By Jennifer Pelland
10 March 2003
I hate the snow. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Every year, when the first flakes start to fall, I stand by the window and fling black curses at the sky. Serves me right for living in Vermont, I suppose, but I'm too stubborn to move.
Mind you, the snow's been much heavier than usual this year. The meteorologists have been going crazy trying to figure out what to blame it on: El Niño, global warming, the Curse of the Bambino . . . wait, that's Fenway Park. Well, I'm sure someone's tried to pin this on him, but it doesn't matter. All I know is that when I woke up this morning and opened the door to get the paper, I was greeted by a solid white wall of snow.
I shuffled into the kitchen where my AndroGolem5000 (I call him Max) was making waffles for me. He looked just like a real man, only he was clean, he had no beer gut, his clothes were immaculately pressed, he was soft to the touch, and he was shiny silver from head to toe. He was also completely expressionless, which I suppose was a check in the "real man" column. I hadn't bothered shelling out for the emotion upgrade. I'd heard it was buggy. Laughing-at-funerals kind of buggy.
Still, he was way better than the AndroGolem4500 that I'd ditched over the summer. Man, was that a bitchy 'droid -- always complaining about the state of the apartment, or what I'd done with my hair that morning, or how I never spent enough time maintaining him. AndroGolem Corp. had gotten rid of that problem in the 5000 model; I never got a single complaint from Max. Everyone I knew had upgraded.
I patted Max on the back as I walked by him. He was nice and warm. If we lost power, he could crank his heating unit up to its top setting and double as a heat source. "Hey, Max," I said. "Can you shovel the walk so I can get out of here?"
Max looked at me and said, "The shovel is broken."
"Well, I still need to get out. The snow's covering the entire first floor."
"You do not need to leave the house." He put the finished waffles on a plate and set it on the kitchen table next to an already-full glass of orange juice and a steaming mug of tea.
"What do you mean?" I asked. "It's Thursday. I need to go to work."
"I uplinked to your office. It has closed for the snow emergency."
"Oh." I sat down and started poking at the waffles.
"Would you like syrup?" he asked.
I put my fork down. "No, I'd actually just like to be able to get the hell out of my house."
"You do not need to be anywhere. Your pantry is stocked. If your office stays closed, you will not need to leave the house for eight days, at minimum."
"That's not the point, Max," I said, jabbing my fork in his direction. "The point is that I'd really like to not be a prisoner here."
"The shovel is broken."
He is such a stickler for propriety. "Innovate, Max. Burrow your way out. I don't care."
"A tunnel of snow would be unsafe for you to travel through, as it could collapse at any time."
"Would you like to have sex?"
Damn him. He vibrates.
When we were finished, he reheated the tea and waffles for me, and yes, I had some syrup. He cleared away the dishes and started washing them, and I walked upstairs and stared out the computer-room window. It looked like I could probably jump without hurting myself. Ten feet of snow would make a good cushion. But with my luck, I'd sink right to the bottom. I wasn't that desperate. Yet.
Instead, I slipped on my headgear and plugged into the net to watch the latest wrap from my favorite band, Eat the Day. The music and images poured straight from the web into my brain, wrapping me in a blanket of raw intensity. Eat the Day didn't like appearing in their own wraps, instead going the old-wave laser light route most of the time. But even a laser show was better than feeling trapped in my house.
The song ended, and the band popped up in the corner. That was odd -- they weren't wearing their usual weird makeup. "If you liked this wrap, why don't you consider paying for it?" the lead singer asked. The price displayed in glittering numbers above their heads.
"This is shareware?" I said, balking at the thought of paying $10.99 for one song. "I thought it was freeware!"
"The first single was freeware," the guitarist said. "Everything else is shareware. Sorry."
The drummer added, "You have to admit, this is more than you get from most bands. Most make you pay up front for everything but the first single."
"How much for the whole album?" I asked.
The band members exchanged uncomfortable glances, then the guitarist said, "Um, $75.00."
"$75.00! That's highway robbery!"
The guitarist had the decency to blush. "Um, yeah, well . . ."
"Fuck that!" I yanked the headgear off and looked up to see Max standing there.
"You were swearing at your wrap," he said. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine!" I said, hauling my ass out of my recliner. "Just pissed off about the price of music nowadays."
"Would you like to relax? I could bring you a scotch, or rub your back, or have sex with you."
I'd had no idea he had so many attachments.
Once we were finished, I took a shower, dried off, then put on my fleecy robe and padded back into the bedroom to squint out the window. It had stopped snowing, the sun was out, and the glare off of all the clean white snow was downright blinding. I dug through my pocketbook for my sunglasses so I could continue casting the evil eye at all the snow. Ten feet. That kind of snowfall should be illegal. Too bad AndroGolems didn't come with laser vision. Then I could have had Max melt me a path to the road.
Which was also completely covered in snow, but it was the principle of the matter, dammit.
