By Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn
Have you ever killed someone you love – I mean, really love?
I did it as surely as if I’d fired a bullet into her brain, and the fact that it was perfectly legal, that everyone at the hospital told me I’d done a humane thing by giving them permission to pull the plug, didn’t make me feel any better. I’d lived with Kathy for twenty-six years, been married to her for all but the first ten months. We’d been through a lot together: two miscarriages, a bankruptcy, a trial separation twelve years ago – and then the car crash. They said she’d be a vegetable, that she’d never think or walk or even move again. I let her hang on for almost two months, until the insurance started running out, and then I killed her.
Other people have made that decision and they learn to live with it. I thought I could, too. I’d never been much of a drinker, but I started about four months after she died. Not much at first, then more every day until I’d reach the point, later and later each time, where I couldn’t see her face staring up at me anymore.
I figured it was just a matter of time before I got fired – and you have to be pretty messed up to be fired as a night watchman at Global Enterprises. Hell, I didn’t even know what they made, or at least not everything they made. There were five large connected buildings, and a watchman for each. We’d show up at ten o’clock at night, and leave when the first shift showed up at seven in the morning – one man and maybe sixty robots per building.
Yeah, being sacked was imminent. Problem was, once you’ve been fired from a job like this, there’s nothing left but slow starvation. If you can’t watch sixty pre-programmed robots and make sure the building didn’t blow up, what the hell can you do?
I still remember the night I met
I let the Spy Eye scan my retina and bone structure, and after it let me in I went directly to the bottle I’d hidden in the back of the washroom. By midnight I’d almost forgotten what Kathy looked like on that last day – I suppose she looked pretty, like she always did, but innocent was the word that came to mind – and I was making my rounds. I knew that Bill Nettles – he was head man on the night shift – had his suspicions about my drinking and would be checking up on me, so I made up my mind to ease off the booze a little. But I had to get rid of Kathy’s face, so I took one more drink, and then next thing I knew I was trying to get up off the floor, but my legs weren’t working.
I reached out for something to steady myself, to lean against as I tried to stand, and what I found was a metal pillar, and a foot away was another one. Finally my eyes started focusing, and I saw that what I had latched onto were the titanium legs of a robot that had walked over when it heard me cursing or singing or whatever the hell I was doing.
“Get me on my feet!” I grated, and two strong metal hands lifted me to my feet.
“All you all right, sir?” asked the robot in a voice that wasn’t quite a mechanical monotone. “Shall I summon help?”
“No!” I half-snapped, half-shouted. “No help!”
“But you seem to be in physical distress.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said. “Just help me to my desk, and stay with me for a few minutes until I sober up.”
“I do not understand the term, sir,” it said.
“Don’t worry about it,” I told him. “Just help me.”
“Have you got an ID?