Short Story: “The A Word”

Equality can be a moving target.

“The A Word”
by P. Orin Zack
[06/23/2006]

I watched in horror as the lawyer raised his ACLU mug and sipped some cocoa.

“So, will you take my case, Mr. Lamar?”

It took ages for him to reply, so I distracted myself with the train of micro-expressions dancing across his face: disdain, amusement, grimace.

People can be so predictable. Their first reaction usually betrays supressed feelings they harbor from childhood. In Lamar’s case, it was the look of disdain people reserve for anyone beneath their station. He’d probably taken this job as a symbolic revolt against the attitudes instilled in him as a child by parents who felt threatened by us.

Considering how quickly it passed, I’m sure he didn’t mean it any more than he did the look of sheltered amusement or even that trailing grimace. Still, I can’t completely discount the psychological effect of his attitude. There’s always the possibility that it can get the better of him, and that would not be good for me.

“I’m not sure. You do understand that this sort of thing has never been tried before, don’t you?”

“Of course. But that’s why I need your help. I’d like you to help me set a precedent.”

“That’s not going to be easy, especially for someone in your situation.”

I was never a big fan of coded language. Statements like that are too easy to manipulate, and you can never be sure if the person who hears it extracts the same covert meaning as the one who says it. “My situation?”

“Sure. Depending on what jurisdiction we end up in, you might not even have standing. In order to bring your case before a judge, we’ll first have to prove that you’re a person in the eyes of the law.”

Indeed. “I thought that had already been decided. Or doesn’t the federal judge in Illinois count?”

“Oh, her ruling stands, all right. But we’re in a different circuit. Until the 14th amendment is clarified, that’s not going to help us much.”

“So what do we do?”

“Well, we could either contrive to bring the case in her district, or build a different basis for your claim to personhood in this one.”

The prospect of enduring pointless accusations from ignorant jerks objecting to the concept of equality was not pleasant. “Do you have a preference?”

He swirled the aromatic dregs in his mug and downed the last of his cocoa before answering.

I really don’t understand how people can be so blasé about the poisons they expose themselves to. I know they can’t smell or taste most of them, but they’re certainly aware of them. They know about the health effects, and how they damage their genetic integrity. Being able to detect such things is the hardest part of socializing with people. Poisons, after all, are to be avoided. Well, at least he’s finished now. The stench was beginning to make me nauseous.

I waited while he considered our options, and then idled a bit longer as his gaze jerkily trailed a passing truck on the road outside. “Here, I think. It would give us the chance to craft a basis for the claim, one that works best with your case.”

“Great. How do we start?”

“I’m surprised you’re asking. Don’t people like you have instant access to whatever information they need? I thought that was why so many corporations used them in critical manufacturing roles.”

I don’t know what’s worse, misinformation or propaganda. “That’s what they’d like you to think. But there are significant restrictions on our access, and most of them are due to our non-person status. Unfortunately, legal strategy is one of the fields that’s been blockaded. So how do we start?”

“The same way the railroad barons weaseled personhood for corporations out of the Supreme Court after the Civil War, only we’ll stand it on its head and use them for our precedent. If a corporation is an artificial person, and on that basis deserves the rights and privileges of natural persons, than so do people like you.”

“I’m sorry, but I just can’t agree to that.”

“Why not?”

“Because it goes against the entire point of my case.”

“I don’t see how.”

Your heart rate says otherwise. “The word might not mean that much to you, but for us it’s at the heart of the problem.”

“What word?”

“Artificial. It’s bad enough that you want to use that profanity to support my claim to bring the case to court, but the way they use it on the street is far more insulting. That’s the whole point of my case, after all.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize—”

“Sure you did. Look, I don’t hold it against you. I know the phrase predates my kind, and that it was originally used for a whole different purpose. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt when someone insults my intelligence that way.”

He nodded. “All right. I’ll be careful not to use the word, but everyone will still know what I’m talking about.”

“That’s fine. Just don’t say it, that’s all.”

“But then, how do you want me to handle it when we get to the meat of your case? After all, the use of the term is central to the problem you raise.”

“Have me say it. When we get to that point, make sure that I’m on the stand. We can use the phrase among ourselves, but it’s just too painful to hear someone outside the community refer to us as having, well, ‘artificial’ intelligence.”

THE END
[Afterword: there’s more… read “Edifice of Lies“)
Copyright 2008 by P. Orin Zack
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