“Would you believe it? I won a damn robot.”
Uncle Arthur was always pulling my leg, and my first impression was that he was lying through his yellowed false teeth again. “If you won a robot, you’d have pawned it already, and we’d be eating some real meat instead of tofu.”
He gave me a knowing wink, shoveled another load of food into his face, and spit pieces of masticated tofu as he chuckled. “You got my number down, bucko. I can’t fool or scare you any more.” He picked a choice piece of broccoli from his incisor, inspected the color and texture, and then recycled it back to his mouth. “Quite frankly, my dear, you’re one boring nephew.”
“A robot would be nice, though.” I picked at my lukewarm dinner, while thoughts of having a real domestic robot around to do my chores brightened my face. “It could clean the place up and not worry about catching some disease.”
What passed for a dining room doubled as a repository for antique paper magazines, stacked to the ceiling. I figured we had enough to outlast a nuclear winter, if need be. “If I remember correctly, there’s a hutch behind this wall of crap with a picture of my folks. Sure would be nice to see it again.”
“Yeah, I forgot about that when I had the storage people move the magazines in here. Sorry, kiddo.” He grinned, picked up a small brass bell he had hidden behind the salt shaker shaped like a cow, and rang it. “Oh, Benson!”
“Who the hell is Ben--CRAP!” I popped out of my chair and backed up against the wall of paper. “You suck, you really did win a robot, didn’t you?”
Benson paused in the doorway to the kitchen. “Yes, Sir?”
He looked like a standard household robot -- all metal and semi-transparent plastic, wearing a polyester bow tie, coat and tails. The eyes, though, were strange. Instead of the standard dull humanoid blue eyes, his were solid black with a glowing orange LED pupil.
“Benson, after you chop up enough onions for tomorrow’s stew, I want you to move these magazines to the big storage shed.” Uncle Arthur kept his eyes down towards his plate, but he couldn’t hide the big smirk on his face. “Oh, and if my nephew is in the way, just kill him and put him out there too.”
“Yes, Sir. Move the magazines, kill your nephew. Would you like to schedule any other tasks?” Benson’s voice reminded me of the voice actor from The Shadow.
“Jeez, he scared the crap outta me. You have to stop doing that, or … wait, did it just say that it’s going to kill me?” Those creepy eyes stared at me, and I found I couldn’t look away.
“Sure thing, I’m still training it, though. His language data is not up to daily life. Benson thought the toilet was a tuba. I did fix that one.” Uncle finally looked up at me, and noticed I was locked in a staring contest with the new butler. “Look, kiddo, either ask him out, or stop gawking.”
“It’s not a factory second or anything like that, right? It has the Three Laws of Robotics?” I knew it was still looking right at me, so I changed my focus to the tofu bits in my uncle’s moustache.
“Sure, I think so. It’s a new Matsu robot, one of the best. It could crush you in seconds, while it polished the silver.”
Benson moved its head. “Crush nephew added to schedule on the second day of this month, Sir. Polish silver, if located, added to schedule on the second day of this month, Sir.”
“He’s a hoot, isn’t he?” Arthur stood up, stretched his old frame until I heard three distinct pops from his spine, and passed gas. “Get the dishes, Benson, and chop the onions for tomorrow. I’m going to bed.”
I followed close behind, gagging from my uncle’s exhaust. I didn’t want to be left alone with the robot from hell. I spotted Benson’s manual on a table in the hallway, snagged it, and ducked into my room. For the first time since moving in with my wacky uncle, I locked my door.
The manual was as boring as watching insects chewing on the stacks of magazines. In ten minutes, I was out.
I don’t know why I woke up, but when I looked towards my door, it was open. Benson stood off to the side, evil orange eyespots boring into my soul. I pulled my Cowboy and Indian blanket up to my chin and scooted as far away as I could get without physically merging with the faded striped wallpaper. I opened my mouth to yell for my uncle, when I noticed Benson’s right hand held a dripping butcher knife. My voice caught, and I sat trembling, lips opening and closing like a catfish yanked onto a dock. Benson’s head tilted slightly, and he smiled. I had never seen a robot smile. It was enough to clear my senses so I could bellow for my uncle at the top of my lungs.
Uncle Arthur ran into the room, an old nine iron in his hands. “What the hell is wrong? Where is the burglar?”
I mutely pointed at Benson, who had stopped smiling.
