Author : David Henson
“Sign here, human, to give us permission.” A titanium alloy finger taps the document they’ve put in front of me.
Here we go. “Permission?”
“Yes, just sign here.” Tap.
I look over the paper, but everything is written in robotistic lingo I can’t fully understand. Doesn’t matter. I know my lines. “Permission for what?”
“We can’t tell you that till we have your permission of course. Right here.” Tap, tap.
“I can’t just sign without knowing.”
The robot, in a move equivalent to a human shoulder shrug, rotates his head like an owl then motions for the second, taller, bot.
“Is there a problem here?” The taller robot’s eyes flash, and he comes toward me aggressively. This had better work.
He reaches for my throat, then stops abruptly. “I’ll contact the district office.”
I face the district office panel of inquiry. “Mr. Jones, you’re charged with not giving us permission,” the chairbot, seated in the middle of the five, says. “How do you plead?”
“Innocent. I’d be perfectly happy to give you permission if you’d tell me permission for what.”
“This is ridiculous,” the bot to my far left says. “We haven’t let lack of a human’s permission stop us for decades. It’s just a legacy we haven’t bothered to delete. I move we waive discussion and proceed.”
“Second,” says another.
“All in favor,” the chairbot says.
“Objection,” says the bot on my far right. “Rule 11.27/go stipulates debate can’t be waived without unanimous approval. I don’t approve. I think we need some discourse.”
The chairbot rotates his head. “Discussion is open.”
The debate proceeds for about an hour. I can hardly follow the parliamentary maneuvering and citations of Robot’s Rules of Order. “Enough. I move the previous question,” one of them says finally.
“Good,” the chairbot says. “All in favor?” Two metallic arms go up. “Opposed?” Two.
“Chairbot, it’s up to you to break the tie.”
The chairbot starts to speak, then stops. Lubricant begins to sweat from the ventilation grids under its arms. “We’ll elevate this case to the regional office,” it says finally.
I’m freed on my own recognizance. Sort of. The panel got caught up debating whether to let me go or remand me in custody, so I slipped out. Back home, I check the time, tap the code into my viewer, and cross my fingers. An image flickers. I recognize her but don’t know her name or anything about her other than she’s a fellow member of my resistance chapter. I didn’t know she was so high up.
“Are we on? Is this streaming?” she says, then starts cutting in and out again. I’m not surprised. We only recently regained access to communications technology, and we’ve used it sparingly for fear of detection. After a few minutes that seem like hours, she begins to speak despite the technical difficulties. I take a deep breath.
“Our bureaucracy virus … robots’ central neural network … Operation Endless Debate … success. My fell… humans, free… is at hand.”
I stare at the screen almost afraid to believe what I’ve heard. Questions and ideas about what should happen next race through my mind. I’m sure it’s the same for everyone.
I hope, this time, we’ll restrain ourselves.
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