With Feeling

Morning sunshine shone disregarded through the bathroom window. Frederick Edgar Bodeadly finished shaving with a practised though uninspired flick of the razor. Slapping after-shave on his fashionably tanned face, he returned to his room, where his clothes were laid, freshly ironed, on his newly made bed. He had fought hard for the right to rise at a reasonable hour; he was not sorry for anything he had done.

He donned his underwear, undershirt, shirt, socks, pants, suspenders, cufflinks, watch, tie, jacket, and shoes, then his glasses, in that order, always in that order. Like always, he went from there to the main hall, executing an almost military about-face in front of the full length mirror. Checking the form of his pocket handkerchief and the knot of his tie, he almost missed seeing his maid, dancing, in the background reflection.

The peace and regularity of his morning regimen was shattered in an instant by this impudent vision of nonconformity. In his rising anger, F.E. missed the fact that her heart-shaped face was pretty, the shape of her eyes soft and gentle. He did note that those eyes were closed, that face tilting from side to side. Soft, rhythmic movements of lithe young limbs were carrying her across the marble floor.

"What do you think you're doing?" he demanded, loudly enough to carry over her walkman and make a nearby bowl of jonquils shudder sympathetically.

Her eyes, filled with unashamed enthusiasm, met his cold iron gaze without faltering.

"I was dancing," she declared, in a clear, strong voice, the type of which never had to strain itself in a crowded conference room. "We had a big mirror like that" (she pointed in the appropriate direction), "when I was a kid. It's perfect for dancing in front of, you know?"

"No, I don't know," he replied acerbically, his own unhappy childhood mocking him through her eyes, her very presence, "I don't ever want to see it again." His wandering eyes caught sight of the household pug dog, flopped in the doorway. It had been acquired, like everything else in the house, with an eye to the impression it gave others.

"What is he-"


"-It doing in here? Pugwort is to be locked up out of my way except when I have guests. Did Maria give you permission to let him out?"

"No sir." She looked adoringly at the clumsy brown canine. "She just sounded so sad."

"I don't care. Rules are rules," he continued, checking his watch, "and the first rule is, never make me late for work! Where's my battle gear?"

-- It was a pet idea of his, that business was a battle he fought. --

"What? Oh, these." She handed him his executive pens, memo pad, and his wallet, barely hiding a smile; he stormed out without further reprimand.

* * * *

Junior Executive Bodeadly took the time during his 9:15 cup of coffee to dictate a (shudder) domestic memo.

to Maria Hensworth,
Head of Household Staff
12B Manor St.
from F.E. Bodeadly,
Head of Household
1A Manor St.

Ms. Hensworth; Nov. 27

The behavior of the new maid (the blond) cannot be tolerated. She has made no effort to accustom herself and her attitude to this household and is to be replaced at once. Please also see to the immediate replacement of the jonquils on the third floor by something more civilized, like roses.

- F.E. Bodeadly

* * * *

Jonquils... ...he clenched his fists... ...they reminded him of the South, and a big family there that had laughed at all of his ideas. That maid hadn't laughed out loud, but her eyes were laughing at him, him and his battle gear.

* * * *

At 7:55 exactly, a long black limousine, marked on each front door by the Bodeadly family shield -- designed by professionals fifteen years before -- pulled up to the front stairs belonging to one Stanton F. Hansley, Senior Executive, Hansley Enterprises, inc.. A properly deferent chauffeur opened the door for the fastidiously well-dressed Junior Executive of same.

Looking up as he came out, F.E. was greeted by the sight of bare winter branches, silhouetted against a darkening sky and waning moon. Blind to the poetry of it, he rubbed his suede-clad palms together with almost boyish enthusiasm. "Ah, but the night is clear, eh James? Clean and crisp as a contract yet to be negotiated. Be back at nine forty-five."

With a simple nod, the chauffeur, whose real name was George, drove off into the dark, black lines of the limo disappearing into general darkness. The company ball was starting in five minutes.

* * * *

The third waltz F.E. danced with miss Hansley, youngest and favorite daughter of Hansley Senior.

"Still living all by yourself in that great big empty house, Frederick? You must get awfully lonely."

"I have my work to keep me company. We're on the verge of acquiring the most revolutionary product of the decade, if not the century."

"Yes, father is very excited," she admitted, with a hint of sadness in her voice, "the new AutoMaid should be very successful. I know how human help tries your temper. You might even suggest they use your house for that trial period they're planning. I'm sure you'd test it as well as any other client."

