Tag: "robot"

EP582: Unit Two Does Her Makeup

AUTHOR: Laura Duerr

NARRATOR: Andrea Phillips

HOST: Tina Connolly

about the author…

Laura Duerr is a writer and social media coordinator from Vancouver, Washington, where she lives with her husband, their rescue dog, and too many cats. She is a lifelong Pacific Northwest resident and has a BA in Creative Writing from Linfield College. Her other stories have appeared in Shoreline of Infinity, Mad Scientist Journal, and the anthologies “Candlesticks & Daggers: An Anthology of Mixed-Genre Mysteries” and “Fitting In: Historical Accounts of Paranormal Subcultures.”

 

 

about the narrator…Displaying IMG_3290.jpg

Andrea Phillips is a game designer and author. Currently she co-writes the serials Bookburners and ReMade. On her own she’s written the novel Revision, pirate serial The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart, and the novelette The Revolution, Brought to You By Nike.

You can find Andrea on Twitter at @andrhia. I mean, if you like that sort of thing.


Unit Two Does Her Makeup

By Laura Duerr

Doctor Spencer has brought me an artist. My eyes on the outside of the building register the identity of everyone who enters, including her: Suzanne Chantal Salinas, age 26, licensed esthetician and makeup artist, amateur painter. I cut the feed after .3 seconds. The security feed could tell me more, but I have learned that it is impolite to collect extraneous details about a person unless they prove to be a security risk. Given that both Suzanne Chantal Salinas and Doctor Spencer are smiling, and appear to be in companionable conversation, the artist is not a risk.
I observe them enter the building accompanied by a brief burst of cold — it is 37.1 degrees outside. When I view them through infrared, they are glowing red faces encompassed in green and blue jackets. I have been monitoring the interior temperatures; Unit One has made appropriate adjustments to climate control. We are keeping the building comfortable.
The visitor stamps her feet, brushes sleet from her black curls. They shed their jackets, blooming gold and scarlet on infrared. Unit Three has mobile security platforms posted by the front door and the elevators. They do not react: they are faceless, they don’t feel cold, the visitor has clearance.
The artist’s heart rate is elevated. Her cheeks are flushed, and not just from cold: she’s nervous about meeting me. She keeps looking at the security platforms. Perhaps she fears my platform will look like them, featureless and alien.
I chose my face. Unit Three chose hers, too, in a way. Our platforms serve different purposes, and the faces we built reflect that.

EP571: Beetle-Cleaned Skulls

AUTHOR: J. E.Bates

NARRATOR: Trendane Sparks

HOST: Alasdair Stuart

about the author…

J.E. Bates is a lifelong communicant of science fiction, fantasy, horror and other mind sugar and screen candy. He’s lived in California, Finland and many worlds in between.

 

about the narrator…

narrator Trendane Sparks

Originally born in Texas, Tren eventually escaped and wound his way through a mystical series of

jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area where he has worked as a software QA Tester for both graphics drivers and video games, a freelance mascot performer, and several jobs on a PBS kids’ show. For most of his life, people have told him that his voice is a pleasure to listen to. But since being a werewolf phone sex operator can get boring, he decided to use his powers to entertain a broader audience.

Beetle-Cleaned Skulls

By J. E. Bates

Fine amber dust infiltrated everything in the Preserve. Each morning, I vacuumed it away with my ventral hose prior to opening my kiosk. I paid particular care to my curios: the fossils, the bismuth crystals, and the beetle-cleaned skulls. Forebears, especially the children, delighted in receiving my curios as gifts. Each successful transaction gave me a burst of surplus energy, expressed as pride.

The mineral specimens I gathered from the talus behind the kiosk. I polished them right in the kiosk according to aesthetic principles. But I prepared the skulls in the subterranean machine rooms. They were created from deceased rhuka, a species of domesticated bovine. No other kiosk attendant created such skulls, and Forebears traveled great distances to receive one. They used them to decorate their caves.

EP563: Two Steps Forward

AUTHOR: Holly Schofield

NARRATOR: Adam Pracht

HOST: Norm Sherman

about the author…

Holly Schofield travels through time at the rate of one second per second, oscillating between the alternate realities of city and country life. Her fiction has appeared in Lightspeed’s “Women Destroy Science Fiction”, AE, Unlikely Story, Tesseracts, and many other publications throughout the world. For more of her work, see hollyschofield.wordpress.com.

