Chapter 5- I Think My Heart is Stopped

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Here’s what happened in my last post- Chapter 4, What Plant Container? Mr. P takes Curly and Maria out of a meeting to tell them that he needs Curly to go on a mission with a drone named Scout. Maria isn’t too sure about the whole idea.

Now, on with the story!

I Think My Heart is Stopped.

Mr. P led Curly through a set of double doors and into a large, windowless room that was divided into two areas. “This is the dirty area, Curly.”

Curly walked around, turning his head back and forth. “It doesn’t look very dirty to me! Everything in here is spotless. Mari would love this room!”

Mr. P laughed and said, “I’m sure she would. It’s called a dirty area because there’s all kinds of equipment and tools in here that make a lot of dust or debris. That room over there is the clean room. It’s where we keep all the sensitive computers and other equipment that won’t work right if they get dirt or dust in them.”

“I get dirty and dusty all the time, but I keep working.”

“That’s because Maria was smart enough to build you that way.” He stopped next to a workbench that had all kinds of equipment stored above, below, and next to it. There were several toolboxes on wheels stored along one of the walls next to the bench.

“Here you go Curly, you stand here while I get something to sit on cause these old bones need a rest.” Mr. P pulled over a rolling stool and one of the portable toolboxes. He grabbed a socket wrench and socket out of the top drawer then sat down and shuffled in next to Curly. “Turn around for me, please Curly, and we’ll get started on fixing your arm.”

Curly turned so his back was facing Mr. P then turned his head around one hundred and eighty degrees to face him and said, “When you’re ready, I can hold the bolt for you.” He rotated his various joints in such a way that his left hand was over his shoulder, behind his back and level with the shoulder joint of his right arm.

Mr. P noticed that it was a much more complicated move than just reaching around his side.  He wondered if Maria had told him to do it that way or if his AI had figured it out. As he reached in and unscrewed and removed the bolt that attached the arm to the shoulder joint he asked Curly, “That’s really helpful, did you figure out how to do that yourself?” He placed the broken arm on top of the bench.

Curly kept the hand waiting for the bolt, steady and used the arm and hand laying on bench to sign the words with the letter ‘s’ in them. “One day when Mari was fixing my arm, I asked her if I could help. She told me yes, but I needed to learn how to do it myself, so I did.”

Mr. P was a surprised to see him use his detached hand to sign.  He had no idea that sort of ability had been incorporated into Curly’s design, another indicator of Maria’s ingenuity. He also found it a little strange to have to go back and forth from Curly’s head to his disembodied hand in order to follow what he was saying. He decided it was easier to just watch his hand.

Ah, so it was his AI that figured it out. He said to him, “I see, that’s very clever of you,” then dropped the bolt into Curly’s waiting hand and watched as he closed his fingers around it.

Curly paused for a second then said, “18, 8 stainless steel shoulder bolt part number 15 dash 0973. It feel damaged, still not strong enough.” He dropped it onto the bench.

Mr. P spun to his left and slid open a drawer in the tool chest, he asked him, “You just said the bolt feels damaged. Does that mean you can feel?” As he waited for Curly’s response, he pulled out a replacement bolt then held it up close to his eyes

 to make sure the markings on it were correct.  

“Maria put sensors everywhere. I can feel hot things, cold things, smooth and rough things, and push feel and pull feel.”

He lifted Curly’s arm off the bench and aligned it with the joint. “Push and pull feel?”

Curly looked away and tapped his chin with his fingers as if he was thinking, prompting a chuckle from Mr. P. “Hard to make into words. It how fingertip feel when I push an object.” He looked back at Mr. P. “Mari tell me word but I can never keep it in memory. She keeps typing it in program but it never stay. It frustrate Mari sometime.”

“Can you hold your arm here please?” Curly looked at his other arm then reached over to hold it. Mr. P inserted the new bolt then said, “Could the word you’re looking for be ‘resistance’?”

“Hm, I don’t think so…  that word mean flow of electricity in a wire, right?”

He tightened the bolt and said, “Yes, it does mean that, but resistance has another meaning too. I’m talking about how hard it is to move something when you push or pull it.”

Curly didn’t say anything for a few seconds then blurted out, “Like an on off button!”

“Yes Curly! Exactly! Well done!”

“And a key when typing…”

“Yes, yes!”

“…and patience.”

Mr. P. stopped working and looked at him. “Patience? I don’t understand how that word fits.”

“Mari say sometimes I push her patience.”