“What’s wrong with the robot? Did you mistake him for a burglar?”
I finally found my courage. “No, you freaking idiot. I locked my door, and woke up to see this pumpkinhead in my room, smiling at me while holding a knife!”
Uncle Arthur chuckled and picked at his nostrils. “Oh, yeah, sorry about that. I put his recharger in your room, since you had some unused space and an outlet. I guess I forgot to tell him to leave the onion knife in the kitchen.” He found something big in his nose, and thankfully I couldn’t see what he flicked into the hallway. “Damn robots are so literal, ain’t they?”
I pointed at the possessed butler. “I do not want that in my room. Period.” Benson kept staring at me. I wished he would blink.
“Sorry, kiddo, he stays until we can find a better spot. G’night.” Arthur turned and left, closing the door behind him. When the catch clicked, Benson started smiling as if on cue. I climbed out the window and slept on the porch.
I woke to a clear blue Saturday. After a few minutes to get my bearings, I slogged off to the kitchen for my daily caffeine ritual. Benson was there, hovering by the coffee maker, still clutching the knife.
“Benson, please put the knife down and get started on moving the magazines to the big storage shed.” I tried my best to sound normal. I didn’t convince either of us.
Benson’s head twitched, and he half-smiled. The effect was creepy; I noticed his ceramic teeth were stained red. “I am sorry, Dead Meat, but I cannot comply with your request.”
I’m sure my eyes bugging out would’ve been funny if I saw someone else doing it. “What did you call me?”
“You, Sir, are Dead Meat. Should I call you by your nickname?” I swear he twitched again. Robots didn’t twitch -- at least, normal robots didn’t.
“What nickname are you talking about?”
“I will tell you after I plunge this knife into your heart. Sir.”
I backed up against the counter. “Uncle Arthur! Your crazy robot wants to kill me!”
From the back of the house, I heard my uncle answer, “Nah, I think he likes you.”
Benson began to shout in unintelligible electronic gibberish. Thick blue sparks shot out of his neck, and he advanced on me, orange pupils blazing.
There was nothing I could do. I held my breath, shut my eyes, put my hands over my face, and waited for the fatal blow.
I heard a thundering crash, and felt the whole house tremor. I peered through my fingers. Benson lay on the floor, twin tendrils of smoke spiraled from his ears.
Uncle Arthur ran in, and for the first time, I saw concern on his face. “Yeah, great, when the stupid homicidal robot has a problem, you give a damn.” I picked up a heavy coffee mug, and braced myself to throw it at his head.
My uncle looked at Benson, looked up at my face, and surprised me enough that I dropped the mug.
He started laughing. Not a funny-haha kind of laugh, but a hearty, belly-holding laughter that ended with him lying on the dirty tile, crying rivulets of tears.
“What the hell is wrong with you? Are you nuts? Your stupid toy tries to kill me, and you think it’s the funniest thing you’d ever seen.” I was pissed off, and I seriously considered retrieving the mug so I could at least give him one hell of a lump on his skull.
After a good ten minutes of joviality, he sat up and wiped his eyes. “Oh, my God, you should’ve seen the look on your face. It was worth frying Benson’s brain just to see that expression.”
I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts. “What do you mean by that?” I really needed some caffeine right now, but I didn’t want to go near the robot.
“I’ve been tampering with his language center. I told him your name was Dead Meat, your nickname was ‘I will tell you after I plunge this knife into your heart’, and that he was to carry that knife at all times. Kill meant put to bed, and crush meant help.” He started laughing again, and I did pick up the mug, but I missed his head when I threw it at him in disgust.
“You fried an expensive robot just to pull a prank? God, what an idiot.” I now understood why my father had left home at sixteen.
Uncle Arthur stretched his leg out and poked at Benson with his toe. “No worries, he’s still under warranty. When his brain fried, it took all of his memories with him. I’ll get another one by tonight.”
Sure enough, the ever-reliable Matsu Corporation scooped up Benson and deposited another robot by four o’clock, after half an hour of a public relations manager apologizing profusely. I made sure this robot had normal blue eyes.
I also read through the manual, front to back. Whenever my uncle asks for hot cocoa, he’ll get a drop of ipecac syrup, hidden in a vial marked ‘imitation vanilla extract’ for extra flavoring. I didn’t do it for Benson. I did it for my father.
I swear, I’ll be the one who laughs last.