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Friday, October 17, 2014

Servo 7:2

Servo 7:2

The next day at school, I showed up with a bandaged head. Grandma had done her best to treat my injury. Our story to Grandpa was met with some skepticism, but in the end, I think we convinced him. Now I was getting looks from all the other students as we filed outside to eat lunch. They must be thinking those GEE kids are physically inept; that we only use our brains, not our bodies. Well, they’re wrong.
I found a suitable bench under a scrubby tree. That was the only shade for most of the “playground” area where we had our noontime meal. I sat down and was flanked by Rory and Suz. We commenced opening our little lunch containers and digging through to see what Grandma packed us. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement coming from the right. Since most of the school kids treated us like we didn’t exist, it shocked me to see a very large boy approaching. Was he here to bully us?
He stopped in front of me. “What happened to your head?” he asked in a tone of voice that led me to believe that he wasn’t the smartest one in the school.
“I, uh, hit it on a workbench at home.”
“Are you going to be okay?”
I studied him for a moment and came to the conclusion that this was probably the dumbest kid in the entire school. He appeared to be close in age to me, but was twice my size. His short brown hair lay in greasy streaks on his head, and he had dull brown eyes. “Yes, I’m going to be just fine.”
“Oh, good.” He thrust his hand out at me. “I’m Dagwood Hogg: H-o-g-g, like the big pig, but with another g at the end.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” I said, not readily taking his hand. He kept it pointed my direction until I finally relented. His hand felt rough and meaty. This kid evidently did a lot of farm work. “I’m Jonah Blackburn.”
“Are you guys those GEE kids?”
“Yes, we are,” Rory replied with a mouthful of sandwich.
“Wow, that must be cool. I’d like to be smart someday.”
“It helps being born that way,” Suz snapped as she collected her things, and left.
Dagwood sat down in the space vacated by Suz. “Was that your sister?”
I rolled my eyes. “Unfortunately.”
“She’s pretty.”
“How old are you, Dagwood?”
“Fifteen.”
“Ah, well, Suzette is seventeen.”
“She’ll be graduating this year, huh?”
“Yes,” I replied, trying to eat lunch.
“How come you guys don’t come to class with us?”
“We’re too smart,” Rory said.
“So what do you do all day?”
“Mrs. Graham is teaching us.”
“She’s a nice lady. What is she teaching you?”
“Stuff about the Great Separation.”
“My Uncle Bob died,” Dagwood said, seemingly disjointing the conversation.
“Sorry to hear that,” I replied.
“No, no, he died in that war, the big one.”
“He died fighting in the war that caused the Great Separation?”
“Uh huh.” He fiddled with his fingers. “A ro-bot killed him.”
I decided not to say anything about being tied to the family that built battle bots. This kid was big enough he could do some serious damage if he was sufficiently angered. Instead, I decided that maybe his lack of brains but substantial brawn could be beneficial. “Dagwood? Why are you here?”
“Huh?”
“Why did you come over to us?”
“Oh, I thought you looked lonely and might like to be friends…I mean I’m not super smart and all, but I thought maybe you wanted a friend because you’re new here.”
“That’s very kind of you. Yes, I’d like that.”
He stood and clapped his hands several times. “Goodie!”
The first bell rang, signifying that we had ten minutes to finish eating and to get to class. “Hey, Dagwood?”
“Yes, Jonah?”
“I gotta eat lunch and get to class. Can we talk after school?”
“Sure, sure. I’d like that.” He turned and took a few steps away before looking over his shoulder. “See you later!”
“Bye,” I said, trying to bolt down my food. I watched him jog happily off toward the humanities building. “That was interesting.”
“That guy is really dumb,” Rory said, finishing his lunch. “And he decides to pick us to make friends with.”
“No, he may not be bright, but he’s big, and that might be a good thing.”
“Oh, so you think that by hanging around someone that’s big and strong, that we won’t get picked on?”
“I’m hoping that’s the case, but if not, I’m sure he’d be there to finish whatever fight we end up in.” I stood and brushed the bread crumbs from my jeans. “Besides, it looks like he needs a friend or two as well.”
We headed off to our “broom closet” classroom and found Suz already seated. She had a sour look on her face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Ugh, that boy!”
“What about him?”
“He’s so…so…stupid!”
I sat down. “Sorry to tell you this, sis, but not everyone in the world is as smart as us.”
“Why didn’t they do an aptitude battery test on him while he was still a developing fetus?”
“Cause maybe they don’t have that technology here?”
“What? You’ve got to be kidding!”
About that time, Mrs. Graham shuffled into the room and plopped down in her chair. “Children,” she said in a firm, yet calm voice that was never raised above a normal speaking volume. We fell silent and gave her our attention. “Today we will discuss some of the laws of the Outer States.”
“I have a question,” I said, raising my hand slightly. The question had been burning inside me since last night, and the throbbing bump on my head wouldn’t let me forget.
“Yes, Jonah?”
“Are bots illegal here?”
She sat back in her chair, laced her fingers, and took a long breath. “It was the bots that caused the downfall of our civilization.”
“So are they banned here?”
“Let me put it to you this way: if someone has a need for a bot, for instance, to do some heavy manual labor, they must apply for a permit, pay a substantial sum, be approved by the state review board, and if approved, purchase a license for a bot which must be renewed every year.”
“That sounds like a lot of work,” Rory commented.
“It is. And that’s how the Outer States have dissuaded the commonplace use of bots.  If there are people who can perform the task, they should be considered over an inanimate object.”
“But bots can do so many things that people can’t,” Suz piped up. “Like dangerous jobs.”
“Yes, and there are some bots working in the nuclear industry power plants.”
“I meant like cooking and cleaning.”
Rory and I couldn’t help but burst into laughter. I began to wonder who was dumber: Suz or Dagwood. Although I was confident Dagwood had his redeeming qualities, Suz was another story entirely.
“Hey!” Suz retorted.
Chil-dren,” Mrs. Graham said firmly. She was clearly irritated with our little tiff.
“She started it!” I said, pointing a finger.
“That’s enough.”
The room fell silent for a few brief moments. I looked out the tiny window and saw dark clouds. “Is it going to rain?”
“I hope so. It’s been dry here for too long.”
“Why don’t they just adjust the climactic generator?” Rory said.
“Because we have no such technology.”
“You mean to say they can’t make it rain here when they want?”
“No, Rory, we can’t.”
“Well that’s silly. No wonder it’s so brown and dusty here.”
“We’ve not had a good rain for nearly five years. And if our crops fail, what will the people of the Inner States eat?”
Suz waved her hand. “Oh, we’ve lots of food there.”
“Yes, perhaps, but do you know where it comes from?”
“The grocery store, of course.”
Mrs. Graham leaned forward slightly. “And where does the grocery store get it from?”
I watched my sister’s mouth slowly fall open. She didn’t have a clue.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Servo 7:1

