This part originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Freelance Traveller.
The Showroom was a gigantic building almost the size of the largest sports arenas. Behind it sat the many-blocks-long technological sprawl of hundreds of different buildings of all shapes and sizes that made up the majority of Heimdall’s Computer and Robotics Research and Manufacturing facilities on-planet.
Inside, the walls were decorated with stylized pipes, cables, gears, clocks, pistons, machinery, rivets and what appeared to be robots embedded within the bas-relief.
The first several floors were devoted to the hundreds of different models of computers; from general-purpose personal models, to special-purpose models designed for everything from vehicles to starship, to ultra-specialized and esoteric one-offs.
The next few floors were for the mind-numbing tens of thousands of different programs, each one available in multiple sizes and configuration, and covering things as mundane as a home management program to the very latest in Naval Simulations & Combat Theory.
The top several floors were devoted to thousands of different robots; from the dumbest Cleanbot or Servebot to valets, back loaders or Refuse Collection bots, to security and defense bots, to massive construction robots 20m high or more, to robots expert in one or more fields. Whether tool, servant, guard, companion, mentor, or even lover, it could all be found inside the walls of The Showroom.
In fact, while some humans were to be found helping customers, the majority of the team that escorted customers through the massive maze and explained what was what were actually robots; the humans being called in when the finer points of commerce were to be discussed.
“This is all very nice, Barrabas.“ Captain Fyyg told their robot-controlled sled as they passed through a small forest of a hundred or so different models of robot children; all stock still. “But, as I said earlier, what we want is a robotic surgeon.”
Sometimes a robot’s decision tree had some odd branches.
“Robotic Surgeon!“ Barrabas repeated. “Why didn‘t you say so?” he cheerfully asked as a quick right nailed one of the robot kids with the rear left bumper.
Eventually Barrabas pulled over at what appeared to be the right area, and, after the group exited the vehicle, it left them to find and transport another group made up of tourists, shoppers, or both.
The group from the Waffles stood looking at several different medical robots. Not counting several variations of each, the first type looked like a centipede or snake that coiled down from a fixture in the ceiling above the operating table; the eight limbs below its head equipped with various surgeon’s tools.
The second was a booth externally similar to a cryoberth, but packed with a dozen or so manipulators that were equipped to perform surgical tasks.
“That’s the man, Officer!” Ilsa laughed as she pointed at the third type. If it weren’t for the fact that Ilsa knew the surgeon that had fixed her damaged arm was still on Nordic Prime, she’d swear he was standing right in front of her.
“So this is the unit we want for the Waffles then, Ilsa?” the Captain asked, looking somewhat skeptically at the strange looking ,multi-armed robot with the big block head and three legs.
“Definitely,” the Second Officer answered.
As they chatted, a robot stepped from out of the bas-relief of the wall and introduced itself as Larry.
Larry gave them all the technical specifications of the robot and answered any and all questions. And butting heads with a guy like Fyyg, there were a lot of questions.
Once Captain Fyyg told Larry they’d take the surgeon, it thanked them and used its comm to contact a human sales associate before returning to the wall, saying someone would be with them shortly.
When the sandy-haired human arrived, he was wearing a blue and white name badge with ‘Kevin’ written on it sloppily in pen. Nordel was all ready to buy the thing when he was told there just weren’t any more in stock. The company had recently filled a contract for this unit with the Imperial Navy, and there just weren’t any more to be had until the company did its next production run. Which was longer than the crew from the Waffles would probably like to stick around.
“So you are telling me that this one in front of me is the last one, then?”
“In a manner of speaking, sir.” the scrawny kid answered, both answering and not at the same time.
“Ah, but there is one and I want to buy it!”
“No sir, that robot is out of stock.”
“But I am looking at it right in front of me, lad!” The Captain tried reasoning.
“This one here,” Kevin said, rapping it on the side of its big, boxy head, “is our display model, sir. We are not permitted to sell our display models. I’m sorry, sir, but that’s just company policy…”
Fyyg patted the flak on the shoulder, “It’s okay, pup...” he said, smiling a warm, understanding smile. Nice and smooth the Captain asked, “Son, could I please speak to the Manager?”
