Special Needs

“Well, honestly, Ser Miriam.  I don’t know know what you expect me to do with this list,” said the gum-smacking, hair-twirling secretary of Ser Harold Chase.  Her fingers didn’t stop moving on the computer keyboard as she spoke.

Miriam rolled her eyes and slightly shook the disk she was holding out.  “I expect you to integrate these names into the system, er, Donna,” she said, glancing at the name tag on the desk.  “Make it so that I can look up the congressional bills, laws, and executive orders by the names of people they’ll affect.”

“You’re absolutely crazy, Ser!”  Miriam raised a warning eyebrow.  “No offense,” Donna said quickly, looking back at the computer screen.  “But you’re talking about an absurd amount of data entry for every single bill that goes through Congress.  There are billions of people in the provinces!”

Miriam sighed impatiently.  “Then have someone write a system to do it, and use this list as test data.  It’s the list of everyone affected by the recent order to flatten the land in the provinces –”

The door behind Miriam opened and a dust-covered Meta walked in.  Miriam could see four more Metas standing outside before the door closed.  Each one had a large gym bag slung over its shoulder, and despite their dusty clothes, their legs and feet were human-normal rather than the “cloppers” they wore on a land-flattening excursion.

The Meta in the office gave no acknowledgment of Miriam or Donna, but walked lightly to the door to Ser Harold’s office, opened it, and went in.

Donna’s theatrical shudder drew Miriam’s attention back to her.  “I’ll tell you, I don’t mind them, of course,” she said, eyes wide, “but I do wish they were polite and would ask to see Ser Harold like anyone else.”

“Don’t be silly.  Politeness is a culturally-defined term,” Miriam muttered.  She wanted to talk to that Meta.  “Look, how long does it normally take with Ser Harold?”

Donna refreshed her gum with a new strawberry-flavored, sugar-laden stick.  “Um, anywhere from five minutes to twenty.  Sometimes less.  I mean, assuming you’re talking about the Meta and not… you know, sex.”  Miriam only barely stopped from showing her horror, and Donna’s glance at her showed the same stern face it had the last time she checked.  “Surely you don’t have any business with them?”

Miriam’s gaze sharpened on the twit.  “You’re still being silly.  Ser Harold — who voted down this, this, pogrom — can have business with Metas, but I shouldn’t?”

Donna was quiet, gaze locked on the screen and fingers moving over her antiquated keyboard.Miriam pocketed her disk.  “I’ll find someone else to do this list.  I can see Ser Harold’s office isn’t interested.”

Donna’s mouth stayed firmly shut, but she slid a glance towards Ser Harold’s office.

Miriam stepped outside the office, but stopped sharply when she realized she was surrounded by the three remaining Metas.  She pulled the door closed behind her slowly as she looked over the group.  They looked back at her silently and impassively.

“I’ve got some questions for you,” Miriam said quietly.

“We live to serve, Ser Miriam,” the one directly in front of her said.  Its voice was a smooth contralto.

Miriam took a deep breath.  “Can we move away from the door?” she asked in a low voice.  The Metas silently stepped away from the door, no longer hemming her in.  Miriam moved towards a bench a ways down the hall and sat nervously.  To her surprise, the Meta who had spoken to her sat next to her, while the other two crouched on opposite sides of the bench.

The Meta — the talkative one — sat facing her quietly.

Miriam cleared her throat a little nervously.  “Do you have a name I can call you?  Or a designation?”

“We are not given names,” he said calmly.

How odd.  “And you don’t have the luxury to give yourself names?”

The Meta’s head tilted slightly.  “Inquiries into our state of being should be directed towards the Congressional Committee on Transhuman Relations.”

Miriam blinked.  That… didn’t make sense.  The TR committee dealt with AI-human policies, but not AI policies in and of themselves.  They didn’t control any particular models, as far as she knew.

“I apologize if I’m asking rude questions,” Miriam said, at a bit of a loss.

“Politeness is a culturally-defined term,” the Meta said blandly, and Miriam knew she was being mocked.  That cleared her head a bit.

“Are you receiving orders from Ser Harold?” she asked.

“We report to Ser Harold,” it said simply.

Miriam stared hard into that featureless face.  She had no idea how it “saw”.  “Do you see the problem with what you’re doing?  You’re hunting down people and killing them based on a twisted dinosaur’s quest for revenge.”

The Meta said nothing.

“Come on,” Miriam growled.  “I’ve never heard of a model that didn’t develop morals.  A code of conduct emerges naturally from interacting with other people.”

Again, the Meta was silent.  Miriam stared at him.”What’s behind the face plate?” she asked, calm again.

“Biomechanical components,” it said.

Miriam sighed.  She decided to try something more innocuous.  “Do you have gender?”

“We are not given gender,” it replied.  “But again, inquiries into our state of being should be directed towards –”

“Yes, yes, the TR committee.  I’ll be sure to have words with them.  …Listen.  I don’t know what’s going on here, but I think it’s deeper than you — you all — being less sentient.  I’ve opposed this SMT witch hunt for the same reason I oppose you being used to commit the crimes –”

“What reason would that be, Ser Miriam?” said a bland, warm voice behind her.  Miriam whirled on the bench, and the Meta who had gone into the office stood behind her.  She might have been imagining it, but there seemed to be something tired in its voice.  The three other Metas stood and moved to stand behind the newcomer.

“I don’t like to see people manipulated or hurt,” Miriam said as she herself stood to face him.

The Meta leaned closer to her; Miriam leaned in, too.  “I’ll give you this, Ser Miriam.  Some — those with special needs — are more easily manipulated than others for obvious reasons.”  He was silent a moment, then said conversationally, “I shall give you one more: it is supremely difficult to hold to a code of conduct when one’s basic needs are not being met.  Good day, Ser.  If your talks with the Transhuman Relations committee go well, you may appeal to us for the development the application you mentioned to Ser Donna.”  The Metas turned as one and left the building.

Miriam stood for a moment, making her own connections and remembering hushed conversations in the Congressional Hall over the last couple of years.  Looks like she had some research to do.