Pepper, The Friendbot
Pepper, The Friendbot9 mins 243 9 mins 243
Pepper, the children's Friendbot, walked around her best friend, Daliah's room, waiting for her to zoom home from school. It would be her favourite moment of the day. Like everyday, she arranged her books, brushed off the microscopic layer of dust from the desk, and straightened the chair. The household work was done by Gordon, the Housebot. He didn't like interference in his directive but let Pepper do that teeny tiny bit despite his deep annoyance.
Now, Pepper was a gift from Daliah's parents when she turned five. As soon as Pepper was powered on and programmed to be Daliah's, a smile had appeared on his face. "Hello, I'm Pepper, your new best friend!", she had recited in a squeaky voice. Daliah had jumped in joy. "Yaay! I'm Daliah! Come with me to my room, bestie!" And she took Pepper by her hand and dragged her off to her room, bouncing up and down along the way. The two became best friends instantly. Pepper was Daliah's playmate, confidant and partner in crime.
But, times change. While Pepper remained the same three feet tall white AI run children's Friendbot as she always was, Daliah was almost fourteen now, and honestly, she no longer needed a playmate and a partner in crime.
Daliah was starting to take an interest in the long haired boys at school and at first, she started to look to Pepper for dating advice for which Pepper, sadly, wasn't programmed. Although, she tried her best, scouring dating advice from the internet, Daliah realised that Pepper's advice lacked the human touch or the maturity that her schoolmate, Trish could provide. Eventually, she stopped confiding in Pepper as well.
Occasionally, when Daliah wanted to go out with a boy, she would ask Pepper to tell her parents that she was at Trish's place, working on school projects. Pepper was more than compliant to follow, not knowing that she would infact be lying. The truth is, Daliah would never tell Pepper that she would be going out with a boy. "She's a robot, and will tell mumma the truth," she thought.
As a children's Friendbot, Pepper's directive was simple - be the best friend to your human. Every Friendbot rolled out by Magnus Industries Inc. had been programmed to walk and talk like a human, but have the loyalties of the dog, an ancient four-legged creature that could roll over, wag tail, lick and protect. Naturally, Pepper wasn't programmed to pick up on why Daliah was changing. Now, it was not uncommon for a Friendbot to display basic feelings, however, Pepper felt something she couldn't not describe. If she were human, she would realise she felt hollow because she missed Daliah.
Despite feeling the way she did, Pepper was excited today. It was Daliah's fourteenth birthday and Pepper had a gift for her, a telephone made out of a copper wire and two tin cans on either end. Pepper had spent almost two hours browsing through her memories and found the perfect moment. Daliah's grandfather had taught her about the tin can telephone, which he had learnt from his great grandfather, who had learnt it from his grandfather. Once Daliah taught it to Pepper, that is the only way they communicated for an entire summer, and each conversation would end in giggles. Pepper was sure that the tin can telephone would make her Daliah's best friend once again. It had to. So, she having arranged Daliah's desk, raced off to the door and sat at the stairs, gift in hand, waiting for her to return.
It was almost two hours past four and Daliah still wasn't home. Her parents would return in an hour and Pepper wasn't told to inform them that she was at Trish's place. Confused and worried, Pepper walked up to Gordon and announced her plan to go to Trish's house and bring Daliah home. "Gordon, I must find Daliah. She is late. I remember the address of Trish. I will go and inquire!", she squeaked authoritatively. Gordon spun around. He was making cookie dough and was wearing an apron. Pepper took one look at him and started giggling. "You look funny!"
"Oh, grow up, Pepper! Must you giggle everyday? I wear an apron when I cook, get over it. Now, what's this about going to Trish's house?"
"I must find her. Goodbye, Gordon!" Pepper made a serious face and raced off, the tin can telephone still in hand, before Gordon could deliver a lecture on how bad an idea this was. As far as Pepper was concerned, Gordon wouldn't understand.
Pepper had never been outside on the road by herself. When Daliah was younger and refused to leave Pepper's side, Daliah's parents would take Pepper along with them on trips. And they always took their zoomcar. As a result, Pepper's plan to simply follow the GPS signal to Trish's address didn't quite work out the way she had expected as soon as she hit the main road.
Two Trafficbots glided up to Pepper and directed her to take the zoomtubes if she had no vehicle. When they found out that this was her first time on the road, they noted her identification number and the address she was headed to and gave her exact zoomtube directions. "Zoomtubes can be a little confusing, kid. Follow the directions or you'll be lost. And put that can thing in your cabinet, will you? It could get caught in something and there could be an accident." And they glided back to their post, managing the evening zoomcar and zoombike traffic.