 

about the narrator…

Adam Pracht lives in Kansas, but asks that you not hold that against him. He works full-time as the public relations coordinator at McPherson College, where he also received his master’s in higher education administration in spring 2016. He’s excited to get his life back. He was the 2002 college recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy award for writing about the disadvantaged and has published a disappointingly slim volume of short stories called Frame Story: Seven Stories of Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Horror & Humor which is available from Amazon as an e-Book or in paperback. He’s been working on his second volume – Schrödinger’s Zombie: Seven Weird and Wonderful Tales of the Undead – since 2012 and successfully finished the first story. He hopes to complete it before he’s cremated and takes up permanent residence in an urn.
Two Steps Forward

By Holly Schofield

I eased myself down off the running board of the ’28 Hudson sedan then laid a hand on the hood in mute sympathy for its overheated pistons. A quick buttoning-up of my topcoat and a tug on my fedora and I felt ready to approach the farmhouse.

The old woman on the veranda watched me as I drew close. Fly-away gray hair surrounded a narrow, clever face, faded housedress atop rubber boots, she was as much of a hodgepodge as I used to be. The late model Stewart Warner radio perched on the windowsill shimmied with “The Spell of the Blues”. I hummed along as the saxophones swooped and soared.

The old woman fingered the jumble of items on her lap as if looking for a weapon and I stopped a few feet from the bottom step of the porch.

“Afternoon, ma’am.” I tipped my hat, not too far, and put my hands in my pockets. “I won’t take up much of your time. Your husband built that famous automated scarecrow, am I right?” At her tightening mouth, I quickly added, “I’m not a reporter, just an admirer. I saw that scarecrow ace the dance marathon at the Playland  Pavilion in Montreal last winter. Truly hep to the jive.”  The ballroom’s mirrored walls reflecting the graceful moves of the dark-suited figure, hands as clever as Frisco twirling a chiffon-clad partner–a sight worth seeing, all right. The old woman grunted and picked up a dirty rag. She poured something golden and syrupy over it from a pickle jar, and began rubbing a coaster-sized metal disc—a flywheel? a gear?—with more vigor than necessary.

EP561: The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie

AUTHOR: A. Merc Rustad

NARRATOR: Setsu Uzume

HOST: Adam Pracht

about the author…

about the narrator… 

Setsu Uzume is the assistant edtior at Podcastle, and spent her formative years in and out of dojos. She also trained in a monastery in rural China, studying Daoism and swordplay. While she has dabbled in many arts, only writing and martial arts seem to have stuck. Find her on Twitter @KatanaPen
The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie

By A. Merc Rustad

 

The world explodes.

 

#

 

Unit EX-702 comes back online when UV wavelengths activate its solar plating. Its optics are crusted with red dust; a low-powered system scan concludes that though its left arm is missing and there is excessive oxidation damage along its chassis and helmet, as well as a web spun from several arachnids (Nephila clavipes) now embedded in its servo stump, EX-702 is functional. Its operational protocols are intact.

This unit is programmed for the support of life and sapience.

Its databanks are semi-corrupted beyond basic functions and archived footage and base knowledge dumps. Attempts to access the ‘Net and reboot from a mobile hub fail with a repeated NO CONNECTION AVAILABLE alert. EX-702 lifts its remaining arm and scrapes dust away from its optics.

Operational Function 413: this unit will maintain self-preservation operations, including but not limited to the access of immediately available data to determine procedure, when it does not conflict with the preservation of homo sapiens’ survival.

EX-702 sits in the crater of what had been Newtonian Genetech Incorporated laboratories and HQ facility. Debris from the lab cakes the thick concrete and rusted iron walls. Its scanner matrix glitches with static-filled readouts and partially deteriorated unprocessed updates from microseconds before it was shut down.

Scientist voices agitated and unmodulated without appropriate safety masks. [STATIC] “—find survivors! Protect yourself!” [SHUT DOWN]

Something crackles against EX-702’s knee joints. Fibers, synthetic and organic—old HAZMAT suits shredded and woven around broken plywood and stripped copper wiring—shaped in a non-geometric design. Inside the structure sit three maroon and heather-brown eggs thirteen centimeters in length and six in diameter.

