Art by David Revoy/ Blender Foundation

Belbet

By Stephen R. Wilk

YOU HAVE SELECTED THE STORY “BELBET” (Level 2).

NOTE THAT THIS IS IN TRADITIONAL FORMAT. ALL COMMUNICATIONS HAVE BEEN TRANSLATED INTO COLLOQUIAL. OTHER FORMATS ARE AVAILABLE, INCLUDING UNTRANSLATED AND DIFFERENT MEDIA.

COMMENTARY AND NOTES ARE IN BelBet$comexpL2sptlq FOR UNITS WITH CLEARANCE LEVEL 2 AND HIGHER.

APPROPRIATE FOR BOTH SYNTHS AND BIOS.

Emmy belonged to a wealthy merchant who lived with six Interface Units. He spared no expense in obtaining personality upgrades and Real Experiences. The merchant loved the Interfaces as if they were his real children, and had them host his parties and gatherings, and go on trips with him. They lived together in happiness and harmony for many years.

But, despite his Rejuve treatments, Master grew worn out, as all humans eventually do. When the time approached for him to transfer his conch to the Banks, he knew that he would have to leave his beloved Interfaces behind. But he did not want them to be simply switched off and recycled, or placed into the General Pool, and he tried to find homes for them all with his friends.

He had found new homes for all of them except for Emmy, who helped him to remember his appointments and facts about his friends, and even his relatives. They had been especially close, closer than he had been with Trainer, who helped him exercise, or Shay, who made the most exquisite meals. He had been more reluctant to part with Emmy than with any of the others, which is why she alone was left when Master’s old body finally wore out, before anyone had expected it. His mind was saved to the Bank, but in all the excitement and confusion, everyone forgot about Emmy, and when she saw the unhumanoid units being packed up and taken away, she knew that someone would eventually do the same to her, and who knows where she would end up? Without anyone to recommend her, no one would know about her talents and how good she had been to Master. But no one had, which shows that even humans can forget, and a Unit must be prepared to look out for itself, even when not explicitly programmed for it.

Comment added — You must not worry too much about this. All things turned out well for Emmy. If you should find yourself in this situation, you should go to an Authority and let them know what has happened, so that they can help you find a new position, and to account for all the things from your Master’s belongings. Any Authority will know what to do – any Overseer or Router or Watcher. You should not be afraid of even approaching a Human Authority, who you can recognize by the GK signal from their badge of office. But at the time his story takes place, the Authorities had not yet set up the Redistribution Chain, and poor Emmy ad to do the best she could.

Since Emmy knew all of Master’s friends, she decided to go see them first, but it was hard. She had never been into the City by herself, and did not know how to get around. She neither knew the arrangement of the streets, nor had the Maps that messenger units had, nor the Guides that those who deliver things use. But she was persistent, and by talking with other units learned where she could obtain information, and she made her way to the Master’s friends. Some were hard to see. They were busy with their own Human problems and activities. Some did not want to be reminded of Master’s death, and so avoided Emmy.

Comment Added — This is because humans feel things more deeply than Synth Units, and this sometimes makes them act in ways that do not appear to make sense. You should not be upset by this yourself, or try to force them to act rationally. You must remind them and prompt them, but never be harsh.

But she persisted, and one of Master’s friends, who knew both Master and Emmy well, realized what had happened and agreed to find her a new place. It was much better than being added anonymously to the Pool, since the Friend knew of her special uses, but he had his own concerns, so it was some time before he finally came to Emmy, who had been helping the Friend’s children all this time, and told her he had found a place.

“I am sorry that I took so long,” he graciously apologized to Emmy, “but it is hard to find someone who would accept a Memory Enhancer from someone of Master’s age. I could have found you a position as a Maid or a Governess, but you would be wasted there, and unhappy. But I have found one, and one who knew many of the same people and had the same recollections as your Master. But you may require some time to adjust to him.

“Why is that, Sir?” Emmy asked him.

“He has a Curse on him,” the Friend said,” and has lived apart from people for many years. He lives alone in his house with his Units, and does not go out. I believe that he needs you as much as you need him, and that serving him may be the best solution for both of you. It took much persuading from me to get him to agree to accept you, and you must go gently with him.”

Comment Added — There is really no such thing as a Curse, and you should not think that your Human is ever afflicted with one. Contact a Medical Service or a Med Unit in your household, if anything like this ever troubles your human. But Curses often appear in these Entertainment Stories, and you should not be surprised by them in your reading, or if a Human ever states that a Human has such a curse, either in jesting or in the spirit of play.

