Dr. Emerick wiped a streak of grease from his brow, sighed, and reclined into his desk chair. His had been a busy morning: two fuel system tune-ups, three routine mechanical recalibrations, and a thorough vocalization systems inspection — not to mention the other obligations he had taken on — and he still had two more appointments before lunch.
Tabbing through the calendar on his computer and doggedly ignoring the faint sounds emanating from his desk drawer, he brought up his next appointment.
“Hmm,” he said, leaning back. “Late model… luxury pedigree… signs of wear in the rear carriage… and Nancy notes that the owner seems… morose?”
A smile cracked through the grime on his face and his eyes wandered to the desk drawer.
“I may have just the thing.”
He slid the drawer open, plucked out a small object, and shut the drawer, then set the object down on the workshop floor, gave it a pat, and picked up his desk phone.
“Nancy, please send in Mr. Darden.”
A few moments later the door opened and a wispy middle-aged man led a large german shepherd inside. The dog was plainly getting on in age — his actuators could be heard whirring with each step and no amount of polish would ever bring the shine back into his chrome coat — but his LED eyes were still bright and at a glance Dr. Emerick saw no reason the animal couldn’t keep running for years to come. The owner, however, was a different story.
“Mr. Darden, good to see you again! How’s Rover been? Hopefully no major malfunctions?”
“No, no, nothing like that,” said Mr. Darden, slouching into the chair opposite Dr. Emerick. There were bags under his eyes and his movement was sluggish. “Just routine maintenance.”
“Anything in particular I should know about?”
“Well… he’s been moving a bit gingerly. He doesn’t have the energy that he used to.”
Dr. Emerick arched an eyebrow. In contrast to his owner, Rover sat with keen attention, his metal tail a blur of motion, his eyes scanning the disarray of the workshop with interest. The only thing keeping him still was the famous discipline of his breed.
“I see,” said Dr. Emerick. “Well, a shepherd his age and pedigree is bound to have bearing issues. You find that in working-pedigrees the issue is not so—”
“What was that?”
“The working-pedigree versus the show-pedigree. I could go on—”
“No, that.” No sooner had Darden pointed then Rover bounded across the shop, stuck his nose under a tool cabinet, and pulled out a fluffy golden ball. He then trotted back to his owner, deposited the fluffball at his feet, and gave a very cheerful ruff.
“Is that some kind of… flesh-animal?”
Dr. Emerick affected his most exasperated sigh.
“You’ll have to forgive me, Mr. Darden. It seems we have an infestation in our office. Puppies, I believe they’re called. Like proper dogs, but with fur instead of metal plating. Disgusting, I know.”
Darden scooted his chair away as if the puppy were diseased, but the tiny thing scampered after him, its little puppy claws clicking and clacking on the workshop floor. Darden was soon on the floor as well, laughing and smiling.
“She’s actually kind of cute,” he said. The pup nibbled on his finger for a moment before getting distracted by the wagging of Rover’s tail. She mustered every ounce of her puppy ferocity and pounced, much to the amusement of Rover, who hopped away and arfed.
“So sorry Mr. Darden, let me just shoo the thing away and I’ll have a look at Rover.”
But Darden scooped the puppy up and cradled it protectively against his chest.
“Can’t I keep her?”
“Keep her? The flesh-animal? Why, I couldn’t possibly… I’d lose my license, I’d be a laughing stock, I…”
The combined begging of Rover, Darden, and the pup were too much.
“Oh, if you insist.”
Darden’s grin spread from ear to ear and without a single thought for their appointment, he and Rover bounded through the door and were gone. Wearing a smile of his own, Dr. Emerick sighed and slid into his cozy chair once again. When he opened the drawer, four fluffy pups yipped in unison and stumbled over one another to be first in line for scratches.
“You rascals are real labor savers. Although…” His nose wrinkled at the deposits they had made inside his desk. “I never knew a mechanical dog to make such a mess.”