It was published in a local short story magazine and won first place in it's category. It may not be a masterpiece, but it's a fun little story that I'm quite proud of, if I do say so myself. And I hope you will like it as much as my friends and I do.
By William Bowles
It was another gray day in Industry City, and as always, the morning found Otto pushing his old steel-mesh supply cart from house to house.
Despite the distances he had to walk each day, he rather enjoyed his job. It was not what you'd call a dream job. Or a nice job. Or even a respectable job. But it was a job. A real, legitimate, occupation. Most others like him would never achieve anything in life, working as servants or manual laborers: slaves in all but name.
When he reached the next house on his route, he approached the front door and pulled the cart up just behind him and to one side. He knocked three times on the door and waited patiently for a reply. It wasn't long before the door opened to reveal a curly-haired, middle aged woman. She looked at Otto with a slightly puzzled expression, but listened nonetheless.
“Evvvning ma’am.” Otto greeted in a friendly tone.
“Good evening....” she said, unsure of how to respond.
“My nammmme is Otto. Are you havinggg agoodday?”
“Yes, I am. Thank you for asking. What can I do for you?”
“It’s nnnot what youcando for me,” Otto said, “it’s what I can do for yooou.”
“Oh?” She looked behind him and saw the cart. “Are you selling something?” It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out his agenda at this point. He gave his regular sales pitch, displaying various trinkets, devices, tools, and parts. It was all mechanical goods. People in Industry City would basically buy three things from mobile venders: mechanical goods, edible goods, and subscriptions to magazines that would never show up.
Although she found nothing she needed, she gave him a tip. According to another of Otto's philosophies, these small donations were, in a way, better than sales. For one, they are given out of good will rather than for personal gain, which cheered up the young salesman on hard days. Secondly, they did not deplete inventory.
Meeting a friendly person always improved Otto’s mood, and gave him the courage to keep going on through rough times. Some days he needed all the support he could get.
When Otto knocked on the next door, the resident seemed to stall as long as he could, no doubt waiting to see if the visitor would leave of his own accord. Finally, however, the door opened. The man was large, unshaven, and not happy at all to see Otto.
“Gooood eveningsir!” Otto said. “Howareyou?”
Otto could already tell the man was uninterested, but he had to ask regardless.
“Nope. Sorry. I don’t buy from robots.” The man said plainly, his apology being nothing more than an empty word, most likely spoken unaware.
“But sir, if you’d jussst...” Otto said in as friendly a voice as he could muster.
“I don’t buy from robots.” The resident said, with finality, and closed the door. It wasn’t even slammed, just closed, as if a full slam was more effort than the mechanical vendor was worth.
Otto was left standing at the door step, dejected and embarassed. This sort of treatment, though unfair, was not uncommon.
Despite his hardships, a robot’s lot was not as bad in those days as it had been in years past. He in particular was better off than most of his kind. Even so, rejection hurt him as much as it would a man of flesh and blood.
The fact that sales had been down didn’t help matters. His inventory was beginning to run low and he hadn’t received any supplies in a long time.
As sales continued to escape him, even he--usually so perky--was beginning to lose confidence. But a ray of light came to him at that time, personified by a familiar face.
Lewis was a distance down the road, and walked quickly towards Otto, waving to catch his attention. He too was a salesman; one of the few that had managed to escape the factory work of common machines. The encounter brought Otto some confidence.
“Hey there, Otto!” Lewis said cheerfully as he approached. He was a V twenty-four: Mk2, a newer model of android than Otto, a V twenty-three. The two were of very similar outward appearance, but the improved twenty-four had an upgraded voice card that was more durable than Otto's, which was already damaged.
“Hello Lllllewisss.” Otto said, his mood already beginning to lighten.
“Are you alright Otto? Something seems to be troubling you.” Lewis inquired. “Have sales been down?”
“Aren’t you due for a re-supply?”
“Prrrobably not.” And then, for optimism sake added “Maybe withinthemonth...”
“My sales are up 12.66 percent this month. Maybe you just need a break. I know you work all day.”
“I’m ok-k-k--- ay.” Otto insisted. His argument was unconvincing.
“You really don’t sound too good.” Lewis said to him. “You remember Bart, right?”
“He raaaan like clockwork.”
“Yes.” Lewis agreed. “And no one has heard from him in months. No doubt he wore himself out and short circuited.”
“You don’t, don’t, donnnnn’tknowthat.”
“Listen to you, Otto. You’re about to blow that old voice card of yours yourself. Let’s take some time off. It’ll do you some good.”
Otto agreed to take a break. To Lewis he seemed reluctant, but in fact he welcomed the change from routine. But Otto was a hard worker, and he only allowed himself rests when necessary. Within the hour, he was back to work.
The next day (as gray as usual), as Otto pushed his old cart along, he came across a house that seemed to be illuminated less by lamps or light fixtures than by sparks. He could hear the buzz of power tools inside as he knocked on the door, and waited for the resident to answer. After a second, the sparks stopped and the lights came back on.
The young man who answered was wearing heavy-duty machining gloves and a welding mask, which he raised after opening the door. When he saw Otto, a smile appeared on his oil-smudged face.
“Hey buddy! What’s going on?” He said, clearly a robot enthusiast. When he saw the cart, he added “You selling stuff?”
“Well, let’s see whacha got.” To him, the idea of buying mechanical parts from a robot seemed a novel idea.
The machinist stepped out of his house, approached the cart, and scanned Otto’s inventory with child-like enthusiasm. It wasn’t long before he found something that really caught his eye. He pointed to the parts and shouted out to Otto, an excited grin on his face.
“Are these parts to a V twenty-four?”
“Mk2.” Otto specified.
“Wow!” He exclaimed, picking up an arm here, a battery there. “You got like, the whole guy in here!”
“I have parts for the entire model.” Otto confirmed. “Except for the voice card, I’m afraid.”
- THE END -
The idea behind this story was to start out giving the readers the least information possible, and then allow them to find out more a little bit at a time. First, Otto's just walking along with a cart full of supplies. Then you learn more and more about him as the story progresses. I hope I was able to do so as well as I would have liked.
In contrast to Sun and Mountain, there isn't any specific lesson here. At least, not that I'm aware of. And certainly not one that was a driving focus or motivating factor in it.
If you think there is, then by all means, enlighten me.
As mentioned before, Otto is part of my short story bundle "An Introduction of Sorts", which is available on Kindle and Kindle apps. It's only a dollar, and because of Kindle's hosting fees, I don't get much at all per sale, but it is nice to be able to see how many people cared enough to purchase it.
Again, I hope you enjoyed this story, and I look forward to posting further pieces here in the future.
Until next time!