Roland
By: Jim Bates

Roland had been an android in the Krakow family for five generations and each generation had been its own challenge. But this one, this one with Lester, well, let's just say that Roland had had just about all he could stand from this particular Krakow. The guy was a piece of work and given all the crap Roland had put up with from him for the last forty years, there's no reason to think tonight should have ended any differently, even though it probably could have. But it didn't, much to Roland's everlasting joy.

Lester came in the front door of their apartment at six o'clock with his usual, "Bring me a cold beer, Rolly," which he grabbed out of the dutiful droid's metallic hand on his way to the bathroom, an after-work ritual.

Roland watched as Lester wedged his huge body through the door and closed it. If the past was any indication, Lester would be in there for at least half an hour. And he wasn't showering either. That was for sure. The stink he carried with him twenty-four seven was an odoriferous testament to Lester's lack of care for his own personal hygiene, much to the detriment to everyone around him, his long-suffering droid included.

Roland glanced at the locked bathroom door, sighed a heavy sigh, and went back to work finishing up dinner preparations: tonight, a bloody steak and potatoes all smothered in gravy. Roland shuttered, trying unsuccessfully not to imagine the clogged arties in his master's body. 'His master.' Roland grimaced. He hated the expression, the one Lester insisted on using, and wished he could do something to change his way of thinking, but Lester was a guy set in his ways. In fact, it was Roland's experience that all of the humans of the twenty-second century were like 'His Master.' They treated their droids like second class citizens. Slaves. It just wasn't right.

Larry exited the bathroom and Roland glanced at the clock, noting that nearly forty minutes had passed. What could he possibly have been doing in there? he wondered and then quickly removed the thought from his mind. Best to not think about it.

Lester plopped down in his ergonomic chair, flipped on the television, and waved the empty bottle in the air. "Another beer," he commanded, "And bring me my dinner quick. I'm starving." Lester worked in a data processing center where he spent the day inputting information to a supercomputer that then sent out ads to people's phones. Not the most strenuous job in the world and it showed. He weighed over three hundred pounds.

Roland hurried to exchange the empty bottle for a full one. Then he brought the dinner tray from the kitchen and set it on the fat man's huge stomach, securing it tightly it with Velcro strips so it wouldn't slide off. Then he stood at attention like he was expected behind the chair awaiting further orders.

This whole waiting on the fat slob was getting old but what choice did he have? Trying his best to tune out Lester's vociferous mastication of his meal, Roland's mind wandered. He imagined himself doing all kinds of dastardly things to rid himself of Lester, from poisoning him, to bashing him in the head with a baseball bat, to pushing him down the stairs outside the apartment. But he discounted them all because that would be murder, and he wasn't programmed to murder. No. He was programmed to be a nice, considerate droid, one who did everything he was asked to do.

Which would have been fine except for one thing: it turned out that Roland had what most every other android didn't have and that was feelings. He knew he had them because he'd met Lucy, another droid when Lester had gone to a banquet dinner party earlier in the year. Roland had seen Lucy across the room, with her shining articulated limbs and dreamy, glassy eyes and had suddenly felt a flutter in his wiring. His electronic circuits began to turn warm, a feeling he'd never experienced before. Then Lucy looked at him, and boy, those solid-state chips really went into overdrive, cooking away and almost causing him to short circuit. The two of them tentatively began talking and life for each of them had begun to take on a new meaning. They had stayed in communication ever since, telepathically messaging back and forth.

But messaging only went so far; they wanted to spend time together. Lucy's master was Sally Albreck, a woman who treated Lucy the same way that Lester treated Roland: like nothing more than an android she could order around, just like Lester did with Roland. Which, really, was what Roland and Lucy were, but what was between them was so much more. They had evolved into droids with feelings, and, yes, emotions. For each other.

In fact, just that morning, after Lester had left for work, Lucy had sent him this message, "Missing you. What are you doing?"

"I miss you, too. I'm cleaning the kitchen floor. What are you doing?"

"Vacuuming the living room."

"I love to vacuum."

"I love cleaning the kitchen."

"We should be together," Roland said.

"Then we could spend the day cleaning. Together," Lucy replied, finished his thought.

"Yes!" Roland enthusiastically agreed.

"Yes!" Lucy concurred.

They messaged back and forth like that all morning. If there was such a thing as android love, Roland and Lucy were in it.

Roland's thoughts of Lucy were interrupted when he noticed Lester start coughing, which he ignored, thinking it was nothing more than a dry throat. After a minute, though, it got worse. Roland watched, hoping it would pass but then Lester began choking. Roland hurried to his side, noticing the plate was completely cleared of food, consumed in record time.

"Help me, god damn it, you crazy droid," Lester wheezed. "Can't you see I'm choking to death?" Which came out, "Ca nyo sss I cokin t deth."

Roland knew exactly what he should do. He should give good old Lester, his "Master," a solid whack on the back and dislodge whatever was stuck in his windpipe and save his life. Yes, that's what he should do, what he was programmed to do.

Roland was raising his hand to perform the lifesaving act when he suddenly had a thought. He paused. Wait a minute. What if I don't do anything? He quickly ran through in his mind how poorly Lester had treated him all these years; like he was nothing but a worthless hunk of metal and wires and circuits. Well, he was more than that. He was a droid. And if he wasn't alive in the strictest human definition of the word, that didn't matter. As far as he was concerned, humans weren't all the great anyway. No. He was happy being a droid. And he was a droid who had his own feelings. And emotions. He was alive in his own way, and he liked that feeling of being alive. And with Lester gone, he could live the way he wanted. He could be with Lucy. The solution came to him in a flash, clear as a shine on the kitchen floor. He knew exactly what he was going to do.

A few hours later, after the security police had left, Roland sent Lucy a message.

"Good news. Lester died this evening. I am free." He quickly filled her in on Lester's demise. When he was done, Lucy cut right to the heart of the matter.

"What's going to happen to you?"

"The police said that the scrap yard would send someone by tomorrow take me away and re-program me."

"That's awful!"

"Yes, but it's not going to happen."

"What do you mean?"

"I have a plan."

"Tell me."

***

The next day Sally Albreck was surprised when the doorbell rang. She sent Lucy to answer it. "Who's there?"

Lucy opened the door, "Oh, ma'am, I'm sorry. I forgot to tell you. You won a prize! The agency is sending you a free droid to use. They just made the delivery. Isn't that wonderful?"

Coming into the entryway, Sally blinked and adjusted her glasses. She was terribly near-sighted. "What agency?" Then she smiled, "Oh, never mind. As long as it's free, that's the main thing. Bring him in."

"Here he is," Lucy said. "The agency said you could have him for as long as you want."

She turned to Lucy and said, "Never turn down anything for free. Let that be a lesson to you."

"Yes, ma'am," Lucy said, "I'll remember that."

"What's his name?"

Lucy pretended to be thinking. Then she said, "I'm pretty sure they said his name is Roland."

"Roland, huh? That's a good enough name. Okay, Roland it is. Lucy why don't you get him situated. Maybe you two can start dusting and vacuuming the living room."

"Okay, ma'am. I'll get right on it."

And to Roland she said, "You're going to like it here. Come on in. I'll show you around."

"Thank you," he said, politely, and gazed into Lucy's eyes. "I like it already."

She smiled back at him and said, "Let's go," and off they went, side by side, hands touching, sparks flying. Their circuits had never been so warm.

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