Author: Suzanne Borchers

CHARLIE had found itself leaning against a trash bin in a nearby alley—alone, jobless, and needing shelter. Its owner had abandoned the retail store to run away with his clerk to parts unknown. It had rained for a week and its once pristine joints now scraped together. CHARLIE needed oil! It needed help!

CHARLIE noticed a collection of humans loitering on the corner. It eyed each individual with its glassy orbs: One man about 50 years old, dark-skinned, powerful shoulders, taller than CHARLIE by almost three feet (CHARLIE stretched up to his full four foot height at this observation.); another man about 70 years old, pale, stooped, with his mouth drawn down; a pinched-lipped woman, wearing a business suit with hair neatly in place; one boy, pale, short, poking the younger boy standing next to him, making him hop up and down, squealing; and a small girl holding onto a wriggling giant puppy which threatened to spill out of her arms.

CHARLIE had been programmed for character-analysis years before its occupation as a bookkeeper at the socks & shoes store. It creaked closer to study the eyes of the humans. The young girl’s eyes softened each time she adjusted the position of the puppy in her arms; the younger boy’s eyes were large and moist; the older boy’s hard eyes shifted to and fro; the woman’s eyes narrowed toward the boys, the old man’s eyes were closed, and the younger man’s brown eyes gazed down the street. No one would help.

The puppy leaped from the girl, knocking her backward and down onto the concrete. Tears welled up in her eyes and she sobbed, “Daddy!”

The dark-skinned man scooped up the dog. “I told you he was too big for you to handle, Joanie. Put your hands down. I’ll hold him.” The dog kicked and wriggled in his arms.

The woman murmured to the old man and then grabbed the older boy’s hand. The younger boy snickered. The young girl held the woman’s skirt.

The public transit vehicle arrived and the six humans climbed inside. It transported them away. The corner was empty. CHARLIE was alone.

Except—

The giant puppy whined, lifted his leg on a straggly tree, and afterward sagged down onto his bottom. He whimpered. He drooped.

CHARLIE felt a pain in its motherboard. How could it leave the puppy there? It was a logically hopeless situation. CHARLIE had no credits, no shelter, no food or water for the puppy and little to no chance to get them. But it had to comfort the puppy and try to help. It limped to the puppy and patted the silky head. It leaned over, careful not to overbalance, and picked the puppy up into its arms.

The puppy relaxed and licked its hand.

“CHARLIE will take care of you.” It looked down at the puppy and up into the eyes of the dark-skinned man.

“Thanks, fella,” the man said. “I got him now.” He gathered the puppy into his solid arms.

CHARLIE floundered for appropriate words and then settled on, “CHARLIE could babysit him for shelter and some oil?”

“Nah.” The man turned and walked away.

CHARLIE stood alone.

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