Chapter 8: Robot Times

In which Oso is menaced by a gun-wielding robot!
 

“Wait,” Stephanie protested. “You beat up Granddad? Because that’s not what he says. He only told the part where he used you as a ball and ended up in jail for terrorism.”

“Let me correct that deceptive notion Oso has conjured. We both ended up in jail, but not for very long. They held us until our parents could pick us up. In my case, I only had a mom. Oso’s dad picked him up.”

“So you weren’t held on charges of child terrorism until your parents could pay the fine?”

“Yes, we were. My mom paid the fines for both of us. She had a good job at Tech and a credit card. Oso’s dad had neither. His family rarely dabbled in money.”

“How did they pay their rent?”

“They grew most of their own food and took handouts for the rest. They did a lot of trading of goods, but his dad would sell a piece of furniture if they needed the cash. He was an amazing artisan.”

“I know. My mom still has some of his pieces. A chest, a bookcase, and a rocking chair. Someday, maybe she’ll give me the rocking chair. That’s what I have dibs on.” She shifted on the couch and sipped her tea, feeling dreamy.

“Yeah, so you can be like all your kind, playing the game.”

“How is inheriting a rocking chair playing a game?”

“What do you plan to do with this rocking chair? Knit? Rock babies? Do women even have babies these days?”

“Civilization hasn’t completely died out yet, so I’m assuming they do.”

“You aren’t women. You merely play at being women.”

“I don’t have to play at anything. I’m a woman by birth. How did we get on this subject? Uncle Gilly, we need to refocus.”

“Do you knit?”

“No, not much. I don’t have time for hobbies.”

“You’re admitting you do occasionally knit, then? You know how to?”

Stephanie closed her eyes for a moment, her fingers to her forehead, and thought things through. Like a teacher with a student, an interviewer had to keep the interviewee focused, allow them some leeway, but direct and redirect the conversation. This had not happened with her granddad, as he was always direct and tended not to go down rabbit trails. There was nothing of the “rabbit” about her granddad. Gilly, as he sat there, a satirical smile turning up half his mouth, was a different kind of person. He might have endless warrens in his brain which she didn’t want to get lost in.

“I have an idea. Why don’t we do these interviews with Granddad? It might be useful to write one book with two perspectives, rather than two books. Also, I’m not sure how this is going to work, with the two of you telling me different stories. I think we should do this as a threesome.”

The chill that entered the room could have frozen the summer sun. True, she had thought of the idea because it fit in with her general efficiency model, but having her granddad control the rabbit trails instead of having to do it herself…it was tempting, to say the least.

The risk was that Gilly would cease having any voice at all, even when her granddad wasn’t present. “We can talk about this later, if you want. We should get this session done first.” When Gilly continued to glare at her, his mouth clamped shut, she reassured him, “No Granddad here right now.”

“No, just his little minion,” Gilly spat.

“You lived near Granddad, right? You became friends?”

“Yes, I guess we did.”

Gilly’s mom had scrimped and pinched until she had enough to buy a parcel of land, a decent singlewide, and a manufactured outbuilding. It was, as already stated, right next door to the Beñat place. There were several empty lots’ worth of space before arriving at the crazy amputee’s place, which abutted the large empty lot belonging to Bernadette’s family. The street went around in a circle and eventually ended up back at Gilly’s house. They all lived on the same street, in other words, even though Bernadette’s house was at the back of theirs.

In recent days, there was a rumor circulating that Oso and Bernadette were an item. Oso had a special charm for girls, especially pretty ones like Bernadette. Gilly couldn’t decide whether he admired Oso or hated him. Oso was…at ease. That was all that could be said.

Perhaps the hatred was never entirely eradicated from Gilly’s perspective, but Gilly and Oso reconciled with each other the day Gilly threatened Oso with a very big robot. Standing at just over six feet tall, it was the largest robot Gilly had ever built. He had to stand on a stool to work on it. But it was clunky and had wires sticking out here and there. Essentially, it was the tin man wired up like a computer, except that it wasn’t made with tin at all, but polycarbonate, which was nearly transparent. But it looked about as dopey as the tin man. Still, it could do things, if he controlled it from the luxury of his PC inside his bedroom in the trailer.

