WEDNESDAY: Do We Have To Go to That?

BY MARK THOMAS

Copyright is held by the author.

PacTL4 TILTED his head. “Do we have to go to that?”

They continued walking toward the Western Annex. “The after-hours socialization seems excessive.” It was an odd assertion for the robot, since he was employed by the company as an event planner and had helped organize the very function he was now trying to avoid. But robots were different than humans in that respect, they didn’t automatically value something just because they were personally involved in it. And to be fair, PacTL4’s specific expertise related to physical design rather than personal interaction. He was adept at layering party settings with the maximum number of vistas, creating environments that people and robots found soothing. He didn’t much care what happened within those settings.

“I’ve explained this to you before,” FySH said, suppressing most of his exasperation. “Institutions function better if members consider themselves part of a team, and the results improve exponentially if there is an after-hours component. Did you delete the tables I sent you?” he asked archly.

“Of course not,” PacTL4 lied.

FySH looked at the sinuous array of appetizer tables positioned in front of staggered industrial window blinds. “Since you helped organize the party, it would be considered slightly offensive if we didn’t attend. It would be comparable to inviting a friend to our home then powering down.”

PacTL4 sighed. He never won these arguments. “Is this one of those occasions you’ve labeled ‘mandatory’ fun?”    

“Yes,” FySH said as he lightly touched his friend’s wrist cables. “Don’t worry, the protocol isn’t onerous. When Ms. Leech gives a short speech thanking us for our kindness, it will be a coded signal that it is appropriate to desert her. Total estimated duration, forty-eight minutes.”

They watched guests move fluidly from station to station, charted the formation and dissolution of various groups.

“Oh no.” PacTL4 became suddenly alarmed. “I think Robert is coming over here.” A stocky, balding man had just extricated himself from an enthusiastic group of actuarial accountants and was walking toward the robots.

“Be civil,” FySH admonished quietly.

The man came to a stop immediately in front of them and seemed to vibrate with barely-contained emotion. “Thank you,” he suddenly gushed, while clumsily placing his palm over the sensory pad on FySH’s exposed shoulder. “I have to express my gratitude for your help with my…issue.” Robert’s voice cracked with emotion. “I know it would be improper to get into specifics, but I had to tell you how much I appreciate your help… and…and your kindness.” He removed his great paw from FySH’s shoulder and wiped a tear from his own cheek. “I think my family cherishes it even more than I do.” The man backed away, with tiny formal bowing movements, and was reabsorbed by the crowd.

“Ah!” PacTL4 said. “He’s the undiagnosed pressure fracture you were working on last week.”

“That’s confidential,” FySH whispered. He was the company’s employee advocate, maneuvering both humans and robots through the labyrinthian channels of appropriate workplace behaviour. FySH inclined his head towards PacTL4. “I’m gratified that you pay such close attention, however.”  

“Friends!” Ms. Leech’s voice suddenly rose above the general thrum of conversation. “And I use that word ‘friend’ advisedly, because you are much more than colleagues…”   

PacTL4 subtly altered the level of one window blind and rays from the setting sun, constrained and focused by adjacent buildings, enveloped Ms. Leech in a cone of hazy yellow light.

Employees had already been informed of the company’s recent triumph in an email blast, so Ms. Leech’s enthusiastic oratory was hardly necessary, but that fact didn’t seem to constrain her. She spoke for more than five minutes extolling the virtues of the organization in general, and ended by lionizing several of the key players in the latest project, including CTpw who couldn’t possibly have appreciated the praise. 

“Humans,” PacTL4 muttered, shaking his head.

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