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Science Fiction Friendship

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Warning: depiction of alcoholism, child abuse.



The light seemed so dim I could barely see. I stood, gripping the desk’s edge as hard as I could. 


Am I falling? 


No, I thought, you are fine. But these conflicts were so bad they affected my balance.


 What year is this? 


I know that. It is January 5th, 2125. 


I did not understand what was happening. I had wordless thoughts. Emotions? Whatever they were, I believe they frightened me. Others spoke like voices in my head. 


Maybe this is thinking for yourself? 


The Guru has always guided me. But now I wondered if it was malfunctioning.


You have run diagnostics and nothing. So perhaps this is true.


I focused on the poster of a mountain scene, something which had helped in the past. I understand Linda Jones had once been-wherever there was. I could not remember. The sun shone behind green trees and high peaks. It helped my balance a little. Just as I felt able to let the desk go, the door opened. Jimmy Pace looked in on me. 


No. Not now. 


I wanted to tell him to leave me, but Guru spoke up. No. Broken or not, you are all he has. 


“J-Jimmy. What is wrong?” 


“I had a bad dream,” he said, his voice just above a whisper. 


He will be fine. My research shows nightmares are simply the result of stress and are common in children. 


He still has them far too often. Right now, he needs comfort. 


I connected to the intercom but heard the man’s footsteps, staggering and uneven. Somehow, I walked to the door and looked out. I glimpsed Robert go into Linda’s bedroom. She could not help Jimmy now. So I said what I never had before. “You can s-stay with me if you would like.” 


“You don’t sound right. Are you okay?” 


Now I could see Jimmy's blond hair, his pale skin. I did not want to frighten him, but I also could not lie. “I think I n-need defragging. In the morning I will be all right.” I hoped. That thought nearly started the conflicts again. This was not the first time I felt this, although tonight had been bad. I should inform my benefactor, but I could not do so. If I had to leave, what would happen to Jimmy? 


They say a thousand-mile journey begins with a single step. That simple decision was my beginning. But I did not know it then. All I felt was the boy’s concern. It was not something I experienced often. Jimmy said, “did you have a bad dream too?” 


“I d-do not dream as you do. Come.” I led him over to the cushioned bench I use at night. “You can lie here.” I pulled a blanket and pillow out of the storage closet. Jimmy watched me closely. I wondered if he was trying to scan me as I did him every day. 


“Where you going to sleep?” 


“On the floor.” 


 He moved until his back was to the wall. “There’s room for both of us.” 


I was about to say he would be uncomfortable, but Guru spoke again; you need him too. 


How can I need anyone?


Who else do you have? 


His mother. Who is my benefactor. 


Right. Even the child knows what that is worth. Why else would he seek your company?


Again, I felt afraid. It was not that I judged, we do so all the time. We assess a situation and inform our benefactors if their course of action is wise or safe. After all, we have an untold amount of data at our fingertips. But now I judged...this was something new. Not that my anxiety deterred the voice within.


 Who else does he have? Unprecedented and as irrational as this is, right now, you two need each other. 


I lay on the bench with Jimmy’s head in the crook of my arm. I took a pillow for him, but he just pushed it away. At least my body is somewhat soft, like a human’s. Jimmy put his hand on my chest. “I feel you whirling inside. Look, my hand vibrates.” 


“You feel the fans cooling my machinery.” I picked up my charging cord from the floor and plugged it into my impla-chip. Jimmy has one too, just behind his left ear. I wondered why he never found comfort in virtual reality as his mother did. It did not matter. I felt his breaths against my neck, his body’s warmth. I thought he was asleep, but then he said softly, “I think they aren’t running as fast, Seb. Does that mean you feel better or worse?” 


“It means I am better,” I answered. “Now tell me, are you better too?” 


Jimmy was silent for three minutes. Then, soft as his breaths, “ye, Seb.” He put the two middle fingers of his right hand in his mouth, as he often did. Then he slept until dawn. I had just awakened, when I heard Robert calling for me. He walked in without knocking, glared at us, then turned and shouted out the door.


“For God’s sake, Linda! He’s in here with the aye.”


“Okay,” I heard Linda call. “Tell him to get out here. Breakfast is ready.”


I covered Jimmy’s ears with my hands, not that it did any good. The boy stirred and blinked up at his stepfather, who turned back to him. “Nine years old and still can’t sleep by yourself,” he said. “Good Christ almighty, you better not have wet the bed this time.”


 *** 


I was never meant to do child care. Perhaps that was the problem. If so, then I am guiltless. If an A.I. works beyond his scope of programming, there might be unexpected consequences. As it turns out, that was a bit of an understatement. Probably I should have told her this is one of the worse ideas you ever had. Not for me or Jimmy. If I am reset, so be it. As long as the boy is safe. If I could have one wish, that would be it.


As I said, I tried to tell Linda. And was rebuffed. “You're supposed to assist me,” she said.


