Mike’s life was crap. And every day he got up out of bed and thought about how it was crap. Today he climbed out of bed and made his way through the discarded clothing on the floor of the bedroom to the bathroom. His worn image looked out of the mirror at him. He picked up his cordless razor and turned it on before remembering that it was Saturday. He stuck out his tongue at his reflection. Slipping off his underwear, he tossed it at the hamper just outside the bathroom door. It landed on the floor. Turning on the shower, he stepped inside the glass-doored stall, and stood beneath the spray. Then he took a deep breath and began soaping up and rinsing off. Pouring a handful of shampoo, he scrubbed his scalp, rinsed, and then turned off the water. He waited about two minutes—partly to drip dry and partly because he didn’t want to face the day—before he climbed out of the shower stall.
Once he was dry, Mike walked back into the bedroom, crossed to the dresser, and pulled out a clean pair of underwear. The underwear was so old that it looked more grey than the white that it had been, and the material had worn through enough that the elastic showed in the waistband. He slipped his left foot in the leg hole and then the right, getting his big toe caught for just a second. Pleased with himself that he had not lost his balance, he went back to the bathroom and combed his thinning and graying hair. It had been graying for a long time. It had only been thinning, at least noticeably for a few of years—just since Tiffany had died. He brushed his teeth, and grinned at the man in the mirror. It wasn’t a friendly grin. Back in the bedroom, he slipped on cut-off jeans and a green t-shirt. Then he walked through the bedroom door, down the stairs, through the living room, and into the family room.
He touched the screen of the vueTee hanging just above the fireplace to turn it on, and then passed through the archway and into the kitchen. Pouring a bowl of cereal, he sniffed the milk before adding it. It was still good. Grabbing a spoon, he headed for the worn recliner which faced the vueTee. The screen was on, but it wasn’t alive with movement and sound. It still had the browser up and it was still on the Daffodil site. Mike had followed the link the night before from the very slick commercial he had seen during the Tonight Show. On the left side of the screen was a large yellow daffodil and on the right were four large yellow buttons, arranged vertically. The first said Barone, the second Amonte, the third Nonne, and the fourth PWX.
Daffodil wasn’t the largest manufacturer of robots, but it certainly had the most cultural cache. Their commercials were by far the best. Everyone seemed to be talking about them. Mike could hum their jingle right now. The four buttons corresponded to the four basic robot units that Daffodil produced. Though there was some crossover between the four types based on the many options that were chosen, the Barone was usually an aid to adults—a robot maid, gardener, or grandparent. The Nonne was a babysitter type: a tutor, a nanny, or again, depending upon the options, a maid. The PWX was an industry grade robot designed for use by corporations and government organizations as a receptionist or a clerk. Finally the Amonte was a personal companion. It could be configured as an escort, a friend, or a lover. As the commercial said, it was “anything and everything you want it to be.”
Mike leaned back in the chair and pointed the remote at the vueTee. He moved the curser over the Amonte button and pressed. The body frame options screen came up, but there was a small window along the left side that said “narrow your selections.” You could narrow them by price. You could narrow them by race-ethnicity. Or you could narrow them by gender. Mike ignored that side of the screen and looked at the body build. If you were going to dream, you might as well dream unencumbered. Dials allowed one to set height, chest, waist, and hips. He had already filled in these features the previous night. After that, one flipped through a series of screens where prospective customers could change almost every aspect of their robot. The head controls gave one control over the shape and placement of eyes, nose, lips, and ears, but also let one choose the forehead shape and jaw line, the hair color and style, the type of chin, and the placement of freckles. Other controls set every detail from fingernails to nipples. Mike flipped through them. The last screen showed the price for his particular build: $26,999.00. That would wipe out his payNEtime account, and then some.
Mike let his curser drop down to the search bar. He moved through the postings about Daffodil. There were many from people questioning certain aspects of the design, but few from people who had actually purchased one. Daffodil didn’t disclose their sales figures to the public, but experts estimated that they had thus far sold only about 300,000 units. There were a few messages from owners of the Gizmo robot, who went on about how superior it was, because you set its personality before purchase. There was only one posting that Mike hadn’t seen. He clicked on it and an aging woman with orange hair appeared on the screen.
“I love my Daffodil. He does everything for me—takes care of the bills, fixes my meals. He drives me to visit my friends, and he rubs my feet every night. His name is Andre. I just don’t know what I’d do without him.”
“Probably move to Florida,” said Mike.
