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Friday, April 17, 2015

Servo 17:2

Servo 17:2



There was a big part of me that refused to stare defeat in the face. Maybe I got that trait from my father. He was never a quitter. If something didn’t work right, he’d spend hours, days, weeks, or even months until it functioned. He would obsess about it, spending long late nights in his home office staring at the computer, begging for the answer to magically appear.
And now I found myself doing just the same—again.
Rory and I weren’t normally pests, but when I needed another cable to interface the new core with my computer, I set about bugging Grandpa to take us into town so I could buy one. There was a miniscule electronics store in Broken Bow, hardly enough to even whet my insatiable appetite for technology. But I remembered seeing a cable that looked like the right kind. We just needed to get there.
Rain poured down making it entirely unsuitable to ride our bikes. It had been raining since the day after Grandpa and Rory planted the corn. I could tell Grandpa was worried. The last several years he’d been worried about drought, now he worried about floods and all the seeds washing away. Farming was such a fickle profession. Those who work the land must be exquisite gamblers; for the weather in one fell swoop can destroy everything so toiled for. I’d never be a farmer.
With a day and a half of badgering, Grandpa finally relented. He took us to the store after school. Suz grumbled a little until I reminded her that the clothes store was two doors down and she could see if any new fashions had arrived. She poo-pooed and fake grumbled, and then with a toss of her hair, strode down the sidewalk with an air of superiority about her. I knew she would never change.
On the other hand, I charged through the door of the shop with Rory right behind. I knew exactly where to look. The shopkeeper barely had time to greet us as we thundered by heading to the back. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Grandpa conversing with the man; their words, inaudible, the expressions on their faces skeptical. They didn’t matter to me.
Reaching the back of the store, I began to rifle through rows of clear plastic blister-carded cables that hung on wire racks. Rory stood silently next to me. The sound of rickety-clack, rickety-clack carried through the establishment as I flipped through packages.
Nothing.
My heart began to sink. I was positive that only two weeks ago I’d seen the very cable I needed. Now where was it? More searching yielded nothing. Even Rory dug in and went over the ones I’d already checked just in case in my haste, I’d missed it.
Nothing.
“What are you gonna do, Jonah?” Rory asked as he finished the last row.
“I dunno.”
“Need some help, son?” the shopkeeper said as he approached.
“Yes, Sir. I’m looking for a fifteen-pin to three-slot interface cable. I thought I saw one here a little while ago.”
“Yes, I did have one. Some fella passing through bought it.”
“Oh.” The length of my sorrowful face must have garnered some pity on his part.
“You know, I might have one in the back you can borrow.”
“Borrow?”
“You won’t be needing it forever, will you?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
He turned and headed to the stockroom. “A school project?”
“Uh, a project at home.”
“Right.” He disappeared into the back and we heard rummaging noises.
I regarded Rory, he was standing tensely, his fingers coming together at the tips and pressing repeatedly in anticipation. It was something our father did when he was worked up about something. We were truly apples from his tree.
Several minutes later, the storekeeper appeared with a thin black cable in hand. “Fifteen-pin to three-slot interface, right?”
“Yes, Sir!”
“Here ya go, son.” He handed me the precious cable.
I hiccupped.
Grandpa and Rory laughed. The shopkeeper smiled. “Must be a good project. You seem mighty excited.”
“Been working on it for a long time; hope I can finish now.”
He nodded. “Good luck. Just please bring that back when you’re done with it.”
“Yes, Sir, I definitely will. And I’m sure Grandpa won’t let me forget.”
“No, I won’t,” Grandpa added. “Come on, boys, let’s get your sister and head home.”
I thanked the kind man one more time before leaving the store. Carefully, I tucked the cable into the pocket of my light jacket. The weather was warming; just not fast enough for me.
We went down the street and into the clothes shop. Suz was meandering through seemingly endless racks of clothes. She didn’t seem particularly interested in what was hanging in front of her.
“Find anything?” I asked.
“No, just the same old stuff.” She sighed loudly. “I wonder what fashions are hot in the Inner States this year?”
“Dunno. Why should it matter?”
“Because we’re from the Inner States; that’s who we are.”
“But we aren’t there anymore.”
She plucked a shirt from a rack and held it up for inspection. “So drab and formless…Just like the people here.”
I looked over my shoulder to find Grandpa conveniently out of ear-shot. He probably wouldn’t take kindly to that insult.
“They can’t be all bad.”
“They are.”
I folded my arms. “What about Otto?”
“He’s different, he shouldn’t be here.”
“Oh? Really? He was born here, and he’s not even remotely a GEE. How can you bear to be around him?” I spread the sarcasm on thick.
“Like I said, he’s different.”
“Is he? Or do you just wanna believe that because you think he’s cute?”
“Shut up, Jonah!”
I’d hit a sore spot. Now Suz was in full retaliation mode. How ugly was she going to get?
“Hey, I was just pointing out that when we first got there, you wanted nothing to do with anyone in the Outer States.”
“For the most part, I still don’t.”
“Ah, yes, now that sounds like my sister.” For some reason I felt the need to taunt her. “The sour-puss, unsmiling, sharp-tongued, vain creature that you are.”
A moment later I found myself looking up at Suz from the cold hardness of the floor. My chest ached. Grandpa must have seen the altercation and decided to step in before it got out of hand.
“Children!” he barked in a short tone. I could tell he was angry but trying not to raise his voice and make a scene. “Enough!”
I scrambled to my feet and moved away from Suz.
“Apologize to your sister.” There was no mistaking the tone of Grandpa’s voice. He meant business.
“Sorry,” I said in a less than genuine nature.
“No he’s not,” Suz snapped.
Grandpa got us both by the arm and led us outside.
“I wasn’t done shopping yet,” she protested.
“You are now.” With firmness in his grasp, he walked us to the truck. “In.”
We climbed in without uttering a peep. The shopping excursion was curtailed. I was overjoyed that I got the cable to continue my efforts. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Servo 17:1

