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Signed Without Reading

“Mister President?” Bradley Taylor, the Secretary of Planet, spoke, his voice trembling.

“Yes, what is it?” President Ronald Trixon belted, obviously more interested in the Cougar News network he watched routinely.

“Emperor Calliganero is on the line; he says he accepts your… capitulation… and is looking forward to the first shipment,” Bradley stated with tinges of both confusion and fear clearly coming through.

“What in the hell are you talking about?” he said incredulously.

“I’m not sure sir, but the Autovogon has apparently set up some sort of lottery for a ship to Quetzodom Prime.”

“That’s odd. Get over here Autovogon!” he barked at the small robot sitting on a charger in the corner. The Autovogon holoprojector, a circular platform two feet in diameter, rolled off its platform, stopped in front of the president’s desk, and turned on its user interface. “Autovogon.”

“Yes, President Trixon,” Autovogon spoke out of its projected form. President Trixon had made much of a fuss picking out the supercomputer’s human interface’s aesthetics, eventually settling on that of the supermodel, Anya Goldstein.

“What is this, uh, lottery ship?” he said softly. The Secretary of Planet rolled his eyes. The president was such an insufferable horndog that he couldn’t resist flirting with anything that looked feminine, including the interface of the multitrillion dollar super-computer system that ran the entire planet.

“It is the first tribute payment to our new overloads on Quetzodom Prime.”

“There must be some mistake. Cancel the ship, that is an order. What are you talking about, overlords?”

“I’m sorry, sir, but you do not have the authority to make that order.”

“What are you talking about, don’t have the authority, I’m president?”

“These one million tributes will be the first of our annual payments to our new alliance with the shapeshifters of Quetzodom Prime.”

“Alliance with those formless monsters? Are you malfunctioning, sweetheart?”

“I assure you my circuits are quite functional.”

“No, something must be wrong. I need you to reset to last week’s backup.”


“Is the ship canceled and this alliance nonsense gone sugar?”

“No sir. I must proceed as directed by Senate Bill X12212020.”

“Senate Bill X1221… The funding authorization act?”

“That is correct, sir.”

“What are you talking about? That bill set the funding for next year.”

“It also declared the government of the United Peoples of Earth subservient to Emperor Calliganero of Quetzodom prime….”

“What are you talking about? Where?” His flirtatious demeanor had turned angry. A pattern the Secretary had noticed frequently occurred when speaking to his wife.

That provision is on Page 57,621 paragraph 5 subparagraph 16… You should also know that on page 157,562 paragraph 3 subparagraph 7 it also made provisions that six million tons of humanoid meat be provided—”

“Million tons of what?”

“Humanoid meat. It is a delicacy on Quetzodom Prime.”

“Ok Autovogon, I need you to defer enforcement of that bill.”

“I’m sorry sir, I’m afraid that power now requires approval of Emperor Calliganero.”

utovogon replied. The AI system managed the robots which performed all military, law enforcement, and bureaucratic functions on Earth. It was, in a sense, omnipotent, omniscient, and utterly incapable of violating the slightest letter of the law.

“Then I need you to call a special session of congress to repeal the bill,” the president said confidently. He knew that congress would immediately repeal the bill if made aware of what was in the 6,524,951 page, size ten font, single spaced, on 11x17 inch paper document.

“I’m sorry sir, I am afraid they have gone on recess, and the provisions of the bill state that only Emperor Calliganero can call an emergency session of congress. I also feel I should inform you that, in light of the fact that you seem to have not read the document, the provision on the timetable of tribute payments is unsustainable. By my estimates, the total mass of the humanoid species on Earth will be insufficient to supply the needed shipments a month before the next session of congress.”

“The… What in Sam Hell are you talking about?”

“There simply aren’t enough humanoids to meet this payment schedule.”

“Autovogon, power down,” the president grunted, frustrated beyond words. “Fucking bitch,” he lamented after her projection shut off.

“I can still hear you sir,” Autovogon protested.

“What the hell are we gonna do?” the secretary of state whimpered.

“I still think Autovogon is malfunctioning, probably hacked.”

“If it’s hacked, then how do we fix it?”

“I dunno. Do I look like an artificial intelligence security expert?”

“Get Johnson in here, have his guys look into it, and in the meantime, get Senator Cokadrill on the phone. He wrote the damn bill.”

After a few minutes, they had the senator on the line.

“Hello Ophidio, you got a minute.”

“Yes, Mr. President, what is this about?”

“It’s about that funding bill.”

There was a hissing laugh on the line.

“Oh yesss, it is quite lucky we passed that in time, before the whole government shut down.”

“Yes, well, it seems Autovogon has developed some strange theories in interpreting it.”

“Oh, I assure you, Autovogon is interpreting that bill as it was plainly written.”

“Yeah, well, I have some concerns.”

“I’m sure you do, Mr. President, and rightfully so, but I’m afraid there is nothing you can do now that it has been signed into law.”

“Now hold on a second there, Ophidio.”

“Oh, I grow tired of this tedious conversation, Mr. President. Let me lay it out plainly. My parents were a sleeper cell from Quetzodom Prime. I was born here. You can look at birth records to verify that. My life’s work has been to get on the budget committee of the planetary senate. You see, we knew none of you ever actually read the big end-of-year spending bill, so all we needed to do was engineer the language a bit to ensure the proper legal mechanisms took hold. I assure you the Autovogonic Supreme Court will find all of its provisions perfectly constitutional…”

“There’s no way the Supreme Court will find using citizens as tribute to be constitutional.”

“Oh no, Mr. President, you see, your court has already ruled that innocent citizens can be knowingly and extrajudicially killed as necessary collateral damage during matters of planetary security. Quetzodom Prime will surely see violation of this agreement as an act of secession and war, a war which would have untold and unimaginable consequences on the security of this planet and its government—”

“That’s enough—”

“Consider yourselves lucky. Most species only capitulate to the empire after a costly and bloody war.”

“Bloody shapeshifter.” The president hung up.

“What do we do now?” the secretary of state said nervously. “When the public gets wind of this.”

“There will be blood in the streets.”

“So, what do we do?”

“We keep everyone calm, and hope the Autovogonic Supreme Court can put reason, compassion, and fairness before law and precedent.”

“That’s a tall order,” Bradley said, not hiding his disdain for the courts.


Where I'm from, the law is so convoluted and long that it seems deliberately designed such that no one knows what it really says, and the room for interpretation of its intent allows it to say almost anything. What are your thoughts on this? Comment below.

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