Jack

A life as a robot can be painful.

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2. Chapter 2

“Friday at last!” Adam Truman tossed his coat and suitcase on a chair, his smile twisting into a puzzled frown. The computer panel in the front hall was buzzing. There was a message waiting at the front door. Someone must have come by after his wife had left for school. He tapped the “play” icon, grumbling in annoyance when a Bureaucrat appeared on screen.

 

“Bureaucrat” was the general name for the industrial robots owned by the Collective. They did everything from putting out fires to apprehending criminals to delivering packages. This particular Bureaucrat looked rather like a large, barrel-chested man in a polished brass diving suit. It was obviously designed for muscles, rather than ascetic appeal. The Bureaucrat stared into the camera and waved awkwardly. “Good morning, Truman household. I am with the Collective Funds Department, and this is a courtesy visit to present you with your sixth and final notice of late property taxes. You have thirty days from today to pay the balance due – plus interest and fees – or your home will be sold at auction. If you have trouble vacating the premises before that time, please call us and we will be happy to assist you. Have a great day, and enjoy your weekend!”

Despite the Bureaucrat’s friendly tone, the threat was clear: get out or else. “Well, they certainly don’t make it easy to own a house,” Adam thought. “If you rent an apartment, you can sign a five-year lease, and the landlord can’t increase your rent once. But the city Collective officers can increase your property taxes whenever they damn well please.”

He grabbed a beer from the kitchen and stepped into the living room, collapsing on the couch. The wall popped on automatically, switching to the local news. “–After days of deliberation,” a bubbly, redheaded newscaster was saying, “local Collective officers voted to build an Olympic-sized swimming pool at Goebbels Elementary School. The project will only require a ten percent increase in local taxes…”

Adam hurled his beer at the computer. The plastic bottle bounced to the floor, soaking his carpet. “God, what am I going to tell Rachel? She was already making plans to turn the second bedroom into a nursery… But I told her, no, we should wait until we save some money, we can’t afford to have children right now. And we never will, if we keep having to buy the world for our neighbors’ kids.” He checked his watch. It was just after five. His wife would be home in an hour. Just enough time to get drunk.

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