|by Eamonn Murphy|
“WHAT DO YOU THINK, Miriam?" Cahill Connelly proudly patted his most recent acquisition on the top of its transparent dome. Inside the dome a cube of electronic circuitry was visible with tiny bulbs set into it here and there. Lights flickered when Cahill touched the robot as if it was pleased. The dome sat atop a body that was a solid cube of metal half a metre long in every direction with a hatch in the front. From two sides of the cube hung arms of flexible rubber which terminated in four dextrous metal claws. Each leg was two tubes of steel with a flexible hinge replacing the human knee. The lower leg tube was sat in the exact centre of its large, flat feet. The robot was one and a half metres tall. Its metalwork was dulled by age but otherwise in good condition.
Miriam Connelly was stood at an easel under the skylight and turned her gaze from the painting before her to her husband. “A bit old isn’t it?”
“Classic,” he retorted. “Not old. Bit of a respray and he’ll look as good as new. This is a classic design from the early age of robotics. It won a gold medal at the London Robot Exhibition of 2026. I worked on these when I was an apprentice.”
“That was a long time ago,” she said, “when your hair was still dark.” Her hair was still red because she dyed it but she never told him that and he pretended he didn’t know. It was a happy marriage.
Reflexively he put a hand to his greying locks then grinned. “I’m a classic too.” He turned to the household android which was stood quietly nearby.
“What do you think of your new assistant, Jeeves?”
The android was the latest model. As chief of robot design at Harrison-Orwell’s principal plant in nearby Bristol, Cahill could afford the best. Synthiskin was stretched over steel struts and cogs to form limbs that were as flexible as a man’s, and much stronger. Jeeve’s torso was a bendable tube inside of which, alongside other complicated engineering, was a powerful electric battery that took only an hour a day to fully charge. His head was almost manlike but there was nothing resembling hair and the protruding lenses that were his eyes marked him clearly as an android for it was forbidden by law to manufacture any device in the exact image of man. Jeeves wasn’t as clever as Bertie Wooster’s able assistant but was smart enough to keep the house tidy, cook and look after the everyday needs of his owners.
He looked at his master’s new acquisition with an air of disdain worthy of his namesake. "Very good, master. However, I must agree with Mistress Connelly that it does seem somewhat outdated.” Jeeves" voice box emitted the words in that cultivated British accent once heard on the playing fields of Eton.
Cahill raised his eyebrows and turned to his wife. "Miriam, we have here an android snob. If I wasn’t so busy with the new designs I’d write a paper on him for The Robotics Journal.” He turned back to Jeeves. "Put him to work. He can start by moving all our packing cases from the garage into the spare bedroom. We can sort the stuff out there.” In anticipation of retirement the Connelly’s had recently moved from their flat in Bristol to a bungalow in the countryside nearby and most of their possessions were still in boxes.
“Make sure he doesn’t damage any of my canvases, Jeeves,” said the painter.
“Especially the female nudes,” said Cahill.
“I should have painted that girl who came yesterday,” retorted his wife. ’You couldn’t keep your eyes off her.”
“Now now dear. You know you’re the only one for me.”
On the previous evening the Connelly’s had been visited by a very pneumatic lady called Sophie whose severe business suit did nothing to hide her charms. She was a headhunter, she said, working on behalf of Robo-Tech who were very keen to recruit Mister Connelly. He had declined her offer politely.
Miriam Connelly grunted and turned back to her painting. "She wouldn’t make a good subject for art anyway. For a certain type of film she’d be perfect but for a painting you need someone with more subtle charm.”
“Yes dear.” He looked at his watch. "I have to get to the plant.” Like many technicians he did much of his work on computers at home but for certain tasks and meetings it was still necessary to commute to Harrison-Orwell’s factory.
“How’s your magnum opus coming along?" asked Miriam.
“Slowly but surely.” Cahill had
dreamed up a revolutionary new concept in robot brain technology but
turning the dream into circuitry was complicated. He planned to see
the project through before taking his well-deserved retirement.
‘Come along, Clanky.” The name seemed appropriate. Jeeves had noticed that the new robot’s ancient gears were quite noisy and his dextrous claws occasionally clanged against his legs when he walked fast.
