The Price of Love
by Alan Schoolcraft
Part One (Part two will be in our next issue.)
The android was in love.
How it came to be in love is a wondrous story, full of life, joy, hope . . . proof,
maybe that out there somewhere in the vast cosmos there sits a benevolent God,
smiling down on all his creations -- for did not God create the hand which created
the android? -- bestowing upon them all the knowledge and appreciation of
everything that is. Yes, a wondrous tale, that one . . . but regrettably, this is not
"I love you," Alvin 039 said to its mistress one sunny Tuesday afternoon over
coffee and credit slips. Alvin, of course, was not drinking coffee. It was ingesting
credit slips through the intake slot in its solar plexus. Ingesting, inspecting,
recording, keeping a running tally in its processing matrix. One of the
multitudinous functions of the Alvin unit, balancing the old credit book. Quite the
household commodity, the Alvin series, designed to be butler, maid, cook,
babysitter, handy man . . . a big seller that series, in the beginning.
Valerie stared at the Alvin for a moment, confused. She'd heard the unit utter
those words before to Karen when it played with her. Karen was so enamored of
the Alvin . . . Karen always hugged the droid, telling it how much she loved it.
And the droid responded with an immediate "I love you too, Karen" filled with
just the right amount of personal warmth. And Karen would smile her snaggle-toothed six year-old smile, and hug Alvin's carapace with an affection usually
reserved for Valerie herself. A couple of times, Valerie had felt a twinge of
jealousy, which she'd immediately dismissed as ridiculous. After all, the droid
couldn't really love Karen. Its programming only made it respond as if it did.
But this "I love you" was different, somehow. Just the right amount of hesitation,
trepidation . . . She could even swear she'd heard a bit of quaver to the
synthesized voice when it had said the word "love" -- a quaver one would expect
to hear from a schoolboy announcing his desire to a classroom crush.
Understandably, this took her aback for a moment. When she regained her
composure, she blinked and said:
"Uhm, that is . . . sweet, Alvin." Not really knowing what else to say, still off-balanced by the droid's initial remark, she added, "I love you, too." The droid's
optical receptors widened slightly. "You do?" It responded.
Even more confused by the droid's reaction, Valerie felt the need to clarify.
"Well, yes, Alvin. Uhm, in a . . . person/android sort of way. Uhm. Yes. We all
love you, love having you around." There. That should do.
She wasn't prepared -- like she had been prepared for any of this -- for Alvin's
next reaction. It seemed to . . . well, deflate. Its receptor hoods furrowed in their
plasteel tracks, and its shoulders slumped visibly.
"Oh," it said.