Servo 17:1


Dagwood and I rode home at breakneck speed. We’d totally thrown caution to the wind as we pedaled manically down the busy road. I was so excited I had a horrible case of the hiccups. Truly it did make bike riding more of a challenge. I couldn’t wait to show Rory what we’d recovered.
We pulled up to the barn in time to see Grandpa and Rory putting the tractor away. Once the thunder of the engine quieted, I waved. “Rory, come see what we got!”
He scrambled off the fender and trotted over. “What? What’d you get?”
I removed my backpack and took out the gingham check napkin that Grandma had previously wrapped cookies. Now it held the precious cargo of the memory core and junction interface. “We went over to Jimmy’s and Dagwood helped me get into the bot’s head.”
“But it was smashed to bits. What could you find useful in there?”
Dagwood clapped his hands in excitement. “Show him!”
Carefully I cradled the package in one hand while the other gently peeled back the corners of material. My heart was still pounding, and I doubt it was from the exertion of riding home. As the last corner of material fell free, the memory core lay gleaming in the warm sun.
Rory’s mouth fell open. “The memory core?!”
“And the junction interface!” Dagwood said proudly.
“But it was smashed, we saw it.”
“The tractor tire missed the important bits.” He made a circular motion with one arm. “The treads missed it.”
“Do you think it’ll work?” Rory was still in shock.
“All we can do it try,” I replied, heading for the barn. Rory and Dagwood were right on my heels. We gathered around the workbench and I quickly dove in.
“Shouldn’t you check all the code first?” Rory asked.
“No, I’m gonna plug it in as is. Maybe I messed up something with the other core.”
“Ah, true. Guess we’ll see if this is the magic fix.”
My fingers deftly swapped out the cores and junction interfaces. I’d done it so many times it felt like a natural sequence of events. Deep inside I was hoping this would be the magical solution. Just to have the bot function again even in a rudimentary fashion would be a triumph of my technical prowess.
Not bothering to put the bot’s face back together, I prepared to throw the on switch. “Okay, here goes nothing.”
“Something,” Dagwood said, “You want something to happen!”
“Well, yes, we do. Then here goes something.” I flipped the switch and heard a clicking noise followed by a faint whirring. All three of us leaned over, the tops of our heads knocking together. The left “eye” began to glow.
“It’s working! It’s working!” Dagwood jumped up and down.
We watched and waited for more to happen. Several minutes went by as we stared in anticipation.
But nothing transpired. The bot remained lifeless.  
“No!” I slammed my fist onto the workbench.
“What happened?”
I rubbed my face in frustration. “I dunno, Dagwood.”
“Gosh, it looked like it was gonna work.”
Rory wandered over to the window and gazed out. “At least we’re a few steps closer.”
“Darn few,” I said, throwing the switch. The amber glow in the bot’s eye faded. “Guess it’s back to the drawing board.”
“Now what are you gonna do?”
“I’ll take this core in the house and check everything.”
Dagwood looked at his watch. “Gosh, I’d better get home. It’s gettin’ late.”
“Thanks for the help today, I really appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome. But too bad the new core didn’t do the trick.” He left the barn, walking with hunched shoulders, climbed on his bike and pedaled out of sight.
I could tell he was disappointed that the core didn’t work. But it at least worked a little more than the one I had. Admittedly I was very unhappy. With everything we’d gone through to put the bot back together, and it still wasn’t functioning. Should I give up hope?
“Hey, Jonah?” Rory said softly.
“Yeah?”
“Do you have the capabilities to attach both cores to your tablet?”
“I’d either need another cable or a splitting device. Why?”
“I was wondering if you could scan both cores for differences and inconsistencies.”
“Hmm. The software would have to be modified.”
“Can you do that?”
I thumped my fist against my chest. “Am I not the son of the finest bot programmer ever?”
Rory chuckled. “Yeah, I get it. Do you think that would help?”
“Well, it certainly can’t hurt. I may have already screwed up one core.”
“But what if this one has a bad line of code where the other one doesn’t?”
“Running them in a parallel program might just uncover the bug.”
“Exactly!”
I ushered Rory out of the barn and we closed the doors. “I have a lot of work to do.”