He flipped over to Today Saturday. As he watched Tania Marquez read through the top stories of the day, he thought about purchasing a Daffodil. Twenty seven thousand dollars was a ginormous amount of money to spend. If he had still been married to Tiffany there would be no question. He wouldn’t have bought one. He would still have wanted one, but he wouldn’t have bought one. Oh, Tiffany might have gone for a five thousand dollar model designed just to clean the house, but she certainly never would have let him get the one that he had designed online. Of course if she had still been here… Oh sure, he might have fantasized about a Gizmo Sexbot, but it would have remained just a fantasy. Besides, he didn’t want a Daffodil for sex—well, not just for sex. If he was going to get one, it would be for companionship. It would do all the things that it was capable of doing.
The rest of the morning, Mike watched the vueTee. After Today Saturday was over, he turned to the Cooking feed and watched Café Italiano, Breakfast at Bloomberg’s, and America’s Test Kitchen. When Noon Buffet came on, he turned off the vueTee and picked up his texTee. The New York Times had already downloaded, so he flipped through the pages. Most of it was politics. Mike didn’t hate politics, like everyone else he knew seemed to. It was just that there didn’t seem much point to it at the moment. All three major parties had chosen their candidates even though none of them had yet had their convention, and it was more than six months till the general election.
The paper bored him after a few minutes, so he clicked through the book menu. He had the first chapter of The Janissary Tree, so he read it. When he was done, he still wasn’t sure if he wanted to spend $17.99 for it. He flipped over to Moby Dick. He had the whole book. Before this year, he hadn’t read it since college and wanted to read it through again, annotating it along the way—just because. It was slow going. Here it was April, and he was only on Chapter 24: A Bosom Friend. He tossed the texTee onto the floor beside the chair.
Though he wasn’t really hungry, Mike decided that it was lunch time, mostly out of boredom. He went to the foyer, where his tennis shoes sat on the ceramic tile. Slipping them on, he grabbed his keys and wallet from the small shelf on the wall and headed out the front door. Climbing into the car, he drove down the block and around the corner. He thought about stopping at Hot Dog Paradise, but there was a long line of cars in the drive-thru, so he went to McDonalds. The girl at the window could have been mistaken for a real person at first, but just like in every other fast food drive-thru window, she was a robot. She was probably a Gizmo Servbot, though McDonalds had their own custom build that wasn’t quite like anywhere else.
“I’ll have a McMeatloaf sandwich,” he said.
“Would you like that ala carte or with an Arch Value Meal?” She had that slightly tinny voice.
“Would you care for fries, side salad, fruit slices, or yogurt sticks?”
“And what would you like to drink?”
“Your total comes to $17.96.”
Mike swiped his cash card through the slot just below the window.
“Thank you for choosing McDonalds. Please pull forward.”
At the next window another Gizmo girl handed Mike his drink and then the bag with his McMeatloaf sandwich and fries. He drove back home and returned to his recliner to eat.
The vueTee had automatically turned off in his absence, so he turned it back on. He watched Face the Nation as he ate. Catherine Garvey was interviewing all three presidential candidates—one at a time. The Republicans had nominated another old man. The Democrats had nominated another old lady. It was the same old thing. Barlow said lower taxes. Wakovia said balance the budget. Only the Greens seemed to have picked anyone who wasn’t a cookie-cutter image. Mendoza was young, attractive, and idealistic and probably didn’t have a chance in hell of getting elected because she had inherited all the problems of President Busby. As long as there were troops in Antarctica nobody was going to vote Green.
When he was done eating, Mike looked around. He really needed to clean up the house he decided. He would get up and clean for a half hour. He could manage a half hour. By the time he had emptied and then refilled the dishwasher and emptied the trash compacter though, he didn’t feel like continuing, even though only fourteen minutes had passed. He sat back down watched more vueTee, dozing off after a while and waking up just in time for Deal of the Century. Then came Rat Race and then Pajama Party. He opened a can of soup for dinner and went to bed after Saturday Night Live.
Mike woke up just after five with a splitting headache. The bed was cold, not surprising considering he had left on both the oscillating fan and the auxiliary air conditioner. He got up and turned off one and then walked downstairs to the family room to turn off the other. Stopping for a moment, he reached up and touched the vueTee screen, turning it on. An infomercial for the all-in-one electronic device charger blared to life, but he sat down and grabbed the remote, thumbing back to the browser and examining the Daffodil page once more. With a sudden sense of purpose he zipped through the custom design pages, changing most of the settings that had been there since he had first looked it over. He didn’t know why he made most of the changes that he did. It was as if something unseen and unknown inside him compelled him to do it. With a slightly hesitant hand, he pressed the Buy Now button. $27,499.00. Then he went back to bed.
