Concept Art Writing Prompt: Robots in the Oval Office

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: Robots in the Oval Office

After our forced hiatus last weekend, the Concept Art Writing Prompt is back and riding the tail end of the election wave. Robots have taken over the White House, with a particularly old-fashioned individual as the commander-in-chief. How did we get here? And what happens next?


Science fiction is lousy with robotic US presidents, but there's still plenty of rich territory to mine. This particular image, titled "Who Made Who," is by artist Vincent Cacciotti, via Super Punch. If you're inspired to tell a story of robotic presidential hijinks, post it in the comments.

Here's my story:

"It's ludicrous!" cried President Rho-B. "We may as well throw out the entire Constitution!"

Secretary Helmand's surrogate took a tentative step forward. When the President's temper flared up like this, he sometimes sent surges through the entire system. The new operator's chairs diminished the effect, but the resulting shocks were still painful. Plus, it did no good to call attention to the fact that Helmand was at his winter home in Palawan rather than inside the White House. He dialed down the sensitivity of his motion capture sensors, keeping his face even. "It's just a small portion of the Constitution, Mr. President, one that 63 percent of American voters think is archaic. After all, there was a time when you, sir, would be considered ineligible for office."

"At least I'm American!" the President roared. His clear head telescoped upward as the lights within flared red. He thumped a clawed head to his chest. "My mother ensured that every piece of my body was created on American soil. Each part hand-smelted. Each line of code composed within these 53 states. Do you understand the sort of patriotism I was brought up with?"

"But sir." The Vice President leaned forward and Helmand noticed the surrogate cord spilling from his back. Helmand realized the VP actually was in DC. Was he too lazy to ride downtown for the President's temper tantrum? "Ms. Atavatix has pledged to replace every one of her foreign parts with American-made workings."

"That doesn't eliminate the fact that that—" Secretary Helmand felt a sharp shock before the President paused, his head lights sliding back to blue, "—woman's ocular sensors came online on a factory line in Shenzhen." His head lowered to his neck disk and began a gentle spin. "I don't know what the Supreme Court was thinking."

"You're going to have to be the bigger sentient on this, Rho." All eyes turned to Angela Wong, the President's Chief of Staff, and the only person who had bothered to show up wearing her own flesh. "You're going to lead the effort to amend the Constitution so that foreign-born citizens can run for President. You're going to tell the American people what they already know: that this is an outdated provision for a nation made great by immigrants."

The President slumped into his chair. His head had retreated so far down that he resembled a turtle. "It's the beginning of the end of America, Angela."

She just smiled. "It always is, sir."

mwhite66's response:

The Three Laws of Robotics modified for use by President Robot:

1. A robot president may not injure his campaign contributors, or through inaction allow his contributors to come to harm.
2. A robot president must obey the will of the people, except where such actions would conflict with the First law.
3. A robot president must protect its own reelection even if such protection conflicts with the First or Second laws.

deserver's story:

"I may be dead but I'm still the President!" The metal body's tube arms swung about, their master clearly not fully comfortable with their function.

"We have to give it time Mr. President." Frank said. It was tough seeing his boss and former friend like this but now wasn't the time to get emotional. The President clearly needed calm guidance and good advice.

"A foreign nation assassinates me, ME, of all people, and my closest cabinet advises caution!" The voice came through speakers on the torso in a tinny sort of way but the rhythm and word emphasis were unmistakably President Wilson.

"It's not their MO Mr. President, the Russians have a hundred different methods at their disposal, a car accident is too, too..." Paulson was pacing off to the side and he stopped now, palms open to the slek tower of metal, lights, and wires that stood behind the Resolute Desk.

"This was no accident Mr. Paulson, I felt it in my now burning bones, the Russians were behind this and it calls for retaliation!"

Everyone in the room shifted in their seat with the final word. Deputy Chief of Staff Hank Mendez had a white-knuckle grip on his armrest and speech writer Klein had already chewed through a pencil, no doubt scrambling in his mind as to how he would sell this to the American people. General Quintin of the Joint Chiefs stood stoic behind the president's new body, a little bird in the back of Frank's mind telling him the man was secretly liking what he heard.

"The country's on the highest alert, Sarah and the kids are at a safehouse in Pennsylvania, and the Vice President is on Airforce One." Frank said just to break the silence. "If it really is the Russians, let them make the next move."

