© 2016 by Allan Dyen-Shapiro

This flash fiction SF humor piece originally ran in Nebula Rift, Volume 3, Issue 8. When the entire fictionmagazines.com operation shut down, it left this story unavailable to readers. Now, had I sold this to some elite venue, I'd attempt to re-sell it as a reprint, but a flash piece from a defunct semi-pro online zine...

 

I came pretty close to failing to sell this the first time. Nebula Rift started with an unusual model in which those who volunteered as slush readers saw all submissions and all comments upon them. Even their own submissions. Although most of the slush readers liked this story, one tried to block its publication for political reasons. Relating this anecdote here would involve spoilers, so I'll continue after the story.

 

 

A Difficult Transition

 

 

     President Sigma X-23 discerned footsteps and swiveled his sensory input module away from the Oval Office window. “Greetings, Thomas. My morning data upload indicates your arrival was expected five minutes ago. Why the change in schedule?”

 

     Vice President Jefferson hustled forward, powdered wig fluttering, and halted beside Sigma X-23. He gulped a breath. “The virtual meeting with the Presidential transition team ran late.”

 

     As had the previous three.

 

     In dealing with humans, Sigma X-23 adjusted the initial parameters for machine learning-based computation to anticipate inefficiency—an optimization he’d soon no longer require. His service to the American people would end January 20th, as specified in the twentieth debugging of the Constitution.

 

     “Any difficulty expected?” Sigma X-23 asked. The President’s system parsed the morning newsfeed. “Reuters reports threats of a riot at the inauguration.”

 

     Jefferson’s face flushed. “I’d be one of the rioters myself were it not for this silly aquiline nose, the hair weave and the goddamned wig powder.”

 

     “The original Vice President Jefferson wore powdered wigs.”

 

     “He didn’t suffer from allergies.” Jefferson plopped into a guest chair and helped himself to liquid refreshment. “The idiocy of the American people with their low voter participation rates, allowing one vocal segment of the electorate to foist this strange creature upon us. I agreed to head the transition team from our side out of loyalty, but you must see you’ve given me an impossible task. Our people, true American patriots, will never stand for this abomination.”

 

     The decision subroutine estimated a 92.4% probability that calming Jefferson, who enjoyed popularity with the traditionalist faction, would avoid insurrection. Sigma X-23 rolled to the side with an appendage extended and gesticulated in synch with his words—like a human attorney making his case to a jury—a stance calculated to inspire trust. His English language output module auto-switched to colloquial and folksy. “Listen to me, Tom. Change is good. Pundits said a robot president could never lead America; we proved them wrong. Sure, having you at my side helped. A little plastic surgery and, voilà, my running mate’s the man who authored the Declaration of Independence and negotiated the Louisiana Purchase. Most Americans couldn’t tell the difference, and fewer cared. So they elected a robot. And before that, the first gene splice president. You remember the slogan: only a potato-man has eyes toward the earth? The environment and agriculture lobbies loved him, and he won in a landslide—”

 

     “And of course, before that, the first digital president, although he did need a cute name referencing a 1990s politician to inspire confidence.”

 

     “A wonderful leader, President Al Gorithm.”

 

     “Indeed.”

 

     The vexing human calmed himself. What a strain on processing capacity dealing with these irrational creatures! Despite a 98.6% probability of shattering the calm, revealing that the morning’s meeting would include a third participant was unavoidable. “Tom?”

 

     Vice President Jefferson adjusted his angle of vision in a vertical direction.

 

     “The President-elect will be joining us.”

 

     Jefferson’s heavy breathing graded into a wolf-like growl. “I will not dignify the creature with my presence.”

 

     “Too late.”

 

     The doors swung open, and the President-elect glided in, flanked by a security detail.

 

     Vice President Jefferson sneered. Double time toward the door, he tripped when his embroidered silk waistcoat caught on the new leader’s personal hovercraft exhaust jet. He scrambled to his feet and exited without looking back.

 

     President Sigma X-23 adjusted the angle of his faceplate appendages to connote embarrassment. Midway through auto-composing a speech, the incoming President cut him off.

 

     “No offense taken.”

 

     After parsing the text for relevance, Sigma X-23 vocalized only his aborted oration’s first sentence. “I apologize for my running mate’s inability to accept change.”

 

     The hovercraft touched down on the floor, and the President-elect stepped off. “I’m not concerned. Someday, the break with tradition will seem insignificant, and nobody in the country will find it radical, unusual or dangerous to be led by someone of my…”

 

     “Gender?”

 

     The President-elect adjusted her skirt.

 

 

The reason this piece almost didn't get published was that it was mistaken for pro-Hillary Clinton propaganda. With the odd publication model of Nebula Rift, I was able to get in touch with the person who'd made the negative comments and tell him I was a Bernie Sanders supporter, and he withdrew his objection to publication.

 

Actually, this piece was written long before Clinton declared her 2016 candidacy. What inspired it was my reading of correspondence between Frederick Douglas and Susan B. Anthony. Douglas argued that as soon as Black people got the vote, women were certain to follow very soon after. Anthony was more pessimistic, thinking Americans more misogynist than racist, and said it would take at least fifty years. She proved correct.

 

During the critique of this piece on OWW (Online Writers' Workshop), some of those found it already a dated message, as they felt it inevitable that Hillary Clinton would be the next President. They were wrong, and misogyny still persists in the US to the point that a female President coming soon is not inevitable. Hopefully, it won't be fifty years.

 

Thus concludes my long-winded argument as to why my piece of political satire remains relevant. I doubt I changed many minds. But, in the vein of Woodie Guthrie's defense of folk music as serving to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable, if you enjoyed it, I'm happy. 

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