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Robots Need Love Too

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"Everybody, this is Adam," says Educator Kari. She's standing next to a skinny kid with red hair, who's still wearing the white and blue jumpsuit they give new people. He's also wearing a cape. "He and his mother just transferred from another station. Do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself, Adam?"

"My mom's called Psych Diana," the kid says. "She says I have behavioural abnormalities. My favourite things are rocket engines and red jello squares. I had a dog called Rocket Engine but we had to leave him on Saturn. My dad's a Systems Engineer but he's on Saturn with my dog. Can I sit over there?"

He points to Jamie's table, near the viewing portal.

"Sure," says Kari. "Jamie, can you show Adam how to use the workstation?"

Jamie nods, even though he doesn't want to, because he likes Educator Kari. She has long hair that's blue right now, which he likes, and she doesn't shout like Educator Thomas, or try to make him talk, like Educator Muna or Psych Grant. He wonders if Adam's mom will be replacing Psych Grant. Adam sits in the chair and shuffles around a bit, then he pulls out a pen case and empties it on the workstation, clatter clatter crash. He dives underneath to grab the digipen that has rolled off the desk, and bangs his head on the underside. He emerges, rubbing his head. His eyes are pink, Jamie notices, like he's been crying.

"I know how to use this workstation, you don't need to teach me to use it," Adam says. "This is the same model that we used on Saturn."

Jamie looks at him dubiously.

"I was in the fourth sector because my dad was an engineer there," Adam says. "We had excellent facilities and our workstations were all up to date because it was new."

Jamie nods. Adam opens his pencil case. "Do you want one?" he says. Jamie hesitates, but Adam holds it open more. There are lots of coloured digipen cylinders in there. Jamie takes a dark blue one.

"You're pretty quiet," Adam says. "Do you talk?"

That's two questions, so Jamie doesn't do anything. Adam shrugs.

"Well, I guess we can be friends as long as you don't mind my behaviour abnormalities," Adam says.

Jamie wonders what they are. He rolls the dark blue cylinder in his hand, then opens his pen and slots it in. He draws a little cube on the top corner of his datapad, then another.

"Those are really neat and tidy," Adam says, leaning over to look at his work and almost touching him, but not, so Jamie isn't annoyed and doesn't have to push him. "I can't get them that neat and tidy. I always smudge them."

"Quiet now, boys," Educator Kari says. "It's time for first period." Jamie thinks that's hardly fair, as he wasn't the one talking, but he concentrates on booting up the math programs and inserting his earbuds. He leans over to check that Adam has the right programs up, and he does, so Jamie ignores him for the rest of the period. Adam falls off his chair a couple of times, and once tries to talk to Jamie, but Jamie ignores him. Jamie likes math.


Later, in recess, Jamie is playing with the logic blocks in his corner when Adam comes over and sits next to him. Jamie guesses Adam doesn't know it's his corner. The other kids know.

"That one goes there," Adam says, pointing. Jamie pauses, frozen. He was getting to that block, but it isn't the next one. "It goes there!" Adam insists. He grabs it from Jamie, slots it in and the hexagram lights up. Jamie thinks about hitting him, but he doesn't know how Adam did that, and he wants to know.

"Cool," says Adam. "Can I do one?"

Jamie is the only one who plays with the logic blocks. But Adam's eyes have gone big and he's smiling. "We're friends, right? My mom says friends let each other play with their toys because it's reciprocal."

Rec - i - pro - cal. Jamie gets out his palmtop and looks it up.
1. Given or done in return.
2. (of an agreement or arrangement) affecting two parties equally.
Math. the quantity obtained by dividing the number one by a given quantity.

Jamie shows Adam the definition. Adam says, "Ohhhh, that's what that means." Jamie thinks about whether he could tell Adam that it's a good word because it has a math meaning, but he doesn't know if Adam likes math too. Adam moved around a lot in Math period and didn't seem to be paying much attention, but he moved way more in Cantonese period and Aesthetic Analysis period, and Educator Kari had to made him stand in the corner and wear the quiet helmet. So maybe he likes math.

