Watching ChefCutlery scurry about my apartment cleaning things that really, really don’t need it was almost worse than letting him toil in the cafeteria. At least there he was useful. Here, he polished the same pens over and over until they hurt to look at in direct sunlight.

I was supposed to be spending the morning writing a film analysis, but I couldn’t focus on the movie. I had to make ChefCutlery realize he was free.

My laptop whirred loudly and started to seize up. Again.

I snapped up my phone and heard Rodney — my computer science friend — on the other end before my mind fully registered I had called. Computer crisis had become something of a pattern for me, you see.

As I explained the laptop problem, I realized I had another, more important job for him.

Rodney stared at the little robot crouching on my now-sparkling floor. His first reaction — because, friend or no friend, he’s a pain — was to berate me for the school’s four-day spoon-shortage. It took until Thursday for the replacement washer bot to be delivered. But when I explained what I wanted, he straightened out of his disgruntled slouch.

“You want me to reprogram it?” Rodney ran a hand through his red hair, pocketed his sunglasses, and rolled up his plaid sleeves. He crouched down and flipped ChefCutlery on his back. The bot waved his arms, grasping for utensils to wash.

“I don’t think he understands he doesn’t have to work anymore,” I said. “Like his creators didn’t give him a concept of free will.”

“And that’s what you want me to do,” Rodney said, poking at my fellow robot.

He unclipped a multi-tool from his belt — everyone in computer science seems to have one — and unscrewed ChefCutlery’s bottom panel. After a moment, he said he needed to get better tools from his dorm. Rodney slid his sunglasses back on, rolled down his sleeves, and jogged off, door clicking locked behind him.

As I waited, I watched ChefCutlery. Rodney had left the panel off, all these vulnerable little wires lying open to the world. The bot struggled helplessly to right himself.

Once I flipped him over, ChefCutlery started polishing again, unperturbed. Seeming happy, even. It made me feel sort of guilty for planning to reprogram him. But I was helping. He only wanted to clean things now because he wasn’t capable of wanting other things.

Once he knew he was free, he’d be happier, right? I mean, right?

And then I began to think: if Rodney reprograms ChefCultery, what’s to stop him reprogramming me? From thinking I’d be happier if I was different?

I shook my head. I’m too complicated a robot for that. I’ve got a developed personality, a sense of self, complex thoughts… Could someone really change that or take that away?

I sunk down with my back against the door and tried not to shiver. Half an hour later, Rodney rattled the banged on the door and called my name, but I couldn’t bring myself to let him in.