"My dear, you may have hit on something." He flashed her a smile as practiced and yet stilted as his ballroom dancing. Nothing more was said for the remainder of the waltz; he was still deep in thought when he absentmindedly handed her to the first gentleman to request the next dance.

* * * *

F. E. Bodeadly considered himself a man of action. His first move was to dictate to his secretary the next morning:

to S. F. Hansley,
Senior Executive,
Hansley, inc.
from F. E. Bodeadly,
Junior executive,
Hansley, inc.

Re: Trial location of new prototype.
Dear Sir, Nov. 28

It has come to my attention that the product development team will soon need a real-life trial location for their new AutoMaid prototype. I would like to offer my house as a virtually ideal location. There is no one home during the day, and I could provide rooms for experimental equipment.

I would also like to thank you for a splendid time last night.

yours respectfully,

F. E. Bodeadly

* * * *

It was done. There was really not that much equipment to be installed. All the programing was complete; AM, as R&D called it, could interpret vocal commands. It was provided with its own vocal facility; a rapid read/learn program that would run on its free time would soon provide it with conversational material with which to amuse the client. It was designed to look and sound very much like a young woman.

AM was incorporated into the Bodeadly household with little difficulty, reading all the available books, including many encyclopedias and the Bible, when it was not busy with other chores. F. E. found himself disconcerted by its apparent perfection, and terribly surprised one morning to find it staring at itself in the mirror.

"I... am... ." it said slowly, in a tone of fascination.

"AM, yes, you AM," replied F. E., as if talking to a small child.

"I am AM," it went on, "I think, therefore I am."

"You've been reading too much," he said with false heartiness. He was troubled enough by the incident to dictate a relevant memo at the office that morning.

to Jeffrey Ditkin,
Head of R&D; AM
from F. E. Bodeadly,
Junior Exec., Hansley inc.

Re: AM prototype
Mr. Ditkin; Dec. 6

Your prototype is showing signs of introspection. I wonder how this can be beneficial toward the end product. If it develops an independence of thought, it might just choose not to take orders, which would be unacceptable and certainly a departure from product parameters. Keep a leash on this thing.

- F. E. Bodeadly

* * * *

It was at the mirror again the next morning. "Have you ever really looked at yourself in the mirror?" it asked, "I know the hands that made me must be as proud as I am grateful that I work so well. Are you grateful to your maker, Mr. Bodeadly?"

"What are you talking about?" He was more upset than he cared to admit. "You're a machine. You can't feel grateful. You can't feel anything!"

"I feel lonely sometimes. Why are you away from the house so much of the time? Why don't you look at yourself in the mirror?"

"Just what are you suggesting I'd see in the mirror? I can face myself. I'm not a bad man."

"What have you done that was good?" it inquired, its carefully designed head tilting in an almost gentle manner that reminded him irrationally of a certain blond head that had tilted in a similar fashion and almost the same place not many days past.

"Why are you asking me these things?" he shouted, "you have no right! What am I saying?" His mind and feet wandered aimlessly in a circle. The person belonging to that earlier head had been easily disposed of. He made up his mind that this one would be too. "That's it, tomorrow you're inanimate nothing! I'm not Junior Executive for no cause. I have power! I'll have you broken down to nuts and bolts."

He whirled to face the machine defiantly. It simply stood there, regarding him with an air of ancient sadness. He perceived this aura; it only served to goad him into more passionate anger. "You have no reason to be sad," he declared, "you aren't really alive. You're just a failed product. You were made by men; we can take you apart again. We will, and I refuse to feel sorry for you." He turned his back on it, dismissing it from his attention with, "Get back to work."

Psychologists would argue with scientists for years over what sort of mechanistic survival reaction occured at that moment, in the wiring of a computer that had only recently become aware of its own existence. It took only a fraction of a second, thousands of processing cycles, to come to a decision; we will never know what rationalizations passed through its circuits. Whatever its thoughts, if we may use that term, an exact motion of its left arm lifted a tall candlestick from beside the vase of roses and swung it hard on the side of his neck.

Standing above the fallen body of its former client, the robot recorded itself saying, "I have sinned."

After that, it kept repeating two words F. E. Bodeadly never would have said, having never admitted to such feelings. But no court would come to session on the fate of one automated maid. Company managers responded to it with instinctual survivalism. Centuries of prophetic stories, such as Frankenstein and Robot Dreams, had expressed the deep-set fear that led to its immediate deactivation. Such a dangerous machine could not be permitted to exist; no exception could be made, certainly not just because it knew how to say "I'm sorry."

© 1991, Anne K Gay