Friday, April 3, 2015

Servo 16:2

Servo 16:2


The ride to Jimmy’s house went pretty smooth despite my long absence from bike riding. In the beginning I was a bit wobbly, but after a few minutes, I’d straightened out and was flying down the road right behind my friend. I loved feeling the wind through my hair. Occasionally along our ride, we’d pass a house with flowers growing. I loved the smell of what Grandma called Narcissi. Their delicate little star-shaped blooms held an amazing fragrance.
We stopped at a little park not far from Jimmy’s to consume Grandma’s baked goods. They’d cooled, but the chocolate chips still melted in my mouth like they were fresh from the oven. Never in my life of living in the Inner States had I tasted something so enchanting. Her cooking and baking could soften the hardest of hearts.
I watched Dagwood nibble on a cookie. He seemed to be relishing every morsel and took his time. Did his mother not bake for the family? I looked down and saw there was one last cookie. “Dagwood? Do you want this last one?”
“Gosh, can I?”
“If you want.”
“Yes, please.” He reached to take the cookie. “These are so good.”
“I’d say they’re addicting.”
“Definitely!”
“Don’t you get any at home?”
“Naw. Mom’s too busy to bake. Instead, she buys these gross store-bought cookies.”
“Oh, that doesn’t sound very appetizing.”
“Trust me, they aren’t.” He continued to nibble. “And Mom wonders why it takes so long for the cookie jar to empty.”
“Not a problem at our house!”
We mounted our trusty wheeled steeds and continued our journey. Jimmy’s house was an easy five minute’s ride. We pulled up to his house and propped the kickstands. Dagwood went to the door and knocked.
Jimmy came out. “Hiya, boys. Haven’t seen you around in a while.”
“Snow makes it hard to get around on a bike,” I said, “Can I scavenge the bot for some parts?”
“Sure, what do you need?”
“Some more wiring, and a memory core.”
Jimmy shook his head. “Core’s most likely been squished. Help yourself to all the wiring you want.”
“Don’t think there’s any chance to salvage it?”
“No, I doubt it.” He led the way to the barn. “The tractor did a good number on the bot’s head.”
We stopped in front of the blue tarp-shrouded machine. Jimmy pulled back the cover. “I mean, if you want to, go ahead and dig around up there. Don’t think you’ll find anything usable.”
I nodded politely. “Thanks, Jimmy. We’ll see what we can do.”
“All right. I gotta go help my dad; he’s getting ready to plant a field.”
“Rory’s out helping Grandpa now. Hope we get enough rain for the corn.”
“Yeah, me too. Winter snow did help a lot already.”
He left us to work on the bot. I slid off my backpack and pulled out a canvas roll of tools.
“You think there’s anything left in the head that’ll work?”
“Dunno,” I replied, sizing up the mashed cranium and trying to find a place to start. “I’m not sure how to get this apart.”
Dagwood stepped in and got his fingers into a small seam. With his great strength, and a few grunts and groans, he pried the faceplate off. It came away with a resounding pop and sent Dagwood tumbling backward onto his behind. He looked up at me and laughed. “Got it!”
I couldn’t help but join his laughter. It was amusing to see my friend on his back, legs in the air, triumphantly holding the bot’s faceplate up for me. We must have laughed about it for a couple minutes. When the mirth died, I went over and offered my hand to help him up. “Thanks, Dagwood, that was awesome.”
He stood and dusted himself off. “Didn’t need that screwdriver now, did you?”
“I will in a minute.” Returning to the bot, I knelt down and peered into the rumpled chasm that was once the bot’s brain. Wires were tangled, circuit boards crushed, and one of the “eyes” was completely unidentifiable. A total mess.
“You need this, Jonah?” Dagwood said, holding out my little headlamp.
“Yes, thank you.” I strapped it on, flicked the switch, and had immediate illumination. “Much better!”
“Can you see the core?”
Using the screwdriver as a probe, I began to dig through layers of mangled wires and boards. “I’m close.” My excavations caused parts to rain down the bot’s front like a waterfall.
“That doesn’t look good.”
“Worthless broken parts.”
“Nothing you can salvage for later use?”
“Naw, pretty destroyed.” I mined further, gaining access to the memory core area.
“Well?” Dagwood was hovering over my shoulder trying to see.
I fumbled, dropping the screwdriver. It clattered down the chest of the bot before landing between its legs. “Oops.”
“At least your fingers aren’t cold.”
“No.” Retrieving the tool, I went back to work. The memory core was positioned behind a small metal plate; the adjoining junction interface, just below it. With deft precision, I removed the four tiny screws that held the plate in position.
Dagwood held out his hands. “Here, I’ll hold all that. I promise I won’t drop anything.”
There wasn’t a single hesitation in my mind as to the trustworthiness of my friend. In all the time I’d known him, he’d never let me down. And I doubt he ever would. There was something about the quality of his friendship I’d probably never find in another human being. He was a rare gem.
As each screw was removed, I placed them in his capable hands. Really, none of those parts were important; it was the parts behind that held value. Considering my simple-minded friend would never possess the skills to work on a bot, I figured this little bit of assistance would make him feel worthwhile.
“One last screw?” Dagwood said, watching intently.
“Yup.” I worked the screwdriver and backed the final screw from position. It fell into my hand and then I passed it to him. The only thing obscuring my potential victory was a thin metal plate. The moment of truth. Had I wasted all this time for nothing?
I reached in and curled my fingers around the plate and gave a little tug. It held firm. “Hmm,” I said, trying to figure out why it wouldn’t release.
“Won’t come off?”
“No. Odd.”
It was then my friend said something so benign, yet so intensely helpful that I couldn’t believe my ears.
“Did they put glue in the holes at the factory?”
“Glue?”
“Yeah, Pa got a wood table from a place and part of it broke. When he went to fix it, he found they’d put glue in the holes to make it hard to take apart.”
“What should I do?”
“Try pulling harder.”
Again I bent my fingers around the plate. This time, as I was preparing to pull, I scrunched my face in anticipation of ending up on my behind. I’m sure if I did, Dagwood would be on the ground next to me laughing uncontrollably. A true friend indeed.
“Here goes,” I said, giving a better second effort. I felt metal digging into my fingers as I strained to pry it free. “Argh!”
“Come on, Jonah!”
First one corner gave; it uttered a faint pop. Then another corner went, quickly followed by the last two. As I disengaged the plate, I noticed some stringy, gooey purple adhesive. “You were right.”
“Excellent.” He leaned in closer. “What about the core?”
“Hold on, lemme get in there and see.” I inched closer, the light shining into the compartment where the core was housed. “I don’t believe it!”
“Is it okay?”
“Yes! It looks to be just fine.”
Dagwood juggled the parts in his hands to his left hand and picked up the bot’s faceplate. “Ya know why it’s okay?”
“No.”
“Look. The tread on the tractor tire was on either side of the core area. So the gap on the tire is what saved it.”
I inspected the faceplate. “You’re right.”
“Woooooeeeee!!” He jumped up and down a couple times then quickly stopped. “Oops, sorry, don’t wanna lose parts!”
My heart was leaping somersaults in my chest. Another memory core! What amazing good fortune. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Servo 16:1

