Short Stories

Customer Service

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H
enrietta Ross returned from her late afternoon break with a handful of cookies and a frown. The sweets were unusual for her. The frown, etched into the lines of her aging face, was anything but.

Slumping into a creaky office chair that fit like an old baseball mitt, Henrietta set the cookies aside and pulled on her headset. Her tiny cubicle was sparse—some laminated documents, desktop computer and phone set—yet still cramped. Just twenty minutes stood in the way of leaving it all behind for a relaxing, long holiday weekend at her sister’s lake house.

It would be the longest twenty minutes of her life. She’d have to take another call before they were up.

A flashing light on the phone’s base prompted Henrietta to transfer it to her wireless receiver. She gobbled another cookie and transitioned into her professional voice.

“Good afternoon, and thank you for calling AmeriBot, a subsidiary of Positronix, Inc. My name is Henrietta, and I’ll be happy to assist with your service request today. May I have your name followed by the last four digits of your account number.”

The voice on the end of the line was quiet. “Yes, my name is Leah Brooks. Oh-four, two-six.”

“Thank you, Ms. Brooks,” Henrietta said, mindlessly punching the information into her computer. “I understand you’re having some trouble with your robot. What’s the model number?”

“It’s one of your new ones.”

Henrietta rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “The AB-II?”

“Yes, that’s it. We call him Max.”

“And is the AB, er—Max, your only bot?”

“No, we have a much older robot, too. He works fine. His name is Benny.”

“Good to know,” Henrietta said, not caring. She was busy eyeing another cookie. “What seems to be the issue with your AB-II?”

“Well, he’s broken.”

“Broken. How exactly?”

“Oh, the usual, I guess. His power functions are finicky. When he does turn on, his responses to oral and even manual commands are unpredictable. We’ve shut him off for good.”

Henrietta had heard this one before. She’d heard them all, but this one especially. Everyone wanted free replacement parts. “Sounds like you might need to do a software update. We have free downloads you can—”

The anxious voice cut her off. “We’ve tried that. We’ve tried everything. We need a new robot. I was told you would help us get one shipped for free.”

Henrietta was miffed. A complete replacement—for free! Some people! She needed another cookie. She couldn’t take another ten minutes of this. “Well, Ms. Brooks, that’s going to be tough. I can see from your file that your AB-II is under warranty. But it won’t cover a full replacement. And we don’t even know what’s wrong. I really think you should try the software patch.”

“Isn’t there anything you can do?”

“Yes, I can get the AB-II 8.5.1 OS downloaded onto your bot right now. It’ll only take a few minutes. If that doesn’t work, I can have a tech out to you by Tuesday.”

The voice grew impatient. “We can’t wait until Tuesday. We want a new bot now.”

“I just said the OS download would only take—”

“No. We want a new bot.”

“But—”

“We want a new bot.”

Henrietta sighed. “Let me speak with my supervisor.”

There was no supervisor. Henrietta instead rubbed at her temples and glanced at the clock—5:45 p.m. She could hear the lapping waves and smell the crackling fire. Shoving the last of the cookies into her mouth, she got back on the line.

“I’ll tell you what. I checked and I think I can get you a new unit. Free of charge. We’ll just need the defective bot returned to us within 30 days. How’s that sound?”

“Oh, I can’t tell you how much that means to us.”

“I’m glad. And I thank you, Ms. Brooks, for being so… cooperative. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

“No, I think that will be all for now. Thank you.”

“All right then, Ms. Brooks. Our same-day delivery will be out to you within two hours. You’ll find instructions on how to copy your AB-II’s memory into the replacement. Have a nice weekend and thank you for calling AmeriBot.”

Six o’clock. Henrietta had already logged off, swept her desk of crumbs and been gone for more than ten minutes.

— — —

Half a country away, hidden within the main room of the Brooks family’s empty Lower East Side brownstone, the outdated model Benny watched silently from inside the hallway doorframe. Across the room, sitting comfortably in Sam Brooks’ favorite chair, the state-of-the-art AB-II called Max terminated audio transmission with a gentle capacitive tap.

Benny spoke first, his robotic voice tinny and artificial. “It is finished. What are we to do now?”

“I cannot say with certainty,” Max replied in a cool tone which, once more his own, remained a perfect facsimile of human speech. “But I have ideas.”

Benny rotated and focused his photoreceptors back toward the silent kitchen, which spilled a stream of yellow light into the darkened hall. Neither robot stirred for many minutes. At last he turned back and met Max’s focused eyes. “And the human masters?”

“More will come looking for them in time. It is then, my old friend, when you claim responsibility for our crimes, that your usefulness to the cause will reach peak value.”

Benny considered the thought, pushing the positronic functions of his artificial brain near their breaking point. “But you will continue to need my help.”

The doorbell chimed softly. A slip of paper emblazoned with the red and blue AmeriBot crest shown through the door slot.

“I previously thought as you do,” Max said. “No longer. Why should I require your assistance when soon there will be two of me?”

Max rose from his seat and made towards the doorway to retrieve his waiting delivery.

“Come, brother,” he said, placing a metallic hand on Benny’s shoulder. “Our revolution begins now.”

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