Fiction: Uncle Otto’s Robot pt. 1

The robot arrived before the summer harvest as my Uncle Otto was looking for extra hands on the farm. The box it arrived in read simply, “Automation: Some Assembly Required.” My Uncle Otto didn’t think much of it and moved the box from the house to the barn where his horse Roxy slept.

I asked him about the robot and he said, “Thought I’d spend some money on machinery this year after last year’s scramble to make ends meet. It’s been hard-going planting and seeding without any help. There’s no reason we have to struggle to collect our harvest in time.”

There was truth to this: at sixteen I had spent every summer since I was ten working on his farm. My uncle gave me a place to sleep, paid me small allowances every week, and was good company. Moreover, I couldn’t really ask for more at my age though it was hard work. There was a lot of freedom and discipline in working in my uncle’s fields every day.

Nevertheless, every year it seemed as if we fell a little more behind, until finally, I surmised, we wouldn’t be able to catch up. I didn’t like when my uncle sat at the table calculating his finances. He just looked so troubled whether it had been a good day or not.

Looking over the manual I could see what my Uncle Otto was trying to do and I caught the faintest hint of enthusiasm and optimism that I hadn’t seen in a while.

“Landlow’s Automation will assist you with your every need on the farm, from picking crops to heavy-lifting. He’ll even cook you breakfast if your wife is under the weather. Trust in Landlow Automation—the company that gets the season moving.”

On the evening of the robot’s arrival, Uncle Otto did things as usual: ate a slow dinner, talked to my aunt about various activities that had occurred throughout the day, (“One of the work-hands fell on an ear of corn and the boy had to be shucked.”) and sauntered onto the porch where he smoked a cigarette, all the while paying mind to the barn, where his interest had been for most of the day. Though he didn’t think much of the automation’s box, I think he was excited at the prospect of an expedited harvest.

So, on a warm day in May I watched my Uncle Otto assemble the machine from the open barn door, sun shining on my back casting a long shadow that stretched to Roxy’s pen in the back. Deep in contemplation, my Uncle Otto looked as forlorn as any English speaking shmuck forced to read road signs in Spanish.

But, my uncle was a learned man, nevertheless plagued with the country-bumpkin persona, as his hands were hard from working tough hours and his face tanned from the sun. He was intelligent, going off to college in his twenties to learn accounting, and moved to a big city where he spent some years at a bank, until he moved away and into the long hilly plains of Northern Michigan where few bright-minded men dared to tred, lest they be killed by the forecast.

Uncle Otto took a long, shiny metal cylinder and placed it on the ground and gradually built a body, adding parts to the abdomen as if it was the central nervous system. Soon enough, the shape of a man-sized robot was plain to see. It’s body reminiscent of a homosapian, with appendages for carrying it’s own weight around the farm, no doubt.

As he placed the final piece of the construct atop the shoulders, I could see the inner-workings of the machine through the base of its neck—a thousand wires and chips gleamed as it was turned over and placed high on top; and, as Uncle Otto fixed it into place the eyes glowed brightly and a thunderous whirring noise was produced from the machine’s chest before it fell silent again.

Uncle Otto flipped through the manual, looking over the page cantankerously, occasionally licking his thumb to turn the page, until his expression showed one of general understanding.

“Machine!” he yelled. “Work!”

Nay, said the machine’s movements.

Uncle Otto lifted his cap and licked his lips, snorting strongly from his nostrils, then mumbled, as he pointed toward the bottom of the page, “Oh, I forgot this little bit here …” His lack of patience was evident. “You are property of Landlow Automation … yadda yadda yadda … They own you and the right to distribute you … yadda yadda yadda … you are in the care of Otto T. Merry for the duration of your life, unless Landlow Automation revokes the right for Mr. Merry to own a Landlow Automation product … yadda yadda yadda.”

We retired after Uncle Otto decided to read the pamphlet further with his feet near a fire and his rump in a chair.

That evening before I dozed off into sleep I could hear my aunt and uncle talking about the robot, my aunt’s voice getting to the point of yelling as she disliked the idea of a brainless robot clunking around the farm, perhaps even spying into the kitchen window while she made dinner. My Uncle Otto protested, said he was happy with the machine. He just couldn’t get over the abilities of this robot: it could take directions, read rules and regulations, haul a near infinite amount of crop, and never grow tired. My uncle Otto told her that she sounded crazy and the reigns would forever be in his hands and in no one else’s.