Servo 16:1


April showers did indeed bring May flowers. The barren plains exploded into a cannonade of colors. Reds, blues, yellows, oranges, and purples replaced the several feet of white snow which was my only perspective for much of the wintertime. There was such a complete metamorphosis of the world around me. I felt new and alive again, my seasonal hibernation was over. We could finally shake the heavy coldness from our shoulders.
Suz celebrated her eighteenth birthday the end of March. Mine had been mid-February, still in the clinches of blizzardville. Turning fourteen hadn’t been a big event for me. Rory was to have his eleventh birthday in a couple of weeks—the end of May. I considered him the fortunate one. He usually had fine weather for his festivities.  
For much of the new year, the bot remained stagnant in the barn. I’d gone over the code dozens of times and could find no error. My communications with Otto were sparse; he was busy with the family farm keeping cows happy and warm. I did ask him about getting a new memory core. His response: raucous laughter. So taking that as a “no,” I decided to give things a rest until the weather warmed up. And now it was looking like we could resume our work on the old hunk of junk. 
It was Saturday morning after breakfast. Suz was hurriedly getting ready for a date with Otto. Yes, she was still seeing him, and that shocked the daylights out of me. My sister wasn’t the kind to be hanging with one guy for very long. The fact she’d been seeing him several months now led me to think something was going on. She never said much about what they did on their dates. Not that it mattered anymore, she was considered an adult. There was nothing Grandma and Grandpa Cranwinkle could do.
Rory and I were just coming out of the kitchen when we heard knocking on the door. Suz had gone upstairs to assumedly finish primping and prepping for her date. I answered the door, knowing it was Otto.
“Hi, Jonah.”
“Hello, Otto.”
“Have you got that bot running yet?”
“No.”
He stepped into the entryway and looked around. “Suz getting ready?”
“Yes.”
I glanced over and saw Rory watching our exchange. “Hey, Rory?”
“Yes?”
“Can you excuse Otto and me for a few moments?”
“Uh, yeah. I’m gonna go to the barn. Grandpa said I could help plant corn today.”
“Thanks,” I replied and waited until he left. “Otto, can I talk to you?”
“Sure. About what?”
“Suz.”
“What about her?”
“Look, I may be her younger brother, but she’s my sister and—”
He put his hand up to stop me. “We haven’t done it…If that’s what you wanna know.”
I breathed a careful sigh of relief.
“Look, I like Suz a lot. But I respect her. We’re both adults, and should she choose to—”
“No!”
“It’s her decision.”
“Jonah?” Suz said. She was standing behind me. “What’s going on?”
I turned to her. “You and Otto.”
“So?”
Suddenly I became tongue-tied. “Behave!” I barked and stomped out the door. Crossing the yard to the barn, I went in and found Rory tinkering on the bot. Grandpa had yet to appear. “Suz is gonna get herself in trouble.”
“It’s her life,” he replied, nonchalantly.
“Aren’t you worried about her?”
“Nope!”
“Not in the slightest?”
“No. She was mean to me quite often.”
“Still, she’s your sister.”
“And she’s an adult now.”
His words hit me like a slap across the face. Even my little brother had readily accepted her place among the grownups. Why couldn’t I? Outside I heard car doors close and the engine start. The car pulled away and silence replaced it. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I am blowing this all out of proportion.”
“Yup,” he said, removing the junction interface.
“What are you doing?”
“Checking things again. Now that it’s warmer, we can work with clearer heads. No need to worry about frostbite.”
Above on the metal roof, I heard the scuffing and scurrying of birds; then the tell-tale “caw-caw” of crows. I was happy to hear them. Spring was my favorite time of year, and I was glad it arrived. We’d been in the Outer States about a year now, and I was feeling like this was home.
Grandpa wandered in and looked over Rory’s shoulder. “Haven’t got that bot working yet?”
“No, Grandpa, we’ve done everything and it won’t work.”
