The Nouveau_Kenneth the Menneth-Short story.
I am primarily known here at The Partial Observer
for once writing a candy bar review
in which I panned the Snickers Cruncher™. To those who felt that it was below the standards of an otherwise respectable cyber-magazine, I apologize. Sensing that I’d ruffled some feathers among the PO’s esteemed readership, I laid low, allowing more serious writers time to restore some of its former dignity, until my colleague S.E. Shepherd encouraged me to return in his fine review
of Reese’s Fast Break™. Around the same time, the PO’s Open Mic Forum
opened, and I finally felt there was a place for me here after all. It was there that I started a conversation about robots and how I think it is high time that we had them in our homes, doing our everyday chores. Though we are apparently several years away from realizing this dream, the topic has nonetheless inspired this piece of short fiction of the sci-fi variety, a first for both myself and The Partial Observer
, featuring myself as the protagonist in the not too distant future. Any similarity to existing stories or to my actual personality is purely accidental, or possibly subconscious. Now, to those who feel that science fiction doesn’t belong here, and that my story is a wasteful use of pixels: tough. Here then, is my robot fantasy...
I. Hotel Room
“Isaac, you are not to disclose my relationship with Miss Whitney to anyone. That is classified information. Do you understand?”
He’s still new, still learning my preferences. “Nor are you to share that information with other robots or computers.”
“Yes, sir. I apologize for my indiscretion.”
“It’s not your fault, really.” I‘m learning too, the hard way, just how human-like my new robot is. He had apparently just told someone, most likely a reporter, down in the lobby that I spent last night with Kendra Whitney, the Broadway star, and it’s probably already reached the tabloids, but I had failed to give him proper guidelines. “As a general rule,” I continued, “any details involving my interaction with women, sexual or otherwise, are to remain private.” Isaac nodded in acknowledgement. “Good. I’ll have that in a glass, please.” He moved swiftly to the bathroom to carry out my orders.
He’s marvelous, worth every penny. I must say he’s far exceeded my expectations. As a RoboSpec 5200 (“The Nouveau”), by far the best on the market and still a rarity, he attracts a good deal of attention, and the more brazen will engage him in conversation. I have given him permission to respond as long as it does not interfere with his tasks, since I strongly support the Robot Acceptance Movement. Obviously, this policy has just bitten me in the caboose, but a lot of people actually fear the Nouveau, and I intend to do everything I can on behalf of advanced robotics.
It’s been five years since the start of the Robot Revolution, and people are accustomed to the more affordable, short, wiry style – the dreaded Quantum class, which is restricted to home or office. The Nouveau’s more human form and superior artificial intelligence is something quite new, and I couldn’t be more satisfied. I sure wasn’t going to get another Quantum model after my previous robot, Lucas, stupidly accessed a virus which instructed him to burn my house down (Thank you, Microsoft for yet another fine security loophole!). The insurance payment, combined with my Pulitzer Prize money, was more than enough for a down payment on Isaac. He’s so much smarter, faster, and quieter than Lucas was, and I’m not nearly as lonely these days. Besides his good-natured companionship, he’s quite the “babe magnet,” as they say – for open-minded babes, that is. Isaac may well turn out to be the best friend I’ve ever had.
He bowed slightly as he served me my Mountain Dew. I so appreciate that!
“Thank you, Isaac. You’d best recharge for a while before dinner.”
“Thank you, sir.” He retreated to a corner of the room, plugged in, and stood motionless.
I looked about the room for any traces of Kendra’s stay the night before. She was quite good in the sack, of course, but I’m rather embarrassed about it now. I don’t think I could have gone through with it had I not been under the influence of some fine wine we shared at Pandora’s after the show. I could have sworn that when she sang “Sweet Summer Hideaway” – you know, her big number – she was nearly a half-step flat on the high C’s. Surely I wasn’t the only one that noticed!
Well, she’s not likely to sleep with me again anyway now that Isaac told the world we did it before she had a chance to announce her breakup with Hunter Stroud. Now she’ll be portrayed as a two-timer, though the in
crowd knew about the split weeks ago. But hey, scandal sells, so they’ll cook up some juicy lies. As for me, that kind of thing never gets to me. This will actually save me from some awkwardness when she needs a date for the Tonys.
