In Converse, the government is so all-powerful that they even control the resistance movement. Addison Stokes is a low-level Tweed, one of the elite coterie of empiricists who control the country harnessing only the power of data. But will her ambitions collapse when she falls for a true believer in the Resistance?
When Dan received a ping on his smart phone while he was walking into the building on Friday morning, calling all level 10 Tweeds into a top secret emergency meeting immediately, he knew exactly what it was regarding. Like everyone else in Converse, he had watched President Riker implode on the screen in his speech last night, going completely off script with his line about drafting citizens into space. The plan, as all of the level 10 Tweeds knew, had been to announce the acceleration of the space program and spend a few months building up excitement about the condominium development that would allegedly be taking place on the moon. They were not scheduled to make any kind of announcement concerning relocation until the New Year at the earliest.
Public approval of both Riker and the broader Tweed regime had plummeted that day, with the president down from a robust 83 percent approval rating to a middling 55 percent. The public relations and advertising division had already gone into major damage control mode, claiming that the president had been having some “mental difficulties” lately and that he thought he had been making a joke. Despite the advertising blitz, none of the Tweeds were optimistic that even the low level citizens would buy into the “It was just a joke” defense.
“This is a disaster,” Samantha Butler, Riker’s speechwriter announced at the meeting, after Noll had debriefed the level 10s in attendance on the events of the previous evening. “Riker has gone off script at least once in every speech he’s given this year. Last night’s debacle is only the most egregious example of his recent attempts to improvise.”
“I motion that we eliminate Riker and replace him,” said Cho.
“For once, I agree with Dr. Cho,” Katherine Weingast said. “Obviously, he has to be eliminated.”
“As soon as possible,” said Lauren Stringer.
“Shall we move to a vote on the manner of elimination?” Noll asked.
“Not without polling,” Weingast said.
“His approval ratings are plummeting. What more do we need to know?” demanded Cho.
“We haven’t done any recent polling on the merits of assassination or resignation versus natural death, much less survey experiments or focus groups,” Weingast explained in a slow voice, as if she was talking to a child.
“Resignation is out of the question,” Lasswell said. “If he resigned, he would be expected to make continued public appearances as a dowager. Riker knows too much and he’s a loose cannon. We have to get rid of him.”
The others in the room murmured their assent.
“Well, theoretically speaking, what are the advantages of a natural death versus an assassination? What has the previous polling showed?” Dan asked.
Lasswell and Katherine exchanged glances. “Assassination tends to have significant spillover effects,” Lasswell explained. “It increases approval of the government overall. We could use that right now.”
“Who do we get to assassinate him?” Cho asked.
“What about someone in the Resistance?” Lauren asked, glancing at Dan. “Do you have anyone in mind who would be suitable for the job?”
Dan considered this. He did indeed have someone in mind – that infernal Grayson Miller, who had been all over Addison Stokes the previous evening, sniffing at her like an overeager puppy dog who wanted a tree to pee on. Grayson was the worst kind of plebeian: the kind who thought they were too smart to be plebeians. That kid thought he knew everything about the Tweeds. He even went around claiming to have passed the entrance exams to the doctoral program at Converse University and turned the acceptance down in favor of accepting a level 5 job with one of the local public schools out of some moral imperative, but Dan had taken the liberty of having one of his friends in the records department look up Grayson’s permanent record, and his score had been over 200 points below their cutoff.
At first, Dan had found Grayson’s arrogance entertaining, even useful. He was constantly providing the other true Resistance members with flagrantly inaccurate information about the Tweeds’ policies and practices. That was good; it was good for the members of the Resistance to have bad information about what was going on in the capital headquarters. Dan would just let the kid talk; he certainly wasn’t going to correct him. Lately, though, it was getting more and more annoying. Grayson had started to sound like a broken record, and an incompetent one at that.
But Grayson wasn’t just annoying; he was dangerous. He was angry, and he liked to talk. That kind of combination was never a good one to have in plebeians. Beyond that, his confidence was too convincing; he was too charismatic. He brought decent people who just weren’t very bright over to his side. Dan had noticed that even Addison, a brilliant young woman, had seemed a little taken in by Grayson the previous night. He would have to keep an eye on that.
Dan wondered if he could talk Grayson Miller into assassinating President Riker. He bet that he could. Grayson lived for that kind of glory. It was why he was in the Resistance to begin with. But when it came right down to it, would he be willing to act? He wasn’t a level 1 who had nothing to lose; he had what most plebeians in Converse would consider to be a very good job, as a public school history teacher. He talked a lot in the Resistance meetings about committing acts of violence against the government, but Dan often wondered if the kid just liked to talk, if he thought he was impressing the other people. He was a bully, but most bullies were just compensating for an underlying cowardice. And yet, the arrogance. Arrogant and stupid was a delightful combination, the statistically ideal one for a Resistance member, as all of the Tweeds knew. Grayson Miller was cowardly, it was true, but he was also dumb enough and arrogant to think that he wouldn’t even get caught.
Besides, Dan would love nothing more than to see that sleaze ball executed. “Actually, I do have someone in mind,” he said. “In fact, I have someone who I think would be absolutely perfect for the job. Dr. Lasswell, I’ll give you his identification number and we can do some research.”
“Well, that appears to be settled for now,” Dr. Noll said. “Moving on—”
“I believe there’s an additional question that needs to be settled prior to Riker’s elimination,” Arnold Brett said, interrupting Dr. Noll before he could continue.
“And what would that be?” Cho asked, sounding irritated.
“Who will be his replacement?”
Cho’s tone immediately changed from irritated to attracted. “I would be interested.”
“I nominate Dr. Noll for the position,” Weingast said.
“Seconded,” Lasswell said immediately.
Dan groaned. Not this again. “I believe we went through this after President Faulkner’s death. None of the Tweeds were deemed appropriate, isn’t that correct, Dr. Stringer?”
“Given the turnover we’ve had in the last two decades, I believe it’s worth revisiting the issue,” Noll said.
“Perhaps one of the lower level Tweeds would be an acceptable option to the public,” Brett suggested. “I know a lovely young woman who’s a level 8.”
“A woman?” Weingast asked, sounding horrified. “Women poll terribly.”
“What about the robots?” Dan asked, desperate to avoid another three months of arguing over who among them was the most appropriate choice for Riker’s replacement, when he knew damn well that none of them were. The Tweeds couldn’t even convince each other of anything; they certainly weren’t going to bring actually members of the public over to their side.
“The robots?” Lasswell asked.
Samuel Hardwick, a quiet man who was in charge of the robotics division but rarely spoke during Tweed meetings, cleared his throat tentatively before speaking in a high, squeaky voice. “As you all know, the robotics division has been working to perfect a presidential prototype since the death of our dear late President Faulkner and Riker’s subsequent installation as his successor. We’re quite pleased with the progress we’ve made in this area.”
“But is the prototype ready for public viewings?” Lauren asked.
“We believe that it is. I can arrange a presentation for those who are interested.”
“Please do, immediately,” Noll said. “I believe we all have our assignments for the next day. Dr. Weingast and Dr. Lasswell, please keep us apprised of the poll numbers.”