Manicurist Resolution.” He looked at her a bit expectantly.

Right. Her cue to sound smart. “Which would arrange for the development of wiper-viruses for use by Enforcers. …Are you in favor of it?”

“I don’t know. Am I?” he asked drolly.

Miriam looked at him sideways. “Of course not. The proper way to handle enforcement is to allow, at worst, stun jammers to restrict physical and electronic movement. That’s been used to good effect in the recent Buda incident and doesn’t discriminate between human and AI.”

Chase nodded slightly. “Passable. Back it up with more examples, detailed descriptions of incidents, previous laws backing that up. Don’t bore them to death unless you think they’re going to push it to a vote against us right then and there.”

Miriam knew how to argue a bill. “It’s at 7-something tomorrow, right?” Miriam asked. She hated early mornings.

“Yes, 7:15. Also, Lonnie Norton is on that committee. It doesn’t want this to pass either, so if you slip up in some way that hurts us, it should come to the rescue.”

The Nortons were one of the stranger creations of humanity. They resembled little other than stick figures, with rail-thin bodies and round heads; most were as tall as three meters. According to interviews with them, they had just never bothered with gender.

“Lonnie Norton. Right. Will I be assigned a bodyguard?” Miriam asked.

“Of course, yes,” Chase replied. “I’ve got a Meta en route now to be your escort. You understand, of course, that it’ll be monitoring you as much as your surroundings.”

Miriam nodded and said, “Standard fare, of course. Anything I should know about etiquette with it?” Maybe she would learn something real about the Metas.

“They are really quite adaptable in terms of protocol,” Chase said, “although you’ll need the equipment and software to maintain them.”

“Maintenance?” Usually, modern AIs could take care of themselves with far less fuss than a human, or could at least not require special equipment. “Are we talking some kind of charger?”

“Well, they have a damper in place that degrades internal signal power over the course of about twelve hours. You just have to manually input a code and send an encrypted passkey with ident, and they can charge and be fully functional again. I tend to do mine every eight hours. They’re regrettably slow and dumb as the signal degradation gets worse.”

Miriam was speechless. Harold Chase was sitting here calmly talking about what amounted to slavery.

Chase misinterpreted her expression. “Don’t worry, dear. It’s not that onerous. Donna, my assistant, will get you set up with the software.” He stood and held a hand up, palm toward her.

Miriam stood quickly and matched her palm to his.

“Good day, Miriam,” Chase said genially. “You’ve given me quite a bit of amusement today, thank you.”

“I aim to please,” she said a little distractedly.

It looked like she might have more than one project for the Metas.