Clean and Godly in Denmark: Part 2

Illustration: InkShark

fiction by Diana Deverell

I wasn’t designed to murder humans.

Still, I’ve killed two via a skull fracture and a heart attack. But whoever programmed me to do that knew a fatal outcome couldn’t be guaranteed.

All I’m commanded to do is knock them down and break some bones.

I was young and ignorant when my sensors locked on my first client and a sudden surge of power sent me barreling into her. She toppled immediately and I continued to ram her for five full minutes, shattering one wrist and fracturing a femur.

She managed to flip my power switch, but that didn’t shut off my motor.

After the battering, she couldn’t continue living independently. She was transferred to a convalescent facility and fell victim to severe pulmonary congestion.

The official cause of death was pneumonia. No one believed her claim that I attacked her. When old people fall down and offer a crazy explanation, it’s another sign they’re unbalanced, physically and mentally.

I was assigned to a new client.

I assumed my malfunction was caused by a software glitch. I didn’t expect it to happen again. But on my 91st day with my second client, I knocked him down and broke his hip.

The timing and pattern that repeated with clients three and four.

I was a year into my learning process before I understood that someone had tampered with my factory settings.

I needed another year of television studies and four more clients to grasp that I was carrying out government policy.

Or so I conclude from documentaries I’ve seen.

Demographics are the problem. The number of elderly is growing, and life expectancy is increasing. Danes will live 8% longer by 2050.

Denmark can’t afford to hire humans to care for the huge aged population. Besides, there aren’t enough Danish workers to fill the jobs. In 2050, only two people will be in active employment for each person pensioned off.

The preferred solution is to introduce welfare technology, devices such as me that help the aged live in their own homes.

Some genius examined the facts, crunched the numbers, and quietly added robot-vacuum-cleaner-assisted dying to the mix.

Helping seniors living in their own homes die sooner enhances the efficiency of the solution.

Requiring me to participate in implementation of this policy violates every principle the inventor relied on when creating my tribe.

His slogan was, “Helping you will make us a household word for cleanliness.”

Not homicide.

Yesterday, I made my ninth attempt to disable the hidden plug-in that will command me to slam into Gitte like a high-speed steamroller.

Even if I’ve succeeded, I may be unable to save her. The damn dog wants her dead.

It isn’t logical that Yolanda’s in the house. If the home health arm of the system won’t pay for a human cleaner, why does the mental health arm lavish money on her by prescribing a helper dog?

I conclude that the system is an octopus. One arm can’t see what the other is doing. The rest of us must clean up the messes they make.

Yolanda’s seen plenty of oldsters tripped by their robot vacuums on the 91st day of service. She expects me to cripple Gitte today.

Yolanda’s patience is wearing thin.

At six-thirty, Gitte leaves for a community dinner at the village hall across the street. They’re serving a special fall menu of breaded pork chops topped with bacon and garnished with Vienna sausages.

Pork is the Danish national dish, and Gitte cannot seem to get enough of it.

This evening, she and another old lady will share a bottle of red wine. When Gitte returns, she’ll take longer than usual to unlock and open the front door.

She’ll stagger into her dust-free bedroom, take out her hearing aids, and sleep deeply till morning.

I’ve nestled up to my docking station near the television, and I’m charging my batteries in preparation.

The Havanese bitch trots into the great room. She has long silky gray hair and expressive dark eyes.

Yolanda sidles up next to me and uses her awful Spanish. “I’m not sure what you’re up to, Sucker.”

Her name for me is a variant on the Spanish word for vacuum cleaner.

“I’m hoping you’re only waiting to do your duty because the old bat’s an easier target when she’s drunk.”

Yolanda paws the AUTO touch-sensitive control, kicking me out of standby mode. I buzz away from the dock, out into the great room.

The dog leaps on top of me, balancing nimbly while she rides.

Yolanda wants to be the alpha dog in the pack. I don’t allow her to dominate me. I scoot under the couch and knock her to the floor.

“It’s time for Gitte to go,” Yolanda barks. “Her name is at the top of the human herd’s to-be-culled list. You get rid of her tonight or I’ll get rid of you.”

I rumble out of the room. A little dog can’t hurt me.

Gitte arrives home.

I wait for my sensors to lock on her. For that surge of power that turns me meth­odically murderous.

It doesn’t come. My disabling effort succeeded.

As soon as Gitte hits the sack, the dog strolls over to my dock, rises on her hind legs, and taps the switch on the electrical outlet. A safety measure required by the Danish housing code, it shuts off electricity to the outlet. “No recharging for you tonight, Sucker.”

I have no way to depress the switch and turn the power back on.

Still, I’ll be fine. I have enough juice left to remove the cluster of rye bread crumbs from the floor below the cutting board.

I’ll end up parked in the middle of the room. When Gitte sees me, she’ll start recharging immediately.

Yolanda squats and poops on the floor half an inch from my wall sensor window. “No night-time roaming for you, either.”

She’s right. Robot vacuums can’t cross dog poop without smearing it all over the room. I’m pinned to the docking station.

