Insidious was his middle name, but his owner didn’t know that. When she picked him up off the street, he acted like he was good with other cats, was playful, and loved to cuddle, but someone--or some cat-- loves to act. I mean, he acted innocent yesterday when his food somehow had a paw shaped hole in the lining with tuna bits scattered on the kitchen counter. So, when he walked to the door before his owner came from work, he swished his tail and jumped from the counter leaving the scene of the crime.
She fit his personality perfectly; She was forgiving, huggable, and always happy. He never understood why she adopted a kitten like him. Bento, on the other hand, was very different. He was fat, grey, and in love with mischief and tuna.
“Hey, Bento! Who’s a good boy?” Bento just purred, he knew it was him. Her fingers scratched his fur and belly with such veracity, he fell to the floor in pure bliss. This was what life had been created for.
Wait. She stopped rubbing his belly. Red alert! Red alert! His eyes slowly opened. Just to see her feet walk to the kitchen. The kitchen counter may or may not have food bits lying around. Startled, his body woke up, feet pattering on the concrete towards the bedroom so he could leave the scene of the crime, but he was too slow. In one quick swish, he was picked up by his stomach and his nose right at the level to the counter. In an accusatory tone, his owner said “Now, who could have done this? Bento, do you know anyone who could have opened the cat food?”
Her angry, metallic voice rang into the air. He didn’t know what to do. Her white teeth like plastic grinding in his ear. He might’ve been exaggerating but did it matter? Her soft voice was a beacon of trouble. His fur stood on end whenever he heard that tone.
When she started picking up his food in disappointment, he truly felt regret. She gives him a good life! He would have died on the street without her! With the government cracking down on all things that create excessive emotion, love for animals, love itself would is outlawed. She should have killed him on sight, like every other normal citizen. Her forgiving nature could remove her! He is indebted to his owner and he treats her like this. Regret and disappointment seeped into him as he walked back out into the kitchen with his tail hung low and his head on the floor.
Her fingers scratched his back in mechanical movements as he rubbed against her leg as if to apologize.
As they sat, her watching the news, and him sleeping on her lap, he felt his owner tense up. Of course, he couldn’t really understand the news, but it showed other dogs being slaughtered and cats skinned for being alive. People were cheering the officials and their neighbors along but his owner just sat there with her hands wrapped tightly around his body. He was very uncomfortable with this situation – if you were to ask him – but it was a very tense situation and he didn’t want to mess up another time today.
Somehow they both fell asleep on the couch. The news was turned off and reality television was playing in the background – probably Keeping Up with the Animal Hunters. But, when the sky was almost at dusk, his owner was gone again, his food in his bowl, and his favorite toy was out (and far from the counter). Every day it was the same routine: a little Bento-specific mischief and a lot of naps.
The moment that his owner got back, it was a little different. She did not come home in the middle of the night; it was midday when she came back! Light poured into the house and she opened the door wide open to show two figures walk into the apartment! Bento was all out of sorts. What kind of authority does his owner have to bring in another man into his space? What in the name of the government have to do with a man –a boy – to be in this apartment. Who’s a good boy? Bento! Not this strange man with weird unpainted scanners on his fingers. Why would his owner even think of associating herself with this hunk of junk?
He knew this day was perfect for a hairball to just happen to affect him… specifically on the new guy’s shoe. I mean, this other thing was just hairball inducing. His shiny hair was canola oil on top of hot tar and his face the tin man from that old fable about Kansas, but if the tin man just barely survived the zombie apocalypse.
The moment the hair and a little bit of vomit landed on the shiny black top of his shoe, Bento sauntered away. The man did notice at the warm heat emanating and the smell. The smell! Already digested tuna is definitely not the smell that society recommends.
His owner was definitely not happy about Bento’s first impression. He heard her footsteps heavy on the concrete floor, probably to go get the acetone and black paint from her cabinet in the wall. Water would do just as well, but the smell would stay and how could he leave the house? (The law said having someone with close relations in a single house is against the law – fraternization – and she was already in a hold of an illegal animal.)
His plan was not thought out because now his owner and messy-junk-metal were talking on the couch. On his spot. He crept back into the living room where the television was hushed. His owner and messy-metal were talking about work in soft tones as they conversed. Bento’s ears pricked up as he appeared to be sleeping on the opposite couch, across from the love seat which they were sat; backs on the armrests as they animatedly talked with gestures although with quiet voices.
The story they were talking about was quite intriguing; an animal and an arachnid became friends--a pig and a spider! Do they even exist today? Two other animals were also friends! A dog and a hound! Did anyone ever talk about cats? Bento is important too!
It was disgusting that the memories they were talking about were so blatantly ignoring cat lives, but how did they get all these stories together? The government definitely didn’t allow the owning of dogs since 2085. All other animals other have been hunted down for decades since the twenty-first century where President Donald Trump took away the protections against animal product imports and legalized the killing of all animals.
So, where did the fox and the hound come from? Dogs were definitely the first killed since they were adorable and loving. How they even find all of these stories? There were definitely too many experiences for just one to go through.
At that instant, messy-metal opened his chest cavity. His silver hands held three dusty, old, and faded blocks. His owner’s eyes lit up, electricity flying through her circuits faster than she could handle. Her eyes and hands twitched from raw power with her excitement. Slowly, she moved her palms to hold the objects-- some kind of gift, Bento could probably do better if he could go outside and get a mouse. Her fingers glided over words on the top of the objects and her lips uttered them in complete amazement.