Servo 7:1

Rory and I just about trampled each other on the way out to the barn. Both of us tried desperately to fit through the front door at the same time and it didn’t work. After some jostling, grunting, and a bit of forceful elbowing, I cleared the doorway and was dashing across the barren space to the rickety structure.
To this day I don’t know how that old barn remained standing. It was a single story, about forty feet wide and perhaps sixty long. Several shades of red paint attempted to cover its exterior with little success. The roof was galvanized tin and left its own silver color, but with corners that showed rust with its age. There were a couple of windows toward the back of the building, which allowed some natural light in the work area.
I made it to the heavy door first and my fingers worked frantically to undo the latch. Rory ran up behind, colliding with me. “Hey!”
“Sorry.”
Looking over my shoulder, I noticed Grandpa standing on the porch watching. He was far enough away that I couldn’t see the expression on his face. Something told me he wasn’t pleased with his decision. What was so wrong with two kids tinkering on an ancient bot?
With the door open, we wiggled past the tractor and headed to the back. I found the bot still in the corner, as I had left it.
“This is gonna be so cool,” Rory said, carefully picking up boxes of parts and setting them off to the side, making room on the workbench.
I hefted the bot and brought it over, carefully laying it on the bench. It was far heavier than any of the current production bots. Then I paused for a moment. Something seemed strange about our surroundings and I finally managed to put my finger on it. We were now living in a society without bots. Yes, that was it. When we ventured to town, there were only people on the streets. They drove the cars, they did the shopping, not bots. Why did I not see this earlier? Was I still in a haze over what happened to my father? Perhaps.
“Rory?”
“Yeah?”
“Have you noticed anything strange about the Outer States?”
“Well it’s certainly not like home.”
“Have you noticed something missing?”
He gave me a quizzical look. “In what regard?”
“I know Grandma and Grandpa won’t have bots doing their work, but have you noticed everyone else?” I watched my brother’s eyes drift upward and to the right, indicating he was in deep thought.
His lips pursed slightly. “No bots!”
“Exactly.”
Rory looked around. “I wonder if there are laws against having them? Grandma did mention on the day we got here that if she wanted a bot, she’d have Grandpa make her one.”
“Maybe. And maybe they are illegal and Grandma was just trying to make us feel more at ease.”
“If they are, we could get into a lot of trouble.”
“Only if we make it operational.”
“What’s the sense of fixing it if we can’t make it function?”
I took a step back from the bench, folded my arms, and had a good think. “Maybe we can make it work, but remove the memory core when we leave.”
“It won’t boot up without the core, will it?”
“Don’t think so.”
“Yeah, let’s do that.”
As I surveyed the bot in greater detail, I realized that making it function was going to be a feat of magic. It had no arms, no legs, and much of the wiring through the body cavity looked like the insulation had been chewed off by mice. And where would we get parts? If bots were illegal here, there’d be no place to procure necessities to make it work. The barn didn’t seem a very likely place to find what we needed. There were some parts, but they were mixed in with tractor and car parts that littered the workshop area.
My drifting thoughts were returned to the real world by the clatter of Rory ascending a ladder that was crudely nailed to one of the posts. I looked up and noticed the barn had a small loft of sorts. “Rory? What are you doing?”
“Exploring!” He scurried up the ladder. “Oh, cool!”
“What?”
From the edge of the loft dangled a dusty golden arm. “Look what I found!”
I reached up and grabbed it. “Keep looking!”
“I am, I am!”
There was loads of noise above as Rory rifled through boxes. After several minutes, another gold arm was hanging down. I made short work of adding it to the collection. “Should I come up?”
“No, no, I got it. You just keep getting the parts I hand down.”
“Have you seen legs?”
“Not yet. Still have a few boxes to go through.”
“Keep looking.”
“Yes!”
More time elapsed. My heart was pounding and I didn’t even realize it. I was excited about this project. Finally something to tie us back to our home, even if it was ancient. The three of us kids were technology driven, we needed to be surrounded by electronic gadgets, bots, and information. It was how we existed.
“Jonah?”
“Yeah?”
“Here, I found a leg.”
Above I heard Rory grunting and straining. “Is it heavy?”
“Very.”
