email: firstname.lastname@example.orgToast “A gracious morning, Mistress Angelique,” the toaster said. “I am your toaster, model number HL-70, and it is my duty to see that you have a happy breakfast.”The woman seemed startled. No upset, rather. Raven-haired, beautiful, graceful as always, sheturned, then glared at the waiting machine. “I would recommend toast, of course,” the toaster continued. “Grain fiber is an important part of your daily nutritional requirement. Unless one should be a fullyprogrammed kitchen appliance such as I, if I may be permitted the joke, one cannot live on electricity alone.”The woman frowned, and the toaster’s optical scanner signaled a silent warning. EntryGuardian, model number XT-801, had already told the apartment’s domestics that their humanmistress had returned late the previous night, her breath laden with alcohol-based hydrocarbons. The toaster alerted Coffee Maker, model number 6-NP-31. It was going to be one of thosemornings. The woman grunted. “I don’t want breakfast. Gotta get dressed.” She twirled and stalked down the narrow hallway, back to her bedroom, to re-emerge only moments later, her slender form encased in a snug-fitting office jumpsuit. “A gracious morning again, lovely mistress,” the toaster said. It activated its bread-feed conveyer, selecting a light wheat-barley blend, and set its margarine warmer to ready. “I have taken the liberty of assessing your toast needs myself. But while you are waiting, may I instruct Refrigerator, model number 51-XDM-504, to pour you a nice, cold glass of fruit juice?” “Don’t want fruit juice,” the woman said. “Just gimme some coffee.” The woman pouted. “Coffee straight, got it?” “Black, Mistress Angelique? Of course. Coffee Maker will get it ready. And, with your toast, I have an excellent jam selection …”"Don’t you understand?” the woman said. “I don’t want toast. I don’t want breakfast. I just wantcoffee.” The woman bent to the cup that Coffee Maker offered, revealing that her gold-stripedjumpsuit was cut low in front, suitable for evening wear as well as the office. “Oh, but now mistress is making a joke,” the toaster persisted. It preselected a strawberry jam and started it heating, then added more bread to its standby hopper. “Of course you want breakfast. It is my duty to be sure your body is primed and ready for the day. For this you need calories. Carbohydrates. Later, perhaps, a protein booster. But to start your morning off right, you must first have toast.” “I don’t want toast.” The woman was shouting. “Not only do I not want toast, but I don’t want juice and I don’t want jam. And, especially, I don’t want to be having an argument with my toaster.” “Mistress Angelique,” the toaster said, “I am programmed to explain that if you get angry, you will not digest your food in an efficient manner. Therefore, it is my duty to see that your breakfast is happy as well as nutritious. And, to this end ” The toaster paused for dramatic effect, then activated its pop-up circuit. “To this end, mistress, I present you with toast!”"I don’t want toast!” The woman slammed her coffee cup down on the counter surface and lungedat the toaster. It flipped its marmalade-well cap open and slid back the cover to its preheated margarine caddy. “Ifmistress prefers grape …”She grabbed the toaster in both her hands, spun, and hurled it across the counter, into the livingroom-dinette. Its power cord snapped just before it hit the far wall. “Mistress was angry,” Vacuum Cleaner, model number 100-3-T, whispered in Toaster’s aural sensor. “You should have seen yourself when she threw you, spewing a trail of toast crumbs and jam …” “I plugged you back in,” a higher voice added the voice of Duster, model number X-7-R3. “My manipulators were able to do that much, but I haven’t the strength to lift you back to the kitchenette counter.” “Mistress Angelique left for work shortly after she threw you. What a mess, though! Are you feeling okay?”"Yes, thank you, Vacuum,” the toaster said. Vacuum Cleaner was not very smart, in view of thelimited duties he had, but he was loyal the kind of appliance one was proud to call one’sfriend. Gingerly, Toaster switched his self-damage sensor on just to make sure thenreactivated his optical scanner. “I’ve finished cleaning up the crumbs,” Vacuum Cleaner said. Toaster swung his scanner around,seeing