by David M. Castlewitz
Dr. Carl Kapaczek pressed the call button. "Send in the patient." He straightened his checkered tie. Johnson, 2 P.M. Thursdays, was critical of appearance.
"And how are things at the plant, Johnson?"
The patient shrugged in reply and settled into a chair. "I asked the foreman for a raise this week," he said. His smile was toothy. All plastic, Kapaczek reminded himself. And those burley arms weren't made of living flesh. J15000 was an automaton, a robot, and Dr. Kapaczek had to keep that firmly in mind. If he forgot, how could he help the patient remember?
"What did the foreman say?"
"He laughed at me. I have a wife. We want to have kids. I need more money. If things weren't the way they are, I'd look for a new job."
"You think of your companion unit as your wife?" Kapaczek asked. "You're referring to S4908?"
"How do you propose to have children? Do you believe you can reproduce yourself?"
"Can't you?" Johnson countered.
"But I'm human. I'm a biological unit. You're not."
Johnson frowned. He's sulking, the doctor thought. It was so human a gesture, so human a response. No wonder machines like Johnson have so many problems. One glance in a mirror is enough to start them believing in mortality.
"Would you like to be turned off?" Kapaczek asked. "I can recommend it if I find you incurable." He hoped not. World Manufacturing Limited employed him to cure, not to destroy.
"I'm a good worker. I learn fast. And most of it's been self-programmed."
"Very sure of yourself, aren't you?"
"I'm first man, first station."
The doctor corrected him: "Wrong. First machine. Repeat that, J15000. First machine."
* * *
Carl Kapaczek settled into the artificial leather chair near the bay window. At the sound of Patsy McGuire's high-heeled shoes on the parquet floor, he sat forward.
"The biggest mistake they ever made," she said, "was that MIMI doctrine. It gives me as much trouble as it does you." She spied an unoccupied upright chair in a corner and pulled it over next to Carl's. "If they checked their backsides in the mirror, they'd see it stamped as plain as day," she continued, a little too loudly. Her brown curls bounced about her ears and forehead. Her hazel eyes flashed and a flush of indignation filled her rough, porous cheeks.
"Where's Andy?" Carl asked.
"In the Guard's Lounge," Patsy answered. "What a strange hunk he is. Too quiet. I think I'll tell the agency not to send him around again."
"Someday they'll repeal that MIMI policy," Patsy continued, "and put the robots back where they belong."
Carl didn't think so. The Made In Man's Image -- MIMI -- doctrine was too efficient. Symmetrical body, a fully functioning hand with thumb, brain case at the apex of the network: nature had proved the excellence of this design and the technocrats had applied it to their inventions.
But maybe Patsy had a point about the rest of it: automatons with domiciles and companions, wages deposited in bank accounts, 10 hours a day as time off. He had heard her conspiracy fears before. Someday the robots will rebel. Control systems will rule the world. As a sales engineer, Patsy claimed to be privy to inside data on robot
"I suppose we should head home," she said. "I want to talk to Marge Jamieson before she goes to bed."
"You two plotting a counter-revolution?" Carl asked.
Patsy flashed him an angry glance. "You should get political too. Don't complain about the robots. Do something to stop them."
Carl followed her quietly out of the lounge and into the foyer. A robot maid brought Patsy her wrap. Andy, their hired guard, appeared at the doorway. A butler brought Carl his cloak.
"Should I bring the car to the entrance?" Andy asked. "Or would you enjoy walking to the lot?"
Patsy snorted. "We'll wait for the car."
Andy half bowed and left the restaurant. Carl and Patsy waited the appropriate two minutes before stepping outside. They stayed close to the restaurant's doors in case of trouble.
"Could you imagine walking to the lot?" Patsy drew her wrap tightly around her narrow shoulders. "The crime rate being what it is?"
Carl tried to put his arm across her shoulders, but she pulled away.
"I think I'll call the companion service when we get home," she said.
Carl bristled. Living with Patsy was no easier than going to work everyday. "Maybe we shouldn't renew the lease next year," he said.
Patsy glared at him. "The housing shortage being what it is? Are you crazy?"
"We don't seem to get along all that well anymore."
Patsy snorted. "Sharing an apartment doesn't mean we have to love one another."
* * *
Groceries were scattered near the elevator and a puzzled looking blonde haired girl in blue overalls stood over them. "I've been trying to trace a deliverybot," she explained. "It was suppose to make a delivery to Jamieson on the third floor. It never showed up. And it didn't check in, either."
Patsy paled. "I better call Marge right now," she said, and turned to their apartment door.
"Would you like to use our terminal to call in?" Carl asked the technician.
"Thanks," the blonde said, "but I have a portable with me." She drew a terminal out of a side pocket, smiled at Carl, and returned to inspecting the spill of groceries on the cement floor.