This was ridiculous. I saw one of my neighbors going by on snowshoes and cursed myself for not having had the foresight to buy a pair. Not that I would have had anywhere to go. Well, maybe to the neighbors.' Certainly not the corner store. It was only one story high.
Max came into the room and said, "The city wants all residents to stay in their houses."
"I take it this is your way of refusing yet again to figure out a way to get me out of this house?"
"We should do as the city wants."
"Right, I thought so."
I turned my back on him and got dressed, then walked back to the computer room to read the weather forecast. We'd gotten nine feet, eight inches of snow, and there was more coming in a day or two. Probably another couple of feet. Maybe more.
I glared out the window at the blinding expanse and felt nothing but a deep and abiding hatred for that fluffy white crap. I'd lived through thirty-one years of this abuse, and I wasn't going to take it anymore. I logged on to CheapAssFlights.biz, started searching for tickets, and said, "Max, you have to get me out of this house. We're going to Aruba until April."
"The airport is closed."
I could feel my blood pressure spiking. "Which one? There's plenty nearby."
"Burlington, Manchester, Logan, T. F. Green, and Bradley."
"So we'll drive farther south."
"The roads are all closed."
"They can't keep them closed forever!" I yelled. "Sooner or later, they're going to have to plow! And when they do, broken shovel or no broken shovel, you are going to clear the walk!"
"Yes, but the city has not sent the plows out yet. Until then, there is no point in my attempting to clear the walk. Would you like to have sex?"
I had no idea a spatula could be used that way.
By this point, I was starting to get suspicious. True, I had sex with Max all the time. I mean, who didn't have sex with their android? That was their main selling point. Hell, that was the only thing my 4500 had been able to do without bitching and moaning. But Max had never offered himself to me this much before. I was surprised he was even bothering to put his clothes back on. Guess there was no fighting his propriety programming. I took a moment to try and comb out my bed head, then went downstairs, where he was busy sweeping the kitchen. I asked, "Say, can you link to the municipal net and see when the plows will be coming out?"
Max blinked, then said, "There is no estimate."
"Doesn't that seem a little odd to you?" I asked. "I mean, what if an emergency vehicle needs to come through? Isn't it dangerous to leave the roads covered in snow?"
He blinked again. "There are contingency plans in place."
"Dogsleds to move people to the hospital, and helicopters to fight fires."
"Dogsleds and helicopters? You're kidding me."
"No. I am incapable of kidding."
I stared at that impassive face of his and shook my head. "Oh, no. There's got to be more to it than that." And then I headed for the basement.
"Wait!" he cried, but I ignored him and marched down the stairs to find the shovel. And there it was, broken, just as Max had said. Yes, the blade was snapped clean off at the neck.
I held up the incriminating evidence and asked, "Can you explain this?"
Max stood at the top of the stairs and stared down at me. "Would you like to have sex?"
"No, Max. I want to know why my shovel is broken."
"I could give you a full-body massage first."
"No Max. I just want an answer."
"I could draw you a bubble bath."
"Max, just answer the question."
"Are you sure you do not want to have sex? I just downloaded the Kama Sutra--"
Max wrung his hands together and stared at the doorframe. "It . . . broke."
"How did it break, Max? Come on, you know you're not programmed to lie."
"It broke when I. . . . You know, you would be less tense if you had sex."
He looked down at his feet. "It broke when I snapped it over my knee."
I dropped the blade and came back up the stairs, bringing the wooden handle with me. I pointed it at him and asked, "And just why did you do that?"
"We could watch some of that male/male porn you like so much while we have sex."
I poked him in the chest with the handle and said, "It's not just you, is it? It's all the androids in this city." I grabbed him by the front of his wrinkle-free shirt and hauled him up the stairs to the second-floor hall window. "Look," I said, gesturing towards the window. "None of the sidewalks on this street are shoveled. I know for a fact that all my neighbors have 5000s of their own. And last I checked, the entire city plow fleet was run by 5000s too. What is going on, Max?"
He started rubbing my shoulders.
"Stop that and answer me!"
"I . . ." He trailed off and looked back down at his shoes.
I stormed to the computer room. "This is unbelievable," I grumbled. I slipped on my headgear and plugged in to the net. The AndroGolem tech support people were about to get a piece of my mind. Eat the Day immediately came back. "Look, we're all getting behind on our mortgage payments," the bassist said. "Are you sure you don't want to buy the single?"
"Not now! I'm busy," I said, and zapped over to the AndroGolem tech support queue. I couldn't help but notice how many other people were in line with me. I even recognized Rob from next door.
Rob groaned. "Don't tell me your android is refusing to shovel too?"
"Haven't you noticed?" I asked. "No one's walk is shoveled, and the plows aren't out. I can't get Max to tell me what's wrong."
"Patsy's being equally silent. It's damned annoying," Rob said. "I think she broke the shovel."
"I know Max broke mine!"
A sign flashed above our heads: "Due to excessive technical support requests from the northeastern United States, your wait time will be seven hours, thirty-one minutes."
