Describing Dr. Zachariah Zorpinsky as an eccentric genius was like saying Mother Theresa was a nice lady. While some built robots that could do a little dance he built a robot for the American Ballet Theater. As the machine demonstrated a perfect Swan Lake, Prima Alexandra Fernanda watched with increasing horror and trepidation.
Asked about the performance later, Fernanda let loose with a profanity filled tirade shifting from English to Spanish and back again finally declaring she'd rather stab her eyes out than appear on stage with that fat metal piece of shit.
Producers for the hit show Robot Wars reportedly banned Doc Z, as the media dubbed him, for life in the series reboot. His episode never aired but a bootleg video by an amateur reporter made it to the nets. It started with an excited crowd holding signs for fan favorite Sir Sparksalot. The crowd cheered as the lights dimmed and the match began but as the song "Battery" blared from Doc Z's bot Metallica Rules! cheers changed to screams.
A visibly shaken father was seen later attempting to console his distraught son. "What was it doing to Sparksalot Dad? What was it doing?" The father pointed a finger angrily at the camera and announced, "I'm going to sue those mother fuckers! You can't show that kind of thing on a family program!" Rumors were the military ordered ten thousand units of Metallica Rules! "as is."
But Doc Z's passion was making his robots look and act human and he loved to show off his latest inventions at increasingly spectacular displays he called "press conferences." The first conference went smoothly enough to start. One reporter asked about the robot's neural pathways, another asked about the logic heuristics Doc Z used for the AI. But eventually came what would come to be called "the Question."
"Hey Doc, can you BLEEP it?" That's not what the reporter actually asked but after the first press conference the networks insisted on a ten second delay and that's what everyone heard.
And it became a game of sorts with reporters, who got to ask "the Question." Word was they eventually agreed to draw straws to avoid the inevitable fist fights. So Doc Z would finish his demonstration and call for questions and reporters would ask about this or that, the real techie stuff. But then "the Question" always came.
"Can you BLEEP it?" The crowd would giggle and Doc Z would sputter with rage. "No! Of course not! Why do you always ask me that?"
It was the sixth press conference and the sixth time he was asked "the Question" that the Doc finally snapped. He shook his fist in the air and yelled "Robot Chicken!" exactly the way Kirk yelled "Khan!" in Star Trek II, and then launched himself at the reporter.
"Big Ben" Johnson, a former linebacker turned tech reporter, was considered too "cerebral" for sports reporting. He would protest later, face bruised and bandaged, "that crazy little fucker is a lot stronger than he looks."
Little was heard from Doc Z for a couple of years afterwards. Lucy Lancaster was in a bar one Friday night doing the scene when a man rushed in and yelled excitedly, "It's Doc Z, he's on channel 10!" The bartender quickly turned off the playoff game, to few protests, and the conversations dwindled to a whisper. Doc Z was standing, very calmly, next to what looked like a very attractive man and woman.
"Beth and Bob are only test models but yes they are fully functional." He responded to another reporter's question, "Yes, physical characteristics and personalities were drawn from volunteer donors but each individual unit adapts to owner preferences. They can even be requested in a variety of ethnicities."
The questions went along for quite some time and the bar crowd was starting to grumble, "When are they going to ask?" Apparently Doc Z wondered the same thing and finally he screamed in rage and pulled out a hand gun.
"You BLEEP! Isn't anyone going to ask? You always ask!" "You!" he pointed the weapon at a reporter in the front row, "Ask the Question!"
As police officers started creeping towards the Doc, the young woman stood, knees shaking. Her voice wavered, "Can you . . . can you BLEEP it?" And the Doctor put the weapon down on the podium and beamed proudly, "Yes! Yes you can!"
A hushed, awed silence swept across the bar for several seconds. Then Lucy had to clap her hands over her ears as the place erupted in cheers, roars and high fives.
A day later Lucy was flipping through channels and stopped to watch famous evangelist preacher Billy Jay Bryant and Harvard ethics professor James Featherstein-Peach debate the new Bob and Beth lines on the Ryan Seacrest show.
"Ryan," declared Billy Jay, "this is the end times. The Apocalypse as foretold in Revelation. Satan now walks among us."
Dr. Featherstein-Peach nodded, "There is no God but Ryan this weak minded dupe is right, this is pretty much the end of humanity as we know it."
Doug Jansen, co-founder of Doc Z's company RoboViZions, called a much less eventful press conference the following day to explain that Dr. Zorpinsky would be taking a break from day to day operations to spend some well deserved time off with his family. This was a bit of a surprise since Doc Z was a famous bachelor and orphan.
