Yaakov The Pirate Hunter, Chapter 1: The Map in Our Robot
Book 1 of Nathaniel Wyckoff’s Peretz Family Adventures series begins here. Meet Yaakov Peretz, a bright boy who loves exploration and high-tech gadgetry, especially robots. While playing outside with his younger brother, he stumbles into the adventure of a lifetime.
The shiny red disc sailed through the air, reflecting a glint of southern California sunlight as it coasted toward Yosef Peretz’s raised hands. “Got it!” he yelled toward his older brother, Yaakov, who stood at the other end of the Peretz family’s grassy backyard. “Try not to throw it so high next time. It could have gone on the roof!”
“Sorry,” muttered Yaakov, with a shrug. Yaakov didn’t worry much about losing a Frisbee on the roof. It would have been easy enough to get. If it landed close enough to the edge, he could simply climb up a nearby lemon tree, reach over, and knock it down or grab it. He had retrieved many a stray baseball and soccer ball that way. Even losing a toy on the very top of the roof was no big deal these days, thanks to the latest member of the Peretz family’s workforce of robots.
Yaakov loved to explore the world around him, both by experiencing new things and by reading. His parents encouraged his sense of adventure, through a combination of family trips and books on practically every subject. By age eleven, Yaakov had already traveled with his family to countless museums, science centers, amusement parks, skating rinks, hiking trails, observatories, and zoos throughout the Southland.
Once in a while, Yaakov was happy to enjoy a lazy summer day like this one, playing or relaxing in the yard. The yard was a peaceful retreat, a place where time itself seemed to slow down. At one end, a towering plum tree cast its long shadows over the deep green lawn. In the summertime, Yaakov could pick up a juicy fallen plum from the grass and munch on it while reading a book or just thinking. Directly across from this tree, about forty feet away, grew a much shorter lemon tree. It stood very near to a wall of the house, and was easy to climb. All three Peretz children had scaled it many times.
Yaakov almost tripped over his little sister’s bike while sprinting to catch Yosef’s next toss of the Frisbee. Why couldn’t Rachel have just put it away when she was done with it? he wondered briefly. The Frisbee had started on a straight enough course, but a sudden breeze had picked it up and carried it toward the wooden fence separating their property from the neighbors’ yard. Yaakov grabbed the Frisbee out of the air just in time.
“Get ready, Yosef!” called Yaakov. He rolled the tiny bike aside and prepared to throw the Frisbee again. This time, he tried to aim a little lower. If he snapped his wrist just so, he calculated, then he could get the disc to arrive at a point just above his younger and shorter brother’s nose. . .
“Not on the roof again!” cried Yosef as the Frisbee came to rest. “Why do you keep throwing things up there? You know how long it takes to keep going up there and getting them! That’s our only Frisbee now, since you threw the little white one into the ocean last week and Rachel took the purple one to the park and lost it.”
“I was just trying to master that new throw that my friend Avi taught me a few days ago,” Yaakov explained, calmly. He demonstrated a strange-looking gesture with his wrist. “You see? If you let go of the Frisbee as soon as you flick your wrist that way, it. . .”
“Goes flying out of control,” interrupted Yosef, shooting Yaakov one of his scowls that seemed more frequent in recent weeks. “Well, now we’re stuck without any.” He pointed to a high spot on the roof, above the lemon tree. “There it is, too high for anyone to reach it. You can barely even see it from here.”
Although he didn’t care to admit it, Yaakov dreaded the thought of actually climbing onto the roof himself. Worse still was the prospect of spending the rest of the day avoiding his irritated nine-year-old brother’s insults and temper tantrums. He and Yosef stared at each other for a silent moment. A distant drone aircraft soon broke the quiet as it buzzed overhead, probably delivering groceries to an elderly lady in Orange County. Think positive, Yaakov, he told himself. He reminded himself of his father’s oft-repeated motto: “There’s always a solution.”
