Shad: ABC Is For
Artificial Beings Crimes
|Naked Came the Robot
"I don't know if it's having a father die in the Dogfood Wars, having to enlist in the Economy to leave hearth and barracks, becoming friends with a hydraulicaholic robot named Hugo Pissov, doing battle on the picket lines for the IBAMO brotherhood, living as a zombie, or falling passionately in love with a coin-operated seductress named Anne Droid, but the life of the hero in Naked Came The Robot closely parallels my own. By that I mean I went to a military school, too."
---Barry B. Longyear
Naked Came the Robot
by Barry B. Longyear
Cadet Sergeant Henry Fleming had a passion to enlist in the Economy. Tales of great deals hummed from the telescreens, and his eager eyes absorbed the marketing strategies, new products, bankruptcies, and graph-illustrated developments and he longed to see it all for real. His imagination painted for him wall screen-sized pictures, opulent in sixty-toned graphics, lurid in deeds of breathless profit.
But his mother discouraged him. She would return after a hard day of pushing troops at the company, where she was first sergeant, kick off her boots, toss her uniform blouse over the back of the couch, and slouch down with her first beer of the night before the telescreen. She would scoff at the newscasters as they spoke with great ardor and patriotism of America's marketing inroads, Gross National Product advancement, and relative currency gains.
"Hosshit. Henry, jes' listen t' thet dim-ditty blowin' itall from 'is bunghole. Gawd, but it'd be love t' have thet blowdried twat in fer comp'ny drills. I'd take t' starch outten 'is prangdoodle."
"Ma, I want to enlist in the Economy."
She crushed her empty beer can, tossed it across the room, and opened another can. Her gaze remained fixed on the telescreen. "Don't talk like a damn fool, Henry." She put the edge of the can to her lips and drank deeply. The discussion was at an end.
However, late that night in his room, his tele crackled with the news of the latest Soviet offensive in Western Europe. Everything from new Volga autos to GUM shoes were appearing in showrooms and stores. The low, low prices had Europeans diving for their charge cards. Economic commentators were agreed that the Soviets were selling below cost, dumping in an attempt to drive the U.S., Japan, and the Allies out of the European market.
Henry listened to a generated image of I. P. Daley, President of Boeing-Boeing-Serta Inner-Spring Mattresses, Inc., speak to the viewers about the new challenge from the east, and how American business and labor---the nation's economic big guns---were responding to the unprovoked attack. Daley's message was followed by a civilian recruiting spot. A tall, white-haired man sporting a goatee, wearing black silk top hat, striped trousers, swallow-tailed black coat, and wing-tipped collar complete with diamond-studded cravat, shook his gold-headed walking stick at the viewers and, with steely eye aglint, demanded: "Daddy Warbucks wants you for the U.S. Economy!"
After removing his bridge and brushing his teeth, all that night awake and in his dreams, visions of glory paraded in the dark, the sight of it blinding his mind's eye to his Army home. The next morning as he passed his mother's room on his way to morning formation, she looked up from where she was sitting on her footlocker spit shining her boots. "'Mornin', Henry."
"Good morning, Ma." Henry looked down. "Ma, about last night---"
no more 'bout it, boy. Y' got a good life in t' Army. Any boy with a
o' sense 'd know thet." She paused, moved the cigar from the left side
her mouth to the right side, and nodded at her son. "Don't fergit yer
t' git yer bridge fixed. Run along now t' formation, 'n' put thet fool
outten yer haid."
The Old Soldier
The air was thin and chilly, the sun sharp and bright, as Henry trudged toward his battalion quadrangle, his brow furrowed. Enlisting was the right thing to do, he was certain. What if everybody left it all up to the robots? What then? Russia would have America's back against the economic ropes, that's what. But could he disobey his mother?
He thought of his mother. She still carried the memory and the pain of the Sarge, his father, in her heart. The Sarge had enlisted years before at the beginning of the Great Dogfood Wars and had made a bundle investing in Alpo-Dow. Henry had been barely old enough to understand the terrible news when it came. The recombinant DNA labs at Rolls Royce Horsemeat Ltd. had announced the introduction of its vat-grown Dobbin-On-A-Stick, crushing the competition. Purina-Mitsubishi caved in first, taking the rest of the industry down with it. In despair, unable to face either his family or his creditors, the Sarge had climbed to the top of Hackensack's Disney-Playboy Tower, had let his tear smeared gaze rest for a moment upon the distant Manhattan Wasteland, then plunged to his death upon the corner of Hefner & Tinkerbell. Ever since, Henry's mother had been against the Economy. She wanted him to go on to the United States Military Academy's campus at Paducah, get his commission, and settle down in a cushy admin position on the general staff.
