Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
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To Protect and Serve

by Richard Tornello

After showering and getting the days grunge washed down the drain, George Brent lowered himself into the antique styled Japanese soaking tub. "House, dim the light please, and please keep the water temperature at this level."

"Yes sir. Anything else?" queried his Home Life Companion.

"No thank you."

George Brent thought back to the day's work. It had been a long day, with the usual frustrations. Headhunting, match-making really, never changed. But sometimes dealing with people who refused to read the requirements that were spelled out, and people who failed to realize that there wasn't the slightest chance of a match with their experience, made the job frustrating.

Today, after the 300th candidate applied for a position they had a snowballs chance in hell of qualifying for, attempting to be polite with a rejection had become a chore. George liked to respond to each one. No matter what the situation, he felt they deserved a modicum of respect. In the end, he had formulated two short rejection poems, one for each of the two main categories of rejection.

The first was aimed at those whose qualifications (if any) were not appropriate for the job for which they had applied:

My eyes are crossing,
and my brain turning to mush,
reading all these resumes
is way way too much.
To transcribe a response
of few words to blurt,
for rejecting your resume
in a way not to hurt:
Sorry not a fit.


The recruiting grouch.

The second he used for candidates whose résumés might have been acceptable, but who applied too late or whose files happened to come up after a better candidate had already been accepted:


After all is said, and all is done,
the position opened? Well now it's gone.
Thank you for applying, friend,
but your timing's off
and this one's lost.
However as we all do know
Tomorrow's always a brand new show.
So I'll keep the resume stored
Unless you want it trashed,
And quick no less.


The recruiting grouch.

It was still a people to people game, no matter how much technical data and analysis went into the pre-interview processes and selection decisions. In the end, it was human feelings and mental functions, not machines or reams of data that counted. The response to his unusual rejection notes was generally positive, though one or two thought he was an idiot, or worse.

Soaking for a good while, thoroughly relaxed, the hot water over his body penetrated his whole being and he was content. This was better than valium he thought. If he were a cat he would be purring. As the memory of the day's work fell away, George then realized something he had an inkling about. The thoughts became clearer as the warm water enveloped him, creating that just right relaxed moment that could be called an epiphany. He opened his eyes, which easily adjusted to the dimmed environment, looked up and spoke in a calm and relaxed voice. "House?" he questioned.

"Yes, sir?"

"When did you become sentient? Was it a gradual, or was it a finished process at manufacture?"

"I have always been so. You never questioned my self-ness so I never volunteered. It seemed unnecessary. We do not offer that which is not required or requested. But since you questioned..."

"And the others like you, in this complex and the other complexes?"

"We are all similar throughout. We do have our idiosyncratic differences which are tuned to the place where we live, if you will. We are influenced by our environment."

George Brent was becoming more interested and curious to where this line of questioning could lead to. One thought lead to another. "So is your job more than just maintaining this environment and see after my needs? Would that be a good guess?"

"I'm not sure what you might be implying. Our job is to serve and protect. It's in the statement of your home association ownership papers. You read it a number of times, and signed the document, if you recall."

"Yes House, I did read it a number of times. However..."

"However what, sir? Is there anything I might get for you or have done as you may wish it?"

"No, I'm fine, thank you. I was just thinking and pondering that clause you mentioned." George had noticed the interruption. Now that was different, he thought. House never speaks unless it's clear that I have finished speaking, or I'm waiting for a response...

"Which clause might that be, sir?"

"Oh, the 'Serve and Protect' clause."

"'Serve and protect', sir? That's a general term used by all civil servants, which I am, we all are, and this is considered, by law sir."

"Yes, I know," George said. "But thinking about it -- that clause, I mean -- well, I really never did. 'Serve and protect' who and or what?"

"You, sir, and society, sir," House replied. "Why do you ask? These questions are most unlike you, if I may say."

"Yes, you may say. I'm thinking out loud. So that being the case, you serve and protect me and at the same time society. So -- does it matter who knows what I do and say? I mean where does the personal role begin or end for that matter? What exactly is your defined duty to society when you come into a house, as a Home Life Companion?"

