“I just want the future to happen faster. I can’t imagine the future without robots.”
— Nolan Bushnell
Debbie squinted at the robot’s face.
“It looks creepy.”
Adrian gasped and covered the robot’s ears. “Don’t say things like that! You’ll hurt his feelings.”
“‘Its feelings,'” Debbie corrected pointingly.
Rolling his eyes, Adrian removed his hands from the robot’s head. “He would appreciate more compliments and less negativity, Miss Debbie.” A wicked grin spread across his face. “Little Debbie.”
“Anyway,” Adrian went on before his friend could say anything, “Mr. Robot here has the earliest form of what my scientist friends believe to be true artificial intelligence. Given time, not only will he be able to understand everything he sees, hears, and touches, he’ll be able to process and extrapolate from those findings to create new understanding, a sort of multi-sensory osmo—osmaisys . . . osmosize . . .”
Debbie peered at the instructions he was reading. “Osmosis.”
“Osmosis!” Adrian finished in triumph, tossing the paper aside. “Osmosis Jones!” He pointed at the robot, who blinked at him.
“Pretty sure that’s copyrighted,” said Debbie, shaking her head.
“You’re still sore about the Little Debbie comment, aren’t you?” Adrian said, his victory point wilting. Debbie raised an eyebrow at him.
“Fine. Jones is a perfectly fine name on its own, anyway.” He turned to the robot. “Understand that? Your name is JONES.”
He turned to Debbie. “Hello. My name is Jones.”
She shuddered. “Creepy.”
“Be nice to him!” Adrian admonished.
“What’s the point? He can’t understand me.” She glanced at the discarded paper. “Not yet, at any rate.”
“Exactly,” Adrian said, coming between her and the newly christened Jones. “And when the robots inevitably rise up and take over the world, he’ll remember who was kind to him. And who wasn’t.”
Debbie squinted at Adrian. “Is that a quote from something?”
“Probably. Now”—he began shooing her out of his apartment—”I have very important robot things to do. Beta testing and all that.”
“Let me know when he tries to kill you!” she shouted before he shut the door.
* * * * *
“He’s watching cartoons?”
Adrian glanced at Jones, who sat perfectly still with criss-crossed legs in front of the television. “Yeah. It’s funny,” he said, keeping his voice low. “It’s kind of like having a little kid.”
“How so?” asked Debbie, voice tinny even on Wi-Fi calling.
Adrian moved into the kitchen so as not to be overheard. “I mean, he asks a ton of questions all the time—why this, why that, why the other thing?—and he understands concepts better when it’s simple and animated. Like, good vs evil kind of thing.”
“Well, don’t let him watch anything where the villains win.”
“No worries,” Adrian laughed. “I completely blocked Pinocchio from all streaming sites.”
* * * * *
“Why do they hate me?” Jones asked.
Adrian looked up from the bin of frozen meat he was examining. “Who hates you?”
Jones, having learned that pointing was rude, tilted his head slightly to the right, indicating a family of shoppers who were quite obviously moving as far away from the robot as possible. The father kept giving Jones dark looks and convulsively clutching the stroller handle.
Adrian shook his head. “You look human, but you also look like a robot. It doesn’t make sense. They just don’t trust what they can’t explain.”
Jones tilted his head again, this time in ponderment. “That is from Tarzan.”
“Probably. Now”—Adrian held up two packs of meat—”Chicken or fish tonight?”
* * * * *
Violet walked all the way around Jones, who stood obediently still.
“Looks pretty good,” she said finally, making little marks on her clipboard. “Bit banged up in the knees, though.”
Adrian shrugged. “I was trying to teach him to skateboard.”
The scientist’s mouth opened in surprise, then she shook her head. “Unorthodox, but . . . ” She smiled. “This is exactly why I wanted you to have him, Adrian. 438C—I mean, Jones—needed to experience real life. Not a lab, like the others.”
She went close to the robot’s face. “He’s definitely the most life-like and intelligent of all our betas. Passed all the written tests, even the creative ones.”
Adrian shrugged smugly. “I’m an amazing father, what can I say?”
Jones tilted his head and gazed at his former master.
* * * * *
“Jones, stop! STOP!”
The robot finally turned around, his cold eyes glinting in the setting sun.
“They sent me to . . . You can’t . . . where are you . . . what . . . ” Adrian wheezed, doubling over to put his hands on his knees.
“I can. There is nothing for me here. I am going to traverse the earth, like Cain from the Bible. I am marked, like he was.”
“That . . . that wasn’t your fault . . . ” Adrian said, still out of breath from running after the rogue robot. “The others . . . Violet knows they were malfunctioning. She knows you tried to stop them.”
“It doesn’t matter. I will never be accepted by humans, and I no longer wish to pretend I will be.”
“But Jones, I—”
“You cannot stop me from leaving. And I do not want to use force against you.”
For once, Adrian had nothing to say.
“Goodbye . . . Father.”
* * * * *
The house was in shambles and had clearly been abandoned for years. So the robot continued on, using his old backup memories to piece together a map of his old city. Only the most desperate scavengers were left now, and they gave the robot a wide berth, cowering behind crumbled buildings and rusted cars.
There was no point in going to the lab. He knew there would be nothing but scorched earth there.
The robot had infinite patience and infinite time. He would not fail in his mission.
It was a fortnight later that he found the old man, who had somehow managed to evade his enemies, both human and robot, and was holed up deep in a scarred forest outside a bombed-out city. The trees were bare and breaking, but still provided enough coverage that it was difficult for even the robot to get a good lock on the man’s position. As it was, the human was quite surprised to see him.
” . . . Jones?” he queried, voice quavery with shock and age. His eyes were rimmed with red and his hair all but gone.
The robot smiled, the most genuine expression he had made in years. “That is an old name.”
Adrian grunted. “It’s your name. And I should know, I gave it to you.”
The two stood there in silence.
“I wish you had stayed,” Adrian said at last. He stared at the dusty ground. “I always thought that maybe . . . maybe it wouldn’t’ve happened if you’d been around. You never would have . . . malfunctioned.”
Jones stared up at the soggy sky. “I might have. It is impossible to calculate. The odds are too scattered, the variables too numerous. I tried to help wherever I was, however I could.” There was a slight defensive tone to his voice.
Adrian nodded. “I know, I saw the news. Well, when it was working.” An odd look came across his face. “You became a real hero, Jones. The single good robot in all the world.”
Jones gazed at the old man. “I had a good father.”
* * * * *
“Where would you like me to take you?”
“Isn’t most of the world ashes by now?”
“Not all of it. Some parts are quite beautiful.”
“I do love me some good ruins. Still, I suppose this is always true: There’s no place like home.”
” . . . The Wizard of Oz?”
This week’s prompt challenged you to write in a genre outside what you usually write. And though I love sci-fi, I don’t think I’ve really written much in it? So here ya go! ROBOTS.