Harry

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Science Fiction
R J Dent's short story, Harry, is about a woman who believes her lover is too attentive, too perfect, too much like a robot.

Submitted: April 24, 2016

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Submitted: April 24, 2016

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Harry

by R J Dent

 

 

It was a week after her birthday that Muriel realised that Harry was a robot.

Up until then, she'd just thought that he was as near as it was possible to get – for a man – to being a perfect human being.

He did everything for her: listened to her, helped her, did jobs around the house without being prompted and took her on surprise holidays. On top of all that he was good-looking, had a great sense of humour, was a great fuck and did his job well.

Muriel couldn't help but be in love with him.

Yet at odd times, there was something a little distant about him. When he didn't know she was watching him, she saw a look of detachment cross his features, as though he'd suddenly switched off from her and her world. This hurt her a little, so one day she asked Harry about it. He apologised for giving her that impression, but all it was was that she'd simply observed him when he was tired and trying to unwind from a hard day at work.

"Are you sure?" she'd asked, and he'd taken her into his arms and held her tightly.

"Of course," he'd responded, stoking her head gently, before taking her to bed and making love to her.

Afterwards, Harry had fallen asleep. Muriel  reasonably contented  lay in the rosy glow of the lamplight and slowly ran her soft hands over his cool, naked body. So as not to wake him, she gently traced the line of his ribs, his hips and his buttocks. She had then stroked his thighs, her hand trailing down his legs, past the knee, over his shins to his feet. It was then that she'd made her discovery.

In the sole of Harry's left foot was a socket.

It was a small two-pin socket with a circular skin-coloured surround. On the surround was one word printed in white letters: INPUT.

Muriel gasped, her mind reeling with shock. A feeling of intense nausea surged through her body and she hurried to the bathroom. Locking the door, she perched on the toilet seat, breathing steadily, trying to calm herself.

The facts: she had been in bed with a robot! She shared her life, her mind, her body, with a machine.

When she felt able, she went back into the bedroom and looked at his – its – right foot.

That too had a socket in it, the only difference being that this one had the word: OUTPUT printed on the surround.

Muriel went to the kitchen. She made herself a cup of coffee and sat in the lounge in the dark, thinking about her discovery.

Valiantly, she tried to prove her suspicions wrong. She tried to work out what the sockets could be. At one point she thought of asking Harry outright, for he was always honest with her, but her mind rebelled against this idea, for he hadn't mentioned it to her, so there was obviously something not quite right about it.

Night after night, when Harry was asleep, she checked his soles – the sockets were always there. It was true they were hard to see, but they were visible to careful scrutiny. During the day, she tried to work out if there was anything else about him that bothered her. She wondered about his devotion to her, arriving at the conclusion that he had been programmed for that. But by whom?

That was when the other pieces of the puzzle began to be answered.

First of all, there was his work. What did he actually do? All Muriel knew was that he worked at International Robotics. Of course he did. Worked for them, more like.

After a month of doubt and uncertainty – during which time Harry never noticed her distraction – she decided to follow him.

When he left the house at 7.30 in the morning, Muriel left shortly afterwards, carefully keeping him within constant view. She watched him drive through the gateway of the complex, enter the car park, park, get out of the car, lock it and walk into a small door in the side of the building. Muriel waited for half an hour – during which time she prepared a reason for being there, should she be discovered – then did likewise. However, she took care to peer carefully around the door before entering.

Inside, it was like a science fiction film set.

Down each side of the long low building were rows of cubicles. In each cubicle was a seated man or woman – Harry was in the last one on the left – each of whom had a length of flex running from the sole of each foot. All of the flexes which ran from the left feet of the cubicle inhabitants ran to the back of a computer console on a desk at the far end of the building.

Behind the desk sat a young man with a pony-tail, wearing a blue overall. Each of the flexes running from the right feet of the cubicle inhabitants ran to a computer console on a desk, also at the end of the building, on the right of the other desk. Behind this desk sat another young man; this one with a crew-cut and wearing glasses. Both men were seated at an angle that faced away from Muriel, and were typing something onto the monitors.