Processing…

EP550: When They Come Back

AUTHOR: Natalie Theodoridou
NARRATOR: Ibba Armancas
HOST: Tina Connolly

about the author…
View image on Twitter

Natalia Theodoridou is a media & cultural studies scholar currently based in Exeter, UK. She is also the dramaturge of Adrift Performance Makers
(@AdriftPM). Her fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Nature, Daily Science Fiction, and elsewhere. Find out more at her website or follow @natalia_theodor on Twitter.

 

 

about the narrator…narrator Ibba Armancas

 

Raised by swordfighters and eastern European freedom fighters, Ibba Armancas is a writer-director currently based in Los Angeles. Her darkly comedic genre sensibilities are showcased in two webseries and a feature film forthcoming later this year. One day she will find time to make a website, but in the mean time you can follow her projects and adventures on Twitter or Instagram.

 

When They Come Back

By Natalia Theodoridou

 

They were called Maria, and Michael, and Siobhan, George, Elise, and Sarah, and Violet, Daisy, Jasmine, Rose–

no, perhaps these were not people names, these were flower names, weren’t they?–

and Gabriel, Raphael, Bacchus, Athena, Io, Muhammad,

but these were mythical names, and god names, and prophet names, so hard to tell them apart all these years after the–

all these years after they–

and Natalie, Vasilis, Dmitri, Ousmane…

#

The angel is rotting. He’s leaning against the trunk of an olive tree. I examine his body but avoid his eyes, as always, just in case. I would like to have been a man, he’d said once, so I always think of him as one, no matter what his body looks like. Today he has a mane of dark curls that reach all the way down to the roots of his wings. No beard. No breasts. No hair on his body except a little around his crotch.

His skin has turned the colour of a fresh bruise. It won’t be long.

EP548: A Prayer at Noon

AUTHOR: John Shade
NARRATOR: Amber Pracht
HOST: Norm Sherman

about the author…john1

John Shade was born in Central America and grew up all across the U.S. as a Navy brat. He received a B.A. in creative writing from the University of Houston, and an MFA from the University of Southern Maine. He is also a graduate of the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop on Martha’s Vineyard.

His work has appeared in Gold Dust Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and Giganotosaurus, among others. He writes short stories, novels, and comics, and now lives in Houston, Texas, with his wife, daughter, a cat, and a dog. He tries to stay out of the sun’s way when summer comes around.

about the narrator…

Amber Pracht has bachelor’s degrees in American history and print journalism. She enjoyed a brief career as a copy editor, and she is currently keeping busy taking care of her three young children and their many activities while volunteering in her community. She lives with her husband, Adam, and their children and many pets in Lindsborg, Kansas.

A Prayer at Noon
by John Shade

It was a day into the third sun when the patchwork man rode into town.

I remember the dust scrabbling at my eyes, and the folk that had gathered on the sidewalks to watch him plod past on a chugging, nearly-spent machine horse. As he came to me, the stitched segments of his face shifted into a new configuration, a hinted smile or frown, and his torso swung around, my breath seized. I’d been around men before, but he was something different. Something more. He was ugly, though, with a wiry frame and a large head set on top, wads of crusted hair sprouting between the seams across his skin. He rode toward us, confident as anything. I braced as he reached down, but he plucked my little sister, Ester, from the crowd instead. The town went silent but for the constant shuffle of wind-blown sand.

With his god-strength, the patchwork man tossed Ester into the air like an aerialist, and set her down to swelling applause. The dread was broken. Our prayers had been answered at last.

EP506: Harvester Dreams

by Michael J. DeLuca
read by Paul Cram

author Michael J. DeLuca

author Michael J. DeLuca

about the author…

from the author’s website:

That would be me. Michael J. DeLuca. Writer, reader, dreamer, designer, brewer, baker, photographer, philosopher. Would-be ecoterrorist. False prophet. Liberal.

I’m a freelance web designer/developer as well. I have an undergraduate CS degree nobody knows about from a middlingly prestigious east coast university. I’ve been doing this for awhile (10+ years now), I’m not bad at it, and I usually can use more of it to do. Without it, I wouldn’t have enough money to keep myself alive, let alone keep writing (which not unlike crime, doesn’t really pay (me) (see that? nested parenthesis, that’s how you know I’m really a programmer)).

narrator Paul Cram

narrator Paul Cram

about the narrator…

Paul Cram grew up performing on stage and in more recent years traveling the United States working on independent films.