With the swagger knocked out of him, the young salesman deflated and backed off a ways before contacting his superior on the comm.
Once Captain Fyyg explained the situation with the robot to the Manager, face to face, things happened mighty fast. The Manager promised the Captain that the salesman was at fault, not knowing the merchandise or store policy, and before you knew it, the Waffles gang discovered that Heimdall did in fact sell their floor models. At half.
Once outside, they discussed what to do. The robot had been activated only part way, its lower functions providing the motive power to control it and move it along. It stood there, serene, waiting.
Brodie moved his large hand in front of the robot’s face, getting no response.
“Look! Nobody’s home!” he laughed.
Everyone was laughing, with Fyyg telling Brodie “…and they gave it to us for only eighty thousand! Half the normal price, if you can believe it!”
“Really?” Brodie asked, interested suddenly in the robot. Checking the gaskets at neck and trunk with a multitool, Brodie suddenly grinned.
“Hmmmm. Looks good, Captain. The primary seals still appear to be intact."
Taking Fyyg’s cigarette case from inside the Captain’s jacket, Brodie took out one of the Captain’s smokes and lit it. Taking a couple of puffs he grinned again. “See, sometimes these floor models are cobbled together out of several different wrecks—whose seals have been compromised by trauma or reassembly—to serve as a representation of what the thing should look like. but is not necessarily a good, working model. Ya follow me, right?”
“Yes, Mr. Le Boucherre…” the Captain said, not sounding all that sure himself, with eighty grand suddenly on the line.
“I don’t know how long this thing has been out of its box, but aside from a few scratches and a dent or two, I’d say its in perfect shape!”
“I hope its got a better personality than Doc Billings,” Tam said, “That old pervert was always trying to grope my butt!”
Kevin stepped out of the cyclopean Showroom and descended the stair two at a time, angry that he’d been fired minutes before for purportedly arguing with a customer.
“That asshole and that fucking robot! “ he started, mumbling to himself. “If I ran into that guy I’d like to..."
Too busy grousing to pay any real attention to the world around him, Kevin suddenly bumbled into Brodie, who was innocently standing there among robot and shipmates, enjoying a well-earned smoke. Both tumbled down several stairs together, tangled, end-over-end, cursing and wrestling.
As they came to a halt, the kid had Brodie pinned, face down in a Half Nelson; Kevin yelling “What do you think you're doing, you beat up old Monkey?”
Folded oddly and uncomfortably over two large steps, Brodie yelled back, “Kid, why’re you hurtin’ me?”
“If I let you go, you’re gonna leave me alone, right?” Kevin asked.
“Sure sure!” Brodie grunted as the blond kid let go and stepped back.
Springing up, Brodie smoothed some of his hair here and there. Retreiving his checkered, pork pie hat, he turned to the kid and told him “Okay junior, you got me. But I ain’t no freakin’ Monkey, see?” as he adjusted his coat. “Monkies are about the size of a baby and have tails. I am not the size of a baby, nor do I have a tail! Got it?”
"Sorry Mister…” Kevin said, hesitantly putting his hand out to Brodie.
“Le Boucherre.” Brodie said, taking the offered hand. “Brodie Le Boucherre. Pleased to meetcha.”
“Kevin Garafalo” the scarecrow replied.
The other four approached, glad handing around and exchanging names.
Captain Fyyg was all smiles as he talked to the painfully-thin youth “That was something to see, lad! Besting one of the toughest fellows I’ve known. Amazing. Simply amazing…”
“Nothing really.” Kevin answered. “Took seven years of Jeet Kwan Do when I was younger.”
“So what brings you outside your store to wrestle with my robotics expert, Kevin? Surely this can’t be considered a break.”
Kevin stammered slightly, “No sir, Captain Fyyg. The Manager fired me right after you left—said I was arguing with the customers, and I didn’t know how to do my job.”
“Really?” asked the Captain. “You obviously knew how to do your job. You followed your orders when I wanted to buy a robot that was unavailable to me. When a problem you could not handle arose, you contacted a superior, as a sensible sort would do. Followed procedure from beginning to end…”
“Yeah?” Kevin said, smiling at the Captain’s interpretation of the events.
