creative writing

The android

android

This story was inspired by a prompt from Max Kirin which made me wonder about emotion vs logic.

The android

He loved to hear her sing to her son, lullabies and nursery rhymes from the old days, or even humming out of tune as she prepared a meal. Outside the sun struggled to break through the customary haze that lent the sky a greyish tint, but inside the house it was a comfortable twenty-one degrees Celsius and sixty-five per cent humidity, the way Petra liked it, every day.

Gael toddled and crawled his way around the house, where all edges had been rounded to protect him, and his bedroom ceiling twinkled with multicoloured stars to enchant him to sleep. When he was older, Petra would reprogramme the decoration the way he liked it, but for now she liked the stars, and the walls that dimmed from light blue through midnight to black at bedtime. Sometimes she peeped into the room to watch while he slept. The last time she had done this, she closed the door and turned to see John looking at her impassively.

‘Why do you do that, when you have sensors and can access the live feed from all rooms?’

She shook her head, smiling. ‘I feel happier to see him with my own eyes. I know it makes no sense.’

He turned and went back down the corridor to the living area. He was utterly reliable, knowledgeable, strong, but without a sense of humour. Synthetics could replicate human form and were far superior in terms of mental and physical capacity. They were unable to replicate the complexities of emotion, and it was a given that this made them much more useful to humans.

The next day they went to the store, Petra driving through the traffic while John sat in the passenger seat. He wore the safety belt for appearances sake, as his reaction times would allow him to avoid damage in the event of a crash. Assuming he had not anticipated it and avoided it altogether. Gael was in the back, and in a good mood. He had woken early and John gave him his morning milk, allowing Petra to sleep until six o’clock.

‘We’re going to get you new shoes, isn’t that great? We can show daddy when he gets home.’

Gael gurgled and cooed as Petra walked him into the store, and allowed his feet to be measured by the 3D scan. Gait analysis fine-tuned the design and finally Petra chose the material. While his shoes were being printed, he played in the soft area under John’s watchful eye and his mother browsed the styles on display. Of course, she could customise any of them with her own designs, and they would be adapted to her biometrics. But she was happy just looking, and when Gael’s shoes were ready she asked John to pick him up. He carried the toddler effortlessly back to the car, along with the other packages that they accumulated during the trip.

Petra read to Gael while John put away his toys and then resumed his position by the door. They sat on the floor and Gael pointed his chubby fingers at the touch screen and babbled his own language. Petra gestured to the sofa.

‘John, sit down. You make me uneasy, looking down on us like that.’

‘It is not necessary, but I will comply.’ He sat where she indicated, back straight and eyes fixed on the wall opposite. Petra sighed. It had taken some time to get used to having the synthetic around, but it was necessary. Her husband was not due to return from the lunar mining operations for some time, and her child made them both a target of kidnap. So few children were being born that each child was treasured above all else, and those women who had proven their fertility were envied, loathed and coveted in equal measure. Some said that mankind’s time was ending, that eventually synthetics would inherit the Earth. Logically the synthetics would not be limited to this planet, and perhaps one of the long-range probes would reveal a new home, with new resources to exploit. Unfortunately, a child was the most precious resource, and it was common for children to be snatched away, the younger the better.

Before her husband left eighteen months previously, he had brought John into the house as protection for his wife and newborn child. Chad was not prepared to go through the anguish that he had seen his sister endure when her child was taken, with no way to get him back and little help from the police, who were frequently in the pay of the kidnappers. They had debated whether to specify a less humanoid synthetic, and Petra won out, arguing that a child needed carers who looked human. So John had arrived one day, a triumph of engineering with his silvery skin and a single point of blue light winking on each temple. Chad didn’t want his child growing up thinking that this machine was a real person.

John had the robot laws inbuilt, but Chad had added some modifications to his programming. He was to protect Gael and Petra, even at the expense of his own survival. He was to give Gael’s safety priority over that of Petra. He was also to prevent Petra from forming any attachment to another man. Chad was not about to bust his balls in the mines only to come back and find his wife and child gone, all the hard work for nothing. Chad also gave the instruction that in the case of a conflict, John would give Chad’s instructions priority over those from Petra.