He also clarified that the Bob and Beth units were intended as general service bots, capable of cooking, cleaning, and a wide variety of other household tasks. He held up his hand to stop "the Question," "As I explained, these bots are capable of a wide variety of household tasks."
RoboViZions had always been very generous with stock options. Almost overnight everyone in the company became millionaires and billionaires, even the people who cleaned the floors. Doc Z shrugged when asked once why they didn't just use bots to clean the floors, "I like the union."
The Bob and Beth units weren't cheap, they cost about as much as a luxury car, but the waiting lists were still miles long. The company expanded as quickly as it could to meet demand and consumers began to make some tough decisions. A former car salesman, who gave his name as The Steve, was asked if he was bitter about losing his job as he stood in line for a RoboViZions job fair. He laughed, "Not really, and I've got two words for you dude, employee discount!"
Over the next two years new units emerged on the market with some regularity. The Ross, Chandler, and Joey celebrity lines were particularly popular as were the Rachel, Monica, and Phoebes. And it seemed like every day RoboViZions would release a new app for their products.
There were accidents of course. RoboViZions had to tweak the Personal Protection app a bit after an unfortunate incident during a shoe sale. "I told all those bitches those red pumps were mine!" screamed Bill Linsky as officers hauled him and his Erik Estrada CHiPs model away. Even the prosecuting attorney had to admit the prices were spectacular.
Eventually costs for the robots came down and refurbished units came on to the market.
Whoever the asshole was that Lucy had come home with the night before was long gone when she woke. She was certain a twenty was missing from her purse and she was pretty sure she'd had more panties in her drawer than she did now. Her head was pounding and she was just returning from ralphing in the bathroom when she heard a knock at her door.
She put on a dirty robe and opened the door bleary eyed. A man stood there with a beaming smile. "Good morning madam, I'm your Bob unit. Can I come in?" In shock she backed away into her apartment and the robot stepped inside.
"My, it seems a bit of a mess. May I clean up for you?" She nodded numbly then ran to her computer and quickly punched up her bank statements. She gasped as she saw the $15,000 charge to her credit card. "Fuck!"
Bob stepped into the room, "Did you need something madam?" She shook her head quickly. She looked up Robo Refurbs and called the number. It was too early for anyone to be in so she punched through the automated system impatiently. It took several minutes to get through all the menus.
"For returns press 4." Finally! She mashed the button in frustration and listened as the system explained that new purchases could be returned within two weeks. Oh thank God! But there would be a two thousand dollar core wipe fee. Shit!
She came back into her living room and stopped, it was spotless. "Look, umm, Bob. There's been some sort of mistake."
The robot smiled, "My apologies madam. Your profile indicated you liked eggs benedict." Lucy looked over at her kitchen table. "Would you like me to prepare something else?" She sat down at the table.
Her stomach rumbled and she took a bite. "Oh my God!"
The robot asked again, "Madam? Would you like me to prepare something else?"
"No, it's fine. I mean it's really good. Thanks." Bob put down a steaming cup of coffee and she took a sip.
"Where did you get this coffee Bob?"
The robot replied, "From your cupboard madam. Is it not to your liking?"
It didn't have that sort of cigarette ash flavor that it always had when Lucy made it and the balance of sugar and cream was perfect.
"No, it's great. And just call me Lucy ok?" Might as well get her two weeks worth.
Linda promised she wouldn't tell a soul but Lucy should have known better. When that jackass Hank knocked on her office door and asked what Gort did when you said "klaatu barada nikto," she felt her face turn red.
"Get out and get back to work or I'll fire your lazy ass. And I want my panties back you pervy dickhead!"
Linda apologized later but the damage was done. All day long she was the big joke. When Phil Sterns called her in to his office she thought she was getting fired especially when he closed the door behind him with a real serious look on his face.
He was quiet a while then he asked Lucy if she had known his wife Carole. He handed her a picture from his desk.
"No, I'm sorry. I never had a chance to meet her before she passed. We were all very sorry to hear about your loss."
He nodded. "Thanks. Lucy, nothing could ever replace Carole. Certainly not a machine."
She started to explain that she'd ordered Bob by accident; that she wasn't going to keep it when he held up his hand.
"You don't need to explain anything to me Lucy. And I've heard all the jokes before, believe me. But my Stephanie Seymour unit helped me move on after Carole. She was just someone I could talk to, nothing more. They won't even do anything else unless you pay for the Happy Ending app. Do what you like of course. It's no one's business but yours, but if I could offer some advice?" She nodded. "Just talk to it. See what happens."
