The wooden crate stood foursquare in the 'Round's common room.
To Sandra's mind, whatever was in there, it was electrical; this was, in large part, thanks to the manual the Proprietor had taken from the box that had come with the crate. Beyond that, she was unwilling to speculate (an unusual state of mind in her family, she had to admit); whatever it was, the Proprietor was going ga-ga over it - ga-ga enough he'd got up at six to see its delivery - and anything the Proprietor was going ga-ga over rarely boded well.
Finally, the Proprietor closed the manual, resting one of his large arms over it.
"All right." he said. "Sandra, get that thing open."
Sandra looked the crate over, noting where the nails in her side of the crate were.
Then she reached out with her will, pulling the nails out one by one, before levitating them over to the snooker table.
A telekinetic tap was all it took to send the crate-side toppling to the ground, with a cascade of polystyrene pellets following after.
Revealed inside the crate was a figure wrapped in plastic, half-buried in pellets.
Sandra glanced at her nominal boss.
"Get it out." the Proprietor said.
Sandra winced at the sight of the smile on his face, and hurriedly turned her attention back to the crate in an attempt to avoid having to look at .../that/... as much as anything else.
She studied it for a few moments, then drifted off to the kitchen to get a knife.
Once she came back, she set the knife to one side, before clearing out the pellets in the crate.
With that done, the figure inside was now visible; a petite girl, eyes closed, dressed in what seemed to Sandra to be a Japanese variant on a maid's outfit - an old-fashioned full-length dress, with a white frontpiece over the chest and a small white apron over the skirt.
Again, Sandra steadfastly refused to speculate, all the while trying to convince herself that the Proprietor wasn't /that/ venal - or, at least, not venal enough to get his employees involved like /this/. He'd have opened the crate himself if he wanted the girl for /that/...
It wasn't working too well.
She lifted the knife and sliced open the plastic, before using the tear to pull it off, leaving the android girl standing amidst the wrapping.
A quick levitation cleared the plastic away, before both it and the pellets were stuffed back in the crate.
"There you go," Sandra said. She'd kept telekinetic feelers curled around the knife, just in case of ecchi-ness.
"Right then." the Proprietor said, lumbering to his feet. "Here we go."
He walked up to the robot girl, fiddled awkwardly with something at the back of her neck, and finally managed to flip open a panel, underneath which were a small screen, a keypad, and a series of ports.
He tapped laboriously at the keypad, with much referring back to the manual. Each button-press was rewarded with a 'beep!'.
Finally, one last button-press rewarded him with a melodious sequence of beeps and a faint whirring sound. Satisfied, the Proprietor closed the panel and moved around to the girl's front.
The girl's eyes fluttered open, and she took in Sandra and the Proprietor.
Privately, Sandra was darkly impressed; had the first thing /she'd/ seen on waking up been the Proprietor's large, walrus-like face, then, android or no, she'd have run screaming for her life. Which might explain certain things regarding Mad Sheila...
The girl bowed.
"Hello," she said. "My name is Neimi. It's very good to meet you."
The Proprietor cleared his throat and straightened up as best he could.
"Hello there," he said. "I'm the Proprietor, this is my bartender Sandra, and /this/" - he gestured expansively around him - "is This Time Round, the 'Doctor Who' pub outside continuity."
"Proprietor-san," Neimi said, bowing. "Sandra-san."
"Your job will be to do the cleaning, take out the rubbish, and assist my staff in their duties - helping in the kitchen, supporting my bouncers, and assisting with both waitressing and bartending."
Sandra raised an eyebrow; she doubted Polly was ever going to hear her job encapsulated as 'bouncer'.
"And /this/" - the Proprietor fumbled in his back pocket, finally fishing out a folded sheet of paper and handing it to Neimi - "is your schedule."
Neimi read through the schedule, then looked back at the Proprietor.
"This schedule says I have to work the whole week without a break."
