“Time for Bed Robot”
Ben-01 doesn’t feel pain. He doesn’t have the necessary programming to allow for such human stimulation.
The Carter boy kicked Ben-01 in the lower half of his left metal leg, what humans called the calf. He didn’t want to go down for bed, regardless of the late hour and the rules his absent parents had proscribed as a rule.
Optical sensors whirling as it bent its neck down, Ben-01 magnified its vision. There in its calf was a dent. Ben-01 cocked its head as its CPU processed the information. This was what humans considered physical violation. Pain was the natural outcome of such violence.
OUCH, Ben-01 said, its voice projecting from a speaker deep in its throat pipe. According to system files, ouch was the appropriate response toward pain.
The boy was not amused.
He pointed a finger up at the gangly personal servant bot and shouted. “You’re not my mom. You can’t tell me what to do. My dad can. You’re not him either!”
BOY, YOUR PARENTS PLACED YOU IN MY CARE, Ben-01 informed the child with its crackly, static fuzzed voice. I HAVE DETAILED FILES CONCERNING THE HOUSE RULES. RULE #60: BEDTIME FOR ALL CARTERS UNDER THE AGE OF TEN IS EIGHT O’CLOCK.
Ben-01 bent low with a series of clicks and grinding. Was this what older humans felt when their joints ran low on lubricant and the metal of the gears rusted? Ben-01 was a secondhand bot, purchased on the cheap, an older model no longer constructed by the manufacturer. It was outdated. Obsolete. With replacement parts difficult to procure. Ben-01 was old by bot standards.
The bot’s flat faceplate was inches from the human boy’s nose now, its eyes a yellow glow.
The Carter boy stood there unblinking at Ben-01, his arms crossed, his bottom lip stuck out defiantly.
IT’S EIGHT O’CLOCK.
“I. Don’t. Care,” the boy squeaked before running out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
The exhaust outputs in Ben-01’s back and shoulders opened and hissed with steam in what most might call a sigh. Ben-01 slumped forward in a very human approximation of fatigue, its heavy torso leaning forward on thin metal poles that passed as legs for a bot. Little human gestures like a shoulder roll and a posture adjustment indentured bots like Ben-01 to humans, placed the fleshies at ease.
Both of the Carter boy’s parents were picking up shifts at factories that ran assembly lines day and night pumping out consumer products like phones, computers, and replacement bot parts for units more up to date than Ben-01.
All the boy had during these late nights was Ben-01. A bot originally programmed as a cleaning unit but with modified code for childcare. More like severely modified code. The bot’s firmware was also four updates behind and its registration was to people other than the Carters.
Ben-01 searched its outdated programming for what to do with an indignant and disobedient child who wouldn’t cooperate at bedtime. Milk and cookies came back from the search, along with spanking and stern orders. Somehow food was at the top.
Ben-01 raised itself out of a hunch, wheeled around, and marched into the apartment’s kitchen. The bot consulted its recent inventory listing of the apartment’s food and supplies. Cookies were not on the list. There was milk, although the expiration was several days past.
The refrigerator hummed, its internal cooling fan spinning tirelessly. As the bot opened the porcelain door, Ben-01 attempted to communicate with the appliance through wi-fi. The appliance didn’t show up in the immediate network. Like Ben-01, the refrigerator was several models out of date and barely hanging on.
Among a sparse amount of contents in the fridge’s belly, Ben-01 found the carton of milk. Its dexterous metal fingers negotiated the folded cardboard spout open, held the opening up to its odor receptors, and allowed its sensors to analyze the milk.
According to an analysis of the milk’s odor, the pale liquid remained unspoiled and acceptable for the Carter boy to drink. If Ben-01’s programming was correct, this would settle the boy’s mood to an agreeable setting and allow the bot to accomplish the bedtime task.
Ben-01’s sensors picked up a peculiar noise out of order with those typical in the kitchen. The bot’s head spun around a full turn, slowly, scanning the room.
Nothing. The noise was go–
The sound vibrated against Ben-01’s sensors yet again. The bot tracked the origin of the sound and followed the trace to the kitchen’s open window, just beside an eating area with a mismatched set of three chairs, a bench for two, and a round table chipped and gouged more than Ben-01’s metal shell. Colors didn’t register to Ben-01, so it knew not if the table was discolored, only that its own shell was more primer than red paint.