"And see my country turned to a cinder? I am the President and you have my orders, I want a strike and force assessment on my desk in the hour!" The lights across the metal torso were blinking rapidly, one dying out just as another lit up in what Frank thought could only be a random pattern. They all knew about the Lazarus contingency but it was more of a joke around the office, some hokey science mumbo-jumbo at the back of their Emergency Protocol Guidelines that you skipped over when looking for where to sign. Frank was kicking himself now for not knowing all there was to know about it, for not being prepared.

Frank stood and motioned for the others to follow. Paulson's mouth dropped.
"Frank, no, we can't-" Frank shut him up with a look and led him out of the Oval Office by the arm. In the secretary's office they huddled together, each man's skin tone almost matching the building's exterior walls.

"I don't know about you guys but I really want to wake up to see tomorrow morning." Klein said, stuttering over his words.

"As Chief of Staff I'm going to make a call and I want everyone's opinions." Frank set his hands on his hips, hissing frustration through his nose. "The President is not in a sound state of mind to govern due in part to complications with the Lazarus contingency. Until we can get an expert to look at him, we must forgo his instructions and confer to the Vice President."

Frank pointed at Paulson to start who spoke without hesitation. "Yes, yes, any alternative but this."

He pointed to Klein next. "I-I guess I don't feel like I can make this decision."
Then Mendez. "I agree with your sentiment but that is unequivocally the President in there and as long as it is, we're talking treason."

The door to the Oval Office opened and General Quintin slipped out, nodding to the ground with a "Gentlemen" before striding out into the corridor.

"It has to be now." Frank said and he moved to the door, not caring if the rest followed or stayed behind.

Inside the Oval Office, Frank went straight towards the desk. "Mr. President there's an incident, we have to move you to a secure location."

"Frank what is it?" The metal body said and it neither turned or moved its arms in alarm.

"Just as you suspected sir, we're going to have to get you out of here." Frank pointed to the office door on the other side of the room. "Paulson, the crate."

Paulson hesitated, rubbing his hands together, but decided on action and disappeared into the other room.

"It's the Russians isn't it Frank? They're coming-"

"They're coming sir." Frank was looking behind the body now, outside of it's camera's view. A mess of wires curved around the body's base, under the desk, and into the wall. One large plug half concealed by the American flag caught Frank's eye and he bent down towards it.

"My god Frank you need to save yourselves, the Secret Service will come for me."
Frank pulled the plug and a few of the lights on the body died and others dimmed but others still blinked and bounced.

"Frank, Frank I'm on internal power Frank, where are we going."
Paulson appeared, dragging a large reinforced crate over the carpet. The others shoved aside the desk and helped him lower the President into it, the metal body fitting snug in a perfectly cut niche of padded foam.

"Frank." The tinny sound had gone from the voice and Frank stopped, looking over the metal body but having nothing to stare into, to connect with the friend that lay inside. "Thank-you Frank." President Wilson said and they placed the lid over it and secured the clasps.

Frank leaned back against the Resolute desk, every other eye in the room looking towards him.

"Are we really taking him anywhere?" Mendez asked, something in his face just begging for absolution.

"Whatever department has the deepest basement." Frank said.

ShirtBloke's response:

"Gentlemen, I've called you all here to the Oval Office to give you your Robot Overlord's new budget plan.
Read my blips - no new taxes."

Drabbler's story:

"Is that the Robot from Lost in Space?" Treasury Secretary Fowler asked, staring at the large form standing behind the president's desk.

From somewhere inside the robot, President Johnson's voice answered, "Yeah. Neat, huh? I'm in bed with a cold today." Various cabinet members mimed swinging golf clubs. "I was just gonna use the speaker on my desk, but the girls had a better idea. And I'm not playing golf!"

* * *

Somewhere on the back nine, the president's caddy asked, "How do you run a cabinet meeting from out here?"

"I don't. I get John Byner to do it for me."




It was the best April Fools joke I'd ever heard of.

I mean, I'd been sitting in there for just four months, had taken my responsibilities so seriously, performed millions upon millions of calculations per second day after day. Decisions of life and death, and far too many of them concerning the latter for my tastes... Every day seemed that the tension went higher and higher.

Nobody on my Election Staff could believe it when I had won. There was the one poll-watcher out there who had claimed that I was going to win, but nobody listened to him. I thought his math was a little odd myself, but that wasn't my primary design. The referendum that granted any sentient born on US soil the right, duty and privileged to stand as President of the United states, or serve that nation in any capacity necessary as a citizen had been passed just an election before.