“I would chalk working for that unpleasant fellow back there up to politics in the workplace and let it go at that.” Fyyg said, smiling and clapping a hand on the young man’s shoulder.
“Kevin, let me asks you a few questions, yes?” Fyyg imposed.
“Go ahead,” the kid replied.
“Are you familiar with moving cargo?”
“Can you operate a Pallet Master?”
Ilsa leaned close to the Captain, saying quietly, “Captain. I know we aren’t looking for any crew for a few days yet, but I believe Mr. Garafalo would be an ideal fit for Mr. Moore’s old position.”
Moore was one of the roustabouts, or Roosters that'd handled cargo on the Waffles before being killed in the recent pirate attack.
“By Jove, Number Two, that is an excellent idea!” replied Captain Fyyg.
Captain Fyyg, Tam, Dave and Brodie went on with the robot as Ilsa stayed behind to give Garafalo the particulars of service aboard the Chicken and Waffles, as well as how to find the ship.
As Kevin got into his old sled and started driving toward home, Ilsa yelled after him, “And remember, your personal gear has an allowance of one cubic meter, maximum!”
Later that evening, Brodie was in the Med Bay with an audience gathered around to watch as the new Autodoc was activated fully. Maintenance panel seal now broken, Brodie went through the arcana of powering the robot’s higher functions.
A few minutes later, the green metallic robot came to life; weaving its multiple sets of arms in an intricate pattern one might see at an art show or interpretive dance. The whole thing reminded Tam of a Thai dance troupe.
When it was done, the device seemed to kick into full awareness of its surroundings, as its boxy head with its multiple visual sensors scanned the audience.
Some of the audience applauded. There were even a few yells and whistles.
The robot raised one of its medium work arms; long, delicate index finger extended to elicit a response of silence.
Once the silence had gone on for several seconds, it introduced itself.
“Hello Shipmates,” the robot said. “My name is Doctor Wang.”
Later that evening a quartet of visitors showed at the airlock. One of the men was Kevin Garafalo. He had two other men and a woman in tow. None of them had more than a backpack and a small box or two—nowhere near the cubic meter maximum Ilsa had warned about.
“My roommates,” Kevin explained over the com. “Quit work on the docks at Heimdall when I told them about my day, and they’re hoping to be hired on.”
At the airlock, Number Two nodded for the lock to be opened, and at the flick of a switch the inner door rose; pulling some of the heavy, stale, grease-smoke tinged air of the Highport into the Waffles.
Gladhanding was again the rule of the day as the newcomers met some of the crew.
One of the men, Euripides Johansen, was tall, old and balding, but with long hair and a long grey beard that went down to his belly, and made Tam think of Lu-hsing, the Chinese God of Salaries. He looked to Ilsa as if he’d have a hard time with a deskside wastebasket, but both he and Kevin insisted he was up to the work.
The other man, Hagar Ermette, was a short, wide, bowlegged fellow with an enormous head, close-shaven, that seemed to grow, neckless, straight from the top of his muscular torso. His arms and hands were huge.
The single woman, Kelowna Brewster, was tiny and pale, with black hair. Tatoos could be seen running from her jawline down her neck. Her rolled-up sleeves showed that the tatoos went at least down each arm to the wrist. She had also worked at Heimdall with Garafalo, but in the computer and software departments. Hopefully, Ilsa thought on meeting her, the girl might make a good Computer Tech.
Watching the security feed on a monitor in his cabin, Captain Fyyg's interest was piqued, and he decided to come down from his cabin to meet the prospective crew.
Arriving in his plush bathrobe and crush cap; his posture and bearing in the long robe giving him an almost regal air, Nordel shook hands with each prospect; telling each, “Welcome aboard.”
Seeing Kevin again, the Captain clapped him on the shoulder, saying, “And Mister Garafalo! Welcome aboard!” Then turning, he went back to his cabin; giving Number Two the thumbs up sign on the way.
As the Captain passed, she saluted, then turning to Kevin and his friends, said “I’m Second Officer Ilsa Freilander. Come with me and I’ll explain your duties and show you around the ship.We’ll be sure to take care of your paperwork and get you right with the Merchant Spacers’ Guild tomorrow morning.”