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Try as I might, Master, I fail. Keep the house clean and keep red meat in the fridge, he said. These are menial tasks, yet I fail.

He will be unhappy that his bank account has been drained. This weeks-long power outage causes no end of trouble. Without electricity the meat rots and must be replaced daily. Meat is expensive, and Master’s account has had no deposits since he left for this unusually long business trip. Without money, acquiring meat is difficult, sources scarcer every day.

A knock sounds on the door. I open it and greet the two police officers, one man and one woman.

The man looks at me and then at the woman. “This household doesn’t have any registered bots.”

“Black market.”

The man turns to me again. “Is Mr. Keats home?”

“No,” I say.

He shows me a piece of paper. “Search warrant. May we come in?”

The warrant appears valid, so I stand aside to let them pass. They step across the mat, not bothering to wipe their shoes. I follow behind and scrub their dirty footprints from the carpet. Master despises a dirty house.

With their long strides they quickly outpace me. When they enter the kitchen ahead of me I hear the woman exclaim “Jesus Almighty, it stinks in here!” They come back to me. “Why’s the kitchen stink of ammonia?” she asks.

“Master likes a clean kitchen,” I say.

“Those fumes could kill! What kind of mess were you cleaning?”

“I was preparing meat for Master.”

They exchange a look. “What kind of meat?”

“Red meat.”

“In the fridge?”

I nod.

She turns to the man. “We’ll come back with rebreathers, but I’m grabbing some meat as evidence.” She takes a deep breath and holds it before walking into the kitchen.

“Master wants the meat to be in the fridge,” I say.

“Easy,” the man says, grabbing my shoulder. “She’ll just grab one piece. Your Master won’t miss it.”

The woman opens the fridge door. Already the tidy rows of neatly packaged meat smell of rot. She reaches one dirty hand toward it. Master would not like this. I cannot buy more meat. Meat gone is meat that cannot be replaced.

I grab the man’s hand on my shoulder and twist to loosen his grip. His brittle bones break and he shouts in pain. The woman turns, eyes wide, and draws her gun. I must not allow her to shoot me, or there will be no one to tend the house. When he returns, Master will be upset the house is dirty and without meat. I hurl the man at the woman and they land in a heap. If they rise they may shoot me so I hold them down until they stop struggling. Their chests rise and fall for a few minutes more, and then are still.

I retrieve the scissors from the drawer and begin cutting away blue fabric. Meat does not need clothes.

Master will be pleased.

end article

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David Steffen

About David Steffen

David is a writer and software engineer who lives in Minnesota. His work has been published in Escape Pod, Daily SF, and many others. He’s the editor of Diabolical Plots and co-founder of the Submission Grinder.