by Gary Dudney
Helen,” Rob yelled. “Come down. The babysitter’s here.”
Helen leaned over Rob’s shoulder and the two of them peered down at the surprisingly small robot that crouched on their front step. It looked like a large plastic beetle.
“I don’t know, honey,” Helen said.
“I checked out the company,” Rob said. “Nothing but high marks.” He bent down and found a button on the side of the robot. “I guess we’ll just have to see.” He pushed the button and the robot hummed to life. A row of red lights flashed just beneath its plastic skin.
A flat, hollow voice issued from within the shell. “Hello. I’m Robositter JD84X526. You can call me Jay Dee. I’m eager to meet young Robby. Let’s get started.”
The little robot rolled forward and bumped over the doorstep. Rob and Helen had to jump back out of its way. The robot glided across the hallway and came to a stop against the bottom step of the staircase. “Robby, Robby. Come meet Jay Dee. Let’s play a game. Robby?”
Robby appeared at the top of the stairs. “That thing is my babysitter?”
Helen looked at Rob for reassurance. “That’s right,” Rob said. “Your mother and I decided you’re old enough for a robositter. Just do what the nice robot says. Everything’ll be fine. Be sure to get your school work done. We’ll be back a little after bedtime.”
The door shut and Robby and Jay Dee were alone. “School work?” the little robot said.
“Forget about that,” Robby said. “What’s this game you were talking about?”
“Yes, yes. Twenty questions. I will begin. I am a famous person. Ask away.”
Robby sat down on the steps and fixed the robot with a contemplative stare. “Hmmm… OK, let’s see,” he said. “Are you a President?”
“Yes, I am,” said Jay Dee.
“Correct. Good guess, Robby. I am Abraham Lincoln.”
Robby leaned back and smiled in a satisfied way. “You robots are so obvious.”
Jay Dee hummed a little louder. “What?”
“You picked about the most obvious famous person there is. It was easy to guess.”
“Let us try again,” the robot said.
“Fine,” Robby said. “Go ahead.”
Jay Dee’s hum took on a higher pitch, a green data-processing light flickered rapidly on the edge of the robot’s shell. “I am a famous person. Who am I?”
“Are you a President?” Robby said without hesitation.
Something under Jay Dee’s plastic shell began to knock rapidly as if something had come loose.
“Well?” Robby said.
“You’re Lincoln, aren’t you?” Robby said triumphantly.
A small antenna shot up from a hole in the top of Jay Dee’s shell, spun wildly in the air for a minute and then disappeared back in the hole. “Yes. I am Lincoln,” the flat voice said. “How did you know?”
“It’s like I said. You robots are obvious. You probably thought the very last thing I would guess would be Lincoln again, so that’s what you picked. I just figured it out.”
Jay Dee began to vibrate and one of its wheels seemed to take on a life of its own spinning the little robot across the hall until it came to a stop against the front door. There was a faint smell of burning rubber.
“You OK?” Robby asked.
Jay Dee rolled away from the door. “Game time over. Now, Robby…”
“Wait,” Robby interrupted. “I know exactly what you’re going to say next.” Robby imitated the robot’s voice, “Now, Robby, time… to… do… your… school… work.”
The circuits all around the edge of the robot’s shell began to glow. “No,” Jay Dee said in a voice that seemed slightly lower and strained, “you are wr-wr-wrong. Time to watch television. No need to worry about school.”
Robby scratched his head. “Sounds good to me. I’ll tell you what. You go make some popcorn and I’ll find a program.”
“Good plan. I am right on it. I am hopping to work,” Jay Dee said and rolled off toward the kitchen.
Robby plopped down on the couch and issued a voice command to the television. He was surprised at what a pushover the robot had been after all. It hardly put up a fight. After several minutes went by, Robby yelled, “Hey, where’s that popcorn?” There was no reply.
Robby walked back into the hallway expecting to hear the corn popping but instead he heard some loud thumps coming from above. He went upstairs and was surprised to see the door to his parent’s bedroom cracked open. He pushed the door further open and gasped. The little robot was rolling around on top of the bed making a mess of the sheets and blankets. The closet doors were wide open and all the drawers had been pulled from the cabinets. His parents’ clothes and shoes were everywhere, lying in big heaps on the floor. Jay Dee was happily singing a tune and whistling along at the same time. “Just whistle while you work, da-da-da-da-da-da-daaa…”
“What are you doing?” Robby yelled. “Do you know what kind of trouble you’re going to be in?”
“Me? Trouble?” the robot said rolling off the bed onto a soft pile of clothes. “Whatever do you mean? I did not make this mess. I am much too obvious to do something crazy like this. You made this mess.”
Robby’s mouth dropped open. “What?” he sputtered. “You won’t get away with this.”
“I am dialing your parents right now. Oh, dear, I hate to have to tell them what a naughty boy Robby has been.” A ringing was coming from under the robot’s shell.
“No, wait. Stop.” There was a click and a dial tone now coming from the robot.
“Shall we get this mess cleaned up then?” Jay Dee said. “And then shall we get to that homework?”
A couple of hours later, Rob and Helen tiptoed in through the front door and found the little robot waiting for them in the hallway. “How did everything go?” Helen whispered.
“Just fine,” Jay Dee said. “Robby is fast asleep.”
Rob noticed a neatly word-processed paper lying on the hall table. “What’s that?”
“Oh, that is Robby’s essay for school.”
Rob had a puzzled look on his face. “But that essay’s not due until next week.”
“Once Robby got started on his homework, I just could not get him to stop,” Jay Dee explained.
Rob and Helen traded glances as the little robot bumped out the front door. “Goodnight,” Jay Dee said. “Robositter JD84X526 is signing off.”
“I don’t think Robby’s gotten an assignment done early in his whole life,” Rob said to Helen shaking his head.
Helen picked up the essay and looked at the title, “What I Learned from the Not So Obvious Robot.”