Paul’s voice is newer to the world of audio than it is to other acting forms. Fans of his voice will hopefully be excited to hear that he has two full-length audio books that came out this year: Zombie apocalypse novel FLIRTING WITH DEATH, and Sci-fi thriller THE FACE STEALER (think X Files or BBC’s Torchwood & Dr. Who.)Cram was most recently seen on set for the feature film WILSON opposite Woody Harrelson, and ANNIVERSARY shot in Maine, USA by movie director Jim Cole.

When not on a movie set or in a recording booth, Paul can be found deep-frying chicken wings with his sister in her kitchen, or quarreling about pop-culture with his little brother around one the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota.

You can find his website Paul Cram Actor or IMDB.

Harvester Dreams
by Michael J. DeLuca

Morning flooded the transparent womb of the ob room. Knuckling his aching skull, Hector twitched the opacity up to a tolerable level and set down his tea, then took the pod out over the ag. The fight with Mela the night before had not been pleasant, but work, he was perpetually astonished to discover, never failed to cheer him.
The conduit was a brilliant white spear overhead, broken by ribs of fair-weather cloud. The ag spread into haze in every direction, curving gently upward with the concavity of the Hypatia’s hull: chessboard squares of rippling corn, glittering rice paddies, apple plots flowering white. Here and there, a skeletal hulk loomed indistinct–some remnant structure of the ship’s propulsion systems, long-dismantled; shade crops grew among latticed shadows.
The crowd of Workers waited below, lens-tipped appendages craned upward. He smiled, in spite of the headache and the persistent awareness that no matter how he chose to rationalize it, everything Mela had said was true. He called up the log feeds. Foreman, they were saying. Foreman, we need your understanding.
He brought the ob room down among them. A grand menagerie they made, his subjects, each finely adapted to its task: delicate pollinators, long-limbed harvesters, knob-treaded aerators, juggernaut ploughs. “You don’t need me,” he said. “Your designers gave you all the understanding you need. But I’m here, ready to listen. I’ll help if I can.”
The oldest of the ploughs rolled forward. Your understanding grants us insight into the will of our designers.
The Workers appreciated repetition. They were simple beings, the product of their design. They believed in an infallible, benevolent humanity the way humanity once believed in angels, the way so many Relics now believed in their inscrutable alien creator, the Ix. And Hector was their ambassador, though he’d only held this job a month and the designers were fifty generations dead.
H1703 has had a dream, said the plough.
The Workers’ reactions flooded the feeds with the euphemistic, agricultural info-speak they used among themselves, too much to decipher. Excitement, urgency. They didn’t know what to think.

EP501: Imma Gonna Finish You Off

by Marina J. Lostetter
read by Alasdair Stuart

author Marina J. Lostetter

author Marina J. Lostetter

about the author…

Marina is the author of award-winning original stories such as Master Belladino’s Mask, Sojourn for Ephah, and Balance.  She has written tie-in work for the Star Citizen and Sargasso Legacy universes. When not writing, Marina can be found reading speculative fiction (of all types for all ages), drawing, exploring the outdoors, or gaming it up.  She loves exploring new cultures and travels as often as she can.

about the narrator…

I’m a writer. I’m a podcaster. I’m a not-quite-trainee anymore martial artist. I’m a nurse’s kid and a teacher’s kid. I’m a former bouncer. I’m a huge movie nerd. I’m sort of what Abed and Jeff from Community’s kid would be like if he was spliced with the DNA of Helo from Battlestar Galactica. I’m learning.

Alasdair Stuart

narrator Alasdair Stuart

Imma Gonna Finish You Off
By Marina J. Lostetter

On the examining table lounged a body.  It was an unremarkable body–rather wrinkly, with an inordinate amount of hair in all the wrong places and too few clothes for most people’s liking, but otherwise nothing to write your congressman about.  The only thing special about the body was that it was dead–a problem that Detective Harry Sordido hoped would resolve itself quite soon.

“Will he just get on with the coming back to life already?” Harry huffed, checking the glowing numbers embedded in his left wrist.  With his right hand, he patted his ample, middle-aged girth.  “He’s not the only victim I’ve got to question today.”

