Early in the evening, I depart from my cramped apartment and step unto the zipline, briefcase in hand. I flash my pass to the driver and settle down. The briefcase rattles faintly as the zipcar zooms forward, I reach into my suit pocket and feel my business card; the heavy stock feels nice and I run my fingers across the raised and embossed letters. The lines clutter the carbon sky and course through each borough. One hundred miles in ten minutes! Naturally, this is the only way I travel. The line stops at many neighborhoods where I peddle cheap ballistic circuit computers.
The commission on each one is decent, but not great--it ain't rocket science (I hear that's where the real dollars are). Ever since the fall of the German Reich, the United States has been prospering indefinitely and technology blossomed at an unprecedented rate. England and France are still rebuilding their streets and roads; I don't think Japan, Germany, or the Reds will ever recover. Now, they are American-occupied zones, where apples and shoes cost more than a car. These places are sites for resources that the United States simply takes, and companies like Beltech produce cheap and efficient commodities. In conjunction with military mandates and the influx of the brightest brains from the world, Americans enjoy nuclear fusion, high speed automated public transport, and recently: robots, although a slew of citizens are still unfamiliar and uncomfortable to the technology. It was only a few years ago that we got the telescreen, but now, computer units have television built right into them! Can you believe that?
The zipline hisses to a halt and I clutch my briefcase to my chest and my hat to my head, and step out.
Door-to-door selling. I have my routine. I knock and rap on the old wooden doors. Usually housewives or occasionally, young ankle-biters answer; although, that has changed a bit.
"Hello, Miss. Fine day ain't it? I'll only need a second of your time. I hope I can interest you in a higher standard of living, at an incredible economic price." I nimbly pull out one my cards, flip it through my fingers, and pass it forward, trying my damnedest to smile pleasantly. "These computing units are perfect for the family. May I speak to the man of the house?"
After about sixty or seventy houses, I manage to sell two computers. One more, and I am done for the day.
I approach the next house and ring the doorbell. A heavy treading resounds and I quickly place my briefcase by the stairs, and take off my hat. A whirring later and the door opens; a robot greets me.
"Hello, I am RHU-3--" (that's Robotic House Unit, in a mechanical male voice) "--Property of: Ms. Shelly. How may I assist you?"
"Hiya, RHU. I have a meeting with Ms. Shelly. Could you let me in?"
The metal son-of-a-bitch doesn't move. A low hum comes from his chassis. He is clearly humanoid, but rough and edgy. I am familiar with the RHU models. The RHU-3s are last year's model. The eyes are blank and lifeless, yet incredibly human. The engineers almost perfectly replicated the human eyes into these pieces of junk.
"If you don't mind...." I step inside the door and try to make my way around RHU. His arm snaps forward and prevents me from passing. "Please wait here, sir," he answers. He retreats into the house. I sneakily retrieve my briefcase from the stairs and place it quietly on the sofa,, next to my hat, and sit down. The treading returns, this time accompanied by light footsteps. Ms. Shelly is quite a doll.
"Hello, sir. Can I help you?" she inquires brightly.
"Well, I think that it is I who can help you, Ms. Shelly. I bet you are still using old integrated-circuit computers. To spare you the jargon, Miss, I'd like to interest you in a new computer, a good deal."
She sits on a sofa next to me. I lean forward and insert my hand into my breast pocket. RHU pulls up to me. "Sir, Ms. Shelly is not interested in your prospect. Please leave."
"No, I ... am interested in your wares, mister. Continue," she remarks.
"No doubt you are still using integrated-circuit computers, Ms. Shelly. They are tanks compared to these new, slimmer, quicker computing units. I bet RHU here uses a kind of early ballistic-circuit and super-processor, huh, guy?" I state as I gently jab RHU.
"I assure you that I have state-of-the-art technology, sir," RHU replies, almost smugly.
"Of course you do, buddy. Anyway, Ms. Shelly, I--"
"Please, mister, call me Karen. And, what do I call you?," she smiles.
I reach into my breast pocket again, and pull out a business card, deftly flip it through my fingers and outstretch my hand, resting it on her soft, open palm. RHU snatches my wrist, and I wince, dropping the card unto her lap.
"It is getting late, and I suggest you depart, Ms. Shelly is about to get ready for dinner," he commands. Karen slaps his metal arm and his grip slackens. "RHU please unhand Mr. ... Ray West!" She traces the letters on the card with her fingers, and RHU obeys.
"Thank you, Karen, but I am afraid ol' RHU here is right; it is rather late; and, maybe, I should be on my way. You have been very--well, lovely, Miss Karen, but I should be going home." I pick up my hat and briefcase and stand up.
Karen joins me. "Oh, please, Ray, won't you stay for dinner? I insist." She glows in the waning of evening.
"Ms. Shelly!" RHU interjects, "Dinner is to be prepared for one."
"Then cook double the food, RHU. That will make it for two!" She chuckles. I smile politely in her direction and snicker towards RHU.
"Excuse me, did he say 'for one'?" I ask, "Is your husband still working, Miss Karen?"
"My husband ... is not with us anymore; he died ... in the factory." She suddenly stands up and turns away. "I shall set a spot for you at the table, Mr. West, if you like."
"I'd like nothing more, and I'm really sorry, really."
Shelley, Shelley, Shelley. I wonder ...
She smiles weakly, and begins to retreat to the kitchen. I quickly grab her hand.
"The stars will awaken,
Though the moon sleeps a full hour later,
No leaf will be shaken,
Whilst the dews of your loveliness scatter
"That's for you, Karen."
"Oh, Ray!" she squeals giddily, and continues to the table, turning on the lights.
I watch her exquisite silhouette as RHU interrupts: "Very clever, Mr. West, but 'Shelly' only has one e. Furthermore, I insist you depart."
"Cool down, buddy, huh? She said I could stay--what's for dinner, anyway, guy? And wait a minute; you study Shelley?" I facetiously ask. I start for the kitchen, when RHU grabs my shoulder.
"Listen, Mr. West: Ms. Shelly--"
"You mean Karen? Boy, ain't she grand? She's so sweet, and gentle, and pretty ... Golly, you must be one lucky robot, huh, RHU?," I tease.
His voice rises, "Ms. Shelly is not interested in anything you have to offer, and I want you to leave, Mr. West!" The speakers in the RHU-3 models have had issues with volume; his voice sounds grainy anyway.
"What if she told you to let me stay? and like it, Mr. RHU?," I try to outfox him.
"That does not change the way I--" The robot stood there, motionless, vacant. "RHU! C'mon!" I swing my hat around and smack him with it. He finally whirred back to life. "Mr. West. Please understand that Ms. Shelly is a fragile and sensitive woman. I have vigilantly cared for her since Mr. Shelly terminated. She has been perpetually sad, quiet, and reserved since then. Recently however, we have enjoyed a brief halcyon respite the previous ... twelve days."
"Halcyon, noun. A period marked by tranquility, peace, and lack of disturbance. Really, Mr. West," he comments, arrogantly. We join Karen at the table.