Cover Image
Jon Langford
BERTIE

I was skeptical at first, but then again, I always am where new technology's concerned.

    

The thing is, all my friends had a BERTIE and my wife had been pestering me to buy one for months. And to be totally honest with you, it was worth buying one just to get her to shut the hell up.

    

You'll have seen the commercials, unless you've been living in the Congo or something. But just in case you actually have been living in the Congo, let me tell you what a BERTIE is. BERTIE is a robot that efficiently performs domestic tasks like cooking, cleaning, laundry… you get the picture. The second generation BERTIE (the one that we got) can even walk the dog, help the kids with their homework and (my wife's favorite) give massages.

    

BERTIE stands for Bionically Engineered Robot Trained for Intelligent Evolution. What this means is that BERTIE will learn the family's PID (personality, idiosyncrasies, dynamic) and adjust itself accordingly to better suit its environment. The folks over at BERTIE HQ certainly love their acronyms; I'll give them that.

    

Now, I'll admit twenty thousand dollars is a lot to spend on a gadget (or is it a slave?) but we figured we'd save money in the long term and, more importantly, we'd save time. So we fired the nanny and the cleaner and on no particular Tuesday I came home with a BERTIE.

    

Before you can use BERTIE you must first charge it for twenty-four hours. My wife, daughter, the dog and I, sat in the living room and watched, fascinated, as the humanoid in the corner stood sapping the electricity it needed for life from the mains.

    

"It looks so real," said my daughter, Chloe. "Just like us."

    

"It says here his hair is real human hair," said my wife, reading from the back of BERTIE's box.

    

I looked at the robot's hair. It pissed me off. That son of a bitch had a thicker mane than me. Then I started thinking about where the hair came from. Was it from a dead human? Or did the manufacturer pay people for their hair? Either option was gross. I don't know why they make it so human looking. It's a robot for God's sake; it should look like a robot, not a creepy forty-four year-old man with flawless milky skin.

<  2  >

    

Chloe got up off the couch and walked over to where BERTIE was charging.

    

"Don't get too close to it," I said with the parental caution of a father watching his child approach the ledge of a cliff.

    

She lifted her small hand and touched the robot's face. Then, without warning, it suddenly came to life. Its head jolted up and the eyes came alive. Chloe screamed and ran away. Logan leapt over the coffee table and barked at it with mistrust.

    

"Hello, my name is Bertie," it said, "and I'm here to make your life easier."

    

Less than a month after getting BERTIE the five of us (me, the wife, Chloe, Logan and BERTIE) piled into the car and went for a day at the park. We took BERTIE to prepare the picnic and clean up after us. Anyway, there was another family sitting close by and when they got their food out Logan ran over and started bothering them. I called him, several times, but he would not come. I got up to go and grab him when all of a sudden BERTIE called him and he came right away, and, get this, he heeled in front of the robot.

    

My robot had stolen my dog's loyalty. I was quiet the rest of the day. Pissed off and confused. My wife kept asking me, "Are you okay? You're being quiet. What's wrong?" and that pissed me off even more. I hate when she asks me that.

    

Days later, on my way to work, I realized I'd forgotten the putter I'd promised to lend a work colleague. I spun the car round and headed back home.

    

It was dead silent when I let myself in. Then, as I headed toward the back room, I heard a low groan coming from the guestroom. I stopped and listened. It was my wife. Then she moaned again, louder, letting it hang in the air for a moment, the same way she did when we used to have sex.

<  3  >

    

I took a few steps closer to the guestroom door, stalking, suspicious, hopeful even. If she was having an affair, it would offer me a way out.

    

Then she let out a squeal of delight: "Oh that feels soooo good!"

    

I pushed the door open and saw my wife lying naked on her belly, a towel pulled up to the bottom of her spine. The robot was standing over her, his hands on her shoulders.

    

"What's going on here?" I said, slightly amused, slightly bemused.

    

My wife looked guilty as hell. The robot kept on massaging. They keep on doing things until you tell them to stop.

    

"Oh hi," said my wife. "What are you doing home? I'm just having a massage."

    

"Yeah," I said. "I can see that. It sounded like you were enjoying it too."

    

"Oh shut up!" she said. "What are you doing home, seriously?"