“Need help?”
“Almost got it. Get ready to catch.”
I went to the edge of the loft and raised both arms, hands outstretched. A dusty leg dangled a few feet from my grasp. “Can you lower it down some?”
“It’s everything I can do to stay on my feet and not drop it.”
“Hold on for a minute.”
“What are you doing?”
I hurriedly searched for something to stand on. The last thing I wanted was to have the leg damaged in a fall. I’m sure it was already messed up, and I didn’t want it messed further. A small ladder, about four feet tall, was leaning against the wall. I grabbed it, opened it, and placed it under the dangling leg. Going up three steps, I stretched my arms until my fingers wrapped around the ankle. “Okay, I got it.”
“You sure? It’s really heavy!”
“Let go.”
Rory let go and I immediately realized this was a bad idea. He wasn’t kidding, the leg weighed a TON. My hands lost their grip, the leg bent, and was falling straight toward my head. A definite recipe for a headache. Like an idiot, I took a step back and found there was no ground, just air. Now I was flying backward with a bot leg about ready to crush me as I impacted the ground.
It must have been a spectacular wreck. I don’t know, I think I was knocked unconscious. All I remember was Rory standing over me, the bot leg off to one side, and my head feeling like I’d been hit by a metro train. I was covered in dirt and dust.
“Jonah?”
“Mmm?” I moaned.
“Are you okay?”
“Not sure.”
“You know, you’re bleeding.”
I reached up with a shaky hand and gingerly touched my forehead. Oh yes, there was blood, a pretty good amount of it.
“Grandpa’s gonna be angry,” Rory said, trying to help me up.
“Confident of that.”
“What are we going to tell him?”
As I got my wits about me, I looked around. I was next to the workbench. “We’ll tell him I dropped a part under the bench and when I stood up from getting it, I banged my head.”
“Think he’ll buy it?”

“Probably not.”

Friday, October 3, 2014

Servo 6:3

Hi folks, it's a short one today. On to Ch 7 next week.


Supper was delicious. Grandma made some sort of beef roast that had all kinds of vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and something she called celery. Rory and I again destroyed our plates of food and begged for more. Suz picked at hers and finally asked to be excused from the table. I can’t recall ever seeing my sister so depressed. She seriously hated this place.
After helping with the dishes, I decided to engage Grandpa in order to gain his approval for us to work on the bot. Even if we never got it to work, it would still give us something to do. Rory and I were bored out of our minds. Back home we were always tinkering with something Dad would bring home. We loved it, we loved working with Dad and helping him. How I miss him.
I went down the hall and stood at the library door. It was closed, as it customarily was. Putting my head close, I could hear movement inside. Nerves throughout my body were twitching. I took in a deep breath to try and steady them. That did little to help. And then I had to stop and wonder; why was I so nervous about asking him? The worst he could say was no. Why did I fear that answer?
Raising my hand to shoulder height, I made a fist and knocked on the door. There was no reply from the other side. I wondered if he hadn’t heard me. As I prepared to knock again, the door opened and I was face to face with Grandpa.
“Hello, Jonah,” he said in a kind voice. “Here to get more books?”
“Um, well, I haven’t finished the ones you gave me yet.”
“Why not? I figure you’d have digested them in a matter of days.”
“Oh, I’m reading them, but it’s taking me a while.”
“So what do you need?”
I slid past him and went to the middle of the room. There was a fascination I had with the musty smell of the room. It reeked of knowledge. And in our society, knowledge was power. Those with the greatest minds were revered as some of the most powerful in the Inner States. People worshipped them like gods. “Grandpa…” I said softly.
“Yes?”
“Rory and I were wondering—”
“About the bot in the barn?” He sat down in the overstuffed leather chair and picked up the book he was reading. “Yes, I noticed the dust had been cleaned off it and some parts have gone missing.”
“I—”
“You want to make it work again, don’t you?”
“Um, yeah, maybe…But not to be a service bot. Rory and I just want to work on it to give us something to do.”
The old man was silent for several minutes. It appeared as if he was ignoring me in favor of reading the book. Finally he said, “It’s an old bot, I doubt you’ll ever get it running again…And don’t you say a word of this to your grandmother, you hear?”
I opened my mouth to thank him, but the words refused to come out. My throat felt like it was choked off. I couldn’t breathe.