He laughed out loud.  “That’s very funny Curly.” Again, Mr. P was impressed with how well Curly’s AI was coming up with ways to associate definitions and to compensate for errors and glitches in its programming. He also became more impressed with Maria’s abilities when it came to robotics and programming. He put the tools back into the toolbox and pushed back his chair. “That should do it, Curly.”

“All done?”

“With your arm, at least. I replaced the old bolt with another one that’s much stronger so it shouldn’t break and fall off anymore.”

Curly rotated his arm back and forth. “It feel like it works very good. Thank you, Mr. P.”

“You’re very welcome, Curly. There’s one more thing I need to check. It’s at the back of your head so why don’t you spin around, and I’ll see if I can find it?”

As Curly rotated his head he said, “I don’t remember Mari doing anything back there.”

Mr. P picked up a small magnet from the workbench and slid it back and forth across the lower part of Curly’s head. A small access door popped open. “This is something that Maria wouldn’t know how to fix.” He put on a pair of jeweler’s glasses then switched on a light that was attached to the top edge of the frame. He moved his chair up and peered inside. “This won’t take but a second Curly, just make sure you keep your head still.” He attached an anti-static band around his wrist then reached for a pair of special forceps. He slid open a small drawer under the workbench and used the forceps to gently pick up a circuit board that was laying inside of a custom-built foam box. He brought the board up to the compartment and was about to delicately place it inside when, suddenly and quite loudly, came a shout from the door.

“NO DON’T!”

Mr. P was so concentrating so deeply the sudden sound made him jerk his arms back and almost fall off the chair. He turned his head in time to watch the forceps fly across the room. All he could think about was how much work he had put into that circuit board and now it would be ruined.

Luckily, Maria reacted quickly, catching the forceps and the circuit board before they hit the ground.

 “Don’t touch the board!”

Maria looked down to see that she had caught the forceps without putting her fingers on the board. She lifted the forceps and said, “it’s all good!”

He put his hand to his chest. “Maria! You scared the heck out of me. You can’t do that to an old man!” He looked down. “I think my heart is stopped.”

Maria ran over to him. “Oh my gosh, Mr. P, I’m so sorry!”

He moved his hand a little to the left. “Oh good, there it is.”

“When I saw you putting this (she lifted the forceps) inside of him, I panicked. I don’t want you to change him.”

He carefully took them from her. “What are you talking about? What do you mean change him?”

“I don’t want you to do anything to Curly that will change how he is. I saw you! You were about to do something with those forceps. I like him just the way he is!” She looked at Curly. “You like the way you are, right?”

All that he said was, “Yes, Mari, I like me.”

Mr. P put his hand on her shoulder. “Oh, my goodness Maria, I’m not going to change Curly.” He looked at him. “I was about to replace an old circuit board with this upgraded one.”

Maria still wasn’t so sure. “An upgrade? What kind of upgrade?” She looked at the back of Curly’s head and saw the open compartment. Her eyes grew wide. “I’ve never seen that before!” She looked back at him. “Why didn’t I know that was there!”

Mr. P put up his hands defensively and said, “Hold on, hold on.”

Then, in a fraction of an instant, Maria went from being overly concerned to being overly curious. She stood on her toes and tried to peer into the opening. “What’s in there, anyway?”

Mr. P shook his head and said to himself You’re just like your mother. He took a flashlight out of the toolbox then rolled back up to Curly and shone it inside the compartment. “See for yourself.”

She peered inside and saw a small circuit board plugged into a larger one. “I recognize the larger board, I’ve made some changes to that, but I don’t recognize the smaller one.” She looked at the top of Curly’s head and ran her fingers over a visible compartment door. “But I went in through that panel not this one.” She asked for the flashlight and shined it up into the compartment. “What does it do? Why’s it hidden?”

Mr. P lifted up the forceps that were still in his hand. “This is what allows Curly to hear what the animals are saying when they communicate with us. Haven’t you ever wondered how Curly can do same thing a Keeper can do even though he’s a robot?”

She replied with excitement in her voice, “Yes, exactly! That’s always been something that’s been eating at me, but I could never figure it out! I’ve looked at all of the schematics of his circuitry, even labeled each component, but still couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. I had to stop thinking about it before it drove me crazy!” She put her hand out. “Can I see it?”

“Sure, but, put this on first.” He took the band off his wrist and attached it around hers. “Here you go.”

Marias face blushed. “Sorry, I should have remembered. I always use one of them whenever I work on him, honestly!”

He smiled and said, “I’m sure you do, it’s easy to forget it. I’ve done it plenty of times.”