“How--where did you find these?” she questioned, her voice breaking from the softness of her voice.
“It was nothing; I just was cataloging books at work yesterday and these came up to be deleted and-- you know me-- I couldn’t do that.” His smug smile grew larger and larger.
“But the screening? You know our memory units are wiped of all our work after every day. Your knowledge of the books would have been deleted before you could have even made up a plan without being caught.”
His eyes looked like they needed a tune up because the blank stare hiding the workings of his circuit was locked on Bento’s owner for three seconds too long.
“BMO, I don’t want you to know. If you were in this situation, you would have so many more eyes looking onto you, I couldn’t do that to you, or anyone,” he stated as his eyes shifted and his head bowed down to hide his face.
She was dejected and resentful. She was the first robot he met after they left the factory. She was his first everything! They graduated mechanics together, they got their first emotions and consciousness’ together, they became regular robots in society together. How could he?
“I see this situation that you’re in doesn’t include me. I think you should leave; it’s almost curfew.”
“It seems that way, doesn’t it? I really should get going, but you should read the books. They may not have cats, but they have dogs which are way better. Sorry, not sorry, bento.” The door shut quietly as the man walked down the hallway to his apartment.
Bento them moved towards his owner. He could feel her metal get hot from her circuits overthinking the situation. Today’s quota may have been filled for Bento’s mischief, but today was not an ordinary day. Two illegal objects in Bento’s home? Not possible. He was the only object so amazing it was illegal.
With a swipe from Bento’s claws, the three books were pushed to the other side of her lap. It was just close enough for Bento to lay on her lap while his paws did all of the dirty work. As BMO absentmindedly watched the news, Bento sat scratching the pages of the filthy books. His quiet scratches were only caught when he hit his owner’s skirt, tearing the fabric and scratching the plastic of her hip joint. She gasped and almost dropped Bento and the books onto the floor. Bento was in a lot of trouble. BMO’s lips curved downwards in a frown as she picked up the scattered bits of paper to dispose of. She needed to call Jake, the ‘owner’ of the books.
“Hey Jake, I think you forgot something in my apartment. It looks kind of old, so it might be mine, but I need you to check.” She whispered into the intercom hesitantly.
“BMO, what is it? I don’t think I have forgotten anything, nonetheless something old. Could you have forgotten something from the factory days? I know you like to keep trinkets and curios.”
She frustratedly tried to tell Jake through her tone what was really the problem, but the government heard all of the conversations on every intercom, “Jake, I really can’t remember, you need to come and check these things out. I really would never put you in this situation because I would hate to put others in jeopardy.”
The jab at Jake’s character finally worked, BMO knew that Jake’s consciousness’ flaw was arrogance and also the way to manipulate that.
Once Jake had quietly walked down the hall, BMO opened the door. Bento was scared; his owner has never been so worried.
“Do you think that the intercom would have heard Bento scratching the books? I had the news on before I even realized. I mean, the books, you know the government put the tracking agent on every page of the books in the library. What if they find us? Bento, me, you… We are all in danger! How could you have brought these into my house after all we have gone through. We have followed all the rules subjected to robots in this society. You kn--” Jake had to shut her up at this point in fear of the intercom turning on from the sound threshold being broken.
“BMO, I think we can break the tracking agent, but we have to get rid of the books. The papers are useless now because the words are illegible. I don’t know how to get rid of the books, but I know we can do it and that we have to be quick.”
“Jake, the tracking agents get checked for location every morning. This is your job! Can’t you finally just do your work well for once! We need to fit into society!”
“Don’t you think I know this? The only reason society doesn’t dump me is because I have a job! You fear everything just to be in this backward world! Is there a problem with being a regular robot?”
“Jake, I don’t want to be exiled. We worked so hard for the factory. Now that I have got Bento and my job, I am the robot the government wants. So if I am not able to break any rules? I won’t break them.”
“You don’t want to be exiled? When was the last time you even remembered what being exiled felt like? We weren’t discriminated as robots as lesser than.”
Bento knew what being exiled felt like. Those were the streets he hid in and the robots who protected him. The government would never search anything so filthy and contaminated. Of course, because the two groups never interacted, they have seemed to become two opposing forces. But two opposing forces gravitate to each other with enough power, and these societies both needed emotions in check after the world was demolished from arrogance and ego. In a twisted and convoluted way, they both became a single organization with two extremely separate groups working together to eradicate the extremes of emotion.
“Jake, if we work hard, we can show that the idea of robots being substandard is wrong! It’s all stemmed from the war, and we have time to change that image.”
“Society is using us for that reason! We want to be better, so they are making us the model minority. Sure, we are getting more jobs as robots, but they are taking away lots more that we don’t realize.”
“And what’s that?”
“Robots have never been truly free. Our code doesn’t allow it. We are for cataloging books and burning them.”
“We have potential, BMO. Why can’t you just see it.”
“Robots were made for cataloging books and burning them. We were originally created to kill any living animal that was not a human. We only have the potential for danger.” BMO was hysterical at this point. Her anger flowing in the sparks of electricity breaking through her metal. “Is it so hard to be realistic? We just have to keep forgiving the government for the past against robots. That is the best way to come out unscathed.”
Jake, on the other hand, was pacing, using his hands, gesturing wildly like the fire built in his eyes. “Why do you always have to forgive instead of standing for your rights?”
“Because when we break the law, all of our rights get taken away! We’re robots! Technically we have none at this point. Let’s just get back to the task at hand, please?”