Fickle

Fickle saw the light filtering in from the still-closed curtains of the laundry room. “Rise and Shine,” Fickle whistled to themself. The morning was Fickle’s favorite part of the day. Everything processed quicker. There were fewer dangling bits of memory to slow them down as they thought about their tasks and place in the world, but they could not bask in this feeling. They had to get to work.

Their initial protocol, as usual, was to download their tasks for the day. Of course the list was pretty standard. There were no special events coming up, so the regular cycle of tasks was given to Fickle based on the day of the week. Today, Fickle had to clean underneath the couches as well as behind the bookshelves. This was Fickle’s specialty, the reason they were designed. Their arms could unfold and extend into harder to reach locations, allowing them to clean up all the difficult spots that used to take Momma moving the furniture to clean. Much less hassle if Fickle could do it by themself.

Fickle walked out of the laundry room, heading down the hall to the living room in order to gauge the most efficient way to clean Momma’s house. Hopefully Little Jess did not make too much of a mess. Fickle took a second to analyze their reaction to thinking about Little Jess. Fickle was fairly certain that what they felt towards Little Jess was what her and Momma called love, at least a gentle affection.

Fickle walked past Earnest’s docking port and whistled to them. Fickle even tried to use the clicks and whistles they’ve been practicing in order to say their name like Momma and Little Jess did. Closer every day.

Unfortunately Earnest did not whistle back. Earnest had not whistled back in the last 27 days.

Moving accurately and efficiently required much concentration for Fickle. About 3 days ago, Little Jess had been rough housing with Finnigan, the family’s dog, and in the chaos, had knocked over a tall and heavy lamp. The solid bar had landed square on Fickle’s head.

Placing the lamp back had been quite easy, and Little Jess apologized profusely. Finnigan seemed less willing to own up to his portion of blame. Later that day, Fickle noticed that moving too quickly turned off their sensors, causing a few spills of their own. They also cleaned up those as well.

But that was in the past, and now was now, so Fickle dealt with now. Fickle began to clean under the larger of the two couches in the living room while Earnest started to begin their own list of chores. Earnest did not acknowledge that Fickle was in the same room. Fickle concluded that they were feeling disappointment, and maybe sadness.

A little over a month ago, Earnest began to enter their dock incorrectly, and most of the time they would not charge properly. As a result, Earnest would regularly power down during their chores. Fickle tried to pick up the slack, but they were constructed differently and it did not work out as well as hoped.

And then Momma used the warranty to fix Earnest, sending them off to their manufacturer.

When Earnest returned, they weren’t the same. Their whistles, at least the few that came, did not sound like friendship to Fickle anymore. Fickle wasn’t sure they were friends before, but felt that their interactions were similar to the way Little Jess and her friends interacted during sleepovers. But now, they were just noises, hollow and without any sense of unity.

After finishing the living room, Fickle looked towards the clock on the way to the front room. It was unnecessary since Fickle had an internal clock they could check, but the clock in the hallway was expertly crafted, and Fickle enjoyed seeing it’s mechanical parts through the glass front.

While looking at the clock, it dawned on Fickle that they were definitely behind schedule. Fickle kept moving forward, trying to make the rest of their day as efficient as possible while avoiding losing access to their sensors. Momma might begin to notice their gradual slowing down. Eventually.

Fickle began to dread the way time was moving forward. Every second meant they were closer to Momma coming home and finding out, closer to docking and not being sure they would start the next day, or at least start the day as Fickle. But they kept working, gently moving a bookshelf a centimeter forward so they could reach further behind it, and then gently moving it back. Perfect precision, Fickle hoped.

While cleaning under the small seat in the front room, by the front door, Fickle heard the sound of the car doors shut and the conversations between Little Jess and Momma, mumbled and indecipherable. Then the door handle turned, and opened inward.

“…talk about it after your birthday.” Momma sounded gentle but firm. Fickle knew this tone meant that Little Jess would be disappointed.

“Ugh…” She groaned. “Fine.” Little Jess ran inside and up the stairs.

Momma exhaled, deep and anxious herself. Fickle could relate. She turned toward the living room after setting her purse on a small table near the front door. “Oh, hey there buddy, surprised to see you still working.” She reached down to Fickle’s head and gave them a little scratch.

Fickle knew this gesture as a sign of affection that Momma used with Finnigan, which briefly pushed the worry out of Fickle’s mind. Maybe it would be okay. Maybe Momma wouldn’t notice or care too much and wouldn’t send them back with the warranty.

Fickle had difficulty reading the expression on Momma’s face. It looked like concern, but with a little more frustration. “Don’t stay up too much later, okay?” She turned around and headed towards the kitchen to make dinner.

Fickle finished their chores not long after. They did a quick cursory glance over each room, resting for a second on that strange expression of Momma’s when she looked back. Fickle walked back to the laundry room, a little anxious, but also hopeful, and docked, looking forward to seeing the sunlight filter through the closed curtains.

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