This story is reprinted courtesy of Project Gutenberg. View the source text.
Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy, December, 1955
A new industry blossomed when U.S. Robot Company put their perfected models on the market. Perfected? Nobody had considered the one defect!
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By Norman Arkawy
“Good morning, madam,” Ira said. “I represent….”
“We don’t want any,” said the women, easing the door shut.
With the time tested finesse of door-to-door salesmen, Ira slipped his size twelve shoe between the swinging door and the jamb. “But madam, if you’ll give me a few minutes of your time….”
The woman shook her head. “It won’t do you any good,” she said, trying to squeeze the door shut over his foot. “Whatever it is, we don’t want any.”
“I represent U.S. Robot Company,” Ira persisted. He smiled pleasantly. His unyielding foot maintained a six inch wide avenue of communication between himself and the woman in the house. “Long the leader in commercial and industrial mechanicals, U.S. Robot is now introducing a new line of home servants, designed to assist the housewife in every possible task about the house.”
“You’re wasting your time,” the woman said wearily.
Ira used his professional smile to indicate that he enjoyed wasting his time. “When you’ve seen the demonstration,” he said, “I’m sure you’ll agree that no home should be without a Model I household robot.”
The woman looked out at him silently, patiently, resigned. She was pretty and petite and very young; and, from her appearance, had never done a day’s work in her life. A typical newlywed, Ira thought. A perfect prospect, he decided.
“As you undoubtedly know, the outstanding characteristics of U.S. Robot mechanicals have always been ability, durability and reliability. Their performance in industry has earned for the United States Robot Company the enviable reputation it is proud to possess: ‘Leader in the art, artist of the trade—if it’s U.S. Robot, it’s perfect!'”
The woman smiled and allowed the door to swing open slightly. “What about Amalgamated Androids?” she asked. “I understand they’ve got some pretty good models, too.”
“Well,” Ira admitted, “some of their models are pretty good; adequate, perhaps. But why take anything but the best? And, of course, our robots….”
“I’ve seen some AA models that are perfect,” the woman said. A suggestion of a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “How can yours be any better than perfect?”
Ira’s voice took on a confidential complexion. “Some of their models are beautiful,” he conceded. “And they may seem to work well when they’re new. But they’re not built to last, like ours. Why….”
“I think,” the woman tried to interrupt, “that some of….”
“How can you compare them to U.S. Robot?” Ira ran on. “We have had forty-seven years of experience in producing mechanicals for the most difficult jobs imaginable. Amalgamated Androids while producing an adequate household model, does not have the valuable know-how to build into their mechanicals the strength and quality that is taken for granted in every machine bearing the U.S. Robot label.”
The woman was skeptical. “Maybe your company does make the best factory hands,” she argued, “but household robots must be esthetic as well as rugged. And Amalgamated Androids are specialists in building humanoid robots, while your company….”
“But, madam,” Ira said, grinning. “Our household models are perfectly human in appearance—I should say, imperfectly human because we even give them tiny blemishes to make them seem more natural.”
The woman was obviously unconvinced. Ira applied the clincher. “What greater proof could you want than this?” He held up his left hand, baring his wrist so that she could read his identification stamp.
Model I (Masc.)
Serial No. 27146 12V
U.S. ROBOT CO., INC.
The woman’s eyes widened. Her face took on an expression of delighted surprise.
“What better proof could you want?” Ira repeated. “Do I look like a robot? Am I not a perfect humanoid? Here,” he said, extending his hand, “feel my skin and see if it isn’t just like a man’s.”
The woman gingerly touched his hand. Her eyes mirrored her satisfaction.
Ira pressed his advantage. “Model I robots come in both masculine and feminine designs, built to your individual specifications as to size, coloring, strength, personality traits, apparent age, and so forth. For example, lonely people can have companionship built in, if they like. You can have an Ira or Inez possessing an almost human intelligence and free choice, or you can get one that is blindly servile and which will never volunteer advice or information. You can get an elderly, refined butler or a handsome young man-around-the-house. You can get a pretty, petite parlor maid or a buxom cook.”
Ira paused to observe his customer. She was looking at him in a peculiar way. Knowing that he was a robot, she seemed to be appraising him as she would a man. Ira noted her odd reaction and puzzled over it. It usually went the other way—women lost interest in him when they learned that he was not a man.
“Why don’t you come inside,” the woman suggested suddenly, opening the door for him.
Ira smiled at her graciously and went into the house. Her reaction was not so puzzling, after all, he decided. A young and virtuous wife would feel the conventional fears that were “built into her” by society. She had to be careful. It was conceivably dangerous to be alone in the house with a handsome man. But, if he’s a robot, she has nothing to fear—from him or herself.
“Sit down,” the woman said, “and rest a while.”
