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I guess it started with the robot talking to me at the front of Perfect Pizza. It was the check-out clerk, one of the humanoid ones, vaguely male with his square features, bald head and glass eyes. His pupils dilated when the clouds covered the sun, and he had specks of color in each iris: blue and grey, occasionally red. The ‘bot was just human enough to feel comfortable ordering a personal pizza from, yet small and deformed enough to remind us humans that we still dominated the earth. This one was permanently stuck to the counter, with a human-shaped torso, head and arms bursting from the white plastic like an eerie modern centaur.
All the check-out robots were programmed to say specific phrases in response to human interaction, with little variance. “And what kind of toppings would you like?” they would ask after you ordered your pizza. Some days, the only words ever spoken to me were those of the fast-food check-out ‘bot.
Next, the inevitable payment question: “How would you like to pay, ma’am, credit card or G.S.?” Even the robots used the initials G.S. instead of “general stipend,” and pretended that paying with a credit card was still an option. As if anyone who could use a credit card, and not the stipend, would be in a pizza joint.
And at the very end of the transaction, in most of these fast food restaurants, the robot would offer some last line to make you walk away feeling inspired. If you were eating at Happy Burger they’d say, “Have a happy-dappy day!” At Soyfarm Panda, the robot would say, “May your stomach be full and your mind at peace.” At Perfect Pizza, the robots would usually finish with the line, “We hope this pizza helps you to be happy today!”
But that wasn’t what the robot said to me on that day.
What Have You Done to be Happy Today? – Kimberly Kaufman
Shadows on Glass – Jamie Lackey
Papa Pedro’s Children – Karl Dandenell
HOPper – Charlotte H. Lee
Q: What is the most effort you’ve ever put into making dinner?
A: Once, when trying to impress a date, I attempted to make surf and turf with rice pilaf on an old electric stove that had only 3 functional burners. I went to three stores (and spent most of my grocery budget for the week) to get all the ingredients.
I’d never cooked lobster before, and didn’t think to follow a recipe. I also used a cut of filet minion suitable for a single serving (not two). And I started the rice pilaf 35 minutes before my date was supposed to arrive.
Now rice pilaf takes a long time to cook properly – you really need to mince the onion and use a hot pan — but not too hot — to get the rice consistency just so. You also have to keep an eye on things. If the stock boils too fast, things burn. Too slow, and you get soup. Ideally, I like about 45 minutes to do the dish properly.
So, with minimal counter space, I tried to balance the prep and cooking for three dishes with the goal of having everything finished at the same time.
I was not successful. The steak was fine, the lobster passable, but the pilaf turned into porridge.
Still, two out of three was enough to impress the young lady.
Karl Dandenell’s story “Papa Pedro’s Children” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 28 July 2017. Subscribe to our e-mail updates so you’ll know when new stories go live.
Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. In addition to writing, she spends her time reading, playing tabletop RPGs, baking, watching anime, and hiking.
Jamie Lackey’s story “ Shadows on Glass ” will be published on Friday, 4 August 2017.
Subscribe to our e-mail updates so you’ll know when new stories go live.