The Pet Salesman (Part Two)

by Cory Martinson

Continued from Part One

“He’s responsive to your touch and requires an amount of attention that you can vary by command,” Simon went on. “This includes daily walks which can range in length and speed as you wish. He has tracking that will guide him home from literally anywhere, or to any other location you speak to him.”

Fido trotted over to Ted and sniffed. He barked twice and sat at Ted’s feet, wagging his tail. Simon reached down and tapped the top of the control device. A holoimage sprang up, scrolling paragraphs of data; identifying tobacco smoke, particulate levels, carcinogen content, and so on.

“The module will interpret Fido’s observed data into any language and format. Anything he sees or smells, anything he experiences, you can look over in easy-to-understand reports.”

“Not to be negative, Simon,” said Ted, cradling the bowl of his pipe, “but it sounds like Fido here is an appliance. And a redundant one, seeing as our house has many of the features you’re mentioning.”

“Oh, Fido’s so much more than that. He’s a mobile security system. He’ll follow commands ranging from sentry to lethal response.”

Simon turned to the dog.

“Fido, guard! Report activity,” said Simon in a firm tone.

Fido bolted to the front door and sniffed the threshold. Nose down and snuffling, he continued along the wall into the dining room, the kitchen, and disappeared from sight. The information scrolling by on the control module holoimage began to display a schematic of the house’s floor plan. Alongside this appeared several parameters in green, such as electromagnetic radiation levels, heat signatures, vibration frequencies, and more data as Fido went about his business.

“So he’s what, a weapon?” asked Ann, sounding a bit alarmed.

“Oh, hardly ma’am,” Simon assured. “Fido is a primarily a lover, not a fighter. Fido, come!”

Fido returned and sat attentively in front of Simon. Simon swept his hand over the control module and said “Pause.” Fido rose, assumed a perfect show-dog stance, and froze there. The life that sparkled in Fido’s eyes vanished; he was a stuffed animal again.

“Please, Mrs. Pearson. Slide your hand over the control module.”

Ann gave Ted a brief glimpse. Then she did. Fido shook, then scampered to Ann’s side, sat and placed a paw on her leg. “Well hello again mister Fido,” said Ann in lovey-dovey talk, scratching the dog’s head. Fido squinted in delight and wagged to beat the band.

“At Darling Forever, we’ve distilled a pet’s relationship with his owner to its essence: dedication and reliance. Fido will be devoted to you, Ann, and you, Ted, for as long as you live.

“I could go into a long-winded explanation about his predictive empathy programming, and the advanced proactive altruism he’s embedded with, but suffice it to say Fido loves you now as much as any pet ever would. Ever could. He senses your moods and will lift you when you are sad, celebrate with you when you are happy, and cower when you are angry. He doesn’t need food or water but will respond with real affection to your attention and contact. Studies have shown that this is not only gratifying to humans, but an effective stress reliever and coping mechanism for many psychological maladies common to society.

“People who own Darling Forever pets live longer and more fulfilling lives, that’s a fact. Little Fido here is a life-quality improver.”

“What’s in the other case?” asked Ted.

“A cat.” Simon reached for the case. “Would you care to—“

“Oh, we’re not cat people. Thanks just the same,” dismissed Ted.

Ann, meanwhile, had picked Fido up onto her lap. He was sprawled on his back, lolling his tongue contentedly as she rubbed his belly.

“I want one, Ted,” said Ann.

“Fine and dandy. How much we talking here, Simon?”

“You’re in luck, Ted. A promotional special we’re running today only will allow me to deliver the small breed of your choice for well under the listed price.” Simon exhibited his smile at full brightness.

“And that is…” prompted Ted.

“Right now, we can make you a lifetime pet owner for only one hundred seventy-five thousand dollars, plus tax and the incidentals.”

Ann’s hand paused on Fido’s belly. Fido nudged her arm with his nose.

“Whoa there, Lone Ranger. That’s a chunk of change!” said Ted, raising an eyebrow.

Simon’s smile faltered a moment, but then regained strength. “Let’s talk financing!”

“I don’t know. Really, it’s a bit steep for us. We’re early retirees, only two years into paying for the house, there’s expenses…”

“Mr. Pearson, I have an option for you to consider.”

Ted set his pipe down. “What do you have in mind?”

“This is a new program. There are advertisers, corporations, who would be willing to subsidize your purchase in order to have access to certain metrics, telemetry, and other data. With the right authorizations from you, your pet’s purchase price could be reduced by up to seventy percent.”

“I’m not sure I follow,” said Ted.

“The dog tracks some of your activities and preferences, does some limited reporting back to a few sponsors, and they use that data anonymously to create better products and advertising. It’s minimally invasive. Plus, it can be helpful to you. Allow me a quick demonstration,” Simon said, then waved his hand over the control module. “Data collection authorization 017443 temporary. Fido, collect data. Report items of interest.”

Fido hopped up and ran off again. Reams of information scrolled up the holoimage. Ted caught a few details, including the make and year of each piece of furniture, the wall paint colors, the contents of his e-reader, his DVR, and his net history. Also, what looked like the contents of his refrigerator and cupboards. Even the identity of people in pictures on the walls. The image scrolled and scrolled, until Fido returned and hopped back up to Ann’s lap. A message blinked in red on the holoimage.

“See?” said Simon, pointing at the display. “There’s a recall on one of the cleaning products in your bathroom. It should be disposed of due to…it says here ‘carcinogenic potential’. Fido just found that out for you.”

“Seems like he found out an awful lot,” Ted grumbled.

“Oh, It’s just like anything else, Ted. It’s not like our data isn’t tracked every day anyway,” said Ann. The dog now relaxed, eyes shut, on her lap.

“Sure,” said Ted. “Sounds like a deal to me. I mean, it’s not like we could get a real dog. They’ve been gone now for what, twenty years?”

“Twenty-two now since DMBV, sorry to say.” Simon gently reached for Fido. Ann offered him up, and Simon packed him away with practiced efficiency. “I’ll leave you my card and this catalog. You can view it on your holocenter at your leisure, and select the breed and other particulars of your pet. Just call when you’re ready to order. Thanks, folks.”

Simon snapped the clasps shut on his case and made his exit, again stopping to engage Ted in another firm handshake and grace both Ted and Ann with his blazing smile.

“What a nice young man,” said Ann, fussing with her knitting. “Want to help me pick a dog, Ted?”

“You pick your top three and I’ll weigh in later,” Ted said across his pipe, grabbing his new fedora from the hat rack. “I’m going bowling.”

This is the home of the Foil & Phaser writers workshop, a spin-off community website for fans of the Sword & Laser book club and podcast who want to develop their writing skills.

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Posted in Divide and Conquer, Fiction, Science Fiction, Short Story (<7500 words)
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January 2014
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