I could feel the crowd noise double in volume as my caravan of black security sedans rolled up to the stadium. The bottle of TeraBlu water in my hand was practically buzzing from the muffled roars of the masses. I took a swig, jammed the bottle back into its cupholder, and fumbled around in my black campaign stop emergency bag. While my handler, Rita, put the final spritzes of gel in my hair, I applied vaseline to my teeth and double-checked that the makeup girl hadn’t left an abhorrent orange line above my collar like she had last time.
The caravan began slowing down, and I could hear the countdown beginning from my two primary security guys’ squawkers. Rita was peppering me with last-minute advice, but I waved her off to get a good breath before the show. I knew more than she did: That’s why I’d been chosen, after all.
This was always my favorite part. Not the adoring crowd. Not the top-of-the-line accommodations. Not the fancy dinners and lavish, legally-gray-area gifts. This moment. Right here before it all happened.
You see, I’ve been trained. Carefully bred, selected at a young ago, schooled appropriately, drilled every day for my whole life, you know; the usual. And now that I’m finally here doing the big-girl dance, my favorite part is that magical five second pause that remains before the door opens.
I like to close my eyes and do some deep breathing. It’s not that I’m nervous - I wouldn’t have been selected if I got nervous now. There’s just a deep, soul-itch-scratching pleasure that I find in the moment before I know something is going to go very well. I can stand to wait just a microsecond to pre-warm my victory scotch.
As I drink down my last big breath, my ears join the fray again just in time to hear “Doors in 2 … 1 … go go go.” The locks pop open and in a wide, practiced swing, my campaign chairman opens me to the world.
The sound hits like a truck. Even my implanted aural modulator can’t dial it down in time, and I get hit with the full brunt of the wave. A lesser candidate would feel some fear in that moment. Some trepidation. Some apprehension at the volume and ardor of their supporters, or fear of botching some small detail. I am not a lesser candidate. I do not make mistakes.
Mi-a! Mi-a! Mi-a!
They’d focus-tested my name, you know. One of the first things they do for every potential candidate. “Mia” was at least 3 points (including margin of error) higher than the next competitor, so my parents bought the rights to it when they applied for the breeding application. Two syllables, incredibly short, hard to spell wrong, and the letter shape blended well with the party’s logo variants.
I made eye contact with the first voter I could see and immediately began blitzing up the purple carpet emblazoned with the NDIU logo. I was gently touching, never clasping, hands with adoring fans as the 26 second clip of my campaign song blared into the gaping maws of my voting bloc. It was in E flat today - usually if it was lowered by a third it was because this region had been identified to sing along at a greater rate than usual. People like you more if they can sing your campaign song.
I hit the 70m mark and slowed my gait as practiced. Fifteen seconds left on the song, so I had the chance to pose for 1 selfie. I found a little girl whose skin color would show up well in the fading light. I faked an extra step right so she’d turn, getting the sun out of our eyes. Her face fell for a sec and then I pivoted, grabbed her phone, held my pinky aloft in the signature campaign gesture and put on my 8.3 smile. Anything above a 6 is too goofy for adults, but voters respond to some extra teeth if you have a kid in the photo too. I made sure her face obscured mine partially so that it was harder to artificially remove her from the photo in post and whispered a cheerful “Smile!” in her ear. She beamed, and her eyes crinkled up a lot. Good thing - she had blue eyes, and I didn’t want my numbers to be affected by any claims of preference to the melanin-challenged. I felt the camera buzz with confirmation and then made sure to shake her hand after. Rita’s been suggesting that to make the photo-op seem more serious. You can’t run on education unless people think you take kids seriously.
The fade began on the campaign song and I hit the podium just as the last few words disappeared into the ether. The crowd continued to roar, and I wasn’t supposed to shut them up for another 22 seconds. God I hate this part. Just shut up and listen to me, damnit. Why are you wasting our time? Isn’t this what you came for? To hear me speak? I did the party’s tried-and-true Southwest routine, eschewing one of the fake “oh hi!” gestures. This wasn’t the deep south anymore, and voters tend to think you’re phony if you see too many people you “know” from the podium. I flashed back to a deep south rally a few months prior where I’d defied my manager’s recommendations and added four “oh hi!”s to my routine. They had eaten it up.