The youth paused and saw that his clouded mind had steered his footsteps to Ft. Calley's NCO club on the comer of Blood & Guts. The Old Soldier would be inside, his hands clasped around his cup of coffee, his unseeing gaze leveled on the club's robo performer. The Old Soldier was a veteran, having seen economic service in both the Dogfood Wars and the Sony-Gloria Stevens Robot Aerobics Revolt before reentering the Army in the Senior Service.
Henry quickly glanced down Guts to the clock-sign rotating over the branch office of the First Military Payline & Soldier's Fund. He still had a few minutes before morning formation. He pushed open the door. The darkness, thick smoke, and deafening music swallowed him. As his eyes adjusted to the dark he could make out the gleaming rows of bottles behind the bar. At the back of the room was a small stage where an overly padded USObot belted out "Monday, Monday" accompanied by the speakers mounted in her belly. There were only a few soldiers seated at the tables, and Henry looked for that familiar gleaming tower of stripes. Off to the left against the wall, far away from the others, he found the Old Soldier, the wrinkled black of his skin contrasting with the starched khaki of his uniform.
He walked over and came to attention next to the old man's table. As his heels clicked, the Old Soldier brought his thoughts back from his past and aimed his cloudy brown eyes at Henry. His face radiated power, hate, and Ultimate Disgust.
"You little pussy-whipped mama's boy. Where are you from, boy?"
"There's only two things that come from Texas, boy: steers and queers. I don't see any horns on you, so you must be queer. Are you queer, boy?"
"Sergeant-Major Boyle, sir, can we cut this short? I only have a few minutes before I have to be at formation."
The Sergeant Major's eyebrows went up. "Sure, Fleming." He held out his hand toward the chair to his right. "Sit down. What's the problem?"
Henry pulled out the chair and sat down. He couldn't quite meet Sergeant Major Boyle's glance. "Sergeant Major, I've been thinking about joining up."
Boyle's eyebrows came back down as the old man returned his glance to his coffee cup. "Oh?"
"Henry, what's your mother think about you enlisting in the Economy? Have you mentioned it to her?"
The youth shrugged. "I told her, but you know my Ma. She's dead set against it. Because of the Sarge."
The old man nodded his shaved head. He took a sip of coffee, lowered the cup to the saucer, and faced the youth. "How can I help you, Fleming?"
"You were in the Economy, weren't you?"
The old man turned his attention back to his cup of coffee. "You know I was."
Henry leaned forward, his elbows upon the edge of the table. "What was it like?"
"I don't like to talk about it." He slowly shook his head. "I never talk about it." His head stopped shaking. "You don't know what it was like during the Revolt. The Army didn't support the economic effort. When me and my buddies came home from the Mall to the quadrangle we were treated like boots." He looked at Henry with pain-glazed eyes. "Like boots!"
The youth placed a gentle hand upon the old man's arm. "This isn't the Revolt, Sergeant Major. This is new business."
The Old Soldier pulled his arm away from Henry's grasp. "Business shmisness! The goddamned civilians promised me that my slot in the Army would be protected and that I would be put back in charge of my robot company when I was laid off. Ha! What they did was to give some wet-eared four-striped slacker my command! And me? Me they dump into the Senior Service! The Boneyard Brigade!" He shook his head slowly. "Me and those other vets from the Revolt don't attend those self-help groups to laugh about the good old days, I can tell you that, cadet."
"Sergeant Major, times have changed---"
"Changed?" The old man's nostrils flared as his breath snorted in hot blasts. He calmed down a bit, shook his head and picked up his coffee. "No one could tell me anything either."
"Button it up, Fleming. I want to listen to Sue Baru." The old man turned his attention toward the stage as the robot shifted down into "Night Train" and began unbolting her plates, revealing pulsating mounds of cosmetic vinyl.
Henry wanted to try again, but thought better of it. The Old Soldier's mind had drifted away, back to his old command. It was time to get to formation anyway. Henry pushed back his chair and got to his feet. "I'll be seeing you, Sergeant Major."
The old man nodded slightly, his gaze still riveted on Sue Baru's perambulating pistons. The youth looked down at the floor and shuffled toward the door, his mind in turmoil. . . .
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