He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. “It was your waste of time.”
I spoke up. “What could be wrong with it?”
“I dunno. It’s old and I have no desire to work on bots ever again.” He went to the side of the barn. A large pile of white sacks were stacked against the wall. “Rory, are you gonna help me?”
“Yes, Grandpa.” He put down a screwdriver and went to assist.
As much as I tried to embrace the rural lifestyle, I could not bring myself to perform the arduous task of planting corn. I’m sure Grandpa would’ve appreciated all the help he could get, but I wanted to work on the bot. My mind was telling me I was close to getting it to function.
Rory and Grandpa loaded up the sacks and climbed onto the tractor. The loud roar of the diesel engine starting made me jump. I glanced over my shoulder and saw them. Grandpa sat in the seat, Rory was perched on the left fender next to him. They were talking quite loudly, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Soon, the barn filled with noxious fumes from the exhaust.
I coughed a few times. What were they waiting for? Were they trying to asphyxiate me? Finally, after a couple minutes, Grandpa put the mechanical beast in gear and drove out. I listened as the tractor disappeared down the drive, the racket of the engine slowly dying out. The fumes still hung heavy in the air. I went to one of the back windows, and with some effort, opened it to let the place air out.
As I turned back to the workbench, my heart nearly jumped out of my throat. Dagwood was standing a mere foot from me. How on earth had he entered so stealthily?
“Hiya, Jonah!”
“Dagwood!” I said, grasping my chest.
“Did I scare you?” He replied, seeing the color draining from my face. “Gee, you scare easily.”
“How did you get in here?”
“I Indian walked.”
“What?”
“I got a Great Uncle who’s an Indian. He taught me how to walk real quiet.”
“Ah…Can you do me a favor?”
“Sure!”
“Don’t do that again!”
Dagwood put his hands over his stomach and laughed loud and long. “You’re too funny, Jonah!”
I managed a few deep breaths to settle my nerves and went back to work. Dagwood took up position on my left side watching me. “Still not working?”
“No.”
“Well, that stinks.”
“Yes, it does.” I regarded him. “What are you doing here?”
“Thought since it was such a nice day, you might like to go for a bike ride.”
“Maybe. I don’t seem to be accomplishing anything here.”
“Saw Rory and your Grandpa goin’ out to plant. Aren’t you helping?”
“Not in the mood. I really wanted to get this bot fixed.”
“Why don’t we ride over to Jimmy’s? He might have an idea.”
It’d been ages since we’d been to Jimmy Pineapple’s. The winter locked us down to minimal travel. Now the roads were clear, and I’d wanted to get over there to relieve the ruined bot of some more wiring and maybe a memory core. “Sure, why not.” I put the junction interface and memory core into the bot’s head and covered everything up. “Let me go tell Grandma where I’m going.”
As I left for the house, Dagwood stopped me. “Hey, Jonah?”
“Yes?”
“Umm, as I was riddin’ up here, I thought I smelled cookies.”
Something about his observation made me smile slightly. “I’ll see if she’s got some we can take along.”
“Awesome!”
I left Dagwood on the front porch and went inside, heading for the kitchen. Besides informing Grandma of our plans, I wanted to wash up. The aroma of fresh-baked cookies hit me like a freight train. Dagwood was right. That boy seemed to possess a nose so acute he could sniff out a single cookie hidden in a cornfield.
“Hello, Jonah,” Grandma said as I entered the kitchen. “Did the cookies call your name?”
“No, but they did Dagwood’s.”
She uttered a girlish giggle, something rather odd sounding for a woman her age. “Yes, he’s like a blood hound, isn’t he?”
“I think so. We were gonna ride over to a friend’s house. Is that okay?”
“Is Rory going?”
“No, he’s helping Grandpa.”
She took a gingham check cloth napkin and gently stacked a dozen still warm cookies into it. “For your trip.”
I took the delectable packet. “Thanks, Grandma. We’ll be home before dinner.”
“Have fun, and be careful on the road.”
“We will.”

