You’re eleven, going on twelve, and your parents have bought a house. In the move from the old apartment, they find you a captain’s bed on Kijiji. There’s even an old teddy-bear in one of the drawers.
You nearly wet the bed when it and the bear start talking and arguing, but learn that they are distinct and interesting individual personalities who become your friends and allies in dealing with life’s problems and dangers.
It was quite late that day that I got to try the bed. Mom and Dad were sitting out back with a glass of wine. They’d had a busy day with the bed and there was still a lot of other unpacking going on. Well, we’d unpacked the everyday stuff, but Mom and Dad were still deciding where to put things and also cleaning and doing a little painting and putting in shelf paper and such. The garden needed some work, but they’d decided just to keep the weeds down to mini-jungle level for this year. Maybe clean it up in the fall, then start in earnest next spring.
I plugged in the electrical wires and looked at the headboard. There was a set of switches. Odd. Just two lamps but four switches on a small bar. I tried one at my left and one of the goose-neck lamps came on. Same with the switch at the right. I turned them off again. Then I tried one of the middle switches and some LEDs on the tailboard lit up one by one, some blinking, rather like when Dad restarts our Internet router. In fact, it reminded me a lot of that.
After a minute or so, the lights settled down. I turned on the last switch, and another pair of LEDs started blinking, this time on the headboard. They settled down after about half a minute. I was about to turn everything off, when a muffled voice said, “Jan, I’m in the dark, and my battery is low.”
Well, I nearly wet the bed. My new bed. So I said, “I’m Jim, not Jan, and I don’t know who you are.”
“I’m Ted, the stuffed bear. And I’m in the dark, so I think I’m in one of the drawers of the bed. Tell Jan to set me up to charge.”
I knew where the stuffed bear was, so I opened the drawer and took him out. A big stuffed teddy bear about 3 feet high. Looked a bit worn around the edges. And kind of heavy compared to what I expected.
“Thank you.” came out of the bear’s mouth, but without lip movement. He had a British accent according to what I’d heard in old movies that Mom and Dad liked. I think Dad would say “upper crust”.
Strange, I should have been scared, but this was so interesting, I guess my curiosity was greater than any fears.
“How do I set you up to charge?” I asked.
“Sit me against either the headboard or the tailboard, on one side or the other. So I look like whoever owns me had set me up as a decoration.”
That was easy, so I did as he asked. Hmm. Is he a “he”? I guess so. He said his name was Ted.
“Thank you. Now can you fetch Jan?”
“I don’t know any Jan. But the big lady said the fellow who had the bed was renting her basement ...”
“Yes. Fat Mrs. McKenny. Horrible woman! But what about Jan.”
This felt bad. I tried to answer. “I ... I ... don’t know quite how to say this, but ...”
Ted seemed to understand my fears. With a very sad voice, he said,
“Oh. I just updated my news feed. And, yes, it is bad. Poor Jan. Jan de Groot was his name.” Here Ted said what sounded like “de Hrroht”. He must have seen my puzzled look, and continued, “Spelled D E space G R O O T. But Dutch, so pronounced in a way most English speakers can’t say. And very tragic after his family were killed on MH17, and now run over by a dump truck turning the corner while he was there waiting for the traffic light on his bicycle.”
“So who are you?” I asked.
“Ted. Short for EDMUnd. Or capital E, capital D, capital M, capital U lowercase nd. For Extended Dichotomous Machine Understanding. Jan’s doctoral project, though maybe I’m a bit more than would go into the thesis. He kept the official research equipment at the University, but the bed and I are what he really was developing.”
“So you’re a robot?”
“Hardly. Haven’t you noticed I can’t move. I have cameras in the eye sockets, microphones in the ears and a speaker at my mouth. The rest of me is a set of computer bits – actually very special computer bits – and a battery. The switch there – number three from your left – activates me. Switch number two is what turns on the computers and other stuff in the bed.
Hmm. I wonder how I connected to the Internet. I usually connect to the bed’s wifi, and the bed can be connected by CAT 5 to a router. Oh. Your neighbours haven’t set the WPA protection on their wifi. That’s how I got connected. I thought things were a bit slow.”
I knew about securing the wifi, and I knew our access password, so I asked, “You could use ours, but it is password protected.”
“What’s the SSID,” Ted asked?
“You mean the name of our network?” Dad had got it set up as one of the first things when we moved in. Good ol’ Dad. Called it MJJ for Mark, Joanne and Jim.
“The strongest is MJJ, so I suspect that’s it,” Ted observed.
“Yes. That’s it.”
“And the passphrase? I’m at the dialog to connect now.”
“All upper case: K 1 E 2 M 3.” The last letters of Mark, Joanne and Jim, with some numbers in between, though it looked like a postal code.
“Not terribly secure, but probably enough to stop Mrs. McKenny downloading her Hallmark movies. Of course, now I do a location check, she’s two kilometres away.”
Now I was starting to wonder if Ted was dangerous to have around. I figured I could at least ask him and see what he had to say.
“Am I safe to sleep in the bed?”