Crossword Conundrum – Chapter 9: Shenanigans

It’s not a long time walking before I realize we’ve reached the art supply store already. AR73 is shaking its little stubby legs in excitement, acting the most like a child I’ve seen it do this whole afternoon.

“I love this store,” it says. “I wish they would make one closer to the garage, though.”

“Tell me about it. My calves are gonna be sore tomorrow.”

We enter through the front door; it’s just the sort of small, quiet store filled with twice as many aisles as it actually needs selling every art-related device or tool or material you could ever think of. I generally don’t think of it though, so it may only be impressive to me.

AR73, for what it’s worth, is ecstatic. It grabs items from all over the store, to the point where it can barely hold it all in its tiny hands. I grab a shopping basket and place all of its items in there.

“Thank you,” it says. Very polite. For all the times it’s blatantly rude, it’s a pretty meek little robot.

“Is that everything you need?” I ask. In here are some new brushes and two bottles of paint. 

“No, I wanted to look around and see if there’s anything I forgot about,” it says. 

I raise an eyebrow. “Forgot about?”

“Well, that’s the human expression. What I mean is, I want to see if there’s any items that I don’t need but are cheap enough that I can justify buying. It’s a bit of a complex system but it’s almost the same as your reasoning abilities. I can go into further detail–”

 “I don’t need the technical explanation.”

“Okay.” It goes into the aisle for paint supplies again and looks at the various items. None of it is particularly interesting to me. There’s so many different colors of paint, dozens of easels, and so many palettes that you couldn’t–

One of the palettes floats into the air and circles around me. Another two follow it. What the… They’re robots?

AR73 giggles with its electronic voice. “I didn’t know they had released these to the public yet!” it says. “These are Magitek’s new Living Painter’s Assistants. They float around you while you work, mix the paint for you, and…” AR73 makes rapid beeping noises, and the palettes float around making their own beeping sounds. “They’re very friendly too. They’re built to help people, just like me.” It must have been speaking in binary chirps like R8PR sometimes does; I’m not completely unconcerned that robots don’t have secret, nefarious conversations around all our backs just by flashing or beeping binary signals at each other all day. If the robot uprising takes place without humans realizing it, I’ll say I told you so. Then probably be incinerated as an energy supply.

“It’s kind of cute, but I doubt most painters will want a robotic assistant with them at all times. I think most painters prefer to be alone while they work.”

“Well, they said that about the internet, and now most writers check the internet constantly while they write.” AR73 seems proud it knows this fact, like it’s a good thing that the world is getting perpetually distracted by technology. Robots wouldn’t understand, though. They have one-track CPUs, most of them. “In fact, I really hope there’s a lot more robots in the future. It’s kind of lonely right now, being one of the only robots designed just to be around people and learn things. If there were more like me, maybe we would all–”

I hear some man shouting, “THIS IS A HOLD-UP. PUT YOUR HANDS UP!”

Well, of course something like this was going to happen, because I’m Morgan Harding. I instinctively duck down, and hold back AR73 to make sure he doesn’t run towards whatever’s going on right now.

The man doesn’t see us because we’re in an aisle far from the cash register, but I peek through the easels and past the next aisle, only to see a ski-mask wearing dude holding up a pistol in one hand, and a bag in the other. The other customers in the store are frozen in place, not screaming or running yet but on the verge of it.

The cashier is freaking out. “P-p-p-please. We’re a family company. We don’t keep large bills in the register. Why here?”

“I need the money, okay?” 

“I-I-I can’t!”

“Oh, really?” He raises the pistol in the air and shoots at the ceiling. The bag goes off, and the customers finally start screaming and running out the door.

Idiot wasted two bullets already… If I can just get a good moment in I can walk up to the dude and punch him out. I just need a good time so that I don’t accidentally get anyone else caught in the crossfire. Looks like–

AR73, who is surprisingly unaffected by all of this, begins beeping in quick succession once again. Some binary commands… but why?

The paint palette robots next to AR73 and me fly away and gather around the robber They, too, begin beeping loudly. Joining them are a few toy stuffed bears that run from atop their shelves and a life-sized mannequin hopping towards the cash register on its pedestal. 

The man, who is currently holding out a cloth sack the cashier is filling up with small bills, notices this gathering of electronic AI around him and lowers his gun away from the cashier.

“N-No! Wh-What’s going on here?”

Without warning the robot art utensils begin throwing themselves against the robber, knocking him to the floor. He loses his grip on his gun and it slides away from the register, towards the front door.

While all those robots are ganging up on him, AR73 dashes onto the scene holding some hemp rope, and quickly ties him into a tight bind. Another set of binary beeps, and all of the robots return to their positions in their various aisles across the store.

“That was simple enough,” AR73. “Like I was saying, I hope I can have more robot friends one day. It would be very interesting.”

Interesting is one way to put it.

The cashier claps cheerfully. “Thank you so much!”

AR73 rubs the back of its nonexistent neck and giggles. It needs to stop doing that gesture… it’s too adorable. “It was nothing,” it says.

Well, today was ALMOST uneventful.

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