My main concern right now is tonight’s preferred conquest, the lovely Princesa Martinez, daughter of the speedrail tycoon, Danilo Martinez. Now this was a relationship I could really invest in, so to speak. It could be a challenge to persuade her that nothing happened between Kendra and me, but at least there appeared to be no evidence to the contrary in this room. Dinner at Prestini’s, followed by ice dancing at Roseland (I’ve been taking lessons for months), followed by a visit to my room, with its fantastic view of Citibank Central Park (though it looks best in the morning, why not spend the night, heh-heh).
As we waited for an elevator, I looked at Isaac and myself in the large mirror. We looked good together, and he looked great in a sport coat. Most people are still surprised to see a robot wearing clothes, but it’s all part of the Movement. The more elegantly the Nouveaus blend into society, the more people will grow to like them. Naturally, robophobes fear being replaced, and I suppose a large number of thankless occupations will go to Nouveaus, but other than that, why all the fuss? I can’t understand it.
No one would mistake Isaac for a human, of course, with his metal head, but his facial contours are pleasing to the eye. His mouth, a narrow opening that is neither smiling nor frowning, and his eyes, always open, yet kind and understanding, convey an earnest subservience and innocence that I am certain will charm the masses before the year is through. His face, a soft, brushed silver, gives way to dark brown “hair” – narrow metal grooves that simulate a slicked-back look of the 1930’s. Very handsome, in my opinion.
I was looking much better these days myself, having lost 55 pounds, thanks to Slimnatol, the diet pill that actually works. And I’ve re-grown all of my hair back. I look like what I think James Dean would have looked like in his mid-forties. Nothing can be done about my height, however. Isaac is five inches taller than me, and though I could have custom-ordered a smaller height, which would have served to de-emphasize my own smallish stature, I decided that a height of 6’2” would ultimately command more respect from the idiots of the world. After all, Isaac is not just my assistant, but my bodyguard as well.
One of the elevators “dinged,” opened it doors, and announced, “Going down.” We stepped in and found one other occupant: a gorgeous woman, a brunette, thirtyish, with stunning proportions, and slightly taller than Isaac. A model, no doubt. We exchanged smiles. “Lobby, please,” I told the elevator. The doors closed and we began our descent down 35 floors. She looked at me in an unmistakably seductive manner.
“Some of the best sex I’ve ever had has been with short guys,” she said.
I laughed and nearly blushed. “Well, I’m not surprised to hear that actually.”
“Are you in town long?”
“Just ‘til Friday. I’m here for the candy bar convention.”
She gasped excitedly. “You’re Kenneth the Menneth, aren’t you? The critic?”
I nodded quickly as the elevator came to a stop. “Floor Twenty-Two,” said the elevator. The doors opened, and a middle-aged couple got on, greeted us with smiles until they saw Isaac, then frowned and turned to face the doors. “Lobby, please,” said the gentleman, and we continued downward.
The model grabbed my arm and bent down to speak directly into my ear. “Is it true about you and Kendra Whitney?” I groaned, and the middle-aged couple glanced over their shoulders with raised eyebrows.
“Well, you can’t believe everything you read, you know,” I said. “Where did you hear about this?”
She released me and straightened up. “They’re talking about it in The Partial Observer
forums. There’s already a few dozen strings posted.” I closed my eyes and sighed. I’m not one to bite the hand that feeds me, but I will have to contact my editor as soon as possible and get that crap removed. “And this must be the robot that tells all. What’s your name?”
“My name is Isaac, madam.”
“Isaac, is it true that Kendra Whitney slept with you master last night?”
“I regret that I’m no longer permitted to discuss this matter, madam.”
“That will do, Isaac.” I looked down and shook my head. I didn’t like his response, but again, my instructions were not clear enough.
The old man chuckled and turned to me. “He regrets? Do robots have feelings now?”
“Of course not,” I said, a little too defensively. “It’s a matter of politeness. Isaac addresses humans with the utmost class and consideration for our emotions. Just now, he was denying this woman’s rude request in a very gentle way so as not to hurt her feelings whereas I would have told her to go to blazes.”
