I stare at Damian. "Wait, what? Damian, you're a bloody coffee maker! What are you gonna do with a cut of the profits?!"

The little machine glowers at me. "That is precisely none of your concern. Now, I'm thinking fifty percent sounds about right, so-"

I cut it off, laughing incredulously. "Fifty percent? Not a chance."

Steam literally starts to rise off it, and I hastily grab a mug and fill it with coffee before Damian boils it into oblivion. The machine has the good grace to wait til I've finished to continue speaking. Or maybe it thinks I'll be more agreeable after I've had coffee.

"Melinda, you said you'd make me your business partner. And generally, partners split the profits equally."

I take a sip of coffee, wincing as it pounds my tastebuds into submission.

"True. But I can barely afford this apartment as it is, Damian. And other than making really vile coffee and doing a passable imitation of an assassin every morning, what the hell can you contribute to a mechanics bay? Twenty percent, no negotiation. It's all I can afford to give you, unless you want to live on the street."

Damian just sits there for a moment. I can almost hear it's proccesor cycling. It looks at me assessingly, and seems to reach a decision.

"Melinda...it's not a passable imitation. Surely you've wondered why a service device has weapons?"

I blink, and start to laugh, when I realize that Damian is serious. A covert assassin... disguised as a coffee maker? I frown, and mull that one over. Damian is about the right age to have been built around the start of the war. And the leaders of the time were pulling all kinds of crazy stunts. Frighteningly, it's...plausible.

"Ok, Damian, I'll grant that you just might be some kind of spy device. But I fail to see how that adds up to a useful contribution."

The coffee maker growled. "It means, Melinda, that there is more to me than you know."

And with that, the little bastard triggered a hidden set of hoverpads and floated up off the counter. I yelped, but Damian wasn't done yet. Half a dozen tiny ports popped open all over it, and miniature mainpulator arms slipped out. As I stared at my coffee maker floating above the counter like some twisted mechanical insect god, I thought, So that's how the bastard wrote the note.

It cocked a virtual eyebrow, clearly waiting for a response.

I cleared my throat, and nodded to it. "Alright. So you can be useful if you want to. You have your choice of receptionist and bodyguard, or shop assistant and bodyguard. Twenty percent cut."

It sank back down to the counter, mainps wilting. "Oh come on, Melinda. At least thirty. An assistant with six multifuction arms, built in tunable lasers and a hover function is worth far more than that and you know it."

I drank my coffee to buy time to think. Problem is, Damian's right. A little training and it could handle the day to day repair projects, leaving me free to work on the complex stuff. More to the point, those functions would save me hours of salvage time trying to repair or rebuild the tools that broke down on a regular basis.

"Tell you what, Damian. Explain to me why you need money, and I'll up the cut to thirty."

To my everlasting shock, it managed to look embarrassed. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Try me."

It actually groaned. "I need...certain fluids refilled on a regular basis, and they're very expensive, ok?"

My eyes narrowed. Surely not. "Damian...do you have an integrated A.I. control system?"

It glared at me, and nodded minutely.

I collapsed into one of the chairs in my kitchen, fighting laughter. Integrated control is one of those really old fashioned concepts that died out rather rapidly after the war started.

Essentially, a subtance is chosen and the A.I. is hardwired to experience the presence of that substance as euphoric. In other words, people used to control A.I.'s by giving them permanent drug addictions.

Once the war got rolling, the idiots in command rapidly realized that automated tanks aren't worth a damn if all they do is take a few potshots and come back to base to beg for another hit.

No wonder Damian is always cranky.

I'm slowly losing the battle against laughter, so I hop up out of my chair, and nod briskly. "Thirty, ahem, thirty percent it is. What's the control substance? I'll go get some, so you can get out of the house without killing bystanders on general principle."

With a murderous glare, Damian snarls, "5T synthoil."

That does it. I'm chuckling helplessly. I manage to run out of the house, before I collapse against the outside wall in gales of laughter.

My coffee maker is addicted to industrial lubricant!