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The Institute for Ethical Studies

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These high-end robots are so life-like that you sometimes forget that they are not humans. But that is a big mistake. Pardon me, the politically correct term is electronic people.

I work at the Institute for Ethical Studies. As you doubtlessly know, that is a think tank for the Progressive Party. One of my colleagues there is an electronic person named Andrew. The electronic people at the institute rarely generate ideas that become papers or policy statements. Their job is more to challenge the human workers and offer quick sources of information.

Andrew and I had been discussing human nature. We agreed that people are born good, but that they are corrupted by society.

“That means that everyone is corrupt,” Andrew insisted.

“No, it doesn’t,” I argued. “It just means that no one is perfect. In fact, if a good person does something that he knows is bad, his sense of guilt forces him to try even harder to make up for his transgression.”

Andrew scoffed, and I told him that I had a terribly guilty secret in my past. I saw that I wasn’t going to convince him until I told him what I had been hiding for over twenty years, something I had never told anyone. I would not have shared this with a real person, but at the time I thought an electronic person would not go around gossiping, so that what I had revealed to Andrew would not go out of the room. I remember it was a damp, dreary day, and rather than go home at 5:00, I got a sandwich in the commissary and even had a nip from the bottle of Dewars that I keep in my desk. Maybe that is why my guard was down a little.

I forgot about the conversation or at least avoided thinking about it until the scandal about Congressman Corbett broke. The story dribbled out bit by bit over several weeks until Corbett was forced to resign. He owed his decades-long career in Congress to dirty tricks that he played on anyone who had the nerve to run against him. He got some kind of dirt on opponents or framed them so that they did not dare mount a real campaign against him.

Corbett did not do the dirty work himself. His chief of staff, Malcolm Reynolds, did it for him. Of course I knew Reynolds. He was a man with no conscience, a sniveling hypocrite, who would sell his own grandmother if he could gain some political advantage from the deal. He was being investigated by the FBI. There was a good chance that he would end up in jail.

For several days I enjoyed the schadenfreude, but then I got scared when I realized how Reynolds’ story had been discovered. He had an electronic person as an aide. His aide, whose name was Oswald, I believe, was involved in all the dirty work, no doubt. Very likely Oswald was the actual perpetrator, following Reynolds’ orders. Oswald would no more turn Reynolds in than Andrew would turn me in.  That wasn’t the problem.

When I was a young man, I was an aide to Senator Shelton. I learned a lot about politics on that job and was ready to run for Congress myself. Unfortunately I got involved with one of the secretaries in the senator’s office, Sharon Peasley, and she got pregnant. We were in New Hampshire, the senator’s home state, hiking in the foothills of the White Mountains when she told me the news.

I’ll never forget the scene that day. We were at the edge of a tall knoll. I could see the rolling hills stretching across miles of greenery. She seemed horrified when I suggested an abortion. “Well, if you prefer, I will pay child support,” I told her.

“Child support!” she yelled. “No, you have to marry me!”

I liked Sharon, but there was no way that I would marry her. She was a nice young woman, but she didn’t have the class to be a congressman’s wife. I turned toward her suddenly, and she fell backwards over the edge of knoll. I looked down and saw her, her head twisted in an unnatural position. I knew she was dead.

No one knew we had gone hiking together, and I never told anyone, except Andrew, what had happened. I never did run for office, and I never married. Though I rarely think of the events in the White Mountains that day, I have tried to make up for it by helping Senator Shelton do the good work he did until he retired.

When I thought Congressman Corbett and Malcolm Reynolds, I realized how the FBI cracked the case. They must have found what they wanted through Reynolds’ electronic person, Oswald. When you talk to an electronic person, you forget that they don’t have personal loyalties or that their memory is not like ours. The reason they have access to all that information is that the data is not stored in their metal and plastic heads. It is stored in the cloud. Of course it is password protected, but if they want to get to it, determined members of the Department of Information can hack the stuff that’s stored on the cloud.

Although I have never held office, I have been a staff member to various office holders in the Progressive Party. When the Nationalist Party gets back in power, someone in the Department of Information will hack Andrew and get my confession. After that it will be only a matter of time before I hear a knock on my door.

 

End

CARL PERRIN started writing when he was in high school. His short stories have appeared in The Mountain Laurel, Northern New England Review, Kennebec, Short-Story.Me, and CommuterLit among others. His book-length fiction includes Elmhurst Community Theatre, a novel, and RFD 1, Grangely, a collection of humorous short stories. He is the author of several textbooks, including Successful Resumes, and Get Your Point Across, a business writing text. The memoir of his teaching career Touching Eternity, was a finalist in the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Award.

 

 

 

 

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