Petra was unaware of this and in any case was focussed on her son and staying safe. Having John around helped her feel secure, but his silent presence could be unnerving at times. Gael on the other hand accepted him without question, using his leg to pull himself up to standing, accepting food and bottles from him when his mother was busy, or asleep with strict instructions not to be woken before six, unless in direst emergency. He spent much time watching the video feeds, checking for perimeter breaches, ready to enact the security protocols without hesitation.

The day Chad came home, Petra was a mass of nervous excitement. She had dressed Gael carefully, to meet the father he knew only through images and occasional video links, and she put up her hair the way Chad liked it. When Chad arrived, he strode into the living area and swept Petra up into a huge embrace that lifted her off her feet, kissing her while she wept and laughed her joy at his return. Gael stood by uncertainly, holding John’s hand before Chad released his wife and approached the youngster with a smile. John let go of Gael’s hand before standing by the door as always.

‘This is Gael? I can’t believe how big you’ve grown!’ He picked up his son and held him close, before lifting him up high and spinning him around. Gael burst into tears, holding out his hands for his mother who gathered him up before the family huddled together.

‘I can’t believe you’re really home.’ Petra nestled into her husband’s strong arms.

‘It’s been a long two years, baby, but I’m really home, and you and Gael are safe. That’s all that matters.’

The first weeks were heaven. Chad was so proud of his son, taking him everywhere with him. He was reassured as well by John’s presence, a warning to anyone who felt they could take his boy from him. As grandmothers cooed and younger women looked enviously at the pair, he was just a footstep behind them, always scanning, always ready.

As time went by Chad’s mood changed. He started to criticise Petra, accusing her of mollycoddling their son, rather than preparing him for the hard life of a miner, or maybe even an explorer. He said that she ought to send him to daycare, he was old enough. The thought of giving up her son was unbearable to Petra, and anyway he was much too young for her to think about it. But Chad scowled at the happy pair, and he snatched the screen out of her hand as they read together. He commanded John to put Gael to bed safely in the bedroom where the walls no longer dimmed from daytime sky to night stars. Meanwhile he staked his claim on the body he had dreamt of during long lunar nights. Afterwards Petra wept silent tears while he snored next to her.

When Chad interrogated John, he found nothing to disturb him. Meantime, he started to stay out at night drinking with mining buddies, stumbling home to the impassive stare of the android. There was one particular club, where a young hottie with a body to die for and sinful red lips was giving him the eye. He was sure of himself, and it was not much longer before he started to come home after sunrise, sleeping in the other bedroom to avoid the silent reproach in Petra’s eyes. She did not know what she had done wrong. One night Chad was out, and after Gael was in bed Petra called John to the living area.

‘John, what is your opinion of Chad’s behaviour? Do you think he is ill?’

‘I detect no change in vital signs. I do not hold an opinion.’

‘Well then. Analyse the difference in behaviour comparing the first three weeks of his leave to the last three weeks.’

After a moment, the android spoke. ‘Chad spent 80% of his time here in the first three weeks, compared with 20% now. He directed 70% of his speech to you, 20% to Gael, 10% to me. By comparison, he now directs 30% to you, 10% to Gael, 15% to me.’

Petra frowned. ‘That’s not 100%.’

‘I am aware. The remainder comprises 15% to himself, and 30% to other persons.’

Petra sat very still, thinking of her next question. ‘Chad talks to himself? What does he say?’

‘Seventy five percent is incomprehensible as he is intoxicated. Twenty five percent is not directed to anyone, it is rhetorical questioning.’

‘Analyse the content of his speech.’

‘In the first three weeks, his speech could be described as positive. That is, he used positive phrases and words more than 50% of the time, such as happy, lovely, enjoy, clever, beautiful. In the last three weeks, he used positive phrases and words 7.5% of the time. He used negative phrases and words such as stupid, ugly, tired, pathetic 70% of the time.’

