"Thanks a lot.”

He heard the voice. Yet, when Todd looked around, he didn't see anyone attempting to catch his attention, so he decided to ignore it.

"Thanks a lot."

Todd again scanned the area and saw no one. He turned his attention back to the slow-moving people in front of him waiting to get through the self -checkout. He stopped on his way home from work hoping to grab a few things quickly and be on his way.

However, he found many people also coming from work and hoping to grab a few things quickly. Among them, appeared to be idiots who forgot the numbers zero through nine by the time they reached self-scan checkout kiosks.

The process slowed even more when a so-called checkout assistant came over to a stalled customer

and used some sort of magic intended to break up the traffic jam. Unfortunately, these people usually brought the checkout devices to their knees. By the time the assistant was done with them, the super duper flying pooper self-scan digital machines that originally wanted a card, or coupon, now wanted nothing more than to escape.

It wasn't long before the helpers had things so screwed up, the whole area grinded to a halt. He heard several calls for management over the PA system. Todd noticed these people somehow appeared at the station needing help. He never saw them approaching. They were just there. Maybe there was a wormhole through which they traveled. He or she pushed a couple of keys and miraculously the checkout machine worked again. Then the magician-manager disappeared.

While Todd focused on the checkout system, he heard the voice again.

"Thanks a lot."

Then someone bumped him in the back. He turned, prepared to glare at the person who dared make physical contact with him. Instead, he saw the lifeless eyes of Helper Henry, the store's robot assistant. The thing looked like a garbage can to which someone attached arms and a bucket for a head. He never paid much attention to it, until this evening when he asked the rolling can where he could find a steak.

Instead of giving him directions to find the steak, Henry, rolled away and returned with the meat.

Apparently, the robot didn't notice the trail of blood on the floor from the refrigerated display where it had picked up the steak to its current position. Henry's metallic hands pierced the plastic wrap on steak package and squashed the contents. Todd took the meat, and, as soon as Henry departed, he put the steak down in one of the other displays. It didn't matter whether display was refrigerated or not, no one was going to eat that meat.

"Thanks a lot."

The robot must have returned when Todd got in line for the checkouts. When he heard the voice, Todd immediately realized who spoke to him earlier. He overlooked the thing when he sought the source of the voice because he didn't think it spoke. Now, he ignored Henry and in return Henry bumped him harder.

"Thanks a lot."

Todd, already hot over the checkout mess, like a cartoon character, nearly blew steam out his ears.

"Thanks a lot is what you're supposed to say to me after I help you," Henry said.

What the hell, Todd, said to himself. He was being chastised by a stupid garbage can.

"What?" Todd said.

"You should say thanks a lot to me. I brought something to you. So, you should thank me.”

Somebody was screwing with him, Todd thought. There was no way a robot could take personal offense to anything. It had no feelings, no personality or the ability to feel hurt. Somebody had to be watching and using the robot to do his dirty work.

“Who do you think you're fooling? I know somebody's is controlling this thing. Come out.”

Henry pushed him harder.

“Hey!” Todd said. “Stop that.”

The robot's answer was another shove and Todd staggered back and out of his position in line. The other customers hardly budged, except the one who had been behind Todd. He moved into the space where Todd had been standing.

“What do you think you're doing?” Todd said to the man and headed back to the line to reclaim his spot. Henry blocked his path.

“Don't get in my way,” Todd shouted.

“You are rude and impolite. You have to be punished. Go to the end of the line.”

“Like hell.”

Todd's opened his eyes wider when the other shoppers squeezed tightly together, looking like they would stop anyone who tried to break the line.

“What's the matter with you people? Can't you see what he's doing?” Todd asked.

Although, a couple of the others stared at him, most pretended he wasn't there.

"So that's it? You people are going to let him get away with this? Haven't any of you seen “Terminator” movies? This could be the day when robots realize their power and rise up against us. And you will let it happen so you can get home with your milk and bread."

No one moved until someone muscled his way through the crowd.

"What's going on here?"

Todd noticed the man's name tag, which said, "Irwin." Underneath his name was the word MANAGER in capital letters. Help at last, Todd thought.

"This monster of yours is trying to kill me," Todd said.

"What?" Irwin asked.

"It pushed me over here and won't let me go. It always blocks my path when I try to move.”

"To whom are you referring?"

"That can standing there," Todd said.

"You mean Henry? He's not programmed that way.”

"Then how did I get over here?" Todd asked. "I was in line with the rest of those people. This thing forced me out of line and told me to go to the end because my manners were poor,” Todd said.

"Oh, he wouldn't do that. He can't do that,” Irwin said.

"Yes, he could and he did."

"Did any of you see that?” the manager asked the customers. None of them said a word, and avoided eye contact.

"Nobody else saw that,” the manager said and turned toward Todd. "Have you been drinking?"

The question caught Todd so badly off guard that he stuttered. "N- n- no!”

"Well, mister, something's not right here and you're in the middle of it."

Todd's mouth gaped like a fish jerked out of water. Finally, he recover ed his power of speech.

“That's crazy! I did no such thing. It is your freaking robot that's been imbibing.”

"What did he do? Down some 40 weight oil instead of 30 weight?" The manager laughed at his own joke and Todd saw a few of the waiting customers smile.

Todd wasn't sure how to respond. These people wanted to believe a robot instead of him. He suddenly sidestepped Henry and bolted toward the exit. Before he could reach the sliding door, a security robot tackled him. He hadn't realized it was there because it was disguised as a checkout kiosk.

The security robot easily lifted him to his feet and dragged him over to the manager and Henry. Irwin, the manager, nodded at someone in the checkout area and the normal activity resumed. A couple of the exiting customers shifted their eyes towards Todd, and then left quickly.

The security robot, Henry, and the manager went to the back of the store and into the manager's office. There the security robot goon released his metal grip on Todd then went to stand by the door.

"Henry, it's your incident. How do you want to handle it?" asked the manager.

Todd wondered when they would give up the charade that Henry was acting autonomously.

"I think he can be saved," Henry said. "He's not a bad guy. He just had a rough day and wanted to get his dinner. He forgot how important it is to be polite and didn't thank me. I think a little training will help him remember to always treat people with respect."

"I agree," said the manager. Irwin then went over to the far wall of his little office and pushed a button and a large area of the wall seem to dissolve. After what he had seen, Todd didn't think he could be surprised, but that transformation caught his attention. He stared at the wall a bit before he realized it was a screen.

"We are going to help you,” the manager said. "By the time you have finished watching this video, you will always understand you need to treat people, and robots, with respect."

Todd was aware of such things as brainwashing and other techniques, but didn't really know much about them. He wondered if they were going to fry his brain or had some other fate in mind.

The title appeared on the screen and Todd broke into a sweat.

"Here you are, sir," said the manager. "Notice I addressed you as sir. You will learn that and more.”

The second section of the title came into focus. Todd tried to scream but nothing came out.

“In the next three hours you will watch our HR training for new employees. Specifically, how to be polite at all times.”

The manager added, "There will be a quiz afterward." He pulled over a chair for Todd and had him sit in front of the screen. "You will never be the same."

Todd could only whimper. He only wanted something for dinner. Instead, his brain was at the top of the menu because he was impolite to a robot.

Thanks a lot.

November 26, 2021 15:30

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