Excerpt from Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider in the Artificial Intelligence Storybundle! #SFWApro
Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider Chapter 1 Why Did the Robot Cross the Road?
“Are you sure she’s going to be okay?”
“Stop asking me that.” Rory slapped the big yellow crosswalk button again. Behind them, the Pacific Ocean stretched to the horizon, wide and blue.
At the end of the Santa Monica Sport Fishing pier, the giant Ferris wheel revolved under the California sun.
A bullet-nosed monorail train whooshed by on its silver electromagnet track perched on spidery stilts above the street.
“What if she’s not ready?” Tim asked. “Candy’s going to be. . . . I don’t know what she’s going to be, but she’s going to hate our guts, that’s for sure.”
“She’s not going to hate us; she’s our friend. We’ve been friends since college, remember? Besides, I’m not sure Candy is capable of hatred.” Rory pressed the big yellow button, hard this time.
A flatbed truck drove slowly down the street. On the back of it stood a tall electronic marquee. The marquee displayed a stocky, balding man wearing tinted eyeglasses.
Tim pointed. “There goes Grossman. Again.”
“Robots made in China and Japan are stealing jobs from hardworking Americans,” Grossman thundered.” The truck drove down the street.
“God, that guy is everywhere,” said Rory.
“He’s serious about being President.”
The truck drove down the street.
“What were we talking about?” Tim asked. “Oh yeah. Are you sure she’s going to be okay?”
“No, damnit, I’m not sure. But so what? She’s gotta get out there sometime.” Rory slapped the big yellow crosswalk button half a dozen times more. “Does this thing even work? It’s 2047, for God’s sake. We’ve got orbital hotels but we can’t design a friggin’ crosswalk computer that works. There are no cars coming yet we have to stand here like robots incapable of determining for ourselves when it’s safe to cross the street.” Rory noticed a silver, skinny robot standing next to him with a case of beer in its hands, waiting to cross the street. “No offense.”
The robot’s balloon-shaped head swiveled toward Rory on its skinny post of a neck. “No offense taken, of course, sir.” Its electronic voice sounded happy and cheerful.
“Instead, we have to wait for the computer to tell us when we can cross,” said Rory. “And what are you looking at?”
A second robot stood nearby, grimy and with a significant dent on one side of its head. One of its glowing red eyes was missing. It held a square flap of brown cardboard scrawled with black ink: Will work for electricity. Or beer. God bless. A long, black leash stretched from a collar around the robot’s neck to the wrist of a filthy man lying flat on his back in a patch of nearby grass, fast asleep.
“I’m not looking at anything, sir,” replied the robot. “Could you spare some change?”
“Fuck you,” said Rory. “Fuck him, too.” Rory thrust his chin at the sleeping man.
“Yes, sir,” said the robot.
“Dude, calm down,” said Tim.
“No, goddamnit. I’m pissed off now. I think I can determine for myself when it’s safe to cross the street. I neither need nor want a damn machine telling me what I can or can’t do and when I can or can’t do it. Maybe Grossman is right. Screw this nanny-state bullshit. You know what, to hell with it, I’m crossing.”
“You’d better not. They’ll fine you.”
“See those little white cameras on top of each streetlight?” Tim pointed. “This entire intersection is covered. If you cross, they’ll see you. You’ll get a citation in your inbox. Five-hundred-and-forty dollars.”
“Five-hundred-and-forty dollars for jaywalking? Are you sure?”
“Dead sure. You know that new guy who started in the Bio-Plastics Division last week? Skin specialist?”
“Larry? Yeah. Good guy. Graduated Cal Tech.”
“Larry told me all about how he crossed the street on a red light because he ate some bad Japanese food. He ordered Teriyaki Chicken for lunch, but he said it wasn’t like any chicken he’d ever seen before. It was little round nuggets of weird, dark meat.
“Anyway, he wasn’t even through with lunch and already things were gurgling around down there. By the time they were paying the bill, he was having uncontrollable flatulence. And not cute little girl-farts, either. These were the long, hot, steamy ones that smell like death warmed over.
“Ten minutes later, he’s standing on this very corner. He doesn’t want to cross the street because he knows the cameras will see him and he’ll get a fine. But he doesn’t want to shit his pants, either. Plus, he and his fiancée were having dinner with her parents that evening right after work and he wasn’t going to have time to go home and change or to freshen up.
“So, finally, when it was safe to cross the street, even though the crosswalk computer said not to, he runs across the street and into Positronic Pizza and Pub. But you have to get a token from the robot cashier in order to get into the bathrooms, because of all the homeless people who like to bathe in there. And there was a huge long line for the cashier. By the time he was first in line, the robie tells him the bathrooms are for paying customers only, so he orders a soda and hands over his debit card, but the robie says it’s a ten-dollar-minimum order for all non-cash transactions. But Larry doesn’t have enough cash because he just spent it on the Teriyaki cat at the Japanese place. So he orders a pizza, even though he just had what he thought was lunch, which was probably some little girl’s tabby. He spends twenty-seven bucks on the pizza, gets the token, and goes to the bathroom. But there’s somebody in there; the door’s locked. So he waits, and he waits, and he waits. And a few minutes later, he shits himself.”