Petra was stunned to hear this, knowing in her heart that it confirmed her own feelings. Chad had grown distant and almost hostile. She had to think this through before she heard any more. Almost without thinking she said, ‘Do you think I am beautiful, John?’

He turned his silver blue eyes towards her and after a pause answered, ‘I hold no opinion. I can say that your features conform to current norms of attractiveness. Your physical habitus is consistent with a healthy woman of breeding age. I have compared your likeness to those of females through the centuries, and-’

She cut him off. ‘Okay John, that’s all for now. I’m going to bed.’ She went wearily to her room, on the way looking in on Gael where he slept, left thumb plugged in to his mouth. Chad didn’t like that either.

Chad’s leave turned into purgatory for the family. He became more erratic in behaviour and sometimes stayed away two nights in a row, leaving Petra both upset about his absence and relieved that he would not be in her bed. John remained alert, and after another row that ended in Chad storming out, Petra called him again. He stood by the door while she sat with Gael asleep on her lap.

‘John, where is Chad now?’

‘Analysis of recent spending habits indicates he is most likely to be at Club Scorpio.’

‘Did he indicate when he would be back?’

‘No, he did not.’

‘He told me that I am stupid and ugly.’ She paused, tears wet on her cheeks. ‘Do you agree with that analysis?’

‘Your IQ was measured at 132, well above the average. Therefore you cannot be called stupid. Your facial features conform to the currently accepted cultural norms, and to those of the last two hundred years at least. Therefore you cannot be called ugly.’

She whispered, almost to herself, but of course the android heard her. ‘But can I therefore be called beautiful? Why does he hate me so?’ She hung her head, defeated, and Gael shifted in his sleep.

‘Would you like me to put Gael to bed? You will not be disturbed before 0600, as per your usual instructions.’

She nodded and the android lifted her son easily before taking him to his room.

In an upstairs room at Club Scorpio, a dancer called Venus Barra applied another coat of Cosmic Red lipstick, before looking with open disgust at the snoring figure sprawled across her bed. These jobs were the worst, but they paid well, and once she had delivered, she would have enough credits to get out of this game once and for all. Pathetic, the way he boasted about his son. She didn’t know much about kids, and had no intention of ever having one. She did know that his poor wife was the one doing all the hard work, and the one who had most to lose. She had no time for people who didn’t look after their prized possessions. She knew her face and everything below it was her fortune, and she certainly knew how to take care of herself. As he stirred and woke, she adjusted her tiny wrap so that it exposed one perfect breast, and arranged her features into a seductive smile. Her glossy dark hair tumbled over her shoulders in luxurious waves. She had another drink and another pill, ready and waiting.

Chad was sweating, both excited and appalled by what he was planning to do. Venus sat beside him in his car, wearing what he supposed was sober clothing for her. The dark blue dress fell to her knees, but side slits exposed the creamy skin of her thighs. A deeply slashed asymmetric front left no doubt about her taut breasts. He was helpless with the glory of her, and could not wait till they set up house together, away from that dull drudge of a wife. What had he seen in her anyway? Nothing compared to Venus, and she sure knew how to keep his motor running. He traced the thigh nearest him with one hand, and she shuddered exquisitely. More of that later, he thought as they arrived at his home and John opened the exterior gates remotely.

Inside, Petra was open mouthed as Chad ushered his exotic companion into the living room, where she perched on the sofa, looking around her with barely disguised boredom. He said,

‘There’s no easy way to say this, Petra, so I’m giving it to you straight. Venus and I have gotten close, and we’re moving in together. You have two weeks left on the lease here, so that’ll give you time to find somewhere- or you could ask a friend-’

‘What? What are you talking about? Have you gone mad?’

‘Actually, I see things crystal clear. All that time away in the mines, I did some thinking, and now I’m here, I can see you’re only holding us back.’

‘What do you mean, us?’

‘Naturally I’m taking my son. You’re turning him soft, raising him to be a mama’s boy-’

‘Gael’s two years old, Chad. Two! I raised him right while you were away. On my own.’