“Thank you, madam.” He sat. “But, of course, I don’t need the rest. Model I’s can do strenuous work for twenty-three out of every twenty-four hours. In fact, in laboratory tests, they’ve been run for one hundred and eighty-six hours continuously, without a breakdown.”
He was back in his sales pitch. “Work is the basic function of all U.S. Robot Company robots. With all their esthetic perfection, the household models are no exception to this rule. They are unequaled in efficient performance. Power is the keynote of the Model I.”
He opened his demonstration case and removed a steel bar, three inches in diameter. Placing one hand on each end, he bent the metal into a V.
“The heart of the mechanism,” he went on, “is a powerful twelve volt A-battery, perfectly shielded and guaranteed to give trouble-free service for at least forty years. Sixteen motor centers are fed by the central power plant, all coordinated and synchronized by the best flui-electronic brain ever devised. Sturdy TS steel alloy construction over all gives the Model I its phenomenal strength and durability. And the surface tissue, made of a new patented miracle material, combines the best features of esthetic and functional performance.”
The woman was obviously impressed. Lips slightly parted, she watched Ira attentively and listened breathlessly to everything he said. Instinctively, he felt that he had made a sale. But the woman said nothing; only gazed at him in a way that might have been covetous, might have been adoring or might have been merely symptomatic of hypnosis.
“May I demonstrate the I’s power and versatility in practical performance?” Ira asked. Taking her silence to be consent, he swung into his demonstration.
Swiftly, surely, he went about the room, cleaning. Effortlessly, he lifted large pieces of furniture and, holding them aloft with his right hand, he cleaned under them with his left. He talked as he worked. “Notice the quiet efficiency of the self-cleansing electro-static duster we have built in. We also have attachments for waxing, washing, spraying, painting, ironing, soldering….”
“You’re wonderful,” the woman sighed.
“And let me point out,” Ira pursued, eager to clinch the sale, “that the Model I is so life-like that, in normal operation, it is almost completely silent. Only a faint throbbing—like that of a human heart—is noticeable.”
The woman cocked her head to a side. “I don’t hear anything,” she said.
Ira smiled triumphantly. “Of course, you don’t! Come here,” he said. “Put your ear to my chest and you’ll just be able to make it out.”
She rested her head on his chest and listened. The delicate fragrance of her perfume mingled with that sweet human scent that not even the Model I robots could imitate. Ira bent his head and brushed his sensitized cheek against her hair. He felt emotions that no robot should feel.
He silently cursed his makers and the wonderfully human brain they had given him. Their theory was that a salesman, to be effective, should think exactly like a human being. To better satisfy the customers, he should appreciate every human drive and desire. But it was wrong to feel like a man, to desire like a man, to hurt like a man and be unable to ease the pain because he was not a man! For once, U.S. Robot had gone too far!
The woman looked up at him with the eyes that broadcast adoration. “You’re wonderful!” she repeated. “Do you think…?” She hesitated, looked away. “Could I be in love with you?” she asked with child-like innocence. “Is it possible?”
Ira felt flustered, giddy, light-headed, exultant, confused, miserable and weak. Damn U.S. Robot and their perfected flui-electronics! “But madam,” he protested, “I’m not a man! I’m only a….”
“Please call me Emma,” the woman said. “You see, I’m not Mrs. Bartlett. I’ve tried to tell you—Madam is not at home. I only work here.”
Gone was his exultant feeling, gone the light-headedness. Only the misery and weakness remained in the realization that his yearning was impossible of fulfillment and that, to top it off, he had wasted his time trying to sell himself to a servant.
“Do you think I could?” the maid repeated.
“Be in love with you.”
“But, miss don’t you understand? I’m not….”
“My name is Emma,” she said softly. She smiled and he fought down an overwhelming urge to touch her, to kiss her pink, inviting lips. He stood rigid. He wanted to cry out in his torment.
Her hand reached out to him and he felt her fingers touch his. Electricity tingled up his arm and through his chest. Automatically, he repeated his cursed disavowal of humanness. Vaguely, he heard his own words, sounding like an echo in his ears. “I’m a robot.”
“I know,” Emma said quietly. Then, she held up her right hand, revealing the identification stamp on her wrist.
Model M (fem.)
Serial No. 6139 12V
AMALGAMATED ANDROIDS, INC.
A moment later the android was in his arms. He held her close, dizzy with the sensation of this new emotion with one of his own kind.
Several moments later he pushed her gently away from him. “Pack your bag, Emma,” he said.
She looked at him starry-eyed but quizzically. “But my work—madam will be furious—”
“Your bag, Emma,” he repeated. “When our companies built us they made us as near human as possible—perhaps too much so. If we can work for humans we can also live like them. U.S. Robots and Amalgamated Androids have just lost two employees. Your bag.”
Being an android she could work faster than any human counter-part; her bag was packed in nothing flat.