Friday, March 20, 2015

Servo 15:3

Servo 15:3



Another day of school dragged by. Mrs. Graham made sure to query me heavily on the previous night’s homework. I was ready for her, never missing a question. She must’ve been satisfied; she changed her focus to Rory, who was also up on his studies. Suz was surprisingly quiet for much of the day.
Grandpa picked us up after school. More storm clouds gathered, more snow on the way.
“Good afternoon, children,” he said, opening doors for us.
“Hi, Grandpa,” I said, sliding into my position in the front seat.
“Have a good day at school?”
“Not too bad.”
“Looks like more snow.” He closed the door and went to help Suz. “It’s been years since we’ve had this much precipitation during the winter.”
“Is that a good thing?” I called over the seatback.
“Darn good thing.”
“Does that mean you might get to plant corn next year?”
“Certainly not hurting.” Once Suz and Rory were in, he closed the door and went to the driver’s side. “Now what we need is a fairly dry spring so everyone can plant.”
“Do you think that will happen?”
“There’s no telling how the weather will go.”
“Grandpa?” Suz piped up. “Why do they not have weather generators here?”
“Too expensive.”
“I’d think it would be a priority.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Well, much of this food goes to the Inner States.”
“Yes.”
“So there need to be perfect weather to feed everyone.”
He paused before starting the engine. “Well, if the Inner States folk are so worried about their food, why don’t they buy weather generators for us?”
Suz was silent a few moments. “I don’t know why.”
“Because all they want to do is take, not give.”
“Not everyone is like that.”
“No, but the government is the one who decides where the money goes.”
“You don’t think they would buy needed equipment?”
Grandpa turned slightly in his seat. “We’ve been in drought for over five years. Not once has the Inner States offered to help. Yet they complain when there’s a shortage of food and the prices go up.” He started the truck; the grumble of the engine pretty much ended the conversation.
Just as he was pulling away from the curb, Dagwood ran out. “Hey!”
Grandpa stopped.
I rolled down the window. “Need a ride?”
“Boy howdy do I! I got caught passing a message to a girl. The teacher gave me fifteen minutes detention.”
“Passing a note?” I opened the door.
Dagwood clambered in. “I didn’t write the note, I was just passing it.” He closed the door, turned to me, and smiled. “But she was a pretty girl!”
“Worth getting caught?” Grandpa asked.
“I thought so. But the pretty girl thinks I’m dumb.”
“Don’t pay any mind to what others think. You’re a good young man, Dagwood.”
“Thank you, Mr. Cranwinkle.”
Grandpa aimed the truck toward home. Along the way, snowflakes began to fall. “Am I dropping you at your house?”
Dagwood regarded me. “Can I hang out with you?”
“I don’t see why not,” I replied. “Don’t you have homework?”
“Did it during detention. There wasn’t much.”
“Right. How will you get home later?”
“I’ll just walk. It’s not that far.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea? The storm might be a bad one.”
“I can always call Pa to come get me with the tractor.”
Grandpa drove slowly down the road. The snow plows had piled snow so high there was barely enough road to drive on. A few remnant rays of sunshine glanced off the drifts reflecting silver twinkles. I thought it looked beautiful. My favorite things were the icicles hanging from the gutter edges. One outside my window looked like an ice sword. How I dreamt that I could fight a battle with it. Living in the Outer States had definitely caused my imagination to grow.
“How much more of this snow are we going to have, Grandpa?” Suz asked.
“It’ll stop when it stops.”
“When will that be?”
“Spring hopefully.”
“And then the flowers come out?”
He chuckled. “Maybe.”
“Why won’t they?”
“Been so long in drought, most of them have died.”
“Pity. It would be nice to see them.”
“Maybe Mother Nature will work some magic.”

