At the top of each bounce - and again at the bottom – Zachary Tanner could see his face reflected in the robot's chest-plate. A crystal-clear image, frozen for a moment, before it dissolved into a jumble of ripples as their bounce rose or fell.
His face was flushed, lips a thin line from the - Zachary's gaze flickered from his reflection to the timer displayed on robot's face-plate - fourteen minutes thirty-one seconds of exercise.
“Just five more minutes, Zach. We're doing great!”
The robot would often set its skin to mirrored when it accompanied Zachary outdoors. It was one of the thousand small tricks it played to make Zachary feel less alone. And one of the tricks that made the robot appear less human; no more – or less – an object than the trampoline on which it bounced.
An object with much greater functionality than a trampoline; incredible functionality, for the price. A humanoid-object; about Zachary's size. Two arms, two legs and an oblong that passed for a head. But just an object, a machine, all the same.
Four-hundred and seventy seven metres away - across tree-lined avenues, meandering crescents and quiet cul-de-sacs; over the numerous manicured lawns and zero-maintenance flowerbeds of the suburban Country Living Development that the Tanner's called home - a boy and his two sisters were playing hide and seek with two robot companions, in their own perfectly presented back yard.
Under an annual agreement with the family, the Tanner robot had accessed the Scott-family audio-visual library. It was reprocessing the audio from the current game of hide and seek - to remove any personally identifying information - and then remixing and amplifying it; before rebroadcasting it as ambient background noise. To Zachary – had he not known an elderly couple lived there – it would seem a school playground existed on the other side of his fence.
The robot received - via the Family Data Store (FDS) - a continual stream of health data from a chip implanted into the armpit of each Tanner family member. Noting Zachary's current readings it waited until the boy's gaze was away from its face-plate, then reduced the exercise time by one minute and seventeen seconds. The second such reduction for this activity. It sent a recommendation to Chloe Tanner - who was away from home for three days attending a portrait-painting class (and – from the data - enjoying herself immensely) - that her son's exercise regime be switched to Program-E2, for the twenty-one days before he returned to school.
The family had recently taken a two week holiday - at the home of Mrs Tanner's parents – and Zachary had returned the worse for an unbalanced diet and the wrong kind – if any kind - of exercise.
“Just one more minute, Zach. Let's really go for it now!”
The management system in Liam Tanner's car informed the robot – via the FDS - that Charlie's father would now be six minutes late (current estimate), for his son's scheduled personal development review. The robot allocated an extra five minutes and thirty seconds of personal-time for Zachary.
The boy had been in the company of others for far too long during the vacation. Some time to himself – whenever his tightly controlled schedule allowed – was considered beneficial by the specialists who maintained the Child Health and Fitness Module (CHFM) that the Tanner's had selected.
The latest information in the wiki, maintained by the manufacturer of the robot, strongly contradicted this advice. A male child with Zachary's current behavioural analysis was not to spend any more than minimal time alone. However - financial data in the FDS confirmed - the Tanners had been unable to afford CHFM upgrades for the last two years; and Liam Tanner was no hobby-coder.
Zachary sank to his hands and knees, gasping for breath; the trampoline barely quivering beneath his fingertips as the robot's hydraulics suppressed it.
“Exercise is ...” the robot proclaimed, around gulps of unnecessary air, “ … great fun!”
Zachary gently blew a snot-bubble in and out of his nose and waited for his dizzy spell to pass. Then crawled awkwardly over the safety netting and lowered himself carefully down onto the grass. The robot joined him in one effortless bound.
As the pair approached the house, hand in hand, the robot began to fade out the re-projected noise from the game of hide and seek and blend in sounds from the household of a Taiwanese couple and their four children.
Orchestrating the symphony via the audio system of the FDS, the robot took sounds of cooking, of home improvement; a hair-dryer at full blast, a bath running, a washing machine on spin speed. And spliced them together with people talking, people laughing, was that a baby crying? Teenagers dancing to music, kids shrieking at Halloween; a robot butler announcing the name of a visitor and a cook announcing the evening meal. All from The Sounds of a Happy Family (Version 45).
Those sounds would be shifted around the house, into adjoining rooms and corridors, as Zachary traipsed to the stairs and then his bedroom, for his five minutes and thirty seconds of time spent alone.
... TVM for my fun afternoon, Mr Hamill :-)