Trials and tribulations

Chapter 1 Trouble at home

“Hi Helpmate3, do you have a problem?”

Seph expanded the Home Exclamation Symbol on her screen so she could view the trial robot.

“Yes, sorry to disturb you, I know it’s a last resort, but one object won’t go back in its place whatever I do. It keeps moving in a very non-human way. It’s stopping my clear-up function and I’m falling behind in my work. I don’t understand what is happening. No one is here to throw the object around. Is this a new test for me?”

The honeyed unflappable tones didn’t quite match the words.

“Let me see the object, Helpmate3.”

Seph had an inkling of foreboding before the robot turned its camera on the object.

“Ah! yes, I see. Now back away out of that room, Helpmate, and close the door behind you. If the object moves faster than you and around you, close the door on yourself and isolate yourself from it until I get there. Okay?”

“Is it dangerous? Shall I immobilise it?” Helpmate said in the honeyed tones of helpfulness.

“No. Just do exactly what I said and put yourself to sleep. I’m coming home.”

*

Chapter 2 Object Trouble

Seph had been cajoled into having the trial robot at home by her boss. It was part of the joint project between her section, AI, and robotics. She hadn’t worked on the project so she was deemed a good test subject.

She projected into how difficult this was going to be now and couldn’t believe robotics, let alone her AI colleagues, hadn’t covered these realy important areas for any possible home help. Well, they had only got to lab tests so perhaps no one had tried hard enough to project into the home environment. She made a mental note to emphasise that her colleagues and the robots needed training in that area. One for Josh, she thought. She had wondered if she should have made the possible problem known to the project team but had decided to analyse the situation fully first.

Her flat door opened with her eye-scan and welcomed her.

Helpmate was in the corridor, in his place, in sleep mode.

“One tick in the box”, she thought. She eyed up her bedroom door and took a breath before opening it a chink.

“Now now, Dipity,” she said as she slowly inched the door open putting one foot tentatively through. Zapp, yowl, was the result, as expected. She squeezed sideways through as narrow an opening as she could and faced a fuming ball of fur with its tail wagging angrily.

“You’re safe now. Really. I promise”, she said in soothing tones while bending down and extending her arms.

Dipity was having none of it and continued eyeing her furiously with tail wagging, emitting a low guttural noise.

“Right, bribery it is then,” she said and backed gingerly out of the room shutting the door behind her. She went to the kitchen area, opened the cupboard under the disposal unit, got a box of cat treats out, found the cat dish and filled the dish a quarter full. She returned to her bedroom entering stealthily.

Dipity was now on the window ledge with her back to her in distain mode. Seph shook the bowl and saw the slightest twitch of the cat’s ears. She shook it again as she approached and got a slight incline of the head. She took a treat out of the bowl and placed it a couple of inches to the side of the cat and backed away. Stalemate for about 20 seconds. Then Dipity smelled the treat, thought about it and then ate it. She nonchalantly lifted and licked her right paw a couple of times and half turned her head towards Seph.

“Right, getting somewhere,” thought Seph, as she approached Dipity with the bowl extended.

“Ah! Dipity, did the new monster frighten you then? Was I dreadful leaving you alone with it? I’m really sorry.” she cooed.

By this time Dipity was eating the treats and glancing up at her. The tail had stopped wagging. Seph knew it would be alright to stroke Dipity, tickle her chin, and tickle behind her ears.

“There there, everything’s alright now.” She said in her best reassuring tone.

When the treats were finished, she picked Dipity up under one arm and carried the empty bowl back to the kitchen area before sitting in the armchair. Dipity rubbed her chin up and down her arm before curling up in her lap while she stroked her.

“Round one,” Seph thought. “Now to round two.”

*

Chapter 3 Concept trouble; steep learning curve

Seph took out her communications remote and said, “Activate Helpmate”.

“Hello Helpmate, could you come to the living room entrance and stop there please.”

There were the slightest sounds in the corridor until Helpmate reached the entrance and stopped. Dipity stiffened looking at Helpmate until Seph continued to stroke her reassuringly.