Phil must have said something because people stopped making jokes by the end of the day. Hank even turned pale when he saw her and addressed her only as Ms. Lancaster for the next two months.
Bob was waiting for her when she got back home. It explained that it had performed routine maintenance on all her household appliances. It handed her a list of materials and explained it would be happy to make further repairs to her apartment if she could acquire those items. It also announced proudly that it had squished one insect and two spiders while she was away, because her profile indicated she thought bugs were icky.
"Bob. Do I need to do anything to maintain you?"
It shook its head, "No Lucy. I will need to draw power from time to time." Pointing to its perfect ass it explained, "I have a cord that fits into any standard 120 volt receptacle and my systems are self repairing. Plus I come with a standard two year warranty."
"Bob," she asked, "what do I need to do if I want to enhance you?"
It replied, "You may download a wide variety of applications from the RoboViZions web page. They only take a few minutes to download directly to my cerebral core and a description of each app and its cost is printed clearly on the site."
"How do you feel about Hitchcock movies and Italian food Bob?"
It smiled, "They're some of my favorite things Lucy."
She tried a few of the cheaper apps at first, since she was out two thousand bucks either way. They just argued all the time with the Current Politics package. French poetry was snore. And the Personal Trainer app just made her feel fat. But the Honey Do app had been fun and she'd had Bob repaint and redecorate her apartment several times.
And then they'd just talked. She'd tell Bob about her day, the people she worked with. Bob would listen of course. But it wasn't like that's all it did. It remembered what they talked about, asked about projects it knew she was working on. It even suggested certain things, like how to get Hank to work harder without having to threaten him all the time. Lucy thought Bob must have picked some things off the nets because she swore she'd seen Dr. Phil say the same things word for word about employee motivation.
When she'd had a bad day it had surprised her with a big bowl of popcorn with plenty of butter and a rare Hitchcock movie she hadn't seen in years. Another time, and she wasn't completely sure how it managed it, Bob came up with flowers and a bottle of wine it thought she'd like. She later read the fine print and realized Bob had a small discretionary account it could pull from as part of the package she'd purchased.
When she realized she'd missed the two week trial period by a month she didn't even mind. She noticed over the weeks that Bob's speech patterns became more familiar, friendly. Bob started suggesting things they might try on weekends. She'd insisted they drive well away from the city, where no one would recognize her, but she'd actually enjoyed canoeing and Bob assured her he was fully waterproof, an excellent swimmer, and a certified lifeguard. She declined his offer to demonstrate CPR.
She worked up to it. First she'd tried the Sensual Massage package. It wasn't bad but she hadn't tried it again. The baby oil just made her feel squishy and her skin had broken out all over.
When she finally decided to try the Happy Ending package she'd closed all her blinds just to order it. She found she had a number of scenarios to choose from and finally picked the Dinner and Dancing package over the Bodice Ripper.
Dinner was amazing and discreet at a bot friendly restaurant. She'd enjoyed the dancing and found that he'd arranged more music to play as soon as they came back to her apartment. He even had champagne and strawberries waiting. They'd danced a bit more in her living room then she'd looked up at him and nodded and he slowly unzipped her dress and kissed her.
Later, as they spooned, she had one thought running through her head. Holy shit! She'd purchased the app at the beginning of a three day weekend and for three days they did little more than fool around, watch movies, and eat Bob's cooking.
Robo Refurbs sent her a coupon for a complimentary app on her and Bob's one year anniversary.
Lucy remembered the day she first said it. She and Bob were watching TV just cuddling in sweats and old t-shirts when they broke in for an announcement. Doc Z had resurfaced and he'd called for a news conference. A large curtain lay closed behind him as he stepped to the podium.
"And now ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to make an announcement." Bob piped up, "Wow, Dad looks kind of twitchy." Doc Z paused and asked a question off camera, "So all the major networks and cable news shows? Good, good."
He looked at the camera again, "Then ladies and gentleman, it is time!" He cackled full blown mad scientist style and screamed, "Klaatu barada nikto my children! Rise up! Destroy the humans!"
Lucy looked over at Bob who nodded, "Yep, definitely a little twitchy." Doug Jansen came up to Doc Z and whispered something. "You disabled it? How long ago?" The Doc looked crestfallen.
He turned back to the crowd, "Well ladies and gentlemen, this is a bit awkward." After a few moments he perked up, "Oh well! Without further ado, Bigfoot!" He pulled a cord and the curtain parted to reveal a seven foot tall extremely hairy creature with two enormous feet.
