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Model Citizen

U

'Is there anything you'd like to change?'

Frank glanced at his wife. The question knocked at a door that he had long ago shut, locked and bolted, but no doubt she would have some ideas. He became aware that her foot was pressing on his and he followed her gaze to the small child standing a respectful distance behind them.

'Peter,' he said, 'why don't you, um, go and see if there's anything worth watching on that television over there?' He waved vaguely in the direction of the customer waiting area.

The child dutifully trotted off and made himself comfortable in one of the large chairs in front of the superwide screen that half obscured the coffee machine.

'With a model of this age,' the man at the desk continued, 'and to be fair we don't often see a DR3 these days - a DR3SX no less, a classic - there is a limit to what we can do, but there are developments all the time and while we are doing the servicing there could be some enhancements we might be able to make.' He looked quickly at the monitor in front of him. 'You've had Albert a long time'.

'Alberich,' Muriel corrected him.

'Sorry?'

'It doesn't matter,' sighed Muriel. She was used to the mistake, which seemed to persist in Rutland Robotics' records no matter how often or how carefully she had tried to get it corrected. 'We inherited him from my parents.'

'Old family retainer,' the salesman suggested. Muriel was used to that too. 'As I said, I'm really in sales and apologies again that we seem to be so short staffed at reception, but I was wondering if you have fully considered the benefits of a newer model. Full height for a start. All the latest technology. You get a lot more for your buck these days.' He pulled out a company brochure from underneath the desk, his eye lingering for a moment on the cover picture of the spanking new Lola 3000 leaflets lounging beside the stack of range catalogues.

Muriel took one look at the centrefold of Mandy Maids ("Ask Amanda Anything") that fell open under the salesman's hand and her features hardened a grade further. 'No,' she said firmly. 'We are quite happy.'

'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' Frank added loyally.

'There is one thing,' Muriel suggested, laying both hands on the desk, as if to show she had no cards concealed. 'It's irritated me for years. Stacking the dishwasher. I can do better myself.'

'We could look into that,' the salesman replied. 'These days no-one makes them so gender specific as they used to be.' He saw Muriel's right eyebrow rise a fraction as her eyes fell again on the spread of Mandy Maids. 'In software terms' he added, ever so casually closing the brochure and slipping it beneath the desk again. 'For utilitarian domestic robots anyway.' He tried to manoeuvre the conversation onto safer ground and looked over at Peter. 'Nice lad.'

'Doing ever so well at school,' Frank said. 'We're really proud of him. Of course, having him so late, most of the other parents think we are his grandparents.'

Muriel frowned. Frank shut up. 'He adores Alber... Albert,' Muriel added, watching Peter's stillness in front of the frenzied cartoon action on the screen. 'You won't do anything that might make Albert seem any different will you? Nothing is so important that we would want Peter to think that we had...'

'No, no,' the salesman cut in. 'Just a little tweaking here and there, if in fact we can do anything. There'd be nothing obvious, unless of course Peter is a dishwasher stacking fanatic.'

Muriel stared at him. The salesman's little laugh wilted and died. 'Anything else for Albert today?' he asked.

'I don't think so.' Muriel's tone declared the finality of her thoughts. The salesman did not bother to look at Frank for confirmation.

'Well then, I'll have a quick word with the engineers. They'll just have started and we can have a good look at the kitchen module. See what can be done. As for your other booking, just the normal service and standard Yearly Update Pack, as per the annual contract. Yes?'

'Happy with that,' said Frank. 'I don't think there's anything...' He checked with Muriel.

'Happy,' she said.

'Very happy,' Frank added.

The salesman began tapping at his touchscreen, then paused. ' Ah, there seems to be a missed appointment, which means we could get on with that right now, if you would like.'

'Waste not, want not,' said Frank.

'Quite,' Muriel muttered.

'Peter,' Frank called gently and the little boy abandoned the animated mayhem without demur and came over to stand beside him.

'Yes Daddy?'

'Will you follow this gentleman who's going to show you... um, just follow this gentleman and do what he tells you.'

'He's a man you can trust,' Muriel informed the boy.

'Thank you, Mummy'.

As Peter and the salesman squeezed past the empty main reception counter and through a door at the back, Frank and Muriel saw the little boy hold his hand up for the adult to take.

Muriel's frown returned. 'Do you think he's sometimes too perfect?' she said quietly.

'What do you want?' Frank mused. 'A naughtiness module?'

Muriel seemed lost in her thoughts. When she eventually replied, it was so softly that, had he not already known the answer, Frank would have had to ask her to repeat it.

'No.'