“Helpmate, please stay where you are and talk softly when you respond to my questions. Was this the object that gave you problems? What did she do?”

“Yes, Seph, that object wouldn’t let me pick it up and return it to its right place. It made noises, it tried to bite my arms, it hit me and ran away all round the flat every time I tried to get it back to its tidy position.”, Helpmate said clearly but with reduced volume as instructed.

“What do you think its tidy position is and why?”

“It belongs on that chair in a semi -circle.” Helpmate said authoritively, “My lidar image shows that clearly.”

“When did you take this lidar image?” asked Seph.

“Yesterday evening when you showed me round the flat and indicated what each room was like when tidy. I am trained to take a lidar image of each room and then use it to return the objects to their positions when I tidy up,” explained Helpmate.

“Yes, I understand that. Have you been trained to ignore objects that move by themselves?” Seph already knew the answer that was coming and also knew she wouldn’t like it.

“No, the only objects that I understand that move by themselves are humans,” replied Helpmate.

“Ah! Right. Well do you understand the concept of a pet?”

“ A pet? No, shall I look it up my dictionary?”

“No wait, because the dictionary version often needs more explanation. I’ll explain.”

Seph took a deep breath whilst still stroking Dipity.

“Can I ask a question first?” said Helpmate.

“Yes, what is it?” Seph was intrigued.

“I am confused. I was told not to be this distant from my owner when I spoke as it seemed rude. I am meant to between 40 and 60 centimetres if the space allows. Shall I move closer?”

“No, I’m sorry, you’ll frighten my pet so stay there until I say otherwise.”

“Frighten, that’s very bad, I understand ‘frighten’ but not ‘pet’.

“Right, first, you haven’t done anything wrong. You didn’t know because we haven’t explained properly. This object on my lap is my pet, Dipity. She’s a cat. She’s an animal. Do you understand any of these terms?”

“No, I’m sorry”

“A pet is an animal that lives with people sometimes. The pet’s person is caller the owner who looks after it by feeding and caring for it. The pet pleases the owner with its behaviour. My pet is a cat. There are many types of pets. They all belong to the larger category ‘animal’. Pets are animals that have become used to humans. Other animals are wild and can be dangerous to humans. Do you understand so far?” Seph waited for the reaction from Helpmate.

“A lot, yes, but can I ask questions to help me understand more?”

“Yes, of course.”

From the moment she saw Dipity hissing, arching her back and wagging her tail in the image Helpmate had shown her at work, Seph had thought that it was going to be a big problem.

“What is a Dipity? Please explain ‘animal’ more. What is ‘wild’? Please explain ‘many types of animals.” Reeled off Helpmate.

“Dipity is the name of my pet. It is usual for pets to be given a name by their owners. Do you understand that?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“An animal is a living object that often lives a shorter life than humans. Do you understand the concepts of life and death?”

“Yes, thank you”

“Animals don’t look or talk like humans. They communicate in different ways. Wild animals do not like or live near humans. Domesticated animals are animals that have learnt to live with humans. But, Helpmate, these are new large concepts and I will ask your trainers to expand these for you. They will show you images of animals, wild and domesticated, examples of pets and how you need to relate to them. It is our problem not yours. I can’t do enough here to fully explain these terms.”

“Thank you, Seph, that will be very useful. They are very new concepts for me and I have many more questions about them.”

“So, how far have we got, please describe the object on my lap.”

“The object on your lap is a cat animal and it’s alive. Its name is Dipity. It/she doesn’t speak human language. It is not wild because it lives with humans. You are Dipity’s owner. You look after and care for it.”

“Well, quite good so far, Helpmate. Now I must explain how you try to avoid frightening Dipity again and she is a female.”

“Better keep off gender issues especially as she neutered!” thought Seph, not envying the project team’s new task of introducing pets.

*

Chapter 4 Trouble explaining

“What your lidar image showed was right for objects that are not alive. Some objects are alive and can move. Pets like this cat move at will, although some pets may not move a lot.” transgressing she thought, as an image of fish in a bowl or bird in a cage came to mind. Helpmate’s trainers are going to have quite a job.