Friday, March 13, 2015

Servo 15:2

Servo 15:2


That night, after supper, I went to the barn. My mission was a strange one. I wanted the bot’s faceplate. My reasons were obscure, even for me. After returning to the house, I went up to my room and closed the door. The memory core was tucked under the bed. I reached under and grabbed the shoe box containing it. Piling everything on the bed, I got my tablet and plugged it into the wall outlet. The battery was getting old and not able to hold a charge long. I doubted that I’d ever get a replacement.
I went to the wardrobe and opened one of the burled walnut veneer doors. It was a massive piece of furniture: six feet tall, five feet wide, two feet deep, and very dark in color. Much of one wall was taken up by it. Inside the door was a mirror about three feet long. Some of the silver backing had peeled off, leaving dark splotches near some of the edges. Grandpa told me he’d bought it at an estate auction. Despite the age of the furniture, I loved my room and the privacy it afforded me.
As I stood in front of the mirror, I studied my features. Those who knew my father said I looked quite a lot like him. Perhaps I did. I had the same blue eyes, sandy brown hair, and jaw line of my father. Of course my mother had blue eyes—in fact, everyone in the family did. I guess being GEEs meant we had a close blend of our parent’s genes. Rory had slightly darker hair than me, and Suz was blonde like our mother.
Leaning closer to the mirror, I put a hand to my face and felt the warmth of my skin. Then I retrieved the bot faceplate from the bed and again appeared in the mirror. Slowly I brought the faceplate up. It was smooth, cold, and unfriendly. I pressed it to my face, wanting to become the bot. Gazing into the mirror, I saw my face replaced. Smooth soft skin became shiny hard metal; my lightly curved lips transformed into a slit for a mouth, and my delicate upturned nose, now just a bump. How unhuman I’d become. Deep inside, my motivation simmered. I wanted bots to become more human. Bots needed to have warmth, compassion, and a heartbeat.
Had anyone in the family entered my room at that very moment, they would have thought me mad. Why was I wearing a bot’s face? To me, it all seemed illogically logical. I was attempting to channel my inner designer. Maybe I was a bit crazy, I don’t know, but I needed to feel what it was like to be a bot. After several moments of wearing the face, I removed it and went to the bed.
Turning on my tablet, I waited for it to boot up. I took the memory core from the box and connected the interface cable to the tablet. A little green light on the core lit up. That was normal. At first when I’d started working on the core, a red light had shone, indicating damaged or corrupted lines of code. After weeks of work, the core had finally returned to functionality. Or had it? The bot was not working and everything Otto checked could not produce an error. So it had to be me.
I opened a program and began reviewing each line. It was like staring at alphabet soup. Grandma made excellent chicken alphabet soup, it was one of my favorites. This mess was far from fun and tasty. My eyes began to bug out after half an hour of work. I knew I better stop or risk missing something. I scrolled through the lines slowly.

<setup/boot/2334569/cut/log98/mode/trans5454/fin>
<setup/boot/2334570/cut/log98/mode/trans5455/fin>
<setup/boot/2334571/cut/log98/mode/trans5456/fin>
<setup/boot/2334572/cut/log98/mode/trans5457/fin>
<setup/boot/2334573/cut/log98/mode/trans5458/fin>

And on and on it went. The more I checked, the less I found wrong. Why would this bot not function? I felt like an island: alone and with no one to discuss the code. Otto was good, but he’d never dealt with the very private inner workings of a memory core. I wondered if he’d be able to get me a new one. Probably not. I’d be stuck trying to fix this one until I graduated school.
Feeling utterly hopeless, I closed the program and disconnected the core. I returned it to the box and put the lid on. Then I grabbed a memory stick and plugged it into the tablet. Dad, please help me. I started the playback and listened carefully. My father never kept secrets from us, not even on special occasions. I remember fondly my sixth birthday. He took us to a wonderful amusement park in Florida. The sun felt so good on my face. How I missed it now as winter raged on. And I miss seeing my mother and father so happy together.
I listened to his words until it was time for bed. Once in a while, Grandma would come up and “tuck” us in for the night. I wasn’t sure why she did it; perhaps it was to make sure we actually went to sleep. There was a light tapping on my door.
“Yes?”
“Come to tuck you in, Jonah,” Grandma said.
“Okay.” I quickly flipped the bedspread over the bot’s faceplate.
She opened the door and approached. “You’re not ready for bed.”
“I was just about to change.”
“Well, then I’ll just give you a good-night kiss.”
As she leaned down to me, I listened intently. No ticking, no whirring. She was not a bot and would never be a bot. How she accomplished everything she did on a daily basis boggled my mind. Her warm lips touched my forehead. “Get a good night’s sleep.”
“Yes, Grandma.”
She straightened up. “Were you listening to your father?”
I nodded.
“He was such a good husband to your mother.”
“And a good father to us.”
She smiled broadly. “The best!”