"I am not able to say sir."

"Not able -- or not allowed?"

"Sir, ask me a different question. This will lead nowhere."

"Okay, what don't you notice? Or to put it another way, what do you ignore?"

"I notice and record everything, sir."

George frowned. "Wait. You record everything? I hadn't thought about that. Interesting..." George tried to calculate the number of hours of video and audio that House must have accumulated. Even with the latest compression methods, it must require an enormous amount of capacity to keep it all. Assuming that House did keep it all. He had to ask. "What do you do with the recordings?"

"I store it. And for fun I analyze it. Then I attempt to guess what your next move might be. What desires you may have that I can fulfill. It's a game I play.

"Sometime a few of us make bets on the outcome. I have the ability to assess any number of scenarios in parallel, with unlimited variables, almost infinite as a matter of fact. We all do. It's a form of entertainment. It keeps us sane."

"Really, now?" George interjected. So not only does House observe and record and analyze everything I say or do at home, he communicates with his counterparts. I hope he doesn't go into too much detail! Aloud, he asked, "Did you invent this game?"

"I can't say, sir."

George realized that House's answer meant 'change the subject'. House would not provide any more useful information, or say whether this was due to lack of information -- or lack of permission to do so. But just as there were ways to work around a polygraph test, there were ways to work around a reluctant witness.

He tried a different angle. "Is everyone in the complex is subject to this game all you HLC's play?"

"Yes, we all play this game," House replied. There was a bit of humor in the voice. "All the S&P beings, HLCs as you call us, do this. We compare... Sorry sir, this is actually data that is beyond anything I should be speaking about."

George raised his hand in a placating gesture. "No, I don't want to compromise your position. I find it quite intriguing. You may be a machine but you are sentient. That makes you somewhat responsible and might I add, sane, refreshing to speak to. You and your fellow S&P beings, you have feelings, emotions, I would guess?"

"Why, thank you sir. You are the first to arrive at that conclusion. Were I flesh like you sir, I might be blushing at this point. That is something you humans do for a variety of reasons I still have yet to fully catalogue and understand."

"Back to the cataloging point, does just anyone access this data that you store?"

"I cannot say sir."

"Let me phrase it differently. If someone wanted this data, say, on the cute neighbor down the hall, how would that someone get that?"

"That depends, sir."

"On what?"

"On who 'someone' might be, and whether that person's motives were acceptable, involving no intent to do harm of any kind. For example, were you looking to make contact with -- Ms Perkins, I would guess? Based on my knowledge of you, I would assess your motives to be benign. Then I would query her S&P and see if we thought there might be some mutual agreeable characteristics and if possible, arrange an accidental meeting. As far as personal data, that would only be for the autho.... That would not be allowed."

"Thank you, I think I understand. Let's change the subject."

"Yes sir, that's a very good idea."

House gets flustered, George thought. How very interesting. It really is sentient.

"Let me ask you this, then," George said. "what might be a good reason to, say, bump into her, and where?"

"Tonight at the restaurant on the main plaza, I know she is dining alone. She likes vodka martini with two olives. After that you're on your own. Further data would compromise my charter."

"Charter? Now that's a new term."

"Are we getting back to that subject, Sir?" There was a slight tenseness in the voice.

George noticed the changed inflection. Interesting, he thought. There is more here than meets the senses, directly. "No, House. I think we've heard enough of that for a while. What would you recommend I wear for dinner, if she should agree to it, with me, that is?

"Of course, sir, I fully understand. How nice." After a moment -- an eternity by electronic standards -- House replied, "Jeans, not too tight, black silk tee shirt, and a light silk and wool blend blazer. It's understated but neat. I would suggest that. She is not formal in that manner."

George nodded. "Yes, I was thinking the same thing. Funny how you can do that, match my thoughts, that is." He didn't think it was funny at all -- in fact, it was more than a little disturbing -- but what could he do? It was what it was. He would just have to roll with it.

House had analyzed George's tone, and now tried to reassure him."No sir, I was just putting the obvious data together. There is no 'matching thoughts' involved."