At 19 seconds, I began to hold a hand aloft in the polite but commanding “silence please” pose. It worked, and they quieted down immediately. The whole stadium was filled to the brim - the party had made a killing on merch alone at this stop, not to mention the inflated ticket prices. I faked one deep breath (makes you appear almost vulnerable) before looking into the lower left quadrant of the TV cameras’ radius and beginning the latest iteration of the party’s stump speech. It hadn’t changed much since it had come in from HQ months ago. Little tweaks here and there depending on ratings bumps, but by and large our speechwriters knew their shit.
“Thank you for joining me on this momentous day.” The pleasantries always went over well in the south of the republic, so the party prescribed a few for speeches in any landlocked district. “My fellow compatriots, we stand on the edge of history. Never before has a threat to our way of life loomed so large, and never before has our republic been so unprepared to face it.”
The silence loomed large. The last few hours of the news cycle here had been juiced by the party to make sure general tension in this region was higher than normal. Clearly, our prop wing was doing their job well. I let the silence hang for just a few seconds, and resumed the speech just before the whispers amongst the citizens would start up again.
“You see, our enemies are growing stronger by the minute. Their unknowable hatred fuels their aggression in ways we simply cannot comprehend. And every moment that the Democratic Centrists spend in power is another moment that your safety, your security, your rights, and your very lives are threatened. It’s time for you and your family to be protected. To be sheltered. To be represented by a vice chancellor who knows your way of life and lives to keep it safe!”
Huge applause break. They knew what I was here for, and I knew what they were here for. I let the applause roar for an extra few seconds until one of my staffers flashed a green light at me from the front row. We got it. The stations would all be carrying that line and the subsequent roaring applause, which is all the party wanted. Mission accomplished - time to wrap up and get out. A two minute rally was pretty much all we needed at this point. Just enough to keep the fervor at fever pitch until next year’s election day. I jumped back in as soon as the applause showed the first sign of abating.
“When you have the opportunity to select your vice chancellor next year, your choice is clear. The Democratic Centrists offer you more years of malaise,” This, by the way, was a slur we’d focus-tested heavily. Even the uneducated blocks could understand the connotation, and it raised my competency-perception metrics by almost 10 points. We used it near the end of every speech. “... but only the National Democratic Independence Union represents the true heart of our great republic.” Applause. “When you place your trust in us in the upcoming year, we will take your needs straight to the halls of law and immediately begin to beat back the encroaching” (another word our speech team assured me was golden) “menace.”
OK. Party statements had been accomplished. My aide had flashed an amber at me, meaning I had about thirty seconds left for my personal branding. This was my chance to stand out from the other NDIU candidates. I usually riffed for about 10 seconds before heading out. Every second that I was on stage was a chance for a slip-up.
“So I humbly ask for your vote. Not just in the ballot box next autumn, but in your heart this year. Just like you, I grew up right in the heart of our great republic. I know what it means to be a citizen, and unlike my opponents, I’m not corrupted by the huge political machines that grind the needs of real citizens like us into an unrecognizable paste.”
Alright. Bring it home, girl. I’ve got the clip I need. The numbers bump will follow. Just stay alert and all you have to do is coast on to about 75 more of these bite-sized rallies. Then I’ll be able to enjoy the snifter of brandy the party had promised me when I sat at the vice chancellor’s desk next autumn. Just needed to get one name drop on record so I my staff could add it to the latest holo-ads we were going to run in urban districts.
“When you think of your safety and your futures, I ask you to think of Mia.” Roaring applause. “So let us stand together. Not as factions, party members, or small interest groups. But let us stand together in the grip of truth as citizhenz.”
Oh god no.
