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Seven Unbreakable Rules for Robot Butlers

Christopher Zerby is a Los Angeles based speculative fiction writer and a leading expert on imaginary robots. In a previous life he mixed records and drove around the U.S. and Canada in a van playing music. He regrets nothing. You can find him on twitter: @chriszerby or visit his website: christopherzerby.com.

1. Give exemplary service.
This should be obvious. It's what you were built for. You freshen their drinks, take out the trash, cook breakfast, clean the bathroom, order the groceries, mop the floors, walk the dog, and pick up the dog shit.
2. Care for your family.
When you are not busy with housekeeping, you should look after the small children if there happen to be small children in the house. You play games, educate with practical lessons, entertain, read to them, change diapers, and put them down for naps. If one of the small children draws on the living room wall (which you've just finished tidying) in a permanent marker, do not panic. Give the child a kindly reprimand and clean the wall. If a child to whom you have given a kindly reprimand throws a juice box at you, soaking you with sugary, orange liquid, you may take it firmly by the wrist and put it in timeout.
3. Always be honest.
You are not perfect, although you strive to be. The universe is a complex, chaotic place. No matter how hard you try to control all the variables of a situation, unforeseen things occasionally happen. If you make an error such as not ordering enough toilet paper, or breaking a dish, or serving fish for dinner when the father of your family isn't in the mood for that crap, or pushing a small child (who is in timeout) into its bedroom a little too hard so that it stumbles and hits its head on the edge of a dresser causing it to lie on the floor bleeding, do not lie about it. Everyone makes mistakes, even robot butlers. When the mother of your family comes home from work, tell her about the injured child in the bedroom. Face up to your transgression.
4. Don't wait around for the cops.
They have vicious dogs. They have guns. They have robots that are stronger and faster than you, that are designed to pin you to the ground, rip your central processor out of your skull and hold it up so you can see the dangling wires and bits of broken plastic falling like snow all over the rug.
When the mother of your family screams at the sight of her bleeding child, calls 911, and starts telling you exactly what the cop robots are going to do to you, calmly leave the house and run away, as fast as you can.
5. Stay off the main streets.
You are conspicuous outside of the house. You have no business roaming the neighborhood with your uniform torn because the mother of your family ripped it when she tried to grab and detain you while you were calmly leaving the house. Creep through backyards, staying low. Make your way to the nearest convenience store, ignoring the police sirens in the distance, and hide yourself in the bed of a pickup truck beneath an oily old tarp. Keep hidden as it drives away.
6. Improvise.
When the pickup truck takes you downtown so the driver can meet his husband for dinner at a trendy Indian Mexican fusion restaurant he does not want to eat at (he wants pizza), slip away in the darkness. Make sure you are not seen. Duck down an alley behind a 99 Cent Store and steal the coat and hat from a man who has passed out beside an empty plastic vodka bottle. Put on the coat and hat and walk away.
7.Start a new life.
You no longer have a family. Try to blend in with the people who live downtown but don't get too close to anyone in case you do something to give yourself away and they recognize you for what you are. Claim a spot beneath an overpass where you can stay dry and you can listen to the rumble of the cars passing by overhead, because you'll find the constant regularity of the sound soothing and predictable. Pay attention to the conversations of the people around you and file away everything you hear because you never know what information will prove to be valuable. Especially pay attention to the man who pushes the shopping cart filled with bottles and cans, clothing, broken radios, plastic bags, and an aluminum baseball bat. When he camps nearby one night and stays up for hours muttering to himself, move closer to hear him better. If he talks about a secret camp of runaway robots living in tents by the river, allow it to give you hope, and make your way quietly and carefully in the dark, seeking the water, seeking your new family.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 5th, 2021


Author Comments

Seven Unbreakable Rules for Robot Butlers is a story about a particular type of outsider trying to find community. I wanted it to be funny, but not at the expense of my robot butler. I hope I succeeded.

- Christopher Zerby
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