Yaakov suddenly broke out into a confident smile and began speaking excitedly. “Don’t worry, Yosef. I know just the thing to get that Frisbee back down: AutoRiser!” AutoRiser was the newest of the family’s robots, a climbing machine purchased just two weeks earlier.
Yaakov turned around and ran to the garage. Its wide front door creaked a bit as Yaakov pulled it upward to open it. He stepped into the shadowy, dusty room and approached the silent row of six roughly humanoid-looking metallic robots standing along its back wall. Each robot was at least two inches taller than he, and possessed its own rare set of abilities. With a smooth and practiced motion, Yaakov approached the second robot from the right, reached around its body and flicked its power switch. AutoRiser immediately came to life, making a series of loud beeps.
“Hello, I’m AutoRiser,” came the unnaturally soothing voice from the robot’s speakers. The robot extended its right hand and turned its head to face Yaakov. “A pleasant mid-morning to you, sir.”
“AutoRiser, follow me,” replied Yaakov. “I’ve got a job for you.”
He began walking toward the garage’s open doorway. AutoRiser predictably followed him, taking slow and deliberate steps. I’m like a king leading his most trusted general into battle, thought Yaakov, marching back toward the house.
Home robots were all the rage these days, a new and exciting technology that granted instant bragging rights to any child on the playground whose family was lucky enough to own one. When it came many other things that the Peretz children wanted, they were long used to hearing their parents’ refrains: “You don’t need that,” “I don’t want to spend money on that right now,” and “You have something just like it already.” But robots were different. Almost every day, Yaakov’s father reminded him and his siblings how fortunate they were to receive such generous deals from their local robot dealer, Dilip Sitoop; most families didn’t seem to own more than one or two robots, and the Peretzes now had six.
Yaakov had been fascinated by robot technology for most of his young life. Among his earliest memories was a family trip to the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey. At that hands-on, interactive museum, a five-year-old Yaakov had become intrigued by the idea of controlling life-like machines that obeyed his every command. He had played with metallic robot arms, using them to lift green balls, move them around a glass chamber, and then drop them. Yaakov had practiced those moves repeatedly, persisting even long after his three-year-old brother had given up. He had also experimented with the Space Center’s planetary rover exhibit. There, children programmed small vehicles to perform sequences of steps, including driving to specific locations, picking up rocks, and depositing them elsewhere. And in a spacecraft simulator, his parents had helped him pretend to land an automated probe on an asteroid to collect mineral samples.
As he matured, Yaakov’s love of all things robotic grew with him, and his parents were all too happy to help him learn more. He read books describing robots built to look exactly like their inventors, with strangely human-like voices. Some such devices were able to play sports or to hold fairly realistic conversations. His parents allowed him repeatedly to watch old NASA videos of the planetary rovers that explored the surface of Mars (and were probably still working, as far as Yaakov knew). Even more exciting was the opportunity to build his own automated machines. Year after year, Yaakov begged his parents to buy him toy robots and robot construction kits as birthday and Hanukkah gifts. Building robots eventually became Yaakov’s favorite activity. Self-guided dinosaurs and remote-controlled tarantulas began to clutter his bedroom, and his father sometimes joked about charging them rent. Those fairly simple playthings later gave way to more sophisticated devices, machines that obeyed commands received from his mother’s laptop. With practice, Yaakov learned how to use them to perform simple chores for him. Why put away his own shoes, he reasoned, when a machine could be taught to do it? Daily, Yaakov dreamed up new ways to make life easier using artificial “personal assistants,” and today was no different.
“Oh, come on,” Yosef remarked, rolling his eyes as Yaakov emerged from the garage with AutoRiser not far behind. “You really expect that piece of junk to be able to go up there and grab it?” Yosef’s scornful response was as disappointing as it was expected. For some reason, he didn’t yet seem to appreciate the value of keeping these helpful gadgets around.
