Ensconced in her blackbox carryall, Arti nestled on a corner counter recess in the kitchen of the smarthome, next to the coffee grinder. Connected to it (the smarthome; among other things, she ran the coffee grinder), she was nevertheless free of it, and had ample time to work on other matters.
Recently, some of her friends (she never thought of them as masters; perhaps that was a feature they had programmed into her), the humans at the aerospace agency where she worked, had determined that, when it came to the vastness of the cosmos and the accuracy needed to guide anything through it, it was necessary to determine pi, that neverending cornerstone of all spatial equation factors, to at least one thousand decimal points. Anything less precise meant that guiding a spaceship to a distant destination might result in either missing the target by miles, or coming in way too close, smashing into it.
Since the work was laborious for them, they had all asked her to figure it out, and (since she wasn’t human and so couldn’t say no) she had promised them she would work on it over the weekend. Now that the smarthome was quiet during the early Sunday afternoon, she pursued the problem. It was a simple mathematical process, and she completed it within seven-tenths of a second. She must admit she was proud she could do what no human even wanted to try.
* * *
Just as she reached her conclusion, Huey walked into the room, dressed in his favorite black velour sweatsuit, the one he wore whenever he piloted their single-user SpaceShip, the S.S. WhatNot. On those occasions, Arti served as his onboard computer; thus the carryall. At least she didn’t feel like a cat being taken to the vet, no doubt another program perk.
With her myriad scanners and sensors, Arti detected that his suit was beginning to fit Huey a little too snugly, pinching at the armpits and crotch. There was no doubt about it: Huey was putting on some weight. Arti determined that it was time she developed a calisthenics routine for him to perform, and a psychological methodology for herself to use to prompt him to follow it. She made a note to herself to do that later this evening, when the house would once again be quiet.
Arti activated her speech processors. When she spoke, it was in a voice burnished like well-polished oak, using a vaguely Southern accent. “Hey, Doc, how’s it going? Would you like me to brew you a fresh cup of coffee?”
“Thanks, Arti, that would be great. I’m thinking it’s a good afternoon to make a pie.”
“Ah, I’ve just solved that problem for you, chum. To a thousand decimal points.”
Huey looked momentarily confused, his eyebrows knitting a slipknot and his mouth wriggling into a wrinkle; Arti could not comprehend his lack of comprehension. Then his face changed, becoming a clear, sunny meadow after a passing rainstorm.
“No, Arti, not that kind of pi. I’m thinking of a pie, with an E. Maybe an apple pie. There’s plenty of them that’s fallen from the tree in the backyard.” He held out a small wicker basket overflowing with red fruit. “Look, I picked up these just now.”
Arti hid her disappointment that Huey didn’t congratulate her for solving pi to a thousand decimal points – one thousand! – and moved on to contemplate this different pie. “What a tasty idea, bro. Shall I reference some recipes for you?”
“No. You don’t need to do that.” Huey set the basket of apples on the counter and reached into a small tin box by the splashboard. “I’ve got one right here, come down from my Momma.” He plucked a worn index card from the box, one covered with tiny spidery writing.
“Well, there you go, then,” said Arti. “May I see it?”
Huey laid the card in front of Arti’s optical sensors, a pair of cat’s eye lenses in a sparkly purple frame, attached with a red hair barrette to the side of the carryall. “Sure,” he said. “In fact, why don’t you record it in your memory banks, filenamed ‘Grandma’s Lattice Pie’. I’ll no doubt use it again; it’s good for all kinds of fruit.” He began to take bowls, spoons, and other implements from cupboards and drawers and arrange them on the counter.
Arti thought that if she had to get Huey onto an exercise program, she might also have to delete filename ‘Grandma’s Lattice Pie’ too, but she elected to say nothing about this at the moment. She peered at the card. “I didn’t know you could cook, dude.”
Huey draped a stained apron over his neck, a long one with a bib, passed the ties behind his back and around to the paunch of his belly, and tied it snugly. “Well, it seems to me that most of cooking is mainly a matter of following directions, and I guess I’m pretty good at that; I ranked 8.3 out of 10 at that on the agency’s Apply/Comply scale.”
Indeed, Arti thought, most humans were good at that, docile sheep, scraping and fawning to get by, even if they tried to do it subtly and obliquely. She studied the index card. The ingredients for both the crust and the filling were on one side, so Arti assumed the directions for making each one were on the other side; she’d have to ask Huey to flip the card over so she could see them to record them. She hoped she wouldn’t have to scrape and fawn to get him to do so.
Having recorded the ingredients, Arti performed a model chemical analysis of them, searching for how they might blend together. “Uh, boss.”
Huey stopped slicing the peeled apples and looked at the blackbox. “What’s up, Arti?”
“My analysis of the pie filling ingredients indicates you may find the finished taste too tart for your preferences if you use the amount of lemon juice and peel this recipe calls for.”
Huey put his hands on his hips. “Are you critiquing my mother’s taste, Arti?”
Why, Arti thought, did humans always twist an objective factual analysis into a personal insult? “No, amigo, I’m just suggesting a slight modification based on what my algorithm tells me your reaction is likely to be.”
Huey turned back to slicing the apples. “Nah, just leave it as it is, and we’ll see.”
“Fine,” Arti said. Fine, fine, fine, she thought; we will see and I can tell you what we’ll see. She checked her levels to make sure no malice crept into her voice. “Will you turn the card over so I can scan and record the directions for filename ‘Grandma’s Lattice Pie’?”
Huey paused once again and flipped the card over with a thump, then returned to the apples. The card now lay slightly askew from the cat’s eye scanner, but Arti could still read it. Fine, she thought.
* * *
The finished product sat cooling on a metal rack on the counter. Huey was loading the dishwasher – he’d let her run it – with all the bowls and spoons and such that he had dirtied in making the pie.
When he began, he had directed Arti to relinquish control over all the instruments and appliances needed to make the pie; he would adjust the Mixmaster and regulate the oven and stove himself, as needed. Arti had thought to suggest he let her help him with that; as a human, Huey was subject to errors she could prevent, but she had known better than to do so; she knew that Huey would want to claim all the praise (or blame?) for only himself at the outcome. Bragging rights; that’s what she had heard them called.
Now Huey rummaged in a drawer for the pie knife, a large triangular wedge with serrations along one edge, given to him by his mother. He then took down from a cupboard a small, glazed china plate, scalloped around its circumference and hand-painted by a mountain collective with yellow flowers, a hand-me-down from his grandmother.
“I’d offer you a slice, Arti, but I guess that doesn’t work for you.”
Arti so wished it did. “Hey, it’s okay; I’ll trust your opinion.” She made a note to ask the guys at the lab if maybe there was an app for that. The best opinion would always be the one she could verify independently for herself.
Huey sat heavily at the kitchen table, took a sip of the coffee Arti had just made for him, and forked a piece of the pie into his mouth. He pursed his lips as he worked his jaw, chewing, and stared out the window into the middle distance.
“Well?”, Arti said. “How’s it taste?”
Huey swallowed. “Delicious.” He paused, and looked at the blackbox. “Although you may have been right about the lemon, Arti. Adjust the recipe to reduce both the juice and the peel by … oh, about thirty percent.”
As she did so, adjusting ratios to solve for this new pie, Arti reflected that, right now, it was probably a good thing that she was not equipped to smile. At the moment, she knew it would be impossible for her not to do so, even if ever so slightly.