    

For the rest of the day I couldn't stop thinking about the look on my wife's face when she saw me in the doorway. She looked so guilty. I may as well have caught her screwing around. I also couldn't stop thinking about the pleasure-filled moans she was letting out until I came along. She was getting more pleasure from the robot's touch than I'd given her in years.

    

A few weeks later, it was on the weekend because I was home for dinner, my wife decided that she wanted to eat food from the menu of a restaurant we once ate at in Madrid, back when we were something close to happy.

    

BERTIE downloaded the recipe (in his head), went out for ingredients and got to work. Five hours later he called us to the dinner table. It looked fantastic, I have to admit. The robot wished us bon appetit and left.

<  4  >

    

"I think we should ask Bertie to eat with us," said my wife.

    

"Yay!" said Chloe.

    

"What?" I said.

    

"It's only right," said my wife. "He worked so hard on this meal. He's been in the kitchen since noon for God's sake. Let's ask him to eat with us; I don't want him to feel left out."

    

"There's so many things wrong with what you're saying that I don't know where to start," I said. "Bertie is a robot. He doesn't eat food; he eats electricity so he would just be sitting there. Second, he doesn't feel left out, he's a machine and incapable of that emotion. That's like saying: 'Oh, the television must be tired because it's been on all day, why don't we let it sleep in bed with us tonight.'"

    

"I want Bertie!" cried Chloe.

    

My wife called BERTIE in and I sat there in silence while the three of them played word games over dinner. I felt like an unwelcome guest in my own home.

    

A few more months passed and my wife kept telling me how amazing BERTIE was. How she had so much more time on her hands to do things. That made me laugh. The only thing she's ever had on her hands besides expensive jewelry is time. She doesn't work, never has. All she does is shop and have lunch dates with friends. Even in the pre-BERTIE days we had a nanny and a cleaner. Anyway, she kept telling me how great BERTIE was with Chloe, how they all played board games together after dinner and how she "couldn't imagine life without him" (actual quote).

    

One night I'd managed to get out of work early and made it home before Chloe's bedtime. I came into the living room and the three of them were sat around the coffee table playing Monopoly. I let them finish the game and then sent Chloe off to brush her teeth and get ready for bed. I told BERTIE to fix me a gin and tonic and then I went to tuck Chloe in and read her a story. When I was done I kissed her forehead, turned out her lamp and pulled the door to, leaving a gap an inch thick to allow light from the landing to bleed in, just the way she likes it.

<  5  >

    

"But Daddy," she said. "Bertie hasn't said goodnight to me yet."

    

"What?"

    

"Bertie has to read me a story too. He always does."

    

"I think he's busy," I said.

    

"Please Daddy, please."

    

"No. Bertie's busy. Now go to sleep."

    

She started crying and wouldn't stop until I sent BERTIE in.

    

Later that night, I sent BERTIE out to walk the dog so I could talk to my wife in private.

    

"How long has this been going on?" I asked sipping on my gin and tonic, which I have to admit, was very well made.

    

"It's not my fault that you're always working late," she said in the passive-aggressive tone she used whenever she said anything to me.

    

"Oh here we go again," I said. "It's all my fault as usual. You know, someone has to earn money so we can live in a nice apartment and buy nice things like your new iMirror."

    

"That robot's been more of a father to her than you ever have," said my wife.

    

You can imagine how much that one hurt. I couldn't share a bed with her that night so I decided to sleep in the guestroom. Sometime during the small hours I woke with a dry throat and needed water. I picked up my empty glass and went through to the kitchen. Before I got there I could see that the kitchen light was on. It was strange because one thing about my wife, she's anal about turning off lights. Through the narrow gap between the door and frame I could see the robot. It was sitting at the kitchen table, looking at a book.

    

When I got in the kitchen I saw that it wasn't a book. It was a family photo album. My family photo album.

<  6  >

    

"What are you doing?" I said.

    

"Forgive me, Sir," it said. "I was just looking at photo albums and I got to thinking, what do memories feel like? I mean, I have memory but I don't have memories, in the emotional sense, and I was wondering… what do they feel like?"

    

"Interesting question," I said. "Memories are like…" Then I shut the bastard off. There's a switch on the back of his neck.

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