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Friday, February 27, 2015

Servo 14:3

Servo 14:3


Morning arrived bright and early. The sun was shining and reflecting off the fresh snow. I was up and ready to get to work. I went down and found Rory already jamming waffles into his mouth. Today the bot would work, I was sure of it.
“Morning, Jonah,” said Grandma as she plopped a big plate of waffles in front of me.
“Good morning,” I replied, wasting no time digging in. Being so cold, I knew I’d need every available calorie to keep warm. How I miss the days when my father would smuggle me into his fancy workshop at Servidyne. There was so much to see and do, it always amazed me. And I never had to work with frozen fingers.
As I gobbled down breakfast, I saw Suz wander in. She seemed unusually calm, not her normal agitated self. Grandma must have sensed it too.
“Good morning, Suzette,” she said in an uplifting tone.
“Good morning, Grandma,” Suz replied, taking her seat.
“Jonah said you were out with Otto Arkman.”
“Yeah.”
“Interesting young man.”
“Yeah.”
I could tell Suz was not going to divulge information about her date with Otto. Still, I wondered what went on. Had they kissed? Just talked? Or did something a whole lot more adult happen? Trying to read my sister was like trying to read a multivariable calculus book. Except in this case, I think the book was easier to understand.
Rory and I finished long before Suz. We dumped our plates in the sink and hurried to the hall so we could pile on the layers of snow clothes. Grandpa bought us special boots that were supposed to keep our toes toasty warm. I’m confident the salesman pulled the wool over Grandpa’s eyes. The boots did little to keep out the cold.
After several minutes of dressing, we tromped outside to the frozen tundra. There was so much snow it was getting hard to see the old wire fence that ran along the driveway. I wondered how we’d get to school Monday. The sun shined, icicles hung long on the eves of the barn and house, glimmering like silver daggers. I heard noise coming down the drive. It sounded like a motorcycle.
Craning my neck, I tried to see what was approaching. Rory paused and watched with me. Several moments later a snowmobile rumbled toward us. Someone in an orange snowsuit was piloting the vehicle; another person was seated behind in a black and white snowsuit. Both wore helmets, so I had no clue who was calling on us.
The snowmobile halted in front of us and the driver cut off the engine. Silence quickly filled the air. It was immediately replaced by Dagwood’s bellicose voice. “Mornin’ Jonah!”
“Hi,” I replied, surprised by his arrival.
“Brought Otto with me.”
Otto removed his helmet and nodded. “Morning.”
“Snow too deep for your car?”
“Yeah, barely made it to Dagwood’s. He was nice enough to dust off the snowmobile and bring me over.”
Rory was staring in awe of the machine. “Dagwood?”
“Yeah?”
“Would you take me for a ride on that?”
“Of course!”
If there was one thing that endeared Dagwood to me, it was his boundless enthusiasm. No matter what the task, he was up for it.
Otto climbed off and placed the helmet on the seat. “Shall we get to work?”
I led the way to the barn; we were forced to wade through nearly two feet of snow. Then we teamed up to dig open the barn doors. Five minutes later, we were finally inside. I went to the bench and uncovered the bot. “We left it to charge all last night.”
Without a word, Otto went to work. He started at the top and worked his way down. Nearly a half hour later he came up for air. “I don’t see anything wrong.”
“I didn’t either. But why won’t it work?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I dunno.”
Rory leaned forward. “Could it be all the lines of code you fixed, Jonah?”
“Fixed?” Otto said, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah, I went through each line and cleaned up the memory core.”
“That may be the problem.”
There was no hiding the audible groan that emanated from me. Had I messed up? Had I deleted something I shouldn’t have? My stomach churned. All the work we’d put into the bot and maybe I’d screwed it up. My heart sank.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Servo 14:2