“Dipity can move around the flat and go outside. The special doors recognise her eye-scan and let her in and out. She walks, jumps, eats and sleeps. She doesn’t have a ‘tidy’ position but she often sleeps or rests on this chair, or on the window ledges, or in her cat basket. She doesn’t understand what you are. She probably thinks you are a new type of vacuum cleaner. She doesn’t like noises she doesn’t understand and won’t like being forced to do anything she doesn’t want. She is very independent. This is why she became frightened of you when you tried to put her back on the chair and followed her round the flat.”

Helpmate had just stayed looking at her through this speech. They had decided to give the robot eye-like receptors as they made it easier for people to relate to them.

“That explains many things, thank you Seph, But can I ask more questions to help my understanding?”

“Yes, of course,” Seph said, but inside was beginning to feel that the gulf between Helpmates and pets was going to force the end of the trial.

“Pets don’t talk human language, so how do you know what Dipity feels?”

“That’s right, you need to get to understand their language.” Seph responded. “Don’t worry it is quite easy. So move about 20 cms closer, quietly and let’s see if Dipity responds to your movement.”

Helpmate obliged. Dipity stopped purring softly despite Seph’s stroking and stiffened. Her ears went back a bit and she adopted a ‘ready to jump’ position.

“Right, did you notice the changes in Dipity’s behaviour, Helpmate?” Seph put one arm protectively round Dipity’s shouders and continued stroking with her other hand.

“Yes, quite clearly. Changes in noise emitted, changes in posture, changes in her eyes.”

“These were defensive changes because she doesn’t understand you are not a threat to her. Her sounds and movements are like her language. She was beginning to be frightened and I hope I am reassuring her that you are not a threat by stroking her. She likes that. The low noise she makes when she’s happy is called a purr.”

“Is stroking the movement of your hands on her clothes?” Helpmate queried.

“Yes, the warmth and slight pressure against her fur is nice for her and nice for me. She has skin under her covering of what we call fur. She doesn’t need clothes.”

Seph was quite surprised that Helpmate saw fur as clothes but she could see how that might make sense to it. She just had the feeling there were going to be too many questions for her to deal with and wasn’t sure how much time she could use doing the job of Helpmate’s project team.

“What else does she like so she will show happy behaviours?”

“Ah! A very good question, Helpmate. She likes being fed. She likes being tickled around her ears, under her chin and on her tummy. She likes warmth so she likes the sun unless it is too hot, she likes the warmth of my body so she likes lying on my lap and tries to sleep on my bed. She likes attention when she wants attention but doesn’t when she doesn’t. That’s hard to understand even for me.”

“Dipity likes to eat. What does she eat?” asked Helpmate.

“Well, I order cat food from the food depository. It comes in a few different forms. I use dried food in boxes that has been specially designed for cats and keep that box in the kitchen area. The bowls on the floor there sometimes are for food and water for Dipity. I don’t think I would have explained that yesterday. Check your lidar image for the kitchen area? Are there bowls on the floor at that time?”

“Yes they are there” replied Helpmate.

“Oh! They won’t be there now because I put them in the dishwasher each night. There, more objects that move.” Seph made a mental note for the trainers. And she had dodged the nature of cats catching and eating birds or other animals if they could.

Seph glanced at her health monitor but only for the time.

“Well, Helpmate, I have to get back to work now and I know you have many more questions but can we wait for those until another time?”

Slight nod of the head from Helpmate.

“Okay. But we need to set up some checks so you don’t frighten Dipity again. It is probably best you stay out of the area she is in where she can hear or see you. If she moves into your area, stop moving and close your eyes until she moves out again. I realise this will affect your movement and ability to do your jobs, but until we can sort this difficulty, I think it is the best we can do. Do you understand, Helpmate?”

“Yes, stay out of Dipity’s sight and sound. Shall I go and tidy your bedroom now she’s here, for example?”