The elevator slowed to a stop and said, “Mezzanine Level. Restaurants, Ballroom, Gift Shop, and Cyberlounge.” The doors opened, and the young woman made her way out. She turned and smiled. “I’m in room 3815 if you’d like to stop by later.” She kissed the air in my direction and winked as the doors closed.
It is often said that a robot is a reflection of its owner. In other words, a robot behaves largely in response to its owner’s instructions and preferences and therefore comes to develop a sort of artificial personality. Call it a “robotality,” if you like. For instance, if a robot is instructed never to talk to strangers or even if he’s told not to use words such as “please” and “thank you,” he comes off as rude, as does the owner. And so it is my desire to instill Isaac with a good set of values that will imply that I’m a better man than I really am. I would love to hear people say that Isaac has a great robotality. You couldn't pay me a higher compliment.
Despite my good intentions, once we were out on the street, I said to him, “Isaac, if anyone else questions you about Miss Whitney, I want you to deny everything. Deny that you ever spoke to anyone about it, and deny that she and I were together in my room last night. Do you understand?”
“I regret that I am not able to lie, sir. Might I suggest that I remain silent regarding this issue.”
“Yes, that’s fine.” I was well aware that robots can’t lie, but I made the suggestion out of frustration with the situation at hand. This seems to have caused more of a stir than I had imagined, and a successful evening with Miss Martinez was now in serious jeopardy. I would have even considered erasing this episode from his memory banks if it were possible and if such erasures weren’t against the law, but I would ultimately decide against it on principle. Robots are invaluable witnesses with infallible memories, and the crime rate is way down as a direct result of what they see and hear. Once we allow erasures, all of that progress goes out the window. Since robots can be ordered to testify in a court of law, the only way to “erase” that memory is to destroy the robot, and as I found out with the Quantum class, there are viruses out there that will do this for you, whether you want it destroyed or not.
As we made our way down Sixth Avenue, we drew many stares. Most were aimed at Isaac out of curiosity or suspicion, but some were definitely pointed at me with that idiotic is-that-who-I-think-it-is expression. Surely pictures have now been posted of Kendra and me at Pandora’s. Oh, Good Lord, were we drunk! It was time for some damage control. I can’t control what goes out on the tabloids, but The Partial Observer
was another thing.
“Isaac, contact Mr. Johnson at the P.O. and ask him to remove all references to me and Miss Whitney and to prevent any further such postings. Got it?”
“Yes, sir. Contacting…”
We stood waiting for the walk signal when some college kid looked at us and said, “Nice slave you got there, pal.”
“Oh, thanks,” I said sardonically.
“No, I was talking to your robot,” he said, laughing.
“Yes, very droll.” I swear, kids these days are the dumbest since the Stone Age. They just do not get anything
“Sir, I have reached Mr. Johnson’s robossistant and your message has been conveyed. However, Mr. Johnson states that as this is a censorship matter, he cannot grant your request. He says he’s not going to cover for you anymore and wants to know what you were thinking. ‘Your character,’ he says, ‘is a reflection on the publication.’”
“A censorship matter?! He censors the content all the time!”
“Furthermore, he would like to know why you’re spending so much on food. You’re spending over twice as much than the allotted per diem, and --.”
Some people are so judgmental. Another reason to appreciate robots –- they never, ever judge you. They might point out the illegality of this or that, and they certainly won’t help you do anything illegal, but they won’t think less of you for any lack of "proper ethics."
We continued walking in silence. Isaac walks with impeccable grace, and I can’t express what a joy that is for me. That idiot Lucas had trouble keeping half my pace around the house. There has been some concern voiced by the anti-robot crowd about inevitable overcrowding of public places as more and more people have their robots at hand at all times. They may have a point, but things won’t get critical for a couple years yet, and by then we’ll have a system worked out. For now, there are maybe twenty Nouveaus on the streets of Manhattan, so who really cares? I’ll tell you what bothers me though: paying full price for an extra plane seat for Isaac only to be told that he has to be shut down for the entire flight when there is absolutely no evidence that robots can interfere with flight communications. This kind of ignorance sickens me. But then again, the P.O. is footing the bill, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.
