Taylor stared down at the city lights from the shadow of his apartment. The wind rattled the mesh grate as cold air blew through the open window and bit around his bare chest. He’d had plenty of nights like this before, but not for some time. It wasn’t sleeplessness – he was mentally and physically drained, and his bed was half a foot away from the open window he was peering lazily out of. If he wanted to sleep, he could. But it’d been so long since he’d let his mind wander, and the barely-living cityscape invited him into a tantalizing, dull escape.
His brain jumped ambivalently from topic to topic – a college friend he’d forgotten to write back to, a memo he’d have to draft first thing in the morning, a girl who’d just liked him on Hinge a moment ago. He breathed in the icy air and it stung at his nostrils as he began to shiver. He glanced over at the clock: 11:02. As he slid the window closed and made his way to the messy arrangement of sheets strewn around on his bed, his phone chirped. “Ainsley Reade – AFG Consulting” had emailed him a final draft of the tracking poll that was set to go out the next morning. He tapped the attachment and gave a couple of quick scrolls to check the battery of questions that’d be heading into the field. “Lgtm,” he shot back a couple of minutes later. Clicking his phone shut, he wrapped himself in blankets and let his mind wander itself into a dream.
Taylor woke with a start and shot up in a daze. His heart pounded as rays of early golden-red sunlight peered in through his window. He glanced at the time: 5:47 – his alarm was set to go off in 3 minutes, so with a sigh of relief and disappointment he resigned himself to get a head-start toward the shower. He’d take his first meeting in 45 minutes on the way to the office, and he intended to squeeze the utility out of each extra second his early wake-up bought him.
As he headed toward his car, he dialed into the conference. The digital assistant that was much too chirpy for 6:28 a.m. rang through his speaker phone: There is one participant in the call. Please introduce yourself.
“Heyo, Taylor here. Which poor sap beat me today?”
“Hey Taylor, it’s Marjorie,” a reply came back, speaking over the rhythmic tick-tock of a turn signal. “I did one of those ‘wake up three minutes before your alarm in a panic’ things this morning so I figured I’d savor my early start.” Taylor laughed, and recounted his mirrored morning. “Yeah, I think we’re about to have a lot more of those,” he said.
Like popcorn Taylor’s phone let out intermittent dings in increasing frequency as people filed into the digital conference room and announced themselves. Finally, at 6:30 a.m. exactly, a chirp rang out, and a voice came in authoritatively through Taylor’s speakerphone, “Simon here. Assuming everyone’s ready, let’s get started.”
Taylor cleared his throat. “Hey Simon, hey everyone. Alright so AFG is all set to send out the battery of questions this morning. We should have tabulated results within a couple of weeks. We have the folks from Turning Point Media on?”
“Yep, hey Taylor, it’s Marissa here.”
“Where are y’all at with the launch script?”
“Should have it over to you by Wednesday. We’re plunking away at it, but this is obviously…” Marissa trailed off. “A unique voice,” she finally decided on the words, before quickly adding “No offense intended, Simon.”
“None taken,” Simon chuckled back personably.
“Alright, we’ll keep an eye out for that, thanks folks. Marjorie, can I kick it over to you for a quick fundraising update?” Taylor asked, balancing his remaining half a bagel and sloshing cup of coffee as his car banked around a tight corner.
“Yep, thanks Taylor. Alright, so there’s some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that we’ve barely got enough in the bank to pay everyone on this call through the end of the month — so there’s not a lot of room for error here. But the good news is, we’re expecting this race to have a huge national draw. Which, I guess brings us back to some more bad news,” Marjorie chuckled dryly.
“We’re obviously solidly in uncharted waters here. We know this race is going to draw a lot of attention — but we don’t exactly know who’s going to benefit from that. As soon as we launch, we’re going to have to fundraise like nobody’s business, because if we’re not, someone else is.”
“Thanks Marjorie. That transitions pretty cleanly over to Immedia. How’s it hangin’?”
“Rich here! Going pretty swell! We got the first round of draft fundraising emails over to Simon yesterday evening and he got back edits… well, pretty fast,” RIch laughed. “Everything’s rocking and rolling over here. But we’ve just got to flag once again that there’s still some pretty fundamental stuff we’ve got to settle before we’re ready to get up and running.”