Jamie reaches into his pocket and rolls around the digipen with the nice, dark blue cartridge in it that Adam gave him. He gives Adam the logic blocks. Adam puts a level two puzzle together almost as fast as Jamie; he moves really fast, but once he gets three moves on before he realizes he's made a mistake, so he has to go back and reassemble. When he's done, the hexagram lights up pink.

"I like pink," Adam says. Jamie doesn't like pink, but he doesn't say so. Adam looks at him. "I like you," he announces. "You're restful."

Jamie thinks it's maybe the nicest thing anyone has ever said to him. Later, when he's drawing concentric circles with the navy blue digipen, he remembers to smile, and smiles, even though they're back in class and in Art period. "What are you smiling about, Jamie?" says Educator Kari. Jamie stops smiling, and shrugs.

"It's because I gave him a navy blue digipen filter," Adam says. "He's my friend. Tomorrow we're going to try level four on the logic blocks."

"Really!" says Educator Kari. She raises her eyebrows. "That's wonderful! I'm very pleased with you, Jamie. You're being very welcoming to Adam."

She smiles at him. Jamie feels a warm glow in his chest.

"I like Educator Kari," Adam whispers, when she's gone to talk to Pavel. Jamie nods.


Steven comes into Jamie's room without palming the bell. Jamie hates Steven.

"Jamie," he says, frowning. "Educator Kari says you got on real well with this new boy Adam. His mom's brought him over. She's talking with your mom in there.

Jamie looks at him.

"Well, come on, boy!" Steve says, and hits his head as he passes. Jamie rubs it. "Maybe you can even grace us with a few words."

"I'm just so relieved Adam's made a friend already," Adam's mom is saying. She's a tall lady with long, red hair like Adam's. "Some people find Adam rather troublesome, he can be a little much. He gets his physicality from his father."

"Rrrooooooowww," says Adam. He's got a little rocket which he's spinning around his head, while his mom tugs him forward by his other hand. He's still wearing the cape. "Psshhhh, docking bay cleared, psshhhh."

"Well, that's really nice," Jamie's mom says. "I must admit I'm surprised, Jamie has found it very difficult to make interpersonal connections at school. Mohammed said there was a new Psych coming in - will you be on youth development? Do sit down."

"Oh, no, I'm on personnel," she says. "Adam and I just transferred from Saturn."

"Mom," Adam says, tugging at her hand. "How does that work?" He's pointing at Jamie's mom's hydraulic chair. "Why does she have a special chair?"

Adam's mom frowns and tugs Adam's hand. "I've told you about invading personal boundaries, Adam. Do we have to have a time of stillness?"

Adam shoves his hands in his pockets. "I just want to know how it works," he says. "Why does it hiss when she moves?"

"Adam!" she snaps. "You're disappointing me!" Adam's face gets all blotchy and he looks like he's about to start crying. Jamie hates it when people cry. He goes over and takes Adam's hand.

"I'll show you how it works," he says. When he's finished explaining how the chair works, his throat's a little sore. He looks around, and his mom, Adam's mom and Steven are staring at him. Adam is staring at the hydraulic actuator that presses and releases the air so Jamie's mom can breathe. Jamie's explained that he can't touch it.

"Cool," Adam says, and smiles again, a big smile. He tugs Jamie's hand towards Jamie's room. "Do you want to play with my rocket? Hey, I thought of another way to do the seventh move in the Level Four puzzle."

Jamie follows him, relieved to get away from the stares - they make him feel like he's about to get in trouble. Getting in trouble at school is okay, because he likes wearing the quiet helmet, but at home, he gets yelled at. Nobody follows him or says anything, though, so he figures he hasn't done anything wrong.


Adam and Jamie have their Psych appointments at the same time the next week. They sit in the chairs outside the offices of Psych Grant and Psych Francoise. Jamie had wondered why Adam didn't have Psych appointments with his mom, but Adam had explained that that wasn't allowed.

"I want to be an engineer when I grow up," Adam says. "But not a Systems Engineer like my dad, that's boring. I want to be a Rocket Engineer."

Jamie nods. He hasn't really thought about what he wants to be when he grows up, but being a Rocket Engineer sounds like fun.

"All right, Jamie, I'm ready for you," Psych Grant says through the comm. Adam lets go of Jamie's hand.