Pepper's memory had registered the zoomtube directions and she managed to reach Trish's house without any hassle. Now, Pepper had the ability sprout wheels underneath her feet, like rollerblades. Therefore, it took her less than fifteen minutes to reach Trish's house when she took the zoomtubes. But, once she was outside Trish's door, she stopped. There was dance music blaring from inside. Should she be here? Should she knock? What if Daliah was already home?
Just as Pepper decided to turn around and head home, a young teenager opened the door. "Aww, look at you, you cute little thing! Thought I heard somebody at the door! Who do you belong to?"
"Oh, hello!", Pepper squeaked. "I'm Daliah's."
"Damn! Hahaha! Are you a Friendbot? Always knew that girl was weird, never thought she had a Friendbot! Anyway, I'm Trish! Nice to meet you, you cute little robot! Come in, I want to introduce you to all my friends!" And she threw the door wide open, revealing dancing lights and dancing humans. "Everybody! Stop dancing! This is Daliah's Friendbot!"
Now, Pepper maynot have been programmed to be the brightest robot but even she understood that Daliah had never told her schoolmates about her. As the crowd laughed and jeered, Pepper smiled awkwardly and waved. However, to her great relief, she spotted Daliah who had just appeared from behind the crowd. Trish yanked on Daliah's arm and made her stand beside Pepper. "Seriously, girl? A Friendbot?"
Daliah quickly glanced at Pepper and started explaining. "Oh, this old thing? It was a birthday gift when I was five, guys! What would I do? Throw it away? Besides, it's useful! Keeps my room clean!"
Pepper could not believe what she was hearing. She certainly was glad that she had hidden the tin can telephone inside her cabinet. Dejected, Pepper tugged on Daliah's shirt and squeaked, "I'm sorry. I'll go home." Behore Daliah could say anything, she rolled out of Trish's house, and headed straight to the zoomtube. Quietly, she came home and went up to Daliah's room. She had made up her mind.
That night when Daliah returned home, prepared to apologise to Pepper and explain to her that she had to say what she did or her friends would mock her for having a Friendbot, something only losers who couldn't make friends had, she didn't know she would find a powered down Pepper in the corner of her room.
At first, Daliah thought Pepper was damaged. She panicked and started crying. But as soon as she turned on the power button and Pepper softly whirred back to life, she laughed in relief. "You almost gave me a heart attack, Pepper! Listen, I'm so sorry! The truth is, it took me a lot of struggle to make friends with the cool kids at school, so I just wanted to make an impression on them. They are the ones that get picked for theatre club and I just wanted to be a part of that. In fact, I got selected today, for the school play! I'm sorry I didn't tell them about you or tell you about them. I'm sorry I haven't been talking to you much, lately. It's just that dating and girl talk isn't really your thing, you know. And, I'm growing up. So, I just wanted to do my grown-up thing. But when I saw you at Trish's today and the way you left after you heard me, I realise how wrong I was. Talk to me, Pepper!"
But Pepper didn't talk. Daliah frowned. Something was amiss. She found Pepper's instruction manual. Daliah was well versed with robotics from school and so understanding the manual wasn't difficult. Carefully, she read the instructions, turned Pepper around and popped open her operating cabinet on the back.
After a while of clicking and swiping around on the little screen inside, a message appeared on it. "This Friendbot has been reset to its factory settings. Old memories are unavailable. Please enter fresh commands to customise your Friendbot." Daliah's face fell. She didn't know how Pepper did it but somehow she knew that it couldn't have been anyone else. "Why, Pepper? Why? I'm sorry, I'm so-sorry!", Daliah sniffled, but there was nothing left to do. She touched the screen again and another message appeared. "The front cabinet is full. Please remove contents before entering fresh commands."
Curious, Daliah turned Pepper to her front, opened her cabinet and reached for its contents. She took out a tin can and stared at it. It looked like a wire was attached to its bottom. She tugged on the wire and another tin can attached to the wire fell on her lap. "Oh! Oh my God! It's the tin can telephone, isn't it?" Daliah laughed and cried at the same time. She had realised this was her birthday gift. Quietly, she looked at the tin can telephone and reminisced her childhood. It was a good thing to grow up and make friends, but it was equally important to remember those who loved you when you had no friends. She knew what she had to do.
Daliah cocked her head and flexed her fingers. "Ok, Pepper, let's enter fresh commands. And the first thing in your memory files will be my promise to remake every memory we ever made, and another promise to make an infinite number of new ones. Also, I'll set you to the young adult setting this time. After all, we're both grown-ups now!"