It was more than five weeks later, May 31st, when the package arrived. In the interim, life had gone on much as it had for the past several years. Each weekday, Mike tried to teach World Geography to the dullards that passed for eighth grade students in Midland Middle School, after which he came home and vegetated the evening away. On the weekends, he skipped the first part and simply vegetated. One night, the Saturday before last, he had dinner with Harriet and Jack. Every day he looked forward to the change that was coming. Even if the Daffodil never lived up to the hype, even if it was just an overpriced Gizmo Maidbot, it would be an improvement. It would pick up the laundry that had covered the floor for a month, vacuum the carpet that hadn’t been vacuumed in two months, clean the bathrooms that hadn’t been cleaned since Tiffany’s funeral, and maybe dust the things that hadn’t been dusted… well, ever.
Mike was annoyed that the box was just sitting on the step when he got home. Something that expensive, he should have had to sign for. Somebody could have just carried it off. But they hadn’t. It was here. The box looked impossibly small—only about thirty inches on each side. It was silver with a large yellow daffodil only partially obscured by the shipping label. Unlocking and then opening the front door, he picked up the box and brought it inside. It was heavy but not too heavy to lift. He set it down first in the foyer, but once he had shut and locked the front door, he carried it into the center of the living room floor. He went to the kitchen and returned with a chef knife. Carefully sliding the blade through the packing tape, he cut along each edge and then across the top seam.
Folding back the two flaps of the box lid, Mike looked down to find it filled with packing peanuts. Brushing some of them out of the way, he almost immediately found a patch of smooth white skin. It was remarkably real looking—pearlescent on the surface and kind of peachy pink beneath, but not a single blemish or mole or hair upon it. Mike brushed more packing peanuts out onto the floor and uncovered more skin, and then plastic with black hair inside. Finally, setting the knife on the coffee table, he tipped the box over, dumping the contents into the center of the floor. White packing went everywhere. The Daffodil rolled out and came to rest on its side, facing away from him. It was curled up tightly into a ball.
At first, Mike thought he must have ordered the wrong robot. Curled up as it was, it looked like a child. He just stared at it for a moment; at its naked back and buttocks and its black hair wrapped up in plastic. Finally he kicked around through the packing peanuts. There didn’t seem to be a manual—just a single sheet of paper marked Quick Setup. He picked it up and looked at it. There were two pictures and no words. The first picture showed line drawing of the back of a human-looking neck, except that the neck had three round holes in it and below them a button. The second picture showed the button being pushed by a line-drawn finger. Next to the button and the finger were the numerals 1, 2, 3. Bending down, Mike lifted up the plastic wrapped hair and examined the Daffodil’s neck. There were the three holes and there was the button. He pressed it and counted aloud “one, two, three.” Then he let go.
For a moment nothing happened. Then the Daffodil tilted its head and unarched its back. It unwrapped its arms from around its knees and stretched out its legs. Rolling over onto its stomach and then placing both palms on the floor, it rose in a push-up form, and then putting its left foot beneath it and then its right, stood up, coming to attention.
“Please wait,” she said, and it was at this moment, that for Mike, it became a she.
The Daffodil could no longer be an it. It was obviously not an it. And it was obviously not a child. Once upright, she was tall, maybe five foot seven. Mike examined her carefully. Though her hair was covered with a clear plastic cap, he could see it was jet black. It matched two dark, carefully arched eyebrows and a set of long eyelashes. She had no other body hair. Her face could best be described as cute, with large blue eyes, a button nose, and thick voluptuous lips. She had the kind of slender and yet curvy body that was just not possible on a real woman. Breasts the size of apples just kind of floated there above a perfectly flat stomach. Mike tilted his head down. She looked anatomically complete.
“You are Michael Winston Smith?”
“You are Michael Winston Smith?” She was looking at him. Her eyes seemed very life-like.
“I am Daffodil serial number 55277-PFN-001-XGN-F0103. My software is up to date.”
“The primary setup procedure requires approximately six hours. During this period, I your Daffodil, will be unavailable for other activities. It is recommended that during this time period you make a few basic decisions. What initial duties do you wish me to have? What clothing, if any, do you wish me to wear? What name would you like me to answer to?”
