For All Time
By Jim Gerrish
2004, Imagineering Magic. All Rights Reserved

Troy Robinson enjoyed going to the Sam O'Neil Science Park in Irvington, NJ, not only to visit with his "Uncle" Don Thorpe, but also just to watch the kids playing around with physics games. These days, the park was filled with robotics events, and today, as Troy went towards Uncle Don's office, he passed a large crowd of kids gathered around tiny robots that were struggling to navigate an obstacle course designed to make it tough on them. Robot wars and battles were outlawed in this park, but there were still plenty of challenges for robots and their creators.

Troy looked up at the top of a flagpole set in the center of the obstacle course and saw a $1,000 bill waving in the breeze. That was apparently today's prize and the goal of all the struggling robots. Troy noticed one robot traveling on spidery thin legs carefully (and gracefully) dancing over and around the other robots on its way towards the goal.

Troy parked his Segway™ in the recharging locker outside Uncle Don's office, and swiped his credit card in the card reader slot so the vehicle would receive a full charge while he was inside. The card also secured the locker, which could then be opened only by another swipe of the same card.

"Come on in, Troy," came the sound of his Uncle Don's voice from the intercom by the door. Troy pushed on the door and found it was unlocked, so he went on in. He gave his uncle a warm hug and then accepted the cup of tea his uncle had just brewed for him.

"I heard your credit card enter the park on the monitor," said Don. His head motioned towards a small computer speaker that was rattling off names as people entered and left the entrances of the park. Since the Age of Terrorism in the first decade of the twenty-first century, devices like this had been developed to make it difficult for anyone to remain anonymous, especially in a public park designed for children. While adults carried "smart" credit cards that served as personal identifiers, children were given personal ID "dogtags" at birth to wear until their eighteenth birthday. Devices at the park entrances detected each person entering or exiting and Don's computer announced each in a sexy female voice.

"How can you stand to listen to it babble like that?" asked Troy. "You should just set it to alert you to Nonnies and first timers."

"Mona has a soothing voice," said Don, sitting down on the edge of his desk while Troy sat in the only other chair in his office.

"Uh oh! Does Mom know about Mona?" asked Troy.

"Sure. She was the one who suggested the name," said Don. "It was a nameless robotic sounding voice until your mother started tuning it up and fiddling around with it. She gave it a personality all its own."

"I'll stop by the house around dinner time if that's all right," said Troy. "Then I've got to get back to Philly."

"Too bad you can't take some time off and go camping or something with your mother and me," said Don.

"TROY II wouldn't like it," said Troy. "Besides, I'm almost done with the project. I just came by to check out the statue."

"Tell TROY II not to meddle in the affairs of humans… or better yet, invite him to come along. I'll teach him to fart and sing rowdy campfire songs."

"Not with my baby you won't," said Troy. "You're a bad influence, Uncle Don. Next you'll want to introduce him to Mona and try to make him fall in love."

"Can he?" asked Don.

"I don't think so," said Troy. "Love seems to be reserved for biologicals like us."

"That hardly seems fair," said Don, opening a closet door and rolling out a cart, which held a large object covered up by a cloth. "Here's the statue. I don't want to influence your vote or anything, but so far all of Sam's other friends have approved it."

Don removed the cover and watched Troy to see what his reaction would be. On the cart was a clay model of the proposed statue of Sam O'Neil that awaited only Troy's approval before being turned into a marble sculpture to adorn the entrance to the Science Park that bore Sam's name. The statue depicted Sam sitting on a park bench with a small child on his knee. Sam was pointing towards the child's heart, and the child was pointing towards himself with a quizzical look on his face.

Troy slowly looked at it from all angles. "How old is this kid?" he asked.

"Sixteen," said Don.

"It was his idea… this pose?"

"Yes."

"Remarkable," said Troy. "It's an excellent likeness of Sam of course, but the idea to pose him like this shows genius. It's as if Sam is handing the child the responsibility of the world and the child is asking 'Who me?'"

"I interpreted it as Sam passing on his knowledge of physics and teaching the child that all the knowledge of the universe is his for the asking. Everybody sees it in a slightly different way, but I agree… the sculptor is a genius at sixteen. He has a great future ahead of him," said Don.

"I'd like to meet him some day," said Troy.

"He's out there with the other kids in the park entered in that robot competition," said Don. "Ten bucks says he'll walk in here waving a thousand dollar bill any minute now."