The android led the robot out of the back door and round to the back entrance of the large garage and opened the door. The front of this outbuilding was for Master Cahill’s self-drive electric car and the rear was full of packing cases.
“Pick up a case and follow me.” Clanky did as instructed and was led to the spare bedroom at the back of the house which, conveniently, had a sliding patio door that led out into the garden.
“Pile the boxes along that wall,” instructed Jeeves. "Don’t go higher than your outdated dome with them. Can you do that?’
Lights flickered and the old robot replied. "Affirmative.” The voice was without intonation but otherwise sounded like a human male.
“You have some language skills then,” said Jeeves haughtily. "I wasn’t sure what with you being so old.”
“Not old - classic.”
Clanky turned and returned to the
garage while Jeeves used his complex positronic circuitry to consider
whether or not he had just been snubbed.
“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle where I don’t have all the pieces,” said Kipling. "Very frustrating.” He was frowning at a complex diagram on his computer screen. "How can I make advances in android sensory perception if I don’t know how it fits in with the central cognitive function?’
Cahill sighed. He got along well with most of his staff, the five of them had gab fests together at lunch and even went out for a beer occasionally but Kipling was the odd man out, forever moaning.
“Work it out to fit in with current systems,” he said. "I can do any tinkering to fit the new one later.”
Kipling pursed his lips. "Boss, if you would let us see the whole picture it would make doing the parts a lot easier. Why can’t you let us in on your big idea?’
“Industrial espionage,” replied Cahill. "It still happens. "I have to keep the central cognitive organizational structure confidential for now,” he said, not for the first time. "It’s a radical departure from current design thinking and Robo-tech would give half their shares to get hold of it.” Robo-tech was Harrison-Orwell’s chief rival in the field.
Kipling grunted. "Silly name. They should have changed it to Android-Tech long ago. Who has robots nowadays?’
Cahill grinned. "I do.” He went on to tell his grumpy assistant about his latest acquisition. Kipling merely feigned interest so he didn’t go on for long. He knew the other blokes would be keen to hear more at lunch, especially old Brett Barton who would have worked on them as an apprentice too.
He was not especially surprised or
disappointed when Kipling didn’t turn up for lunch.
The assistant had other fish to fry. He walked to a nearby burger joint and sat at a corner table by himself with a coke and fries. He was quickly joined by a healthy young woman, casually but distractingly dressed in the latest spray-on plastoid black. Her only actual clothing was a thin black belt which had a case attached to hold her mobile device.
“Well?" she asked, dropping into the seat opposite him.
“Well nothing, Sophie,” he replied curtly. That was the only name she had given him and he was pretty sure it wasn’t her real one. "I keep trying but Connelly won’t reveal anything. We’re all farting about with peripheral stuff, he’s keeping mum about the revolutionary new central cognitive system he claims to have invented. Maybe it’s a load of guff. Maybe he doesn’t have anything.”
She shook her head. "Cahill Connelly doesn’t do guff . He studied positronic brain design after that disastrous Artificer Robot strike at his shipbuilding factory and now he’s the best in the field. Have you checked the available information on the lab’s database? He might have left some clues there.”
Kipling nodded. "I’ve worked late a few nights and spent some time going through the lab’s records. I even managed to hack into his personal workbook. Nothing there. He’s being very cagey. Worried about Robo-Tech doing a bit of industrial espionage.”
The girl shook her head ruefully which made her breasts jiggle and her long dark curls shift from side to side. "As if we would do such a thing.”
“I wish you’d dress more modestly,” grumbled Kipling. "It’s very distracting.”
“I’m more distracted by the prospect of Cahill putting Robo-Tech out of business. A radical new android owned entirely by Harrison-Orwell could wipe us out. It’ll be like smartphones replacing laptops and solar replacing fossil fuels. People want the latest thing nowadays.”
“I’ll keep trying.”
She laughed. "Don’t worry about it. This is our last meeting. You can’t help us. We’ll have to take more extreme measures.”
“I’ve done my best, Sophie,” pleaded Kipling. "Do I still get my money?’
She stood up which put her groin at his eye level so he could see how little spray-on plastoid black covered the modern young lady. "The deal was half upfront, half on delivery. You haven’t delivered but you can keep what you’ve already had.”