Mike looked at the clock on the wall. It was 3:20 PM. He counted off six hours on his fingers—9:20. Sitting down on the white sofa that was almost never used, he looked at the shapely nude robot. With a wry smile, he realized that he could sit and stare at it for the next six hours, or he could get up and do something. He went back to the family room, picked up the texTee, and flipped open Moby Dick, but he didn’t read any more of it. Instead he pressed the icon for the bookstore and typed in “names”. The titles of half a dozen books appeared including The Name Book, The Secret Universe of Names, and The Baby Name Wizard. He selected the last book of the six: Virtue Names. It took about twenty seconds for the book to download to the texTee. Looking back to the screen, Mike turned to the first page of the name book. The first name was Agape. Agape? The book said that it had something to do with God’s love, but all Mike could think of was “hanging loosely open”. That was not a particularly desirable trait. He picked a page at random. Patience. Now that was a trait he could appreciate. But the book said it was pronounced Pay-shuns. That wasn’t right. Paish-ence. Mike had always appreciated those names, mostly associated in his mind with the ninetieth century, that illustrated the supposed virtues—Faith, Hope, Chastity—but he hadn’t considered Patience until now.
He set the texTee back down and walked to the living room to look at the Daffodil. Did she look like a Patience? Close enough, he decided. Now what? He looked back at the clock. It was 3:33. What else did she say? Clothing. He felt his pants pockets. He still had his keys and wallet. He slipped out the door, locking it behind him and jumped back in the car.
Walmart was right around the corner and it took him less than five minutes to get there and park his car. He felt more than a little self-conscious, venturing into the women’s apparel department, but it turned out that he was one of more than a dozen men there. Most were just standing around, waiting for their women to finish trying something on in the fitting rooms, though a few were actively shopping. Mike made his way through the racks of ugly old-lady dresses until he found the clothing that young women seemed to prefer. The Daffodil looked like she might be in her early twenties. The first racks held blue jeans, but there was no way that he would be able to figure out the right size. Then he found several racks of dresses that seemed appropriate. He picked out a cute little one with blue flowers on it, then a white dress with large black polka dots. The smallest size on the rack was a three/four, and it looked pretty small, so he picked out a size five/six for each dress.
Having gotten used to looking through the women’s clothing, Mike’s discomfort returned when he moved into the lingerie section, the two dresses draped over his arm. There were counters and counters of underwear and bras. If choosing the correct pair of jeans was difficult, then choosing the proper size and type of bra would be insurmountable. The Daffodil didn’t really seem like she needed one, at least not from a purely functional perspective, though some women liked to wear them anyway. Moving on to the panties, Mike found a dizzying array of sizes, types, and styles. Then he saw some tiny, skimpy, little things called Smart and Sexy thongs. He didn’t know about smart, but they were definitely sexy, little more than triangular pieces of lace with elastic bands. They came in bags of three—tiny little lace bags. Mike bought a set in blue.
At the checkout stand, Mike realized that he was hungry. He grabbed a Payday candy bar. The matronly looking Gizmo Servbot gave him his total: $148.17. He drove back home and raced inside with his purchases, but there was no hurry. The Daffodil hadn’t moved. It was only 5:01. Looking at the robot, Mike appreciated her sheer physical beauty like he hadn’t before. He pulled the two dresses out of the bag and held them up in front of her, one after the other. Though they had seemed incredibly tiny in the store, they now looked as though they would fit her and might even be a bit on the large side. Draping them over the arm of the couch, he took the Walmart bag to the kitchen and stuffed it into the recycler. This made him think about everything else that was lying around the house. He had company now, sort of, and he felt an urge to clean up.
Starting in the living room, Mike began cleaning. It didn’t take much, since he hardly used the room at all. He picked up the packing peanuts and dropped them into the recycler, folded up the Daffodil box and put it in the compactor, and then he moved on to the foyer. He swept the tiles and straitened the several pairs of shoes by the door. Then he moved on to the family room. This room, though fairly large, was crammed full of old furniture, including the recliner, sofa, two end tables and a coffee table, three bookcases, the entertainment center, and the piano. Most of the furniture and a good bit of the floor were covered with cast-off items as well. Books, obsolete but not quite completely replaced by the texTee were everywhere, as were small piles of junk mail, interlaced with an occasional bill, and stacks of dirty dishes. Mike got to work, picking things up and putting them away until the room looked about as good as it ever had.
He stopped to make himself a supper of a deviled ham sandwich, which he ate along with a diet Pepsi and a handful of potato chips. He stood in the dining room, chewing and looking through the passage at the shapely form of the Daffodil still standing naked where he had left her. When he finished eating, he started wiping down the kitchen counters. He had them nice and clean by the time eight o’clock rolled around and Gunsmoke came on. He went back to his recliner, which had long ago conformed to his shape. Just as the story was getting interesting, his phone rang. It was Harriet calling to see if he was all right. He assured her he was. When he closed the connection and put the phone back in his pocket, the vueTee went to a commercial. Mike turned around and then jumped in his seat. The Daffodil was standing behind him, looking at him from the arch between the family room and living room.
