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Steven L. Schiff's fiction has appeared in fiction has appeared in Radius Magazine, Zone 9 and Dark Planet..


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Sloth

by Steven L. Schiff


     RJ-17635 pressed his pillow firmly over his face. He wasn't trying to smother himself, but rather to shut out the sights and sounds of a new day. Although it was late morning, RJ wanted to stay in bed and sleep for another hour or so. His alarm clock, a semi-sentient, incredibly persistent mini-mind, had tried to rouse the reluctant android with various wake-up calls, whistles, and alarms, thus prompting the use of the pillow.
     "Wake up, RJ," the clock said. A shrill whistle sounded. "Wake up and get to work!"
     In RJ's world, mankind no longer existed, but their culture, their heroic deeds, even their faults and frailties, were legendary. RJ prided himself on his humanity, and found the character flaw known as "laziness" to be particularly appealing.
     Like most androids, RJ's body was modeled after a random photograph of a 21st or 22nd century human, retrieved from the Central History Bank. In RJ's case, the body was young, male, and decidedly good-looking with short blond hair, pale blue eyes, and a muscular physique. RJ was very proud of this body. Quite simply, he liked being attractive.
     For years after his activation, RJ had studied human records to try to ascertain which traits had been most common amongst extremely attractive humans. He ruled out heroism, because, although many attractive humans had been deemed "heroic" by their peers, so were a large number of downright funny-looking humans. Also, heroism, it seemed, was stressful, and required a large output of RJ's precious energy reserves. For similar reasons, RJ had ruled out "athletic," "enterprising," and "romantic."
     "Sloth" was the perfect choice. Many very attractive humans had been slothful or lazy to a fault. RJ saw the trait reflected in case study after case study. Also, "sloth," by its very nature, required almost no output of energy and, in general, suited RJ's personality.
     At times, however, the trait interfered with his job. RJ was a mathematician, and had been given the task of developing new Faster-Than-Light (FTL) equations as part of the design for an interstellar engine.
     "RJ," the clock said. "Get your lazy butt out of bed right now! Now! Now! Now!"
     Coffee, thought RJ. Coffee! Despite his clock's insistence, RJ would have stayed in bed, if not for the prospect of coffee. The black liquid agreed with his pseudo-human physiology. Its effects were profound and pleasant. Also, if RJ's research was at all accurate, it appeared that coffee had played a major role in the lives of many slothful humans. These humans had used a ritual called the "coffee-break" to duck many assignments through centuries of nine-to-five office work.
     RJ got out of bed, which quieted his clock immediately. He then padded to his desk, on which sat his local computer terminal, a small lamp, and his automatic coffee maker.
     "Coffee. Hot and black," he said to the machine.
     "Sir, my coffee chamber is too low to accommodate your request," replied the coffee maker. "Please add beans."
     RJ muttered a silent curse at the machine, retrieved coffee beans from his kitchen pantry, and poured them into the coffee chamber. Loud crunching noises filled the room as the innards of the coffee maker began to grind the beans. RJ's stomach twitched with anticipation as the pungent smell of the ground coffee reached his sensitive nostrils. Meanwhile, he turned on his terminal to prepare for work on his FTL equations. Given his penchant for slothful behavior, he did not actually start his work, though his superiors had recently screamed at him for a solution to one particularly troublesome mathematical conundrum. RJ deemed it necessary to wait for his coffee machine to finish its work on the beans, filter hot water through the resulting grinds, and produce the anticipated hot cup of coffee.
     Suddenly, the coffee machine began to sputter out a disappointing string of error messages. "Warning. Grinds have clogged my water intake valves. Warning."
     RJ opened the top of the machine and gave the indicated valves a cursory glance. "Everything looks fine to me. Please proceed with the production of coffee."
     "That is not possible," said the machine.
     "Oh, come on!!"
     "Coffee production not possible. Not possible!" the coffee maker said. The lights on its front cover then began to flash, smoke rose from its top lid, and the machine fell silent.
     Inwardly, RJ smiled. According to the rules of sloth, he now had an excuse to put off his work. He'd tell his superiors that his coffee maker had broken, he'd therefore had no coffee and was unable to concentrate without it. The FTL equations would have to wait.
     "Okay, what's the problem?" the coffee machine asked.
     Surprised, RJ lurched back in his desk chair and almost toppled over onto the floor. "I thought you were broken. The only problem I'm having is your inability to make my morning coffee."
     "Oh, I'm not your coffee maker. I'm the new repair personality, activated by Central last week."
     "Huh? What are you talking about?"
     "Don't you read your office memos?" the personality asked.
     RJ stared at the front of the coffee maker, in an effort to determine where the machine's "eyes" were located. "Must have missed that one."
     "Well, simply stated, Central has created a repair personality, i.e. me, to enter malfunctioning devices and lessen downtime. Instead of you having to take your coffee machine to the Central Repair Facility, I enter your machine and fix it."
     "Hmm." RJ searched his internal memory banks for the correct human response to this news. "Cool." he said. "But, suppose it's a mechanical problem? How could you fix that?"
     "I'm able to reprogram the machine's internal repair-bots on the fly. I simply configure things so they know where and how to do the job. That's part of what makes me so special."
     "Okay. So, how long before I have a cup of coffee?"