"I guess I'll see you later," he says. "I'll wait for you if I get out first and you wait for me if I get out first. I mean, if you get out first. Then we can walk back together."

Jamie nods, and goes in.

"Who was that boy out there?" says Psych Grant. He waits for a minute. "Is that Adam? Psych Diana's son?"

Jamie nods.

"I hear you explained a complex hydraulic system to him yesterday."

Jamie shrugs, feeling uncomfortable. Is Psych Grant going to move him out of his class again? He doesn't want to move out of his class.

"Could you explain it to me?"

The chair's not here, although Jamie remembers exactly what it looks like, but he can't explain it with nothing to point at, and Psych Grant has never asked him about systems before. He thinks it's a new kind of assessment, so he shrugs again.

"Okay," Psych Grant sighs. "Do you remember what faces we were drawing last week?"


Adam's waiting for him outside, kicking his feet on the chair. He isn't wearing his cape. He looks kind of small without it.

"Psych Francoise says I should try not wearing my cape this week," Adam says. "She says it's disconcerting and it upsets people and I don't need it for my sense of self worth."

Adam hops down off his chair and grabs Jamie's hand. It's a little sweaty, but Jamie doesn't mind. Psych Francoise said Jamie not talking was disconcerting once. Jamie had to look it up.

"What do your parents do?" Adam says, as they're walking along Corridor D43. D43 is beige, Jamie doesn't like it.

"My mom's a biologist," Jamie says. "My dad's dead so he's broken down into atoms and was absorbed into the star D559XG."

"Oh," says Adam. "My dad's on Saturn. Who's that guy your mom lives with?"

"Steven," Jamie says. "He's my mom's friend. They have sex."

Adam makes a face. After a while, he says, "My mom says she might get a new friend who isn't my dad."

He's kind of quiet. Jamie usually likes quiet, but he's worried Adam's going to cry again. Adam says, really softly, "I really want my cape."

"Those guys are dumb," Jamie says. "They make me draw faces."

"Oh," Adam says. "Why's that?"

Jamie shrugs.

"Do you put horns on them and teeth and stuff?"

"No," Jamie says. He thinks the idea's kind of funny. He doesn't think Psych Grant would like it, though. "Just mouths. And I have to write on them 'happy' or 'sad' or 'angry' or whatever."

Adam does a big frowny face. "What's this?"


He sticks his tongue. "Wha's 'dis?"


He spins around slowly, making his hands into a circle, and at the same time kind of dances around Jamie.

"Planet," Jamie says.

Adam laughs. He doesn't look like he's going to cry anymore. Adam takes his hand and squeezes it. "You're a really good friend, Jamie," he says. "You are not disconcerting at all."

It makes Jamie feel good. Happy, he thinks.


The next fifth-day, when they get into class, Jamie sits down at his desk next to Adam as usual.

"Do you want to go to a youth robotics class?" says Adam. "It's after fifth period, it's on B level. We could go together. It would be fun!"

Jamie normally walks home after fifth period. But he didn't know there was a youth robotics class.

"I already asked my mom," Adam says. "She says it's fine and she'll tell your mom."

Jamie likes B level. It's all white. "Okay," he says.

The robotics class is full of big boys and girls, and Jamie is surprised to see that the teacher is Psych Grant.

"Oh, hey, Jamie!" Psych Grant says, when they come in. "Who's your friend?"

"My name's Adam," says Adam. "I'm Psych Diana's son, we just came from Saturn. Can me and Jamie sit at the front? We are both really short so we won't be able to see very well if we sit at the back and I really want to see because I like robots."

"Uh, sure," says Psych Grant. "Nice to meet you, Adam. I'm Grant." They sit at the front, and they can see really well as he shows them how to wire up a simple circuit set. Jamie and Adam make a light blink on and off. Then Adam borrows some extra lights, and they make them twinkle on and off to spell 'butt' in binary (it's Adam's idea). Grant laughs really hard and gives them homework.