A couple months into the school year, Gilly decided to stop riding the bus to school. The bus held too many memories of bullying. Instead, he took to riding his bike, which got him home precisely ten and a half minutes before the bus. In a strange reversal, Oso had started riding the bus to school. The rumor mill told Gilly this was because Oso and Bernadette made out in the back of the bus. Gilly doubted the veracity, as Bernadette was the type of girl no boy could touch.

For a start, she was the prettiest girl in the seventh grade. Aside from that, when the two disembarked, they were never physically attached in any way. From his dining room window, Gilly could watch them disembark from the bus, and then if he darted to the opposite dining room window, he could watch Oso walk with her down the dirt alley by the side of Agnes’ trailer and across the yard to her back porch, where her mom was usually watering her hundreds of flowerpots.

However, Gilly couldn’t see them disembarking or walking from his bedroom window, where his computer was. That’s why he had a camera mounted behind the robot eyes, which he had arranged to be standing in the middle of the drive. It had taken a lot of engineering to get the robot to the point where it could balance and walk at the height of six feet. But Gilly had managed it with the help of his uncle, who was a materials engineer. No matter that it took roughly forty-five seconds for the robot to take a step. It was essentially a grandiose suit of armor. With a camera. And airguns, created with co2 cartridges, mounted on its arms.

From behind his computer screen, Gilly watched and waited. When Oso and Bernadette wandered into view, he shouted via the mic system, “Stop or die!”

It was perhaps the only time he’d ever seen Oso look startled. So did Bernadette, though she didn’t scream as Gilly had hoped. Oso, recovering quickly, walked up to the robot and knocked on it, as though there might be a gremlin hiding inside operating it. Gilly had played out numerous scenarios in his head, but not one in which the fear and wonderment would be lost so quickly. He had to act fast in order to recoup.

With his sights set, he raised one of the air rifles and shot at the intended target, a garbage can across the road. Bernadette, her eyes wide, reached out as though to take hold of Oso’s arm, who appeared to shove her roughly away from him; Gilly couldn’t see, as Oso was so close to the robot he was out of camera range. That was a pity because in a matter of seconds, the camera range was the wide blue desert sky. It was a picturesque shot, with a V of geese flying overhead, so peaceful, so…. Oso had knocked the robot over! Gilly’s life work, not respected, not feared, bowled over by a stupid fascist pig.

Gilly leaped from his chair and hurtled himself through the trailer and out the door. “What have you done?”

Oso shoved him in the same way he’d done to the robot, but Gilly stood his ground. “What have you done? Were you shooting at us?”

“No, I was shooting at Mrs. Brennan’s garbage can! It’s just an air rifle. It shoots BBs.”

“You’re such a dumbass! You still could have killed someone. Bernadette was terrified, weren’t you, Bernadette?”

The mock pretense of care in Oso’s voice made Gilly sneer. “She was not. She didn’t even look terrified. That was you who looked like you were going to wet your pants. I’ll bet you did wet your pants. Maybe your babysitter Bernadette will change your diaper for you.”

At that, Bernadette let out an indignant sounding gasp. Clearly, she wasn’t into being a babysitter. Now wanting to ignore Oso’s presence in his driveway, Gilly dropped to his knees and checked his robot for damage. Oso leaned over him.

“Did you make that thing?”

“Yes. Well, my uncle helped me. But, yeah.”

“That is awesome. What’s it made out of?”

“Polycarbonate.”

“Where did you get the money?”

“We started it when I was seven. Five years ago.” Gilly shrugged as though it were no big deal. No big deal at all—something every fatherless child did with his uncle. “Polycarbonate’s not that expensive.”