“Run along,” he said, “and be in by dark.”

Friday, September 26, 2014

Servo 6:2

That afternoon, Grandpa picked us up from school. We waited impatiently at the curb while the other kids got on school buses or had parents pick them up. There was no denying it, we were the strange ones. The other kids looked at us like we had some horrible disease and stayed far away from us. I figured we’d never be a part of the school. We would not have any friends, and our social lives would be relegated to hanging out with each other. I was beginning to feel like Suz—I missed the internet.
Yes, the internet. My thoughts wandered back to what Mrs. Graham said. They would have to vote to allow internet into the area. Why were they so afraid? The internet had existed in one way or another since before the turn of the century. Over the years it had grown and expanded, allowing users to discover a near infinite amount of information in the digital realm. What was wrong with it? I figured that everyone on the entire planet would want to embrace as much knowledge as possible in order to make their lives better. Perhaps I thought wrong.
“So, how was the first day, children?” Grandpa said as he opened the doors on the pickup for us.
“Horrid!” Suz griped as she clambered into the backseat. “Absolutely horrid.”
Grandpa said nothing more until we were on the way home. “So what did you learn?”
I looked over at him, and with a very straight face said, “Nothing.”
“Well, it was the first day, so maybe tomorrow you’ll learn something.”
“I doubt that. Our teacher, Mrs. Graham, said the Great Separation was caused by the wealthy forcing out the poor.”
“It was.”
“And you believe that?”
He slowed the truck and turned onto the long dusty drive. “I know it’s true because I had a hand in it. You know I was on the team that created battle bots—”
“Yes.”
“And much of the propaganda released was that they were used to quell an uprising of Americans not wanting to submit to the government’s will.”
“Yes.”
“But what you didn’t know was that most were poor and couldn’t afford what the government dictated that they do.”
“Which was…?”
“To maintain a net income of three hundred thousand dollars a year.”
I let out a little laugh. “Oh, that’s nothing!”
“For you, probably not. But many of these people were born the old fashioned way and weren’t capable of getting a high-tech job that would pay enough. They were forced to be laborers making far less than acceptable. And when the rents were increased to a high rate, they couldn’t afford it. Hence rebellion broke out because they thought it was unfair that the rich could live there and they couldn’t.”
For a moment I took pause and gave it some thought. “Is that why you left the Inner States?”
We pulled up to the house and Grandpa shut off the engine. “You think I left because I felt guilty about killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people?”
The way he said it answered the question. Yes, he must’ve held a huge amount of guilt. Maybe I didn’t want to pursue this anymore. I opened the door and climbed out, not saying another word. Behind me, Suz and Rory did the same. Perhaps I was unaware at the time, but I had actually learned something.
Going up to our shared room, I sat down on the bed and started removing my shoes. Since they were new, they hurt my feet something terrible. Back home you normally didn’t have that problem. Shoes were custom fitted to your feet so there was no pain in breaking them in; they felt like you’d been wearing them all your life. With the misery removed from my feet, I pulled off my socks and let my feet air out. “Ahhhhh,” I said, giving my toes a good wiggle. The air in Nebraska seemed much drier than back home. It wasn’t like there was a protective bubble over the entire east coast, but it seemed that there was more moisture.
Reclining back on the bed, I picked up my tablet and turned it on. How I wished the local news would flash on the screen, or messages from my friends. Yes, my friends…Now I realized how much I missed them. Would they even remember me when I return in a few years? All of us wanted to go back. Suz was probably going to be the luckiest and return first. I bet she’s counting the days until she can get on a plane and leave this place. She wasn’t the kind of big sister that cared much about her siblings. No, Suz was in life for herself, and damn anyone who got in the way of what she wanted.
I suppose I can’t blame her. I want things in life too. But somewhere deep inside I have a duty to my younger brother. Even when I turn eighteen, I’ll probably stay here with Rory until he’s old enough to go back. That might ruin my plans for a career, but it’s how I feel. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t want to be stuck out here in the middle of nowhere with only old people watching over me. Sure Grandma and Grandpa Cranwinkle are nice, but would Rory be happy here by himself? He’s only ever known our family unit; someone familiar has always been in his life.
The door creaked open and Rory wandered in. “Hey,” he said softly, climbing up on the bed.
“Hi,” I replied, somewhat attempting to ignore him.
“Can we listen to Dad?”
For a moment I didn’t move a muscle. I felt my heart ache deeply. A tear threatened to well up in the corner of my right eye. I fought it back. Yes, I was perfectly able to grieve now, but I didn’t want to. “Sure,” I replied, reaching over to the small nightstand and opening the drawer. “Gimme a minute.”
Removing one of the little boxes, I opened it and shuffled through the memory sticks until I found a recent one. I plugged it into the port on my tablet and let the computer go to work. Seconds later I had a menu screen prompting me to select an entry date. I scrolled down until I found one that piqued my interest. “Let’s listen to the one from about two weeks before he died.”
“Okay.” Rory kicked off his shoes and got comfortable on the bed. “That would have been mid-March, right?”
“Mmm, yeah, I think so.”
“Seems so long ago.”
I clicked on the date and closed my eyes. His voice soon filled my head.

