"Yo mama sucks legs in hell," said the mom-bot. Dad shook his head and said,
"Eggs. Yo mama sucks eggs in hell," into his neck-mike. Then he walked around the chair that the mom-bot was strapped into, so that he passed out of her view and then back into it again on the other side.
"Yo mama so fat the local cricket side roll her across the pitch before they play," said the mom-bot when it caught sight of him again. Dad started to smile, and for the first time in an hour I thought he might be looking happy, and then his perennial frown reappeared.
"Wait," said his voice, tinny over the neck-mike. "Was that part of the playbook?" His assistant, sat at the desk next to mine, was leafing through a loose-leaf binder increasingly frantically. Dad let her have two minutes, then he spoke again.
"Well? Was that in the playbook?"
"No," moaned his assistant softly. "She's supposed to say Yo mama so fat her belt's an equator."
"It," snapped dad, and I watched his assistant cringe. I didn't feel sorry for her though, I'd grown up with his insistence of identifying what things were and addressing them correctly. I'd never be unaware enough not to recognise that a mom-bot was a genderless machine offering a dangerous temptation towards humanising the inhuman.
"It," she repeated meekly.
"Right," said Dad. "Let's stop the experiment here, and review the learning banks. And the code. All of it." Each staccato sentence elicited another wince from his assistant, though the last one also got a sigh from me. I'd have to go through the code as well since Dad had decided that I should start learning about mom-bots properly. I quite enjoyed reading through the code, but the stuff here was appalling, and although I was steadily tidying it up, economising it, and improving it, I was getting a fairly hostile response from the piss-poor developers who were writing the initial versions. And Dad wasn't listening when I complained to him about it.
While Dad turned the mom-bot off and closed down the lab-room, Angelique (who pronounced her name An-gel-ick-way, wore white contact lenses to make her eyes look all-white with little black dots for pupils, and wrote the Latin names for large cats in the back of all her notepads) picked the binder up and dropped it a few times, until I asked her if she was ok.
"No," she said, a little redundantly. "He's your dad, can't you get him to be less... well, like a mom-bot!"
"How do you mean?" I said, genuinely puzzled.
"He's like a mom-bot all the time, never wrong, always knowing what's best for you," she said. "Hadn't you noticed?"
"I never had a mom-bot," I said. "Dad didn't like them, he said they were subversive tools with a murky agenda."
Angelique thought about that, her overly red lips pursed and her fingers twisting the ringlets of her dyed-auburn hair around. It reached down to her waist. "Huh," she said. "I guess he still thinks that, too?"
"Certainly seems to," I said, managing a smile. Angelique didn't wash as much as I'd be brought up with, and I didn't really like the near-omnipresent smell of stale sweat she carried with her.
"Like, does it matter if the mom-bot's said something off script? They think for themselves, surely we should be expecting that? Why does he care?"
"Because," said Dad, opening the door to our room before she finished speaking, 'the mom-bot's programming does not allow her to deviate from her script. All the commercially available specifications clearly indicate that. The military-grade specifications are even more firm about requiring it. So: either we screwed up the coding and entered the wrong phrase in, or the manfacturer of this mom-bot allows it more freedom with its programming than is reported."
"But that's a good thing," said Angelique. "If it can think for itself it can save children from road-accidents or strangers, or something."
"It's programmed to preserve the life of children," said Dad. "We should be worried if it wasn't doing that, which actually, is what this kind of laxity in programming allows. The mom-bot could make a value judgement about the life of the child and refuse to save it. The mom-bot might decide that it prefers to live more than it wants to sacrifice itself for some ungrateful, screaming brat. This is why we're running these tests."
"And the Yo Mama jokes?" I saw Angelique's mouth twist in disgust; she'd already told me that she thought the jokes were ridiculous and made a mockery of the whole experiment.
"That's already interesting," said Dad. "They're mean and abusive, and no-one's claimed to be able to program a sense of humour yet–"
"The British–" I started, and Dad waved me to silence.
"Yes, the British are producing some very odd mom-bots which fit very well with their culture, and the levels of sarcasm they've achieved are seriously impressive," he said. "But they're bleeding edge and they don't have a mom-bot that smiles at a comedy-show or laughs at a spoonerism, all they have are mom-bots that can be sarcastic at appropriate junctures. But, and this is the point, these jokes should be causing lots of internal damage to the mom-bot because they're mean and abusive and should violate the hard-codings. Not only is that not happening, but the mom-bot appears to be able to generalise from them. This is incredibly worrying. Go and check the files and the code and make sure that this isn't our mistake and is genuinely a problem with the mom-bot manufacture."
Angelique went, though her mouth didn't untwist. I looked at Dad.
"What are you afraid of?" I asked. He looked old all of a sudden.
"That this might all be too late," he said.