“I’m not sure what’s the matter with him,” said the medical examiner, lifting the dead man’s wrist between two thin fingers.  “He should have let out a nice scream-of-life by now.”  He let the limb flop back to the sanitary paper.

“What do you think it was?” asked the detective, “Accidental? Experimental? Purposeful?  What do you think he died of?”

“You’ll have to ask him to be sure.  He was found out on the sidewalk.  No indications of violence or a struggle, but he does look a tad flaccid.”

“Ah, disgruntled lover, then.”

“No, I mean on the whole.  Like he’s been wrung out.”

They both stared at the body for a long while.

“You don’t think he’s really–?” began Detective Sordido.

“It is starting to seem a bit permanent.”

“That’s impossible! No one’s really died for damned near a millennium.”

The examiner shrugged.  “There’s a first time for every eventuality.”

“What was his name again?”

“Mr. X is what it says on his bio-tat.  Here, I’ll show you.”  The two men moved to the once-ambulatory end of the body, and the examiner held a black light over the pad of X’s right foot.

EP498: Everyone Will Want One

by Kelly Sandoval
read by Erin Bardua

author Kelly Sandoval

author Kelly Sandoval

about the author…

I live, work, and write in Seattle, Washington. Gray sky days, abundant restaurant choices, and distant mountains are my idea of paradise.

In 2013 I abandoned my cat, tortoise, and boyfriend to spend six weeks studying writing at Clarion West. The experience taught me to commit myself and do the work, which is a lot less fun than just thinking about writing. It also introduced me to some of the best friends I’ve ever had. If you’re a writer considering whether you should apply, I’m happy to share my take on things. It’s not for everyone. But if it’s right for you, it’s worth it.

My tastes run to modern fantasy with a lyrical edge, though I’ve been writing science fiction, lately. If you’re looking for funny stories with happy endings, I fear you’ve come to the wrong place. I can’t seem to write anything without a dash of heartbreak.

narrator Erin Bardua

narrator Erin Bardua

about the narrator…

Erin Bardua is a Canadian singer and performer. She lives in near-rural Canada, where she assembles a living from singing and teaching others to sing. She always has about a dozen projects on the go; some of the more interesting ones have included acting and singing in a serialized film-noir murder mystery, and a collaborative clown opera. Erin is the artistic director of Essential Opera (www.essentialopera.com) which operates in Atlantic Canada and Ontario (so far), and recently rediscovered her writing habit, which she indulges in whenever the house is quiet enough.

 

Everyone Will Want One
by Kelly Sandoval

On Nancy’s thirteenth birthday, her father takes her to the restaurant he likes, the one with the wood paneling, the oversized chandeliers, and the menus in French. Around them, people talk in low voices but Nancy and her father eat their soup in silence. After the waiter takes the bowls away, her father sets a wrapped box the size of a toaster on the table.

She doesn’t open it, just smoothes down the ribbon and rearranges her silverware. The unsmiling waiter is watching her; she can feel it. She can feel that he doesn’t want her in his restaurant, opening her birthday present. It isn’t a birthday present sort of place, isn’t even a thirteen-year-old in her best dress kind of place. She tries to be very small in her chair.

“Go ahead,” demands her father. “Open it.”

He’s frowning and his frown is much closer than the waiter’s. Nancy picks at the bow, undoing the knot as best she can with her fresh manicure. Checking to make sure the waiter’s not looking, she picks up her knife and slides it under the tape, easing it loose without tearing the shiny paper.
The box inside has the logo of her father’s company on it. Nancy’s tangles her fingers together, stalling. She wants, very much, for it to be a toaster.

“Hurry up,” says her father.

She wants to fold the paper into a crisp square or turn it into a giant origami swan. She wants to pretend that is the present, a sheet of white wrapping paper. Her father clears his throat and she cringes. The box isn’t taped and she tugs it open. Inside, there’s a layer of packing foam, which she picks through, not letting any spill on the table, until her fingers meet fur. The thing in the box is soft, cold, and the size of her two closed fists. She traces the shape of it, four feet, a tail, ears pointed alertly upward.

When, a minute later, she gets it free of the box and shakes the last of the packing foam from its fur, she sees it has the shape of a kitten. Its fur is black and silver, with patterns that look nothing like a real cat’s, all loops and whirling, dizzy spirals. It looks like a synth-pet. They’re popular at her school and her father’s company does make them. But Nancy has a kitten, a dog, and a tiny jeweled unicorn at home. He wouldn’t give her another.

