by Starsky Hutch 76
Gary Streabach came back into the examination room still feeling uneasy under the scrutiny of the android. He tried to have an outward air of confidence, but it only made him look constipated. “I was just talking to your owner. Mrs. Smitherman is a real interesting lady.”
“Good old Supermom, juggling career and raising a family. Guess which role gets the short end of the stick? She wouldn’t know a maternal instinct if it came up and bit her on the ass!”
“Yeah, I’m sure that’s probably true. I was a latchkey kid myself,” Gary said.
“Sure, pal. And just look how well-adjusted you turned out. I raised those damn kids. Me!” Rupert said, gesturing to himself with his fist. “And this is the thanks I get!”
Gary suddenly felt very small and breakable, kind of like a small porcelain figure in a China shop as it watched the bull racing toward it. He yelped, “I’ll be right back.”
“Sure, Poindexter. Go on and get the hell out of here. I’m sick of looking at ya, anyway.”
Gary walked briskly to his friend Andy’s office. He found him sitting at his desk with his feet propped up as he threw darts at the dartboard facing him on the opposite wall.
“Hey, Andy. I could use your help on the Smitherman case. A few unexpected things have come up.”
“Couldn’t it wait, man? I’m right in the middle of something,” he said as he kept playing his game.
“I really think you ought to take a look at this.”
“Oh, all right,” Andy said reluctantly, climbing out of his chair. “Let’s see what’s got you all stirred up. I can’t imagine what it could be.”
“Hey, believe it or not, exciting things do happen in my life without your influence,” Gary said.
“I find that hard to believe,” Andy chuckled.
The two of them walked into the laboratory where Rupert was sitting. An old computer monitor that was sitting on the shelf had been converted into a television set. The channels were flipping by at a breakneck speed. Andy stepped on a small, discarded circuit board that had been left on the floor, making a small crunching sound. Suddenly, the screen went dead. The leather chair swung around, and the macabre face, all circuitry and eyeballs and teeth, looked up at them and blurted, “Hello, douche-bags. If either one of you has any idea about going for my off switch, you can just kiss my shiny metallic ass.”
Incredibly, Gary had actually been able to show Andy something to surprise him. Andy walked around to the robot’s side, staring at him with bright-eyed amazement. “Holy… Gary, did you do this? This is one rude robot!”
“No. He just came like this, charming disposition and all.”
“But he’s still on!”
Upon hearing this observation, Rupert spoke up. “Damn straight. And I’m gonna stay that way!”
Andy gave a wild hoot. “Don’t worry, pal. I wouldn’t dream of turning you off!”
“Not if you know what’s good for you, $%#^%!” Rupert said, crossing his legs casually.
Andy could barely contain himself. He was holding his sides, making odd spurting noises as he tried to stifle his laughter, and signaled to Gary.
“What? What?” Rupert yelled.
Andy had never had much use for what other people referred to as common sense, so as soon as they were out of the room, he slapped his arm around Gary’s shoulders, laughing, and sad, “Oh, God, man, we just can’t let this go to waste! We just can’t!”
Gary suddenly felt nauseous again. “What do you mean?”
“That guy’s a riot. If we took him to the party tonight, he’d bring the roof down.”
“Yeah, I think I could see that happening,” Gary said sarcastically.
“Oh, come on. Why shouldn’t we take him with us?” Andy said.
“Well, for one thing, he’s not a ‘guy.’ He’s a machine, and a defective one at that. He might be dangerous. Besides, if the Smithermans ever got wind of it, they’d sue our asses off.”
“How are they going to find out? I doubt any Smithermans are going to be at this party.”
“He’s not working right. What if we take him there, and he goes berserk?” Gary said.
“Hey, look at his uniform He’s a domestic servant. They’re not capable of going berserk. Everything in their programming keeps them from doing it.”
“Does it look like he’s functioning within his programming to you?!” Gary exclaimed.
“Hey, he might be acting a little nuts, but there are plenty of checks and balances within his head to keep him from having anything like that happen. Something would have to be seriously jarred, and aside from the lack of a face-plate, he doesn’t seem to be sporting any real damage. I don’t even see a dent.”
Nothing Gary could say could turn Andy’s opinion around. He was determined to go through with it. It had always been like that for him. Andy was irresponsible, stubborn, and impulsive, but for some reason, he had latched onto Gary. And Gary didn’t make friends that easily, so he wasn’t about to push him away. He usually ended up following wherever Andy led. All he could do was make sure he would be right there in case something disastrous were to happen, which he was sure would be the case.
Andy walked back into the examination room grinning mischievously. “Hey, how would you like to go to a party?”
“A party?” Rupert asked, interestedly. Before his accident, any wants or needs he might have had pertained strictly to the performance of his duties. Now, he was able to want so much more. He wanted to see and do things he never would have even considered before. He wanted excitement. This party seemed like as good a place to start as any. It was a way to see the outside world, to go out and socialize the way Mr. and Mrs. Smitherman used to when they would leave him at home taking care of the children. “Sure, I’m game.”
Gary had a terrible feeling about this whole idea. Anytime the subject would come up, he would have a feeling like he was going to throw up, especially when Andy brought Rupert a change of clothes. He took Rupert out of his domestic servant’s uniform and put him into a studded black leather jacket, ragged blue jeans, motorcycle boots, and a T-shirt that said born to kill. Andy took some hair gel and put Rupert’s hair into a spiky hairdo and gave him an earring.
Rupert stood in front of the mirror, admiring himself. So this was what it was like to be an individual, he thought, rather than one of a series.