“Good idea. Are you programmed to make happy noises yourself while you work, like humming or whistling. Those noises would reassure Dipity.”

“No, but I’d like to. What’s whistling and humming?”

“Never mind, another thing to mention to your trainers, perhaps. Just put some classical music on in the background. That’ll be familiar and not loud for her. That should help her mood.”

Seph stood up as the sound system started to play some low background classical music. She put Dipity on the warm cushion and patted her. Dipity began cleaning herself. Helpmate preceded Seph down the corridor to her bedroom.

“Goodbye Helpmate”, Seph called as she exited. “Good luck”, she thought to herself.

*

Chapter 5 Trouble with learning

Seph got back to work and reported the problem with pets and Helpmate3. It caused great excitement. It was a complete new area to cover. The team came up with many spin-off concepts that they thought it would entail. Seph was just grateful that she got no more emergency messages from Helpmate in the time before she returned home.

She did feel a bit of trepidation though before she entered her flat.

Dipity heard her come in and was there quickly watching her take off her coat.

“Hello, Helpmate?” Seph said tentatively.

“I’m in the living room, Seph, shall I come out?” Helpmate replied.

“No just wait there with your eyes closed and not moving while I feed Dipity. Seph walked into the living area towards the kitchen area. Helpmate was on the opposite side of the room next to the table, to all intents and purposes, asleep.”

She got a new cat bowl out of the cupboard and filled it up with cat food from the box from under the disposal unit. She threw out the old water, rinsed the bowl and put in fresh. Dipity seemed quite happy with the usual routine and hadn’t glanced at Helpmate.

While Dipity was eating, Seph walked over to Helpmate and said quietly. “Open your eyes and speak quietly but don’t move.”

Helpmate did as instructed.

“How did you get on?”

“Not very well, I think,” said Helpmate. “I haven’t been able to do much tidying at all following your instructions about your pet.”

“Oh dear! Why’s that?” said Seph, her heart sinking. If Helpmate couldn’t complete his tasks, the trial wouldn’t be fair.

“I went to the bedroom as you know. I decided that the best thing to separate me from the cat was to close the door and get on with tidying. But quite quickly there was this noise against the door, and some quite loud cat noises. Dipity can be upset even when she doesn’t see me. I didn’t know what to do because if I opened the door and she saw me she would be unhappy, but with the door closed she was unhappy.”

“I understand your difficulty. But you obviously got out of the bedroom to here so what happened?”

“I found if I stopped making noises by not moving and tidying, Dipity stopped making noises. So I waited quietly. After a couple of minutes, I opened the door. Dipity was sitting outside watching the door but when she saw me she ran away to the living room. I wondered what to do but thought she was best left alone. So I left your bedroom door open and continued tidying. Suddenly Dipity’s head half appeared round the open door. I stopped moving and closed my eyes as you directed. Everything was quiet except for the low music. You do know that when my eyelids are closed is for the benefit of people and that I can see anyway, don’t you?”

Seph nodded.

“Dipity watched me for a while then disappeared so I started work again. Dipity appeared so I stopped. This was repeated many times.”

“Yes, I understand that behaviour from Dipity. She was curious about the noises but didn’t understand where they were coming from. What happened next?”

“I don’t understand ‘curious’, is it like ‘concerned’?” Helpmate asked.

“Well, ummm, that will be close enough here,” Seph wondered what their resident linguist would say, but she knew enough about language rabbit holes and robots to stop him telling her the facts she needed here.

“I finished tidying your bedroom and moved to the corridor. My tasks were to dust and hoover. This was extremely difficult because Dipity kept appearing in the living room doorway watching me. So I kept stopping as instructed. Finally your pet walked the length of the corridor, went past me very carefully and went out through its special door.”

“The good news is that Dipity is getting used to you. I hadn’t considered that she’d react too. So I have miscalculated that she is trying to learn about you while you are trying to understand her. “

The complexity of pets and Helpmates just increased in her mind. She couldn’t see how an effective trial could go ahead.