She made a face and said, “Really? I think you’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

He laughed and said, “Well, actually, you’re right, I’ve never forgotten to put one on.”

“Thank you, that’s better. I know I’m not perfect.” Using the tips of her fingers and touching just the sides of the board, Maria took the board out of the forceps and carefully looked it over. “I recognize all the components except for these two.” She pointed, careful not to touch them. “Those I’ve never seen before. What are they?”

“Ah, yes, very good. There’s no way you would recognize them because I designed and installed them myself. The one with the blue dot is a receiver and the other one with the yellow dot is a transmitter…”

“Wait, a receiver that picks up an electronic signal?”

“Exactly.”

She looked back into the open compartment and said, “But we and the animals don’t have those components buried in our brains.”

“Exactly.”

Suddenly something else dawned on her. “Wait a minute, you said, you designed and installed these pieces? How could that be? My mom bought Curly and the other parts online. She couldn’t find the exact bot that she wanted, then, from out of the blue, someone texted her and said they had a collection of parts that might be what she was looking for.”

“Let me explain…”

Maria’s eyes lit up. “It was you, wasn’t it? You’re the one that sent that text!”

Realizing there was no way to stop her, he sat back in his chair, put his hands behind his head and let her go on.

“You sent the email because you wanted me to have Curly, right?”

“Yes.”

“You had already installed the circuit in a place you knew I wouldn’t find.”

“Correct.”

She leaned against the worktable. “But…wait, why choose me? How did you even know about me?”

“You’re a pure Keeper, which there aren’t many of, so it was pretty easy to find you.”

“Oh.”

“And besides, I know your parents.”

“You do! I don’t remember them ever mentioning you. I mean, not that I can remember, anyway, and I guess they wouldn’t tell me about everyone they meet but you are a pretty important person so you’d think they would!”

“They couldn’t. It’s part of Mrs. P’s super-secret plan to bring you girls together. We couldn’t let any of you know any of this (he waved his arms around the room) until everybody was ready.”

She pushed off the table. “Not to be rude, but you’re blowing my mind Mr. P! This is all a little hard to take in.” She looked at Curly and said to him, “Isn’t it Curly?”

“Sorry Mari I wasn’t listening because Mr. P told me to keep my head still, so I was concentrating on that.”

Mr. P. jumped up out of the chair. “Oh, my goodness Curly, I’m so sorry, I totally forgot!” He looked around for his wrist band then realized Maria still had it on. He said, “Since you already have that on, why don’t you go ahead and install the new circuit?”

 Maria was a little surprised he had asked and a little unsure. She didn’t want to mess up in front of him. “Really, are you sure?”

“Why not? You did everything else on Curly so something like this is a piece of cake, I mean, as long as you’re comfortable with the new circuit board and believe me that I’m not trying to change him.”

“No, no, no. I believe you. I’m sorry, I was being a little bit silly before. It’s just that I have a lot of issues about Curly becoming something different.”

“I understand. You’re like a parent worrying about their child, it’s only natural.”

“I guess so.” She placed the circuit board back into the forceps and hovered above the open compartment. “Okay then, here goes. Don’t move Curly.”

Curly’s shoulders dropped. “Still? Hurry Mari this is all very boring.”

“It’s only going to… (she carefully lowered the board into the compartment) take a… (she aligned the pins on both boards) second! (there was an audible click as the boards connected) Done! She pushed the door shut and turned to Mr. P. “What now?”

He turned to Curly and said, “Curly, I would like you to run your diagnostic program for me, please.”

“Okay. Mr. P.”

“When the program notices the new board, I’d like for you to choose the option to accept it. Understand?”

“Yes, do you want me to reboot too?”

“Yes please.”

“Okay, here goes.” Curly remained still as he ran the program. After a few seconds, Maria noticed his arms go limp as he rebooted his programing.

Mr. P said, “This might take a few minutes. Do you have any other questions for me while we wait?”

She pulled over another chair and sat down. “So, the communication is done through electronic signals. You know, my parents, Lou and I used to sit around the dinner table discussing this very thing.” She looked at her hands then, a little sheepishly, said, “I thought it sounded like some sort of telepathy but was afraid to say anything because it sounded so silly.”

“Well, you were pretty close.” He laid his fingertips on his head and said, “As you know, telepathy is communication without the use of our known senses. ‘Known’ being the key word, here. It seems that Keepers and certain other animals have an area of the brain that can receive and transmit these special electronic signals. For us, it’s an additional ‘sense’, but, since not everyone has it or even knows about it, thinking it was some sort of telepathy was a good guess.”