“He shit himself?”
“Completely. Larry told me there was nothing he could do. He said he was standing there clenching as hard as he could. He was sweating, breathing heavy. But it was no use. It was like a bowling ball of shit rolled out of his ass and exploded in his underwear. There was nothing he could do.”
Tim caught the robot holding the beer looking at him. The robot looked away.
“So what about dinner with his fiancée and her parents?” Rory asked.
“He made it. But he had to take the rest of the day off so he could go straight home from Positronic to shower and change. He said that when he got home, he tossed his pants and underwear into the incinerator. And he had to have a new driver’s seat installed in his car, which was a brand new Jag, by the way, one he’d only had three weeks. He said the Teriyaki cat stained the seat, because he went with the Icelandic White cloth, whereas if he’d gone with the Icelandic White leather, the stain wouldn’t have set in like it did. At least, that’s what they told him at the dealership. So he told them to put in a whole new seat, which was seventeen-hundred bucks. Plus, right there in his inbox was the jaywalking fine for another five-hundred-and-forty bucks. A real nice photo of him illegally crossing the street. He’s a pretty smart guy, so he does the math and between the citation, the new driver’s seat, the pizza, the cost of his poopy pants he had to incinerate, which were a gift from his fiancée, by the way, plus the cost of the Teriyaki cat, he figures he spent about twenty-six-hundred bucks.”
“The best part is, he helped design the new-generation facial recognition software they’re using in the cameras up there on those traffic lights. He basically got himself busted.
“So, if you jaywalk, they’ll see you, too. Five-hundred-and-forty bucks, guaranteed.”
“So if he designed it, he can pay the fine for me.”
“Good luck with that.”
Tim caught the robot holding the beer looking at him. The robot looked away.
The crosswalk signal LEDs flicked to green. The electronic voice ordered pedestrians to “Cross now . . . Cross now . . . Cross now.”
The robot with the beer crossed the street.
The robot with the collar around its neck remained standing on the sidewalk.
Rory and Tim proceeded into the street.
“So who’s Candy going on the date with?” Tim asked.
“I don’t know,” said Rory, “some guy. She said she met him on the Internet.”
“She met him on the Internet? Do you think that’s a good idea?”
“It’s her decision.”
“What if he’s a murderer or a human trafficker, and he kidnaps her and takes her to another country and sells her as a sex slave?” The robot carrying the beer turned its silver head and looked at Tim. “I wasn’t speaking to you,” said Tim. The robot looked away.
“She said he seems like a nice guy,” said Rory.
“What if he’s not?”
“Relax. She’s an accomplished psychologist. She can handle it.”
“She’s a robopsychologist. The robot brain and the human mind are nothing alike.”
“Hey, watch this. I bet I can freeze out that robie.”
“Don’t do that,” said Tim.
Mid-way across the street, the robot carrying the beer turned its head toward them.
“Is that beer you’re carrying to be delivered to your master?”
“Did you know beer is unhealthy for humans? Alcohol is harmful. By delivering that beer to your master, you will be harming him. Remember: robots aren’t allowed to injure humans.”
The robot stopped walking and stood in the crosswalk. It began to take a step forward, then stopped. It tried yet again, but stopped. Its red eyes angled down to the beer in its hands, then up to Rory, then to the dozens of humans crossing the street and strolling among the storefronts and sidewalk cafes. The robot shuddered for a moment and became still. The red glow faded from its eyes, and its silver mechanical body sagged. It stood motionless in the crosswalk, a little more than halfway across the street, the case of beer still in its hands.
Tim said, “You killed it.” He and Rory gained the sidewalk, peering behind at the inert robot.
“Relax, it’s insured. The lazy bastard who owns it will be able to buy a newer model.”
“For a roboticist, you’re a vindictive son of a bitch.”
“Can’t help it,” said Rory. “If we don’t keep robots in their place, they’ll take over the friggin’ world.”
“You know, that thing almost surely has a recorder in it.”
“Nah, look at it. It’s a low-end model, at least ten years old. They didn’t come with separate recorders back then. When its positronic relays went bye-bye, so did its recordings.”
“How do you know it didn’t have recordings from birthday parties or weddings? Or childbirths? Those things are irreplaceable.”
“True. But anyone stupid enough to not back up their data deserves to lose it.”
Tim gave one last glance toward the robot. “Are we going to leave it there in the middle of the street?”
“Think it’ll get a ticket for jaywalking?”
“No,” Rory laughed, “but the registered owner will. Five hundred-and-forty bucks.”
“That’s an expensive case of beer.”
“Serves him right for not getting off his fat ass to go buy it himself.”
“So, what about Candy?” Tim asked.
“If it makes you feel better, we’ll call her after the date, to make sure she hasn’t been kidnapped or sold as a sex slave. Hey, why did the robot cross the road?”
“To rescue the slow and inferior human on the other side, thereby obeying the first law of robotics.”
The A.I. Storybundle is live but only ten more days until April 20, 2017! Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Download yours only athttps://storybundle.com/ai