by Starsky Hutch 76
The angry-looking man got into the back of the Space Cab. He looked back, scowled, and pulled the slow-to-respond android into the back seat with him.
“Where to, buddy?” the Space Cabbie asked.
“Quantum Mechanics,” the man said, still scowling.
“You look frazzled, buddy, the Space Cabbie said. “What’s the problem, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“It’s this walking pile of junk. He’s been nothing but trouble since the moment I got him,” the man snarled. “Just one small problem, one after another. And always something not covered by the warranty. And now, just as it’s expired, he’s having major motor skill and A.I. problems! I should’ve never bought this lemon! Everyone told me he was a bad model, but I bought into all the stupid holo-ads. Plus, I had a coupon… God, I hate this piece of junk!”
“Jeez, buddy? Don’t you feel funny talking like that with him sitting right there next to you?”
“Why?” the man said. “He’s just a machine.”
“That’s what some old passengers of mine thought about their ‘droid,” the Space Cabbie said. “Let me tell you, they were in for a real surprise…” And with that, he began his tale.
“You have to do whatever I say, don’t you?” the boy asked the family servant as they walked toward the supermarket.
“Yes, I do, Master Robbie,” he responded pleasantly.
“Then I say we go get ice cream!”
“Now, you know that your mother gave us this money for groceries. I do believe that she put ice cream on the list she gave me.”
“Store ice cream ain’t as good,” Robbie insisted.
“Yeah, Wupert,” Robbie’s little sister agreed. “Wobbie and I wanna go to Baskin Wobbins.”
“Baskin Wobbins?” Robbie laughed. “What are you? Some kind of siwwy wabbit?”
“Now, Robbie, you must not make fun of your little sister. You used to talk the same way when you were her age,” the servant chided.
“I never talked like that,” the child said with disbelief.
“You most certainly did. Until you grew out of it, that is. I remember it perfectly, and you know my memory is perfect.”
“You must have a fried circuit or something,” the boy said sulkily.
“No, I run a diagnostic check on myself every morning, and I am in perfect working order.”
“Gimme piggyback, Wupert,” the little girl said, reaching up to Rupert-5. The android reached down with one hand and lifted her up onto his shoulders. He kept the one hand behind her for support. “I wanna go to Baskin Wobbins,” she said insistently as she grabbed handfuls of his hair the way a horseback rider would grab hold of the reins.
“When we meet your mother and baby sister at the park, you can ask her for some money to get something from the ice cream vendor.”
The electronic doors of the grocery door opened, and they were hit with a blast of cool air. Two women were talking as one of them tried to push her grocery cart out through the entrance that had opened for Rupert and the children. Her grocery cart slammed hard into Rupert, who was, of course, unaffected by the collision. The crash forced the woman out of her gossiping and into awareness of their presence.
“Why don’t you watch where you’re going, you walking pile of junk?” she snapped.
“Excuse me, Madam. I am terribly sorry,” Rupert apologized.
“Shoot her with your death-ray!” Robbie chimed in.
“Master Robbie, you know I do not have a death-ray.”
“Yeah, but she didn’t!”
“You androids should learn your place!” the loud woman snarled, “instead of getting in the way of real people.” She huffily steered her buggy around him and stormed out of the parking lot.
“It was her fault,” Robbie said. “Why didn’t you tell that fatso off?”
“She is human. I am a machine,” Rupert said. “Therefore, she must be right. I should have stayed out of her way.”
The rest of the shopping trip didn’t go much better. The children kept running up to him with junk-food items and insisting that he buy them. Rupert was determined to stick to the list that Mrs. Smitherman had laid out for him. It wasn’t an easy task for him to accomplish, though. If other customers saw that he had an item that they wanted, they would simply walk over and take it out of his hands. He was, after all, only a machine. His programming didn’t allow him to take it back from them.
When he finally made it to the register, the cashier tried to overcharge him. Immediately, he picked up on the mistake, but when he tried to point it out to her, she was insulting and rude. The children began to scream at her, which drew the attention of the manager. He started to take the side of the cashier until he recognized the Smitherman children from the times the mother had brought them there herself.
Rupert would have been relieved to have left the grocery store if he had been capable of it. His programming didn’t allow him to feel such strong emotions, though. The most he could do was acknowledge the sudden lack of conflict.