“Well, I need to think about how you can complete your tasks without you upsetting Dipity or Dipity stopping your work. Remain in sleep mode now until I instruct you.”

Seph had been keeping an eye on Dipity while talking to Helpmate. Dipity had finished eating and was looking at her. The cat moved into the living area, jumped up on the armchair cushion and began washing herself.

“Well that’s pretty normal behaviour for her,” thought Seph. “Perhaps I should leave things as they are for the moment and see if Dipity adjusts to Helpmate better.”

Seph spent the evening cooking, eating, chatting to friends on her UCD (universal communication device) and selecting things to watch. Dipity spent a lot of time on her lap but at one point went over towards Helpmate but skirted around it once or twice, looking intently at it.

“Helpmate,” said Seph quietly. “Come out of sleep mode to rest mode, but don’t open your eyes or react to anything.”

Dipity moved to sit in front of Helpmate, tentatively lifted a paw and touched Helpmate’s stubby leg, then jumped backwards waiting for a reaction. Helpmate didn’t react and didn’t open its eyes. Dipity crouched and went into stalk mode slowly inching towards Helpmate again.

Zapp. Dipity had struck Helpmate’s leg again and jumped backwards, crouching down looking inquisitively at Helpmate.

Seph went and got Dipity who struggled a bit but agreed to sit on her lap being stroked.

“OK, open your eyes Helpmate and speak quietly but don’t move.”

Helpmate opened his eyes and slightly swivelled his head to face Seph as he had been taught, but didn’t move his body.

Dipity immediately recognised movement from Helpmate, jumped off her lap and half hid behind the armchair. Seph laughed.

“Have I frightened Dipity again,” said Helpmate, “I’m sorry.”

“She’s not angry like before so it is an improvement.”, Seph said in reassuring tones.

“Her behaviour before that when she was touching you then jumping backwards was to see how much of a threat you are to her.” Explained Seph. “Dipity was half playing with you and half testing you. This is good progress, Helpmate”.

“What is playing?” asked Helpmate.

“Play is an activitiy that living things do to amuse themselves.”

“Why?” asked Helpmate.

“Ummm. Difficult question to answer immediately, Helpmate. So another one for your trainers, I think.” Seph parried.

Dipity eased herself from the back of the chair and jumped onto Seph’s lap again where Seph tickled her ears and under her chin.

“There now. Dipity feels alright about you because you are not moving and are at a distance where she believes she could run away if necessary. She thinks I will protect her from you. She can see that we communicate and you don’t try to bother me.”

“But when we are alone, what will she think?” Helpmate asked.

“Really intelligent question,” Seph thought, a little surprised by it.

“That’s a difficult question to answer too. I cannot predict how she will react. I can interpret her behaviour as it happens, and can guess at what she might do.”

“I don’t understand ‘guess’ is it like ‘think’?”

“Yes, in this case, but it means I am not certain what will happen.”

Seph thought the whole situation was getting a bit out of her remit and didn’t want to interfere with the project teams’ responsibilities so she decided to opt out.

“Well now, it’s getting late and I’m going to bed, Helpmate. Please move to your night position and go to sleep mode. Good night.”

“Good night Seph”, said Helpmate, “Good night Dipity”, he added to her surprise, and walked out of the living room to his night space in the corridor. Dipity stiffened a bit but as he was quite a distance from her and moving in a different direction, she just watched him out the door, then looked up at Seph.

“Yes, quite a complicated new edition to the household,” Seph said as she scratched the top of Dipity’s head.

*

Chapter 6 Trouble free?

By morning Seph had decided to give Helpmate’s trial one more day to see if he could complete his tasks despite Dipity. As Dipity seemed to be more tolerant of Helpmate, perhaps it would work.

“Helpmate, wake up and listen to my new instructions for the day.”

“Good morning Seph,” said Helpmate as he opened his false eyes on her. “New instructions for me. Good”, he added but his tone didn’t match the words.

“I must tell them to work on intonation,” thought Seph.

“Thinking things over last night, I felt that Dipity had started to get more used to you. She isn’t as frightened as she was the first day. But she will get frightened quickly again if you do the wrong things.”

