29 April 2011

"To Serve Man"

By Curtis C. Chen

Jerry nearly jumped out of his skin when the robot spoke to him.

"Good evening, sir. Do you require assistance?"

Don't panic, Jerry thought. If this was a security model, you'd be on the floor already. So it's a servant, right? Programmed for convenience. Helpful.

He couldn't risk speaking, in case it tried to recognize his voice after failing to match his face. But he had to give some kind of response.

"Mmm-hmm," Jerry said, keeping his lips closed and nodding his head.

The robot was silent for a moment, then said, "We were told to expect you, sir. Please, follow me."

The bot turned and rolled away. Jerry exhaled. Obviously the bot wasn't linked to house security; it assumed Jerry had used a key, instead of bypassing the door circuit. He followed the bot through the kitchen. Sitting on the dining table was a crate filled with bubble-wrapped bronze shapes.

Modern art, he thought. Must be worth a fortune. Why are they all packed up like this?

"Missus and Master Calthorpe forgot this crate was still in the attic. Are these the correct items, sir?"

"Mmm-hmm." Good old servant bots. Jerry would have to do some legwork to find the right fence, but he was sure these hunks of metal would be worth more than the jewelry and bank notes he'd hoped to find here.

The bot lifted the crate. "Where is your vehicle, sir?"

Damn. "Mmm-mm," Jerry said.

The bot paused for a moment. "Do you have a vehicle here, sir?"

"Mmm-mm." Jerry shook his head vigorously.

"Very well, sir," the bot said. "Master and Missus have authorized their guests to use the Jaguar for any transportation needs."

Jerry clapped a hand over his mouth to contain his excitement.

"This way, sir."

The bot led him to the garage and loaded the crate into a shiny green Jaguar sedan. Jerry sat down in the driver's seat and ran his hands over the steering wheel. He'd never felt real leather before.

"Master and Missus are expecting you back at the charity auction," the bot said before closing the door. "Your destination has already been programmed into the navigation computer."


The Jag pulled out of the garage, and the door closed on the servant bot. Jerry looked over the dashboard, searching for an access panel to override the auto-nav.

He couldn't find one. He pried off the plastic cover below the steering column. There were no wires; instead, he was faced with a mass of tubes pulsing with yellow liquid.

"What the hell?" he said out loud.

The dashboard beeped. "Command not recognized," said a female voice.

Jerry sat up and looked at the navigation display.


"No!" He pounded his fists on the dash. "Stop! Pull over! Emergency! STOP!"

"Command not recognized. Voice authorization failed."

The doors wouldn't unlock, and cutting the yellow tubes just spilled sour-smelling liquid all over the floormat. Jerry clawed at the breakproof windows as the car sped down the road.


Photo: Robot After All by Théo La Photo, April, 2008