To be on the safe side, Gary called the Smitherman house to tell them that they were going to have to hold Rupert-5 for a little while longer than they had expected. Because he was such an old model, they were unable to find a face-plate for him, and they were going to cast a new mold. He also told her that they had to order certain hard-to-find pieces for his motor-reflex circuitry. With all the smoke he was blowing, Gary figured they could use him to cast the mold for Rupert’s face-plate.
Gary couldn’t believe that he had let Andy talk him into such a crazy scheme — the techno-crafter’s convention, of all things. About the only solace he could take was that, in all the chaos of the night, Rupert might not stand out. The people who would be at this convention were the type who’d gotten into the business of technological services for the money but were dismayed to find that it meant they had to spend most of their time in labs. Watching them let their hair down was a scary thing to behold.
When they walked into the converted warehouse complex, they were met with bright lights, pounding music, and the smell of booze and cigarettes. There was also a definite aura of sex. At this time in history, society had run the cycle of rampant promiscuity and stifling conservatism back to the point of rampant promiscuity again until the next incurable venereal disease would make its appearance and spoil the fun.
Everyone at this party was drunk or stoned. If they weren’t drinking, then they weren’t conscious. Couples groping at each other like starving people at a buffet took up most of the spaces that weren’t in open view. Rupert seemed overcome with curiosity. Andy waved and shouted greetings to everyone that walked by, as if they were old friends. Gary just kept popping antacids.
Suddenly, they heard an obnoxious voice shout from the distance, “Holy $#&$! It’s Andy and Gary! Howzithangin’?! See you two couldn’t find a third stooge, so you made one!”
“Who’s this &@#*&*?” Rupert asked out of the obviously wasted man’s hearing range.
“Careful,” Andy cautioned. “That’s Roche. He’s a big man in the tech field. We don’t want to piss him off.”
“He’s an idiot,” Gary snorted.
“Hey, we get in good with him, and we might be able to get out of that rat hole we work in,” Andy said.
“I happen to like our rat hole,” Gary said, offended.
“You would,” Andy said disdainfully.
“Besides, it’s the only place that would put up with you!”
Andy was just about to spit out a response when Roche was upon them. “Hey, guys, howzitgoin’? Grab a drink. Better yet, grab some ass!” he guffawed obnoxiously. “There’s plenty of it here tonight. Hey, who’s your friend? He’s a big ‘un.” He gave Rupert a hard slap on the back, and Gary had to grab Rupert’s sleeve when he sensed him tensing up. Otherwise, he might’ve pounded him into a loaf of spam.
“I see you’re enjoying the party,” Andy joked.
“$%^$^% yeah, man,” Roche sputtered drunkenly. “I’m havin’ a hell of a time.”
“This guy’s a major exec for Innovative Designs, International,” Gary pondered inwardly. “Unbelievable.”
“I think I’ve had too much to drink,” Roche guffawed. “But what the #$%$? So has everybody!” Gary had to wince as his breath blasted them in the face. If they had brought any germs in with them, they were dead now.
“C’mon, Gary, loosen up!” the drunk laughed, giving him one of his obnoxious slaps on the back. “You’re always such a tight-ass!” Gary thought dreamily of real conventions where people sipped watered down martinis and talked about business, making normal business contacts. What he wouldn’t have given for a discussion on cybergenetic theorems right then.
Luckily, Roche suddenly saw someone else he knew and yelled, “Hey, Bob!” Gary was able to breathe a little easier now that he had stopped being their problem and become Bob’s.
The party moved slowly to the second floor of the reconditioned warehouse. Andy worked his way through the crowd, schmoozing as many people he could find that he thought important. Gary finally managed to loosen up after a few drinks, and he struck up a conversation with a girl from Quantum Robotics. He found her fascinating, and by some miracle, she seemed to feel the same way about him. Any previous anxieties he’d had about this evening were quickly dissipated.
Rupert, on the other hand, wasn’t having all that much fun. Being a robot, he couldn’t drink, and his lack of a face-plate made it impossible to find a dance partner. He was also losing his patience with the people who saw him as a source of amusement. As Andy had predicted, everyone at the party got a real kick out of his non-robot-like disposition — everyone, that was, except for Rupert. He was getting pissed off.
As if things weren’t bad enough, Roche had returned. He saw the crowd forming around Rupert, and he had to be a part of it. No, he had to be the leader of it.
“I see you found my big metal friend,” he said, reaching up and slapping his arms around Rupert’s shoulders. “Isn’t he cuuute?” he crooned as he tweaked what was left of Rupert’s cheek without his face-plate. This started everyone laughing.
Rupert now had about all the affronts to his dignity he could stand that evening. “Get your $%$^%$ hands off me!”
“Now, now. Is that any way for a good little robot to talk? We might have to wash your voice synthesizer out with soap.”
“I’m warning you…”
“Temper, temper. You might blow a fuse.” Everyone laughed again, partly because it was amusing, and partly because Roche was a man to be patronized.
“You fat, bald piece of $#&! Get your sweaty, worthless hands off me before I rip them off and shove them up your @$$! No one here likes you! They’re all just putting up with you because of your title! But you already knew that! Deep down, we all know what a worthless piece of $%&@ you really are.”
Some stood with their jaws hanging in shock. Some were brave enough to clap. But all were ecstatic. They had all themselves dreamed of saying very similar things to Roche, who stood sputtering with outrage.
“How dare you,” Roche said, seething with rage and suddenly seeming very sober. “I think it’s time you were turned off. He began to reach for the back of Rupert’s neck.
Big mistake. Rupert backhanded him so fast that he was sent flying right through the large picture window behind the group.
The entire warehouse suddenly grew very quiet. Even the music stopped playing. Both Gary and Andy could only stand still with their mouths hanging open as they watched their careers go flying out the window after Roche.
Every eye in the room was suddenly on Rupert. “What?” he shouted. “Do any of you wanna go after him?”