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Dr Smith headed off into the afternoon, holding what appeared to be a medium-sized trash bin with five arms sprouting from the top of its lid.  He did not struggle under the weight, but rather carried it the way a sanitation engineer would, arms at right angles and shoulders relaxed, striding quickly away.  Despite his minimum of fuss, he was quite a sight and sound to behold in the nearly empty lobby, divested of his white lab coat and identification card usually in the breast pocket, an old man walking with dignity with an undignified object.
Much like an old-fashioned trash can, the robot had a shiny metal surface, or at least, a surface that had once been shiny, perhaps a decade ago.  The shell was dented, burned and bore watermarks that displayed its main function:  cleaning.  The wheels at the bottom did not add to its beauty:  of the six wheels, only two rotated, but luckily the robot’s small dimensions in the x-y axes made for an excellent turning radius.  This was a robot not likely to see the outside of a lab.  Various models of infrared sensors were prominently displayed, akimbo, not in line with any axis of the automaton at all.
The metal handles Dr Smith held near the top of his robot he had welded there himself before the robot became his janitor.  Originally, he had taken a metal trash can and tinkered with it not intending to play with robots in the same way he played with cells.  First, he reduced the diameter and began building the brain of the creature, a few motherboards he had never exchanged since their installation.  The wheels and the sensors were added next, passive infrared detectors to guide its motion.  As each generation of passive infrared detectors came out, the older ones were left behind as badges of progress.  The motion of his mobile robot had always been Dr Smith’s joy at the end of a long day.
When regulations were passed regarding Dr Smith’s line of work making it hazardous, the Company refused to get a human janitor for his lab, citing cost.  He would be better off making a researcher do it, or so he had been told.  A cleaner would have to go through rounds of training, and, as one investor put it, “be more qualified than you are, Doctor, in order to clean up after you.”  
The original hand, a grasper formed by joining two metal rods swept and mopped, but could not run a vacuum cleaner or dust the very upper shelves:  this Dr Smith did by himself for a time.  He had played with the design of that for a while, wondering if he should improve it, perhaps articulate the elbow joint to accomodate an extra joint, but abandoned the idea because he would have had to reinforce the shell to take a heavier weight.  When identification cards and closed doors became standard at the company, Dr Smith was forced to add weight, add an arm with an identification card (which Geraldine insisted be taken away, leaving a lonely elbow joint with no upper arm) and get the wheels to lock.  Since the weight had already been tripled, Dr Smith put on a longer grasper to dust the upper shelves.  And eventually, two arms longer than the body of the janitor’s height, with fully articulated hands, nearly humanoid, completed the circle of five hands.  The effect of the arms bulging from the top with one arm clearly chopped off at the elbow made the tin can seem like an overeating spider which has tripped and fallen down the stairs.  Unwieldy and capricious, each shift in weight made a tinny noise resound somewhere in the base near the wheels.
As Dr Smith and his robot clinked and clanked to the curb outside of the Company’s main administrative building, he resisted the urge to lash out in rage at the other employees around him.  At a ripe age of seventy five, he needed his hefty severance package and the protection that the Company could give him.  Most of all, he wanted to be home and ignorant of the repossession of his lab and its materials, his prized machines and formulas, his mahogany desk and his pristine, chemical-proof lab benches.  Dr Smith settled his robot down onto the sidewalk and stretched his arms.  Once he was satisfied that he would be able to carry his charge, he headed north to the bus stop.
It was still too early for the lunch crowd and too late for the morning rush.  Dr Smith walked three blocks through empty streets with garbage and plastic bags whipping between the tall buildings.  Tunnels of wind formed dust devils, pushing Dr Smith back and forth with his load.  The hands of the robot swayed with the changes in air pressure.  Devoid of people, the bus stop they approached seemed lonely, too.  The glass enclosure had timetables, a map and a tiny bench.  Placing the janitor next to the small bench in the bus stop, he stood and leaned against the glass.  If what Geraldine had told him was correct, this bus would take him home after a long ride.  He patted the sawed-off arm of his robot as if to say “at least I have you, old friend.”