“Sir, Hunter Stroud’s robossistant has connected with me and Mr. Stroud would like you to know that he intends to have me destroyed.”
“Oh, please! You can tell Mr. Stroud that I know all about his little rendezvous with a certain married television star, and if he wants to play hardball I’ll be happy to share that one with the tabloids directly.”
“Message sent, sir. The connection has been terminated by the receiving party.”
“Was my message received in full?”
“Good.” I smirked briefly, and then frowned. My message had been conveyed unusually fast. “What kind of robot does Stroud have?”
“A RoboSpec 5200, sir.”
“A Nouveau? But Kendra told me you were the first she’d seen. How long has it been in service?”
Isaac paused as he accessed the Central Database. “Records indicate seventy-two days, sir.”
Confound it! Is there nothing I can get before
this guy? First, he beats me to the Pulitzer, then Kendra, and now a Nouveau. If he’s had Princesa, I’ll spill the beans to the tabloids anyway. Screw his threats!
“Isaac, hail a cab. I’m tired of walking.”
As he obeyed, I leaned against a lamppost and admired his confidence. He’d never done this before, but he knew exactly what to do. How bravely he ignored the taunts, honks, and profanity of angry robophobic motorists! I spotted another Nouveau across the street sporting a snappy leather jacket and made a mental note to get one of those for Isaac.
Just imagine a day when all cars are driven by robots. No more accidents! And Isaac could hail a cab just by a connecting to the nearest available one. Instead of human drivers who don’t speak English and take roundabout ways to your destination, robot drivers would be in constant communication with each other and the traffic light system. Say goodbye to gridlock! But that won’t happen until people stop demanding laws that restrict robots and realize how beneficial our metal friends can be.
Our smelly cab was moving at a snails pace when Isaac said, “Sir, I am receiving an urgent message from Miss Whitney’s robossistant. She wants to know why your head phone is not connected.”
I had my head phone removed months ago. It was nothing but trouble. “Tell her that anything she needs to say to me can be said through you.” Isaac was also a fully functioning phone, but I preferred to have him act as an intermediary.
“Miss Whitney is attempting to send a voice message, but her robossistant is a Macintosh model and I am having difficulty translating.”
Honestly. When will people get a clue? Sure, they’re cute, and they’re almost always given a female identity, which I’ll admit is something of a turn-on, but they live in their own little world.
“Sir, the Macintosh has resent the message through the AOL system, which will convert the message to Standard for twenty-five dollars. Do you wish to receive it?”
I could scream. Why AOL feels it needs its own robot network is beyond me! It’s counterproductive toward a global paradigm. “Oh, very well.”
Isaac’s wonderful baritone turned into a shrill woman’s voice. “This message is brought to you by Diet Digital Pepsi. Download a free sample today at your nearest AOL Cyberlounge. Be sure to ask your robot for the nearest AOL Cyberlounge at the conclusion of your message… Message received today at 7:15 PM from Ms. Kendra Whitney:”
Next came Kendra’s voice. “You idiot! What is wrong
with you? The Post
is reporting that I
cheated on Hunter
! That’s just great! You and your metallic hunk of junk make quite a pair! Do you know how hard it is to set the record straight after a thing like this? I ought to have you and your—“
“Stop playback, delete, and disconnect,” I said.
The AOL voice returned. “Are you sure you want to delete this message?”
“Message deleted. Are you sure you want to disconnect?”
“Good-bye,” she said.
“Good-bye and good-riddance,” I muttered, staring out the window. Kendra is over-reacting. This whole thing will blow over in two days, tops. She ought to be more concerned about her upper vocal range. “Isaac, at our present rate of progress, what time will we reach the restaurant?”
“7:40 PM, sir.”
Ten minutes after our reservation. Not good. “Would it be faster to walk?”
“From our present location, it would not, sir.”
“Had we kept walking instead of taking a cab, would we have reached the restaurant by 7:30?”
I had to ask. What a day!
“I’m sorry, sir, your friend will have to wait outside.”
“What is this -- the cantina from Star Wars
? What’s the problem?”
“It’s restaurant policy, sir. No robots in the dining area. We only serve humans. No exceptions.”