"Marge doesn't answer," Patsy said. "I'm going down to her apartment."
"Better be careful," the technician offered. "That thing could be running amok all over the place."
"Has a building alert been sounded?" Carl asked.
"I'll recommend one." The flashed Carl an approving smile.
The elevator came and Patsy got in. "You coming?" she asked Carl.
"I'll stay here." As the elevator doors closed,
a nearby apartment door opened. It was Olsen, the young lawyer who had recently moved in with a woman he referred to as his wife. Carl nodded hello, angry that he'd no longer be alone with the blonde.
"Are you looking for a deliverybot?" Olsen asked. He had a high pitched voice, which matched his wiry frame. "I heard it dump those things about an hour ago."
"Did you report it?" Carl asked.
Olsen frowned. "Of course not. Some of us mind our own business."
"You really should report things like that," the technician said.
"Do you work for the market?" Olsen countered. His mousey looking wife appeared behind him and peeked out from under his arm.
"I'm with the building," the girl said. "The market
sub-contracts to us."
"Then you're just as responsible. Frankly, deliverybots aren't safe. Their guidance systems are outdated."
"I'll pass that along," the blonde said, and turned her back on Olsen. The lawyer waited a moment, as though preparing to say more, then stepped back and shut and locked his door.
The girl put away her terminal. "I better check the other floors."
The elevator doors opened. "Marge is fine," Patsy said. "That really got me worried. You never can tell when an accident isn't really an accident."
"Better keep inside tonight," the technician said. "Just in case." She hurried to the end of the hall and took the stairs down to the next floor.
"Pretty little thing," Patsy said, pushing open the door to their apartment.
"Very." Carl followed his roommate inside. He crossed to the bar and poured himself a glass of white wine.
Patsy came to stand by his elbow. "Me, too," she said.
"Still want to call a companion?" Carl asked, handing her a chilled glass.
"Already did. Marge had the cutest boy with her..." Patsy grinned. "That's why she wasn't answering her tele. So I asked him to stop up here when he's done. Want to share?"
"Not my style," Carl replied. "I'd prefer that blonde technician."
Patsy sipped her wine, threw off her cloth wrap, let
it fall to the rug, then started to unbutton her blouse on the way to her bedroom.
Carl wandered to his computer terminal and checked for messages. There were none. He finished off his wine and poured another at the bar. A rustling sound made him look back over his shoulder. Patsy was wearing an ankle length see-through gown.
"Fetching," he said.
"Of course," she replied. A knock at the door brought a crimson flood to her cheeks. Her nostrils flared and Carl recognized the expression from nights of long ago. Standing at the center of the room, she placed her feet slightly apart, put her hands on her hips, and thrust out her tiny, pointed breasts.
Carl lumbered to the door and unlocked it. "Okay, come and get her." He opened the door wide, gesturing at Patsy with a sweep of his arm.
The deliverybot bolted to the center of the room, running down Patsy in the process, drowning her screams with the rumbling of its treads, the irregular meshing of its gears. A moment behind it came the technician, stumbling in just as the machine crashed through the window, taking Patsy and itself on a long fall to the ground.
* * *
"I really appreciate this." The blonde tipped her head from side to side. "It's so kind of you, taking me in like this, and me not really able to pay my full share. I was really tired of living in that dorm. This is like a palace to me."
Carl grinned sideways at her and bolted down a glass of apricot juice. He glanced at the clock on the wall: 06:10.32.54. He drew his robe tight around his middle. "Want to shower?" he asked.
"Oh...." The girl blushed. She propped a worn textbook up on the breakfast table.
Carl padded across the living room to the bathroom. Vickie was a strange roommate. Shy, always trying to be unobtrusive, and forever expressing her gratitude, she was proving to be a challenge. Patsy had copulated the very first night. Before her, Sammy, a tall and mysterious looking brunette who wore old-fashioned glasses and taught political science at the University, seduced him the afternoon she moved in.
Showered, shaved, perfumed, and dressed in a tight fitting, white suit, Carl was ready for another day on the job. As usual, his travel regiment consisted of elevators, moving sidewalks, speed trains, and escalators. Every day he raced the same course. It was a daily course he'd been traveling every day of his adult life.
"Dr. Kapaczek!" The husky voice belonged to Katy Berns, a big-boned woman with a shock of blonde hair that grew down the center of her shaved head into a fashionable bun at the base of her neck. "I wanted to talk with you before you reviewed today's tickler." She gestured to his closed office door. "Shall we go in?"
Kapaczek unlocked his door.
"I understand your roommate was killed last week," she said.
"A malfunctioning deliverybot," Carl explained. "Did me a favor, I think." He enjoyed the look of alarm that filled Bern's face. "You have to understand, Patsy and I had been at odds for quite some time. We’d talked about dissolving the lease. No children to consider, as you know. And --"
"I'm not particularly interested in your personal affairs, Doctor. I wanted to talk to you about J15000. We're not terminating him today."
