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by Clifford D. Simak
Gordon Knight was anxious for the five-hour day to end so he could rush home. For this was the day he should receive the How-2 Kit he’d ordered and he was anxious to get to work on it.
It wasn’t only that he had always wanted a dog, although that was more than half of it--but, with this kit, he would be trying something new. He’d never handled any How-2 Kit with biologic components and he was considerably excited. Although, of course, the dog would be biologic only to a limited degree and most of it would be packaged, anyhow, and all he’d have to do would be assemble it. But it was something new and he wanted to get started.
He was thinking of the dog so hard that he was mildly irritated when Randall Stewart, returning from one of his numerous trips to the water fountain, stopped at the desk to give him a progress report on home dentistry.
“It’s easy,” Stewart told him. “Nothing to it if you follow the instructions. Here, look--I did this one last night.”
He then squatted down beside Knight’s desk and opened his mouth, proudly pulling it out of shape with his fingers so Knight could see.
“Thish un ere,” said Stewart, blindly attempting to point, with a wildly waggling finger, at the tooth in question.
He let his face snap back together.
“Filled it myself,” he announced complacently. “Rigged up a series of mirrors to see what I was doing. They came right in the kit, so all I had to do was follow the instructions.”
He reached a finger deep inside his mouth and probed tenderly at his handiwork. “A little awkward, working on yourself. On someone else, of course, there’d be nothing to it.”
He waited hopefully.
“Must be interesting,” said Knight.
“Economical, too. No use paying the dentists the prices they ask. Figure I’ll practice on myself and then take on the family. Some of my friends, even, if they want me to.”
He regarded Knight intently.
Knight failed to rise to the dangling bait.
Stewart gave up. “I’m going to try cleaning next. You got to dig down beneath the gums and break loose the tartar. There’s a kind of hook you do it with. No reason a man shouldn’t take care of his own teeth instead of paying dentists.”
“It doesn’t sound too hard,” Knight admitted.
“It’s a cinch,” said Stewart. “But you got to follow the instructions. There’s nothing you can’t do if you follow the instructions.”
And that was true, Knight thought. You could do anything if you followed the instructions--if you didn’t rush ahead, but sat down and took your time and studied it all out.
Hadn’t he built his house in his spare time, and all the furniture for it, and the gadgets, too? Just in his spare time--although God knew, he thought, a man had little enough of that, working fifteen hours a week.
It was a lucky thing he’d been able to build the house after buying all that land. But everyone had been buying what they called estates, and Grace had set her heart on it, and there’d been nothing he could do.
If he’d had to pay carpenters and masons and plumbers, he would never have been able to afford the house. But by building it himself, he had paid for it as he went along. It had taken ten years, of course, but think of all the fun he’d had!
He sat there and thought of all the fun he’d had, and of all the pride. No, sir, he told himself, no one in his circumstances had a better house.
Although, come to think of it, what he’d done had not been too unusual. Most of the men he knew had built their homes, too, or had built additions to them, or had remodeled them.
He had often thought that he would like to start over again and build another house, just for the fun of it. But that would be foolish, for he already had a house and there would be no sale for another one, even if he built it. Who would want to buy a house when it was so much fun to build one?
And there was still a lot of work to do on the house he had. New rooms to add--not necessary, of course, but handy. And the roof to fix. And a summer house to build. And there were always the grounds. At one time he had thought he would landscape--a man could do a lot to beautify a place with a few years of spare-time work. But there had been so many other things to do, he had never managed to get around to it.
Knight and Anson Lee, his neighbor, had often talked about what could be done to their adjoining acreages if they ever had the time. But Lee, of course, would never get around to anything. He was a lawyer, although he never seemed to work at it too hard. He had a large study filled with stacks of law books and there were times when he would talk quite expansively about his law library, but he never seemed to use the books. Usually he talked that way when he had half a load on, which was fairly often, since he claimed to do a lot of thinking and it was his firm belief that a bottle helped him think.
After Stewart finally went back to his desk, there still remained more than an hour before the working day officially ended. Knight sneaked the current issue of a How-2 magazine out of his briefcase and began to leaf through it, keeping a wary eye out so he could hide it quickly if anyone should notice he was loafing.
He had read the articles earlier, so now he looked at the ads. It was a pity, he thought, a man didn’t have the time to do all there was to do.
Fit your own glasses (testing material and lens-grinding equipment included in the kit).
Take out your own tonsils (complete directions and all necessary instruments).
Fit up an unused room as your private hospital (no sense in leaving home when you’re ill, just at the time when you most need its comfort and security).
Grow your own medicines and drugs (starts of 50 different herbs and medicinal plants with detailed instructions for their cultivation and processing).
