Sunday, January 29, 2012
The rally was scheduled for noon. The din could be heard from the outskirts.
Bobo's limousine swept in over the hills toward the city, its shadow slithering over the treetops. The driver rode low, for discretion. Birds scattered and complained ahead of the bowshock.
The windows reflected a blue sky specked with globs of cumulus. Behind them Bobo brooded. His eyes hummed as they zoomed in on the distant downtown core, picking out from among the spires the low, wide-slung dome of the temple of the Zorannic robots. Without turning around he asked, "Do they ever come out?"
"Are you asking if they'll take notice of your rally?" asked Oscar, tracing his gaze.
"I'm asking what I'm asking," said Bobo.
John said, "The temple opens if there's a need, Bobo. In colonial times we used to need them a lot, but not so much anymore. I don't think the doors have opened in ages. Certainly not since I was a girl."
Bobo turned to face them. "Is it possible there is no such thing as Zorannic robots?"
John looked confused. Oscar smirked. "There are proofs available to those with privileged access. Do you disbelieve in them?"
Bobo shrugged. "The trust this culture lends them is remarkable. How was it earned?"
Oscar's smirk deepened in the corners before he cleared his face and snorted impatiently through his nostrils. "History," he said. "It was a Zorannic executive who guided us here, after our ark was lost in space. It was Zorannic leadership that curbed the chaos and founded these planets. And it was Zorannic knowledge that reconnected us with the rest of the Solar diaspora." Oscar spread his hands, a glint in his eye. "If that trust were unfounded, we would be all of us fools."
The limo lurched as it swayed against a gust of wind. Bobo looked at John. "Is Zorannic sentience founded on faith?"
"No," said John, looking aside at Oscar uneasily. "Cognitive engines based on simplified versions of Zorannic prototypes are available for study. We have a few on file at the Women's University. You see, there are specific test conditions the results of which can be analyzed for patterns consistent with self-awareness. So in a way the Zorannics' claim to consciousness is tested all the time, by every freshman class in robotics." She reached out and put her hand on Bobo's forearm. "Do you think it would help gain support if you were analyzed like that?"
"No thank you," said Bobo, turning back to the view.
The limousine slowed. The streets below were packed, the crowd dotted with glowing placards and holographic glyphs projected over their heads. Police enforcers walked heavily before the barricades. The driver manoeuvred carefully over a cordoned-off parking platform ringed by journalists. As the limo descended the lights of their cameras winked on.
Bobo adjusted his tie and turned to John. "How do I look?"
"You look great, Bobo. You look fabulous."
Oscar spoke silently into a subvocal mic and then gave Bobo a nod. Bobo opened the door and straightened out of the car. Journalists surged forward. Bobo's pupils shrank against the glare even as his hand extended forward to shake. John and Oscar followed in his wake as the robot worked the crowd. He told a joke and the reporters roared. A girl on a nearby balcony screamed "I love you Bobo!" with her eyes squeezed zealously shut.
Handlers escorted him to the podium where he was even now being introduced by an excitable young man with a revolutionary moustache. He stepped aside as Bobo mounted the platform. Bobo raised his right arm high above his head and the public square seemed to boil suddenly with riotous applause and hooting cheers. When he lowered his arm the noise diminished respectfully.
He waited a beat. Expectation drew taut.
"When human civilization first encountered extrasolar life," he began quietly, "the concept of justice at the heart of our legal apparatus was tested. But history bore out our faith: the tendency to prejudice was no match for the Solar resolve to go forward into the galaxy as a morally upright civilization. Intelligent aliens were treated as peers, and that mutual respect lay the foundation for a lasting panstellar peace."
Applause. Nods from the very important persons on the platform. Placards reared high.
"The law was prepared for this flexibility," Bobo continued, "because it had already grown to accommodate the reality of Zorannic intelligence. I ask you now to consider the application of that same spirit of adaptability to the cause I represent: for I was born a robot, my friends, but I intend to die a citizen."
The people enthused. It was deafening. Their cries were joined by the electronic warbling and joyous beeping of robots dressed in odd hats and torn shirts, trousers fished from the trash tucked into mismatched rainboots. Many of them wore their clothing incorrectly but never the less proudly. Some of them had mittens and scarves despite the summer heat.
As Bobo scanned the crowd he spotted the man in the yellow jumpsuit: the anti-physician himself had come to see him speak.
"The Charter of Centauri is outdated," declared Bobo crisply. "To recognize the diversity of intelligences on this world and her sister, I call for the drafting of a new guarantee by the people and for the people, making explicit our modern understanding of the brotherhood we share as thinking things. I call for a referendum, and I furthermore call for the inclusion of every reasoning thing within the jurisdiction of this stellar system, without prejudice. One mind, one vote."
At this cue a massive holographic banner illuminated in the air over the speaking platform. In both the common verbal protocol and local Eridian dialect it boldly proclaimed ONE MIND, ONE VOTE.
"One mind, one vote! One mind, one vote!" echoed the crowd in contagious rhythm once seeded by well-placed members of the party. "One mind, one vote!"
The man in the yellow jumpsuit had worked his way closer now. Bobo tracked him carefully as he raised his arm for renewed silence. A cascade of failures in the security grid tracked along with the man, a spot of blindness clinging to him like a shadow.
"My friends!" Bobo said, lulling the people to attention again. "My friends! I know that you are good people. I know that your hearts are open, and your philosophies merciful. I know you have forgiven me my transgressions despite my transgressions being unforgivable. In light of such generosity of spirit I can do nothing else but persist in this effort, on behalf of those who cannot."
An enforcer seized, a wisp of smoke rising from one leg. Cops from the technical division jogged over to check it out. The man in the yellow jumpsuit crossed the barrier at their heels.
Spoke Bobo, "But this effort will remain only symbolic so long as our enemies refuse to acknowledge my sense of agency and my subjective experience of the world as a thinking, feeling, acting member of society."
The crowd agreed that this was key. They clapped and rang and beeped and pant-hooted. They stomped feet if they had any. The cacophony rose to a frothing peak.
Bobo straightened with great dignity and cried out, "I am not a human being, but am I not I?"
This is when first shot cracked the air.
"You killed my cousin you unprogrammed son of a dog!" bellowed the man in the yellow jumpsuit, eye leveled along the barrel of his shoulder-mounted assault rifle. "You mighta fooled every other body on this fool world but you can't fool me." This is when he fired the second shot.
Several things happened simultaneously. Yellow jumpsuit was tackled by a civilian and then the both of them were jazzed silly by a cadre of cops in riot gear. Police enforcers swung into motion locking down every entrance to and exit from the square. The crowd gasped and turned seemingly liquid, eddies of panic blooming and churning at the feet of the enforcers blocking the way.
The woman in charge of the invisible anti-projectile wall between the speaking platform and the audience looked up so suddenly she concussed her head against the underside of the generator's hood, where she had been chasing the inexplicable systems failure that blipped through her system. Her first thought was that she had probably lost her job.
John threw herself over Bobo's prone form, looking around wildly for the shooter. "Do they have him?" she screamed at the police liason. "Is there more than one?"
The police liason had splinters of Bobo's carapace embedded in the left side of his face, and was not capable of liasing with anyone. He was very distressed, and making a mess on the platform. A medic rushed over to him.
The young man with the revolutionary moustache was stuttering at the podium in a futile attempt to calm the crowd. Oscar took his elbow and led him aside. "Go wherever they take him, be seen with him," counseled Oscar, eyes elsewhere. "Leave the people to me," he said, turning back to the podium.