June 16th 2023
The little robot had no evidence for the Watsons not meaning what they said, nor for not saying what they meant, and so proceeded on that basis.
The first challenge was to find a receptacle. The little robot knew Mr. Watson fermented his own wine, and for this he used large glass carboys. Using its grinding attachment it sliced a two-gallon vessel at the shoulder, leaving an over-sized beaker. It took four attempts to get right, which was consistent with its calculation of risk, but the little robot knew the glass shards covering the kitchen floor would not prevent it meeting its target.
Next, what to use as a heat source? The little robot knew something akin to a forge or a smelter was required. The range cooker, whilst ideal for culinary applications, fell short of requirements, but the little robot assessed Mr. and Mrs. Watson would not set an unattainable goal. Logic dictated supplementing the stove with additional energy.
The little robot interrogated the Watson’s internet-enabled household management systems to identify chemicals with a sufficiently high flame temperature and busied itself collecting aerosols, tubes and cannisters. It also gathered butane camping stove bottles, a plumber’s blowtorch, and a smaller culinary equivalent for scorching peppers and finishing crème brûlées. It also dragged several large bags of charcoal barbeque briquettes to the kitchen.
The Watsons’ cars were both electric so could not be utilized and, in any case, they had taken Mr. Watson’s BMW. But the little robot knew Mr. Watson also had a 1950 Indian Blackhawk Chief in oxblood red, which ran on gasoline. Tipping it onto its side, and then over, it drained the motorbike’s tank into the five-gallon plastic fermenting bucket Mr. Watson used to make his prize-winning milk stout. Neither the broken exhaust, shattered headlight, nor the dents to the chrome trim and rear mudguard impacted on the achievement of its task.
With the La Cornue range cooker pulled from the wall, then onto its back, the little robot fashioned a blacksmith’s forge in the largest oven, with a base of gasoline-soaked charcoal. The oven’s element soon caused the petrol to ignite explosively, lighting the charcoal, but also shattering the glazed doors of the unit displaying the heirloom porcelain, not to mention the heirloom porcelain within.
Without infra-red sensors, the little robot knew the chances of the carboy not shattering in the uneven heat were minimal, but with them it could manage the rate at which the glass heated and so prevent stress fractures. The Watsons would be pleased they had invested in such an apparently frivolous feature. Plus the infra-red sensors also meant the billowing smoke from the burning window blinds, charring cookery books and smoldering Florence Knoll couch did not affect its management of the process in the least.
Foreseeing the need for a bellows, the little robot had already identified the item most suitable for conversion—the jacket of Mr. Watson’s blue and black Prince of Wales check Tom Ford O’Connor suit in a mid-weight wool-blend, identical to one worn by Daniel Craig in Spectre—and, using its cutting attachment and a fast-acting ethyl 2-cyanoacrylate adhesive, made the necessary changes. Parts from Mrs. Watson’s Concept 2 SkiErg indoor Nordic ski-er completed the mechanism.
To get the charcoal white hot, the little robot not only deployed the blowtorches and camping gas bottles—one misdirected incision led to the Northland fridge being flame-throwered, but this was well within the risk profile it had calculated—but also emptied the contents of the Watson’s cocktail cabinet into the forge, in order of strength. Perhaps, if the little robot had chosen to use them in alphabetical order, the Watenshi gin may have been saved.
But still its objective seemed a long way off.
When the Watsons arrived home, the little robot was feeding the flames with rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, and Mrs. Watson’s collection of Christian Louboutin Beauty nail polishes replete in their eight-inch-high bottles inspired by Louboutin’s Ballerina Ultima heel whilst frantically bellowing Mr. Watson’s suit jacket, as no longer seen in any Bond movie.
Mrs. Watson stood at the threshold to the kitchen, shopping bags slipping from her grasp, blood draining from her face. Through the smoke, she took in the flames, the over-turned range cooker, the broken glass strewn over the floor. The acrid fumes from the melting plastic made her turn away, bury her face into the shoulder of Mr. Watson who, as if providing cosmic balance, had gone puce with rage.
“What the…” Mr. Watson repeated, trailing off at the enormity of it all. “We only said boil the kettle for when we get back…”
The little robot’s array of lights strobed back and forth. If it were capable of emotion, it had as much right to be angry as the Watsons. The kettle had certainly started to melt, but it calculated boiling the plastic and metal would never happen, could never happen with what limited resources the Watsons had provided.
Humans can be so stupid.
Robert Bagnall was born in Bedford, England in 1970. He has written for the BBC, daily and Sunday newspapers, and government ministers. He is the author of the sci-fi thriller ‘2084 – The Meschera Bandwidth’, and the anthology ‘24 0s & a 2’ which collects 24 of his sixty-odd published stories. Both are available from Amazon. He can be contacted via his blog at meschera.blogspot.com
more stories here
Nine new fantasy and science fiction tales. We’ve got a spaceship running out of air, a dragon who can’t fly, a detective with supernatural help, talking trees, time travel and something strange happening to America’s guns.
From the Depths
Our latest anthology is packed with tales of the murky deep. We’ve got fifteen stories stuffed with selkies and sea monsters, pirates and meremaids, intrigue, adventure and more. Available in print and digitally.
Follow us for update posts (once or twice a week) here.
Download a free sampler of Wyldblood Magazine here.
Buy the latest Wyldblood Magazine here or get a six issue subscription here.
Read an interview in Black Gate with Wyldblood editor Mark Bilsborough here.
Read the Milford blog about Wyldblood here.
See us reviewed here and here.