HEARTH #9

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The room was abuzz with chatter until an elegant and long-limbed woman with sky blue hair approached the podium at the front of the room. Her cheeks were dotted with freckles and her lips seemed trained into a perpetual pout. She banged a gavel three times. “If there are no objections, I hereby call this, the 39th session of the Sorority, into order.”

She paused for objections, which of course there were none. “Good to see that you have all made it. I am Theodora, the Mater Pacis, and I will be serving as arbiter and bailiff of this session.” Another ceremonial pause for objections. “We will now begin deliberations on legislation, starting with bills tabled at the end of the previous session. There are four.” Theodora looked at her paper. “Firstly, proposed by Sister Sinclair of SPRING, bill 718-135.”

“Talk more later,” Catherine murmured. “I gotta concentrate on the speeches.”

Henrietta had read the bill in question. SPRING handled massive quantities of both goods and natural resources, and maintained a gigantic fleet to transport them across TORCH space. In recent years, xeno and neo_SMOKE pirate crews had bit into their profits and killed numerous crews along the peripheries of TORCH space. In response BEACON had deployed security vessels to accompany SPRING voyages. Now, SPRING wanted to handle the security themselves via in-house military corporations.

BEACON, of course, opposed the legislation (and the existence of private militaries in general,) and had successfully delayed the vote until the beginning of the next session. Several speeches were made and there was close to an hour of debate, but none of it seemed particularly spirited. When it came time for the vote, Henrietta of course sided with BEACON. SPRING won all the same. Henrietta caught Enron with a triumphant smirk on her perfect face.

The next two bills were similarly bad news for the Roses. One, a LUX bill meant to counteract the high murder rate of witches by leveling harsher punishments against those who attacked them, also failed to pass. The second, a BEACON bill to keep OPTICA investigators out of crimes committed by BEACON agents against other BEACON agents, passed- but it had so many riders and concessions built into it that it read more like a defeat.

Spirits ran low among the Roses after the morning’s bad start. While legislators murmured darkly to one another, Grace sat with her hands folded under her chin and pensively stared into space. The Lotuses meanwhile were loudly gossiping and sharing private jokes.

Theodora cleared her throat and banged her gavel a few times. “The fourth and final tabled bill is 595-520, proposed by Diligence, the Mater Semita and Sister from FORGE. I open the floor to her.”

Diligence was a Mater of FORGE, the engineers known for their strange, almost cultlike adherence to their leadership. She wore a white t-shirt emblazoned with some band logo, a long black undershirt, and mustard yellow plaid pants with a big belt. Her hands, neck, and ankles were covered in tattoos, and she wore a pair of ratty old pair of sneakers. She had shaved half her head, leaving the other half covered in fringed acid-yellow hair. “Check it,” she said. “I’m just gonna say this all again like I did last session, but I know some of you younglings haven’t heard it yet. I wanna poke a hole or two in the AI ban.”

That set the room to murmurs too. AI was always a hot topic in TORCH. It was used in limited capacities for guidance systems and data analysis, but even those had been done grudgingly.

Henrietta understood both sides of the argument, but she hadn’t heard much about it in the last few years. This bill, which had mostly flown under the radar in the press, concerned the use of machine learning and artificial neurons.

“Sooo yeah,” said Diligence. “I head Ora-Tech. We make all the guidance systems for your ships and missiles and shit. You’re welcome.” She scratched her upper lip. “And yet, every time a girl comes to me with a blueprint about using learning programs to automate guidance, or an autonomous medical drone that’ll save TORCH lives, or any of the shit that we could build no trouble, I have no choice but to tell her to fuck off. Why’s that? Cuz of this stupid, archaic idea that we can’t trust machines. Okay, yeah, there was that whole… robot revolt thing, but there’s a biiig leap between true AI and just a simple one to perform calculations so the TORCH agent doesn’t need to.”

“I just want to be able to build stuff that’ll make your lives easier and my wallet fatter. That’s why I want this bill, and hopefully this time it won’t get filibustered to next year.” She pointedly glared at Grace. “That’s all.”

Diligence stepped down, and a moment later Grace stood up. She walked to the podium and lowered the microphone as far down as it went.

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