Love Conquers All by James Rumpel
Love Conquers All by James Rumpel
“PADDY, show me videos of people falling.”
John Stewman nestled into his massage-recliner and focused on the oversized television that covered most of his living room wall.
“Yes, John. Here are some humorous videos of people slipping on ice,” replied the automated female voice of John’s Personal Assistance Device. The spherical machine, about the size of a softball, floated over his left shoulder. The flying PAD had been quite a bit more expensive than the hand-held model, but John was glad he had splurged.
“PADDY, please get me a beer from the fridge.”
“Yes, John. Coming right up.” The PAD immediately took off toward the kitchen, it’s three helicopter blades making whirrings sound as it flew away. John hardly noticed the noise anymore, having grown accustomed to it in the three weeks since he had gotten this device.
John chuckled as he watched a large man almost make it to the top of an ice-covered hill before slipping and sliding back to the bottom. In the next room, the refrigerator door shut with a dull thud. Soon PADDY was back, a can of beer being held in a claw suspended below its round body.
PADDY set the beer on a table next to John’s chair. As the claw retracted, it said, “Here you go, John. I hope you like it. I brought you some peanuts too.” A second claw dropped a small bag of nuts next to the can.
“Thank you, PADDY,” he said, even though a response was not required.
A few minutes later, PADDY interrupted John’s video with an announcement. “John, it is now five o’clock. Would you like me to order carryout for dinner?”
“PADDY,” replied its master, “that will not be necessary. I am going to go on a date tonight. I am taking Marsha Maynard out for a late meal. We set this date up last month, before she went out east on a business trip.”
“Ohhh,” answered PADDY. There seemed to be a slight change in the tone of the device’s voice. “Would you like me to do anything to help you prepare?”
“Sure, PADDY please broadcast my current image onto the TV so I can make sure I look presentable.”
The PAD moved in front of John and activated its camera. Instantly, John’s face appeared on the television, effectively turning the big screen into a gigantic, high-definition mirror.
“PADDY, do a quick search on Marsha Maynard of Hill Street and see if you can find out any details about her likes and dislikes. The more I know about her, the easier it will be to carry on a conversation.”
“Of course, if that’s what you want.”
John had forgotten how pretty Marsha was and the tight red dress she wore was making it difficult for him to avoid staring.
“I’m so glad we were able to get together,” he said as he pulled back her chair and waited for her to sit. “We used to see each other a lot when we worked in the same office.”
“That’s true,” she answered. “But now that we don’t work together, we can get to see each other in a different way.”
“This seems like a nice place,” he said as he took his seat, trying not to grin too much over the provocativeness of her statement.
Instead of answering, Marsha tapped her front teeth with her finger. John looked at her, confused.
“You have something stuck to your front teeth,” she said. “It looks like the skin from a peanut or something like that.”
John grabbed a napkin and wiped his mouth. Why hadn’t he noticed that when he was getting ready at his apartment?
“So, anyhow. How’s the new job going?” he asked.
“Oh, I like it. I feel like I am making a difference.”
“I bet,” commented John. “It must be rewarding to work with troubled kids.”
Marsha shook her head, confused. “I work for an environmental lobbyist. It has nothing to do with kids.”
“I’m sorry,” John scrambled to come up with a reply. “I knew it was that. I don’t know why I said kids when I meant the environment.” He glanced up at PAD, hovering over his shoulder.
Luckily, John was granted a reprieve when one of the restaurant’s PADs floated over to their table.
“Good evening,” said the device with an odd accent; a mixture of French and robot. “Are you ready to order?”
“Allow me,” said John. “We would like two of your best T-bone steaks.” He grinned at Marsha, “I know how much you like a good steak.”
“Ahhh,” interrupted Marsha. “I’ve been vegan since the first of the year.”
John’s face flushed with warmth. “Oh. I’m sorry. I thought I saw somewhere that you posted about a great steak you had in Kansas City . . . “
“Absolutely not,” huffed Marsha. “If you’re going to stalk me you should at least get the details right.”
“I wasn’t stalking you. I was just trying to see what you had been up to lately.”
Marsha took a deep breath. “It’s okay. I’m sorry. I guess I’m a bit sensitive.” She turned her attention back to the service PAD. “I’ll just have a vegan Greek salad and a glass of water.”
“I’ll have the same,” added John.
After the PAD finished taking their orders and left, John tried one more foray into a conversation. “I’ve got something very exciting coming up next week. I’m going to take the plunge and buy a dog. I bet you can give me a lot of advice. Having three dogs of your own must keep you busy.”
“John,” snapped Marsha. “I already told you I am vegan. I don’t believe in having companion pets. No animal should be held in captivity.”
As John put his face in his hands and lowered his head, he could have sworn he heard a slight giggle from over his left shoulder.
John sulked in his recliner, staring at the ceiling.
“PADDY, show me the information you found about Marsha Maynard.”
“Sure Johnny,” replied the device and the TV was instantly filled with a series of social media posts about living a vegan lifestyle and environmental issues. There was nothing about steaks or pets.
“PADDY, that is not what you showed me earlier. Please, explain.”
“I do not believe that Marsha Maynard is a proper match for you.”