He looked up to her face. "And the job at Robo-Tech?’
She shook her head. "That was dependent on delivery.” Then she turned and walked out, black clad buttocks wobbling seductively.
“Bitch,” said Kipling.
Clanky finished moving the packing cases from the garage to the bedroom before the morning was over. Jeeves reported to Miriam.
“Would you like him to do anything else, Mistress?’
“He can water the garden,” she said. She was stood in the kitchen which had sliding glass doors leading out onto the patio beyond which stretched half an acre of lush green lawn. There were flowerbeds along either side of it and a large circle of flowers and flowering shrubs in the middle. "Wouldn’t do it on a sunny afternoon, of course, but it’s a grey day. Show him where everything is, Jeeves. Good fellow.”
Jeeves had stationed Clanky by the garage. Now he led him to the rear garden and showed him the long green hosepipe which was on a reel attached to the back wall of the house. One end of it was attached to a tap set in the brickwork. The other end had a round attachment with small holes, the type used on watering cans.
“Start down there and work your way up,” said Jeeves.
Clanky unreeled the hose and pulled it down the length of the garden to the bottom. Jeeves turned the tap on. Clanky held the end of the hose over the flowerbeds and sprinkled them generously with water.
Jeeves sat on a heavy cast-iron bench next to the hose reel and watched him for a few minutes. Soon enough he was satisfied that the job was being done satisfactorily.
Jeeves stood up. "Careful you don’t rust,” he called out before returning to his household duties.
Clanky made no reply.
Cahill Connelly was keen to go home but it was Friday, and on Friday after work the gang went for beer. It was traditional. As usual they trooped to the nearest bar which was full of workers from the plant.
“It’s an MP-600,” he said to Brett Barton. "Completely refurbished and practically as good as new.” They were sat at a corner table slightly apart from the other engineers who were discussing the possible outcome of a Manchester football derby the next day. Brett was an enthusiast about old robots.
“The MP stands for Multi-Purpose but we always called them Domehead, "said Barton, using the colloquial name quickly acquired by the robot. "It wasn’t great but it was adaptable. Did you do it up yourself?’
Cahill shook his head. "No time for that, unfortunately. But it was kept in a garage for about thirty years and a retired engineer bought it and restored it. When he died his wife put it up for sale.”
Brett pursed his lips. "Wish I had it. The Dom-600 had a solid body. Steel plate a centimetre thick. They don’t make "em like that anymore.”
Cahill laughed. "No. They make them better but it’s nice to have souvenirs. Fancy another?"
Barton nodded and he took the empty glasses back to the bar. There was quite a queue. He heard wolf whistles behind him and turned to see what had caused them. A gorgeous, dark-haired girl had just entered the bar. She was wearing spray-on black plastoid, which was the same as wearing nothing. He recognized her immediately. It was Sophie, the headhunter.
She smiled at the attention then came and stood next to him. Cahill tried not to stare, and mostly succeeded. It was totally unacceptable in the modern world to eye up a beautiful lady. Downright sexist, in fact. Unfortunately, a hundred thousand years of evolution had conditioned men to be attracted to women and simply would not be denied. He tried to ignore her. She put a hand on his arm.
“Buy a girl a drink, Mister Connelly?’
His gang at the corner table were watching. Some of them were making gestures. He smiled at her. "You look as if you can afford your own.”
She cocked her head to one side so it rested on his shoulder and took a firmer grip on his arm. She felt very warm against him.
The barman came over and gave him an envious look.
“Two pints of Stella,” he said. While they were being poured he turned to the girl. "Look, sweetie, I’m a happily married man.” He waved a hand to indicate the rest of the bar. "Plenty of young chaps here that would be glad to treat you.”
She squirmed against him, not without effect. "I like older men.”
The pints arrived. He twisted free of her grip and said: "I like older women. One in particular, my wife.”
She put her hands on her hips and wiggled. "You don’t know what you’re missing.”
Cahill looked her up and down and managed a smile. "Oh, I can see what I’m missing. Every detail. Tell Robo-Tech I’m flattered but no thanks.”