The bus arrived like any other bus, driven by a driver similar to other bus drivers in the city, with a  dull navy uniform.  Those drivers all drove buses with the same configurations of chairs, poles and handholds.   The large number of buses in the city, in the country and in the world are the copies of what must have been the first bus made in this world, with a wheel there and a window there and a solid display up front, and everything according to an original plan.  Roads are like buses in this way, copies of other roads with recycled street names and grey-black asphalt with yellow and white lines laid down just so.  Down every road, Dr Smith could expect to find a certain amount of roundabouts and intersections, on-ramps and exits which eventually all lead to a destination, the suburb which held his house.
Dr Smith’s tummy rumbled as he carried his robot off the bus and out into his suburb, quite a ways away from his street.  Still, locomotion is cheaper than a taxi, and so he steeled himself for the walk home by imagining the lunch he would have to celebrate the end of his working career, really, his entire career in effect, as no one would want to hire some washed-up and recently fired scientist.  Without the Company’s car, he’d have to use his own feet more often.  He could set up his robot, perhaps outfit it with some legs to navigate the stairs, and be free of chores forever.  Except, of course, fixing the robot when it broke.  
Cutting through his neighbor’s yard to his backdoor, he could see a commotion in the eat-in kitchen.  Through the window, three men of different ages sat around the table.  One appeared to be in his early fifties and sported a similar hairline to Dr Smith’s, that is, a receding hairline.  Another man, in the prime of his life, probably his twenties sat next to a teenager with long, dark hair.  The elder set his sandwich on his plate and wobbled upward from his seat at the dining table to greet Dr Smith.
“Harold.”  The feeble man began to fiddle with his jumper.  “Well, would you like some food?”
“Yes, that would be nice,  Harry.”  Dr Smith set the robot down near the entryway.
“Cool!  Is that your cleaner robot?”  The young boy jumped up from his lunch and began to poke and prod the robot’s arms.  “Why does it have five arms?  What do they all do?  Do these sensors even work?  Man, this one is old and useless.  What does it run on?”
“He’ll tell you later, its time for lunch.”  Harry tapped the hooligan and lightly pushed the boy back towards the table.  “Can you set a place, Hare?”  
“To what do we owe the honor?”  The young man jumped up and got out utensils and a plate, avoiding the teen who was skulking back to his chair.  
Taking the newly set place, Harold remained silent.  
“Yeah, Harold, why are you home early?”  The teen picked up his sandwich and looked it over.  “No experiments to run or anything?  I thought you were working on another round of chicken clones.”
Harry cleared his throat while he relaxed in his seat.  “Maybe we should eat.”
“I’m sure he’ll tell us eventually.  I mean, you’ll tell us.”  After sneaking a glance at Harold, Hare dished out salad to Harold’s plate.  “No need to rush things.”  Hare put together a meal exactly the same as the ones on the other three plates, ham and cheese with mayonnaise and mustard.
“You got fired, didn’t you?”  The young teenager smirked.  “I’m rarely wrong.”
Harold harumphed and took a bite of his sandwich as the other three also bit into their identical treats.  The perfect ham and cheese sandwich which Dr Smith enjoyed is a work of art.  Half mayonnaise and half mustard was spread first on the bread which ended up facing the ham.  The cheese was a strong cheddar, but not strong enough to overpower the tang of the mustard.  A soft, nicely chewy concoction was the end result which pleased the foursome’s palates.  Each of the four jaws worked on the main entree of the meal in similar motions, up and down over and again, before swallowing.  
“You know,”  Harry smiled.  “Its nice to have lunch together, don’t you think?”
Hare nodded, and Harold just continued chewing on another bite.
“Whatever.”  The teen stood up without excusing himself.  “It’s hard enough with the three of us being home at lunchtime, but with four?  Isn’t two meals a day enough?  I’m out of here.  I’m tired of this quadruplet freakshow.”


puffy_wuffy: bunnytongue (Default)

November 2010

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