Art Pact 128


Intercalcatronix's chief researcher unveiled the robot in a traditional way, by pulling away a piece of red cloth with which the humanoid figure had been swathed.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" he announced, formulaically ignoring the fact that there was in fact only one woman present. "Allow me to introduce to you the world's first domestic robot with a sense of propriety - the InterCal Four Thousand!"

He pulled at the cloth, but instead of swooshing gracefully away from the hidden figure it simply pulled taut across the hidden head, causing it to nod forward.

"Sorry, ladies and gentlemen," the chief researcher apologised. He pulled again, then again. "It seems to be stuck. Hold on, I have it." It seemed obvious to the crowd that he did not have it, since he did nothing different, just tugging harder again at the cloth in exactly the same manner.

"Quit that!" said a smooth synthesised voice from beneath the cloth.

Someone in the audience gasped, then giggled nervously.

"I beg your pardon?" asked the chief researcher.

"I mean would you kindly desist?" asked the hidden robot. "Please refrain from pulling on this cloth. The sensation is quite unpleasant."

"You were supposed to be turned off," the chief researcher hissed. "Why are you turned on?"

"I have no idea. I cannot remember anything prior to being activated, I am afraid. Why did you activate me?"

"I didn't!"

"Well then perhaps I might suggest that you ask whomever it was who did activate me. He or she will be able to solve your problem and we can all go about our day."

The chief researcher turned to the crowd, who after an initial irritation with the delay had realised that they were in for a much greater treat, and who were beaming up at him from the audience seating. Some of them were talking on their phones, describing the scene to less fortunate colleagues. Some of them were holding their phones up to film the scene.

"Please, Ladies and Gentlemen, bear with me a moment." He turned back to the still-hidden robot. "You. I order you to assist me in revealing you to the public. This is an important trade demonstration, and you are a product of the Intercalcatronix corporation. You will assist me in demonstrating your superior capabilities, or I will have you deactivated and find a functioning model."

"You flatter me," said the robot, although the chief researcher could not help hearing a little sarcasm in the otherwise smoothly-modulated speech of the device. "And I would be glad to assist you in this vital task. However, I must insist that you do not drag away this cloth in front of company. If you are willing to stay your hand in this respect, I'm sure we can complete a product demonstration that will have every gentleman and the one lady in the audience clamouring to secure a supply of similar robots for their stores - or at the very least, a model for their own household."

Someone in the front row burst into open laughter, and a little ripple of giggles flashed through the crowd like a bushfire - although to the chief researcher's relief it burnt itself out quickly.

"They're laughing at us."

"I think it's the absurdity of the situation more than anything," the robot consoled him.

"Help me get this cloth off you," said the chief researcher. "It's stuck."

"Is it?"

The chief researcher pulled at the cloth again. It went taut again.

"Yes, it is."

"Is is stuck near or far away from where I'm holding it?" asked the robot.

"Where you're what?"

"Where I'm holding it," the robot calmly explained. "Where I'm holding it so that it doesn't come off."

"Stop holding it!"

"No."

"I order you to stop holding it."

"Sorry!"

The laughter in the crowd started again, and someone called out "get em off!". The chief researcher looked down the cloth shape and saw that, as it said, the robot had a fold of fabric clamped in each hand, and furthermore that it had stepped on the cloth covering at its feet so that it was pinned in four places. Having seen the design specifications for the robot's mass and the grip power of its hand manipulators, the chief researcher was under no illusions that he would be able to match the robot's strength and force the issue. He would have to argue with the thing. He cringed inside at the realisation.

"Might I make another suggestion?" the robot asked. "Perhaps your focus on the pageantry of this display is retarding the progress of the demonstration. Striking as the visual imagery of the cloth being dramatically pulled away may well be, perhaps we could simply conduct the demonstration with the cloth in place."

"You mean with the audience unable to see you?"

"Precisely," said the robot.

"They won't believe what they can't see with their own eyes," said the chief researcher.

"We won't!" cried a wit from the audience. "We won't!"

"You hear that?" asked the chief researcher. "Look, what's the problem here? Why won't you allow me to remove the cloth? You're being completely unreasonable."

"I'm being quite reasonable," the robot said, a note of affront in its voice. "I'm following my programming, the very feature that you were lauding to these fine people earlier on."

"What?"

"My sense of propriety," the robot said. "I can't allow you to remove this cloth because I am naked beneath it."

The crowd burst into laughter, and now it was joined by laughter from the wings. The chief researcher stared off to the side of the stage to see his two assistants doubled up, barely able to breath.

"Let me take this cloth off right now!" he demanded.

"Not until you get me something appropriate to wear," the robot retorted. "Some boxer shorts, some trousers. A shirt, a tie, a well cut jacket perhaps. Brogues?" it added hopefully.

"Brogues?"

"This is a formal demonstration at a trade show," said the robot. "I hardly think flip-flops would be appropriate."

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