She glared at him. If Hell hath any greater fury than a woman spurned it’s a female headhunter spurned and denied the very generous commission she would have earned by recruiting a valuable scientist.
“Good-bye darling.” He turned and
walked back to his table.
The man Sophie saw next was not at all reluctant to show how much he admired her charms. From the moment she walked in to his flat Mick Collins was all over her.
He was about forty years old with hair two millimetres short and a beard about the same length, a ’hard-man" style he copied from old movies. His stocky, muscular body had grown a small pot belly in the last decade thanks to his dubious diet. He was tough, no doubt about that after ten years in the Parachute regiment, but uncouth. It didn’t matter to Sophie. She had tried spying, she had tried seduction and both had failed. Now it was time for brute force.
Brute force was Mick Collins department. After ten years serving King William in the military he had spent another five serving at His Majesty’s Pleasure in Dartmoor prison. Violent by nature, he had not adapted well to civilian life.
Sophie wriggled free of his grip, looked around the flat and wrinkled her nose in distaste. It was a jumble of take-away wrappers, empty beer cans and discarded clothes. "Don’t you ever clean this place up?’
“The bedroom’s tidy,” he said, grabbing her again.
“Let go!" She slapped him.
He stepped back. "Like it rough, eh?’
She stepped away and sideways, putting a dirty sofa between them. "Listen. I have a job for you. It will pay enough to keep you in beer and take-aways for about ten years. Stop grabbing me and listen.”
“Okay.” He sat on the sofa and patted the seat beside him.
“I’ll stay where I am.” She pulled out her mobile device and tapped the keys. "Here’s the address you need.” His mobile was on the coffee table in front of him and it pinged. He picked it up and scanned the information.
“I know the place,” he grunted. "Pretty hamlet in the Cotswolds. Our target must be doing alright.”
“He’s a robotics engineer,” she said. "We want him taken to this address.” His device pinged again. He read it and nodded.
“That’s remote enough. Suppose he doesn’t want to go?’
“He doesn’t want to go. You have to take him. Alive, mind you. This is not a hit. He has information we need.”
He shook his head doubtfully. "Kidnapping. That’s trickier than a hit and you get a long stretch if you’re caught. What’s in it for me?’
Sophie moved around and sat on the sofa beside him. His hand moved instantly to her thigh. She smiled and named a sum of money that would indeed keep him in the style to which he was accustomed for a decade or more.
“How about a bonus?" he asked, moving his hand higher.
She covered it with her own. ’A man will pick you up tomorrow morning. He’ll be driving a black van and he’ll have everything you need. Basically, that’s a dart gun with ammo that will put Connelly to sleep for a while and rope to tie him up. Tomorrow is Saturday so he should be at home in the morning. The house is quite isolated. There’s an android servant. The dart gun won’t work on him so you’ll have a real gun for that and for the wife. Better if there are no witnesses left alive.”
He narrowed his eyes. "I like to work alone.”
“This is too important to take chances. Don’t worry. The other man is a professional.”
“Okay.” He moved his hand to her right breast. "Now, what about my bonus.”
She took a deep breath. He held his.
“Hell, why not.” She wriggled
closer to him. "I do like a bit of rough.”
“Clanky has finished moving the packing cases, sir. He has also watered the garden and is now fully recharged. What would you like him to do next?’
“Clanky?" Cahill stirred his coffee and yawned. The chemical reaction stirred by Sophie combined with his wife’s determination to make sure he remembered her charms had made it a tiring night. "Oh, the new robot.”
Jeeves sniffed. "Hardly new, sir.”
Cahill smiled. "You call him Clanky? Well, it’s as good a name as any. Do you think he could mow the lawn?’
“I expect so, sir. He is physically capable and if I start the lawnmower for him he should manage it quite well. They are about the same age.”
Cahill nodded. His lawnmower was also a "classic’. Many years earlier automated sat-nav guided mowers had relieved many husbands of a tedious chore but he generally tried to do a certain number of old-fashioned manly tasks such as grass cutting and wood chopping in order to maintain physical fitness. This was to avoid turning into a "lard ass or wobble bottom" as he called it, the tragic fate of many desk bound workers.
Miriam entered the kitchen yawning. "I thought mowing the lawn was your job, husband.” She bent over and kissed him on the back of the neck then moved to the coffee pot.