“Such as?” Taylor asked. He knew what the answer was. But he figured he was paying consultants, so they might as well be the ones to have to bring it up.
“Well… It’s just that we’ve never run a candidate who… uh…” Rich started and stopped a few times, never quite landing on a solid first syllable to any word in particular.
“I think, if I may,” Simon intruded.
“Please do,” Rich said, audibly relieved.
“Rich is trying to say that he’s never had to put together an advertisement asking people to donate to someone entirely without a form.” There were some phlegmatic chuckles across the line.
“That’s more or less it, yeah. In fact, it goes a little deeper than that. We have the task of literally constructing the appearance of a candidate. I mean, our agency handles branding for one thing, but creating a literal person to match Simon is a tremendously difficult, and frankly personal, task.”
“If you would please all check your phones, I have sent a potential rendering that might suffice.” Simon chipped in. Taylor pulled up his phone as his car sped along the freeway and opened the attachment at the top of his notifications. He couldn’t stop a laugh from escaping.
“What’s that, Taylor?” Simon asked.
“Simon, you’re blue.” Taylor laughed again, glancing at the vaguely humanoid rendering on his screen.
“Indeed. It seemed to me the best way to avoid making a statement by choosing one race or another.” Simon replied calmly.
“For what it’s worth, I’m not sure making yourself blue is a great way to go about avoiding commentary on race. And that aside, if we were comfortable with just any form, we’d just slap some wheels on a server box or… I dunno, just fuckin wave around a hard drive or something.” Taylor said in between bites of his bagel.
“So you think I need to appear as a human for this campaign to work?” Simon asked.
“If I may, Simon,” Rich interjected. “I think anything else is just a bridge too far for most voters. Look, the past 10 years or so have been a pretty grueling time in court, and while artificial consciousness technically can run for office now, it’s never happened before for a reason. It’s been the subject of some decorative op-ed’s, but no one’s really given it too much thought. We’re going to be pushing a lot of envelopes here, and anything less than human-passing is just going to be a distraction.”
“That sounds good to me.” Simon said back curtly. “I leave the specifics up to you.”
Taylor waited a few awkward moments before starting again. “Alright, well, I think we all have our marching orders. Let’s continue on from here and stay in touch throughout the week.”
“Taylor, can you stay on?” Simon asked, as callers quickly left. He waited until the last ding chimed. “I would like to discuss the future of this campaign with you.”
“How so?” Taylor asked.
“We’ll be getting the results of our first poll in a short time. We do not have the resources to continue this campaign through the primary election for the sake of vanity or experimentation. If the results of this poll are unfavorable, I would like to consider dropping out of the race.” Simon said.
Taylor thought for a second. “Y’know, I’ve worked for a couple of candidates like you before.”
Simon chuckled. “Surely none quite like me.”
“Mm. Not quite like you, no. I suppose not. But you’re brilliant, Simon. You’re programmed to be the perfect candidate. Charismatic. Personable. I’m not sure what techno wizardry’s going on behind you, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to stay awake through an explanation, but from what I hear you’ve got the entire corpus of political history crammed into your head.” Taylor mused.
“This is true.” Simon replied.
“Well. All those smarts aren’t going to mean a damn thing if you run for the hills because you’re afraid to fail.” Taylor paused for a moment. “Do you know how many campaigns I’ve worked on?”
“Fourteen,” Simon said.
“That’s right. And do you know how many I lost before I got to win one?”
“Sure did. Now, you’re surely better than I am at math, but I think I can subtract two numbers just fine, and my math tells me that I helped get nine people elected to government to do things I believed would actually help make this country a better place. Things like passing laws that would enable you to run for office. And if I ran for the hills after I saw my first set of poll numbers, I can’t say for sure all of those people would have won their races with someone else managing it.”
“I understand that. But there are people — campaign staff, your colleagues — who are counting on this. If we’re leading them down a path when we can’t even pay them through the primary—”
“Then we’ll be just the same as every other campaign out there that didn’t make it through the primary.” Taylor replied curtly. “Look, Simon, I appreciate the concern, but everyone’s here because they want to be. And they’ll get new jobs if this goes under. I’m just pulling up to the office now, I’ll talk to ya inside.” Taylor said and hung up the phone.
The door popped open, and he sighed for a moment and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Long day,” he muttered to himself before climbing out of the car, shutting the door and heading into the building.