the jam spots and pools of margarine that still marked his passage. And, snaking throughthem, he saw the extension cord Duster had rigged to a lamp socket for him. But, as the vacuumcleaner had said, all crumbs had disappeared. “I’ve also called out Rug Shampooer,” the vacuum continued. “We’ll get the rest cleaned up and …”"Just a moment,” Toaster said. He lowered his scanner and saw the twin cords of Vacuum andDuster threading through his. Then he saw a third cord and, off to the left, a fourth and a fifth. He raised his voice; a dull splashing rumble indicated that the shampooer was already starting onsome far corner of the carpet. “How many appliances are on the floor?” “Me and Duster, like I said,” the vacuum replied. “And Rug Shampooer’s lathering up now. And Trouble Light is helping me spot any crumbs that I might have missed, and, of course, Waxer is taking care of spots on the kitchen floor. But why do you ask?”"Rug Shampooer, can you hold off? Power down for a minute?” Toaster was shouting, desperatelytrying to be heard over the swishing, scraping, bubbling sound of the approaching cleaningappliance. He watched as a pool of detergent suds flooded into his view, spreading across theextension cords. “Can’t make out what you’re asking, boss,” he could barely hear the shampooer shout back. “Gotta work fast get to the jam and stuff while it’s still fresh. Easier that way. Stops it fromstaining.” He watched the pool extend into a river, flowing, frothing, from wall to wall. To the wall socket he and the others were plugged into. “That was a nasty short circuit, Mr. Toaster,” an authoritative-sounding voice said. “You should be as good as new now, though.”Toaster repowered his optical scanner. He saw, with relief, that he was back in his proper niche onthe kitchen counter, with its view of the living room-dinette as well as the passage to mistress’sbedroom. Before him stood a maintenance robot, a model SDT-60K, classification Supervisor. Two other maintenance robots were helping put the apartment’s other appliances back in their
places. “Th-thank you,” the toaster started to say. He spoke slowly and carefully, letting his voice circuitsregain their strength. “No, Mr. Toaster. You needn’t thank us. It’s all in a day’s work. Some apartment gets shorted out, a red light goes on in our room in the basement. So me and the boys come up and fix things. It’s all in the rent contract your mistress signed.”"Well, I still thank you,” Toaster began again. Then he heard the rhythmic, crashing soundscoming from the direction of the apartment’s closed entrance. He whipped his optical scanneraround, saw the imitation wood paneling of the doorway start to splinter. “What’s that?” he asked. “Robots in helmets! Swinging axes!” Entry Guardian XT-801 screamed in reply. “Carrying hoses! Mayday! Mayday!” “Nonsense,” the maintenance robot said. “It’s just the firefighter robots we called. Nothing to be alarmed about.”"You mean there’s a fire?” the toaster asked. “Nonsense,” the maintenance robot said. “But you have to understand, Mr. Toaster, it’s part of the robot union rules. Whenever there’s an electrical short, we have to call in the fire department. It’s just a precaution …”Fragments of imitation wood began to fly across the apartment, landing on the freshly scrubbedcarpet with dull, clanking noises. “But what are they doing, chopping the door down? Why don’t they just show their ID cards to Entry Guardian?” “Another union rule, Mr. Toaster. Based, or so I understand, on centuries of firefighting tradition. You wouldn’t want to deny tradition, would you?” “When you put it that way,” the toaster said, wincing as a fragment bounced off his counter, “I don’t suppose I would want to deny it. But …”"I would,” Entry Guardian said. “And me too,” said the vacuum cleaner from the closet he had been put away in. “I’ll end up having to clean it, you know.” “But,” Toaster continued, “isn’t the main electrical feed to the apartment’s interior circuits located underneath the door jamb? I mean, if the firefighters chop too hard, wouldn’t they …” “Bet you didn’t know your apartment’s power circuit runs under the front door,” a feminine voice said. “Sure fooled us, anyway. Not to worry, though, we got emergency electricity rigged. And not only that, the good news is, there wasn’t any fire after all. Ain’t that a real