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Robot Carson
About the Author: ROBERT LOPRESTI is a retired librarian. He is the author of more than seventy stories and has won the Derringer Award (three times) and the Black Orchid Novella Award. His most recent novel, GREENFELLAS, is a comic crime tale about a Mafiosi ho decides to save the environment, by any means necessary.

When the bell rang Mary opened the door and found a freezer on her stoop.

Not literally, of course. But that’s what people had started calling the things, because they were almost the same size as a chest freezer, except they had a cone on a flexible pipe on the front, like a gooseneck lamp. It was impossible not to think of that as the head, although Mary heard that it was just the visual center, and the brain took up most of the box.

When they first appeared the things were white. Recently the powers that be had changed them to pale blue, presumably to make them look less like household appliances. It didn’t help.

“Oh, God,” said Mary.

“Good morning,” it said. “I am Police Robot Carson.” They had given the things names because some focus group decided that was somewhat less intimidating than a string of numbers—and easier to remember if a citizen wanted to file a complaint. As if talking to an icebox named Carson wasn’t intimidating enough.

“What do you want?”

“I am investigating a crime that occurred in this neighborhood. Incidentally, our conversation is being recorded for your protection. If you wish to receive a video—”

“I know all that. I see it on the news every day. What do you want?”

There was a pause. She had seen enough footage to know that the cop boxes always had to pause for a moment after being interrupted. Or did the cunning designers put that feature in deliberately, to make them seem more human? 

“A house on Parrish Street was robbed during the night, ma’am.” So the gadget had figured out her gender. She had heard that they were better with voices than visual cues.

“That’s not my neighborhood. That’s miles from here.”

“Yes, ma’am.” She wished the voice was more, well, artificial?  It sounded no less human than someone on a speaker phone, which made you think there was a real person controlling the thing by radio, or—here was a creepy thought—inside the box itself.

“But after the robbery was discovered by the owners, air footage revealed a suspect leaving the house during the night and driving to this vicinity.”

“And that’s another thing,” said Mary. “Satellites watching everything we do! Whatever happened to privacy, for God’s sake?”

“This data is not recorded by satellites. There are planes flying over the city with large scale cameras—”

“I know that!  Do you think that makes it better? A pilot looking down on us, able to read the addresses on our letters when we pick up the mail?” She sniffed. “Not that anyone delivers mail anymore. That would be before your time, I’m sure.”

“There are no pilots. These are drone ships—drones which carry no weapons,” Robot Carson added. “The footage is stored without being viewed and can only be examined by court order. Pauline TerHorst—”

“I know about Pauline TerHorst!” yelled Mary. She wondered if her neighbors were watching this, having a good time seeing her argue with a fridge.

“Everyone knows how you rescued her by looking at the footage and tracing her kidnappers. And I know about how you found Baby Bill, and caught the men who killed Officer Clementine!”

“Officer Clemens.”

“Whatever. Your puppeteers wave your successes all over the news, but how do we know that they—or your smarter brother—aren’t watching the videos all the time?”

“The Supreme Court ruled in Farouq versus Justice that—”

“Oh, right. And the police always obey the law, don’t they?”

Robot Carson had to pause to consider that. Mary didn’t.

“So you’ve come here to accuse me of breaking into some house on the other side of town, is that right?”

“No, ma’am. Judging from the footage the suspect was over two meters in height. That’s six foot—”

“I know what it is!”

The gooseneck lamp examined her from head to foot.

“Hey! My eyes are up here!”

 “You are no more than 1.7 meters tall.”

“Very good! Can you guess my weight too?”

Robot Carson paused again and Mary wasn’t sure whether it was considering its options or really trying to calculate her mass.

“So what do you want from me? Are you going to roll inside and check the house for stolen goods and six-foot burglars?”

This story appears in our DEC 2019 Issue
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