They were deeply engrossed in their work, so Muriel crept forward to take a closer look.

As she crept forward, she glanced into the first cubicle. The woman sitting in it had her eyes closed, as though asleep. On a table next to the woman was a split-screen monitor, so Muriel quietly entered the cubicle and looked at the screen. There were twin columns of text on the screen. Muriel, very conscious of the woman seated next to her, read the information on the monitor carefully.

 

OUTPUT – BASED ON RECEIVED INFO

a Albert Browning – 41 – Italian

b Unhappy with M160759's jealousy

c Wants M160759 to lose weight (stomach, buttocks & thighs)

d Wants to be more sexually aggressive towards M160759

 

INPUT – BASED ON RECEIVED INFO

a Martina Downing – 36 – English (Model M160759)

b M160759 to be programmed to be less jealous (Program 165a/.=j*78c)

c M160759 to have gradual remodelling over next few months to become more aesthetically pleasing to AB (Standard remodelling program – Level 2)

d M160759 to be programmed to suggest to AB that he be more aggressive towards her whilst engaged in sexual activity (Program 4532//jh.%*^732a)

 

Muriel looked up from the monitor, sickened. This place was where the behaviour of each robot was modified, in order to make them more compliant – servile, she amended – towards their respective partners. Muriel wondered who was ultimately responsible for choosing each prospective partner.

She wanted to see Harry's monitor, but at the same time, she'd seen more than enough, so she peered out of the cubicle, checking that the two men were still busy, then, satisfied that they were, she walked quietly out of the building. She drove home, wondering what to do about Harry. Should she tackle him about what she'd seen, or should she just dump him – kick him out of the house, sell it and move away?

Part of her was very angry – not with Harry, but with who ever it was who had arranged that she meet him, fall in love with him and set up home with him. Another part of her felt revulsion towards the machine that was Harry. How could she have been fooled for so long? How could she have let a machine make her feel so good for such a long time?

That evening, when Harry arrived home from International Robotics, Muriel told him that she wanted him to pack his things and leave. She gave no reason. Harry tried to argue with her, plead with her, coax her into changing her mind, all to no avail.

"At least give me a reason," he asked.

"Just get out!" Muriel snapped.

Harry refused. "This is my home too," he said. "I'm not a piece of property you can dump when you no longer need it. I do have feelings."

"Hah! You – feelings?"

Harry nodded. "Of course."

Muriel saw no point debating the subject further.

"You either get out of here and don't come back, or I will!" she yelled, as she ran from the room, heading for the bedroom. She stayed in there, not letting Harry enter, listening to his movements, trying to ascertain his actions based on what she heard of his movements. She heard him enter the guest bedroom and realised that he was going to sleep in it that night.

She drifted off to sleep, waking up in the early hours of the morning, the house silent. Muriel got up, went quietly to the kitchen, got a huge kitchen knife out of a drawer, then went back upstairs. She pushed the guest bedroom door open and entered. Harry was sitting up on the bed. He didn't look up as she entered.

"Can we sort this out?" he asked, his voice low. He sounded as though he was in pain.

Not answering, Muriel crossed to the bed and stabbed him in the chest with the knife. Harry jerked once, fell back onto the bed and was still. Not convinced it could be that easy, Muriel pulled the knife out of his chest and stabbed him again. She could see no blood.

She then left the room, closed the door and returned to her bedroom. She stretched out on the bed and set the alarm for six. She would get up early and dispose of the body.  She drifted into an uneasy sleep, her dreams filled with images of metal people torturing humans. She stirred restlessly, her sweat-drenched body thrashing in her sleep. At one point, she kicked the covers off her body.

Had there been an observer in the room, they would have noticed the reasonably well-hidden sockets in the soles of Muriel’s feet, one marked INPUT; the other marked OUTPUT.

 

*

 

 

Text: Harry (1635 words)

Copyright © R J Dent (2001 & 2016)

 

Image: Personal Robot 06 by Franz Steiner

 

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