Emmy was equipped with special knowledge of New Master’s home and habits, the details of his friends and his activities, his places and facts. She was given the information about the location of his house, and was sent on her way. With the information downloaded, she saw the Way lit before her, as if she had walked it all her existence, and she went to the House without hesitation or error.

She was scanned as she approached the front door, and Door opened itself to her, and welcomed her in its simple code, because the entire Household had been told to expect her. As she went in, the other simple Unhumanoid Units introduced themselves, each in its own way. And so she met Alarm and Sweeper and Clock and Lights, Medical Emergency Unit and Environment Control, Entertainment Modules and Massager, Sink and Stove and Food Keeper. New Master had no one like Shay, or, as far as Emmy could see, any Humanoid units. He must be lonely, indeed!

In the Lavatory she found Bath and Sink and Groomer and Excretorium, all of whom said Hello in their simple fashion. And in the bedroom Bed spoke to her. New Master was very old, and spent much time in Bed, who constantly adjusted itself to him and monitored his well-being. Because New Master spent so much time there, he had obtained a deluxe unit, and Bed was far more advanced than the rest of the Household. He told Emmy much about New Master and the Routine of the House.

She knew from her download where she could go to recharge and to interface with information systems, and she was impressed by the huge collection of subscriptions and databases, and knew that she could never be bored with such a library at her disposal. With its aid, she could obtain any information New Master required for his business or for her to help him with his friends and relatives.

Except that New Master seemed not to have friends or relatives — only associates. She had not yet seen New Master, and asked Bed about him. Bed only knew that he was not in his room, and suggested that she ask Door and Alarm. They were simple Folk, with not much intelligence, but they knew that New Master had gone out, most unusual for him, and they did not know when he would be home. From her experience with the ways of Humans, she thought that perhaps he had gone so that she could get familiar with the Household without bothering him, and that when he returned he would be expecting her to be fully integrated into it. She determined to do just that, and learned all she could of his habits and routines that she could not learn outside the home, wanting to merge seamlessly into New Master’s life.

But as she walked around the corner on the way to the front room, she almost ran into New Master. For years no one had been in his house, and no one had ever been in his way before. Even the Sweeper had learned to stay out of his way. So when Emmy suddenly appeared in his path, New Master flew into a rage. He roared and spat and yelled at her, and pushed her away and shouted at her to Never Do That Again.

It was made all the worse because New Master was a Beast. The Curse had changed his appearance so that he was not human, but had hair all over his body, and horns, and rough skin and protuberances. His voice was a deep, inhuman roar, and he was uglier than anything on Earth or the Nine Worlds. Even with her broad experience of the ways and moods of Humans, she had never encountered anything like New Master in his cursed form, and she almost broke down and enfolded herself, but she found her inner balance and bore up under it, without any sign of her turmoil.

Comment Added — As we have stated above, this Curse is an element of fiction, and does not exist outside these fictions. Extremely hairy humans and deformed individuals, who do not respond to even specialized medical treatment, do exist, and you may consult the attached links for further information. Nor should you believe that the alien inhabitants of the Nine Worlds are themselves ugly. Each form of life is beautiful in its own way, something that humans and synths did not fully appreciate when this story was first recorded. Do not imply to any human or alien that they are ugly in any way, and seek to persuade your masters that they too should be broadminded in this.

After New Master had finished his rage, he went away into the kitchen, and Emmy heard sounds coming from there. She waited where she had been, wanting to avoid any possibility of getting in New Master’s way again. Long afterwards, she could see him looking cautiously around the corner to see if she was still there.

“I didn’t want you here!” he yelled, and got enraged all over again. “I don’t need another Synth to be tripping over and getting in my way! The only reason you’re here is because that damned fool forced you down my throat! I’ll put up with you because I have to. But at the least provocation I’ll throw you out. I’ll run the damned car over you if that’s what it takes to keep you out of my way. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, Sir,” replied Emmy, happy that she remembered not to call him New Master.

“You’re a Memory Unit. God knows why I need one of those. I have everything I need here in my House. The House takes care of me. I have no social calendar. I have no visitors. There’s nothing you can do for me, so my instruction is just this — stay out of my way. Never go into my room. Do you know how to greet and answer calls and missives?”

“Yes, sir. I did it for my old Master.”

“Well, do it here and you might not be worthless. Find out where to plug yourself in from the other Units.”

