At the sound of high-heels clacking across the polished concrete floor, Roy and Maurice scrambled to clear their workstation of empty Red Bull cans and candy bar wrappers. They were straightening their white lab coats just as Jennifer Barber, the head of Research and Development, rounded the corner and stalked toward them. Her black suit was a stark contrast to the gleaming white laboratory. Richmond, her faithful assistant, scurried close behind her, scowling while he poked at a tablet with a stylus.
“Gentlemen, the new prototype is ready is it not?” Ms. Barber said as she rested her palms flat on the metal surface of the lab table.
Maurice pushed his glasses up on his nose and nudged Roy with an elbow. “Yes, ma’am,” said Roy, stepping forward. “We just put the finishing touches on it this morning.”
“Excellent. Let’s take a look.”
Roy led them over to another table where their latest creation was displayed – an eighteen inch tall, brightly colored robot with large round eyes that, at the moment, appeared closed.
“What do you call it?” asked Ms. Barber.
Roy ran a hand through his unruly mop of brown hair. “Um, we usually let the marketing department come up with names for the toys.”
“I named him Steve!”
Ms. Barber, Richmond, and Roy turned to look at Maurice who was smiling like an excited child. “Its processors respond better to a one syllable name. I’ve always liked the name Steve.”
Maurice continued to look pleased with himself and Ms. Barber cleared her throat. “Right. Moving on.” She motioned to Richmond and he handed her the tablet. “The spec sheet said that this robot can . . .” She scrolled through a document then read aloud from the page, “gauge the emotional state of the user and alter its behavior accordingly.”
“That’s right,” said Roy. “It scans for things like body temperature and heart rate as well as taking cues from facial expressions and tone of voice.”
“So if the user is sad . . .”
“Ste-, um, the robot will see this and will say something to try to cheer them up. If the person is happy, the robot will be happy with them.”
“Well then, let’s wake it up and try it out, shall we?”
Roy stepped back and Maurice took the lead. He leaned over until he was eye level with the robot. “Good afternoon, Steve. It’s Maurice.”
The robot opened its round eyes. “Good afternoon, Maurice,” a staccato voice replied. “You are in a good mood today.”
Maurice grinned wide at the robot. “Yes, I am. I have some friends I’d like you to meet.” He turned to face the group. “Would one of you like to talk to it?”
Ms. Barber typed some notes into the tablet. “Richmond, go ahead.”
Richmond raised an eyebrow. “Ma’am?”
“Talk to the toy.”
The assistant sighed and walked forward. Looking into the wide, innocent eyes of the robot he said, “Um. Hello. Nice to meet you.”
“You need to be cheered up,” said the robot. “I can sing you a tune.”
Richmond frowned. “That won’t be necessary.”
“Would you like to hear a joke?” asked the robot.
“No, thank you. No jokes.”
Maurice clapped Richmond on the back. “Oh, come on. Steve knows some real knee-slappers.”
“I don’t need to be cheered up.” He adjusted his tie and noticed that the robot’s eyes had changed to a look of concern.
“You are unhappy,” said the robot.
Ms. Barber looked up from the tablet. “I thought you were happy working for me.”
“I am, ma’am.” He sighed. “I’m ecstatic.”
Roy chuckled. “Well, Steve seems to think otherwise.”
Richmond held up his hands. “Okay. I think I’m done playing with your little toy now.”
“No,” said the robot. It’s eyes had changed again. This time to an angry glare. “You are unhappy and you do not want me to cheer you up. There is only one solution.”
Richmond rolled his eyes. “And what is that?”
“End your suffering.” A bolt of electricity shot out of the robot and struck Richmond square in the chest, throwing him back a good ten feet. He landed splayed out on the floor, smoke wafting up from the charred hole in his shirt.
Ms. Barber screamed and dropped the tablet to cover her mouth with her hands. Roy ran over to kneel next to the lifeless Richmond, uttering a creatively blasphemous curse under his breath.
Maurice turned to the robot, grabbing it by the arms and shaking it. “What did you do? Why?”
“I couldn’t cheer him up. So I turned him off.”
“But, Steve, you can’t do that.” Maurice set the robot down and took off his glasses to wipe his eyes.
“You are sad, Maurice.” The robot’s eyes were concerned once again. “Would you like to hear a joke?”
He’s a cute little bugger, isn’t he? How could you not be happy looking at him? And you just turn that bar running through his head to see his different eyes.
Pretty neat, eh? And I’d gone long enough without a body count in one of these stories, so I made sure to have a casualty this month. I wouldn’t want y’all to think I was going soft or something.
Check out my other robot friends over on my Robot-A-Month page.