“The primary setup procedure is complete,” she said. “The secondary setup procedure requires approximately thirty-six hours. During this period, I your Daffodil, will be capable of other activities.”
“What did you do?” asked Mike. “In your primary setup, I mean?”
“There are one thousand sixty seven individual tasks accomplished during the primary setup procedure, the most important of which are the initialization of the BioSoft operating system, registration of the InfiNet connection, and charging of the Honda X88 fuel cell.”
“Well, that’s good. Oh. There are some clothes for you in the living room.” He pointed over her shoulder.
She turned around and walked into the living room. Mike followed. She picked up the two dresses and held them in front of her one after the other, smiling.
“I wasn’t sure what size you wore, um, Patience. That’s what I decided to name you by the way—Patience.”
“Patience,” she said slowly. “The capacity, habit, or fact of being patient. Patient: bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint; manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain; not hasty or impetuous; steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity. That is a very good name. What should I call you?”
Though both Mr. Smith and Master flashed through his mind, he said “Mike”.
“You are named for the Archangel Michael, who is like unto God.”
“I think I must be named after my uncle Mike, who is like unto, um, my grandfather.”
“In answer to your unasked query, I will usually wear 3/4 or 5/6 U.S. miss sizes. Which dress would you like me to wear, Mike?”
“I think the blue one. It matches your underwear which is still in the bag there.”
“May I use the bathroom to wash up and get dressed, Mike?”
“Um, yes. You don’t need to say my name every time.”
“During the secondary setup procedure, I will be adjusting my diction and vocabulary so that I am better able to communicate with you, Mike.”
“Which way is the bathroom, Mike?”
Mike pointed. “There’s the little… I call it the privy… on the other side of the kitchen, or you can go upstairs, because this one doesn’t have a shower or anything.”
The Daffodil went through the kitchen, toward the privy. Mike turned off the vueTee, and then sat waiting for her to return. It was growing dark out and both end table lamps automatically clicked on. She didn’t keep him waiting long. When she returned, he marveled at how real, how human she looked. She was dressed, and the plastic over her hair was gone. Her hair was long and straight and black, and cut with bangs across her forehead. She stepped to the center of the room and twirled around, then bounced up and down twice on her tip-toes. This made her look really young.
“Shit. I forgot to buy you any shoes,” he said.
“That is all right,” she smiled. “I can choose and purchase my own wardrobe if you like.”
“Yes, that would be good. But you have a limited budget. I don’t have that much in the bank, and I spent all my payNEtime money on… well, on you.”
“I understand, Mike. I won’t spend any money until I am sure of our finances.”
“Our finances?” Mike remembered the orange-haired lady and how her Daffodil paid her bills for her. “Are you going to be my secretary too?”
“I will be anything and everything you want me to be,” she said. “It is after nine o’clock. Have you eaten dinner, Mike?”
“I had a sandwich.”
“Are you still hungry, Mike? Would you like dessert?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Then may we sit a talk for a few minutes?” She made her way around the coffee table and sat down on the couch. “What time is your bedtime, Mike?”
“Um, I usually go to bed about eleven.”
“And what time do you usually get up, Mike?”
“I get up at six twenty.”
“That is not enough sleep, Mike. You should go to bed at 10:05.”
“I have a hard time getting to sleep that early. I have to take Sleepova anyway.”
“I will help you, Mike.” She smiled sweetly. “This is a very nice dress, Mike. Is this the type of dress you would like to see me wear often?”
“Sure. Um, I would like to see you in different clothes too. Isn’t that what most people want? You are kind of like a big Barbie doll.”
“Would you say you preferred me to dress demurely or provocatively or somewhere in the middle, Mike?”
“Provocatively… sexy but appropriate. I’m a middle school teacher. I don’t want you to get me arrested, or worse, fired… although one would probably lead to the other.”
“These are very nice underwear, Mike. Is this the type of underwear you would like to see me wear often?”
“Absolutely,” Mike said. “Whenever you wear underwear, they should be sexy. That’s why you’re here.”
“Sexual congress?” She looked at him wide-eyed, without the least hint of embarrassment. Well, she wouldn’t be embarrassed, would she? She was a robot. It was hard, looking at her, to think of her as anything but a real person.
“Yes, well, not just for that. I’m tired of being single. But…I’m fifty years old. It’s hard to find somebody at my age, and let’s be frank—I’m nobody’s idea of a catch. I guess with you I don’t have to be though, do I? And I don’t want another wife anyway. I want you to be my companion, you know, in all the ways that another person would be a companion. You can do that, right?”
“That is right,” said Patience. “I can be anything and everything you want me to be.”