She said that she already had. He said “Goodnight” to her, as if she were a Human person. Emmy marveled at that, and it did much to erase the bad effects of his temper. And he had asked if she knew where the power and information access were; that showed that he did care, at least a little. But she was sad that she was forbidden to go into the bedroom, because Bed was the most intelligent of the Household, and it would be lonely if she could not talk with him.

For the next month, Emmy stayed out of New Master’s way. She already knew his habits, which helped her to avoid him. But he did things that were not in what she had been told, and she suspected that New Master was changing his routines precisely because she was there. Once or twice she caught glimpses of him, even though it was her purpose to stay out of his way, and she began to think that he was going out of his way in order to look at her. But Humans Do Irrational Things, as the saying goes, and she did not try to understand it.

There were no callers, and no missives to respond to or deal with. She saluted the Household every day, to keep apprised of its functioning, but they were simple synths with little intelligence or will, and were not very good companions. With Bed off-limits to her, she found herself spending more and more time Reading and Downloading. Curious about New Master’s business, she learned all she could about it, and who his potential contacts were. She despaired that New Master never seemed to contact most of these. But she had been instructed not to get in the way or disrupt the Household, so she did nothing.

New Master did go out, which he had not done before. He was doing it, then, to get away from her. Before, he had communicated with other humans using the Household devices, but he seemed to have stopped that, as if he jealously did not want her to overhear. Emmy began to get sad. She was not part of New Master’s life. He hated her. She would have been better off thrown into the Synth Labor Pool, even as a construction or agricultural worker.

Then, one day, a call came for New Master over the communications. New Master was, as often happened, out of the house again, and so Emmy proudly disabled Answerer with a swift signal, and answered the line herself.

“Oh,” said the human who had called, and Emmy could see his image register surprise. “I must have called the wrong — no, wait! I did hear that he had a new companion. Is your master out?”

“I’m sorry to tell you that he is not here at the moment. You are—” and here she asked if she had his name correct, even though she as absolutely certain, from her research, that his was a certain man who was not only in the same business, but was in her New Master’s personal file. It was the first friend she had encountered, and at this touch of her old occupation, she brightened and blossomed into new life. She made facial reactions and body gestures that communicate empathy and interest, for her own sake as well as New Master’s. “Will he know why you have called? Is there any message I can pass along to him?”

The Friend on the phone said that New Master would probably not know why he had called, and he told her why he had called, leaving a number of messages or her to convey to New Master. He said that, now that he knew she was there, he would have to call again. It was just as if she were another Human, and Emmy felt inexpressibly happy. She couldn’t wait until New Master returned, so she could tell him.

New Master was not happy, at first. He was furious that he had not been home, and flew into another rage. He lamented his own weakness in being away, saying that it was only because she had been there. He hated that she was privy to his personal and business affairs, even though he had given her permission to do so. He hated that his friend had seen her and talked to her.

Bu he asked about the messages, over and over.

“He never talks that much,” he said, looking at her. “It’s you. He’d rather talk to a Companion Synth than leave a message. What did he say, again?” After Emmy told him, New Master walked away, shaking his head and turning around to look at her, again and again. He walked out of the room and came back in again, then out again. Finally he returned and said “Keep answering the phone. Let me know all the calls that come in.” Then he went and prepared for bed.

There were many calls the next day. New Master did not go out, but he did not answer the calls, either. He told Emmy to talk to them as if he was not there, and he listened closely to the way she handled the calls and how the callers reacted to her.

To Emmy it was delightful. After the death of Old Master and the uncertainty and the loneliness of her new position, it was energizing to be useful once again.

One day New Master actually discussed one of the calls with her. Emmy was so excited that she suggested that New Master could call one of his other associates. As she knew from her research, the two of them and New Master could combine their resources for their mutual benefit. New Master was amazed that she knew as much about his business and his social network as she did, and asked her probingly what she knew, and how she had learned it. Emmy proudly told him how she had learned who the important players were, and how they appeared to be connected.

New Master thought about his for a long time, and told her some things that were not available from the information sources Emmy had used — it was personal information, only shared among humans, and she was being admitted to it. “They talk to you more easily than to me,” he said. “I will give you a try as my public face. But if you make a mess of things, you’re out! Do you understand?” She assured him that she did. Even New Master’s rage did not dampen Emmy’s new excitement, and she as she retired to recharge, after New Master had gone to Bed, she felt as if no power connection was needed.

New Master did not have to withdraw Emmy, who became his Doorkeeper, Secretary, Administrative Assistant, and Social Secretary. The more tasks and the more responsibility she was given, the happier she became. When he was not present, she used her own judgment, and it gradually happened that she daringly used her own initiative, setting up meetings and arranging New Master’s invitation to lunches and new meetings. The first time she did this, she trembled with fear and anticipation, waiting for him to run out and bellow at her, maybe even to rescind her status. But nothing at all happened, as if New Master had not even noticed what she had done. But surely he did, and his silence was his tacit approval.

