The SR28 Domestic Service unit was stuffing almond dressing in the backside of one of eight Cornish hens, the birds all laid out before her in a perfect semi-circle on the table.
She was programed with the name, Rhoda, which she liked, even though in this day and age the name was considered a bit old-fashion. The Redmond family - Ernest, Linda, and their six year old daughter, Mandy - who had owned Rhoda for nearly two years, usually called her Deluxe, which she did not like, Deluxe refering to the fact that Ernest, when he purchased Rhoda, mistakenly believed her to be the SR28 Deluxe Domestic Service unit, which possesses greater agility and a more human-like vocalization.
There was much to do before the Redmond's dinner party tonight, and Rhoda had long ago calculated the preparation and cooking times. Dinner would be served precisely at seven, as Mrs. Redmond had directed.
Linda Redmond set her magazine, Art of the Western Sector, down on the coffee table, then leaned over to peer down the hallway into the kitchen. While she knew that even the primitive SR28 was equipt with exemplary self-sanitation features, she could not repress the disgust that churned in her belly as she watched the android handle the raw food with the same hands that dug in the garden, cleaned the cat box, scrubbed the toilet.
"Deluxe," Linda shouted. "Schedule."
"Yours or mine, Mrs. Redmond?" Rhoda asked.
Linda closed her eyes, pinched the end of her nose and shook her head slightly. She was about to say something when the sound of pounding footsteps and laughter in the upstairs hallway jarred her concentration.
"Mommy!" shouted Mandy as she stepped carefully down the stairs, one hand on the rail, the other concealing something behind her back. "Made a present."
"I swear it was her own idea," Ernest said, following close behind, and looking nearly as proud.
Linda smiled. "A present! For me?"
"Nope," said Mandy. "For Rhoda."
"For...for who?" Linda asked.
Mandy looked back at her father who was already giving her an approving nod. "See!" she shouted. From behind her back she revealed a rectangular piece ofcardboard with a broken toy necklace taped to two corners so it could be hung on something. On the board was written the words DELUX DUMMY in crayon.
A hint of disapproval showed in Linda's face as she looked up at Ernest, but her smile faded only slightly.
"Her idea," said Ernest.
"And I made it all myself," said Mandy, so excited she was hopping up and down. "Huh, Daddy!"
"Pretty much," her daddy said.
"See, Mom. Pretty much."
Mandy ran to the hallway entrance, then stopped and turned back to look at her parents. She looked down at her creation and her lips tightened. Then she spun around and marched down the hallway with a resolution untypical of her ususal shy manner.
"Honey," said Linda, "I though we -"
"Babe, listen," said Ernest, lowering his voice. "This is an amazingly mature act for her. Mandy has avoided that thing ever since we got it. And you know, fear of androids can develop into a very serious problem." He offered her his hand. "C'mon....Shhh."
They tiptoed down the hallway and peeked into the kitchen. The sign hung crookedly around Rhoda's neck. She looked sadly down into her lap. In the corner of the room stood young Mandy, sobbing uncontrollably and shaking all over, scared and confused.
"She...said...I...di'nant...have ta...do it," Mandy stuttered.
"What the -" Ernest went to his daughter, knelt down and took her tiny hand in his. "You run upstairs, sweetie. You didn't do anything wrong, okay? Mommy and Daddy will be up to talk to you in a minute." He and his wife watched until the little girl, with her head hung low, disappeared up the stairway, and they heard her bedroom door close softly.
Ernest grabbed a cast iron frying pan filled with sizzling mushrooms from the stove and smashed it across the side of Rhoda's head, knocking her to the floor. "You piece-of-shit bitch!" he screamed. "If she's hurt - so help me god!" He stomped out of the kitchen to go comfort his daughter.
"You fucking slut," said Linda, then chased after her husband and little girl.
The guests began arriving for dinner around six. Rhoda served tea to the women in the living room and brandy to the men on the patio. Mandy was upstairs in her room with Tonya and Christy Matta, daughters of her dad's boss.
Mandy didn't like the girls all that much, but the three of them shared vivid imaginations, and fantasy would always possess them within minutes of their meeting. They were sitting on the floor, playing with dolls. Tonya, who was three years older than Christy and Mandy, was pretending that her doll was Leonard, their butler.
"Can I get you some tea?" Tonya's doll asked Christy's doll.
"Certainly," said Christy's doll.
Tonya's doll turned to walk to the kitchen, then stumbled and fell flat of his face. It struggled to its feet. "Why am I such a stupid bitch?" Leonard asked.
"No way!" shouted Christy, snapping from the game. "A man can't be a bitch. Only a woman."
"Oh, it's just a stupid robot," said Tonya.
Mandy slowly sat down her doll. For a moment, she became so introspective that the other girls also sat down their dolls and waited for her to speak.
"Why do we have to do that?" she finally muttered aloud.
The dinner party was going well. Ernest and Mr. Matta were hitting it off, laughing and telling jokes. The women all announced that dinner was delicious, and their husbands all nodded in agreement. Linda graciously accepted their compliments.
Linda directed Rhoda to load the pipe. The android offered the smoking, ornamental bowl to each person, who took a short puff, and held it deep in their lungs for as long as they could, before releasing it slowly through their nostrils.
Before long, the women had migrated to one end of the table, and the men to the other. Everyone was quite stoned. Linda was chatting with Mrs. Matta about an art exhibit at a downtown gallery when she became aware of the commotion at the other end of the room. The men had tied the SR28 over the end of the table with their belts, and had ordered her to struggle and cry out for help while they took turns sodomizing her. Deena Brenton, the out-spoken young wife of one of the firm's newest employees, ran over and pulled Rhoda's head back by her hair, took an empty champagne bottle and repeatedly plunged it in and out of the android's mouth.
Linda turned to Mrs. Matta, who could only shrug her shoulders and shake her head, as if to say, "Oh, well. What can you do?"
The next morning, Ernest and Linda had to hold each other up as they staggered down the stairs. Mandy was already up and full of energy, playing tag with a newly acquired imaginary playmate. The house was clean and orderly, no obvious evidence of the happenings of the prior night.
Mandy ran up and kissed her mom and dad. "Mornin'!" She started to tell them all about her new friend when her father's face changed, drastically, as something across the room caught his attention. Then it happeded to her mother, as well. Mandy turned to look. Beneath the end table, next to the sofa, was an overturned whiskey glass, a small darkened stain on the rug.
Ernest walked over and picked up the glass. He turned and stared out the window for a moment, collecting himself, then stumbled down the hall toward the ktchen. Linda looked down at her little girl, who stared absently down the hallway.
"Mommy?" asked Mandy, surfacing from her trance. "How come Rhoda is such a stupid bitch?"
"Honey!" said her mother, firmly. "You should never repeat what your father says."