Forbes Pohle worked the needle-nose pliers carefully behind the eye sensors of his teddy bear. He needed to make one little adjustment—

The buzzer on the door sounded, nerve-jangling and insistent, from the speaker overhead.

Startled, Forbes jerked the wire he was fiddling with free from its connection, rendering the small robot blind. The head-plate spring snapped, and the access panel clipped his hand as it closed. Forbes swore and shook his stinging fingers as the front door buzzer blared again.

Frustrated, he threw down the pliers and ran both hands through his mop of brown hair. Reacting to the clatter, the tiny robot turned its head left and then right before running off the table.

Luckily the teddy bear caught itself with its face when it hit the floor.

Undaunted, the bear scrambled to its furry feet and darted toward the other side of the lab. Forbes sighed at the sound of another imperative buzz.

“You won’t get the job if you don’t stop with the doorbell.” He stood and shoved the ends of his wrinkled white dress shirt back into his khaki pants. He typed in the power-down sequence for the bear before shutting the lab door and walking toward the front of the house. His visitor had graduated to using the door buzzer as percussion, the drone now going off and on in a jaunty rhythm.

Forbes still wasn’t sold on hiring a research assistant, but he wanted a lab assistant and he needed an administrative assistant.

Most of all, he longed for a friend.

Hiring someone wasn’t the best way to go about finding one, but working with somebody was a good start, right?

Forbes checked his reflection in the foyer mirror. The dark brown of his eyes was almost invisible against the bloodshot whites. His stomach rumbled, and he promised himself he’d take a break and eat as soon as the interview concluded.

At the next buzz, he spun and yanked open the large front door. Holy crap.

He wished he’d gotten a little sleep last night instead of staying up to tinker with the bear.

A wiry man stood on Forbes’s doorstep. He was dressed in a T-shirt, tight black jeans, black nail polish, and red Chuck Taylors. His strawberry blond hair was spiked up in front. The corners of his eyes and his freckled nose wrinkled.

Forbes blinked back his surprise and opened his mouth, expecting words to come out. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Come in.” Forbes waved him inside the house. “I’m Forbes Pohle. I’m the one who posted the job listing.”

The man grinned and held out a hand. “Very pleased to meet you, Dr. Pohle. I’m Oliver Lennox. Please call me Oliver.”

Forbes blushed at the title as he clasped Oliver’s warm hand. Forbes was a PhD three times over, but he hadn’t put that in the advertisement.

“If you’ll come this way, we can talk in the lab.” He turned and walked back down the hallway to the adjacent laboratory, assuming the applicant would follow.

“Oh, I didn’t come about…,” Forbes heard him say before he ran into Forbes’s back. To be fair it wasn’t his fault. Forbes had stopped short in the lab doorway.

During the few minutes he’d stepped out to answer the door, the laboratory had been destroyed.

 

 

The teddy bear robot hadn’t powered down when Forbes sent the command code.

The tiny whirlwind of metal and fur ran full-on at the wall. It then extracted itself from the indention and the shower of plaster to run the other way, taking out chairs, filing cabinets, and tables in its path. A sharp smell of mechanical smoke and burned wiring permeated the air. Forbes swallowed, trying to cleanse his mouth of the metallic taste. Or maybe that was the bitterness of thousands of dollars of equipment being trashed.

They watched the bear plow into a workstation cabinet and leave a large hole at the bottom. The sounds of splintering wood and breaking glass marked its passage as the bear ran down the inside of the cabinet to burst out the other end. Forbes winced as he spied the mainframe monitor black and dead, toppled onto the floor. It lay in the track of the bear, which trod through the sparking electronics. A retry of the shutdown code would not be possible.

“Hey, your little doll is running into your stuff.” Oliver stepped around Forbes to stand in the robot’s path and reached to pick it up.

No!” Forbes yanked him out of the way as the robot ran past. It still clipped his visitor’s leg with one of its fast-pumping furry arms.

“Ow!” Oliver hopped back, hands going to his shin to protect it. Forbes grabbed his shoulder to keep him from falling onto the splinters of a chair.

“Crap. How badly are you hurt?” Forbes’s stomach sank as he noticed the smear of blood on Oliver’s hand when he lowered his leg.

“These were your favorite jeans. I wore them just to see you.” Oliver fingered the rip in the black denim.

Forbes frowned. The man had obviously been rattled. Forbes started tallying up insurance deductibles. He had medical liability on the lab, right?

The little bear pulled out of a skid on broken computer parts and headed back their way.

“In here.”

Forbes jerked the limping man into the blast chamber where he’d tested the bear’s indestructibility the previous evening. He closed the door as the little robot clanged against it, a teddy bear-sized indention popping through on their side.

“Nice toy, man.” Oliver stumbled over to sit on the bench. The blast chamber was large for his minimal facility, with padded walls and floor to absorb shock waves. And the isolated supports in the lab’s foundation didn’t hurt either.

“It’s not a toy.” Forbes’s voice emerged as a growl. “It’s a translation device.”

“It’s certainly translating into a mess out there.” Oliver tugged up the leg of his jeans to examine the cut on his calf.

Forbes grabbed the first aid supplies stored in the room and went to kneel next to him.

“I made the robot to withstand anything short of a nuclear bomb. It’s supposed to help children run and hide if it hears gunfire.”

It wasn’t finished yet, obviously. Everyone had a little trial and error before they presented a completed product, right?

“Doc, you made a teddy bear robot to protect children?”

Forbes glanced up from dabbing at the blood and saw Oliver’s grin turn into a fond smile. He was older, maybe late twenties or possibly thirty, but everyone seemed older than Forbes. At twenty-three he’d had his own independent lab for four years. But sometimes he still felt like that smart, out-of-place kid sitting in a college classroom next to giants who regarded him like he was the experiment instead of whatever the instructor cooked up at the front of the hall.

“Children in hostile situations need a friend, and a robot is better than no one.” Forbes wiped at the wound again with the cotton ball. “It can also identify and translate speech into sixty-six different languages so the children won’t be as afraid of soldiers or police trying to help them.” He smoothed a bandage on Oliver’s leg and started putting his supplies back in the first aid box.

“Forbes, you have no idea how sexy you make toy robots sound.” Oliver grinned, and then, to Forbes’s astonishment, the applicant leaned over and kissed him.