"You're on," said Troy. "I'll bet he sends in his robot waving the bill."

"I take it, then, you approve of the statue and he can get to work carving it in stone?" said Don.

"Hell, yes! And I want a copy of it, too. I'll bet a lot of people will."

"We'll be making and selling resin models of the statue to raise funds for the park here and to promote other science parks around the country," said Don. "We'll probably send the finished statue on a tour of all the science parks at some future date."

There was a knock on Don's office door. Troy turned to open it and in waltzed a metallic spider with a thousand-dollar bill in its tiny claws. "Pay up," said Troy.

They watched the spider-like robot dance around the room in a very graceful way. Then it crawled up the side of Don's desk and deposited the thousand-dollar bill beside him as he sat.

"Come on in, Weasel," said Don. "There's somebody here who wants to meet you. Come meet my son, Troy."

A gangly teenage Black kid, dressed in a red athletic shirt with matching red shorts and wearing expensive sneakers, shyly pulled himself into view at the open door to Don's office.

"Congratulations," said Don. "What are you going to do with your winnings?"

"Could you help me invest it?" asked Weasel in a soft voice.

"Sure," said Don. "Tell your robot to deposit it in my iron piggy bank until we can work out a good investment for you."

"His name is Spy, short for Spy-der," said Weasel. "Spy ret pape down n-e up hole drop," he commanded.

Troy and Don watched in fascination as the little robot sprang into activity, picking up the thousand-dollar bill, then climbing back down the side of Don's desk to the floor. There it did a little dance to orient itself and traveled northeast to Don's big office safe. It crawled up the side of the safe, located a hole in the top of the safe and shoved the paper down into the hole where it dropped out of site. Then the robot sat still, waiting for new orders.

"Pretty neat," said Troy. "Does everyone have voice activated robots in this contest?"

Weasel shook his head. "Just me," he said. "Everyone else still wants to control his robot with a joystick."

"What about crowd noise," asked Troy. "Doesn't that confuse it?"

Weasel shook his head. "Filters," he said. "Try ordering him back."

Troy said "Spy down s-w up."

The little robot ignored him.

Then Weasel repeated the commands, "Spy down s-w up," and the robot sprang into action, climbing down from the safe, traveling gracefully back to Don's desk and climbing back up.

"So it filters out every voice but yours," said Troy. "Pretty clever. If you weren't such a terrific sculptor, I could use you to work on my robotics project. When you're finished with the statue though, you might give me a call if you want some challenging stuff to work on this summer."

"Did everybody approve the statue yet?" asked Weasel.

"My son Troy was the last one that needed to see your model," said Don. "You can start work on the marble whenever you're ready."

Weasel fished a cell phone out of his pocket and dialed a number. "Start project 1257," he said into the phone, then closed it and put it back into his pocket. Weasel looked up at Troy. "The rockbots will work on it all night," he said. "It should be ready by tomorrow. So where is this robot project of yours?"

Troy looked at Don and burst out laughing. "You've got robot sculptors working for you?"

"Why not?" said Weasel. "Michaelangelo had assistants working on the statue of David. You don't imagine he did it all by himself, do you?"

"Well, it just seems more like science than art," said Troy.

"There's the art," said Weasel, pointing to the clay statue in the center of the room. "That I did by myself and it came out of my mind. Now the rockbots are just going to render it in stone, but it's still my work of art."

"Can I ask you a personal question?" asked Troy.

"My name?" asked Weasel.

Troy nodded.

"My mom named me that," said Weasel. "She said I was always weaseling out of work by getting my computer or my robots to do it for me. I don't see it that way. I mean, why have robots and computers at all unless they do the boring parts of work that humans don't want to do? But I liked the name and kept it."

"How do you sign your art?" asked Troy.

"Weasel," said Weasel. "That's what I like about the name. It's very unusual. No other artist I know has it."

"Is school out for the year?" asked Troy.

"At the end of the week," said Weasel. "Then I'm free until September."

"Will your mom let you come to Philadelphia for the summer?" asked Troy.

"If I ask her to," said Weasel. "Why should I ask her to? What's your project?"

"Have you ever heard of TROY II?" asked Troy.

Weasel gasped, then opened his eyes wide, suddenly recognizing Troy. "You're Dr. Robinson! Troy! I should have known! I've been reading your books on robotics and AI for years! You want me to work on TROY II?"