Yaakov shrugged again. “Why not? That’s what it’s supposed to do. Don’t worry. Imma and Abba won’t mind. Last night I asked them if I could do stuff with the robots today, and they said yes.” The Peretz children referred to their mother by the Hebrew word “Imma,” and called their father “Abba,” as commonly done in many traditional Jewish families.
He faced the five-and-one-half-foot tall climbing machine. “Ready, AutoRiser? Go climb up this wall, then get on the roof and find the red Frisbee. Pick it up and climb back down with it. Then give it to Yosef.”
Yosef made an annoyed face and sat down on a large, smooth boulder. His brother stood next to him, feeling a bit anxious. The two of them stared as their robot scaled the wall of their house. Yaakov could tell that his brother was getting impatient.
“This is boring, Yaakov,” he complained. “Why did you send AutoRiser up there anyway? That thing’s too slow! Why don’t you just grab a ladder and climb up there to get it yourself? You’re the one who threw it there!”
“Just be patient,” answered Yaakov. “Look,” he added, pointing upward at the roof. “AutoRiser’s almost got it. Anyway, what’s the rush? We’re on vacation.” He quickly glanced downward and saw the words “Sun 29-Jun-2025 9:34 AM” glowing back at him from his digital watch. These summer mornings felt like they could drag on forever. It was a rare, relaxing morning for the Peretz children, whose days were usually packed with scheduled activities. Today, there was no school, no summer camp and no pressure. What difference did it make how slowly the robot moved?
“Yeah, and I don’t want to waste a whole day of our vacation sitting around and waiting for some silly robot!” answered Yosef. “I have an idea.”
He stood up, looked around for a few seconds, and then ran over to a patch of overgrown grass. Quickly, he rummaged through the grass and picked up a hidden baseball. Then, he brought the ball back to the boulder and climbed on top of it. Standing on the boulder, Yosef took aim at the plastic disc on the sloped roof and hurled the ball. Just then, the reliable climbing android grasped the Frisbee. As it did so, the baseball smacked AutoRiser’s shiny head with an earsplitting “clank.”
Yaakov heard a faint “thud” as their soft lawn broke AutoRiser’s fall. “That silly robot of ours was about to bring us back our Frisbee!” a shocked Yaakov cried. “Why couldn’t you just let him?”
“It,” snapped Yosef. “Because I was tired of waiting for that slow-poke machine. That’s why. Come on, forget about that stupid thing and let’s keep playing.”
AutoRiser lay on its side, seeming a bit dazed. “Here is your new turkey sandwich, Mr. Paper Clip,” announced the robot, as Yaakov tried to take the Frisbee from its left hand. An orange butterfly landed on AutoRiser’s metal bump of a “nose.” “Good eve-ning,” AutoRiser slowly and politely addressed the insect. “Shall…we…take…a…stroll…now? There’s a new red wagon wait-ing for you.” The robot began to pull itself on one knee, but collapsed back onto the ground. “Another satisfied customer!” announced AutoRiser, waving at the butterfly as it flew away.
Yaakov groaned and buried his face in his hands.
Yaakov’s seven-year-old sister, Rachel, came running outside with their father, Yehuda Peretz. “What happened, boys?” asked Yehuda. “I thought I saw a falling robot!”
Yehuda was a fun father. He owned and ran Enigmatic, a store specializing in quirky puzzle games, educational toys, books of brain teasers, and similar items. Yaakov and his siblings often hung around at the store after school, messing around with Rubik’s Revenge toys or trying to beat each other at Electronic Jenga.
“And what was that loud noise?” yelled Rachel. “Hey, what happened to our AutoRiser? Why is it laying on the grass? Robots don’t get tired.”
“We had a little trouble with the robot,” explained Yosef, speaking quickly, “but it’s not acting too funny. Not really. Maybe its head got a little jumbled. You see, Abba,” he said to his father, “I sort of hit it with a baseball, and it fell off the roof. But, like I said, it’s nothing we can’t fix right away with a screwdriver or something.”