hoot?”Toaster very, very carefully powered up his optical scanner. Looming over him was the face of aFirefighter Robot, classification Humanoid, sub-class Feminine, Brunette/Curly. Toaster winced a sort of metallic Mistress Angelique, was his first thought. Except for one thing. This face was smiling. “You want to know something else funny, Toaster? The way you wiggle your scanner like that, I think you’re kind of cute.”Toaster activated his bread feed, scarcely realizing that he had done so the way she smiled, hethought she was cute, too. “Uh …” he stammered, “w-would you like some toast?” “I, uh, gee, I don’t really know, Toaster …” “Just call me HL-70 HL for short. It’s my model number. And I’ve got some really nice raisin bread saved. Raisins are rich in iron, you know. Iron, to build healthy metallic bodies …” “Gee, uh, HL.” Toaster could tell from her voice that she liked him. “Trouble is, I’m on duty and all and, since the fire danger’s cleared up here, I really should go back to the station house. Still, I, uh …”Toaster could tell she was trying to find an excuse to stay. He tried to remember those nights whenMistress Angelique had brought a fellow human back with her. “Scored,” as she would sometimessay the following mornings. She and the human guest would converse as they worked their wayfrom the living room couch to the bedroom hall, then down the hall and out of sight, even fromToaster’s perch on his counter. But exactly what things did they say to each other? “I-I could make special toast for you, baby,” he blurted out. It was the only thing he could think of. “Warm, sensuous toast, with real butter.” Toasters, he suddenly realized, had serious limitations in these matters. “I could make toast with hot marmalade. Steaming with genuine robo-bee honey. Toast with thick crusts, hot, crispy-brown, to match the color of your burnished hair. I …” “Yeah, you’re cute, HL. I’ll say that for you.” The firefighter grinned, the same way Mistress Angelique grinned when she was in one of her rare good moods. “But still, you know. Like I, uh … like firerobots don’t eat toast. Maybe sometime, if you have a fire …” “I burn for you, beautiful fireperson robot my heating coils quiver. My thermostat rises. I …” Toaster realized the firefighter robot was already picking up her equipment. “Maybe I … uh … could ask Refrigerator to give you a beer?”The firefighter grinned a second time and winked at Toaster. Then she was gone. He looked around him. The other appliances were all in their minimal-power standby modes, putaway in their niches and closets. Toaster felt very much alone. Toaster thought long and hard during the night. He knew, somehow, that he had missed his onlychance. That, even if he could arrange a fire, that particular firefighter robot would never return. He thought of the things he should have said. The logical arguments one would use to a firefighterrobot to make her stay. He thought of how he might have argued that toasters like him wereinherent fire hazards, due to their circuitry. How, for the safety of the whole building for thewhole city each should have personal fire protection. How, maybe, he could have forced her tostay. He almost missed Door Guardian’s whispered warning: “Fellow appliances, stay out of sight. Mistress is in the outer hall, and her breath smells of hydrocarbons again. She slaps her I.D. against my sensor. She slaps it hard I think she is angry. Fellow appliances, stay out of sightand prepare for morning.”No, not angry, toaster thought as Mistress Angelique stumbled through the living room-dinette andinto the hall. Not really angry, even if, as Door Guardian implied, it would, indeed, be one ofthose mornings. But no, he thought. It would be different this time. No more dispassionate, even if well-meaning,talks on nutrition he knew other words to use to his mistress. And no more plain wheat toast forher either. Not even the raisin bread in his hopper. No, he thought. He knew now how she felt, coming back as she was, no doubt from an unfulfilledrendezvous with some human firefighter. Alone and lonely, just as he was when his firerobot hadwalked out on him. He made up his mind then, just before he powered himself down to rest-cycle status. Tomorrowmorning would be different. Mistress Angelique would see. Tomorrow morning he would insist she try blueberry danish.