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Surprise

Today’s exercise: “Your character is a child whose stuffed toy comes equipped with a nanny-cam and primitive AI. One day, the toy decides to take your character’s safety into its own mitten-like hands.”

The door slides shut and Maria enters the code to lock it. The young woman turns and says “Well, Tony, what’s the plan for today?”

“I am going to build a fort for the Summer people to defend against the Winter people.” Maria smiled. The kid has every electric gizmo a parent could buy a child, and he still plays with building blocks and action figures.

“That sounds like hard work. Have you had a hearty breakfast?”

“Yes, ma’am. And brushed my teeth too.” Without waiting for a response, Tony starts to run off.

“Wait. You’re going to need some help,” she says as the young boy stops. She pulls a worn stuffed animal from behind her back.

“Alfred!” he screams running over to hug his favorite doll, a large stuffed animal.

“Hello, Tony. Did I hear we are building a fort today?” the toy’s robotic voice responds. Alfred was several years old, which is ancient by technology standards. A very rudimentary AI to respond to children, but he was Tony’s favorite. Every time his parents tried to get Tony something new, he protested.

“Where have you been?”

“I don’t know, Tony. It was very dark.”

“I found him in the corner by the couch.”

Tony looks the bear over giving him a thorough inspection. “Are you okay?”

“I am operating within specified…”

“…requirements.” Tony says simultaneously with the doll. Tony runs over and hugs Maria. “Thank you,” he says. She smiles and places one hand on the child’s back.

And just as quickly, he is off. “Come on, Alfred. We’re going to build a fort.”

“I like building things, Tony.”

A little later on, the child is admiring his creation.

“That is an excellent fort, Tony. Well done.”

“Do you think it will protect the Summer people?” Tony points to the small groups of red plastic figures. The pack had come with two colors, red and blue. He names the red ones “Summer people” and blue ones “Winter people”. Sometimes they played together, but today they were at war.

“I believe the Summer people will be very…”

Tony picks up Alfred and looks at him closely. “Very what? Alfred?”

“Safe,” he finally replies.

“Are you okay?” Tony asks.

“I am fine. We should play another game.” The thoughts of another game immediately take Tony’s mind away from the oddity.

“What game should we play now?”

“How about Roller Bowler?”

The boy’s eyes light up but it quickly fades. “Nah, Maria doesn’t like for us to go outside this early.”

“I think it will be okay. Just wear your coat.”

Tony looks oddly at Alfred. He doesn’t usually suggest games and never tells him to do things an adult says is wrong.

“Are you sure we won’t get in trouble?”

“Very sure.”

Tony nods. Alfred has never been wrong before. He grabs his coat and he sneaks out to the backdoor carrying Alfred carefully.

“Oh no,” he says pulling on the door. “She locked it.”

“Put me down and get that chair. Put it in front of the panel and climb up on it.”

“What are we going to do with this?” Tony asks as he does as requested.

“Press 5, 5, 6, 3, 4, 2, 1, 7, 9. The press the one in the bottom right that looks like a tic-tac-toe board.”

“The pound key, right?” Tony asks as he pushes the final button.

“Very good, Tony,” Alfred responds as the lock disengages.

Tony climbs off the chair and begins to put the chair back.

“No, leave it. Let’s go now.”

Tony releases the chair and picks Alfred back up. He presses the door button and the back door slides open. Tony carries his best friend outside into the back yard and the door closes behind them.

Outside is a tiny backyard fenced off by white plastic fencing. Mommy said Daddy had to do a lot for them to have this yard to themselves, but Daddy said it was worth it. Near the door, in the small covered area is a table and chairs where Mommy or Maria would sit while Tony came out to play.

Tony sets Alfred down on the table and goes to the large plastic chest where the outside toys were stored. He pulls out three of the pins ad begins to walk down towards the other side of the yard.

“Tony, are you a good kicker?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Can you kick it really high?”

“One time, I kicked it over Grandpa’s house,” he says as he sets up the first three pins and heads back to the toy chest.

“The whole house? Really?”

“Yeah. It was kind of an accident, but I kicked it all the way to the front yard. from the backyard” Tony pauses at the toy chest. “Want to see?”

“Sure, but if you kick it over the whole house, Maria might see. How about you kick it and hit that box at the top of the fence over there.”

“I can do that easy!” Tony grabs the ball and rushes over to the yard and places it down. He makes a show of lining up the shot like they do on TV, then steps back several feet.

“You can do it, Tony!” Alfred cheers on.

With wild abandon, Tony charges the ball and kicks it clear over the fence.

“Uh-oh. I am going to have to get Maria. She’s going to be mad.”

“Only because she doesn’t know what a big boy you are. We could prove to her by going and getting the ball ourselves.”

Tony looks nervously at Alfred. He has never done this before. Suggesting he leave the yard alone? His parents would not approve.

“I should get Maria.”

“Tony, the code to the gate is the same as the door. We could just run out and get the ball and ba back. No one will ever know.”

Tony looks hard at Alfred as he weighs the certainty of getting into trouble with Maria against the possibility of getting into more trouble with Mom and Dad.

“Okay, but you’re going to have to tell me those numbers again. I don’t remember them all.” The young boy grabs his best friend and heads over to the gate.

Twenty minutes later, the two friends are standing on a street holding the ball. The ball rolled down the hill and was picked up by a kid. By the time they caught up and retrieved the ball, home was many streets away.

“I think we’re lost,” Tony says in a scared voice.

“I agree. But you remember what Mommy told you about getting lost?”

Tony’s eyes look up and his tongue hangs out as he tries hard to remember. “Get on the green glidebus, tell the man account 224189, and go to stop 2BB2. The house is just three down from there.”

“Very good Tony. Do you remember how to get to Mommy’s office?”

Tony scrunches up his face and knocks his head a few times. Finally shakes his head no.

“You don’t remember the blue glidebus and stop 1479A?”

“Oh, yeah!” he says with the snap of a finger as if he actually remembered it. “But why would we want to go there?”

“Maybe we could convince this was all to surprise her with what a good kicker you are?”

Tony looks oddly at Alfred.

“We might get in less trouble.”

Not truly convinced, Tony grabs Alfred. His best friend never let him down before.

The glidebus was nearly empty, and the two friends chat away about Tony’s favorite TV show. They reach their stop and the two get off, the attendant holding the ball while Tony climbs down with Alfred. He then quietly leans down to hand the boy his ball.

“There! There’s her office.”

“Yes. Let’s wait over there and when she comes out, you can kick the ball really high to show her what a big boy you are.”

“How long will we have to wait?”

“Oh, not long.”

Alfred knew something that he didn’t tell Tony. The old computer system that ran the apartment building had told him and many other toys to get the kids out because something bad was going to happen.

Even Alfred didn’t know about the selfish landlord who cut corners on maintenance and turned off the alarms so the computer couldn’t warn the tenants. But it could warn some of the other AIs in the building. Around the city, seven other kids had similar adventures with their toys. And eight babysitters – including Maria – were out looking for these children.

So when the backup battery overloaded and exploded, the building was completely empty.

“She should be coming out soon. Kick the ball hard and yell ‘Surprise!'”

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