Servo 14:2

I wasn’t wrong in my ascertainment of the weather. The wind threatened to blow us clean off our feet as we struggled to cross the open gap between house and barn. I have no idea of the temperature, but it was biting cold. My nostrils immediately froze and I felt my boogers freezing as well. Oh, what an awful sensation! I pulled the thick scarf farther up until the only things that remained to be seen were my eyes. Snowflakes ripped through the air searing any bare flesh they touched. How I longed for the warmth of spring.
We reached the barn and hurried inside. Snow was piled high against one part of the door that had a crack in it. Nature was trying to invade any structure it could. The sun might be shining, but we couldn’t see it through the dense mat of clouds that continued dumping snow. It was late afternoon and I knew Grandma would have dinner promptly at 6 p.m.
I flicked on the lights. “I don’t know how long we’ll be able to work, it’s freezing in here,” I said, going to the workbench and removing the tarp from the bot.
“Is this the only part we’re missing?” Rory put his arms on the bench to watch me.
“Well, if I want to try and turn the bot into Dad, I’ll need another memory core, junction interface, and more wiring.”
“Can Otto get that?”
“Some. But for the wiring, I think we can visit Jimmy.”
“Maybe his bot’s memory core will be intact.”
“I doubt it.” I removed the bot’s faceplate and dove in.
We worked for nearly an hour. Even with numb fingers I carefully installed the junction interface and connected it to the memory core. The bot’s batteries had been checked and charged weeks ago. All that remained was to flip the switch.
I stood back and admired our work. The bot was complete. Granted there were still some areas on the bot’s external housing that were tarnished, but overall, it was ready to live again.
“Rory? Will you do the honors?” I said, pointing to the bot’s neck.
“It’s ready?”
“Sure. We’ve checked everything two or three times. It should work.”
“Gosh!” Rory said, rubbing his mittened hands together. “You want me to throw the switch?”
“Why not? You worked just as hard as me.”
He shook his head. “No, no, you were the one who made friends to get parts. You should do it.”
I stared at the lifeless golden bot and prayed that when I flipped the switch it would come to life. Why wouldn’t it? Everything had been rewired, the mice evicted, and it boasted a new junction interface. The memory core had every line of code scrutinized and verified before making any changes. There was nothing that should keep the bot from functioning. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, you did most of the work, you should have the honors.”
“It doesn’t really matter to me,” I said, pretty much fabricating a lie.
Rory folded his arms. “Nope, it’s all yours.”
“Fine.” Slipping off my glove, I reached behind the bot’s neck and found the switch. “Here’s to all the months of work.”
An audible click could be heard as I threw the switch. Rory and I watched. Nothing. We watched longer. Nothing. I flicked the switch on and off a few times. Nothing.
“Batteries are okay?” he said.
“Yup. And I checked all the wiring again the other day. Why isn’t he working?”
He?”
“Well, it’s going to be Dad, so that makes this bot a he.”
“Mmm, guess you’re right.” Rory inspected the bot. “But what’s keeping him from functioning?”
“I dunno…We might want to call it a day; I can’t feel my fingers, toes, or nose anymore.”
“Me neither. Should we plug him back in to charge more?”
I grabbed the charging cable. “Can’t hurt I guess.”
Rory helped sit the bot up so I could plug the cable into its back.
“We’ll leave that go another night.” I said. “Come on, let’s get back to the house and thaw out.”
We covered the bot, left the barn in haste, and tore across to the house. As the front door closed behind us, we began rapidly stripping out of our snow gear. A delicious aroma permeated through the house. Pot roast, I believe, one of my favorite meals.
I looked at the clock on the wall of the entryway. It was close to 6 p.m. I was confident Suz wasn’t home, and she probably hadn’t bothered to tell Grandma where she was going. She’d been gone over four hours. A part of me was worried.
Going into the kitchen, I bellied up to the sink and washed my hands. Rory stood behind waiting his turn.
Grandma was humming a lively tune as she stirred something on the stovetop. “Jonah?”
“Yes?”
“Have you seen Suzette lately?”
“She went out with Otto.”
Grandma ceased her humming and stirring. She turned to me. “Out with Otto?”
“Umm, yeah.”
“Well, this is a surprise.” She returned to her culinary endeavors. “A surprise.”
“I don’t know where she is,” I said, not exactly trying to cover for her.
Just then I heard the front door open. And there was giggling. Giggling. Girlish giggling. It was a sound that I thought would be absent from my ears the rest of my life. Was my dear, sour-hearted sister actually happy? What on earth had gone on between her and Otto? Whatever it was, it shocked me.
I poked my head out of the kitchen to see Suz and Otto standing in the entryway. It was obvious she was gooey for him. The last time I saw her like this was about three months before our father died. She was falling all over herself for Robbie Banks who was two grades higher than she was. I didn’t like the guy, he seemed more self-centered than Suz—which I now find hard to believe.
But here she was, standing in the hall, swaying back and forth, and hanging on his every word. Oh, I wanted to barf! This was my friend. How could she? I was the one who took the time to foster his friendship, and now she was stealing him from me. I couldn’t let that happen. “Otto!” I said, bursting onto the scene.
“Oh, hey, Jonah.”
“Hey, uh, I installed that junction interface, and nothing!”
“Nothing?”
“Nope. Not even a spark.”
“Batteries charged?”
“Yup, but we’re charging again. And we checked them, so we know they work.”
Otto rubbed his chin. “Hmm, not sure what it could be.”
“Do you have time to look at it?”
“Getting kind of late. Can I come over tomorrow?”
“Sure, sure. Thanks.”
He looked at his watch. “Well, I better get going. I’ll see you later.”
“Okay.”
Otto leaned a little closer to Suz. “I’ll see you tomorrow, too.”
She giggled.
The sound was like fingers on a chalkboard to me. I felt my nerves twitch. This wasn’t Suz; this was a fake someone switched in the middle of the night. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Servo 14:1