“March 10th, 2055. I’ve made some progress on the new servo. The higher-ups are pleased and looking forward to me giving a demonstration in a couple of weeks. I hope I can get the power coupling sorted out, it’s not performing as it should.
Perhaps I’ll take one home and see if Jonah can figure out how to make it work. He’s got the mind for those kinds of problems. In a way, I’m glad we had the kids by GEE, because they’re so much smarter than I. They all have a bright future ahead of them.
If I could only figure out the reason I keep getting an error signal when the power is applied to the motor, I’d be one step further. Maybe it’s the encoder? The PID controller? Or just a nasty software bug that’s keeping me from getting it to work. All I know is I need to get this fixed and soon…Signing off.”

Rory and I lay there for quite a while before saying anything. I finally closed the application and set my tablet on the bed.
“He meant that, right?”
“What?” I replied.
“That they were glad we’re GEE kids.”
“Dad wouldn’t lie, you know that.”
“Does that make you feel good?”
“Yes, of course. Don’t you feel that they loved us enough to make us better than they were?”
“I guess so. Just hope what happened to Mom doesn’t happen to us.”
“They tested us, and we were fine, don’t you remember?”
“Vaguely.” Rory got up and wandered around the room. “Want to sneak out tonight and work on the bot?”
“Mmm, I dunno. What if Grandpa catches us?”
“How can we fix the thing without him knowing?”
“True. I’m sure he’s astute enough to notice the dust has been wiped off. And confident he’ll say something when an arm or leg appears.”
“Maybe we can convince him to let us mess around with it—you know, nothing serious. Just to keep us happy.”
“Doubt that,” I said, sitting up and swinging my legs off the side; from downstairs I heard Grandma hollering at us for supper. “Come on, let’s get some dinner and I’ll think about going out to the barn after.”
“I’ve been noticing Grandpa goes to the library after dinner. Might be a good time to go.”