“How did you figure it out?”

“It was totally by accident. I was treating an African dragon for a sore throat…”

Maria laughed, “Ha, treating an African dragon for a sore throat.”

Mr. P acted as if she didn’t believe him. “It’s very common.”

Maria leaned forward and said, “Oh, sorry Mr. P, it’s not that I don’t believe you, it’s just that, before I came here, I wouldn’t never have thought I would hear anyone say anything like that!”

“Exactly! But, as I was saying, (he pulled his chair up close to her) I was treating an African dragon for a sore throat and, by sheer coincidence, there was an oscilloscope I had been using for another project on my work bench. I was using it for another experiment, when I noticed, out of the corner of my eye that every time I asked the dragon a question and when he answered, there was a jump in the signal. Now, understand, the scope was set to scan through a series of frequencies, so I wasn’t sure if the blip was from the other experiment I was running, or the microphone was picking up our conversation and if it was, how would I know what frequency it was because it was set to scan so many of them!” He took a deep breath. “So, every time I asked a question and he answered, I had to keep glancing over to the machine to see if it I could see the blip I had seen before! You can only imagine how upset the dragon became because I kept ignoring him to watch the machine!” He sat back. “Looking back, it was all quite amusing!” He looked at her, waiting for a response.

Maria raised her eyebrows and said, “Well, um… yes… I’m sure it was.”

Mr. P’s smile vanished as he shook his head back and forth. Maria thought she heard him mumble something about kids before he continued. “My point is that it was just by chance that I was able to find the frequency. After that it was just a matter of coming up with a transmitter that re-created it.” He noticed Maria looked a little confused. “What don’t you understand?”

“I understand all of that, but I just had another thought.”

“Oh? What would that be?”

“How is it that Lou and Kit can actually talk to us, but other animals can’t?”

“Well, the ability to talk means an animal’s brain needs to have sufficient neural control over the vocal tract muscles. Not all beasts have that ability. Lou’s species seems to be one of the few animals that can do it, but Kit’s ability seems to have been developed by his AI. It’s learned how to do by watching, listening and, I bet you anything, YouTube videos.”

“So, you taught Curly’s AI how to do it?”

“Actually, I copied Kit’s program and installed that. Curly’s AI was able to learn how to do it by using the program then learning from it.”

“I see.”

“The circuit you just installed has an upgraded program.”

“What does the upgrade allow?”

“It gives the transmitter an extended range. The same components are in Scout, so they’ll be able to be further away from each other and still communicate. Oh, and by the way, there’s no other changes, so Curly will be exactly as you made him.”

Maria made a face and said, “Yeah, about that, sorry, maybe I was over-reacting a little.”

“Nonsense. I understand how much effort you have put into Curly and how much you care for him. I wouldn’t want someone else changing my work without my consent.”

“Thank you for understanding.”

“You’re welcome.” He noticed she was picking at a loose thread on her pants. “But there’s something else.”

She continued to pull on the thread. “I’m worried about this mission you’re sending him on. I don’t know anything about Scout or why they even have to go to the dome without us.” She looked up at him. “The dome’s far away, right?”

“Well, technically it is, but they’ll use a gate so it’s, really, only a step away. Besides, you and the girls will be heading there soon enough.”

Surprised, she said, “We are? For what?”

“I think that’s what Sŭchō was getting ready to talk to everyone about before I came to get Curly, so I think it would be better if I let her explain.” He looked at his watch then said, “You better hurry because I’m sure, by now, she’ll have started to get a little upset that I’ve kept you for so long.”

Maria stood up. “Do you think she was able to figure a way to get us some more time to train?”

“Unfortunately, there’s been some new developments so everyone’s going to have to be ready quicker than we all thought, so go, get a move on.”

Curly seemed to have finished rebooting because he suddenly said, “Yeah Mari, get a move on!”

She smiled at him and patted him on the shoulder, “Welcome back. I’ve got to go, but you’re in good hands so you and Scout have fun and be safe.”

“Okay, Mari, we will.”

Maria headed for the door but stopped before going through. She turned and said, “Thanks Mr. P, for everything.”

Mr. P was not very good at goodbyes, so he hurriedly said, “You’re very welcome, Maria. Now shoo!” As the door swung shut, he turned to Curly and said, “C’mon Curly, how about we go meet Scout!”

Curly threw his arms in the air and shouted, “Great, it about time!”

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