Servo 14:1


As winter dragged on, I was growing less and less enthusiastic about venturing to the barn to work on the bot. Otto secured the interface cable and I spent much time in my room reprogramming the memory core. It was painstakingly slow work; the core had a dismally small memory bank and I had to go through thousands of lines of code to decide what to “keep” and what to “throw.”
My biggest stumbling block was Otto’s difficulty in getting the precious junction interface I so desperately needed. Without it, the memory core and the whole bot were useless. He told me that it was a difficult part to get, and I was now in full agreement with him. My thoughts began to wander to Jimmy’s partially destroyed bot. I couldn’t remember if the head was obliterated or not. Maybe that one tiny part was still intact. Did I want to ride all the way over there for the possibility of an empty hand?
I sat on the bed looking out the window. Snow fell in torrents. Would this season ever end? I desperately craved warmth, flowers, and rain. A faint glow of light wormed up the driveway. A visitor? In this weather? I saw the glow become two—that of headlights. I went to the window and peered out. The car pulled up near the house. Someone got out. It was difficult to tell just who it was. The darkly clad figure dashed onto the porch and I lost sight.
Below me, knocking on the door. I knew Grandma was in the kitchen; she’d answer. A few moments later, I heard her shoes clacking across the hardwood floor. The door squeaked as it opened. Muffled voices. Then, “Jonah!” she called, “It’s Otto.”
I tore from the room, down the stairs, and nearly tripped over my feet as I hurried to greet my friend. “Hi!” I said, skidding to a stop in front of him. Grandma retreated to the kitchen.
“Hey,” he replied nonchalantly. “Did you see my new ride?”
“Ride?”
“The car. I bought it two days ago.”
“Oh, excellent. Congrats.”
“Thanks.”
Above on the landing I heard the floor creak. I glanced up to see Suz peering down. I knew what she wanted. Two months had passed since she asked me to find out if Otto liked her. I hadn’t forgotten, but I wasn’t in any hurry either.
“Hey, Suz,” Otto said, giving a slight nod.
My eyes darted back and forth watching each of their body language. Perhaps there was some chemistry.
“Hello, Otto,” Suz replied, coming downstairs. She didn’t stomp down the steps like she tended to. No, this time she sauntered like she was in some romantic movie. Maybe I wouldn’t have to use any of my match-making skills after all. Suz was readily telegraphing her desires to Otto without my help.
“Did you hear?” he said.
“No, what?”
“I got a car.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful.”
I swore I could see gooey sap dripping from her voice. This was not the same sister I’d been living with for nearly a year. No vile stare, no vicious jabs, no protesting, nothing! It was if she flipped a switch and became someone else. Is this what love does to people? Fascinating.
Otto opened his knee-length black wool coat and dug around an inside pocket. After some difficulty, he produced a small white box. “Here,” he said, offering it to me.
I took it; hoping it was the junction interface. The box was the right size for such a part. Lifting the top off, I saw the tiny interface with accompanying servo. “Yes!”
“That should help you out.”
At that moment I wanted to throw my arms around Otto and hug the daylights out of him. “Thank you!” Finally the precious part I needed to make the bot functional. My enthusiasm nearly overwhelmed me. I wanted to get right to work. But something stopped me. I paused and watched the interaction going on between Suz and Otto.
“Hey, would you like to go for a ride in my car?” he asked.
“In this weather?”
“It’s got a good heater in it.”
I was totally dumbfounded. Was my sister being that stupid? Our school in the Inner States taught us about sex. Yes, it was part of the curriculum in the sixth grade. We learned all about it; how to do it, how to prevent pregnancy, and even the miracle of birth. School taught that sex was best left to the responsible adults in society. Our time would come; we needed to exercise patience. I knew Suz had paid attention in class, and once I even caught her watching a dirty movie on her tablet. Did she intend on breaking the rules? What was this newfound rebellion? It was only a month and a half before she turned eighteen. Why now?
“I’d love to,” she said. “Let me get my purse and coat.”
I stepped in front of her. “Suz—”
“Shut up, Jonah.”
She pushed past me and went to the hall closet, retrieving her coat and purse. Without another word, she collected Otto and disappeared out the door. I was left to watch and wonder if my sister would become the biggest moron on the planet. What did I care? She would soon be on her own and able to make decisions as an adult. I still had five more years to wait. Truly, I wasn’t looking forward to the mating game.
Rory came from his room. “Hey, was that Otto?”
“Yup!” I held the little white box up in triumph. “The junction interface!”
“Awesome!” He thundered down the steps. “Can we go work on it?”
“Sure. That wind’s really whipping. Better dress warm.”

