DORT, a Domestic Robot, was designed for home use and felt he fulfilled his purpose very well. He did it so well that his owners had lived long lives, and for that he was proud. But now, DORT lived alone, as he’d done for many years.
He kept the house in good repair, making his rounds every day. The house belonged to his little master now, who no longer was little, and no longer wished to live with DORT. He’d been replaced by much newer models and forgotten, leaving DORT alone to care for his family home.
Still, every day, DORT cooked meals, laying out each placement for six. He cleaned, watered the plants, and made repairs as needed. He took out the compost from the meals uneaten, then waited for his services to be needed. He was a good DORT.
As years passed, DORT continued to perform his duties, not knowing any other purpose.
One day, the door rang. At that moment, he identified his slight emotional reaction as excitement. He never had visitors. Though he knew it was probably a salesman, and they wouldn’t be here to see him, he hoped to exercise his voice box and clear out some of the dust he knew was collecting there.
He opened the door and was greeted by a cheery robot. “Hello!” it chirped in a female voice. “I would like to speak to the owner of this fine home.”
“I’m afraid he doesn’t live here,” DORT said. “May I take a message?”
“Are you authorized to make purchases on behalf of your household?”
“Well, yes. I am the only one here, so someone has to buy-”
“Excellent,” she said, cutting him off. “My name is HELEN, and it is my job to help enlighten people to a better way of living!” She emphasized to explain her acronym, and DORT thought it was rather silly. He felt like shutting the door, as he’d decided he didn’t like this robot no matter what she had to offer, but he didn’t have an excuse to give as to why he couldn’t talk to her if his house were empty.
“I am here to see if you’re interested in upgrading to the new and improved DORT5.”
DORT shook his head. “There is no one here to serve. I am the only robot this house needs.” He was getting a bit defensive that someone would feel he needed to be replaced. He did his job well and stood a little taller with pride at the thought. But, DORT could tell she was only repeating her programmed script, as all of the sales robots did.
“Perhaps it could take your place in keeping the home. I only suggest this because you look tired. You could use some time off your feet. You deserve this.”
He could only feel that this was intended for a human audience, as he’d never felt a sense of entitlement. In fact, he wasn’t sure his programming would allow it. HELEN couldn’t be swayed, though.
“Perhaps I could interest in you in another one of the products in our Companion line. You might need a Comfort Companion at the end of a long day of work. We highly recommend them for the psychological well-being of single-occupant households. We care for your well-being. If you’re lonely, we have just the cure!”
DORT paused for a moment that drew out into a silence that would have been awkward was it a conversation between two humans. HELEN didn’t attempt to fill the silence, and DORT was relieved. His masters were always so uncomfortable with silence, but he rather enjoyed it. Though lately, he’d taken to turning on the radio just to hear other voices than his own when he spoke to the plants. He didn’t find pleasure in music, but the voices made him feel like he still had masters to serve.
HELEN raised a polished metal finger and tapped DORT’s forehead, creating a sound that jolted him like an alarm bell from his reverie. “May I show you our line of Comfort Companions?”
DORT knew he should turn her away, like all the rest. His little master wouldn’t be pleased if DORT spent credits on an unnecessary item for the household. They didn’t need another robot. But, instead, he opened the door wider to allow HELEN inside. “Please, come in.”
He brought HELEN into the sitting room and offered her a chair as he would have for any guest. He felt excited to have a guest. He wanted to offer her a drink or nourishment, but he saddened knowing she couldn’t accept either. They were both basic workforce robots with few human functions.
HELEN patted the seat next to her. “Please, sit, and I’ll show you our lineup.” DORT always stood, especially in the presence of guests. He shook his head.
“I prefer to stand, thank you.”
“Very well,” HELEN said, ignoring his obvious discomfort. She doesn’t have a very evolved empathy drive, he thought. It seemed appropriate for her purpose. She placed a small cube on the coffee table and swiped a finger over the top of it. A holographic video began to play.
DORT was drawn in by the videos of individuals caring for their Comfort Companions, robotic cats and dogs. They looked so real, he thought. And the people looked so happy. He began to feel like he deserved to be happy, too. He’d never known happiness other than when he was able to serve, but sometimes he thought that maybe he knew sadness.
“Do you feel alone? Do you wish you had a companion? Are you lethargic and lacking in purpose? Then a Comfort Companion is what you need!” HELEN enthusiastically narrated the video.
“We offer our new standard DORT5 units that will fulfill all your household needs. We also offer a line for your emotional needs. We have the Nightingale android for a more human touch in your life. Our top-of-the-line Nightingale model offers the most advanced technology in empathy drives.
We offer more budget-friendly options with our domesticated animal collection. Choose from over 50 different breeds of canine and feline models that look and feel just like the real thing! Our domesticated animal models come equipped with a pseudo-organic digestive system, allowing the owner to feed and care for the animal and have a convenient waste management system. For the busy owner, never fear! Feeding and watering are optional and will not adversely affect the function of your animal.
If you buy today, you’ll receive 5% off and free shipping. Don’t wait. Buy happiness now!” HELEN finished and the video terminated, the light receding into the cube. HELEN clapped her hands excitedly. “Your reaction indicated that you’re interested in one of our feline models. Let me show you our options.” She waved a finger over the cube again, and a menu appeared, showing the different breeds of cats and a description of their markings and temperament.
“If you’re not interested in one of these, we do offer customization to the specifications of a beloved family pet for a small fee.” DORT gave a small nod, then left HELEN and walked slowly to the fireplace mantel. He studied the pictures on the mantel longingly, straightening out the ones that had moved slightly with his last dusting. He picked up his favorite. It was of the little master as a boy, holding his favorite cat, an orange beast named Pickles. He brought the frame to HELEN and handed it to her, then pointed wordlessly at the cat with its asymmetrical white marking on its nose.
“Yes, yes, we can do that customization very easily! I just need you to authorize a transfer of credits,” she said, pulling up a digital agreement on a small-screened device. DORT touched the screen to complete the authorization.
“Very good! We will have your new Comfort Companion delivered to you in the next two hours. Please, let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you.” She handed DORT a small business card. HELEN got up and left, closing the door behind her. DORT still stood in the sitting room alone.
He’d interrupted his routine and felt off-track. He didn’t know where to start. He’d also made an authorization that would likely upset his little master. He worried then that the little master might take DORT’s home away. But, maybe his little master would be pleased at his choice. So pleased that he may allow DORT and Pickles to serve him once again. He sat on the couch for the first time and picked up the small picture HELEN had set aside, admiring his little master and his cat. He stayed this way until his shipment arrived via drone two hours later.
He went to the door to retrieve his purchase and found the orange cat sitting on his doormat looking up at him, complete with the asymmetrical white marking on its nose. Pickles,” DORT said, and the robotic cat meowed convincingly. “Come in,” DORT offered to the cat, opening the door wider.
The cat came inside and began to twirl in figure eights around DORT’s legs, purring loudly. He shut the door behind them, and the cat followed him to the kitchen. DORT retrieved some milk from the fridge and set it on the floor. The cat began to lap at the milk eagerly. He patted the cat softly on its head and watched tenderly as it ate. He couldn’t smile on the outside, but for the first time in many years, DORT smiled on the inside. He hoped his little master would enjoy the companion very much.