Jpeg, right out of the package, is so rowdy his little boy owner Jonny might return him for a robot cat. Their home computer, M.A.M.I.E., decides to teach Jpeg a lesson on behavior. She covertly sends him on a wild floppy-disc chase for the magnificent ZB1 microchip rumored to teach him how to appreciate his best friend. What he finds is nothing but trouble.
Across the solar system, Jpeg encounters snooty satellites, vicious android junk collectors, a kissing-obsessed girl dogbot who thinks he's cute, and heart-tugging conflicts when a little boy on the moon falls in love with him. But before Jpeg can return home, he must discover the meaning of “Home is where the heart is.”
Without that, he could be stranded in space forever.
Jpeg and the Magnificent ZB1 MicrochipChapter 1 - One Wrong Step for Botkind
In a soaring orbit above the cobalt blue Earth, the high-tech sliver space station Terren revolved as a gleaming jewel in the vast heavens dotted with sparkling diamonds. It also had a black eye. For among the five thousand humans and one-hundred thousand dutiful automatoids at home here, one feisty robot dog was about to walk into another accidental misstep, or in his case a mispaw. The results would launch him into a cosmic journey of a lifetime. Hopefully, his new battery wouldn't run out of juice. A few weeks ago and right out of the package Jpeg had been a handful—bluish aluminum chassis, floppy metal ears, retractable skull antenna, cool blue irises, streak of independence. His fully charged battery powered a two-hundred gigabyte brain with an impatient hunger for input. He was a gift for a lonely ten-year-old boy named Jonny, Jpeg's new Master who grew frustrated struggling to control the little bot, the remote, reasoning, and a few tears all pointless; Jpeg was too rogue. Each morning once Jonny left the apartment for school, Jpeg used his antenna signals to unlock the automated front door, an object easy to persuade, and escape into mischief. Jpeg preferred to interact with the other robots, though not always gallantly. A favorite of his was tormenting the mailbot, a clunky two-arm bot attached to a mail cart handlebars. While it read and sorted envelops, Jpeg would sneak up behind it, bark his head off, and send envelops blasting into the air. He'd run away laughing, leaving the mailbot's computer voice echoing down the corridor, “You bad robot!” Of course there were many other robots Jpeg picked on; a waiterbot who'd drop its stack of plates; a painterbot who'd stumble backward into its can of paint; a carpenterbot who'd miss-aim and smash its thumb with a hammer. With fists in the air they'd each yell, “You bad robot!” And Jpeg would laugh and laugh as he ran off. This particular morning, the one with the mispaw, Jpeg had been enjoying another favorite pastime—sliding down an escalator. Every unit on Terren had two sets of steps. One went up. One went down. Between them lay a long strip of polished metal that resembled a playground slide that human children enjoyed. Jpeg would ride up the moving steps, hop onto his slide, and whoosh down to the bottom yelling, “Wheeeee!” Over and over and over. It sure beat being cooped up all day inside the boring apartment. But on Jpeg's last slide down the escalator, he collapsed at the bottom and crashed into the legs of the most vile android aboard Terren Space Station—Icon, the avatar of a bad robot. “You stepped on my foot,” demanded the infuriated mechanism. Jpeg hated this machine. A complete tool. “I ought to rip you from seam to seam. Do you know who I am?” Yes, Jpeg knew, an Ordinance Inventory Specialists with the human's SkyGuard Defense Force. Ugly, too, probably made from spare parts. It possessed an all-white aluminum chassis, searing yellow irises, and bulky arms and legs protruding from a exo-skeleton loaded with hissing pistons and clanking gears. Smelled like burnt wiring. “I said you stepped on my foot.” Jpeg, crumpled at Icon's metal feet, casually climbed back upon his four paws. He strained his neck hinges to gaze up at the six-foot-tall android, its yellow irises steaming. “And dented a toe!” Who cared, Jpeg wanted to say. But this android could pummel him into nuts and bolts with one swat. He checked his own legs and paws for dents. No damage there, there, or there. “Did you hear me?” “The whole galaxy can hear you.” “Why, you impudent little toid.” Icon raised its left arm, aimed the back of the hand, and slashed it down through the air, targeting Jpeg's bobbing head. Jpeg ducked, and the android hand swooshed overhead and smashed into the nearby wall, sending a loose wrist screw spinning wildly. Jpeg planned not to hang around and give Icon a chance to grab him. With all four paws galloping like crazy, Jpeg took off down the corridor, right down the center. He zigged and zagged around the walking legs of many humans, right through the legs of one lady, swerved around another mailbot, and glanced at each passing doorway for a hiding place. He had good speed despite heavy pounding metal feet that