7 am EST, Thursday, April 2nd, 2131, New York

Ferdinand sat in his office at the desk of the Chairperson of the Assembly of the People. He was alone apart from Frans Komhoff, who was complaining as usual about being made to spend so much time in Manhattan instead of tending his precious tulips.

"You know I can't do without you," Ferdinand always soothed him, "Who else can I trust in this den of thieves?" and took him out to lunch. He had made Frans his chief of staff immediately after being elected, six months before.

It was an important day, a Plenary session of the Assembly, and one of Ferdinand's main initiatives was up for debate - a proposal to 'roboticize' so to speak the executive arm of the administration's judicial investigative process, which had been left in human hands when the court system and the police had been set up as robotic functions in 2080. As such, they didn't need to be supervised, although their systems were tweaked occasionally to improve their detailed operation. The Assembly was in charge of designing such improvements, which had to be voted through by a two-thirds majority.

National governments had become increasingly redundant during the 21st century as robotic functions took over swathes of administration and law enforcement, while the move to cyber-space, with its own separate rules of daily existence further reduced the relevance of local administrations in fizz. Nations remain in place, and have their own priorities and squabbles, which are dealt with through the Assembly, and local authorities, inheritors of the much reduced powers of town halls and municipalities, worry about the colour of the fire hydrants, as they always did. But the bulk of the enormous apparatus of central government simply withered away between 2070 and 2120. If you take away war, education, sport, social security, science and the conduct of the economy from a government, what has it got left?

Ferdinand had paid careful attention to the warnings delivered to him by the previous incumbency, and he had immediately set about trying to learn his way through the workings of the executive administration. Frans had been invaluable in this. He had the right kind of dogged, investigative intelligence, and his front of bonhomie lured most people into cooperation - only too late did they understand the steely intelligence that was hidden behind Frans's cuddly exterior.

But even Frans hadn't found it easy to penetrate the criminal organization that ran the judicial rackets. "I'm sure it's the mafia," he said. "It's no coincidence that Leonardo came from the south of Italy. Actually that would be the Ndragheta rather than the mafia as such. Or maybe both of them. They're as bad as each other. I suppose they colonized the executive functions way back, and then made sure that the tide of artificial intelligence stopped well short of their boundaries.

"What are they into? The same as ever: gambling, prostitution. But that's just on the interface between the street, so to speak, and the police. They can fix things. More important nowadays is public tendering. Do you know how much the Assembly spends every year on providing cyber-space? About two thousand euros per person, that's twenty billion times two thousand, forty thousand trillion euros. Of course, every single cent of it is paid to private firms out of the contribution share scheme; they have to tender every three years to keep their contracts going, and that's where the weakness is. The sub-committee here responsible for, say, RCR development - there are several thousand new RCR formats authorized every year - spends, or I should say authorizes, 500 trillion euros. It attracts the mob like bees to honey. The criminals are deeply entrenched in your own administration, everywhere there is spending, and they use the judicial investigative executive to make sure their interests are protected, here in New York, in Brussels and in Brazilia."

So Ferdinand had assembled a Commission to study the problem and to propose solutions. It was immediately clear to everyone on the Commission that the neat and simple solution was to replace the judicial investigative executive lock, stock and barrel with a robotic function under the direct control of the Assembly, like the courts and police. What should have been done in the first place. The new Assembly itself was likely to approve his initiative - the members had no reason to dislike it. Until the mob starts killing their children, Ferdinand thought to himself. But it would take a year to build the AI systems to do the job, perhaps two, and that gave the mob ample time to fight back, perhaps just stop the process in its tracks with physical violence. So far there hadn't been any incidents.

"But they haven't decided how to handle it," said Frans. "If they attacked the members ahead of the vote, it would be too obvious. The danger will come after you've got it through. They'll just blow up the offices of a few firms working on the project."

"They can't blow up RCCs," said Ferdinand. "They're very physical, they don't seem to have penetrated the IT establishment in the same way. They're only really comfortable in fizz."