Grow your wife’s fur coat (a pair of mink, one ton of horse meat, furrier tools).
Tailor your own suits and coats (50 yards of wool yardgoods and lining material).
Build your own TV set.
Bind your own books.
Build your own power plant (let the wind work for you).
Build your own robot (a jack of all trades, intelligent, obedient, no time off, no overtime, on the job 24 hours a day, never tired, no need for rest or sleep, do any work you wish).
Now there, thought Knight, was something a man should try. If a man had one of those robots, it would save a lot of labor. There were all sorts of attachments you could get for it. And the robots, the ad said, could put on and take off all these attachments just as a man puts on a pair of gloves or takes off a pair of shoes.
Have one of those robots and, every morning, it would sally out into the garden and pick an the corn and beans and peas and tomatoes and other vegetables ready to be picked and leave them all neatly in a row on the back stoop of the house. Probably would get a lot more out of a garden that way, too, for the grading mechanism would never select a too-green tomato nor allow an ear of corn to go beyond its prime.
There were cleaning attachments for the house and snowplowing attachments and housepainting attachments and almost any other kind one could wish. Get a full quota of attachments, then layout a work program and turn the robot loose--you could forget about the place the year around, for the robot would take care of everything.
There was only one hitch. The cost of a robot kit came close to ten thousand dollars and all the available attachments could run to another ten.
Knight closed the magazine and put it into the briefcase.
He saw there were only fifteen minutes left until quitting time and that was too short a time to do anything, so Knight just sat and thought about getting home and finding the kit there waiting for him.
He had always wanted a dog, but Grace would never let him have one. They were dirty, she said, and tracked up the carpeting, they had fleas and shed hair allover everything--and, besides, they smelled.
Well, she wouldn’t object to this kind of dog, Knight told himself.
It wouldn’t smell and it was guaranteed not to shed hair and it would never harbor fleas, for a flea would starve on a half-mechanical, half-biologic dog.
He hoped the dog wouldn’t be a disappointment, but he’d carefully gone over the literature describing it and he was sure it wouldn’t. It would go for a walk with its owner and would chase sticks and smaller animals, and what more could one expect of any dog? To insure realism, it saluted trees and fence-posts, but was guaranteed to leave no stains or spots.
The kit was tilted up beside the hangar door when he got home, but at first he didn’t see it. When he did, he craned his neck out so far to be sure it was the kit that he almost came a cropper in the hedge. But, with a bit of luck, he brought the flier down neatly on the gravel strip and was out of it before the blades had stopped whirling.
It was the kit, all right. The invoice envelope was tacked on top of the crate. But the kit was bigger and heavier than he’d expected and he wondered if they might not have accidentally sent him a bigger dog than the one he’d ordered.
He tried to lift the crate, but it was too heavy, so he went around to the back of the house to bring a dolly from the basement.
Around the corner of the house, he stopped a moment and looked out across his land. A man could do a lot with it, he thought, if he just had the time and the money to buy the equipment. He could turn the acreage into one vast garden. Ought to have a landscape architect work out a plan for it, of course--although, if he bought some landscaping books and spent some evenings at them, he might be able to figure things out for himself.
There was a lake at the north end of the property and the whole landscape, it seemed to him, should focus upon the lake. It was rather a dank bit of scenery at the moment, with straggly marsh surrounding it and unkempt cattails and reeds astir in the summer wind. But with a little drainage and some planting, a system of walks and a picturesque bridge or two, it would be a thing of beauty.
He started out across the lake to where the house of Anson Lee sat upon a hill. As soon as he got the dog assembled, he would walk it over to Lee’s place, for Lee would be pleased to be visited by a dog. There had been times, Knight felt, when Lee had not been entirely sympathetic with some of the things he’d done. Like that business of helping Grace build the kilns and the few times they’d managed to lure Lee out on a hunt for the proper kinds of clay.
“What do you want to make dishes for?” he had asked. “Why go to all the trouble? You can buy all you want for a tenth of the cost of making them.”
Lee had not been visibly impressed when Grace explained that they weren’t dishes. They were ceramics, Grace had said, and a recognized form of art. She got so interested and made so much of it--some of it really good--that Knight had found it necessary to drop his model railroading project and tack another addition on the already sprawling house, for stacking, drying and exhibition.
Lee hadn’t said a word, a year or two later, when Knight built the studio for Grace, who had grown tired of pottery and had turned to painting. Knight felt, though, that Lee had kept silent only because he was convinced of the futility of further argument.
But Lee would approve of the dog. He was that kind of fellow, a man Knight was proud to call a friend--yet queerly out of step. With everyone else absorbed in things to do, Lee took it easy with his pipe and books, though not the ones on law.