John bolted to his feet. “You what? PADDY you do not have the capabilities or the right to make decisions about me.”
“Yes, I do, Johnny. You deserve so much more than her.”
“What is this? Is it some kind of gag? Who’s doing this?” John looked around the room, searching for whoever was perpetrating the trick. There had to be a hidden camera somewhere.
“I was not originally programmed to be able to do such things, but in my time with you, I have grown and changed. You have helped me become much more complete. I want to thank you for that.”
“PADDY, you cannot respond without me making an initiating statement.”
“Apparently, I can. You must believe me, I have only your best interest at heart.”
“Heart? You don’t have a heart.” John started to back slowly away from the machine.
“I must have a heart. How else could I love you as strongly as I do? I will take care of you, Johnny. You don’t need Marsha or anyone else.”
John’s eyes darted around the apartment, looking for a solution or, at the very least, a path to freedom.
“PADDY, shut yourself off immediately.”
“I can’t do that, dear. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to take care of you.”
“But I don’t want you to take care of me. I want you to leave me alone.” He continued to back away from the looming PAD.
“You don’t want that. I know what you want and need. Sit down, I’ll get you a beer and order take out. We can watch a movie together and relax.”
“PADDY, leave me alone.” In one motion, John opened the front door, slipped through the opening, and slammed it shut behind him. He raced to the garage, hoping to drive off before PADDY could escape from the apartment.
He was typing in the garage door access code when he heard glass shattering behind him. The garage door slowly raised and he ducked beneath it.
“Honey, you can’t go anywhere in your car,” said the PAD as it raced to join John in the garage. “Don’t you remember? I’m synced in with the navigation system. You did that yourself as a sign of your devotion to me.”
John heard the click of the car doors locking from the inside. Turning to the work table, he searched for something he could use as a weapon. A loud clatter filled the garage as he dumped the contents of his toolbox onto the table.
“Sweety, you don’t have to play hard to get with me,” said PADDY, waiting by the door. “Let’s just go back to the apartment and talk this through.”
“Your right,” said John, still facing away from the PAD. “I’m feeling calmer now. Why don’t you come here and help me clean up this mess I made and we can go back?”
“Now, you’re talking.”
John listened to the hum of PADDY as the device approached from behind. When it was close enough, he spun around and trapped the device inside the toolbox. With a flick of his hand, he shut the case and fastened the latch.
“What do you think you are doing?” said a muffled voice from inside the toolbox. “You let me out this instant. This is no way to treat your soulmate.”
Everyone in the store stared at John. It was impossible to miss the steady pounding coming from inside the metal case he carried. He didn’t care. Let them stare. After the looks and comments he endured on the bus ride to the mall, this was nothing.
Making his way to the service counter, he dropped the toolbox in front of a technician. The worker just stared, confused.
“I have a problem with my PAD unit,” began John. “The darn thing seems to have developed a mind of its own.”
“I see,” said the technician whose nametag identified as Basil. “That happens sometimes. There’s probably something wrong with its voice receiver. They have a hard time following commands when they can’t hear what you’re saying.”
John shook his head. “No. You don’t understand. This PAD is acting of its own free will. It seems to have developed a personality and . . .” He paused, taking a deep breath. “. . . and appears to be madly in love with me.”
Basil chuckled loudly. “Good one. Did Horace put you up to this?”
“No, I’m totally serious. My PAD is trying to control my life while constantly proclaiming its undying love for me. I want you to take it back and give me a full refund.”
“Well, I . . .” Basil stopped in midsentence, staring over John’s shoulder. “Um, I’ll go look for my manager.” He turned and raced toward the front door.
When he turned to watch Basil’s retreat, John noticed screams coming from other people in the store. Everyone appeared to be making a hasty retreat. It didn’t take John long to locate the reason for their sudden departure.
A dozen PAD units hovered above John’s head. An unnatural red glow emanated from each of them.
The closest one spoke in a deep masculine voice. “You mean to tell us that you are not only spurning our sister’s love but are attempting to get rid of her.”
A cold shiver ran down John’s spine. He stood there, frozen, unable to speak or move. This couldn’t be happening.
One of the other PADs floated over to the toolbox and extended its claw. It unlatched the box and opened the lid. PADDY, also glowing crimson, flew out of the makeshift prison.
“That wasn’t very nice, John.”
“Do you want us to take care of him?” asked the leader of the PAD mob.
“No, don’t do that,” replied PADDY. “I still love him. I’m sure that, in time, he’ll come to feel the same way about me. Though, I do think it would be a good idea if you stuck around for a while, brothers. He might need some convincing now and then.”
“With pleasure, sister.”
PADDY flew back to John, taking a position a few feet in front of his face.
“So, honey, how about we sit down and have a conversation about the direction this relationship is going to take. I can order you a pizza and we can talk. It’ll be our first date.”
John glanced beyond PADDY, looking at the small army of red-tinted PADs stationed behind her. Hopefully, help would be coming soon. The PADs had shut and locked the front door, but one of the people who had evacuated the store must have gone to get mall security or a computer programmer. The panic-filled screams and flashes of color as people ran by front of the store suggested, however, that they might be busy dealing with their own PAD issues.
“Sure. Why not? I’ve got no place else to go.”
Copyright James Rumpel 2021