Friday, February 6, 2015

Servo 13:2

Servo 13:2


I must admit, I don’t handle disappointment very well. That night, I sat in bed, the memory core resting in my lap, and my father’s voice emanating from my tablet. How could I make this work? Otto was searching for the part, and it would be at least a week before I saw him again. He’d called to tell me that he found a cable in which I could connect the core to my tablet; that made me feel somewhat better. At least I’d be able to upload my father’s logs to the core and begin some basic programming. That did not solve the problem of getting the rest of the bot to function. I still needed the precious junction interface to make the whole thing work.
A light tapping on my door brought me from my thoughts. “Yes?” I said, pausing the recording.
“It’s me,” Rory said.
“Yeah, come in.”
He opened the door and wandered in.
Something about the expression on his face had me curious. “What’s up?”
“I was just thinking.”
“About what?”
“Dad.”
I motioned for him to join me on the bed. “What about Dad?”
He climbed up and rested his back against the headboard. “I miss him.”
“I know you do, so do I.”
“Wish we could bring him back.”
“Me too.” I stopped the recording and moved my tablet to the nightstand. “What would you think if the bot was Dad?”
Rory gave me a funny look. “Huh?”
“I’m trying to figure out a way to input all of Dad’s log entries into the bot.”
“How would that make the bot Dad?”
“It would sound like him.”
“So?”
“And if I could find the right software, I might be able to make the recordings into a virtual memory bank.”
“No way! Loads of people have tried and never been able to make it work…I’d just be happy to hear his voice again from something other than a tablet.”
“I think I can do it.”
“Really? How?”
“I’d have to build an accessory memory core.”
“Does the dumb thing have enough room in its head for that?”
“No.”
“So where are you going to put it?”
I pointed to my heart. “Here.”
Rory was silent for a few moments, probably mulling over everything I’d said. “And you think it’ll work?”
“Maybe. What can it hurt?”
“Mmm, got a point there.” He fiddled with his fingers. “It would sure be nice to have Dad around again.”
“Yeah, it would. Even if it had to be kept a secret.”
“And we could only visit him in the barn.”
I picked up my tablet and opened a program. Over the last three months I’d carefully drawn schematics of my intended project. “See?”
“Okay, but how are you going to make it work? You don’t know anything about artificial intelligence and virtual memory programming.”
“Grandpa might.”
“Pppffftttt!” Rory waved his hand to dismiss me. “He’s so old he can’t know anything about that.”
“Maybe…Just maybe.”
“You’d do better to listen to Otto.”
“I can do this. I know I can.”
“No one has been able to create a stable AI platform—not even the best bot scientists.”
“Then this will be my contribution to science.”
Rory hopped off the bed. “You’re crazy…I’m going to bed.”
“Good-night,” I replied, ignoring him in favor of studying the drawings. He left, closing the door rather loudly. “So, Daddy, you’re going to help me figure this out, right?” I closed my eyes for a moment and envisioned my father sitting at his desk. Although my father was a generous, quiet man, he had an air of nobility about him. Just one look and you knew he was something more than a common man. He was highly intelligent and used those smarts to create some of the finest service bots in the world. Now I needed to figure out a way to harness his intelligence to help me bring him back to life.
And could he tell me who killed him? Yes, I still had my doubts about his untimely death. If there was a murderer out there, I was going to find him. Something was fishy at Servidyne; too many of their premier bot scientists had shown up dead. Did Grandpa come here to escape the same fate? I was confident I’d never get the answer I wanted out of him, so I’d have to accept his leaving the Inner States because he was ashamed of the war he created. All my life I’d wanted to work for Servidyne; now I wasn’t so sure.
More knocking sounded on my door. I glanced at the clock and noticed it was nearly time for bed. Who was it now? “Yes?” I called, figuring it would be Grandma or Grandpa. Imagine my shock when Suz walked in.
“Jonah?” she said softly.
“Yeah?”
“Can I talk to you?”
“Sure.” I put my tablet on the nightstand and gave her full attention. “What’s up?”
“You know I hate it here, right?”
“Duh!”
She scowled at me.
“All right, I’m sorry. I know you’re unhappy here,” I said, trying to be heartfelt and apologetic.
“Going back to the Inner States might be the only thing that will make me happy.”
Might?
“Well…” She pulled a chair up near the bed and sat. “Maybe there is one thing about this place I like.”
“The food?”
“Umm, well, that’s kind of nice, but—”
It was then I noticed the same barely softened expression that her face held when Otto was over. Was she trying to get me to introduce them on a social level? “What, Suz?”
 The softness faded into the same hard-nosed glare I was so accustomed to seeing. “Nothing!” She got up, and headed to the door.
“Otto?” I said in a cool tone.
She stopped, her back still to me.
“Suz, do you like Otto?”
“Maybe.”
“Look, I don’t have a problem with that. Really, I don’t. If your interest in him will make you happy—”
She regarded me over her shoulder. “It might.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Can you find out what he thinks of me?”
At that moment I felt like I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I wanted Suz to be happy, but I also didn’t want to jeopardize my relationship with Otto. This was a situation that needed to have everyone happy. “Umm, I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thanks.”
“But can you be patient with me? This requires a delicate touch.”
“Yes.” She said nothing more and left the room.
How was I going to pull this off? 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Servo 13:1