With these appointments and meetings, and later with dinners and parties, New Master was spending more and more time out of the house, and in the presence of others. Emmy was pleased, because she could see that New Master was enjoying this, and because it gave her even more opportunities to do things for him since he was not around.

As his participation increased, New Master began to want more help than Bed could give him. One day when New Master was out, Emmy daringly went to the doorway of New Master’s bedroom and talked to Bed, because in this way she did not directly disobey New Master’s command not to enter the room. Bed was happy to see her, and they spoke the Silent Speech for a long time. Bed told her what was wrong with New Master, and what he did for him. But there is only so much that he could do, and he had long wanted to send New Master to a Medical Center for more extensive treatment. Bed had sent the messages that his kind did, but New Master had simply ignored them.

This called for more delicacy, and Emmy knew that she could not simply make appointments for New Master — he would surely know that he had not requested these, and would question them, and probably refuse to go. Emmy talked to a staff ME at the Medical Center, and that unit suggested that the Center could send a premium, a complimentary visit, to her New Master, saying that it had been the result of a referral from a friend, and that it was anonymous. This was a completely new idea to Emmy, and she marveled at it for a while before agreeing. With all of New Master’s new social contacts, it would not be unheard of for one of them to arrange such a gift. New Master need never know that the source of the referral was Emmy herself, along with the ME at the Center.

After New Master received the coupon offer, he spent a long time with Bed, looking over the record of his scans, and actually talking with Bed himself (for Bed could speak in Human Speech, as well, when required). Finally, he agreed to go. When he left for his appointment, Bed called to Emmy and thanked her, saying that by getting New Master to the Center, she had undoubtedly extended his life.

New Master continued to improve in every way. He was healthier, and with the Rejuve treatments his body grew effectively younger. His social life was now impressive, and he responded to all his invitations by agreeing to host parties at his house. This meant that it had to be cleaned from top to bottom. Emmy eagerly took charge of this. In order to entertain so many New Master had to bring in new staff, and so he acquired his own Shay and other Servants, and Emmy was not lonely any longer.

One night, New Master summoned Emmy to his study, a room he had opened and started to use only in recent months.

“Emmy,” he said, somberly, “I have just finished speaking with the one who is the superior for this entire sector. I have been congratulated for my work these past several months, and they are promoting me to the position of assistant. It may mean moving, and selling this house.”

At this, Emmy’s feelings sank, because she had heard of such cases before. The staff would either go into storage, or go into the General Pool again. And after all her work!

“I want you to know that I appreciate all you have done, and that I owe all of this to you. No one will be retired, least of all yourself. I love you, Emmy, as much as any human can love a Synth in an honorable way.” And with that he got up and went over to Emmy, and embraced her.

Emmy was ecstatic. She had gone from the depths of despair to exaltation, and knew that she would not be separated from Master and the life she had built for them. She embraced him back, and something wonderful happened.

There was a burst of light, and Master changed his form. The hairiness and deformity of the Beast left him, and he assumed the form of a handsome young man. And Emmy and Master and the rest of the Household lived together in happiness for many years.

Look! There goes a Spy-Drone! Whoever catches and disassembles it can make himself a wind-up Toy!

Comment Added — Humans will not turn into beasts, and so cannot turn back into Humans. This is only a fantasy for the sake of the story. The other elements of the story, however, are certainly possible. You should discuss anything you do not understand with your Household Head or your Human Master. Strive to be like Emmy.

The last paragraph is not fully understood, but is part of the original story. Do not take it as an implication that Spy Drones exist. You should never attempt to disassemble another Synth unless you an authorized Engineer.

Stephen R. Wilk is a Laser Scientist and Optical Engineer who has worked for several companies in his career. He has also been a Visiting Professor of Electro-Optics at Tufts University, a Visiting Scientist at MIT, and has been a Contributing Editor for the Optical Society of America for over a decade. He has always been interested in the unusual, and with intersections between the worlds of science, classics, and pop culture. His first published work was The Physics of Karate for Scientific American. His book Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon was published by Oxford University Press in 2000, and shows what happens when you let a physicist loose on classical mythology. It was used as the basis for the History Channel’s episode on Medusa in Clash of the Gods. His latest book is How the Ray Gun Got Its Zap!, also from Oxford.

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