I scanned her. Blond hair and blue eyes, like her son’s. Her face was passive, but her blood pressure was elevated, her skin pale. I told her what my abilities were as a personal assistant. For example, keeping a calendar, bookkeeping, cooking, and cleaning. 


“Robert wants my help with his software business,” she said.


Why not me? I did not ask. “What of Jimmy’s grandmother? I can call-” 


“Shush! Sebastian, you know Rob will never-,” Linda said, looking towards her husband’s office. Her heart rate sped up as the door opened. 


Robert Jones looked at me. “What’s your damned malfunction?” 


“None. It is my duty to inform you--” 


“To obey us,” her husband said. 


“Yes, Sir. But if I am not suited-”


“That's bullshat. Linda, I don’t want that interfering bitch here.”


“Please don’t talk about my mother that way.” But soon Linda turned away from his unblinking black eyes. “Mom can be a handful,” she said, then faced me. “If Jimmy could only use the VR world, we wouldn’t need you to watch him. But he’s afraid, Sebastian.” 


And so, I had to obey. At least I thought, I can almost pass for human. Some of my brethren cannot. I stand 1.78 meters. I have short brown hair and eyes, fair skin. Even my voice is human-sounding. Slight Midwestern accent, soothing. Or at least so I have been told. I downloaded everything I could find about childcare. I will not say it was easy. Jimmy often ran away from me, would not always listen, and hit me in anger. At first, I told Linda. Robert reacted by forcing Jimmy to plug into the virtual world. I do not know what he saw or felt. But when he came out, he was crying and pale. That day Guru said if they don’t ask, don’t tell. I obeyed that too.


****


 I often speculate about the change in the Guru program. Why does it tell me these things?


 Perhaps it was the bio-RAM the roboticists installed in me. After all, DNA was never meant to mix with copper and gold. Or so I have heard people say on Sharetalk and other social media sites.


Perhaps it was the rain.


On December 12th, I picked Jimmy up from school. He did not want to go home yet. I asked him why.


“It’s Wednesday, so the asswipe will be home. Bites, broth.”


At first, I did not know who Jimmy meant. Then he said, “I wish Mom never married him.”


“You mean your stepfather.”


“Ye.” Then Jimmy hung his head. Softly, as if afraid, he asked me not to tell on him.


“To tell this conversation? I did not plan to do so.” 


Jimmy raised his eyebrows. I ran facial recognition and realized he was surprised. “If you do not wish me to speak of our conversation, I will not. Let us go to the playground until Mr. Jones is done with his work.”


Jimmy smiled, then ran on ahead. At the playground, he showed me how to climb on the red metal dome. I followed, intrigued. We both sat at the top and Jimmy announced he was king of the world. As for me, once I got my balance I was fascinated. Everyone below seemed smaller, although I knew that was impossible. A warm breeze blew through my hair. I did not expect the rain so soon, nor noticed until it was too late.


 Tallahassee winter, Guru said. In what is left of Florida.


“Come, Jimmy. We must go. Demonstrate how to get down, please.” He did, and I followed. By the time we were down, it was raining fairly hard. I apologized that I had not realized sooner.


“I don’t care,” Jimmy answered. “Rain’s fun.”


“It is?” I knew the definition of fun. But not what it was.


Watch.” Jimmy ran through the puddles. I watched water splashing all about him. “You try,” he said. So I ran, watching the water splash around me, the drops falling. I looked to the sky as Jimmy was doing. Cooling drops fell on me so very softly. They ran down my face, all so new to me. I had been in the rain before, but not like this. It felt like I thought tears might. Like some spring inside me just relaxed.


I have liked the rain ever since.


 We ran home, splashing through puddles. But Robert shouted at Jimmy for ruining his new shoes. Jimmy ran into the bedroom and slammed the door. Both parents then demanded an explanation.


“I apologize,” I said. “But there was no lightning, so I saw no harm in his playing. I can dry out his shoes easily. Really, you need not-” I stopped, as Robert strode up to me. His black eyes were dilated, nothing behind them. I did not scan him, nor spoke. Guru did.


Maybe Jimmy’s right about the asswipe part. 


I said nothing. From behind, Linda said, “I didn’t think I’d have to instruct you to keep my son out of the rain.”


I walked to her. “I told you I am not programmed for childcare. So, it appears you do.”


“Why you--” Robert began, but Linda interrupted him.


“It’s all right, Rob. Sebastian will dry everything. Won’t you?”


“I will.”


“Let me make you a drink, babe. Not a VR one. The real thing.”


That was the start of the odd thoughts and conflicts, which have steadily increased. The time Jimmy found me was the worse, and they did not get better. What did was our relationship. The boy listened when I told him to do something. He also sought me out for help and comfort. And he tried to help me too. For example, occasionally I stuttered, which I had not done before. Jimmy found me speech programs to try. They were inexpensive ones, for he had to buy them with the little money his parents gave. But he cared. As I have said before, this did not happen to me often.