Servo 13:1

By mid-afternoon the great Nebraska snowball fight was over. Rory and I lay in a huge pile of smashed snowballs. Behind the other berm Dagwood and Otto were probably doing the same. I don’t think we’d ever laughed so much in our entire lives. What amazing fun. As much as I grumbled about winter, there still seemed valuable playtime that could be enjoyed when the temperatures dropped into the 20s.
I sat up and began brushing show off my coat. “Dagwood?”
“Yeah?”
“How did the battle go?”
He surprised me by plopping down in the snow next to me. I hadn’t heard him approach.
“Helluva fight!”
Grandma must have had ESP. She opened the door and hollered: “Boys? Do you want some hot chocolate?”
Music to my ears! I struggled to stand and helped Rory up. “Yes!” I called loudly.
We met Otto halfway to the house. He was an odd boy—if you could call him a boy. At age eighteen, he was quite content to live at home. His hair was raven-feather black; his skin, on the pale side with dark eyes. He was thin as a rail and always wore black or dark clothing. To me, he didn’t look like he belonged in the Outer States. Well, maybe he didn’t look like he belonged in the Inner States either. But Otto was sharp as a tack and I wagered that his IQ was close to Rory’s.
“Good game,” Otto said, walking up the steps.
“I enjoyed it,” I replied, nudging open the door.
The rich aroma of chocolate filled the house. I took in a huge breath. No, not just hot chocolate; Grandma made cookies. Had I died and gone to heaven? She knew the secret to our hearts, and I love her dearly for it.
With snow gear removed and piled haphazardly about the entry hall, we thundered into the kitchen, licking lips and eager to thaw out. I loved Grandma’s kitchen. It held a love and warmth that I’d never experienced with any other food preparation chamber. Kitchens in the Inner States were cold, sterile, and utilitarian in nature. Here, the only thing that might have made Grandma’s kitchen better would be an old-fashioned wood stove like Dagwood’s mother had in their kitchen. Then we could sip our cocoa and thaw our frozen toes by the flickering flames.
I sat down and immediately grabbed the mug that was placed in front of me. It burned my frosty fingers but I didn’t care. The sting reminded me of my place in humanity: fragile, transient, and sensitive.
“Did you boys have fun?” Grandma asked, bringing a plate of hot, soft cookies.
“Loads!” Rory said, snatching a cookie before the plate even hit the old wooden table.
Dagwood and Otto were more reserved and politely waited until Grandma removed her hand before gingerly plucking a cookie. “Thank you for the goodies, Grandma Cranwinkle,” Dagwood said, bringing the gooey delight toward his mouth.
“You’re welcome, boys.”
Otto leaned toward me and kept his voice soft. “To the barn next?”
I nodded. Picking up the mug, I silently wished the frothy beverage would cool some so I could drink it. Grandma had even put mini marshmallows on top for us. All my life I’d known my parents loved me. They said it, they showed it, and I felt it despite the coldness of our society. But somehow, Grandma exuded a love and warmth I’d never felt. If she were indeed a machine, she was one of the finest bots I’d ever encountered. My dream had taken on new dimensions. I didn’t just want to create service bots; I wanted to create the finest bot in the world. Reading Ray Bradbury’s story had inspired me. I saw a vision of a bot that would fully integrate into a family, not one that would stand at the fringes and serve their masters. Bots were cold. This new bot must be warm. It must be able to carry on a conversation, interact, nurture, bond, and protect. It would be the perfect parent.
Suz wandered in and sat down. She gave Otto a sidelong glance. He tried his best to manage a polite smile. It was then I noticed something about my sister. Suz’s pouty scowl had softened somewhat. Had she taken interest in Otto? They were close to the same age after all. I did my best to disguise my curiosity, eyes flicking back and forth as Suz and Otto feigned indifference to each other. Was I really witnessing cracks forming in her impenetrable walls? I’d never formally introduced Otto, but I’m sure Suz heard us talking about him.