“How did you shoot it from over there? How do you operate it?”

“From my computer. Dumbass.” The last part he mumbled.

“Can I see?”

The eager desperation in Oso’s eyes gave Gilly some satisfaction—quite a bit more, in fact, than the fantasies of causing Oso to wet his pants. Oso, a non pants-wetting boy, suddenly admired Gilly. Gilly felt no little smugness at the realization. Sarcastic retorts flashed across his mind; so did thoughts of extorting money form Oso. Finally, he decided an alliance with the fascist pig might be of greater value.

“Sure, why not? Wanna Coke? I mean, you can’t have a Coke anywhere near my computer, but….” Suddenly, Gilly remembered Bernadette, who still stood there, her arms crossed, mild interest lighting her eyes. “And your girlfriend’s not allowed.”

“I am not his girlfriend.”

“You only wish you could be,” Oso retorted. “Now go on home, we have computer stuff to do. Stuff you wouldn’t be interested in.”

“I’m surprised you’re interested,” Gilly told him, “since you’re just a dumb jock.”

“Yeah, whatever, hurry up.” And Oso shoved him toward the trailer.

Oso was such a barbarian, but perhaps a trainable one. “Help me stand him up again, if you want to see anything with the camera.”

“Oh, sure.”

They set the robot upright, and then headed for the house. With just the tiniest bit of remorse, Gilly glanced back at Bernadette. Why hadn’t he invited her inside? It might have been the first and only chance he had to bring a pretty girl in his room. She stood there, her arms still crossed, staring at them forlornly. Finally, she walked away with her shoulders hunched.

The glimmer of remorse disappeared, however, as he and Oso disappeared inside his room. Bernadette would have been a distraction, nothing more.

“Wow, you have a whole room and desk to yourself,” Oso said.

Again, Gilly could see an eager desperation on Oso’s face. Oso was jealous of what Gilly had: a nice computer in an uncluttered space all to himself. Smug came closer to what Gilly felt, knowing that.

“Okay, so camera’s on, and there’s no activity. Wait, wait, here comes Agnes. She goes for walks around this time.” Gilly giggled wickedly. “Stop and pay the toll!” he shouted at Agnes with the mic.

She halted and looked around for the source of the voice. When she spied the robot, she backed away.

“How do you shoot?” Oso asked. “Oh, I see.” And he reached out to play the controls as though it were a video game.

“You can’t shoot a crazy old lady!” Gilly shouted.

But it was too late; Oso had already pulled the trigger, as it were. “I don’t know what your problem is. I was only shooting at the garbage can,” he said mildly as the BB hit its target.

Agnes gave a muffled shriek, and she ran away as fast as she could hobble. Gilly swung the camera view in the direction she ran. After a few feet, she lost her footing and crumpled to the dirt. Then Bernadette came into view and knelt by Agnes’ side. Apparently, she was always willing to help someone in distress. Or show Oso and Gilly how bad they were by being dishonestly good.

“Not her again,” Oso said. “She interferes with everything.”

The boys looked at each other and understood, or at least, Gilly believed they did. They were on the same wave length for the first time. They got up and ran outside, past the robot, and to Agnes’ side, where they shoved Bernadette out of the way. More indignant noises.

“You have serious problems, Oso,” Bernadette said. “I think you need to get help. You’re like a sociopath or something.”

Bernadette was always focused on Oso. Wasn’t the robot Gilly’s? He was the one who should have been labeled a sociopath. Oh, my God, what was he thinking? He was jealous that Bernadette had called Oso a sociopath. Why was she still hanging around, anyway? Couldn’t she accept rejection for what it was?

Ignoring her as best he could, Gilly offered Agnes his hand. At first, the crazy lady shied away from him, but she finally relented and allowed him to help her up, using his shoulder as a crutch all the way to her trailer. But she didn’t look happy at all, and she didn’t appear to trust either of them in the least. Without any more ado, she went inside her trailer and slammed the door shut in their faces.


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