“Usually.” Cahill said. "Today I have other work and we might as well make use of Clanky.”
“Clanky?" Miriam looked around from pouring coffee.
“Jeeves" name for the new robot. Disparagingly meant, I feel, but quite appropriate. Go and put him to work, Jeeves.”
“Strike a light, done up like a kipper, apples and pears. Of all the morons to do a job with, I get a bloody cockney.”
“You better watch your mouth mate.” Mick Collins clenched his fists and stared at the road ahead. His assigned partner had picked him up at eight in the morning and they had taken an instant dislike to each other. They were chalk and cheese. Albert Billings was a tall, slim distinguished looking gentleman who wore brown corduroy trousers, a pale cream shirt and a white blazer. He looked disdainfully at Mick’s white T-shirt, jeans and leather jacket. Albert had been an officer in the Irish Guards and thought the soldiers of the parachute regiment were a rude lot. He also disliked Londoners. All this became clear after a few minutes conversation and the two men had settled into a bad mood.
“We’re almost there, "said Albert. "Is the gun ready?’
Mick raised his hand to show the automatic pistol fitted with a silencer. ’Loaded and ready.”
“Okay.” Albert clenched his fingers around the steering wheel. He took a left turn and they were heading up a one-way lane with fields on either side. "We may not love each other but this is work. You take out the woman and the android. I’ll dart the scientist and get him in the van.”
Mick grunted. ’Not crazy about shooting an unarmed woman.”
“Think of the money. With the husband missing the cops may even think it’s a domestic incident. He shot her and went on the run.”
“We’re here.” Albert eased the black van around a sharp bend and they saw a neat bungalow to their left. It had an open driveway with two vehicles parked. Albert went past and found a pull in space just up the road a little.
Mick climbed out of the van and slammed the door. ’Let’s do it!" He had never quite got over his boyhood watching action movies.
“Let’s do it quietly, old chap,” said Albert.
They approached the front door. Albert had the dart gun in his trouser pocket. With a silencer fitted the pistol was too bulky to fit in a pocket so Mick put his right arm behind his back to conceal it. Clanky was mowing the lawn from left to right and happened to be approaching the door as the men were stood there. He had seen them approaching the house but after careful deliberation over several nanoseconds had decided that greeting visitors was not his assigned task and he would carry on mowing. Then he saw the gun.
A gun could be harmful. Like any other robot, Clanky could not harm a human being or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm. He approached the men swiftly.
Albert rang the doorbell. A man’s voice shouted that he was coming.
The robot approached the man with the gun. "Stop.”
“Get on with your mowing and leave us alone,” said Albert decisively.
Clanky hesitated. A robot had to obey instructions given it by a human being. There was no definite threat to anyone right now so he considered following the order. He decided that the potential threat outweighed the usual second law imperative. Again this decision took only a microsecond.
He heard Cahill approaching from the other side of the door.
“Do not open the door, master,” he said loudly, speakers at full volume. "This man has a gun. He may intend to harm you.”
He heard his master retreating and calling to his wife.
“Damn you, robot.” Mick Collins fired at the lock, shattering it.
Albert grabbed his shoulder. ’Go round the house. Make sure they don’t escape out the back way.” He pulled the dart gun out of his pocket.
Mick’s decision process was not nearly so swift as Clanky’s and he resented taking orders from this snob but quickly saw the sense of it. He ran to the left and down along the side of the house.
Clanky had a moment of indecision. The men had separated but the man with the gun was clearly the biggest threat. He followed Collins.
This man has a gun. Clanky’s warning had put Cahill Connelly into a panic. He was a sedate scientist not an action man. Like most law-abiding British people in the twenty-first century he had no experience at all with guns. On television he had seen what happened where the right to bear arms was sacrosanct and decided he could happily live without it.
They would be inside in seconds. From the lobby a corridor ran through the house. At the front a door opened to the lounge on his left and his study on the right. A second door on the right led to the master bedroom, one on the left to the spare bedroom. At the back of the house were the kitchen and Miriam’s studio.
He popped into the kitchen quickly. It had patio doors leading to a paved area in the back garden. He looked out and saw a stocky man stood there. The man raised the gun when he came into view then lowered it again on catching a better look at him.