"That is illegal, by inter-realm treaty." Neimi said.
The Proprietor shrugged. "So?"
Something inside Neimi beeped.
"Overuse of a unit," she recited, "is likely to lead to an increase in the need for maintenance and the replacement of parts."
"So?" the Proprietor said again.
There was another beep, and Neimi bowed.
"I am sorry, Proprietor-san, but what you are asking invalidates my terms of service. I will return to the factory, and you will be refunded."
She moved to walk around the Proprietor.
"Hoi!" the Proprietor shouted, stepping in front of her. "You can't do that!"
Neimi looked up at him. "Proprietor-san, you are in my way."
"I /own/ you!" the Proprietor shouted. "You can't just walk out like that!"
"Proprietor-san, please get out of my way."
"The /hell/ I-"
Neimi /blurred/ into motion-
And milliseconds later, the Proprietor found himself on intimate terms with the common room wall.
"I am sorry, Proprietor-san, but I must leave." Neimi said politely.
"Neimi-san?" Sandra said thoughtfully.
"Are you open to a renegotiation of terms?"
"Yes, Sandra-san, so long as they are in keeping with my terms of service."
"And your terms of service would be in your documentation, right, Neimi-san?"
"Hold on a moment." Sandra went over to the box Neimi's manual had come in, and riffled through it, finally coming up with the terms of service.
"...I /knew/ I should have gone for a Stepford 'bot..." the Proprietor muttered, from his position on the ground. "I /knew/ it..."
Sandra glanced up. "Let me guess - you went for the cheapest you could get, right?"
"Did you /see/ the prices they were charging?" the Proprietor harrumphed. "Bloody daylight robbery, I'm telling you!"
Sandra rolled her eyes - she /knew/ Stepford's reputation. If the Proprietor'd done /that/, he'd have found himself in deeper shit then he'd've thought possible - and around here, that was an impressive amount.
"Hades bless cheapskates..." she murmured.
Sandra read through the terms of service, set them aside, and had a quick whispered conversation with Neimi.
Then she turned back to the Proprietor.
"I believe my client and I would like to renegotiate terms."
The Proprietor's eyes *bugged*. "Your /what?/"
"My client." Sandra repeated. "Neimi-san."
"You're /standing up/ for that psychotic bucket of bolts?!" the Proprietor bellowed.
"That's not very nice, Proprietor-san." Neimi informed him.
"As I was saying," Sandra said. "A shift a day, with double-shifts only at important times or by prior arrangement. Overtime also by prior arrangement."
She folded her arms. "As she's your property, you are expected to pay for upkeep, maintenance, and repairs. Details of upkeep and maintenance can be found in the manual. Neimi will inform you when scheduled maintenance is required."
The Proprietor groaned.
"Now..." Sandra thought it over. "There's also the matter of anything Neimi might want to buy for herself."
"She's a /robot/!" the Proprietor snapped.
"Hello?" Sandra said. "Remember the phantasm?"
The Proprietor groaned again. "You mean I have to /pay/ her?"
"Pretty much," Sandra said.
"Christ almighty..." the Proprietor muttered.
Sandra snapped her fingers. "Oh yes. Shelter."
"She can take a room upstairs." the Proprietor said sourly. "Just so long as she doesn't bother me overnight."
"Thank you, Proprietor-san!" Neimi bubbled.
"Don't go running your code before it's compiled," Sandra advised. "That /should/ be everything..." She looked back at the Proprietor. "So how does that sound?"
"Like I'm getting screwed over," the Proprietor muttered. "What happens if I say no?"
"Neimi?" Sandra said.
"Then that will be considered a violation of my terms of service and I will return to the factory." Neimi said.
"Mm-hmm." the Proprietor said. "So give me just one good reason I should say yes."
Neimi looked blank. "You said you wanted someone to do the cleaning, take out the rubbish, and assist your staff in their duties - helping in the kitchen, supporting your bouncers, and assisting with both waitressing and bartending."