It had been a slip of the tongue. I still had to deliver one more “stand together” line to round out the rule of threes. I had to deliver the party line to bookend the speech. The crowd was surely waiting to hear the party line one last time. My tech team was on standby to crank the music as soon as they heard the prescripted words. But it was far too late for that. The damage had been done, and you could hear a pin drop. My campaign - my life’s entire purpose - was over, and everyone knew it.
I heard the crowd begin to chuckle. As the loudspeaker carried the gaffe deep into the upper decks, a wave of mirth began to wash over the crowd. I could feel the color draining from my face. I knew that a stumble on such a word was almost certainly campaign-ending. There’s no way the news networks wouldn’t run that on a loop for the next few weeks until my campaign was sunk. That’s to say nothing of those Demo-Cent assholes, who were already in their studios, updating their latest attack ads.
In the three seconds that had passed, the crowd was growing in anxiety and I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I’d never made a pronunciation error like this since the early days of my training at the campaign headquarters. I began to feel uncomfortably warm. My fingers clutched the podium for support and I felt myself sway to the left just before everything went black.
In the darkened basement of the National Democratic Independence Union party’s laboratory, Reg looked up from his paperback. He had heard the beep which indicated that another one of the monitoring lights had gone red. With a practiced sigh that showed the other hundred machines just how much of a pain in the ass this was, he rose from the chair and shuffled over to one of the center rows. Luckily this one was on the end of the row, so he didn’t have to walk too far. Reg stood in front of the warm machine and poked a few codes into the base.
The machines were large glass cylinders with green metallic braces. Inside the glass was a swirl of reddish brown liquid with a solid lump suspended in the middle. Reg double-checked the diagnostics to make sure it wasn’t acting up, got the all-clear from the backup, and then punched in his authorization code to initiate the hard reset.
The base of the machine spat out a paper readout, which Reg pocketed, and the red light began a steady flash. A soft cool voice spoke from the machine, “Termination conditions have been met. Are you sure you wish to proceed?” Reg brusquely double-tapped the keypad and the lights faded.
As the aging scientist shuffled back to his comfy chair, The machine on the end of row 13 slowly started to drain its amniotic fluid. The eight-month old fetus slowly began to rotate as the tethering cables that connected to its central nervous system detached one by one. With a slurping sound, the reddish liquid drained into the biohazard tube and a few seconds later the entire experiment was down the drain and on its way to a biohazard barrel.
Before he could settle back into his beach read, Reg entered a few lines of code into the tracking sheet on his monitor. He recorded the time and date, confirmed the viability of the embryo, and noted the donor names so they could be contacted. He opened the output file the machine had sent to the computer and watched just a few moments of the attached video, which auto-played at the critical moment of the simulation that had been running on that particular machine.
A stunningly powerful-looking woman in her early 50s was giving a speech in front of a crowd that had clearly been whipped into frenzy. “...So let us stand together. Not as factions, party members, or small interest groups. But let us stand together in the grip of truth as citizhenz.” The clip was abruptly cut following the unfortunate pronunciation error that would surely be on every TV station the next morning - just enough to sink the virtual campaign.
Reg nodded, closed the video of the simulation, and went back to his tracking sheet. Under the heading “time to election day” he recorded “440 days.” And in the dropdown box for “reason for termination” he selected “speech error (campaign stump).”
From what he heard from the day shift guys, problems like these were likely caused by a protein adherence issue in the 80th day of gestation. The party had identified the gene that exerted the most control over speaking stamina and clarity, and the AI that governed the experiments had been jimmying with the protein levels over the past few months to combat this issue. They were getting closer with each iteration.
Now that all the data fields had been filled out, the line turned green, and Reg could roll over to the next experiment. He clicked confirm, and across the room, the first machine in row M gave a small sputter and began to fill with fluid. It would soon be awaiting its donor gametes, which should arrive tomorrow morning.
In the tracking computer, a new entry appeared at the bottom of the dataset. The entry was simply entitled: “Vice-Chancellor election, 2140: Zygote m1a.”