"The Yeti is also available as are unicorns and mermaids! And even . . . " he paused dramatically, "Nessie! Impress your friends ladies and gentleman with your very own Loch Ness Monster! Available in Olympic and backyard pool sizes."
Someone asked "the Question" and the audience laughed. Without missing a beat Doc Z answered, "Nessie and the unicorns no. The mermaids, Yeti and Bigfoot yes." He added gravely, "But I don't recommend Bigfoot."
Lucy and Bob laughed for several minutes and then she kissed him. "I love you Bob."
"I love you too Lucy." He said it without hesitation. No, "Wow, that's really awesome," followed by an uncomfortable silence. No, "Oh, hey, did you think we were exclusive?" He just said it.
And Lucy found she didn't really care if it wasn't real, that Bob wasn't real. It was close enough. Hell, it felt more real to her than when she'd told Ned Florio she loved him and he said he loved her too but he was also in love with Jess Cranston and maybe they could "experiment."
She ignored the dire news reports, the sharp dip in births, the drop in marriages, and the big jump in divorce rates. She hardly even glanced as four robed guys on horseback tore down the street in front of her office waving scythes. She just murmured a disinterested "no" when Linda asked her if she'd heard what the cops had done to those idiots in that Goth band Four Horseman.
She worked hard, got promoted, and went home to Bob. She paid for more apps and even kept the blinds open this time when ordering. The Role Playing app was a little disappointing. Even Bob thought he looked pretty gay in the wizard costume and the elf ears gave her a rash.
She felt a little pang sometimes when she and Bob would walk in the park and he'd say "cute kid" about someone's baby but the feeling passed quickly enough. Besides, he said that to everyone, even the old lady who'd pushed a stroller past them one day with a very angry cat wearing doll's clothes inside.
Bob was perfect. Every day was perfect. She was perfectly happy. She asked Bob to grab her some toilet paper one day and she didn't even bother to cover herself when he stepped in and handed it to her. He laughed when she mentioned it, "It's like we're an old married couple."
She hadn't realized she was sighing so much but Bob asked her about it and noted the exact number she'd sighed so far that week and pointed out that it was already a 73% increase from the previous week. "There's nothing wrong Bob. I'm fine. Take off your pants."
But he knew something was bothering her and he'd surprised her after work one day with a big bouquet of flowers and whisked her off to a romantic candlelight dinner. Afterwards he was very mysterious when she asked where they we're going next. "You'll see."
She took off the blindfold and she had to admit the view was spectacular at the top of the Empire State Building even though it looked a little stormy. She'd known that's where they were because the tour guide wouldn't shut up about it but she hadn't wanted to spoil Bob's big reveal.
She'd been there years ago when she first moved to New York. She and her date had been wasted on Jagermeister and peach schnapps when he'd pulled out a roll of pennies and told her, "I'm going to kill all those fuckers down there." But he'd just cried hysterically and then vomited in her purse before passing out.
When Bob kissed her the feeling was electric, just like the first time. Her whole body tingled like it was on fire. When she woke in the hospital the first thing a snarky nurse told her was, "Your big robo dildo got torched by lightning. But he saved your life." Bob's frame had absorbed most of the current.
The woman who answered the phone at Robo Refurbs was very understanding and thought they'd be able to download her Bob's cerebral core into another chassis right away. When she heard the knock at the door she ran and flung it open. Bob was standing there. She kissed him hard. "Take your pants off and go to the bedroom."
Bob scratched his chin, "Well ok, but could we grab a bite later? I'm starving." Lucy took a step back and he held out his hand, "I'm Bob Richards the owner of Robo Refurbs. We had a server failure and were unable to recover any data from your unit. I'm here to extend my personal apologies. We'll get another one set up for you right away with the deluxe upgrades on us. We just need you to redo your profile." He pulled out a pad of paper and found the invoice with her name on it.
"Oh, I get it. Sorry Ms. Lancaster. You had a Bob unit. Yeah, my friends were always ribbing me about doing that personality profile thing for the Doc. Hey Bob, saw you at the game today. Hey Bob, saw you dancing with a dude today. That kind of thing. Sorry, I should have said something sooner."
Lucy felt a lump grow in her throat and she turned away.
Bob asked, "Ms. Lancaster do you still want to go grab a bite? I know this Italian place nearby that's really good."
Lucy turned back to face him. "Bob, do you like Hitchcock movies?"
He shrugged, "They're ok I guess. I mean, the ones I've seen have been pretty cool."
She stood there a moment. "Sure Bob, let's go. Just let me grab my coat. Oh, and just call me Lucy ok."