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Today was a rice day, fifty-pound sacks of white rice in trucks bearing an elephant logo. The same happy elephant appeared on the bags, its head raised to the sky, the trunk curved like an S. ‘Elephant,’ Todd said. He said it because a labourer was staring at it intently, which meant he wasn’t working. ‘That’s right,’ the man said. ‘I couldn’t remember the word.’ He was the only other human at the loading dock this morning. The man didn’t have a name, just a number, like the rest of the robots.

That could be me, Todd thought as he watched him work side by side with his silent mechanical counterparts, lifting, carrying, and dropping bags of rice from the back of the truck to the warehouse. A bad car accident, a bad fall from a ladder, and that could be me. Or a bad memrip.

At lunch, Todd thought of things he could sell. Everything he owned of any value, he could touch: his grandfather’s watch, his grandmother’s wedding ring, a gold necklace belonging to some forgotten relative. His car, too, but that was out of the question as he needed it to work. He got up from his chair and scanned the floor below, the robots still working away, a sea of metallic shoulders rising and falling in unison, strangely beautiful in a way. Over by the forklift sat 8831, his eyes as blank as the piece of bread he was eating.

Two weeks from today was Todd’s thirtieth wedding anniversary, and even if he were to pawn the watch, the ring, and the necklace, he knew he wouldn’t even come close to having enough for Paris. That’s where Sue had wanted to go for as long as he could remember. They didn’t have the money to honeymoon there, but that was okay because back then, there had been plenty of time. They were young, both healthy and working, so they would save a little here and there and in a couple of years, they would be walking up to the Eiffel Tower at night arm in arm, find themselves underneath the arch and look up at the beacon that shines on this city of lights.

But then саше two sons and three recessions and a second mortgage. A hysterectomy for her, a double bypass for him, and now here he was, nine years short of retirement, supervising a team of robots and a retarded man, thinking about folks who could sell things they couldn’t touch, like stocks and bonds and whatever else he couldn’t even fathom, people with money who would pay to experience another’s most cherished moments.

Silly. That would be Sue’s word for it if this were a story she’d overheard. For a trip, what a silly thing to do. But it was more than a trip. It was their life together. There was life and there was death, and it seemed to Todd that if he waited any longer, there wouldn’t be any difference between the two.

He opened the filing cabinet and rifled through the folders. Name: Lopez, Manny. Age: 46. Tax Status: Married. In all the years he’d been here, only a handful of human workers had come and gone. All of them were handicapped in some way; they came through the city welfare program, and 8831 was no exception.

Manny’s wife picked up on the second ring. Todd told her who he was, and after he assured her that her husband was not hurt, he was fine, he was a great worker, he asked her what he wanted to know. She listened without interrupting him; then there was a lengthy silence.

‘Why?’ she asked.

‘Does it matter?’

‘I can report you.’

‘I know.’ More silence.

‘He did it because he loved me. Loved,’ she said, hardening. ‘Not loves.’

‘I heard you.’

Then she hung up, and for the rest of the day, Todd replayed the conversation in his mind. Should he have lied to her, made up some story about a sick mother, a dying child? He wasn’t good at talking, especially on the phone. People thought he was unfriendly, hostile. A woman once told him his voice sounded like broken stones rattling in a cage.

The horn blared at five, time for the two humans to go home and the robots to be reconditioned and put in standby.

ВОПРОС 1. That morning, at the loading docks
1) there were only robots.
2) there was only one human.
3) there were two people.
4) there were a handful of people.

ВОПРОС 2. At launch Todd was thoughtful because
1) he needed money for a trip.
2) he owned a lot of valuable things.
3) he wanted to pawn the watch, the ring, and the necklace.
4) he needed a new car to work.

ВОПРОС 3. Todd and his wife didn’t worry that they had no money to honeymoon in Paris because
1) they had already been there.
2) they planned to go there the following year.
3) they didn’t want to go there.
4) they were ready to earn money for this trip.

ВОПРОС 4. Todd and Sue had not been to Paris yet because
1) Tom was about to retire.
2) they had had more important things to spend money on.
3) Tom was always busy supervising a team of robots.
4) Sue thought it was a silly idea.

ВОПРОС 5. Manny Lopez was
1) a robot.
2) a welfare officer.
3) mentally disabled.
4) an exception.

ВОПРОС 6. Todd called Manny’s wife because he wanted
1) to get acquainted with her.
2) to know whether Manny loved her.
3) to find out what had happened to Manny.
4) to tell Manny’s wife that he was a great worker.

ВОПРОС 7. Todd was
1) a sociable person.
2) hostile to people.
3) thinking about the conversation with Manny’s wife the whole day.
4) bad at communicating with people.

ВОПРОС 1: – 3
ВОПРОС 2: – 1
ВОПРОС 3: – 4
ВОПРОС 4: – 2
ВОПРОС 5: – 3
ВОПРОС 6: – 3
ВОПРОС 7: – 4