The next day are Jamie and Adam's Psych appointments. When he gets in and climbs onto his seat, Jamie gets out his pad before Grant can tell him, and starts to draw the stupid face with the stupid smile. He doesn't like drawing faces, so he spends a lot of time making sure that the face is completely round, so it's like a circle, because he likes circles. He writes, 'happy' above it. He stares at the face. Then he remembers the warm glow he had when Adam squeezed his hand. He smiles, and clicks his digipen onto the dark blue setting so he can use it again for the next face.

"That's a new colour," says Grant. "It's nice! Where did that come from?"

"My friend Adam," Jamie says.

Grant fumbles with his pad and drops it on the floor with a bang. "I - really!" he says. He's got a weird look on his face, with his eyebrows all high, but Jamie doesn't know what it means. "That's - that's great, Jamie. That's really great. Hey, look, Jamie, forget about the faces for a minute. Do you know how this works?" He points at the water filtration unit in the corner. Jamie shakes his head.

"Do you want to know?"

Jamie nods.

"How about I upload a book to your pad, you read it, and next week you can explain it to me."

Jamie thinks. Grant is quiet and doesn't interrupt. Then Jamie says, "If you have a book, why can't you learn how it works?"

"I'm good at electronics, but I don't know much about hydraulics," says Grant. "You seem pretty good at that, so why don't you teach me a bit about it? And in return, I'll teach you some stuff about how people work. And then we can both get better at working with them. That's what these sessions are for, Jamie."

Jamie is surprised. He didn't realize that was what he was here for. "Reciprocal," he says. Grant smiles.

"Reciprocal is exactly what it is."

"I'd rather learn about robots."

"You can learn about robots in Youth Robotics," Grant says. "This is your people class, okay?"

Jamie thinks about that. He didn't think he liked people. But he likes Adam, and Educator Kari, and his mom, and now he maybe likes Grant. That's a list of four people.

"I don't want to move out of my class," Jamie says, in a burst of urgency.

"Okay, Jamie," says Psych Grant. "I won't move you out of your class, if you like it there. It's good that you told me - I can't know these things unless you tell me, and then I can do better at helping you get better at working with people. Is there anything else you want to tell me?"

"Psych Francoise should give Adam his cape back," he says. "It isn't for his self-worth. It makes him happy."

Grant gets another weird look on his face. It's almost like a smile. "I'll tell her that, Jamie," he says. "You know, you're a natural with robots, but I think you're going to do just fine learning about people."


The next day, Adam comes into school wearing his cape. He pretends to fly into the classroom and goes, "Neeeeeeeeeow!" towards his chair.

"Don't make so much noise," says Jamie.

Adam pretends to land in his chair with a quiet pssshhhh. He gives Jamie a huge smile, the biggest one Jamie has ever seen.

"Me and Jamie are going to build a robot for the ship science fair," Adam tells Educator Kari. "Grant's going to help us."

She smiles and tugs on her hair. "That's wonderful, guys! Hey, when you're done, will you bring it in to show everybody?"

"Sure!" says Adam.

Jamie takes a deep breath and says to Educator Kari, "You're my favourite adult on the whole space station except my mom."

Educator Kari's face goes funny, like she's going to cry, and Jamie starts to get worried.

"Aw, Jamie," Kari says.

"Don't hug him," Adam says quickly. "He doesn't like it."

Kari stops moving her arms, but she smiles really big, even though her eyes are still a bit funny. She was about to hug him, Jamie realizes, and Adam saw before him; he wonders how Adam knew he hates being hugged. "Okay," she says. "Thanks, Jamie. Hey, you know what? You're my favourite Jamie in the whole universe."

"How many Jamies do you know?" Jamie says, beginning to laugh.

"Lots," Kari says. "Tons. But none of them are as nice as you."

After she's gone, Adam leans over and whispers, "I don't know any other Jamies. But you'd be my favourite even if everybody in the universe was called Jamie. Except my mom. Hey, can I be your best friend?"

Jamie thinks about it. He opens his pen case and takes out his favourite digipen colour cylinder. It's black. He gives it to Adam. Adam makes a quiet brrrrrrrrrr noise and moves it across the desk with his hand into his own pen. "Kkkkkchunk," he says. "Docking completed."

Jamie gets out his pad and starts to design their robot. He's already decided it's going to have a rocket engine for Adam.