Categories
An Interlude

Friends

“I just don’t know, Jacob. Is he old enough for one of these things? What if it hurts him.”

Jacob wiped at a dark spot on the front of his son’s birthday present. “He’s five years old, Martha. That’s the age pediatricians are arguing for, now. And the thing’s got the latest safety protocols.”

Martha sighed. “I know. It’s just weird. I didn’t have my first until I turned sixteen.”

“Well they didn’t exist much before that, did they?”

“Ha ha. Fine… Go get him.”

Jacob returned a couple of minutes later. “Okay, Billy. Eyes closed? Good. Ready? Open!” He stood beside Martha and the present, beaming.

A look of shock mixed with curiosity washed over Billy’s face. His present was a blue and gray, six foot tall robot. It stood stalk still, gently glowing blue eyes staring at the far wall. Its rubbery face expressionless.

The robot abruptly sprang to life, making him jump. It smiled broadly as it spoke. “Hello, Billy! I am InterDev Robotics model 48, serial number 81539 dash 57 A. I am a personal assistant bot! Your father has designated me as Robert.”

Billy began to cry. A look of surprise and concern formed on the robot’s face. It turned to Jacob. The father held up a hand, shaking his head. Martha rushed forward to comfort the boy.

***

“My birthday is tomorrow. I’ve had you for a whole year, now!” Billy banged happily away on the robot’s knee. Its shiny metallic blue and gray paint had been haphazardly covered with various peeling stickers.

“I am happy to serve you!” The robot smiled. “Are you having success fixing my boo-boo?”

“Nah.” Billy smiled mischievously. “I think I need something heavier.”

The robot stopped smiling. “Your father has requested I do not allow you to damage me, again.”

“Shut up, Poop Butt.”

“He has also requested that I no longer respond to any name except Robert.”

***

“Hey, dork.”

“I told you to stop calling me that!”

Robert stepped forward. “Recorded and noted thirty-nine days ago.” The robot played back an audio recording of Billy through his mouth. “Don’t call me dork!”

“Shut up, robo-dork!”

“Hey! His name is Robert!” Billy shoved the other boy.

The boy shoved back. Robert watched the two boys begin to fight. The other boy brought back his fist to punch Billy in the face. A shrill alarm sounded.

Robert moved with lightning-quick reflexes, holding the other boy’s arm back. “DEFENSES ACTIVATED. I cannot allow you to harm Billy.” He pulled the boy back from Billy.

The child stood stunned for a moment. He began to cry. “My dad will sue you! You DORK!” He turned and ran off.

Billy turned to the robot, tears running down his cheeks. A look of concern crossed over Robert’s face. “Have you been injured?”

The boy shook his head, then hugged Robert tightly. The surprised robot gently patted Billy on the back. A slight smile graced his gray lips.

***

“Congratulations on being hired to your first job, Billy!”

“I told you to call me Bill.” He smiled apologetically at the crestfallen look on Robert’s face. “Thanks, buddy. Hey, we need to clean you up later.”

“Noted! I will remind you to clean me up, later.”

Bill pulled his vibrating phone out of his pocket. He sighed. “I know what this is going to be.” He pressed the speakerphone button on the screen. “What’s up, Jon?”

“Hey, Bill! I uh… Did you have trouble with the Geometry homework? It looks like random squiggles to me.”

Bill gave Robert a knowing look. The robot smiled back. “Yeah, I got it done.” He looked at the time. “I was going to hit the mall before going to work, but I can come over and help you out.”

“Awesome! Thanks, man!”

Bill shoved the phone back in his pocket. “Didn’t I tell you? I knew it.”

Robert cocked his head. “Why are you choosing to help him if it will deny you leisure time?”

He shrugged. “Friends look after each other.”

***

Robert ran down the street towards the altercation. He had to swerve and dodge around the growing crowd of people outside the men’s dorm. His alarm sounded.

Bill and another young man were exchanging blows. Robert dashed forward, genuine anger flashing on his face. He grabbed the front of the other man’s jacket and hoisted him a foot off the ground. “Cease your hostilities!”

He tossed the man to the ground, where he fell in a heap. The robot moved to place himself between the two combatants. He turned to Bill. “Are you injured?”

Bill wiped a spot of blood from his lip with the back of his hand, glaring at the other man. “Nothing too serious, Robert. I’ll be okay.”

A young woman ran up to Bill. “Oh, my god! Are you alright? What were you thinking, Billy!”

“I’m fine, Mary.” He handed her a small plastic card. “Here’s the money he stole from you.” He glared at the proposed thief.

Robert looked at Bill confused. “Why risk imprisonment for a physical altercation over a small sum of money?”

Bill half-smiled at the woman. “Sometimes you do things because it’s the right thing to do… Even if it doesn’t make sense, I guess.”

Robert nodded thoughtfully before staring blankly back at Bill. “I thought you wanted to be referred to as Bill?”

***

“I do not understand why young Benjamin requires a separate robot to watch over him.” The look on Robert’s face was surprisingly close to anger.

Bill smiled, patting the robot on the back. “You know that I appreciate how much you care for him. Hell, I remember when he was younger! I didn’t think you’d ever let the nanny-bot do her job.”

Robert frowned. “I apologize for my actions.”

Bill grimaced. “Don’t you dare apologize! Friends look after each other. You were just looking after Benji, too.”

Robert nodded, smiling thinly. “Thank you for your kind words.”

“Silly robot!” Bill winked.

***

Robert examined his appearance in the decorative mirror in the entrance hall. His once lustrous blue and gray paint was beginning to noticeably dull. He would need a new face overlay soon, as well.

“What’s shaking, Robert?” Bill shuffled over to a nearby bench and lowered himself down with a groan.

“Nothing is shaking today, Bill. The technicians successfully replaced the motivator in my left shoulder this morning.”

The old man cackled. “I’ve been teaching you slang for seventy years now, and you’ve never heard that one?”

The robot stared off at the far wall, head gently ticking left to right. He turned back to Bill after a moment. “You have not, though my memory banks have degraded zero-point-zero-nine percent since I was first activated…”

Bill smiled. “Silly robot. What were you looking at in the mirror?”

Robert stared at his reflection. “I grow concerned that my gradual degradation will lead you to seek out a newer robot assistant.”

The old man laughed. “If one of us should be worrying about degradation, it ought to be me! I’ve told you before, friends look after each other. You’re my best friend, Robert. You’re not going anywhere.”

Bill struggled to his feet. Robert rushed forward and lent him support. Bill turned to him and patted him on the cheek. “One more thing. For the love of god, call me Billy.”

***

Robert stood back, dusting the dirt off his worn hands. He looked over the arrangement of flowers, judging his work. He nodded, satisfied.

Another robot, much newer, approached Robert. He bore a look of curiosity on his face. “You arrange flowers on this grave every two weeks during the spring and summer months. Why?”

“It is my duty.”

The robot tilted its head. “But Bill Sutherland has been deceased for two decades. You are no longer required to perform this function.”

Robert smiled at the robot. “I am aware. I tend this grave of my own volition.” He shrugged. “Besides, Billy was my friend…” He looked back to the grave. “And friends look after each other.”