So, uh… yeah…
Karina and I are about to meet the robot AR73. But first we get to deal with the owner of O’Conner’s Repairs, one Mr. Kevin O’Conner.
To say that he has made a poor first impression would be to make an understatement of a magnitude tantamount to lying.
“So can we see AR73?” Karina asks.
“Well, it’s busy right now,” Kevin says. “About to finish up with a car. I’m gonna check on him, if you want to come. Follow me.”
“Sure thing,” she replies.
We walk together towards the garage, and he finagles a few keys trying to unlock the side door. “Sorry,” he says. “I’m always afraid one of them Mexicans will barge in here with a gun while I’m not on my guard. I keep it locked just in case.”
Karina nervously laughs, but I don’t have any clue why. It’s obviously not a joke. This Kevin guy’s really getting to me. I regret even considering going here already.
He opens the door to the garage, which is covered wall-to-wall in car parts, tools, and all sorts of gadgets I don’t even know the name of. I see two tiny robot legs sticking out from underneath a car. “Here you go,” Kevin says.
“You’re teaching it auto mechanics, too?” Karina asks. “That’s so cool.”
“Well I figured since I won the grant, I get to show it my way of doing things. Better than all the hippie shit they’d be doing if some college won it. It’s really good, too. I’m gonna lose my job in a few years if I’m not careful. Heh.”
“Well, you two have fun. Well, not too much fun.” He pats me on the back and goes back to the front office. He locks the side door behind him.
The robot wheels itself out from underneath the car and hops up once it sees us. “Oh, hi there!” it shouts, yelling. Its voice is robotic and chirpy, almost boyish in tone.
AR73 is very tiny, at most four feet tall. It has a large spherical head supported by a fat, boxy body. In contrast, its limbs are long and noodly, and seem like they can extend further out to some extent. That’s helpful for a mechanic, but its legs look like they barely support the rest of the body.
“Karina!” it shouts.
Karina bolts over to the robot, picks it up, and hugs it tightly. “AR73! Whoa, you’re getting heavy.”
“They’ve upgraded my exterior recently.” It hugs her back, stretching its limbs out to reach around her. “ It’s been a long while since you came here.”
“Yeah… I’ve been busy with school, work, piano practice, my dad’s jobs… and other stuff.” She looks at me as she says that last one. Hey, it’s not my fault we get sucked into giant conspiracies and battles every other week.
Karina sets the robot down. “It’s been exactly one hundred and two days,” it says to her. “Please be sure not to repeat that again; I was worried you decided to no longer show up here and could not figure out a reason why.”
Karina turns her head to me. “Worried about me. Worried about ME.”
“I worry about you all the time,” I say.
“You’re not a robot,” Karina said.
“Ehhh… Okay, I’ll admit, he’s pretty cool.”
“It,” AR73 says. “It.”
“Ah, sorry!” Karina blushes and covers her mouth. “Really sorry. I forgot to tell you, Morgan.”
“What’d I do?” I ask.
“You referred to me as ‘he’,” AR73 says. “But I’m a robot. I’m not a boy or girl or anything in-between. I am very insistent on that.”
“Oh, didn’t know that,” I say. The only robot with enough intelligence to consider something like pronoun usage is R8PR, and he is, well, a he. It never struck me otherwise.
AR73 shakes its head. “I do not prefer any human pronouns. The human concept of gender just makes no sense to me. I want no part of something I can’t understand.” You can say that again, kid. “But that aside, who are you?”
“I’m Morgan Harding. Nice to meet you, AR73.” I kneel down and shake its hand.
“Morgan Harding… Interesting.” Its eyes flicker, looking me up and down almost exactly the way Kevin did when I shook hands with him a few minutes ago. Why am I the subject of intense analysis all of a sudden? Besides the fact that I’m a “cybernetically-enhanced individual,” but I don’t think you could tell that sort of thing at a glance, even if you are a slightly-advanced robot.
“Well, AR73, have you got anything to show us this time?” Karina asks.
“Of course! I’ll take you into my studio.”
Studio… what kind of robot are we dealing with here? I’m really going into this whole excursion blind. Karina insists she told me about AR73 many times, but I don’t recall it whatsoever.
It leads us into a room on the other side of the garage, a very small area not much larger than a walk-in closet. But I guess robots generally only need a charging port anyway, so this is more than the usual accommodations. Hardly room to walk in here for humans though. Inside this room are all sorts of paintings of various objects, sometimes people. There’s newspaper all over the floor, most of it stained by drips of paint. A bookshelf full of large art books line the wall of one of the more narrow sides.
So AR73 is an artist robot? Never heard of anything like that before.
Looking at these paintings, it’s a bit clear why.
There’s six of them hanging up on the wall, with several more laying against the other narrow wall. One almost looks like a technical blueprint, except it’s supposed to be of a bunny. Another is a bunch of mismatched slops that are probably the robot’s attempt at postmodernism. It looks like an accident.
It runs over to a painting of a sunrise that looks like a seven-year-old tried to photoshop and shows it off. “Look, Karina, I tried to make this for you after the last time you left. You said your family is from the land of the rising sun, right?”
“Uh, that’s not exactly what I meant, but… awwww….”
“Is it good?”
“Well… yeah, it’s pretty good.”
I scrunch up my lips and try to resist saying anything. It’s most definitely not pretty good. But this robot is basically the equivalent of a child, so maybe it’s rude to say anything like that.
AR73 turns to me. “What do you think?”
“Well… I… Honestly, it’s not very good.”
The robot stares at me wordlessly for several moments, and then turns to Karina. “Your friend is too honest. You two should not be parents together.”
Karina turns pale at the very mention.
“Don’t worry, we don’t have any plans to do anything like that,” I say.
“However,” AR73 says. “Thank you for your honesty. I am aware that it’s not to the standard that I would prefer. Painting is… very difficult. Expressing oneself through visuals is difficult when your mind runs on a series of processors and there is always a definite limit to how much you can summon at any given time. I really want to get better…”
“Well, you just have to keep trying,” Karina says. “You’re a lot better than when you were first built!” I shudder to think what its old work must look like.
“I have been trying a lot… I’ve even read up on every art movement from Assemblage to Zeyphyrism, but it hasn’t done me a lick of good…”
“Art is hard,” Karina says. “I understand completely, because– oh crap!”
“I have orchestra practice in an hour! I completely forgot!”
“Oh no,” AR73 says. “Will you be able to make it in time? Your orchestra practices at Georgia State’s concert hall, right? That’s forty minutes by commute.” Robots really don’t forget the details. You have to wonder why there aren’t more robot detectives in the business by now.
“Ah! Morgan, I’m sorry about this. I’ve got to go, okay? Our concert is in two weeks and if I miss a practice this close, I’m toast!”
“It’s alright, Karina,” I say. “Get going so you aren’t late.”
“I’ll call you when I’m done, okay?”
She’s gone as quickly as she came. Burned like a candle in a hurricane. Goodnight, sweet prince.
Just me and this robot now.
So, uh, yeah…
What do I do now?
6 thoughts on “Crossword Conundrum – Chapter 5: The Robot, Finally”
This is your chance, Morgan.
Suggest to AR73 that he should take up vaporwave remixes. They’d be a hit!
I wonder if vaporwave exists in a world where 80s and 90s culture never became outdated… This is a worldbuilding conundrum indeed
There’s Morgan,just breaking the hearts of children.
Now THAT’S what I call a pulse-pounding web serial. Eat dirt, Wildbow