followed him, Icon giving chase. At a junction he veered right and into another corridor. Up ahead he spotted a gadget he'd known since being unwrapped, a digital clock high on a wall. “Clock. Clock. Wake up!” He snapped a quick glance down the corridor. No sign of his new nemesis yet. “What? Who's—” The clock's pair of number digits glowed a brighter red as a groggy voice seeped from a small speaker. Its central camera eye zeroed in on Jpeg. “You? Go away, Jpeg. Can't you see I'm sleeping. . . Uh, resting my digits?” “I'm in trouble. I need your help.” “Help you? After always waking me up?” “I need a place to hide.” “You're too disorderly to help, Jpeg. I tick one second at a time, never too fast, never too slow. Your springs are wound too tight.” “I have you know I'm a robot dog, not a clock.” “Jpeg, leave me alone.” With that, the clock's glowing red digits faded to a softness. “Clock. Clock? Stupid object.” Okay, so he wouldn't be getting help from this clock, a former plaything. Back to running again, Jpeg raced down the corridor, found a junction, and entered another corridor. Up ahead he spotted three familiar bots listening to radio signals. Surely they would help him find a hiding place. They were all of a kind. “Bots! Bots!” He slid to a stop. “Help me. I need a hiding place.” “Help you?” answered the painterbot. “I'm all out of the color rescue.” “Help you?” answered the waiterbot. “86'ed. My sympathy shaker is empty.” “Help you?” answered the carpenterbot. “Take my hammer. Build your own hiding place.” All three bots rocked and rattled as they laughed, turned their polished backs to Jpeg and sauntered away on squeaky wheels. Jpeg clearly heard one say, “Once a bad robot, always a bad robot.” This was intolerable. Why didn't they help him? He was a bot just like them? Shouldn't they all stick together? Again Jpeg heard the pounding of heavy metal feet approaching in the distance, Icon still chasing, growing closer and closer. But what to do? Ah, he'd run home. Surly M.A.M.I.E., his Master's highly intelligent and clever home computer, would think of something. So he took off running again but only made it two steps, maybe three, before running headfirst into more solid legs standing in his path. He fell back onto his rump, head dizzy, irises rolling in their sockets like loose marbles. By the time clarity returned, he opened his irises to see a leather strap wrapped around his neck and tightened. What is this, he thought. It took a microsecond for his gigabyte brain to identify the object. A leash. “Caught you at last,” said a human female's voice, holding the reins. No, no no, he couldn't be restrained. He needed to run, to hide, to get away from that menacing android who would absolutely tear him from seam to seam. But humans had power over everything. “Why are you running in the halls, again?” The lady was Ensign Ulanova, an officer with SkyGuard and on patrol with two soldiers, both human men. All three wore formidable crisp tan uniforms, blue helmets, and sonic sidearms. “Uh, good morning, Ensign. You look ravishing today.” “Oh, no, Jpeg. Don't be cute. It's not going to work this time. I'm putting an end to all your rowdiness.” “Me? Why, I'm just a loveable robot dog.” “You are a pain with too many complaints about you. You're coming with me.” “Where-where are you taking me?” “The Pound.” “Not the pound!” He thought a microsecond. The pound might be good. From behind bars and overseen by humans, Icon could never reach him. But the android could simply wait out in the corridor until he was released. The Pound would not do. It simply would not do at all. “No, take me home. M.A.M.I.E. will know what to do with me. Please.” “Please? Jpeg, you've never used please since you were switched on.” A commotion down the corridor caught everyone's attention. At the junction, a mailbot had been pushed over and slammed onto its side, the envelops and packages splashed outward across the floor. Icon appeared from the corner, arms and hands stretched outward. But the instant Icon spotted the SkyGuard team, it too slid to a stop, yellow irises bugging with surprise. “What are you doing away from your post?” demanded Ensign Ulanova. “This is a restricted area.” Jpeg laughed on the inside. Icon caught. The two servicemen bolted in Icon's direction, whipped out a set of handcuffs, and placed Icon under arrest, hands locked behind its back. It'd be sent to a different kind of pokey. “I see now why you were running, Jpeg,” Ulanova said. “But you have still violated the leash law. I can't let you off this time. I'm sorry.” Jpeg understood. But she did save him from being torn from seam to seam. At least he would go home in one piece. But Icon continued to seethe with hatred. Jpeg know this was not over between them. Not by a long shot. As the two servicemen locked their arms around Icon's, the machine leaned toward Jpeg and with sneering yellow irises used its most menacing computer voice yet. “I'll get you for this, you miserable robot dog, if it's that last thing I do.”