|I seldom listened to my friend Robert Roberts the Third. His ideas were normally so far off the wall that even the wall couldn't be found. This was one of the rare times I actually listened and followed his advice.
I felt like the world's biggest fool standing on the sidewalk outside of the Tech Emporium, debating with myself: enter or don't enter. Arguing with myself was a waste of time. After five minutes I gave up and entered the warehouse/store.
Robert saw the ad in one of his Tech magazines and told me about it. I couldn't help but wonder what he had left out. It was sure to be something important.
The warehouse was beyond large. I couldn't see any walls, except at the entrance. The information area to my right was stacked with people in lines, hoping the harried clerks would have some useful information.
I debated with myself again about the benefits of waiting in an overlong line. This argument lasted less than a minute. I detest long lines and decided to look for employees as I walked along.
I waved at the first hovering robot I saw, but it ignored me and went along on its way. The robots were learning the ways of humans, which was more disturbing than can be imagined.
Information kiosks were scattered throughout the warehouse, but everyone I encountered had a line that seemed to have no end. Fortunately, the digital signs on each aisle gave detailed information about the products to be found.
I wondered how many aisles I would need to visit before I found the one I needed. I should never have considered the answer to that question. Marketing demons companies employed knew how to entice unsuspecting customers. Products with the greatest demand were normally in an obscure part of the store.
I think I might have walked a mile before reaching the end of the warehouse. I considered that perhaps I should return to the entrance and stand in that overlong line. But I'm stubborn. I followed the far wall to the intersection at the end of the aisle and headed back in the other direction.
My feet were crying for relief by the time I found the SR display. Robert wasn't kidding this time. My eyes couldn't turn away from the Servo Robots. I wasn't the only one. A crowd stood all around the display. Next demonstration in 4:58 flashed on the wide screen hanging from the ceiling.
I ignored my feet. There was no way I would miss this demonstration. A guy standing near me said, “One of my buds bought one of these contraptions. Claims it's the best invention since the lightbulb.”
I didn't respond because I couldn't be sure he was talking to me. The crowd grew quiet at the arrival of the demonstrator. “Welcome everyone to a look into the future that's now on your doorstep. We already have a backlog of over a year on orders. My advice is to place your order after the demonstration. You'll be happy you did.”
* * *
Fourteen months later, I waited for the phone call announcing the arrival of my SR. I was already making payments every month as I would continue to do for thirty years. It was like buying a house and almost as expensive. My anxiety level was near its peak.
The Personal Compact Computer on my left wrist beeped. I nodded and a vid popped up at eye level. SR arrival within twenty minutes. I clapped my hands at the message. I nodded again and the vid vanished.
My apartment was on the 300th floor. I was sure the SR would be sent up the freight Upflow, which was on the other side of the level. I left my apartment and stepped onto a people mover, saying, “Freight area” as I did.
I arrived there much sooner than necessary, but my excitement demanded I do something. I kept my eyes glued to the wide opening. Time now felt as if it had stopped.
Finally, a large crate floated into view and exited the Upflow. I scanned my PCC over the crate and it settled onto the floor. It opened of its own accord. The lid had three instructions: read the serial code out loud; examine the SR for damage; instruct the crate to return to sender.
The SR has various models. The one I chose was a youthful female in appearance. I was surprised at how human it looked. The robot left the crate and said, “I'm pleased to meet you, Garret Davis. My name is Lize. How can I be of service?”
“Welcome, Lize. I'll show you to our apartment.”
As we walked along, I noticed Lize picking her nose. I didn't say anything, figuring it was just a part of the human behavior program.
When we reached the apartment, I wondered if I was supposed to carry her over the threshold. We were considered legally to be partners. I scanned my PCC on the door and it opened. I entered.
“What? Not going to carry me over the threshold?”
I turned around to see Lize with hands on hips. Her intense stare unnerved me. “Oh, well, sorry 'bout that.” I returned to the entrance and carried her inside.
“That's better,” she said and gave me a peck on the cheek. “It is always good to start off a partnership right.”
I showed her around the apartment. “The kitchen is sort of dinky,” she said.
“I don't do much cooking,” I admitted.
“And I imagine you expect me to spend hours upon hours in this dinky kitchen? Doesn't seem fair since I don't need to consume more than 500 calories a day.”
I didn't know what to say. “Maybe a few program changes will make it seem less dinky.”
She gave me a look that made me glad her eyes weren't lasers. “I expect a few changes might be in order but not in my program.” The frost in her voice sent chills up and down my spine.
I slept on the couch that night, which was one of her necessary 'program changes.' I started to think the SR acted more human than robot, which brought to mind a statement in the manual: after a time you will forget it is a robot.
I awakened early expecting to use the bathroom to get ready for work. Lize was already in it. I tried the door – it was locked. I knocked and said, “I need to get a shower.”
There was no response. It was easy to bypass the lock and I opened the door. I heard the shower, which greatly surprised me. I pulled back the shower curtain. Lize took a grip on my arm and pulled me into the shower.
“We will save money by showering together,” she said.
“I'm still in my clothes,” I protested.
“Save on laundry too,” she replied. She handed me the soap. “Wash my back.”
Up close I couldn't tell her apart from any other female. “Ah, why do you need to shower?”
“It's important that I participate in human activities. You will not be allowed to sleep on the couch again. You should call in sick today so we can get better acquainted.”
I quickly learned that her suggestions were more like commands. The one day off was a Friday, so we had a three day weekend together. She called it “Our official honeymoon.” I named it “Lize puts her foot down.”
I once considered marriage to a human female, but one thing I learned about marriage was that the woman was always the boss, and I wasn't ready for that kind of relationship. Lize made it very clear that she was the boss – said it was necessary to show how human like she was. I received the message loud and clear.
After the weekend together, I started to wonder if all the SR's were similar to Lize. I did an inquiry on line and discovered that my Lize was quite unique in her quest to be more human like.
I awakened extra early Monday morning and performed a very detailed inspection of Lize's body. This was the one instruction I had failed to follow when she left the crate. I found a small bump on the back of her head. It didn't seem large enough to be of any concern, but I decided to call SR Industries when I arrived at work.
All sales are final. Those words from the contract haunted me on my drive to work. When I sent the crate back to the company, I accepted the SR as satisfactory. Still, I needed to know if there truly was a problem.
Upon my arrival at work, I placed the phone call. I was shocked when someone answered my call right away. I asked my question. There was silence for longer than normal. “Knots on the head can be problematic. You should have reported this before accepting the SR.”
“I agree I overlooked that problem. Can it be corrected?”
“Within twenty-four hours, a SR bonds with its human, and once that happens nothing in its program can be altered without its consent. Would your SR agree to a program change?”
Knowing the answer, I ended the call. I realized I had a wife not a partner, which meant Lize would like the idea of a marriage. I smiled for a moment, thinking of how I could slip “I promise to obey” into her vows. Would that work?