The Second Book in the Space Station Rat Series
A GOOD ROUTINE
Rat turned from the computer screen just as the boy sat up in bed. His eyes were half-closed with sleep. His hair spiked in all directions.
"Checking," Rat signed. The boy would not go for food if he did not know. Rat did not blame him. She was afraid of Nanny, too.
Thump, thump of two bare feet. The boy crossed the room to stand beside her. His bare arm brushed against her. She sidled a step away from that touch. Even though the boy's touch was different from the scientists'---nicer---she was still not used to it. Rat was used to living alone, not in a room on a space station with a human boy!
Rat pressed 'RUN' and the spy program started up, tapping into the security camera in the workshop. The screen showed a low, wide workbench covered with bits of Nanny, some of them still crusted with dried liverwurst. To the right of the pile of parts, the shiny black body of the robot stood on tiny wheels. The body was about the size of an industrial vacuum cleaner, but sleek, like a jet-scooter helmet. From a socket in the side, a thin, steely arm stuck out, knobby at the joints and ending in a pincer-like gripper. At the far left of the bench rested Nanny's frisbee-shaped head with its one round eye. Once, that eye had glowed green with Nanny's electronic intelligence. Not anymore.
Cables of twisted wire snaked from the head to a row of computers on the wall, all working to try to bring Nanny back. Rat and the boy did not want them to succeed. Sometimes, Rat wished could sneak into the workshop and bite through those cables to make sure Nanny never came back.
But chewing wires had started all the trouble before and doing it again would let them know Rat was still alive. She was supposed to be dead. Killed by Nanny. That's what the boy had told them.
But Nanny was the dead one.
Rat liked it that way.
"That gripper arm wasn't on yesterday," the boy said, yawning.
Rat's nose twitched as his morning breath washed over her. It carried a wiff of fear. Nanny's gripper arms had hurt the boy, but not as badly as the sniffer's vicious bear-trap jaws had hurt Rat's leg.
Rat typed and her words wrote over the image: "THE EYE IS STILL DARK. THAT IS ALL THAT MATTERS."
The boy reached for the joystick. He zoomed in on the head. "You're right, Rat."
Satisfied, the boy went to the bathroom. Rat used the toilet now, too. It was necessary. The space station's waste reclaimers counted poop. Every bit of food Rat ate had to be accounted for.
Water gushed, splattering with a harsh sound against the shower stall. Strange way to bathe, getting wet all over. But Rat guessed humans had to. The boy couldn't even scratch the back of his head with his own foot! He'd never be able to wash between his toes.
After his shower, the boy would get breakfast. Her mouth began to water. Would he bring bacon, all wrinkly brown and crisp?
Rat groomed her whiskers. Bacon would be nice.
Next came play time in the Zero-G room. Rat would rather study, but the boy could not sit still so early in the day. So they played tag or z-ball. Of course, the exercise was good for Rat, too. It kept her fit, except for the broken leg. But studying was very important---more important!---because the space shuttle was coming a whole week earlier than scheduled. It docked with the space station in three days, four hours and twenty-six minutes. The shuttle would take the boy home. Back to Earth. Rat would go with him---smuggled. That's why they needed to study. They had to figure out the best way to do that.
The boy did not like to study. He'd rather play games. It did not take Rat long to figure out how to make the boy study. In the lab, the scientists had shaped Rat's behavior with reward and punishment. Now Rat used rewards like z-ball and chess---after study time---to train the boy.
She had never had to use punishment.
The boy came back into the room dressed in his shiny silver jumpsuit. He put on his velcro booties, then opened the laundry drawer under his bed about six inches. This was part of their procedure, readying Rat's hideaway in case someone came to the room while the boy was gone.
"See you in a minute," he said and---scritch rip scritch rip---went out the door.
Rat waited for the sound from the velcro booties to fade, then she opened her "Space Shuttle Escape Pods Operation Manual" study file on the computer. Rat needed this private study time. The boy must not find out about the escape pods. He talked of taking her home with him to live with the mother and the father. In New York City. In an apartment. She had looked these things up. She had seen pictures. A city full of millions of people! A towering building full of thousands! That's where the boy wanted her to live.
It made him happy, this plan.
Rat let him think she agreed, because a happy boy was a controllable boy.