"Don't count on it," said Frans. "One of the problems is that you can't fight them back with their own weapons. How many divisions has Ferdinand got?"

So they had secretly, they hoped, in a closed session of the Assembly, authorized an expansion of the robotic police force, better equipped than the regular force, who could take on guard duties and make armed interventions once a target declared itself.

"It's not secret," said Frans. "How can it be when 384 members know about it? But at least it's there and we control it." According to the legislation, the new force would be disbanded once the threat had passed.

"It hasn't changed in 500 years, perhaps 1,000," warned Frans. "This is going to be difficult! And never forget that the real enemy is here in this building. There are 20,000 bureaucrats in this building alone, and say 10% of them are in the game, how are we ever going to find them? We may succeed in replacing their hit-men in the judicial process, it's probably only a few hundred people at most; but what's to stop them finding another bunch of hoods to do their dirty work?"

"We've been building lists though. We've got dossiers on the financial circumstances of every single person who works in this building, and the other two: where they holiday, where they live if they're in fizz, their bank accounts, their assets now and ten years ago and twenty years ago. We can track what they've acquired over time and compare it with their salaries. It's so easy with analytical RCCs, and the result is that we've got three thousand or so suspects, almost all of them quite senior. The minute we've got an investigative squad we can trust, we'll set them on these guys. And I've got another list, of their external contacts, advisers, lawyers, accountants, bank managers, consultants. The same names keep cropping up, and again, there are major mismatches between their assets and their declared income. I'm fairly sure we will be able to get arrest and search warrants for them. There are two thousand of those, worldwide."

So this was the day, finally. Ferdinand had invited the Advisory Committee Chairpersons for coffee at 8, before they started their traditional Executive Management Group meetings at 9. The Plenary would begin at 11.

The Chairpersons drifted in: Agneta Ahlstrom for Education, the daughter of a line of Swedish judges, unmarried, dour and redoubtable, completely solid, thought Ferdinand; Ricky Pearson for Sport - he had been a professional footballer before taking on his family's brewery in Melbourne, Australia, and becoming a senator before that body went the way of all the others in 2090 - another good one in Ferdinand's book. Then finally Ravi Ghandi for Science, also rich, from Indian food packaging. Ferdinand wasn't so sure about him, and he was an odd choice for the Science portfolio. Of course he had a Masters; but in business administration. You just got the feeling that he was there because someone had returned a favour. He was doing a reasonable job, but no more. Frans said: watch him! antennae straight up in the air.

There were no strains between them, at all events. They had fully supported Ferdinand's anti-mafia project, and at worst were agnostic over the groups research. Ferdinand even thought that Agneta might be in favour of it. Ricky was too much the bluff Oz individualist to give it more than lip service, and Ravi - well, who knows what he thought.

"I see you've put on extra security," said Ricky to Frans. "Are we expecting problems?"

"Noooo," said Frans, "there's nothing moving in any of the waters I can see. It's just going to be standard practice from now on until we think we might be out of the woods. I mean, they are going to do something; we just don't know what. And I hope it cranks up the tension a bit, makes it a bit more likely that they'll start getting nervous, make mistakes."

"According to what I hear, you're going to get through fine today," Agneta said to Ferdinand. "It's been well presented, well explained. No-one can argue with it."

"It'll be interesting to see who votes against," offered Ravi. He sensed that he was a bit out of the loop with the others, and often tried to overcompensate. "I mean, what motive could they have?"

"They could own an explosives manufactory," joked Frans, unwisely.

"I own an explosives manufactory," said Ravi stiffly. "But it's in the blind trust, so if I vote against, it must be for another reason." They had all had to put their commercial interests into trusts for the duration of their public service. His attempt to join in had gone wrong, as so often.

"Nobody thinks you are against the project," Ravi, said Agneta, trying to comfort him. "You've helped it along a dozen times."

It was smoothed over, but the meeting was lost, and they had little of substance to discuss in any event.


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