“Thank you,” she says, setting it beside her bread plate. “What is it?”

EP489: Uncanny

by James Patrick Kelly
read by Dani Cutler

author James Partick Kelly

author James Partick Kelly

about the author…

James Patrick Kelly is an American science fiction writer born April 11, 1951, in Mineola, New York. He began selling science fiction professionally in the mid-1970s, and has subsequently become one of the field’s leading writers of short fiction.

He has won the Hugo Award twice, for his 1995 novelette “Think Like A Dinosaur” and for his 1999 novelette “Ten to the Sixteenth to One.” His 2005 novella “Burn” won the Nebula Award. His novels include Freedom Beach (1986, with John Kessel), Look Into the Sun (1989), and Wildlife (1994). Also with John Kessel, he co-edited the anthologies Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology (2006), Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology (2007), and The Secret History of Science Fiction (2009).

A prolific teacher, Kelly has taught at most of the major science-fiction writing workshops, including Clarion, Clarion West, Viable Paradise, and Odyssey. Since 1998, he has served on the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts; he chaired the council in 2004. He is the Vice Chair of the Clarion Foundation, which oversees the Clarion Science Fiction Workshop; he has served on the Board of Directors of the New England Foundation for the Arts; and he is currently on the faculty of the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine. He also writes a column about SF on the internet for Asimov’s SF.

 

narrator Dani Cutler

narrator Dani Cutler

about the narrator…

Dani Cutler last narrated for EP in 454: Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One. She has been part of the podcasting community since 2006, hosting and producing her own podcast through 2013. She currently works for KWSS independent radio in Phoenix as their midday announcer, and also organizes a technology conference each year for Phoenix residents to connect with others in the podcast, video, and online community.

 

Uncanny
by James Patrick Kelly

A month after I broke up with Jonathan, or Mr. Wrong, as my mother liked to call him, she announced that she’d bought me a machine to love. She found it on eBay, paid the Buy It Now price and had it shipped to me the next day. I’m not sure where she got the idea that I needed a machine or how she picked it out or what she thought it would do for me. My mother never asked advice or permission. I dreaded finding the heavy, flat box that UPS left propped against my front door.

I called her. “It’s here. So what does it do?”

“Whatever you want.”

“I don’t want anything.”

“You always say that, but it’s never true. We all want something.” I hated it when she was being patient with me. “Just give it a chance, honey. They’re more complicated than men,” she said, “but cleaner.”

I muscled it into the foyer. I retrieved the box cutter from Jonathan’s neurotically tidy toolbox and sliced carefully through the packing tape. I decided that I’d try it, but I also intended to send the thing back, so I saved the bubble wrap and styrofoam.

There was no manual. The assembly instructions were in twelve pictographs printed on either side of a glossy sheet of paper. They showed a stick figure woman with a black circle for a head building the machine. Black was just how I felt as I attached the arms and headlights, fit the wheels and drawers into place. It stood five feet, eleven and three quarter inches tall; I measured. I had to give Mom credit; she knew quality when she saw it. The shiny parts were real chrome and there was no flex to the titanium chassis, which was painted glossy blue, the exact blue of Jonathan’s eyes. It smelled like the inside of a new car. I realized too late that I should have assembled it closer to the wall, I had to plug the charger into an extension cord. The power light flashed red; the last pictograph showed the stick figure woman staring at a twenty-four hour clock, impatience squiggles leaping from her round, black head.

I didn’t sleep well that night. My bed seemed very big, filled with Jonathan’s absence. I had a nightmare about the dishwasher overflowing and then I was dancing with the vacuum cleaner in a warm flood of soapy water.

When I came home from work the next day the machine was fully charged and was puttering about the apartment with my dusting wand, which I never used. It had loaded the dishes into the dishwasher and run it. There were vacuum tracks on the living room rug. I found the packing materials it had come with bundled into the trash; it had broken down its cardboard box for recycling. At dinner time, it settled at the other end of the kitchen table, dimmed its headlights and waited while I ate my Weight Watchers Chicken Mesquite microwave dinner. Later we watched The Big Bang Theory together. I thought it wanted to follow me into the bedroom when I was ready to go to sleep, but I turned at the door and pointed at the hall closet. It flashed its brights and rolled obediently away.