Friday, September 19, 2014

Servo 6:1

Servo 6:1

We arrived at school exactly fifteen minutes late. Of course Suz was to blame. Besides taking way too long in the bathroom, she complained incessantly about breakfast. Rory and I had destroyed every crumb of food on our plates and asked for more. I think Grandma was flattered by our lavish praise for her cooking. There was not enough bacon in the world!
A teacher’s aide showed us to our “classroom.” It was tiny. I’d seen broom closets in our school that were bigger. The man shoved open the door and motioned. “Take your seats.”
There were three desks lined up in a row facing an ancient looking television. Where was our teacher? We filed in and sat down. The aide closed the door and left us.
“This is deplorable,” Suz said. “Small, filthy, and with such a tiny window. How can they expect us to learn in this environment?”
I wanted to tell her to shut up, but held my tongue. Instead, I got up and looked at the TV. Did I dare push the power button? Was this our teacher? Some sort of electronic babysitter? As I’d pondered before, what could they possibly teach us?
Suddenly the door behind opened. I spun around and was face to face with a woman who looked a million years old. She even made Grandma look young. Her dress was pale blue with darker blue flowers, and she wore black shoes with a thick blocky heel. To me they barely looked womanly. Her blue eyes were tired, matching the deep age lines on her face. And her hair was white as snow, fairly short, and held a bit of curl.
“Good morning, students. I am Mrs. Graham, your teacher.”
“Hello,” I managed to squeak as I slid back into my chair. There was no room for a teacher’s desk, so she simply took a seat in a rickety old chair in the corner.
“I’ve been told that you children are from the Inner States.”
We nodded.
“Then this may be something of a wakeup for you.”
“What can you teach us?” Rory piped up.
She studied him for a moment. “A lot, you will see.”
“Yeah? Like what?”
Mrs. Graham smoothed her dress down her legs. She noticed our desks were empty. “Have they not issued you tablets yet?”
“No,” Suz replied. “And Grandpa said there’s no internet here.”
“The local government is working on it. But there has to be a vote to decide to allow it.”
“What’s not to allow? All the information of the world can be at your fingertips.”
“It’s not that easy.” She gestured to Suzette. “And what is your name?”
“Suzette Blackburn. And this is Rory and Jonah.”
“And what brings you here?”
I leaned forward slightly in my chair. “Our parents are dead and they sent us here to live with our grandparents.”
“Abe and Eliza?”
“Yes.”
“They came from the Inner States, you know.”
“And what’s the big deal about that?” I wasn’t trying to sound condescending, but my patience was wearing thin. Was this woman going to teach us or not? Perhaps I shouldn’t have cared, but for some reason I did. Education was important to me. And considering what I wanted to do for a living, it was vital. I just couldn’t fathom what I could learn out here.
“The big deal, Jonah, is that technology was the downfall of this country.”
“Not the way we see it.”
“No, no, you’ve lived a different life, and you have different views. But as much as you want to deny it, technology was a contributing factor of the demise of this great country.”
Rory decided to join the conversation. “Was it because of the battle bots?”
Mrs. Graham nodded slowly. “That’s only a small part. But there is much more.” She laced her fingers. “How much have they taught you about the Great Separation in school?”
I straightened up in my chair. History was something I relished and considered one of my best subjects—well, except for advanced computer programming and robotics. “We were taught that the states in the east became wealthy and used their wealth to advance society. They embraced technology, robots, genetic manipulation, and healthy living. The west didn’t see a need for the technology and decided to remain as they were.”
“But why the split? And why did it become violent and cause such a rift?”
“Well, those in the west didn’t like what we were doing. They didn’t like that the government wanted to impose more rules and restrictions for their own good.”
Their own good?”
“Yes. Why do we need guns? In the Inner States there is very little crime. The political council deemed guns were a major cause of crime and outlawed them for our safety.”
The old woman nodded slightly. “Do you really know the cause of crime?”
“Bad people?”
“What makes them bad?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Just the way they are born?”
“Social status. The Inner States, because of their vast wealth and power, forced out those who were not as affluent as the rest of the population. With the poor gone, crime was greatly reduced.”
“The poor had the guns.”
“It wasn’t a matter of guns. The rich wanted the poor out of their perfect world, and that was the excuse they used to bring in the battle bots to put down the uprising.”
“So what’s wrong with having a society of rich? Everyone should strive to be wealthy.”
“Not everyone can be rich. Do you think it was right to force those people out of their homes? Off their land?”
“There seems to be plenty here to go around.”
Mrs. Graham narrowed her eyes. “Do you think it was right to be sent here after your parents died?”
“No!” Suz blurted. “We wanted to stay in our nice apartment and go to our school.”
“But you were made to come here, right?”
“Yes.”
“Then you have an idea how all those people felt when they were forcibly displaced.”
“It’s not the same.”
“Isn’t it?”
“We have money,” Rory said.
“If you take away the money, what do you have? Three children without their parents involuntary moved to a place they don’t want to be in.”
“I hate it here,” Suz grumbled, resting her chin on her hands. “I want to go back.”
“But you can’t—not right now. How does that make you feel?”
“Horrible. This place is horrible.”
Mrs. Graham nodded. “And there you have it.”