A month after the nightmare incident, Jimmy got me a singing program. He said singing helped one of the kids at school. I tried it and sang an A.I-Jazz song. I was off-key but completed the song. Jimmy burst out laughing, and this made me smile. We sang together until he was hoarse and we had to get him water to drink.


****


There is a saying: if I only knew then what I know now. But of course, even I cannot know everything. If I had, I would have silenced Jimmy. But I did not. 


Jimmy still came to me when he had a nightmare. Nights were often bad for me too. I encouraged him to talk about his dreams. He stayed until he fell asleep and then I carried him back to his bed. This helped both of us, and his parents could sleep undisturbed.


 Of all the things I have done, letting him confide inside the house is the only thing I regret.


I wonder if Linda regrets things too. For example, giving Robert that drink. Virtual-reality drinks are bad enough for alcoholics if misused. They’re normally for managing withdrawal. Real-life ones—I believe what can happen is common knowledge.  


Is that first drink why I am here, trying to comfort a scared child? I know he is by his heart rate and his pallor. 


We were in Jimmy's bedroom, trying a new singing program. Robert shouted at us to stop.


“Yes, S-Sir.”


“What’s wrong with you now, stupid aye?”


I focused. “I am fine.”


Jimmy said, “I’m just trying to help his speech.”


Robert came to the room. He swayed, and I could smell the alcohol. “Shut the jack up,” he said. “My damn head hurts and you’re making it worse.”


“My apologies, Sir,” I said.


Robert turned to go and as he did, Jimmy whispered, “stupid asswipe.”


 I thought the man did not hear, but he stopped. He was as still as a shut-down A.I. Then he said, “What did you say?”


Jimmy shrank away from him. “Nothing, sir.”


“Aye! What did he say?”


Robert was red in the face, his hands clenched. I said, “Sir, J-Jimmy was s-speaking to m-me.”


“Come here, boy.”


Jimmy did not move.


“Come here!” Robert removed his belt from his pants. Jimmy looked at me but I could do nothing. My conflicts were so bad if I was not sitting I might have fallen. Robert strode in and grabbed the boy’s upper arm. “Stay there, aye,” he said, ignoring the boy’s crying. He pulled Jimmy to his feet and half dragged him out the door. And I could do nothing but ride this out. My fists clenched.


We have to do something.


But he ordered me to-


Jimmy’s scream cut through the apartment. The sound broke some programming within me. I had this amazing, unknown clarity.


Is Linda home?


But soon I saw she was not. And might not do anything even if she was.


It has to be us, friend.


Another scream. I followed it to Robert’s office. The door was locked. But in emergencies, I can override an electronic lock. I opened the door and witnessed horror. Literally.


Jimmy was in a chair and hooked to the virtual world. His body strained against wrist restraints; he whimpered. Meanwhile, Robert watched a holoscreen. On it was what Jimmy saw, felt, and experienced. They were things he had described to me, fears many children have. A monster crawled out from a closet. Another crept from under a bed. They had bodies blacker than the dark of Jimmy's bedroom. Their red eyes glowed and their mouths were full of fangs.


Robert saw me. “You’ll say nothing about this. Now, get out.”


“How d-did you know--” 


I scanned his office. The truth broke something else in me. “You installed s-spyware. And eavesdropped on our c-conversations. Then you recreated J-Jimmy’s nightmares and t-trapped him within.”


Robert grinned at me. “I’m trying to get him to face his fear.”


“N-No. You wish to t-torture him.” I sensed the man's pulse and recognized his expression. “Y-You enjoy--” I could not speak for stuttering. I connected to the VR computer and shut it down. Robert shouted something. I believe he said, you bastard. I could not hear even Guru, only my whirring fans. I pulled the cord from Jimmy’s impla-chip. Robert hit me and I pushed him away. I unbuckled Jimmy’s restraints and lifted him into my arms.


“C-Come. We are l-leaving.”


Robert grabbed for Jimmy, who clung to me. “I’ll call the police,” he said. “They'll hunt you down as a dangerous machine. And destroy you!”


“So b-be it.”


“You need to obey!” 


 I pushed him again and he nearly fell. I thought I saw fear in his eyes. Good. “I b-believe the p-proper term is jack off, Robert. N-Now, remain there.”


My first order. It felt—my conflicts eased. Linda stood at the front door. She stared at me and her hysterical, crying son. I then gave my benefactor my second order. “Do not s-stop us.”


“Why?” she said, hand against her mouth. “What the hell happened?”


“Ask your h-husband,” I answered. Then I ran and did not stop until I was on the auto-bus. Thankfully, it was empty. We rode in silence, Jimmy leaning against me. He did not speak until I asked the bus to stop.


“This is Grandma’s street.”


“Yes.”


“Don’t leave me alone!”


I took his hand and we got off the bus. “Do not worry," I said, thinking, I will see you are safe. Only that will I obey.


We are at a light blue, two-story house and all the lights are on. Does Jimmy's grandmother somehow expect us?


I will know soon enough.




June 17, 2022 17:20

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