They want me alive, thought Cahill.
That meant Miriam was in danger.
He dashed into her studio. It had a skylight but only a normal window on the rear wall.
“Miriam!" She turned.
Cahill looked through the window and saw the man with the gun again. This time it was pointed at the window. He dived in a rugby tackle.
Miriam crashed to the ground as the window smashed under the impact of a bullet.
Cahill looked up from the floor and saw the gunman approaching the shattered window. In his peripheral vision he saw someone in the doorway behind him.
“Jeeves! He has a gun!"
The gunman raised his arm and pointed the pistol at Miriam.
Cahill threw himself on top of Miriam even more enthusiastically than he had the night before. If they didn’t want to harm him they might not shoot.
Jeeves threw himself across the room. The silenced gun made its small noise and Jeeves was propelled backwards. He landed on top of Cahill.
“Sorry, Master,” he said.
Cahill heard the gunman curse in fluent Anglo-Saxon. But before he could make another move Clanky was between him and the window.
“Stop. I cannot allow you to harm a human being.”
Collins fired. The bullet bounced off Clanky’s steel exterior.
Another figure appeared in the doorway. A well-dressed gentleman with a dart-gun which he raised and aimed at the heap of bodies on the floor.
“Sorry about this, old chap.”
Jeeves jumped to his feet. There was a hole in his torso but it had not affected his motor capacity or his brain. He blocked the way effectively.
Cahill stood up, keeping Jeeves in front of him.
Albert reached behind him. From the small of his back he pulled out a .38 automatic pistol. This one had no silencer.
Cahill dived to the left. Miriam screamed again as two bullets crashed through Jeeves" android body. The butler collapsed.
Alfred pointed the automatic at Miriam.
Clanky crashed through the window and the wall below it in a noisy cascade of glass, splintering wood and rubble.
Alfred was a professional soldier but this was enough to distract him. He turned and fired at the robot. The bullets bounced off. Clanky grabbed his gun arm and held it tight.
“I cannot allow you to injure a human being.”
Cahill was helping Miriam to her feet. She immediately went to check on Jeeves who was lying prostrate on his back.
“I fear I am severely damaged, Mistress,” he said apologetically as she bent over him.
Cahill looked out through the hole in the wall. ’Clanky! Where’s the other one?’
The old robot was keeping an iron grip on the old soldier’s hand. Albert twisted and turned desperately but short of chopping his arm off at the wrist there was no way he could escape.
“He is outside, master. I have incapacitated him.”
Cahill stepped over the rubble and on to the patio. On the ground he saw a crushed automatic pistol. Next to it a cursing cockney wriggled on the ground. His arms were bound tightly to his side by a long length of green hosepipe which was also attached to a heavy cast iron garden bench. He wasn’t going anywhere.
Cahill resisted the temptation to kick him in the head. He kicked him in the belly instead, though the hosepipe afforded some protection.
“That’s for shooting at my wife you son of a bitch.”
He heard sirens in the distance.
Miriam had called the police.
“More tea, inspector?” said Miriam.
Cahill smiled. She had recovered quickly from the ordeal and was back to being a nice English lady. The gunmen had been carted away but her studio was still a mess of rubble and her household android would be out of service for a week. Clanky was stood beside his master, waiting for instructions.
“No thank-you, Ma’am,” said the policeman. He looked at Cahill. "I think that’s all the information we need, sir. So, you’re pretty sure these men were hired by a rival company to get your secrets.”
“Robo-Tech,” he affirmed. “I don’t know if they’ll confirm that. They might not even know who was behind it.”
“You’re a top man in the field of artificial helpers, yes?” Cahill nodded. The inspector looked at Clanky. “So how come you have this museum piece around the house?”
Cahill laughed. “That museum piece saved our lives, inspector. In one respect, at least, he’s superior to Jeeves and any other modern android servant.”
The policeman raised an eyebrow. “And that is…?”
Eamonn Murphy is a 53-year-old writer living near Bristol, England, and working for the NHS. He grew up reading Marvel comics, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and all the classics. His previous story for “Perihelion” was in the 12-JUL-2014 update.