“Why not? He meets the dress code. And if you only serve humans, then what is Michael Jackson doing here?” The maitre d’ stared at me blankly. He wasn’t budging. “Look, perhaps you don’t know who I am.”
“Oh, I assure you I do, Mr. ‘Menneth,’ and we are always delighted to have such a fine, upstanding citizen at our establishment, but we always adhere to our policies regardless of how impressive and newsworthy our guests may be.” Was he being sarcastic? I couldn’t tell.
I took a step closer and lowered my voice. “My good man, I understand the position you’re in, so I only feel it fair to divulge the nature of my visit. The Partial Observer
has asked me to expand my critical expertise to the culinary world, and my first published restaurant review will be for Prestini’s. My assistant’s presence is required at the table so that I don’t have to rely on my memory, and we wouldn’t want my memory to get fuzzy, would we?”
Suddenly he was all charm. “Follow me, please, gentlemen.”
There was the usual head-turning. Fine. Let them see how civilized the Nouveau is. Get used to it, people. It wasn’t until I overheard Kendra’s name that I realized that the whispers were about me. We were seated at a semi-private u-shaped booth where my beautiful date greeted me with an icy stare. I slid in first, then Isaac.
“Princesa, my dear. How good to see you again! I’m so sorry we’re late. The traffic is outrageous!”
“I see you brought your gossip machine.”
Here we go. I smiled and said, “You know, you really can’t believe what you read in the tabloids. They couldn’t stay in business if they merely stuck to the truth! You look lovely, by the way.”
“Don’t insult my intelligence. The pictures are all over the place. You two had quite the time at Pandora’s after I left and then took the party up to your hotel room.”
I’ll admit she had me squirming on the inside, but I know how to keep my cool. “If you’re so sure that that’s what happened, then why did you show up here tonight?”
“Because I want you to look me in the eye and tell me you didn’t sleep with Kendra last night. I want to see just how big of a scoundrel you really are.”
“Princesa,” I said in my most earnest voice, “I swear
to you, I did not sleep with Kendra last night.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Well, at least we have someone here who knows the truth and can’t
lie. Isaac, did Kenneth have sex with Kendra Whitney last night?”
Isaac remained silent. I took the opportunity to ask a passing waiter for a pitcher of water.
“So you’ve instructed him to keep quiet now, is that it? A little late, don’t you think?”
“I merely told him he couldn’t speak in the restaurant. He’s not even supposed to be in here, for crying out loud, and I do not
want him thrown out.”
The waiter returned with the water, and Princesa didn’t skip a beat. “Excuse me, would it be alright for this Nouveau to converse with us quietly?”
“Of course, madam,” he said, leaving us to carry out our discussion.
“Very well, Isaac,” she said. “You may answer the question now.”
I immediately protested. “It’s considered very poor etiquette to give orders to someone else’s robot. I’m surprised you don’t know that.”
“Isaac, did your master order you not to speak about this matter?”
I sighed loudly. Isaac just sat there trapped, the poor guy.
Princesa continued her attack. “Isaac, if Kenneth has told you to keep quiet about his relationship with Kendra, remain silent.”
“What?!” I cried. “You can’t trick him like that!”
“Well, if you’re innocent of the charges, then tell him to tell me exactly what happened last night.”
“I will not be subjected to this kind of inquisition!”
“Fine!” she huffed, grabbing her purse. “Enjoy your meal.” She walked out of the dining room and, probably, out of my life.
When the waiter returned, I ordered the most expensive steak on the menu. Then, as we waited for my dinner, I had Isaac regale me with the day’s convention events from the news wires. Yet I was genuinely saddened at this latest twist of fate. I think I’m in love with Princesa. She’s got a lot of spunk to go along with her beauty and incredible wealth.
I had to snap out of it. “Isaac,” I said. “What room was the young lady from the elevator staying in?”
“Leave a message for her. Tell her that I’ll stop by around eleven, and that I’m looking forward to her company.”
“Message sent, sir.”
“And you, my friend, will be shutting down early tonight.”
I smiled, marveling at my prized possession. Good old Isaac. Loyal to the end! The Nouveau was everything I’d hoped for!