“Uh, Suz, this is Otto. He’s Dagwood’s cousin.”
“Oh, yes,” she replied in a dull tone.
Maybe I was wrong about her curiosity. It didn’t matter; Otto was my friend and he was helping me with the bot. Despite his interesting personality, we got along quite well. And today I was really hoping he’d help me with the memory core. It had become the bane of my existence. I wanted it fixed. I wanted it working! For months Rory and I toiled painstakingly putting the bot back together. We cleaned it, we rewired it, and we even managed to keep a family of mice from trying to move back in. I’d spent all my allowance on parts. But it still had yet to move a mechanical muscle.
Once the cocoa and cookies were gone, we geared back up in heavy clothes and trudged to the barn. With the bitter cold, we couldn’t work long. Fingers would numb and soon we’d be dropping parts on the dusty floor. Grandpa had a heater in the barn, but he refused to buy kerosene to make it function. Secretly I think he didn’t want us out there for very long. And our work on the bot didn’t exactly make him happy. We were breaking the law on his property. Otto told me that if the “authorities” found out, they could—under the current law, seize the bot, the property, and everything on it should they so desire. Grandma and Grandpa could see jail time and us kids would be sent to a home for delinquents. Despite all the fear, we persisted.
I pulled back the cover on the bot. The heavy canvas was stiff from the cold. My eyes met with the dead eyes of the bot. How I longed to bring life to them. From my reading, the Model 106 had amber eyes that would faintly glow. I found that curious. Newer bots had eyes that were constructed of small circular computer screens with mega-pixel capacity. The makers had attempted to give the bots some human characteristics, but I feel they sadly failed. Bots still had a composite and metal frame that was exposed. There was no attempt made at creating skin, hair, or other human-distinguishing features. The bots of my generation were so unlike those of Bradbury’s story, and I wanted them to be like his. But how?
“Looking good,” Otto said as he ran his hand over the bot’s chest plate. It was still a bit tarnished; Rory and I had been unable to scrub it clean.
“Getting there,” I replied, carefully removing the face plate and exposing the inner workings of the bot’s head. Rory and Dagwood stood close by watching.
“You say you can’t get the memory core to work?”
“Nope. I think there’s a part or two missing.”
Otto took a small headlamp from his pocket and flipped it over his head, turning it on. The light was blinding. “Let’s take a look…” He poked around with a needle-like probe, inspecting my rewiring job. “Were you able to get a connection with your tablet?”
“I tried, but I don’t think I have the right cable.”
“Hmm. I’ll have to dig through my drawer at home and see what I’ve got.”
“Appreciate it.”
Otto stopped when he reached the area I’d questioned. “Yup, you’re missing the junction interface with the neural gain feed.”
“Crap,” I said, “But not having that shouldn’t affect the memory core.”
“Ah, it actually does. There’s a tiny little servo that creates the link—and it’s found in the junction interface.”
“Can you get us one?” Rory piped up. He’d been unusually quiet while we worked.
Otto went to the window and looked out. Big snowflakes were once again falling. “I can try, but it’s a really hard part to get.”
I folded my arms. “Figures!”
“What about Jimmy Pineapple?” Dagwood asked.
“Maybe, but it’s too stormy to get over to his place.”
“We might have to wait for a while. Let the snow melt some,” Rory said as he peered into the bot’s “brain” cavity.
A long, low groan escaped me. I wanted so much to make this bot function that it was driving me insane. Just hearing my father on the data sticks wasn’t enough. This bot needed to become the essence of him. He was taken from me too early in life. I—we needed a father. “Thanks, Otto. See what you can do, okay?”
“Sure. I’ll give you a call in a few days.”

