A Boatload of Robots

There’s a website that randomly generates a plot for you. Here is a slightly edited version of one I wrote a long time ago based on the prompt “When a mistake is made, a container of malfunctioning robots go on a riverboat trip.”

Johan Kromp had climbed to the position of captain mostly through being good at shouting at people, and on this day he had been shouting even more than usual. The reason for this was a batch of faulty FutureLife Corporation Robo-assistants had been forced upon him. He had to get them safely downriver to the vast industrial estate that was the FutureLife Corporation Centre for Unusable Products. He had never trusted robots. He wished he had listened to the advice his professor had given him – “There are two places a man who hates robots should never be – Robot Factories, and Riverboats”

Nora been the target of a lot of the day’s shouting. She would be the target of a lot more shouting if Johan was to find out what she had just done.

“Get these damn robots in the container and throw away the key!” he had shouted.

Nora had gotten the robots into the container and she had thrown away the key. That part was fine. The problem was that she had forgotten the crucial step that should have come in between those two tasks – she had forgotten to lock the container. She had been taking care to avoid bumping into Johan as the ship made its way downriver, silently hoping the robots would stay put until they reached the destination.

The first indication she received that her hopes had been snuffed out was the sound of Johan yelling, “MISS SPUCKET! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!”

The second indication she received was a robot with flashing eyes leaping onto the deck in front of her.

“Greetings human can I be of assistance I would very much like to be of service what services do you require I can carry out all basic household tasks would you like me to walk the dog would you like me to walk the dog the dog the dog,” said the robot. It shook its head, turned itself off and on again, and continued, “Sorry I got stuck in a loop of repetition I do apologise can I be of assistance I am a very helpful robot made specifically for your needs.”

Nora told the robot, “You can help me by getting back in the container.”

“Your tone is aggressive would you like me to play some relaxing music I have a vast library containing twelve thousand hours of music here is a relaxing tune for you I hope it helps.”

The robot understood the word “relaxing” about as well as it understood the concept of punctuation, and a jarring syncopated tune burst forth from its speakers. Digital guitars tore up and down scales that were never meant to have been created while something between a trumpet and an ostrich screeched in atonal staccato.

Nora reached out and slapped the robot’s face. The music stopped abruptly. The robot dashed to the wall and picked up a mopping and started flailing it relentlessly at the boat’s deck. Nora sighed and walked away, deciding this one was too far gone to help her.

A few metres away, another was trying to discuss theories about the origin of the universe with a lifebuoy. She reasoned that given the intellectual topic of conversation, this one might be able to help her convince the rest to get back in the container.

“Hey you!” she said.

“Greetings human, can I be of assistance?” it said with more punctuation than the first, “Would you like to join me and my master in a debate about the beginning of the universe?”

“We could discuss getting back in that container,” said Nora impatiently. “I need to do this or Johan will be really angry and I can’t be bothered with that right now.”

Unfortunately she did not have the luxury of avoiding Johan for long. Before the robot could even reply, Johan stormed out onto the deck.

“NORA SPUCKET, I GAVE YOU ONE SIMPLE TASK. THESE DAMN ROBOTS ARE OUT OF CONTROL. SORT. THIS. OUT. NOW!” he roared so loudly that the first robot started playing ‘relaxing’ music again.

“Yeah I’m sorting it. Nice hair by the way.”

“Damn robot insisted on giving me braids before I came out here.”

Johan turned his back to Nora and walked over to the sporadic jazz robot. To Nora’s surprise he did not shout at it. Instead he picked it up, walked to the front of the deck and threw it onto the lower level where the containers are kept. The music stopped and the bent remains of the robot turned its head to look up at the angry man with pretty hair.

“I’m going to try to un-braid this hair. I want every one of these robots back in the container by the time I’m done,” said Johan in a strangely un-shouty voice.

“Some scientists question whether the big bang actually happened” said the robot.

Nora pushed it over the bar to join the first one.

“You appear to have dropped something. Would you like me to clean it up?” said a robot that had silently approached while she had been looking away.

“Yes,” replied Nora, “and when you’re done, put them and yourself in the container and STAY THERE!”

“Yes master, I am glad to be of service.”

The robot jumped over the rail, landing with unexpected grace. Nora watched as it cleaned up the two damaged robots at the bottom. She sighed and turned away when she realised the robot was not in fact cleaning up, but instead simply miming the action of using a broom.

As soon as she went inside she was greeted by a robot who said, “Greetings human, would you like me to braid your hair?”

“No thanks.”

“Excellent! I’ll start right away, Master. Sit down please.”

Nora rolled her eyes and accepted it. If it managed to convince Johan, there was no point arguing.

The hairdressing session gave Nora time to think about what to do. A smile crept on to her face as she remembered that somewhere on the boat was a master controller. It could be used to issue group commands to the entire batch. The smile disappeared when she realised that one of the robots had probably thought it was a lettuce and smashed it into salad. There was no point thinking negatively though – there was still a chance that the controller was usable.

With her hair looking better than ever and a new determination in her stride, Nora went upstairs to the bridge. Fortunately the only robot here was merely reciting Shakespeare to a contented helmsman. She went back down feeling a little more comfortable for knowing they would probably at least stay on course.

Deeming detailed plans a waste of time, she found the nearest robot and asked it, “Where is the master controller?”

“I do apologise, master, for I am currently fully occupied by a task. I must catch this spider,” answered the robot.

The robot held a glass in one hand and a piece of paper in the other – where it had gotten these from was a mystery. On the floor by its feet was a large device that looked a bit like an oversized smartphone. The robot was hopelessly trying to catch it with the glass that had a diameter about half as big as the “spider” it was trying to catch.

“Get out of the way, robot. I can catch this myself,” said Nora, pushing the robot aside.

“Be careful, master! Due to the presence of latrotoxin in their venom, black widow bites are potentially dangerous and may result in systemic effects (latrodectism) including severe muscle pain, abdominal cramps, hyperhidrosistachycardia, and muscle spasms.”

Ignoring the robot’s warning, Nora picked up the device. Since the batch of robots was new, the controller still had the default password of eight zeros. From the section of her training that covered robotics (a topic featured in all reputable riverboat related college courses) she knew that it was voice activated, and would override all other commands regardless of importance.

“All modules, get back in the container and stay there until explicitly commanded otherwise!” Nora shouted into the device.

She ran back out on to deck. She watched as the robots walked – or dragged themselves in the case of two unfortunate ones – back towards the container. She counted as they entered. Right as the 24th and final robot arrived at the container she felt the boat slow down. She had managed to get the robots back in place only just in time for their arrival at the FutureLife Corporation Centre for Unusable Products.

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Author: Laurence Nix

A lot of the time it's just gonna be good old funny weirdo junk. Peace.

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