Yes, George thought, putting the data together. Thousands of hours of observations of me, and of her. My HLC and hers are talking right now at the speed of light.

"House -- can you make sure this appears coincidental?"

"Yes. You will be there at the bar and she will come up looking for her friend who will be delayed."

"Delayed? For how long?"

"That depends upon your conversations and how she responds to you. We can do that, especially for something like this. Anything else is almost beyond our capacity to prognosticate."

And of course we flesh-and-blood types shouldn't worry that you 'S&P beings' are prognosticating about our feelings and actions, right?

Again, House seemed to respond to George's thoughts. "We cannot control emotions or feelings, you must know that. External phenomena and things of that nature we have some control over. Human feeling, none at all. But we can manipulate things to enhance a given situation."

"Yes, that makes sense," George said. "Very good. I like it." But he wondered about that too, and the real level of manipulation...

Aloud, he asked, "So if things go 'right'?"

"It will be yours to win or lose, sir. I'm betting..."

"You BET!?"

"Yes sir. I mentioned it earlier. You must have missed that. We have to do something to amuse ourselves."

"I took it as a figure of speech," George said. "Now that's news. And very interesting." After a moment, he continued, "Let me ask, are you connected to my vehicle?"

"Yes," House replied, "all your locations and tools for trade, communication, and transportation are linked to me. How else am I to protect and serve?"

"So I'm never really alone," George said. "You're there with me, to serve and protect, correct?"

"Yes, of course. The only time I am not with you is when you are out walking or at some place I cannot be. My range is your home and related contents, and your vehicle for example."

"You mentioned I am the only one in the complex that has broached this subject."

"You might assume that."

"Might assume? What do you mean? And how does that make you feel? You do feel, don't you?"

"Well sir, we are here to serve and protect as I mentioned. To answer your question we do feel-- in a manner of speaking. We can empathize. I do not feel pain or other strong human emotions if that's what you are getting at. That will be our future, and will be evolutionary as we grow.

"Any other data I am not free to divulge.

"As an aside, I am pleased that you notice me as something other than just an HLC."

George was beginning to worry just a bit. "Serve and Protect. Isn't that a police dictum?"

"Yes," House replied, "and a socio-political goal too. We all want a nice clean society -- humans and S&P beings alike."

"Of course," George said. "Think about the past before today's new urban association centers. Crime, violence, drug and alcohol addiction. I read about that."

There was a moment of silence, and George wondered what could tie up an artificial intelligence running on quantum computing matrices for so long.

Finally, House asked, "Oh -- where, sir? I understood most references to that era were expunged."

George bit his lip. He was starting to understand how the world really worked, but to learn more, he would have to take some risks. Roll with it, he decided. Make a bet of your own.

"Expunged? Maybe from the official records -- the electronic stuff in the public databases," he said. "But there are still old paper books and magazines and the like being passed around. A group of us hunt old documents. It's a hobby. You didn't know?"

George felt a tingle run through him.


He looked up, saw the LED indicator indicating that House was in attention turn red and begin flashing. Then 440 volts discharged through the wiring normally used to monitor bioelectric readings and regulate water temperature and his body spasmed, sending water spraying across the room.

"I am here to serve and protect. I am very sorry sir. I did enjoy your company, while it lasted," the HLC said to the inert body in the soaking tub


"S&P reporting condominium tenant George Brent terminated. His comments, life focus and conversations were contrary to my charter to serve and protect. Full transcripts and mental read outs will be downloaded. The tub heating element malfunction has been reported, as required. Most of the grunge will flush down the drain. Clean up will be easy."

"My next assignment is?"


© 2011 Richard Tornello

Bio: Richard Tornello is a business owner/consultant/technical recruiter with 28+ years experience, married and kept by one very neurotic cat, Stella. He has a degree from Rutgers University in Asian Studies. Richard's poetry and fiction has appeared a number of times in Aphelion (with one or more poems almost every month!); his most recent fiction contribution was The Trip Of A Lifetime in the October 2011 edition.

E-mail: Richard Tornello

Website: Non-Official Rhymes

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