Friday, January 23, 2015

Servo 12:3

Servo 12:3

The next morning I was up bright and early. Unfortunately, the sun wasn’t. Heavy snow clouds drifted over the land threatening to unfold a new blanket of white. I was not deterred by the potential storm; rather, I looked forward to more ammunition for our snowball fight.
In the nearly eight months we’d been in Nebraska, I noticed I’d changed. Without the precious internet, I found myself outside more. Rory, Dagwood, and I played. We did silly things like riding our bikes at break-neck speed down a long steep hill; climbed the high rafters in Dagwood’s massive barn, and spent hours exploring what we thought were distant corners of the town on weekends. We had no problems keeping up with Dagwood as he rode to Jimmy’s house. I feared the busy road no more.
Suzette never made any attempt to make friends, play, or even enjoy life in the Outer States. Why she chose to wallow in self-pity escapes me. She was young, beautiful, and could command the world with her brilliant IQ. Instead, she allowed misery to overtake her.
Deciding it was a moot point to dwell on my sister’s melancholy, I got up and dressed. Just as I prepared to leave the room, I glanced at the clock: it said 7 a.m., and I wondered what Grandma would be making for breakfast. Opening the door, I was surprised to hear the house silent. Was I the only one up? Impossible! Grandma was always up hours before us busily working in the kitchen. I craned my neck and tuned my ears downstairs. Nothing.
I went down and stopped on the last step. No glorious aroma of bacon cooking. My acute nostrils picked up the faint tang of coffee. I followed my nose, but not to the kitchen. Instead, I went down the hallway toward the very last door—the library. A faint light shone under the bottom of the door. Who was up? Grandpa? I never ever recall seeing Grandma in the library. It seemed to be a place exempted from her housekeeping exercises. The shelves and books were covered in an unhealthy layer of dust. I paused at the door listening for a sign of life. Through the heavy oak, I thought I heard the earthy crinkle of a page turn.
My left hand reached for the old brass knob. It rattled slightly as my fingers closed on it. The library was not off-limits, but for some reason, I felt I was intruding. Did Grandpa want some time alone? Surely he wasn’t tired of us; we rarely crossed paths with him except at nights and on the weekends.
With the utmost of quiet, I opened the door slightly and peered in. Grandpa was in his favorite old overstuffed leather chair, book in hand, and a large mug of steaming coffee on the table next to him. He glanced up. “Good morning, Jonah.”
“Umm, good morning, Grandpa,” I said, feeling like I’d invaded his solace.
“Come in.” He gave a gentle gesture with one hand.
“I’m not interrupting, am I?”
“No, no. I was just doing some reading before your Grandmother gets up.”
“Oh.”
“She was tired, so she wanted to sleep a little longer.” He stretched. “When you get old, sometimes you just wanna slow down once in a while.”
I sat down in another chair. “I don’t know how Grandma does it, she’s amazing.”
Grandpa smiled. “I don’t know how she does either. That woman works harder than any bot I’ve ever seen.”
“Definitely!” I met his smile with a big grin.
“And just like a bot, once in a while, Grandma needs to recharge her batteries.”
“Like the grandma in I Sing the Body Electric.
He chuckled. “That grandma was a bot.”
“I know.” I cupped my hand to my ear. “I sometimes wonder about Grandma. How she can work so long and so hard like she does? I listen closely for the ticking and whirring.”
“You won’t hear any ticking and whirring out of her. Maybe a little whining and complaining once in a while.” He closed the book and gently rested it on the table. “If there was any model for the perfect service bot, it would be your grandma.”
A devious, wonderful thought entered my head. “Grandpa?”
“Mmm?”
“Why don’t we make Grandma breakfast?!”
He picked up his mug of coffee. “That’s a bold idea, Jonah…Except you’re lookin’ at the most inept man on earth in the kitchen.”
“Rory and I can do it! We’ve watched Grandma cook. We’ll keep it simple: toast, eggs, bacon, and juice.” I stood, feeling oddly empowered. “And you can surprise her with breakfast in bed!”
Grandpa chuckled. I could see he liked the thought of my crazy plan. “All right. I’ll, uh, supervise you two—make sure you don’t burn down the house.”
I went to the door. “I’ll get Rory and we’ll get started right away.” With not a second to waste, I tore upstairs and into Rory’s room, not even bothering to knock. “Rory, wake up!”
My little brother bolted upright in bed. “Huh? What?”
“We’re going to make breakfast for Grandma.”
“We? Who is we?” He blinked several times.
“You, me, and Grandpa.”
“Breakfast?”
“Yes!”
“We can’t cook.”
“Yes we can. I told Grandpa we’ll keep it simple.”
He climbed out of bed and started to dress. “How simple? A bowl of cereal with milk?”
“No, no, silly. Toast, eggs, bacon, and some juice.”
“Do you even know how to cook an egg?”
“Sure, I watched Grandma enough.”
“And she’s been doing it for hundreds of years.”
I smacked him. “She’s not that old!”
“I meant she’s been doing it a long time. It might not be as easy as it looks.”
“How hard can it be? Heat up a pan, melt some butter, crack and egg into the pan, and when it’s done on one side, you flip it over.”
Rory finished putting on his shoes. “Fine, then you handle cooking the eggs.”
“Then you can do the bacon.”
“Umm, okay. But I don’t like it when it splatters.”
“Grow up!”
Minutes later we converged upon the kitchen. I went to work grabbing two cast iron frying pans from a cupboard. Rory was rummaging in the fridge for eggs and bacon. “Hey, get the butter, will you?” I called, placing the pans on the electric burners. Then I lifted a hefty spatula from a cylindrical crock and waved it around like a sword. This was indeed exciting.
Rory came over with armloads of goods. He tried to place them on the counter, but fumbled. It seemed like slow-motion as I watched the eggs slip from his grasp. I made a mad dive for the carton, saving them at the last moment. The packet of bacon hit the floor with a loud smack. Good thing it was in a plastic wrapper. Only the butter managed to make it to the counter.
“Oops, sorry,” Rory said.
“Maybe you should have made several trips.”
Grandpa wandered in and sat down at the table. “Making a mess already?”
I stood, egg carton in hand. “Saved!”
Rory stooped and snatched the bacon pack from the floor. “It’s okay.”
We set about making breakfast. In a matter of ten minutes, the whole room smelled of bacon, eggs, and some slightly burnt toast which Grandpa helped scrape off the blackened edges. As we prepared the plate for Grandma, I gently lowered two fried eggs—very pleased that I’d not broken the yolks, and Rory added the thick, greasy strips of bacon. We poured a big glass of orange juice and Grandpa managed to find a tray to put everything on. I only wish we had a teeny vase with a single red rose in it—that would have made the whole dish.
Just as Grandpa was picking up the tray, Suz came in. She stopped and looked around. “Where’s Grandma?”
“She was tired, so we’re bringing her breakfast,” Rory said.
“So who will make mine?”
I shot her a snide glare. “Why don’t you make your own?”
“Are you absurd?”
A devious smile wormed to my lips. “Perhaps.” I held the door while Grandpa exited. “Maybe since you’ll be eighteen soon you should learn to cook.”
“How dare you say that!”
“I’m just saying it’s a skill you might want to learn.” With that, I said no more and accompanied Rory and Grandpa up the stairs.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Servo 12:2