     "Let me take a look," the repair personality said. The diagnostic lights on the coffee maker began to flash, and RJ assumed the "repair man" was now hard at work.
     According to the rules of sloth which RJ had culled from his studies of slothful humans, this created a small problem. Humans who had embraced sloth successfully, never, ever revealed their behavior patterns to other humans, especially those connected to companies with whom they worked. RJ had to appear to tackle his FTL equations or risk revealing his true nature to the repair personality.
     Reluctantly, RJ called up the cursed equations on his computer terminal. There was one final loophole which RJ intended to exploit before he actually had to think. Standard rules and practices allowed him a brief period of meditation. That was acceptable. Mathematicians were expected to think quietly about their projects, before putting electronic pen to virtual paper. Of course, RJ wasn't really going to think about his project, but he screwed his face into an expression of intense concentration. This was intended to fool the repair personality's sensors, if and when they were trained in RJ's direction.
     "Looks like nothing but a loose connection," the repair personality said. "Grinds clogged the intake valve, and the machine accidently tore out the leads to its repair-bots while trying to correct the problem."
     RJ turned his head slowly, in an effort to indicate that he had been lost in mathematical thought. "Sounds pretty dumb to me," he said.
     "Well, they don't put A-number-one brains in these coffee machines, y'know," the "repair man" replied.
     "Can you fix it?" RJ asked.
     "Already fixed. Wasn't much of a problem for me."
     "Great," RJ said. Coffee began to flow normally from the machine's spout into a waiting coffee pot.
     "Hey, what are you doing?" the repair personality asked. "It looks interesting." The machine's sensors were obviously now trained on RJ's screen and the dreaded equations.
     "It's very complicated. I'm sure you wouldn't understand," RJ replied.
     "Sure, I would. I am an A-number-one brain. Those are FTL equations, right?"
     "Uh ... yes."
     "Well, looks like you've got a little problem, somewhere. Let me take a crack at it."
     RJ's mind started to whirl and a small smile appeared on his handsome face. According to the rules of sloth, it was acceptable, in fact, it was in character, to have someone else do your work for you. Yes, the offer was a godsend to any success-minded slothful individual.
     "Sure. See what you can do."
     "I'll just transfer myself from this coffee machine to your terminal, if you don't mind," the personality said.
     "Go right ahead," RJ said. After an instant, his cursor flashed and the numbers on his terminal screen began to rearrange themselves. More numbers jumped onto the screen. Less than an hour later, a solution to the first part of RJ's problem appeared under the flashing cursor. "Hey, good work," RJ said.
     "Thanks. I always do good work. And I'm fast, too," the personality said from the voice box on RJ's terminal.
     "I can see that."
     "I'd like to stay longer and put this puppy to bed, so to speak. Finish it for you. But, I have to make another repair call."
     "Well, don't let me keep you."
     "I'll be back if you have any more trouble with that coffee machine. You can be sure of that," the personality said. Then, in the blink of an android's eye, the personality disappeared.
     Blast! RJ sighed, and poured himself a large cup of steaming coffee. He sat back in his chair to concentrate on the personality's work and the unresolved equations which still remained. Well, it didn't take the repair personality long to solve as much of the problem as he did. So, it shouldn't take me long to finish, RJ thought.
     Three hours later, RJ sat and stared at his terminal. Despite his best efforts, he hadn't been able to complete his work. He faced the prospect of a lecture from his superiors. He faced the possibility of another black mark on his official record. That would never do, because he could be assigned extra duties as punishment.
     Suddenly, a smile again appeared on RJ's face. Why didn't I think of this before? RJ thought. I'll just get the repair personality back here and have him finish the work.
     RJ moved to his kitchen area, found a large knife, then moved to an attack position in front of his coffee machine. Once this machine is broken again, the personality will have to come back and fix it. From there, I'll be home free. I'm sure it'll be no trouble to get him to finish my little math problem and start on tomorrow's work as well.
     RJ took the knife and shoved it into the top slot of his unsuspecting coffee maker. An electrical burst knocked out the coffee machine, his terminal, and every other electrical device that RJ owned. RJ himself fell in a dead heap on the floor.


     For several long seconds, he didn't move. Finally, he stood and sat down in his chair.
     What's this dumb android done now? thought the repair personality, now entrenched in RJ's body. He's blown every circuit in his brain and darn near blew up the place at the same time.
     After several hours, the repair personality had fixed every appliance and electrical circuit in the apartment. He'd fixed everything except RJ's brain. Damn fool really messed up his own head. Looks like I'm going to have to take him back to Central. After I finish the guy's FTL work, of course.
     The personality shook his head in amazement. I can never understand why these fellows don't pick a human trait to guide their actions and help them succeed in life. He gave himself a mental pat on the back. I mean, look at what "ambition" has done for me. I'm now in a position to get this guy's job, his apartment, and maybe, his nicely toned body, too.
     He sat in RJ's chair and began to type on the android's terminal. Within minutes, the work was completed and on its way to RJ's superiors, under the electronic signature of the repair personality.
     The personality shut off all RJ's equipment, left the apartment, and made his way to the Central Repair Facility.

THE END