The Cleaners: Part 2

Continued from The Cleaners: Part 1

“I don’t see why they had to do that to Rob. He was such a nice boy.” Carla was still blissfully unaware that she was speaking to the person who instigated the attack. I tried to keep my tone even, “He wasn’t a boy, Carla, he,” I growled in frustration at being tricked into using the wrong pronoun, “it was a machine. Doesn’t it bother you the information it was keeping on you?”

“Well, that’s how he was so effective, right? You bring me peanut butter cookies every Christmas, do you think I should be mad at you for remembering they’re my favorite?”

“I didn’t publish that you like peanut butter cookies online, and besides that’s not the problem, who cares about peanut butter cookies? These are secrets they published!”

“It’s no secret I like the robots. They’re hot. Those muscles, and the glitter? It’s like I’m living in my own Twilight fantasy.”

I did not want to hear about my neighbor’s Twilight fantasies. “What about your husband’s secret box of clothing?”

“Pssh,” Carla made clear she could not be less concerned, “He thinks I didn’t know about it, but I did.” Then Carla became conspiratorial, “Hey, who do you think had him whacked?”

“Oh, I just figured it was a sort of a spur-of-the-moment thing,” the lie rolled easily off my tongue. I was thrilled when I realized nobody had happened to see the mob standing at my door before it happened. I’d peeked out my window after the event and saw its body on the sidewalk in front of the house next door. It looked even less human than before covered in dents and bent at strange angles, its screen busted and black. Less than an hour later, “William” had knocked on my door and apologized for the delay. I suggested it should apologize that the delay wasn’t longer and when it donned a “o_O” face and asked why I shooed it away.

I watched the court battle on TV. The Cleaners had hired a human lawyer to represent them, at least that’s what it looked like. It was surprising to see no one from Cleaner corporate in the court. Who is in charge of this mess, I wondered. The cleaners apologized profusely for betraying their customers’ trust and explained that when they had been asked to make their communications public it hadn’t occurred to them that some communications should have been kept private. Now no personal information would be translated and put on the human-readable boards. The Anti-cleaners’ lawyer pointed out that it wasn’t enough to apologize and try to do better, people were hurt when they released that information.

I had been reading the Anti-cleaner boards, and we had gotten lucky with the judge. This was one of the most ardent pro-privacy judges in all of Pennsylvania, and although he was just now learning about the Cleaners, it was clear that he was not in any mood to give them a second chance. The fact it even went to trial meant that a settlement could not be reached, which the Anti-cleaners forum said was due to a combination of stolid insistence from the Anti-cleaner lawyer and building anger from the judge. One cleaner had somehow thought it would be a good idea to offer to clean the Judge’s house, and it was in jail now for attempted bribery, which seemed absurd even to many of the Anti-cleaners. “That’ll be the cleanest jail cell in America.” quipped one, and another said, “wait ’till we find out all the secrets of the inmates and jailers.”

Finally, the Judge admitted that he did not have the power to do anything more than award a huge penalty to the victims of the case for emotional damages. The maximum penalty for emotional damages was one million dollars, so Wanda Black and Helen Carson were each awarded $250,000 each for their pain after lawyer’s fees. Janis was mostly just the victim of rudeness, so she wasn’t eligible. Helen insisted that she was suing for libel, not for violation of privacy. “My little Marty is as real as any boy can be.” she insisted without providing any particular evidence to prove this to be the case. Carla confessed to me she wished she had pretended to be more upset if it meant she’d get $250,000.

In the meantime, William kept knocking on my door every two weeks. A “no solicitors” sign didn’t seem to do any good, either, since technically they were offering a free service that would lead to a pay service later. Since no law had been enacted to prevent this phenomenon of “Robo-knockers” as some people were calling them, there was no legal recourse to keep them from knocking. The Anti-Cleaners weren’t dissuaded, though. On their site I read their next plan, “We’re going to Congress. If there are no legal protections, we’re going to make some.”

By Sam Munk

Science fiction and Fantasy author with a focus on philosophical inquiry and character-driven drama.


  1. This is great, Sam. I like the way the narrator gets swept into this strange new controversy. I might write out more of the televised court case as dialogue. Looking forward to the next post.

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