"He's a danger to production," Carl said.
Berns waved her hand in a gesture of dismissal. "You're to schedule weekly appointments so the appeals board can decide his future."
Kapaczek laughed. "Since when does an automaton have the right of appeal?"
"It's a new policy. You'll see it in your
tickler. The thing is, Doctor..." She paused, shifted forward in her chair and stared at Kapaczek. "The robots are expensive. U-Ving their brains and reprogramming takes time, takes money, and takes experienced workers off production. The company can't afford to yank someone just because --"
"Don't say 'someone.' It only exacerbates the problem if we, as human beings, start referring to these machines as people."
"I'm sure you're right, Doctor."
"And you can be sure I will write a memo to this newly formed Board." Kapaczek folded his arms across his chest. Three years of undergraduate work, four years of technical school training, two more years of residency at a robofactory, and an Appeals Board takes the final decision out of his control.
* * *
"And then Berns comes up to me and --"
"Your supervisor?" Vickie asked.
"She's the Administrator for my Section." At the bar, Carl refilled his glass with ice cubes and poured himself a half-tumbler of Scotch. This one he sipped rather than gulped. The strain of the day was abating. He was home. Safe.
Vickie lounged on the sofa. Dressed in her blue overalls, she had her legs bent and her feet tucked under a cushion. A thick textbook was propped against her knees.
Boney knees? Carl wondered. Slowly, he moved across the room to the sofa and sat. His hand strayed to her legs. She tensed. Smiled, too.
"Tell me about your day," he said. "I've been talking since I got here."
Vickie closed her book. "I didn't have to work today," she said with a grin. "I went to class, did an hour of lab, registered for next week's exam, went to a lecture with a friend, and came here -- home -- to study."
"Male or female?"
She cocked her head to one side.
"Your friend," Carl said. "Male?"
"A boyfriend, you mean?" Vickie laughed. "It was a male, and he is a friend, but he's not my boyfriend. We just study together."
Carl recalled his own schooldays. Every night with a different girl. Trading roommates once or twice a week. Life was an adventure when he was a student. "This is a lot more comfortable than the dorm," he announced, and gestured at the expensively furnished living room, the huge picture window, the artificial plants, the functional kitchen.
"I'm gonna be happy here," Vickie said. She pivoted on her backside and sat up.
"Want to go out to dinner?" Carl asked.
"I ate already."
"Later, I mean."
"I need to study. But we'll go sometime. I know you want to show me things." She smiled at him. "You know, I've never been to a theatre? A real theatre with people on a stage."
"We'll go sometime." Carl patted her leg and rested his hand just above her knee. "Right now, I need a shower. Maybe a short nap."
Vickie stood and Carl's hand dropped to the sofa. "I'll study in my room," she offered. "You can have the living room to yourself."
"Study while I'm in the shower. Then I want you to put on a nice dress and we'll go out."
"A dress?" Vickie laughed. "Students can't afford dresses."
Carl squinted at her. She didn't even own a dress? Patsy had had a closet full of dresses. "I'll buy you one," he offered. "I'll even buy you a nightgown. Or do you sleep in the nude?"
"Did you use your shower ration today?" he asked. She shook her head. "Great. Get your ID and we can shower for twice as long."
"I don't really feel like it."
Carl wondered how much pressure to apply. He had invited her, she had refused, and he didn't want to scare her away. "Okay," he said, and finished off his drink.
Once in the shower, he let the piercing jets of warm water soak his hair and permeate his scalp. Quickly, before the ration ran out, he soaped his body and rinsed. When the water stopped, he retrieved his ID from the slot under the medicine cabinet, then toweled himself dry.
Wrapped in a bath towel, he padded down the hall to his bedroom, his clothes bundled under one arm. From his closet he selected an exercise suit that hugged his body. Clothed, and with a fresh spray of perfume under his arms, he made another foray into the living room.
Maybe I'm too subtle, he thought to himself. Vickie might want to be taken. Seduced by action, not enticed by invitation. He watched her studying. She hadn't retired to her room. Good. She was signaling that it was okay to proceed.
"Want a drink?" he asked. He went to the bar. He better have dinner soon, he told himself. One or two drinks right after work calmed him; too many more without dinner made him sick. He took only a little Scotch and a lot of water this time. At the sofa, he sat by Vickie and she put down her book. Carl placed his hand on her knee. So boney, he thought. Maybe she's more than thin. Maybe she's a boney
little thing underneath those clothes.
"You study so hard," he began, and tentatively moved his hand to her thigh. Now there was soft, warm flesh. Slender, he imagined. That's what she was: slender, not boney.
"That feels good," she said, and shut her eyes and pressed the back of her head against the cushion. "Too good. I'll never get my studying done this way."