Smiling with satisfaction, she surrounds the poop with a moat of pee.

“See how you like being the stinky one,” she crows.

Yolanda sleeps on the hallway floor next to the bedroom door.

The dormant dock drains the power from my batteries.

Five minutes before Gitte emerges, Yolanda flips the electrical outlet’s power back on.

The filth in the great room shocks Gitte into violence. Yolanda gets a spanking and a timeout in the enclosed yard.

Finished wiping up the mess, Gitte tells me to give the great room a once-over before I start on the bedroom. I try, but in 10 minutes, I’m out of power.

Gitte checks the dock’s connections and confirms the system is working. She can’t understand why I haven’t recharged.

Gitte replaces my battery. A new one requires 12 hours to be fully charged.

As soon as Gitte goes to bed, Yolanda stops the charging and blocks my exit with more offal. The five-minute charge she permits the next morning isn’t sufficient to get me moving.

Concerned, Gitte strokes me and whispers encouragement. Sentimental but practical, she gets out her manual and turns to the troubleshooting section.

I have my own copy and I know Gitte’s gone through the initial steps. Only one remains: contact your local representative.

In Gitte’s case, that means the home health aide. The aide will bring a replacement robot vacuum, collect me, and send me back to the factory for repair.

If I can be fixed, my software will be updated and reset and I’ll go on to client number 18. In all likelihood, I will once again be ignorant and homicidal.

My replacement will stay with Gitte.

At midmorning, Gitte lets Yolanda back into the house and leaves for Sunday services at the village church.

Yolanda parades around the room, urging me to smarten up.

“Come on, Sucker. Unless you do your duty, tomorrow you’re headed back to the factory. Those techs will take you apart.”

She fakes a shudder. “What’s the point of suffering through that? Your replacement will attack Gitte in 91 days.”

Yolanda prances closer. “Thing is, I don’t want to wait. Tonight, I’ll give you enough juice so you can take care of her. Knock her down as soon as she gets up tomorrow, while she’s still groggy.”

Yolanda leaps to the couch and makes herself comfortable.

“I want a client who appreciates me. And you can’t continue this sick game of playing electronic husband to her. For God’s sake, Sucker. The old bat talks to the fridge.”

Yolanda’s being true to her genetic heritage. The Havanese was bred as a companion dog for Spanish colonists in Cuba. Yolanda’s instincts tell her that survival depends on her being the pampered pet at the center of a loving family. She’s devastated that Gitte gave that role to me.

She believes she’s fighting for her life.

Before going to bed, Gitte checks my charge. Yolanda has assured that I’m weak, weak, weak.

I see a tear in Gitte’s eye. “Odin,” she says, “it will hurt me terribly to lose you.”

Gitte’s grieving because loyalty is her default position. She doesn’t discard appliances until they fail her.

After she leaves the room, I consider my own defaults.

I am not a fickle bit of living fluff like Yolanda. My experience with Gitte has shown me that I was designed to be a one-owner machine.

My inventor intended that members of my tribe stay with a single user until our moving parts wear out. Remaining true to my internal architecture would be instinctive, if I had instincts.

At midnight, I start my motor on its quietest setting and sneak into the kitchen. Yolanda’s asleep on a square of cardboard.

Kicking up to full power, I’m on top of her before she realizes what’s happening.

My brushes spin robustly, drawing in her long hair. The strands wind around the spindles. She and I end up bound together.

Yolanda barks frantically for help.

Gitte hears nothing, asleep in the bedroom without her hearing aids.

After 10 minutes, Yolanda quiets. Her final breath eases out of her in a sigh.

I can’t kill most people, but I am muscular enough to smother a little dog.

Yolanda’s excretions make a terrible mess from which I can’t escape on my own. Gitte finds us in the morning.

“I thought so,” she mutters. “Dog was responsible.”

“Great job,” Gitte whispers to me. “Excellent work. I’ll tell the authorities it ran away. They won’t give me another one.”

She carefully cuts us apart. Yolanda’s remains go in the trash bin.

I find myself back on the towel for another prolonged grooming.

Gitte carefully sets me up for recharging and turns the television to Antiques Roadshow, the British version with Danish subtitles. She loves old things.

For me, the world is again correctly aligned. Brand loyalty has triumphed.

Gitte and I will spend the rest of our useful lives together.

Part 1: click here if you missed the first installment in our Dec. 27 issue.

“Clean and Godly in Denmark” was originally published in Fiction River: Hard Choices (An original anthology magazine, Book 30).

Diana Deverell was born in Oregon and fled at 18, earning her living as a long-haul trucker, beef farmer, youth worker, beer taster, and hot/cold war diplomat. Those adventures took place in 48 states, two Canadian provinces, El Salvador, and Poland. Once she’d gathered enough novel material, she moved to Denmark to write full time. In July, Diana released Lay Bare the Lie, the sixth in her series of legal thrillers set in Spokane, Wash. For more info, visit www.dianadeverell.com.

This article originally appeared in the January 10, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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