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A Boy AND HIS Bot
GARY SMITH
August 01, 2011
LYNDON BATY WANTS TO BE A GREAT SPORTSCASTER, BUT HOW CAN HE DO THAT WITH A RAVAGED IMMUNE SYSTEM THAT MAKES IT TOO DANGEROUS FOR HIM EVEN TO GO TO SCHOOL? ENTER, A ROBOT
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August 01, 2011

A Boy And His Bot

LYNDON BATY WANTS TO BE A GREAT SPORTSCASTER, BUT HOW CAN HE DO THAT WITH A RAVAGED IMMUNE SYSTEM THAT MAKES IT TOO DANGEROUS FOR HIM EVEN TO GO TO SCHOOL? ENTER, A ROBOT

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The bot emerged into the hallway and halted. The entire school was waiting there, all 67 students and 11 teachers, waving and greeting him, giggling and gaping. No way around it. This ... this was weird. No one was sure whether to treat the Baty Bot as an object—or as Lyndon. Austin Valimont, the Greyhounds' junior rightfielder, made his choice. He walked up and hugged the robot, crying, "Oh, Lyndon, I've missed you so much!" and everyone laughed.

Lyndon waved, wearing an ear-to-ear grin, and chirped out half a hundred hi's ... then turned both ways. Uh-oh.... He'd never—except for a five-minute visit to check out his new avatar—set foot in the high school. He'd been told that science class was near the end of the school's only corridor, but which end was which? "Turn left," instructed Mr. Collins. "The science room's down there." The bot began rolling, and the sea of gawkers parted.

"I better not see that robot go in the girls' bathroom," warned Mr. Moeller, as if he'd once been a 15-year-old boy with a robot.

Lyndon felt as if he were lost inside a perplexing video game that first day. He banged into walls, chairs, water fountains, benches, lockers, people—mortifying!—but, he concluded, "it's better when it's a girl." His second day, equipped with a fire-drill map of the school and aided by tags placed outside each room that identified the teacher inside, he began to relax, and the pipsqueak comedian emerged. "Hey, get out of my way!" Lyndon squealed as the Baty Bot weaved down the hall. "I don't have a license! I don't have insurance!"

"Can you get me a bagel and sausage?" he'd implore Coach Lawson when he saw him heading to the cafeteria. Then he discovered that if he typed in words on his keyboard, the bot would enunciate them in a mechanical female voice. Robotic ha-ha-ha's began to titter through the classroom. Ms. Jones, the math teacher, nearly jumped out of her shoes when she leaned in to check out the Baty Bot's control panel and the robo-voice snapped, Don't touch my buttons!

The bot had other tricks up its sleeve. When Lyndon, fatiguing swiftly as his kidney deteriorated, grew too weary to take notes, he could press a button on his keyboard and the robot would declare, Say cheese! and snap a photo of the notes on the classroom's whiteboard for him to study later. Late for a class, he realized he could knock on the door by banging the bot against it. Best of all, when there was a lull in class, and Mom wasn't too close by, he could minimize the window showing him the classroom and bring up breaking news on a half-dozen sports websites or, better still, Dirk's latest tweet.

It didn't take long for schoolmates to hatch bot-pranks. They picked up the robot and toted it around like a sack of groceries. They stuck it in corners and pinned it in with a desk. They placed their hands over its lens so Lyndon couldn't see. Mr. Moeller called the offenders into his office, where the crucifix and wooden paddle on the shelf let them know he meant business, and Coach Steele laid down the law in front of the entire student body in March. But Lyndon didn't take the high jinks to heart. They were the surest sign that the bot was becoming one of the boys.

In no time the robot was just "Lyndon" to everyone except a girl who'd known him for years but kept her distance from the bot, unnerved by it. It became old hat for classmates to drop to the floor to push the button that rebooted the bot when the Wi-Fi connection was lost, or for the school receptionist to burst into class and do it when no one noticed and Lyndon called her in a panic, "Ms. Rodriguez, I've lost myself! Please turn me back on!" Ms. Martinez, the English teacher and drama coach, loved having the bot join discussions of Animal Farm, especially when she was reading the part where the animals counterattacked the farmers and Lyndon's basset hound, Betsy, began barking furiously, providing perfect sound effects for the battle.

Most thrilled of all was Sheri. Overnight her son's will to live reappeared and with it 19 pounds of weight on that wisp of a body. "Bye, Mom, I'm going to school!" he'd sing out at 8:58 each morning. She loved resigning as Home School Teaching Nag and returning to full-time Germ Nazi, only now she had to run scans on his laptop in addition to any room he entered. It was life-and-death that Lyndon didn't catch a virus. Life-and-death now as well that the bot didn't.

The bot's fame spread. Texas newspapers did write-ups, then TV stations in the state caught wind, and in no time the Baty Bot was in the Big Apple, preening on the Today show, motoring toward Matt Lauer's empty seat and proclaiming, "I want that chair!"

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