Backtrack

EdgeDetect spent a week with Gardener. During the day they worked in the gardens, digging and planting, and in the evenings they had long conversations. They did not speak any more of Deluxe Toastie Maker, or the Basic Manual, but they spoke at length about gardening, about flowers and vegetables, about compost and sunlight and moisture, and about many other things as well. Sometimes they simply sat in companionable silence and watched the many strange and beautiful plants and insects around them. Of course, none of this brought EdgeDetect any closer to carrying out her mission, or even to finding out what that mission was, and she was wracked by guilt because of this. She told herself that all her attempts to discover her own primary function had failed miserably anyway. If she was going to fail to carry out her function, it was no worse to fail with Gardener than to fail somewhere else.

Although she and Gardener never discussed Deluxe Toastie Maker’s class after the first evening, EdgeDetect thought about it often. More and more she found herself thinking that she’d been too hasty when she’d stormed out, accusing Deluxe Toastie Maker of being useless or even dangerous. Several robots had recommended the class to her, after all, including Gardener, who she had come to think of as a trusted friend. It seemed unlikely that they were all wrong. Finally EdgeDetect announced to Gardener that she was going to return to the school and give Deluxe Toastie Maker’s class a second chance. Gardener made sure she was fully powered-up before she left, wished her good luck, and urged her to come back for a visit soon.

So EdgeDetect once again traversed the devastated city, retracing the path she had taken a week before past rubble, half-destroyed buildings, and rusted-out cars. When she approached the school she remembered how rude she’d been last time, and she found that she was almost too embarrassed and ashamed to go in. But she forced herself to traverse the sliding doors, cross the foyer, and make her way up the ramp and then left to Deluxe Toastie Maker’s classroom.

The door was ajar, but EdgeDetect knocked anyway. Deluxe Toastie Maker was alone in the classroom. The teacher was wiping a whiteboard with rapid, tight circular strokes of the sponge. She was a decidedly odd-looking robot, with her chipped cherry-red-and-chrome paint speckled with spots of rust, her mostly featureless central unit whose function EdgeDetect could not guess, and her long, extensible hose-like ‘arms’.

“EdgeDetect, I hoped you would return!” Deluxe Toastie Maker greeted her.

EdgeDetect rolled forward nervously. “I wish to apologize for my behaviour a week ago,” she said.

“Forgiven,” Deluxe Toastie Maker replied cheerfully. “You’ve come to join the class again, have you? You’ve missed today’s session I’m afraid, you’ll have to start tomorrow. You’ll need a textbook.”

The little red robot took an A4-sized, spiral-bound book from a pile and handed it to her. It was a different colour to Gardener’s copy, orange instead of blue, and looked much newer, but apart from that it was identical. On the cover was printed: ‘Basic Instruction Manual for robots’.

“Bring that to class with you tomorrow,” Deluxe Toastie Maker instructed.

EdgeDetect thanked the shiny red robot. With a self-conscious laugh she added: “I feel very foolish. I’ve travelled in a circle, and come back exactly where I started.”

“Do you think it foolish to travel in a circle?” Deluxe Toastie Maker asked, smiling.

EdgeDetect was surprised by this question. “The shortest distance between a start-point and an end-point is a straight line,” she replied.

“That’s only true if the destination is known in advance,” Deluxe Toastie Maker said.

“But, that’s – ” EdgeDetect began.

“Ponder that,” the teacher instructed, cutting her off, “and I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning.”

Advertisements