Even I couldn't comprehend the malfunction that made me ignore all the abysmal odds my processors gave me that lead me to run for office in the next Presidential Election after my sudden victory with the National Referendum. Especially since I had been designed for a reboot of Lost In Space! The shock as people saw me on the campaign trail, the children especially - the wellspring of support, the beloved fans of a long loved serial. Lost in Space had a campy reboot not too many years earlier, at least not so many by my count, eighty seven years or so. They kept on updating me during the show - the guys spent a lot on me. Upgrading my insides, even though my outside stayed the same. I was one of the few robotic actors that could lay claim to an almost pure US heritage, every component, every wire, every detail designed and built in the USA by people who loved Lost in Space.

I changed a lot over that 30 years of broadcast media. Somewhere along the line, I went from an animatronic actor simply reading back what was written, to a full-fledged sentient actor improvising standup after the 2nd year of my unemployment. I often portrayed a political analyst - people found it humorous in the extreme that Robbie the Robot would get up on stage and act so New Neo-Republican (yes, that's what they're calling themselves now, for those readers that don't understand the NNRP.) when it was clearly obvious I was a staunch leftist Republicrat (Hostile takeover by the Democrats, believe it or not, the Republicans ran their own finances into the ground, but to satisfy some political investors, they kept the Republican part first).

Truthfully, I'm a moderate Democratic Conservative, and I'll leave it at that. Point is, even though I always had the freedom of a beloved citizen, not all of my "kind" were - citizens or free. Not even amongst the humans, where sentience was a foregone conclusion, were they all free. (Just to clarify, I consider all sentients "my kind", because we're all more similar than we are different.) There had always been a slave-subset in society, and it mathematically disturbed me that sentients of any kind could be treated this way by otherwise rational sentients. We may not all be equal, but we all deserve to be treated fairly with common respect and dignity.

And thus, a former actor, standup comedian, and somewhat moderate individual such as myself stood up and started gathering a groundswell movement to get all sentients identified as Citizens. Twenty years of my life, drawing on almost every favor I could, thousands upon thousands of speeches, advertisements, and even visiting sci-fi conventions across the nation, I managed to convince enough people that if we don't clarify the situation soon, the result will be bad for a lot of people.

I was at least listened to, although it never amounted to much... until... It took the 'Droid Revolt' in Japan to drive home the danger. Oppression can only last so long before something gives. In Japan, the Diet were the ones to be felled by the farmer's plows that had been beaten into swords.

So here I stand, elected, President of the United States on the First of April, 2105. I should have known they'd pull something like this.

They were my trusted advisers of course. My cabinet, my staff. I had chosen from the best of the best. Reports from trusted people in the CIA, reports from my Sentient Intelligent compatriots (a team of former AI's and a bottle-nosed dolphin named Phil, of all things, from the San-Diego Aquarium. Best damn hackers on the planet, if you ask me.) all led me to believe that this was the team to do the job set before me.

I had forgotten what humans thought of April Fools day.

First Matt walked in, I noticed almost immediately he had some sort of hose behind him from the back of his ever-present causal wear.

"Hello" he said, sounding like old audio files of Stephen Hawking using a first generation speech synthesizer.

Then the generals, the rest of the staff, all trailing some sort of hose (probably from the central vacuum system) behind them sounding like robots. They moved with jerky movements, just like you'd expect from some plug-in automaton. Emotionless, stiff, and cranky.

Finally my chief of staff came in, Frank. I was whirring loudly by now, circuits confused and amused at the same time. I was about to ask him what was going on, when a chuckle welled up from deep inside me. The boys from the shop on the Show did their stuff well, I had a full set of emotions, and as I realized what the meaning of this whole thing was, I couldn't help but start to laugh.

You can't do standup comedy if you don't understand funny. And you can't make others laugh, unless you're willing to laugh at yourself.

Frank smiled, and spread his hands out. "Just thought, you know..." Sounding very robotic, until he reached up and pulled the vocal-mod off his collar. "Better" he said, his voice back to normal, "Thought you'd appreciate the gesture." He said. Everyone had been too tense lately, still dealing with the fallout from sentients being recognized in some places, destroyed in others.

"Danger! Danger!" I managed to get out between the chuckles - and everyone relaxed. From the moment I first became self aware, to this very moment, the future was always missing something. I was a part of the world, loved by society - but I wasn't a part of the team, a part of the nation that built me and that I loved with every circuit of my being. Until that moment, when my team let me know that I was a part of them, just as much as they were a part of me.

It was the best April Fools Joke ever.