"Take a break."
"Well...." She pursed her lips. "A short one."
"How about a massage?" Carl asked. "Turn over. Five minutes. You'll feel great afterwards." He stared into her eyes. No fear there. Desire? No, not really. Curiosity. She was curious about what would happen next.
Vickie turned over onto her stomach and Carl sat on the sofa's edge and placed his hands, palms down and fingers spread, on her back. He rubbed gently. She made a purring sound. He rubbed a little harder and his hands approached her waist.
"Five minutes are almost up," he teased. "Should I continue?" He held his breath. He wanted her consent.
"Please," she whispered, and he ran his hands down her flanks and rubbed her calves. A few seconds passed. He massaged her backside.
"You should get more comfortable," he said. Yes, he had found the key to this one. He was getting results with this show of gentle force.
He unzipped her overalls and pulled the heavy, plastic zipper down to the small of her back, revealing her skin, which was reddening under his hands as he massaged. A few moments passed. He kissed her bare shoulder.
"I feel like I'm floating on a cloud," she said.
Carl slipped his hands under her coarse overalls. Her flesh was soft between his fingers. Gently, he helped her pull her arms from the sleeves. Massaging, pressing, making ever widening circles on her skin, he moved his hands down to her buttocks, yanked her overalls down and put his hands on her bare backside. The thin lines he saw between his fingers intrigued him. He moved his hands apart. Vickie trembled.
"Are you stopping?" she asked, her voice muffled by the cushion.
Carl stared at her pink, rounded cheeks. He read the word, the acronym:
"Damn you!" He sprang to his feet. He staggered backwards. Vickie tumbled to a sitting position.
"MIMI," he screamed. "I saw it." He pointed. "I saw it."
"Carl..." Her face was red. Her eyes were wide. She held out her hand, entreating him. "Don't be so--"
"Get out of here. Get out of here right now."
"But I live here."
"What gives you the right? This is my home!"
Vickie stood. She clasped her overalls at her neck. "Please, Carl..." She was smiling. He hated the smile. It was when they started smiling that all the trouble began.
"Don't you smile. Don't you smile at me. You... you...You robot, you."
Carl staggered sideways and backwards and nearly tripped.
"You phoney," he hissed. "Phoney, phoney, phoney." He felt like crying. He gave in and sobbed. He banged his fist on the bar. He picked up a glass and flung it at the wall. He put his hands over his ears, then grabbed a handful of hair and pulled. "I should've known," he cried, and sank to his knees. They'd come after him. His home wasn't his haven. They were everywhere. Everywhere. Even in the schools.
* * *
Carl stared at the pretty yellow dots next to the squiggly blue lines inside the squares and triangles on the floor. He wore paper slippers and a gauzy gown. Someday, he thought, I'll count all the blue squiggles. Then I'll start on the dots.
"Mr. Kapaczek," the nurse at the desk said.
He looked up. "Bare that ass," he said. "I want to make sure you're human."
The nurse laughed. Carl studied her eyes. Tiny and piercing. Okay, he thought. They usually have pale and milky eyes. He was safe.
"Mr. Kapaczek," the nurse said again. "The doctor will see you now."
Mister! They had stripped him of his title. They had even taken his lease. His beautiful home, his expensive furniture, his quiet, comfortable life had been stolen away. Patsy was right. There was a conspiracy. That malfunctioning deliverybot had been no accident.
Carl wasn't fooled. They didn't fool him. Even when she -- it -- visited him in the hospital he hadn't been fooled.
"Carl," Vickie had said, artificial tears in her eyes. "You have to understand. It's a fad. We all do it."
He refused to talk. He didn't talk to robots.
"Please," she whispered. "It was a joke. That's all. A bunch of us had the letters tattooed on our fannies. I was
planning to have it removed."
He didn't believe her. Even when she pulled down her pants and told him to look at the needle marks, he refused to believe. “Robots have ‘MIMI’ engraved. Does that look engraved?”
"Mr. Kapaczek," the nurse snapped. "Please. The doctor is waiting."
Carl stood. "I used to be a doctor," he said. The nurse gave him a practiced little smile. "Are you sure you're not a robot?" he asked.
"I don't talk to robots."
"Go in and see the doctor. He wants to help you."
Carl looked at the door behind the woman's desk. The
sign on it said, "Doctor." It was similar to the sign at his old office. He walked to the door, turned the knob and entered. There were several chairs and he had the choice of any one of them.
Carl looked around. Where was the desk and the helpful doctor who sat behind it? He looked at the computer terminal on the far side of the room. Across the top of the screen, in large, blue letters, was the program's masthead:
Below, in smaller print: the dr. is in.
"I'd like to help you if I can," the computer said. "I understand you're terribly afraid."
"I don't talk to robots," Carl said.
The doctor laughed. "But I'm a computer. You can talk to me."