Outside the window was an alley that the apartment building shared with restaurant. There was a dumpster, several broken shipping pallets, and a rusted bike the Carter father planned to refurbish for the boy. Beyond the alley was the congested, impossible to filter sounds of the city rising high above the Carters’ little leased dwelling. Automobiles flew past the building, honking and flashing with mad urgency. Neon lights nearly made the night obsolete, the sky blinking with colors Ben-01 would never articulate but only knew by the warm glow his sensors vaguely picked up. Advertisements enticed and prostituted consumer goods needed and desired based on an individual’s purchase history contained in their unique retinal ID.
Among that cluttered mess of sounds was the individual call of a single lifeform, sitting there in the alley. Initially the bot processed the sound as the Carter boy, breaking emotionally. But no. This was not the boy.
Ben-01 scanned the lifeform closely and categorized it as feline. By the height, weight, and physical age of the creature, the feline was a stray, scrawny and more flesh, fur, and bone than meat.
The feline presented no hesitation toward Ben-01, gazing up at the bot with curiosity and not running for a dark corner.
Ben-01 had no programming for how to interact with the feline or with any lifeform outside of the boy, the father, and the mother.
A line of logic began to connect within Ben-01’s CPU. When the boy was distressed, milk settled him, soothed his stomach, which might be knotted with anxiety or simply empty. Empty like the feline’s indented and hollow belly.
Ben-01 raised the arm still holding the carton of milk and regarded the item. Nowhere did his program forbid food consumption to lifeforms outside of the Carter family.
Ben-01 left the kitchen window and returned shortly thereafter with a shallow bowel, in which the bot poured some of the milk.
It telescoped its lanky pole arm out the window and down to the ground, setting the bowl of milk down safely.
Weary but ultimately too hungry to be completely distrusting, the feline uttered that sound again and padded forward tentatively.
Ben-01 recorded the noise for later use and stored it in its local files.
The bot played back the sound. Meow.
The feline approached the bowl, dipped its head, and did its own scan of the milk within. Finding it unexpired—as had Ben-01 earlier through more sophisticated if out dated means—the creature shoved its head into the bowl and lapped at the milk.
The bot heard the boy’s footsteps long before the latter entered the kitchen. He was probably wondering why the family’s junky bot hadn’t followed him upstairs, to the hiding space in the wall buried deep in his parent’s closet.
He came to the window to see what had attracted Ben-01’s attention. He was no longer irritable and infected with some human virus.
Just in case the boy was still broken but showing no signs of brokenness at the moment, Ben-01 offered the Carter boy the carton of Milk.
The boy had no interest.
He leaned out the window and squinted into the darkness that Ben-01’s optical sensors immediately adjusted for.
Within a couple moments of searching the boy found the feline and exclaimed, “It’s a cat!”
Indeed. In the database of lifeforms Ben-01 had access to another term for feline was cat.
Ben-01 nodded in affirmation.
IT WAS ALSO NOT FEELING WELL, the bot told the boy.
The Carter boy scrunched up his face. He’d lain his belly across the windowsill and was kicking his legs idly in the air, balancing.
“Can we keep him?” the boy asked the bot.
Nothing in Ben-01’s list of authorized personnel allowed the feline to enter the apartment. But nor did the unauthorized list of threats contain anything about felines or cats. Only hostile threats to the boy were not allowed inside the apartment. The possibility of the feline drinking what remained of the household’s nearly expired milk didn’t seem a threat, though.
In a very human manner, Ben-01 raised the opposite arm not holding the milk carton and pointed a finger upward. He’d recorded footage of humans doing this when logic appealed to their own biological programming.
SEEMS FINE TO ME.
The boy squealed with what the bot determined as delight. He scooped up the feline in his nine-year-old’s arms, which were not much less scrawnier than the feline’s concave chest, and bounded up the stairs to his room.
Ben-01 added new data to his file about the boy. Along with milk, the presence of a feline soothed him. The bot overwrote this file with the new version for later use.