"If you can get permission and we can work out housing and that sort of thing," said Troy.

"I'll eat and sleep in the lab if I have to," said Weasel. "I can't believe I'm going to meet TROY II!"

"It's the other way around," said Troy. "TROY II can't believe he's going to meet you. He has no beliefs at all. He has no intuition. He has no creative side. He could look at you and make a drawing that's as clear and detailed as a photograph, but only of what he sees. He would never have thought to create that pose you made with Sam and the child. I'm hoping some of your creativity will rub off on him."

"So that's all you want me to do?" asked Weasel. "I don't get to make robots or anything?"

"Wrong," said Troy. "You get to do whatever you want in any area of art or science. Just let TROY II follow you around and answer any of his questions if you can. I want you to come and play in my sandbox with all my neat robot toys. TROY II is just one of them for now. I'm hoping he'll grow out of the toy stage."

"Into what?" asked Weasel.

"Exactly," said Troy, seriously. "Into what?"

- - -

"Anonymous entry at East Gate!" The loud warning from Mona startled them. Don looked at the security computer screen and saw that Mona had focused on a young man striding into the park. He was dressed in white summer clothing and was wearing sandals on his feet. He looked nervously around himself as if fearful of discovery. Don picked up his communicator and said simply: "Intruder, East Gate" into it.

The response immediately came back, "I'm already on it," and, in fact, they saw the security guard on the computer screen heading towards the young man. As soon as he saw her coming, the man turned around and exited the park with Mona announcing, "Anonymous departure from East Gate."

Don's communicator cackled into life. "Shall I pursue?" it asked.

"Negative," said Don. "We've already passed it over to the local police."

"Does that happen often?" asked Troy.

"It shouldn't happen at all," said Don. "Nonnies are allowed to enter the park if they follow the rules posted at the gates. They have to call me, Mona runs a security check, and then they report here to get a temporary pass to keep them from getting arrested. It's a pain, but they chose to remain Nonnies. That guy deliberately chose to ignore the rules."

"Maybe he couldn't read the rules," offered Weasel.

"If you just press a button at the gates, the rules can be read aloud to you in English and Spanish," said Don.

"How about Arabic?" asked Weasel.

Don and Troy quickly looked at one another and then back at Weasel. "What do you mean?" asked Troy.

"Nothing," said Weasel. "It's just that we have a growing number of people from India, China and the Middle East in Irvington. There should be more languages than just English and Spanish. That guy looked Arabic to me."

"It doesn't matter," said Don. "Every alien who enters the country is told about the Identity Laws in whatever language they speak. They have to carry their passport cards with them at all times, which means Mona would have identified him. Aliens aren't allowed the choice to be anonymous the way citizens are."

"That's what I'm doing when I get to be eighteen," said Weasel. "I'm tossing away my dogtags and becoming a Nonnie."

"Then you'd better cash in all your investments before you do," said Don. "You won't be able to get a credit or debit card so you'll have to carry hard cash wherever you go."

"I understand your need to be anonymous sometimes," said Troy. "That's why Uncle Don and I go camping in the Adirondacks. We can leave our cards behind and roam all around the mountains and lakes with no one looking over our shoulders."

"Uncle Don?" said Weasel. "How come he calls you his son and you call him your uncle?"

"It's complicated," said Troy. "I always called him Uncle Don since I was a baby. When he married my mother, I became his son, but I still think of him as Uncle Don. It doesn't bother us and it's fun confusing other people.

"So, Weasel, I'll leave the papers you'll need to get signed with Uncle Don and you can give them to your mother to look over and sign. There'll be a phone number she can call if she wants to ask me any questions. If all goes well, I'll see you in Philly on Monday and introduce you to TROY II. Uncle Don, tell mom I'm coming home for dinner and I'll see you both then."

As Troy left, with Weasel right behind him asking question after question about robots before he could get away, Don looked at his computer screen. Mona had finished doing an identity search on the facial characteristics of the intruder that she had recorded earlier and had finally come up with a match. His name was apparently Khalid Selim Yasid and he was on the F.B.I.'s wanted list of suspected terrorists. According to the information posted, he was currently supposed to be hiding out someplace in Europe. Don picked up the phone and dialed his private number for F.B.I. Inspector Joe Pearson.


What? Still reading? Then you may want to continue the book to find out how it all ends.

2004, Imagineering Magic. All Rights Reserved.