Research Lab Electricity Usage Timesheet Reporting
by Ada Hoffmann
The robots had learned to open doors.
Priya jumped as the door between the shared lab and her office crashed open. Into the paper-strewn space stomped a pair of raptor-sized machines, gleaming chrome and glittering eyes. Their sickle-shaped toe-claws—really just blunt grabbers, but intimidating to look at—scrabbled at the carpet as they adjusted their positions. Then both robots hopped onto her desk, scattering papers everywhere.
“What—?” Priya spluttered. She had been trying to fill out a Form 1078-B for Research Lab Electricity Usage Timesheet Reporting. A six-page, mandatory administrative form which had just sailed away in six different directions. Or at least, a supposedly mandatory form. Most of Priya’s colleagues were allowed to fill out the half-page version online, but the Dean of Robotics liked to push Priya around, and he was insisting.
“You’re not even supposed to be switched on during these hours!” Priya complained.
An electronic giggle emerged from both chrome heads in perfect synchronization.
“Stephanie forgot the off switch,” Raptor One informed her in its high-pitched, synthesized voice. “Forgetful girl. Eeeheeeheee!”
Priya swore and reached for the robots’ off switches herself, but they danced away, too excited to behave. Stephanie, an undergrad research assistant, was constantly forgetting things. Her keys; her lunch; proper safety protocols for dealing with a pair of experimental robots that could learn from their embodied experience through means analogous to human child development. Too analogous. Their down-cycles were used to process the day’s experiences and smooth off mental rough edges, much like human sleep. Leaving them on overnight led to hyperactivity, like a sugar-high preschooler up past its bedtime.
Plus, leaving them on would have changed the lab’s electricity usage, which meant she now had to fill out pages two through five of Form 1087-B all over again, and it wasn’t long before the Dean would come around, demanding to know why she wasn’t done yet.
“Come here,” Priya commanded. “It’s sleep time, raptors. That’s an order.”
“No orders!” Raptor Two shrieked, hopping to the top of Priya’s bookshelf with alarming grace. Opening doors wasn’t the only motor skill that had improved. “Only COOKIES!”
Priya blinked. “Cookies?” She didn’t remember introducing them to that concept. Some student must have brought one in and aroused their curiosity.
“COOKIES!” the raptors chorused.
“You are inorganic, mechanical beings. You can’t even eat cookies.” But curiosity alone, at this developmental stage, could be a powerful impetus.
“COOKIES! COOKIES! COOKIES!”
Priya drew herself up. She was the head of the Robotics Lab, and this was her responsibility. “Look, I—”
But then the other door opened, the one linking Priya’s office to the main hallway, and a freshman holding a marked assignment hopefully poked his nose into the room.
“COOKIES!” bellowed both raptors, leaping off the bookshelf and divebombing the student. He screamed and fled. His running footsteps receded into the distance as the assignment floated to the floor, abandoned.
Priya reached into her desk drawer for the Raptor Remote, and found it after a moment of fumbling. Her fingers found the button marked EMERGENCY AVERSIVE.
She didn’t press down.
When she thought about it, she hadn’t actually wanted to deal with that student. She knew his face. He was here to shout at her about how many marks he deserved, the same as every week. Disruptive as Raptors One and Two might be, she did like them more than she liked that particular student.
And there were other people she would like to keep out of the office.
Priya let the Raptor Remote fall gently from her fingers back into the drawer.
“I’ll give you a cookie,” she said into the air. The raptors, who had been tearing at the fallen assignment, looked up in unison. Their bright green eyes, glittering with artificial lens enhancers, fixed unblinkingly on her.
“I’ll give you a cookie,” she repeated, “if you do something for me.”
The raptors nodded slowly, and an equally slow grin crossed Priya’s face.
“Do you know,” she asked, in the clear and precise tone that she’d learned was best for robots, “what the word ‘guard’ means?”
Later that day, as she’d expected, the Dean of Robotics bustled into Priya’s office without knocking or asking permission.
“Dr. Chaudhari,” he said officiously, “your Form 1078-B is late again, and I must insist—”
He was interrupted by both robot raptors launching themselves at him from the top of Priya’s shelves.
“COOKIE!!” shrieked Raptor One, gnawing on the Dean’s toupee.
“NO BOTHERING PRIYA!” shouted Raptor Two. “Priya gives us cookies! No bothering Priya, or we EAT YOU!!”
“What is the meaning of this?!” the Dean spluttered, but the raptors redoubled their attack, hopping up and down on his shoulders and shrieking cacaphonously. “Dr. Chaudhari, have you lost control of your raptors?”
“No,” said Priya shortly. “And, in fact, I can demonstrate it. Raptor One—attack!”
Raptor One bit down and tossed the Dean’s toupee merrily in the air. It sailed to a landing in a pile of papers, and the Dean snatched it back-up, red-faced.
“Never mind!” he shouted, tearing the bots forcibly off of him. “Never mind your stupid form. It wasn’t important anyway! You can just fill in the web form like everyone else!”
He stormed out.
Priya silently offered a pair of cookies she’d bought from the school cafeteria to the robots. They leapt upon them and quickly gnawed them to crumbs, seemingly unbothered by their inability to digest any of what they destroyed.
“Good girls,” she said to both of them. The robots purred electronically, and then settled to the ground, curling into each other.
Priya approached them hesitantly. When it became apparent that they were tired now and no longer moving, she reached out a hand, touched the switch on the back of each chrome head, and turned them off.
“Good girls,” she said again, smiling fondly at the sleeping pair.
She got up, dropped back into her computer chair, and started another grant application in peace.
© 2018 by Ada Hoffmann
June 29th, 2018
Ada Hoffmann is the author of MONSTERS IN MY MIND. Her writing has appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and Uncanny. She programs computers to write poetry, and her Autistic Book Party review series is devoted to autism representation in speculative fiction. You can find her online at http://ada-hoffmann.com/ or on Twitter at @xasymptote, or support her at http://www.patreon.com/ada_
Illustration is by Kit Leighton!
Scene break dinosaur illustrations are by Kelsey Liggett!