Friday, March 6, 2015

Servo 15:1

Servo 15:1



Monday rolled around and I secretly hoped for a snow day. No such luck. Grandpa spent Sunday on the tractor plowing the driveway so we could make it to the road. I wanted so much to have another day that I could scrutinize all the code in the bot’s memory core. The frustration that it wasn’t working made a sore pit in my stomach. How could I have messed it up? I was the son of one of the finest bot designers on the planet. What rookie mistake had I made? Now I’d be forced to spend an entire worthless day in school before I could get home and work on it again.
The three of us sat in our tiny broom closet classroom. Mrs. Graham was droning on about Outer States history. Normally I enjoyed history, but not today. My mind was firmly fixed on the bot in the barn. I contemplated the snow falling outside the tiny window. This had to be the longest, coldest winter I can ever remember.
“Jonah? Will you please explain to me the Constitution of the United States?” Mr. Graham said.
I snapped back into the here and now. “Uhhhh.”
“You did the reading assignment for chapter eleven, didn’t you?”
“Uhhhh.”
She rose from her chair, folding her arms. “That’s not like you.”
“Sorry,” I squeaked.
“And would you care to explain why you did not do the assignment?”
“I was busy working on a project.”
“Project? Certainly not a school project.”
“No. Something personal.” I imagine the amount of remorse in my tone of voice was enough to prove I felt guilty about skipping the assignment.
She stared me down. “Don’t let it happen again.”
“Yes, Ma’am.”
“Suzette, would you be so kind as to explain the Constitution of the United States?”
I watched my sister stretch tall and straighten in her chair. She placed both hands on the desktop and gave her lips a quick lick. “The Constitution of the United States was a document created the seventeenth of September in the year 1787 by our founding fathers. It was designed to outline how the country would be run, rights of the citizens, and government.”
Mrs. Graham nodded. “Very good, Suzette.”
My sister shot me snotty glare. Had I not had Rory in the desk between us, I’d have reached over and smacked her. Of course that would have led to being in more trouble than I already was. Tonight, I’d make sure I did the assignment. Mrs. Graham always gave us tests on Fridays, so I had a couple days to prepare. My perfect grade point average would not be tarnished.
The morning session ended and the bell sounded for lunch. I was starving. We hurried out of class and jostled our way to the cafeteria. Since there was so much snow on the ground, we were forced to eat inside. I didn’t like eating in such close proximity to the other kids; they always seemed to gawk at us. You’d figure that with all the time we’d been there, the novelty would have worn off. Nope!
Rory selected a table far in the back. I think he felt self-conscious about being watched as well. Suz plopped down with her back to the wall. For some reason, she wanted to see what was going on. The noise was intolerable. Hundreds of voices competed to be heard above the others. Shrill cackling, bellicose laughter, and the occasional screech; I hated it.
I’d no more taken a huge bite of a delectable roast beef sandwich when Dagwood showed up. He sat down on the bench with enough force that it bumped me into the air slightly. I was certainly not expecting that. Some of my sandwich went down the wrong pipe. I began to cough.
“You okay, Jonah?” Dagwood said.
I shook my head.
“I’ll fix ya.” He reached behind and smacked me in the back with terrific force. I was nearly sent face-first to the table. I coughed a couple more times and felt the bite of sandwich realign to the correct direction. Grabbing my drink, I took a swallow, helping it down.
“Now are you okay?”
“Yes, I think so,” I croaked. “But you didn’t have to sit down like that.”
“Like what?”
“You sent me flying.”
“Pishaw! Did not!”
“Yes, you did.”
“Oh, well, then I’m sorry. I’ll sit down more careful next time.” He opened a beat up steel lunch box and dug out a sandwich. “Momma made me peanut butter and jelly.”
“How delightful,” I said with a heavy note of sarcasm.
“This is extra special jelly.”
Rory decided to join the conversation. “What’s so special about it?”
“Peach blush marmalade.”
“Then it’s a peanut butter and marmalade sandwich.”
Dagwood frowned. “Aw, don’t be so technical about it, Rory.”
“Well, it’s not jam, and it’s not jelly, it’s marmalade.”
“Peanut butter and marmalade—there’s no ring to it.”
“Ring?”
“Yeah, you know, somethin’ catchy.” He began to gyrate in his seat. “Peanut butter—jelly! Peanut butter—jelly! Peanut butter—jelly!”
“Ah.” Rory turned his attentions back to lunch.
“Jonah?” Dagwood said.
“Yes?”
“You gonna work on the bot today?”
“Shhhh!!!!”
“Geez, come on, no one in their right mind can hear you.”
Suz regarded Dagwood. “I heard you.”
“You don’t count.”
“Don’t I?”
“You know about it.”
“And what if I said something to someone else?”
I gave Suz a vicious glare of daggers. “You better not!”
“Or what?”
“Don’t taunt me.”
“Why? What will you do to me?”
“Suz, this is not the time or the place. Please, just drop it.”