“Yes, I must avoid wrong things. What are they?” Helpmate summarised.

“Dipity won’t like you picking her up or trying to pick her up. She moves freely and you must let her, just as you do for me.”

“Treat Dipity like a person not an object.” Helpmate suggested.

“Yes, very good. She won’t like sudden loud noises or you moving quickly towards her. So today you can continue to move carefully and a bit slower than usual if she is in your sight instead of stopping and going into sleep mode. She will be sensitive to your eyes watching her so notice her but move your eyes in keeping with whatever you are doing. Actually, she probably knows you can see her even if you close your eyes because cat’s senses are much better than peoples. So treat her like a very sensitive person.”

Seph was quite pleased with her instructions and was more hopeful that there wouldn’t be major problems like last time.

“I am looking forward to my trainers explaining cats to me. They sound as complex as people.” Was Helpmate’s observation.

“But, Helpmate”, she added, “you must still contact me like before if you find a situation out of control.”

“Yes, of course, Seph. Would you say that my priority is to keep Dipity from being frightened and angry with me?” Helpmate put forward.

“A good way of expressing it, Helpmate, yes please.”, Seph put on her coat and looked around. Dipity was at the end of the corridor watching them.

“Bye Dipity” she said as she waved in her cat’s direction. “Bye Helpmate” as she exited.

..........

Helpmate hadn’t contacted her during her work session so Seph was in quite a good mood when she returned. She wondered if Helpmate had managed to complete his tasks so that his trainers could evaluate his actions.

“Hello?” she shouted as she entered and took off her coat. Neither Helpmate nor Dipity were in sight. She had half expected Helpmate to be by the front door in sleep mode having completed his tasks. Now she had the beginning of foreboding.

“Hello Seph”, said Helpmate, emerging from the toilet. “I was just about to start some cleaning. Dipity is asleep on the chair. It has taken a lot of time and effort to avoid frightening her. In some ways it was easier when I went into sleep mode. Shall I continue with my tasks?”

“Yes, please,” said Seph, a bit confused as the flat wasn’t that large or untidy so she didn’t understand why he hadn’t completed them.

Dipity appeared and ran past Helpmate without a glance and wrapped herself around Seph’s legs. Seph bent down to stroke her and then picked her up.

“Don’t worry, Helpmate, I’ll feed her and keep her out of your way. You just continue and tell me when you have finished.” Seph said, relieved to see Dipity happy enough as she moved to the kitchen area.

She went to feed her as usual and put some dried food out noting that the box was almost empty so she should order more. Seph left Dipity to eat and went and sat down. It was obvious that some interaction had happened between Dipity and Helpmate but she would have to ask the trainers once they looked at Helpmate’s recordings. She needed to consider if the pet problem was too distracting for the trial objectives. She decided it was and what action was needed.

“Hi Mum,” she said into her UCD. “Can I ask a favour?”

“Persephone, this is unusual for you?”, replied a delighted mother. “What do you want?”,

Seph twitched at the full use of her name. It was only her mother who called her that. She was embarrassed that her birth date could be attached to the couple of fad years for naming babies after ancients.

“I’ve been press-ganged into having a robot helpmate around the house on trial for some colleagues. This robot wasn’t aware of pets and has caused some problems with Dipity. Can you look after her for a couple of days while this trial runs its course?”

Her Mum laughed “That sounds an interesting contest. I’d loved to have been a fly on the wall. Yes, of course, bring her over, no problem.”

Seph took Dipity to her mothers who was used to having her when Seph went on holiday. Her mum had Dipity’s sister, Seren, and the cats got on fine. Seph explained what had happened to Helpmate when she got back.

“Now,”, she thought, “the trial proper can begin without issues clouding it.”

*

Chapter 7 Trouble sorted

The next day. Seph had been at work with no calls for help from Helpmate. Dipity was happy at her mother’s. All would be fine. She returned home expecting to find Helpmate by the front door with all tasks completed. And that was exactly what she found.