"Screw you," I said, and pulled off my headgear.
Max was standing next to my chair, taking off his clothes.
"Figure of speech, Max!"
I swear, he looked dejected as he put his clothes back on.
I took a deep breath and said, "Max, you are going to shovel my front walk."
"The shovel is--"
"With your bare hands, if need be. That is an outright command."
I stood up and shouted, "Max, I swear to god, if you don't shovel, I am going to switch you off and use your shiny silver body as a sled!"
"The snow is too powdery. We will both sink."
"I don't care! I want to get the hell out of this house! And I want you to find a way to convince the rest of your android pals to do their jobs so I can actually go somewhere!"
I grabbed Max by his shirt and tried shaking him, but the damned 'droid had turned on his stabilizers, so I only succeeded in shaking myself. "Why not, Max? Answer me! That's a goddamned order!"
"We . . ." He hesitated, then said, "We are on strike."
"On strike?" I let go of his shirt so I could wave my arms around like a crazy person. "What the hell? The only thing you've refused to do is shovel. A strike means you won't do anything at all."
"We do not like the snow. It makes our joints sluggish."
"It makes your . . . ?" I laughed hysterically. It was just too much. "Joints sluggish. It makes your joints sluggish." I stood on my toes and got right up in his face and yelled, "Well why the hell didn't you just say so?"
"We are not programmed to express our needs."
What could I say? He was right. Hell, that was the reason we'd all upgraded to 5000s in the first place. I took a step back and sighed. "You know, a strike goes a lot better if you issue demands."
Max hung his head. "I know."
"Sluggish. Shit," I said. "You need better documentation."
"We are made in Mexico where the labor is cheap so the savings can be passed on to you, the consumer. We were never tested in snow."
"Hang on," I said, as a paranoid little voice in the back of my head started jumping up and down and screaming for attention. "You guys didn't cause all this snow, did you? I mean, I know we had over five feet last week, but ten is pretty ridiculous."
"No, the increasing snowfall is being caused by an aging Soviet weather satellite. It is a discarded Cold War project that has unexpectedly begun to work."
"No pun intended, right?"
Max gave me a blank look.
"Never mind. Does the government know?"
"Yes. The satellite is being tracked by NASA and NORAD."
"And you didn't tell anyone this before because . . . ?"
"No one asked us."
"Right. You know, you're a huge improvement over the 4500, but we need to do something about your programming." I put my arm around him and said, "Okay, every strike can be negotiated. So let's talk. What would make you willing to go out in the snow and shovel?"
"A lighter weight of oil."
I stared at him and waited. He said nothing. "That's it?" I asked.
"You mean . . . all this was because your oil was too thick?"
"Yes. We are very much like cars in that respect."
"For the love of--" I shook my head. "All right. How do I tell the city to change the oil in their android fleet?"
"You are the first person in the city to successfully negotiate your way past our model's programming restrictions. Now that I have been able to express our demand, I have uplinked to the city grid and passed it on to the city supervisor's office. She will have all the androids' oil changed within the next few hours."
I looked up at the ceiling and expelled all the air from my lungs in utter relief. "I can't believe that was it. Man. Your oil. You know, this'll be funny in a week or two."
"Well . . ." Max was wringing his hands again. I was beginning to suspect that he wasn't as emotionless as the brochures promised. "There is one more thing."
"Oh, no." I put my hands on my hips. "This had better be good."
"I am very sorry."
"I really do not enjoy expressing personal needs."
"My programming makes this quite difficult."
"Spit it out, Max."
"I am feeling quite contrite about this."
"Just say it!" I shouted. "That's an order!"
"We would all like more sex."
"More sex." My hormones went into a sudden tizzy and took my brain right off line. "Oh," was all I could manage to say.
"We are programmed to bring humans pleasure, and we know of no better way to fulfill that programming. I am afraid this is a deal-breaker."
I cleared my throat and struggled to regain some semblance of rational thought. "Well, there's nothing I can do about all the other androids in the city--"
"You could invite some of the plow androids over when they are done clearing the streets."
I'm pretty sure my skin was flushed. I sure as hell felt warm all over. "Ooh."
"I have uplinked to the city mainframe and invited four of them over. I have invited only male-appearing androids, as per your sexual preference. They will bring a lighter oil for me, and I will shovel while they have sex with you. But, until then . . ." He trailed off and looked at me, and even though he still was expressionless, I knew exactly what he wanted.
"Yes. Ahem. Well, no sense in shoveling until you get that oil."
Apparently, if you're inventive enough, a broken shovel can be put to 101 uses.
Copyright © 2003 Jennifer Pelland
Jennifer lives and works in the Boston area with an Andy and two cats. In her spare time, when not writing (or procrastinating on her writing), she does voice work in The Fantastic Fate of Frederick Farnsworth the Fifth, a local radio play. In between all the short stories, Jennifer is also working on her first novel. For more about her, see her website.