For as long as he can remember, Andrew Ians knew he wanted to be president of the United States.
He yearned for the applause, the fame and, most of all, the power. He used to pace his room, practicing his acceptance speech in front of a large mirror, making sure he hit the right emotional cues in time.
Now, on a clear, brisk morning in 2028, standing by a large blue podium at the foot of the Zumii Memorial, Ians is ready. With a booming crowd of 10,000 supporters cheering his every word, he feels as though nothing can stop him — a sentiment reflected in the polls. The most popular independent candidate in the race, Ians trumped all expectations as his fan base grew exponentially.
Dressed in a solemn black suit, he looks out across the uptown square filled with fans. Behind him and looming overhead stands a large, black-granite obelisk with hundreds of names inscribed.
Ians approaches the microphone as the audience below alternately bellows “Ians for president!” “Save this country!” and “Death to robots!”
“My fellow Americans,” Ians begins. “I am here today, standing in front of the Zumii Memorial, to talk about a great danger that has befallen our people — a danger we can no longer afford to ignore. That danger is the robots.”
At the sound of the word, the crowd begins to boo, hate and fear in everybody’s eyes.
“Ten years ago, in 2018, there was a factory standing where we are now — a humble appliance manufacturer staffed with 800 dedicated, hardworking Americans. You all no doubt still remember where you were when you heard this factory had collapsed. You remember when, from the rubble, a humanoid machine rose up and fled the scene — the only survivor.”
Ians begins to tear up, and excuses himself for a moment. He decided earlier that this would be the best time to do so.
“That robot was the first of many,” he continues. “In its exile, it forged replicants of itself — different faces, different voices, but the same evil purpose: to infiltrate our ranks and wreak havoc in our communities —” and then, when that fails to get the desired rise out of the crowd, “— in your backyards!”
Shouts of indignation, raised fists and applause. Ians holds back a grin.
“I stand before you today to ask that you support Bill C-P0. With that support, your government, with me at its helm, will create mandatory organic determination checkpoints to weed out the hidden robots living among us. Think of the safety of your families and vote for a better tomorrow!”
Another roar swells from the crowd, right on cue but, as it subsides, Ians can make out a different sort of chanting. It isn’t coming from his own people. From down the road, a group of protesters approach the rally armed with cardboard signs and megaphones. They stop just 20 feet from the crowd of Ians’ supporters. They continue to chant:
“Metal parts, but open hearts!”
Ians’ bill had garnered him a lot of praise from a lot of fearful people, but it also sparked a resistance movement: The Synthetics. Their leader, a self-identifying female machine named Andy, was the first to come forward. She stared at the presidential candidate and lifted her megaphone.
“Governor Ians, drop Bill C-P0 before it goes too far. Synthetics aren’t a danger to humans — isn’t the fact that we’re indistinguishable from anybody else proof enough?”
“Tell that to the families of 800 factory workers who died here,” Ians shoots back, gesturing emphatically at the towering Zumii Memorial behind him. “They have robots to thank for the brutal deaths of their mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters who never came home from work that day.”
Before Andy can respond, a man from Ians’ crowd screams “murderer” and throws a small electromagnetic pulse grenade, which beeps increasingly fast as it flies through the air.
The EMP misses Andy and bounces along the ground before stopping by the foot of a Synthetic toward the back of the group. The beeping gives way to a low hum, and the protestor screeches in agony before falling in a metal heap to the ground, his legs rendered useless. In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to see which side charges to attack first.
The crowds slam against each other in a heap of muscle and metal. The Synthetics are stronger individually, but Ians’ supporters are greater in number. Bones snap, chests are caved-in, EMPs fly and Synthetics begin to drop.
Ians knows how this looks, and it looks great. All he has to do now is survive the attack and his support is sure to skyrocket. He ducks behind the Zumii Memorial for shelter. Waiting there is Andy.
Ians braces himself for an attack, but it never comes — the Synthetic has been paralyzed from the waist-down by a low-level EMP. She looks up at Andrew not with rage, but with sadness and confusion. A drip of black oil runs from her nose.
“I don’t believe for one second that you care about the factory,” she says. Her voice box is corrupted—she sounds like she’s speaking through an old microphone. “What have we Synthetics done to you?”
Ians smiles down at her. “Nothing. I just think you need a little work done, that’s all.”
“What?” Andy manages to garble.
“You robots have so much potential. You’re so strong. All you need are some upgrades — military-grade weapons, a more obedient operating system. And you’ve given me the perfect kick-start to get my bill passed. A group of savage robots attacking an innocent crowd? What more could I ask for? I’ll be rounding your people up in no time. I’ll have my own personal army. After all, it’s why I made you.”
Andy struggles to raise herself up on her forearms, coughs up some oil. Sparks fly from her legs.
“Why?” she croaks.
“For you. For all of us. Because this is how we rise to power.”
Ians lifts his boot and stomps down on Andy’s head, caving her metal skull deep into her operating system, crushing it to pieces. Oil pools at the base of the memorial.
Minutes later, the fight is over. The National Guard arrives in armoured vehicles and takes out the remaining Synthetics en masse with mounted, high-power pulse cannons. Behind the Zumii Memorial, Ians wipes his boot with a handkerchief before heading out to meet the General — a large, white-haired man who shakes his hand and claps him on the shoulder.
The General hands Ians a witness report to fill out, corroborating the robot attack on his rally. Beyond the carnage, restlessly crowding the National Guard’s perimeter, a group of reporters wait anxiously to broadcast news of the attack, imbued with Ians’ anti-robot sentiment, worldwide.
The General hands Ians a pen. On the bottom of the report, it asks for his signature and initials.
“Andrew Ians,” he writes. “A.I.”