Thursday, 14 February 2019
Two Robots and a Ragamuffin: Chapter Two - The Doorstep Delivery
Luckily for Archie and Jack, Professor Crosswire's house turned out to be an ideal place for them to blend in. It was in a small, unassuming suburb, with the house next door unoccupied - so no nosy neighbours peering in all the time to see what they were getting up to.
It was clean and fully furnished - although, of course, the pair didn't need to bathe, eat or rest - but that meant that it wouldn't raise suspicions in any unexpected visitors. To everyone around them, the two robots were just two normal, everyday housemates going about their daily lives. There were even two rooms for them to "sleep" in, perfectly maintaining the illusion that they were landlord and lodger.
Given that he had been built with the higher artificial intelligence and an understanding of science, Jack was swiftly able to get a job in a research lab at a rival university. (He felt it best not to work at his birthplace in case any of the academics started asking questions.)
Archie, meanwhile, had suggested that at least one of them should be around at all times to keep an eye out for the authorities or other unexpected passers-by, and volunteered willingly. He spend his days maintaining the home, and writing articles as a freelancer to help build up their not-insignificant pile of funds. After all, being immortal, who knew just how many electricity bills they were going to have to pay? And besides, the pair having jobs only strengthened the case that they were two average, unassuming gentlemen.
As the days went on, it became apparent that, although the two robots were both top-of-the-range machines, their programmed personalities were very different. Archie developed a strong interest in literature, and took to reading novels in the evening...
... whilst Jack preferred to spend his downtime more passively in front of the TV - his window to the human world at large, and frequent topic of conversation in the work canteen.
One night, about three weeks into the pair's new living arrangement, Archie had his head buried in the latest sci-fi bestseller, when he was disturbed by a strange mewing noise coming from outside. With electric sparks of shock reeling through his circuits, he sat bolt upright in his armchair, snapping the book shut, and listened intensely.
"Jack?" he called after a few moments.
"Hmm?" came the non-committed response from the sofa.
"Do you hear something?"
"Yeah, the TV."
"No, no, not that... I mean outside. Like, a whimpering noise, or something."
"Probably just a cat that's got in the yard. Nothing to worry about."
"I don't know... I think I ought to check it out."
Cautiously, Archie slowly rose from his seat, and tiptoed over to the front door, opening it slowly with a drawn-out creek. As he glanced down, he thought his systems might just shut off completely.
There, on the porch, was a baby. Wriggling frantically, on the verge of tears, clad only in a nappy, and without as much as a blanket to keep them warm.
"You poor thing!" Archie cooed, bending own to scoop the little one up into his arms. "What on Earth are you doing out here? It's a freezing cold night."
Before heading back inside, Archie quickly looked around for any signs of human life - someone fleeing the scene, or maybe a parked car. But the street was completely empty and silent... the child was completely alone.
Cuddling them close, Archie brought the child inside, and closed the door.
As he looked into the baby's widening eyes, he allowed himself a little smile as he carried the infant towards the living room.
"We have a visitor."
Archie suppressed a chuckle as he witnessed Jack leap up from the sofa in alarm... only for him to glare at the blond android in amazement when he noticed what he was holding.
"Is that a baby?" he choked. "Where did that come from?"
"On the porch," Archie replied. "Abandoned. I could hardly leave the little mite out there, could I?"
"No... I suppose not."
He sighed heavily.
"We'll have to call somebody."
"I thought you didn't want the authorities sniffing around?" Archie asked, aghast.
"Well, what else can we do?"
Archie hung his head sheepishly. Jack, quick on the uptake, shook his head wildly, almost laughing out of sheer shock.
"You cannot be serious."
"Look, maybe this baby was left here for a reason!" Archie cried. "Like it's... fate."
"Archie, we're robots, damn it!"
"Don't swear in front of the baby!"
"We follow programs, not fate!" Jack snapped. "Besides, the existence of such a thing is completely illogical."
"As far as anyone else knows, we're humans," Archie said, extremely calmly. "Humans adopt babies all the time. Married couples. Why, even two men can -"
"Whoa, whoa, hold on!" Jack protested. "We're not a couple! I'm meant to be your lodger, remember?"
"Fair enough," Archie replied. "Single people adopt all the time too. And that's what I'm doing. I'm adopting this baby as my own."
"I see," Jack hissed. "And if I don't like this new arrangement of yours?"
"Then you'll have to find somewhere else to live," Archie told him point-blank. "I could just evict you if I wanted to."
He grinned knowingly.
"After all, you are only my lodger."
Jack knew there was no point arguing. With a groan, he relented.
"All right," he muttered. "If you want to keep it, then keep it. But that's on you. Don't expect me to help you look after it, because I won't."
"Fine," Archie replied, pushing past him as he headed towards the stairwell. "It's not like I asked you to, anyway."
As he watched Archie carrying the infant upstairs, Jack couldn't resist one final dig, and turned to the blond robot with a grin.
"And where exactly are you taking it?" he quipped. "It's not like you have a nursery up there. You haven't even got a crib. You've no milk, toys, nappies, anything."
Archie pondered this for a second, then returned Jack's smirk tenfold.
"You know where the money's kept," he answered. "And the phone number for a taxi. And from the sounds of it, you know what babies need, too. Perhaps you could head out and pick me up a few things?"
Before Jack could reply, he added the zinger.
"Unless, of course... you'd rather babysit?"
Jack wasn't exactly happy about his late-night shopping trip, but still... it was better than caring for some screaming, pooping little baby. Rather than prolong the chore, he decided to head to the local mini-mall, which was bound to have everything he needed in one place.
After racing around the shops and spending more money than he earned in a month ("Way to keep the funds up Archie," he thought), he found himself one hour later in the spare room turned nursery of the Crosswire home, standing in front of a crib that he had hastily built. (The instructions were somewhere across the room, having landed there when he'd angrily hurled them away during the construction process.)
Archie entered, the infant still cradled in his arms. A quick bath and diaper change had revealed the gender of his new child.
"She's a girl," he told Jack proudly. "I'm thinking of calling her... 'Anna'."
"You can call it what you want for me."
"'It' is a 'her'."
"Whatever," Jack hissed, walking past him. "I'm off to watch TV. And it... she... better not cry all night. I'll crank the volume up, just in case."
As Jack slammed the nursery door shut, Archie groaned in annoyance. The sudden loud noise had shocked Anna, causing her to squirm and whimper in fright.
"It's all right, baby," Archie whispered to her. "Don't you mind Uncle Jack. He's just a grumpy old fart."
Cooing gently, he laid Anna down in the crib, and tucked her in for the night.
"Sleep well, Anna," he said, kissing her forehead gently. "Daddy loves you."