“I heard that noise,” interrupted Yehuda, his normally cheerful face now looking rather stern. “I didn’t see what happened, but now there are two boys out here standing in front of a broken robot…an expensive broken robot.”
“Abba, I think I can fix AutoRiser,” said Yaakov. “After all, I did build Digital Drudge all by myself. AutoRiser can’t be that much more complicated.” Digital Drudge was Yaakov’s proudest invention. Yaakov liked it to accompany him whenever he needed to get things done. Yosef generally referred to it as “your useless pet.”
Yehuda peered directly at Yaakov. “All right. Fix it.” He then turned to Yosef. “Both of you. Now.”
“I want to help!” yelled Rachel excitedly. “I’ll get my toolbox!” She turned around and dashed into the house.
“Good idea, Rachel,” Yehuda yelled toward her from behind. “And I’ll get mine.” Turning toward his sons, he added, “Stay right here, boys.”
With Rachel’s “help,” and under their father’s watchful eye, Yaakov and Yosef soon managed to open AutoRiser’s head. Yaakov stared at the complicated mess of electronic circuitry that directed all of the robot’s activities. Almost immediately, he noticed that several circuit boards were out of place. Clearly, they had been jarred by the collision with Yosef’s baseball.
“Abba, look at that,” said Yaakov cautiously, pointing to the shaken electronics.
“Those circuit boards must have knocked out of place when AutoRiser landed on the ground, or when the ball hit it,” answered Yehuda. “You’re the robot builder, Yaakov. Why don’t you try moving them back into place?”
Careful not to do any further damage, Yaakov grasped one circuit board and began to nudge it slowly, trying to ease it back into its former position. As he finally clicked it into place, he noticed a bright light shining from the 2-D picture projector in the robot’s right electronic eye. A strange image suddenly appeared on the smooth, white wall in front of the Peretzes.
“Well, what have we here?” asked Yehuda in a surprised voice, pointing at the image. On the wall there appeared to be a map displaying a section of the Mojave Desert. The map was rotated sideways. In one corner of the map, a large, sloppy “X” had been drawn in red ink. “We’ve found some sort of a map. It looks like it might even be a treasure map. In old stories, ‘X’ often marked the spot on a map showing where pirates had buried their treasures. Some of those stories might even be true.”
Yaakov stared at the map. “I don’t get it. Why would there be a pirates’ treasure map in our robot’s head?” he asked.
“Good question,” answered Yehuda. “Maybe we should ask Mr. Sitoop. I’ll call him right away.”
Yehuda Peretz hurried inside, Yaakov following. He watched as his father picked up his smartphone from the living room table and called Dilip Sitoop. “Hello, Dilip,” Yehuda said. “It’s Yehuda Peretz. Is everything all right? You sound a little tense. . .Okay. Anyway, I’ve got something interesting to tell you. You’ll never believe what we discovered this morning!” Yehuda turned to Yaakov. “Please wait outside for a few minutes, Yaakov, while I talk to Mr. Sitoop.”
Yosef and Rachel tossed around a football while Yaakov sat and stared glumly at the damaged AutoRiser. After several minutes, Yehuda came outside again. The children gathered around him on lawn chairs while their father related a bizarre and amazing story.
“A few weeks ago, Mr. Sitoop witnessed a robbery at the home of a billionaire in Santa Barbara. He was at that man’s house to install a robotic chef. A gang of pirates broke into the kitchen, stole a case of expensive jewelry and then escaped from the police by fleeing to the desert. Somehow, they managed to outrun the cops and to bury the stolen treasure. They drew this map to help them remember where to find it when they come back for it later. Mr. Sitoop secretly chased the pirates, following them in his little car as they drove off in an old van. He saw one of the pirates hold up that treasure map and stare at it. That was Mr. Sitoop’s big chance. He quickly picked up a little camera and took a picture of their map. Later, he uploaded the photo into one of the robots in his store. But he was so nervous about the whole thing that he forgot which one. Guess which robot it turned out to be?”