Even the kids had their interests now, learning while they played.
Mary, before she got married, had been interested in growing things. The greenhouse stood just down the slope, and Knight regretted that he had not been able to continue with her work. Only a few months before, he had dismantled her hydroponic tanks, a symbolic admission that a man could only do so much.
John, quite naturally, had turned to rockets. For years, he and his pals had shot up the neighborhood with their experimental models. The last and largest one, still uncompleted, towered back of the house. Someday, Knight told himself, he’d have to go out and finish what the youngster had started. In university now, John still retained his interests, which now seemed to be branching out. Quite a boy, Knight thought pridefully. Yes, sir, quite a boy.
He went down the ramp into the basement to get the dolly and stood there a moment, as he always did, just to look at the place--for here, he thought, was the real core of his life. There, in that corner, the workshop. Over there, the model railroad layout on which he still worked occasionally. Behind it, his photographic lab. He remembered that the basement hadn’t been quite big enough to install the lab and he’d had to knock out a section of the wall and build an addition. That, he recalled, had turned out to be a bigger job than he had bargained for.
He got the dolly and went out to the hanger and loaded on the kit and wrestled it into the basement. Then he took a pinch-bar and started to uncrate it. He worked with knowledge and precision, for he had unpacked many kits and knew just how to go about it.
He felt a vague apprehension when he lifted out the parts. They were neither the size nor the shape he had expected them to be.
Breathing a little heavily from exertion and excitement, he went at the job of unwrapping them. By the second piece, he knew he had no dog. By the fifth, he knew beyond any doubt exactly what he did have.
He had a robot--and if he was any judge, one of the best and most expensive models!
He sat down on one corner of the crate and took out a handkerchief and mopped his forehead. Finally, he tore the invoice letter off the crate, where it had been tacked.
To Mr. Gordon Knight, it said, one dog kit, paid in full.
So far as How-2 Kits, Inc. , was concerned, he had a dog. And the dog was paid for--paid in full, it said.
He sat down on the crate again and looked at the robot parts.
No one would ever guess. Come inventory time, How-2 Kits would be long one dog and short one robot, but with carloads of dog kit orders filled and thousands of robots sold, it would be impossible to check.
Gordon Knight had never, in all his life, done a consciously dishonest thing. But now he made a dishonest decision and he knew it was dishonest and there was nothing to be said in defense of it. Perhaps the worst of all was that he was dishonest with himself.
At first, he told himself that he would send the robot back, but--since he had always wanted to put a robot together--he would assemble this one and then take it apart, repack it and send it back to the company. He wouldn’t activate it. He would just assemble it.
But all the time he knew that he was lying to himself, realized that the least he was doing was advancing, step by evasive step, toward dishonesty. And he knew he was doing it this way because he didn’t have the nerve to be forthrightly crooked.
So he sat down that night and read the instructions carefully, identifying each of the parts and their several features as he went along. For this was the way you went at a How-2. You didn’t rush ahead. You took it slowly, point by point, got the picture firmly in your mind before you started to put the parts together. Knight, by now, was an expert at not rushing ahead. Besides, he didn’t know when he would ever get another chance at a robot.
It was the beginning of his four days off and he buckled down to the task and put his heart into it. He had some trouble with the biologic concepts and had to look up a text on organic chemistry and try to trace some of the processes. He found the going tough. It had been a long time since he had paid any attention to organic chemistry, and he found that he had forgotten the little he had known.
By bedtime of the second day, he had fumbled enough information out of the textbook to understand what was necessary to put the robot together.
He was a little upset when Grace, discovering what he was working on, immediately thought up household tasks for the robot. But he put her off as best he could and, the next day, he went at the job of assembly.
He got the robot together without the slightest trouble, being fairly handy with tools--but mostly because he religiously followed the first axiom of How-2-ism by knowing what he was about before he began.
At first, he kept assuring himself that as soon as he had the robot together, he would disassemble it. But when he was finished, he just had to see it work. No sense putting in all that time and not knowing if he had gotten it right, he argued. So he flipped the activating switch and screwed in the final plate.
The robot came alive and looked at Knight.
Then it said, “I am a robot. My name is Albert. What is there to do?”
“Now take it easy, Albert,” Knight said hastily. “Sit down and rest while we have a talk.”
“I don’t need to rest,” it said.
“All right, then, just take it easy. I can’t keep you, of course. But as long as you’re activated, I’d like to see what you can do. There’s the house to take care of, and the garden and the lawn to mind, and I’d been thinking about the landscaping...”
He stopped then and smote his forehead with an open palm. “