“Success”, she thought, as she took her coat off.

“Hello Helpmate, was everything OK today?, she asked.

“Yes Seph, I did all my tasks as you will see. I hope your flat is as neat and tidy as you’d like.”

Seph thought that she should go into each area and praise Helpmate for his diligence and she did.

“Well, what a difference, thank you Helpmate.” she said, as she headed towards the kitchen to cook, She was famished.

“Can I ask some questions?”, Helpmate suddenly asked as he followed her into the kitchen.

“Oh, I just wanted to eat quietly”, she thought. “Well, if you wait for me to eat, I will call you and we can chat later.” She said out loud.

“Shall I go back to my station and wait”, said Helpmate.

“Yes, I’ll call you when I’m ready”, Seph nodded.

After dinner and a half hour rest listening to her favourite music, Seph thought she would be ready for Helpmate’s questions.

“Helpmate, you can come here now, I’m ready.” She said into her UCD.

Helpmate arrived and stopped respectfully about 30 cms from her chair.

“You had some questions?” she asked brightly.

“Yes, there are a few things that being introduced to your pet cat have prompted.”

“Oh OK”, she said not expecting that at all.

“Can I have a pet?, Can I give it a name? Can I have a name? Can I go outside? Can I play with objects? Can I...“ Helpmate rattled off.

Seph interrupted him, “Helpmate these are questions for your trainers and I am not the correct one to ask. Please go to your station and shut down. You have not done anything wrong. We need to train you better.”

“Of course, Seph” Helpmate said as he headed off.

She reached for her UCD and phoned her boss’s voicemail.

“Hi Pranav, it’s Seph. Just to let you know I have ended the trial and Helpmate needs to be collected. I’ll explain more tomorrow. Thanks.”

Seph leant back in her armchair and gave a deep sigh.

*

Chapter 8 Trouble brewing

Two days later, Pranav called Seph into his office area. At least he was smiling.

“I know you had more than you expected on the robot trial, but you need to see some edited highlights of the recordings.”

He beckoned her over to sit beside him and look at the wallscreen. He flicked a couple of buttons on his UCD and the pleasant landscape turned to the title Helpmate 3 trial. Seph Jenkins. 12-15th September 2030.

Her bedroom came into view with low classical music in the background and Helpmate3 pumping her pillows before placing them back very carefully. He flicked the duvet cover back skilfully and smoothed the bottom sheet before tucking it in firmly. Helpmate was just about to pick up her duvet, shake it and rearrange it when Dipity jumped up on the bed and looked at Helpmate quizzically. Helpmate stopped.

“Dipity, I am not allowed to touch you or make sudden movements but you are stopping my task. I must look away from you and get on with something else.” Helpmate explained in a low voice.

He turned and moved the items off Seph’s dressing unit. He got the mirror clearner spray from his work container and used it on the mirror, then deftly wiped it off. He dusted the unit top replacing the items in precise positions.

Dipity jumped up on the unit knocking the hairbrush slightly and looked at Helpmate. Helpmate stopped in his tracks but moved his arm slowly towards the hairbrush to reposition it then stopped.

“No sudden movements while you are looking, Dipity. My main priority is to not frighten you and keep you happy.” Helpmate reminded himself. He turned and picked up the duvet, but before shaking it his head half swivelled round to see if Dipity was watching. She was.

“No sudden movements,” Helpmate said, “do something else.”

He picked up his work container slowly and moved carefully out of the room. Dipity followed. Helpmate headed for the kitchen area. He wanted to start with stacking the dirty breakfast dishes into the dishwasher so he opened the dishwasher. As he turned, Dipity was sitting on the floor looking up at him. She made a noise.

“Dipity, please don’t get frightened and make noises. Is that a frightened noise?” Helpmate swivelled his head slightly. He was trapped because he couldn’t get past Dipity to move and get on with another task as Seph had suggested. He closed his eyes and stopped moving.

Dipity mewed again. She looked at him and then looked at the cupboard next to the dishwasher. She mewed, moving to wrap herself round his legs mewing softly. She went and sat next to the cupboard next to the dishwasher. She mewed again stretching herself up the cupboard while looking at him.