Servo 12:2


We toiled for what seemed endless hours. And when finished, there were two walls about three feet high, ten feet long, and a foot or so thick. They were spaced about twenty feet apart. During our labors, Dagwood explained the process of a snowball fight. Apparently we were to make dozens—no, hundreds of baseball-sized snow balls and keep them behind the wall. Our opponent would do the same—although I’m not sure who the opponent would be. Upon a signal, we were supposed to throw the balls at our opponent, aiming to strike them. The rest of the rules were totally ambiguous.
I made one last snowball and placed it on the growing pile. “Dagwood?”
“Yeah?”
“Just who is our opponent?”
“Oh, tomorrow Otto will be coming over. He’s your opponent.”
“Just him?”
“Well, I guess to be fair, him and me.”
“So, Rory and I will be trying to hit you and Otto?”
“Yup!”
“And this is fun?”
“You bet!”
I looked at the massive snow-works we’d built. “And this was supposed to be fun making these big walls?”
“It’s part of the game. If we’re lucky, they’ll freeze overnight and be harder in the morning.”
“For what purpose?”
“Protecting against the snowballs.”
“Ah.”
Dagwood trotted behind the other wall and picked up a snowball. “The name of the game is not to get hit.” He cranked his arm back and let fly. The snowball headed right for me. With what little instinctive reflexes I had, I ducked, letting the clod of snow sail right over my head. Dagwood chortled. “There ya go! Now throw one at me!”
I picked up a ball and cupped it in my hands, firming the snow a bit more. Taking aim, I reared back and threw it with all my might. It wasn’t enough. The wad of frozen precipitation impacted the berm a few inches from the top. Dagwood slapped his thigh and guffawed loudly.
Now angered at my ineptness, I grabbed another and let fly. This one managed to hit him square in the chest. His laughter stopped as he was surprised by my actions. “Hey, you hit me!”
“Isn’t that the object of the game?” I folded my arms smugly.
“Well, yeah. But after that first one—”
“What?”
“You threw like a girl!”
“Might I remind you that I have never thrown a snowball before.”
“It’s just the same as throwing a ball, silly!”
Before either of us could say anything, Rory launched a snowball at Dagwood. It flew right past him. My friend returned fire. Rory took a hit in the right shoulder. I laughed, finding it amusing to see my brother spitting out snow that had splattered all over him.
Soon, volleys of snowballs were flying back and forth. The sound of laughter filled the area. Yes, we were having fun. All the hours in the freezing cold building everything, and now we were having fun. I peered above our wall and saw Grandpa looking out the window at us. It was hard to tell, but I think I saw a smile on his face.
By late afternoon, our massed piles of snowballs had been exhausted, and so were we. All of us had laughed so much, it felt good. Dagwood came from his battlement and joined us in reloading our stock. “Did you have fun?” he asked.
I nodded. “Yes.”
“See, you don’t need computers to have fun.”
“No, I suppose you don’t.”
“How goes the work on the bot?”
“Well, I’m having problems with the memory core.”
“Maybe Otto can take a look when he comes over.”
“I’d like that. He has more experience with these older bots. Dad and I used to work on the newest models available. Old technology is a stumbling block to me.”
“I’m sure Otto can figure it out.”