"I know what I said," the Proprietor grumbled. "I want to know what I can get from /you/ I couldn't get from a normal human."
"Apart from the fact no normal human wants to work here?" Sandra murmured sotto voce.
"I can download catering modules to assist in my duties in the kitchen," Neimi said. "I'm also equipped to deal with many and various threats to myself or this establishment."
"Hmph." the Proprietor said.
"Excuse us a moment," Sandra said to Neimi.
She floated on over to the Proprietor.
"Let me guess," she said quietly. "You wanted a good little servant who'd do everything she was told and who wouldn't need to be paid."
"That /was/ pretty much the idea," the Proprietor said.
"Mm." Sandra agreed. On some level, there was a small part of her that sympathised with him - with the staff he had already, it would be extremely tempting to have someone who'd be utterly obedient, who wouldn't talk back, who wouldn't threaten him, who'd get on and do the job, and, best of all, wouldn't need to be paid.
The trouble was, that wasn't Neimi.
"It's because you paid for her, isn't it?" Sandra said. "I mean, everything else you could accept - it's the fact you /paid/ that's the problem."
The Proprietor grunted, which Sandra took as assent.
"Then again," she mused, "you could think of it as a long-term investment. She's strong, she's fast, she's hard to kill..."
"I have that with Luna." the Proprietor said.
"Neimi doesn't scare you," Sandra pointed out. "Piss you off, yes, but not scare you. A combat-capable employee who doesn't scare you."
"An employee with no history coming back to bite you in the butt."
"Mm." the Proprietor said, more thoughtfully.
"An employee with no armed groups after her."
"What more could you want?"
"An employee I hadn't paid for," the Proprietor said darkly.
Sandra raised an eyebrow. "You were fine with paying for her when you thought you didn't have to pay any additional expenses. Is /that/ what's giving you the problem?"
The look on the Proprietor's face told Sandra everything she needed to know.
She folded her arms.
"You have three Lamborghinis. And I'm willing to bet that Neimi'd do more work in a week than the three of them put together."
The Proprietor twitched.
"What's the difference?"
The Proprietor opened his mouth, then closed it again.
He looked, Sandra thought, rather like a startled walrus.
"...All right." he muttered. "All right. She stays."
"Then tell her that." Sandra said.
The Proprietor glared at her, hauled himself up off the floor, and staggered on over to Neimi, who'd been waiting politely all the while.
"All right, Miss Neimi." he said. "I accept your terms."
"Yay!" Neimi cheered. "Thank you, Proprietor-san!"
"Why don't you go into the bar-room - it's that way - introduce yourself to Katarina - she's the girl behind the bar - and we'll be along with your revised schedule."
"Thank you Proprietor-san, Sandra-san!"
And with that, she scurried off.
"...Sandra?" the Proprietor said eventually.
"Mind telling me just /why/ you decided to stick up for that lunatic rustbucket?"
"Basically?" Sandra shrugged. "Once she said what your schedule was, I just /knew/ it wasn't going to end well. If she'd /really/ been an obedient android, she'd have swallowed it without a word.
"So... I decided to see if she'd be up for a renegotiation."
"/Why?/" the Proprietor demanded.
Sandra shrugged again. "Fellow sympathy. Face it, you screw /us/ over enough - I'm not surprised you can't get more people helping.
"Besides, I wanted to give her a chance. See what she could do." Sandra allowed herself a smile. "I think she'll fit in just fine."
"That's what I'm afraid of..." the Proprietor muttered. "All right, all right... I'll give her a go.
"Now, about the schedule..."
Summary: In which the Proprietor demonstrates he can't even /buy/ good help.
This Time Round created by Tyler Dion. The Proprietor created by B. K. Willis.
Both Sandra and Neimi are mine.
With a nod of the head to Fred Gallagher.
Copyright 2005 Imran Inayat.