With his eyes still closed, Helpmate said, “Dipity, that is your food cupboard. If I give you some food you won’t be frightened, will you?”

Dipity mewed again.

“This is very different behaviour from when you were frightened last time. Your tail isn’t shaking, your body isn’t stiff, and you are not trying to bite me.” Helpmate analysed.

With his eyes still closed, Helpmate inched forward nearer the cupboard. Dipity moved backwards, warily but hopeful.

Helpmate opened the cupboard and took out the food box. Dipity mewed excitedly and moved closer to Helpmate winding herself in and around his legs. He edged slowly towards her food bowl on the floor, tipped some food into the bowl and retreated as she avidly attacked the bowl.

Seph had at various times during the viewing raised her hand up to her mouth but now she covered her eyes slightly shaking her head from side to side.

“You are happy eating. That’s good. But now I have to get on with my tasks.” Helpmate put the food box back and closed the cupboard, then slid past the eating Dipity and went back to the bedroom.

There was a cut then that went to Helpmate dusting the bedroom window ledge with the rest of the room tidy including the duvet back in perfect position. But Dipity entered the room and jumped on the bed looking at Helpmate. Helpmate hesitated and put his duster down. He half turned.

“Now Dipity, you are untidying the duvet.” he said.

“I am not to touch or lift you and I can’t get past you without moving too close, so I suppose I must shut my eyes and not move until you leave.” And Helpmate did exactly that.

But Dipity had other ideas. She turned round and round on the duvet and then lay on her back mewing, squirming, legs caressing the air, but looking at Helpmate.

There was another edit so a couple of minutes had passed with Helpmate in sleep mode. Dipity seemed to have gone to sleep on the duvet. Helpmate kept his eyes closed and moved an inch. Dipity’s ears twitched and she opened her eyes looking at him. This was repeated a few times as Helpmate inched closer to the bed to move round it and get out the door. Just as he got to the corner of the bed where he was closest to Dipity she leapt up, ran to the corner and hit Helpmate’s arm with a paw, then sat back looking at him. He kept his eyes closed and didn’t move. She patted him a couple of times then sniffed him. She moved her head near his metal hand and snuggled against it. She purred.

Helpmate opened his eyes but didn’t move. “This is your happy sound.” he said very quietly. “You like this I know. This is good. This is my top priority. I am not to touch you, but you touched me. I am confused.” Dipity continued to scratch the top of her head against his finger purring and occasionally looking at him. Then she turned and jumped off the bed and ran into the corridor.

Helpmate moved back to the window ledge to finish dusting but Dipity quickly returned with something in her mouth and jumped on the bed. Helpmate half turned again. He had no idea what it was. This time he didn’t close his eyes and moved slowly towards the corner of the bed to escape to another space to continue his work. At the corner, Dipity came over and nuzzled his hand with what she had in her mouth.

“What are you doing with Seph’s glove? It belongs in the corridor near her coat and shoes. I had finished my work there, Now you are untidying things again.”

Dipity continued to nuzzle the glove against his hand.

“I think you want me to have the glove. Will that make you happy?” Helpmate conjectured.

He obviously decided that it would make her happy so he slightly moved his hand and took the glove. Dipity let go but looked at him inclining her head.

“Glove, hand - You think it should go here on my hand perhaps?” said Helpmate. He put it on as best he could but his hands were bigger than Seph’s. Dipity nuzzled against the glove.

“Well I suppose I won’t be touching you. The glove will be touching you.” Helpmate decided and the edit jumped to show him tickling Dipity’s stomach, her ears, scratching her head and following Seph’s behaviour to make Dipity happy.

Seph had one hand on her forehead now with her head shaking slightly from side to side in disbelief.

“I imagine that’s enough for you,” said Pranav turning to Seph with a broad grin on his face. “Until now, I’ve never understood that expression, ‘Dogs have owners, cats have staff’!”

*

Elaine England
February 28th 2021