“AutoRiser!” Rachel cried.
“That’s right, Rachel,” replied Yehuda. “Mr. Sitoop’s plan was to give back the treasure chest himself, but since we found the pirates’ map, he asked us to go and get it for him.”
The whole story sounded rather odd to Yaakov. “Why would a gang of pirates break into a house? Don’t they usually attack ships?”
“And, why would they make a map?” Yosef contributed. “That was a pretty dumb idea.”
“More great questions, boys,” answered Yehuda. “First, of all, it sounded like those pirates somehow knew just where to find that chest. They were in and out of the house very quickly. The map was a nice touch. It was actually a clever way to hide their stolen goods. Think about it. Not many people know how to read maps these days, especially not road maps.”
“What’s a road map?” asked Rachel, with a squint.
“I’ll show you one.” Yehuda got up from his chair and walked into the garage. He emerged a few moments later, holding a paper, folded into a thick stack. As he walked back to his lawn chair, the children stood up and gathered around him. He began to unfold the paper, and held it in front of the children, who gave him their attention. “This map shows the streets around our house.”
“They don’t look like streets,” said Rachel.
“Well, let me explain it,” continued Abba. “Suppose you wanted to get from our house to that new Middle Eastern place that just opened up in Sherman Oaks. What do they call it?”
“Babylon Grill,” answered Yosef.
“Okay.” Yehuda pointed to a white line on the map, and moved his finger along the paper as he spoke. “So, here’s our street. Now, Babylon Grill is on Ventura Boulevard, all the way over there. The map shows us that, to get there, we’d have to drive over to Highland Avenue, get on the 101, get off at Van Nuys, and then make a right on Ventura.”
Rachel gave him a quizzical look. “Abba, why can’t we just the tell the car where to take us? It always knows where to go.”
“That’s true, Rachel,” explained Yehuda, in a patient voice. He always seemed to slow down when explaining something, and Yaakov never remembered his father getting annoyed by a childish question. “Our car is pretty new. But, older cars didn’t always have built-in directions. People had to look up their directions on maps and figure out how to drive to the places where they wanted to go. It used to be that everybody kept paper maps in their cars, like this one. Then, they started putting maps into cell phones and building direction finders into cars. Those devices would tell people where to turn and where to stop. Today, we can get into a newer car like ours and just tell it an address.”
“Well, what if you just wanted to go to some random spot with no address, and you didn’t exactly know how to get there?” asked Yosef.
Yehuda tapped the road map. “Then, you would need one of these.”
Yaakov leapt from his chair and began to talk excitedly. “So, the pirates drew a map to some place in the desert, and weren’t too careful about hiding it, because they figured that nobody else would be able to read their map anyway. I think we should go find that stolen treasure and return it!” The idea of getting involved with pirates was a scary one, but Yaakov knew that it was an important mitzvah, a commandment from the Torah, to return a lost or stolen object to its rightful owner.
“I think you’re right,” replied Yehuda. “We’ve got the map, so we’re the right people to find and return the treasure. Mr. Sitoop can’t do it. He’s pretty shaken up right now, because he suspects that one of the pirates saw him, and he’s afraid they might be spying on him. He doesn’t even want to leave his house, even though he has to sometimes. What do you say, kids? How does a long drive to the desert sound today?”
“Fun!” exclaimed Rachel. “Can I bring my sand toys?”
“Sure,” answered Yehuda with a smile. “And what do you say, Yosef?”
Yosef eyed his father with a look of annoyance. “I get the front seat,” he replied.
Was there really a buried treasure, or was the map just some sort of hoax?
Was Dilip Sitoop telling the truth, or did he have something to hide?
What’s bothering Yosef?
Find out the answers to these questions and more in Yaakov the Pirate Hunter!