Crossword Conundrum – Chapter 7: The Walk to the Art Store

“…why I think ‘Sunlight’ has a good chance of being the answer.”

“You did indeed explain that for an uninterrupted eight minutes, so I am inclined to believe you.”

“There’s a lot of options, though… Puzzles are really hard!”

AR73’s been trying to analyze this final mystery crossword question for the past twenty or so minutes as we’ve been making our way towards the art supply store, which is on the other side of the district, mind you.

I start to see why I might hate AR73 after all– it won’t shut the hell up. I probably shouldn’t have brought up this whole crossword puzzle thing except that Kevin had reminded me about it. I didn’t know robots could be so long-winded.

“I could explain why ‘Lyricist’ most likely ISN’T the answer, if you’d like.”

“You don’t have to. Just tell me which one you think is the most likely of all of them.”

“Well, if I had to judge, I’d need to make a graph about the frequency of usage and–”

“Actually, I’m just going to pick ‘Sunshine.’ That one seems about right.”

“You mean ‘Sunlight.’ ‘Sunshine’ doesn’t end in a ‘T.’”

“Yeah, that.”

“Ah. Then yes, that’s a good one.”

I look back at this crossword puzzle and gaze at the question in question. “Our longtime readers will know this one; some may love it, some may hate it, but most are indifferent.” Hmmmm…

It SEEMS like ‘Sunlight’ would fit. I guess. If I think about it hard enough.

Well, now that I’ve picked an arbitrary answer, the two of us can take a peaceful walk down this quiet urban street for a little while and just–

“What’s your first memory of a tree?” it asks. “I can tell you every single individual moment I’ve ever seen a tree, if I go into memory backup mode. But humans don’t get to do that. You usually forget everything in your life up until the middle of your childhood, and it becomes murkier and murkier as you get older. I think that’s a tragic part of your mortal existence.”

“I can honestly say I have no specific memories of trees,” I say with a sigh.

“Interesting.”

That word, “interesting”. It uses that so, so much. I’m not an interesting person, so I would much prefer if it stopped saying that after everything I say.

This robot is so curious. Every corner we turn, every animal that passes by, every unfamiliar sign grafitti’d into the side of a building– there’s always something to make it ask me a question. Even while discussing the crossword puzzle, it’s had the time to stop and ask me about every little thing that it sees.

It’s like a real-life child, but with the intellectual capacity of a career academic.

Once again, I can’t even imagine how good of friends AR73 would have been with Kobi. If I ever get time to go down to Tallahassee and visit him or something, I’ve got to take this robot with me.

“I often wonder what it would be like to be human,” AR73 says. “To be able to forget things. To misinterpret. There may be a certain artistry that I lack.”

“Perhaps, perhaps. You’ll never get to know, though. Sad for you.”

“If only I were fully sentient…” AR73 lets out a digitized sigh.

I wonder if I can teach this robot about the true joys of life, and by that I mean sit and rest a while because we’ve been walking for nearly an hour now.

“Hey, let’s stop by this park coming up right here,” I say.

“How come? Is there anything going on there?”

“No, I just think you’re missing out on the joys of life if you just walk on the main roads all the time.”

“Well, if we didn’t do that, we’d get lost.”

“Come on, wiseass. It won’t take long.”

“Bad word!”

“Whatever. My swearing is a gift from God.”

We turn and walk into Cofield Park, a pretty small area with some trees and grass and a few kids playing, a few parents chatting or sunbathing. It’s pretty much just an area for nearby families to let their rambunctious little ones tire themselves out rather than the kind of park where anyone does anything special on the weekends or any of that. I’m hoping it’ll be the place where I can tire AR73 out as well, though I’m not sure how well that works with robots.

I sit down at a bench and AR73 sits beside me. “What are we doing now?” it asks. It starts kicking its legs back and forth underneath the seat.

“I’m going to rest for a moment,” I say. “You should go play with those kids.”

“I’ve never met a kid before… I don’t know if I can talk to them very well…”

“Oh, it’s nothing. Come here, I’ll help.” I get up and walk towards the children, four of them, playing frisbee while a middle-aged man sitting on a towel watches them and drinks a diet Coke. “Hey kids, have you ever met a really smart robot?”

The kids stop playing and stare at me blankly. There’s two redhead twin boys, a black girl with long, straight hair, and a black girl with thick, frizzy hair.

“Here’s a new friend for you, AR73. It’s a fun robot who is a kid just like you.”

“Hiya, fellow kids.” It waves.

The kids have no tangible response.

AR73 is caught off-guard by their seeming disinterest. I think it’s going to get sad.

I interject, asking, “Can I borrow your frisbee?” Before the redhead holding the frisbee can answer, I snatch it out of his hands. “AR73, think fast!” I throw the frisbee as fast as I can, and AR73 catches it perfectly, without even turning its head.

“Think what now?”

“Play with the kids.” At this, I walk away, my job finally complete. Now I can–

“Hey, you there,” a voice calls out. It’s the middle-aged man. “You busy?”

“Uh, no.”

