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.