Friday, September 12, 2014

Servo 5:3

Servo 5:3

The alarm clock went off way too early for me. I rolled over and gave it a smack, sending it to the floor. It bounced around a few times before falling silent. Today we would be made to go to school. As I lay there in bed, rubbing my eyes, I wondered just what the teachers would teach us. Didn’t they realize this was totally absurd? What could they teach us?
My feet hit the floor and I staggered from bed. Rory yawned and stretched. “Come on, get up,” I said, trudging to the chest of drawers to find something to wear for school.
“Do we have to?”
“Unfortunately.” Down the way I heard Suz’s door open. She must be making a mad dash for the one bathroom the house contained. That would mean the rest of us had to wait what would seem like hours for her to emerge. At least in Philadelphia, our apartment had three bathrooms, and Suz claimed one for herself. Rory and I didn’t mind sharing, it meant getting her out of our way in the mornings. “Crap!”
“What?”
“Suz is gonna beat us to the bathroom.”
“Oh,” Rory said in a lackluster tone.
“She’s gonna make us late for school.”
He sat up. “Do you really care?”
I took a shirt out and pulled it over my head. “I suppose not.”
“I mean, what are they going to tell us?” Rory threw off the covers and got up. He went to the window, parted the drapes and looked out. “Nothing here, absolutely nothing.”
We dressed and were just getting ready to head downstairs for breakfast when we heard a ruckus below at the bottom of the stairs. “Children!” Grandma called. “Breakfast!”
I peered down the steps. “Coming, Grandma.”
“Where’s Suzette?”
“Probably still in the bathroom.”
“Tell her to get a move on. You’ll be late for school.”
“She won’t listen to us, she never does.” I scratched my head. How could Grandma have missed Suz? The bathroom was right next to the kitchen. The aroma of something greasy hit my nose. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but it actually smelled good. Taking in a deep breath, I decided that maybe there was food out here worth eating. Supper last night had been something called beef ribs. They were terribly messy, but tasted like nothing I’d ever had in my life. There was a sticky brown sauce that Grandpa called barbeque. It was smoky and sweet in flavor. And we had to tear meat off bones with our teeth! Suz was appalled, of course, and tried to use a knife and fork. All of us just laughed at her. She finally got mad and stomped upstairs to her room. Rory and I didn’t mind, that left more for us.
“Come, boys, get your breakfast before it gets cold.”
Rory and I thundered down the steps, anxious to see what morsels of delight would greet us at the kitchen table. We weren’t disappointed. Grandma had prepared a feast. My rather sensitive nose picked up several tasty scents. I could smell some sort of fresh baked bread, the greasy aroma that met me on the stairs, and something that was vaguely toasty and starchy in nature. My mouth started to water.
“I hope you boys are hungry,” Grandma said, standing at the stove with a plate in hand. We said nothing but took our places at the table. I watch as the old woman opened the oven and removed two round shaped pieces of bread—or so I thought. She cut them in half and arranged them on the plate. Next she put some rich golden-colored shreddings next to the breads. I was clueless to what it was. And from a cast iron frying pan, I saw her pluck two strips of something that looked like meat. Over most of it, she ladled some sort of creamy white goo. I thought it looked like adhesive. It was very thick and had little dark flecks of something in it.
Grandma placed the plate in front of me. I looked up at her, giving my best impression of naivety. Everything smelled good, but what exactly was I eating? She must have sensed my apprehension. “This is a farmhouse breakfast, Jonah.” She pointed to each item. “It has biscuits, country gravy, hash browns, and bacon. I’m sorry, I don’t have any eggs.”
I reached and picked up a strip of what she called bacon. “Never seen this before.”
“They don’t have bacon in the Inner States?”
“This is the first time I’ve seen it.”
“Give it a try, I’m sure you’ll like it. You went crazy on those ribs last night, didn’t you?”
I said nothing but brought the strip up to my mouth and opened gingerly. So far Grandma’s cooking had been very enjoyable. I wondered how she’d learned to cook like this. Sticking out my tongue slightly, I let the crispy strip touch it. My senses were assaulted with a salty, greasy flavor that had a smoky hint to it. Ah, I was in love again!
“Well?” she said.
“Mmmm!”
Grandma laughed and went to make Rory’s plate. I knew he’d enjoy this as much as I was. There had to be some reason that bacon wasn’t available in the Inner States—probably because it was deemed bad for you by the dietary directors, and hence, would not be served to the population. I began to wonder what other delicacies I’d been missing.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Servo 5:2