“Come on over here and take a seat, then,” he says. I shrug and do so. He hands me a diet Coke can and I snap it open, complete with the satisfying pop and quiet fizz. “How are you doing? I’m Mr. Reynolds.” Nice to see he’s enough of a dad to go by his last name. He sure looks like one, wearing cargo shorts and sandals with socks.

“Morgan,” I say. We shake hands.

“Aren’t they a handful?” he asks.

“I don’t know, I was only with them for a moment.”

“Yeah, well, they are. I love’em to death, but my husband’s carpool still goes to work every day and they’re all too cheap to put’em all in day camp, so I’m stuck with the whole gang five days a week during summer break.”

Summer break? Dang, it IS May 28th already. The year’s nearly half over.

“What do you do, Mr. Reynolds?”

He gives a hearty laugh. “Just call me Pat. I do drafting work at home, but I’m such an early riser, I usually get it all done by the end of the morning. These kids won’t wake up before noon unless it’s a Saturday, and that’s just for their little cartoons.”

“Yeah, I remember those days. I was absolutely in love with Sailor Cure and Stuffed Doll Moll. I wouldn’t miss those no matter what stuff I had planned for the weekend.”

“I was going to say Hong Kong Phooey, but I guess that aged me, didn’t it?”

“Nah, it’s fine. I’m a bit young to be a parent. Er, a robot caretaker I guess.” I certainly feel like a parent escorting AR73 around.

“Sure is a cute robot,” he says. “Is he one of those fancy learning ones?”

“It. It’s a fancy robot learning one, yeah. It’s actually very smart, wants to be an artist and everything.”

“An artist?! That’s crazy.”

“Tell me about it. I’m taking it to the art supply store now, but my feet got tired.”

“Well, you’re welcome to sit here as long as you want, Morgan. I’ll be here until one of them wants to take a nap.”

I take his offer and sit there watching the kids and AR73 play. As is usually the case, the robot has such amazing reflexes that none of the others could possibly trip it up, but they’re all having fun throwing the frisbee in weird ways to force it to bend its limbs to catch it.

Eventually, the kids get bored throwing a disc back and forth and start playing pretend. One of the black girls says they should play Space Fighters and destroy the evil Emperor Xorn. They make AR73 be the emperor, and start blasting it with invisible laser cannons and hit it with sticks.

“What are you guys doing?” it asks. “Who’s Emperor Xorn?”

“You are! Die, fascist scum!” one of the redheads shouts.

“No, I’m AR73, a robot designed to learn and help humans.”

The kids stop playing. “It’s just pretend, robot,” the black girl with long hair says. “You just pretend you’re the bad guy and you have an evil plan to stop us.”

“But I’m not evil. I can’t pretend to be.”

“Ugh, robots are never fun,” one of the redheads says. “Just stand still and let us attack you.”

They continue bashing away until they defeat the Emperor. They try picking AR73 up to throw it to the ground, but it’s too heavy even for two of them. I forgot, that thing has to be at least sixty pounds with all that metal. Karina picked it up and hugged it really easily… I forgot she’s so much stronger than she looks.

“Those kids are just too energetic sometimes,” Pat says. “Sometimes I wish I could just send’em off somewhere and get some peace and quiet. Just a joke, of course.”

“I’ve never even thought about being a parent myself,” I say. “It always seemed like such hard work and just too much effort for the amount of reward you get out of it.”

“Oh, trust me, it’s worth it. My daughter might be a handful sometimes, but she’s the best thing in my life.”

I think I exaggerate how lazy I am sometimes. Having kids hasn’t really come across my mind before, not in a serious way, but I do think I could probably handle some someday. They’re not too bad after they hit, say, three years old, once they’re conscious enough to have a conversation with you. My time taking care of Kobi was perfectly uneventful (besides that part where Lamar showed up and then accidentally brainwashed himself into thinking he was Ness from Earthbound), and I think I’ve hit it off not entirely poorly with AR73. Maybe I could be a parent.

Soon, the kids finish playing and return to Pat, who hands them all Little Debbie snacks and water bottles. “Nice meeting you,” he says. “We’re about to head home.”

“Yeah, it was nice.” AR73 runs to me just like the kids do, and the way it’s looking at me, it seems to be expecting a snack of its own. Sorry, kid. Robots don’t get to eat. That must be sad, honestly.

“You ready to go?” I ask.

“I was hoping to meet some dogs today; always curious creatures,” it says. “It looks like that pursuit will need to be saved for some other time.”

“You’ll see some on the way, don’t worry.” I get up and brush off my pants. I start walking off, when I see dotted groups sunbathing off to the other side of the park. It’s mostly couples hanging out getting tans, but there is one person off by themselves, holding up one of those reflective metal things in order to really get themselves some Vitamin D. That isn’t something I’ve ever “gotten.” I think it’s a white people culture thing anyway. It is a bit odd to see a sunbather sitting by themself like that in the middle of the day.

And when that one sunbather sits up, I suddenly see a familiar face staring right in my direction.

You’ll never guess who it is.

Except that, as hard as my eyes are rolling, you’ve probably figured it out.

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