Servo 5:2

It was Monday a week later when I heard the phone ring. Grandpa was somewhere on the property, so Grandma answered it. I happened to be within earshot of the conversation. It was Mrs. Bagley. She called to inform them that the school had concocted a reasonable facsimile of our educational level, and that we were to report to school on Tuesday. I couldn’t believe my ears. School in this wasteland? What were they going to teach us? We were already smarter than the majority of the faculty in the school. And they were going to teach us? I prepped my mind for what should be immense boredom to come. What could they possibly possess that could educate us? I wanted to laugh aloud.
Rory came downstairs and found me in the hallway. “Whatcha doing?” he asked.
I took note of his choice of clothing. He wore jeans and a pale blue t-shirt. “You’re not going to believe this.”
“What?”
“The school called. They want us in school tomorrow.”
“No way!”
“I overheard Grandma talking to them. Supposedly they have something to teach us.”
“Yeah, right.” He nudged past me and headed to the front door. “Jonah?”
“Mmm?”
“You wanna go check out the barn some more?”
I pondered his invitation a few moments. Having only a brief time in Grandpa’s workshop, I wanted to get a better look, sans the old man. “Where is Grandpa?”
“Saw him go out on that tractor machine. He left about an hour ago.”
Cocking my head, I listened throughout the house. I was fairly confident Grandma was in the kitchen working on dinner—or as they called it here: supper. “Okay,” I said, “but if we hear Grandpa, we hurry back to the house.”
“Why don’t you want him knowing?”
“He may not be happy with us meddling in technology.”
“What do you mean?”
“He might not want anyone in there.” I went to the door and opened it. “But did you see the head and torso of a service bot in the corner?”
Rory shook his head. “No…What are you thinking?”
“I’m not sure just yet.” Stepping onto the porch I scanned the area. There was no Grandpa or tractor in sight. A stiff breeze blew across the land kicking up dust with it. Was there no rain here? “Come on, let’s go.” I ran across the open expanse between buildings. Rory was right on my heels. We weren’t normally known for this type of behavior. In fact, exploring things was encouraged by our parents. They wanted us to learn, to grow, to expand our minds. Grandpa seemed perturbed with our presence in the old barn. It was if he was keeping a secret in there. I had to know.
The doors were open, the tractor no longer blocking our access. We hurried back to the workbench. It was dusty, dirty, and smelly, but I dove in and started rifling through ancient bot parts.
“Do you think Grandpa will notice?” Rory said. He wasn’t too enthusiastic about rummaging.
“He might.”
“Think we’ll get in trouble?”
“Maybe…But do you want to sit here in a wasteland and let your brain rot?”
“No, but I don’t want to get in trouble either.”
I made my way to the corner and unearthed the bot head and torso. “Whoa! Have you ever seen anything this old?” Grabbing a rag I dusted it off. It was beautiful in a rustic way. This bot had probably been produced quite a few years before Suz was even born. Maybe more. Definitely ancient. I was intrigued. The head was smoothly sculpted. Not exactly like a human head, but gave the idea of one. The eyes were small, a nose was placed on the face probably for aesthetic purpose, and it had a small slit for a mouth. The whole thing was a shiny golden color.
“How old do you think that thing is?” Rory asked.
“I’ll tell you in a minute.” I dusted it off better and then tucked the rag in my pocket. With both hands, I grasped the shoulders of the bot and leaned it forward. It was quite heavy. I was looking for the service tag that was usually found on the back just below the neck.  There was one, but it was so corroded that I couldn’t read it. “Help me out here,” I said, trying to wrestle the bot to the workbench.
Rory jumped in and with several grunts and groans, we had the bot on the bench face down. I snatched the rag and went to work giving the plate a thorough scrubbing. It must’ve been five minutes before I could make anything out. This poor bot must have spent most of its life in the barn.
“Now, let’s see,” I said, squinting. “Made by Servidyne Industries…Model 106…Produced May 29, 2022.”
“Wow, that’s old!”
I studied the plate in detail. “Older than Mom and Dad I think.”
“Was this one of the first service bots?”
“Might be.”
“Jonah, you’ve discovered an antique!”
I’m not sure Rory really understood the term antique, but finding a thirty-three year old robot was kind of exciting. What sort of life had it had? Did the memory still work? Was the battery bank still good? Could I even get it to boot up? And how could I hide my work from Grandpa? Something deep inside me wanted to get this bot functioning again. But how could I do it?
Searching around the workshop area, I found a screwdriver. With great care, I opened the skull of the bot and peered inside. Rory appeared and leaned over my shoulder.
“What are you going to do?”
I poked and prodded a bit. “I was thinking of removing the memory cells and taking them in the house. Maybe I can figure out a way to charge and run them.”
“You want the bot to function again?”
“I want to see what the bot was programmed with.” With a few twists of the screwdriver and some creative wire removal, I quickly had the memory core bank of cells in my hand. It was about the size of a baseball and contained the entire neural net. Newer bots had ones about a third of the size.
I tossed the core to Rory and set about putting the bot’s face back on. As I screwed down the last screw, I looked deeply into the expressionless face of the bot. It said nothing, but spoke volumes to me. Something clicked in my head.
“Grandpa!” Rory shouted.
In the distance I heard the tractor approaching. “Help me get it back to the corner.”
We wrestled the bot back and did our best to clean up from our explorations. Then we slipped unnoticed from the barn and ran back to the house.
“You have the core, right?” I said.
Rory handed it to me. “Still don’t know how you’ll make something that old work again.”
I studied it briefly before shoving it into my shirt. “Not sure if I can, but I’ll give it a try.”
We watched as Grandpa drove the tractor into the barn, shut it off, and hopped down. He closed the barn doors and headed toward the house. I nonchalantly nudged Rory and we slipped into the house. As we entered, I looked around for Grandma. Not seeing her, we hurried upstairs to our room. With the door shut, I removed the core from my shirt and tucked it under the bed. I’d take a closer look at it after supper.