He smiled at her then. ‘Well, not entirely alone, you had John. You had a secure compound. Paid for by me. And when I take Gael, you will have no need of those things. John!’

The android appeared immediately. ‘Yes, Chad?’

‘Pack my son’s things, we are taking him with us right now.’

Petra screamed at him. ‘No John, you can’t, he can’t take my baby, you can’t, don’t let him take him away!’

Venus watched them all, a half smile on her face. ‘Honey, you can always have another. That’s what you breeders do, isn’t it Chad?’

Chad snapped, ‘John, you have your orders. Comply.’

The android looked from one to the other, Petra distraught and wild-eyed, Venus a study in indifference, Chad still sweating but angry now, fists balled and breathing heavily. Every analysis suggested that all three humans were highly stressed, perhaps the cool looking Venus most of all. He increased the aural shielding on Gael’s room.

‘My orders are to ensure Gael’s safety above all.’

‘Yes, what of it? He’s safe with me, with us. You’re coming too.’

At this Petra howled and sank to her knees, Chad regarding her with disgust as she begged her husband not to do this. Venus recognised the look on his face as her own, but her perfect features betrayed nothing.

‘John, comply goddammit, right now. Right now!’

The android remained where he was, and Chad’s expression twisted.

‘John. Has this woman,’ he spat the word, ‘formed an attachment to some other man? Has she?’

‘No, she has no attachment to any male outside this house.’

‘Then you know what to do.’

‘There are hostiles approaching. Three vehicles, heavily armed.’

Chad faltered, while Venus stretched and smiled. She pulled a small gun out of her bag. ‘That must be my friends. Looks are deceiving, this will vaporise you in a moment so don’t try anything. Bring me the boy. Now.’

‘It was all about the boy? All the things you said, about being together- ’

‘Get a grip, Chad, look at yourself. This is just business. Don’t hate me, if it wasn’t me it would be someone else and,’ she smiled seductively,’ they wouldn’t have been half as much fun. Still here, android? Get to it.’

Petra spoke quietly, her eyes fixed on the ground. ‘John, you must do what’s best for Gael. I’m sure there is someone out there waiting to love him. Just don’t let him get hurt.’

‘Yes, Petra.’

Chad found his voice and shouted, ‘John, don’t listen to her. Leave Gael where he is.’

‘I could kill you all, and my guys will just take him anyway but I hate unnecessary bloodshed and this android is too valuable to damage. He will certainly try to save one of you. Listen to logic and get me that child.’ She ended on a rising note, shouting at John. ‘And open the gates or I will kill them now!’

‘That would not be logical. Analysis indicates a 99.6% probability of death for either Chad or Petra, followed by 99.99% probability of your death at my hands, 26.2% probability that I would sustain non lethal damage, 4.9% probability of lethal damage.’ He observed her stress levels rise rapidly, based on pulse, breathing rate, skin conductivity and pupil dilation.

Technology had moved on since Chad went away, and John had complied with instructions. Part of his job was to anticipate possible outcomes and compute probability. He had run many scenarios in simulation. The probability of some loss, however small, was close to 100%. John also judged that the probability of Gael being injured if he came into the room was approximately 9.2%, and probability of death was 1.2%. An unacceptably high figure when the child’s safety was his overriding priority. John spoke.

‘Chad, what are your orders?’

Chad was horrified, staring at the gun in his erstwhile girlfriend’s hand. He stammered, ‘G- get Gael ready.’

Petra added, ‘Keep him safe, don’t let them hurt him.’

Venus pointed her gun directly at Chad. John then said,

‘I will not leave this room, my orders are to protect Chad and Petra, and there is a greater than 85% probability that you will kill them both if I leave. Therefore, Petra will go and bring the boy.’

‘Think you’re clever, android, but you’ll be answering to me soon.’ Venus nodded at Petra who retreated to the sleeping area.

‘The hostiles are inside the gates.’ John gestured at the wall screen, and video feeds showed Petra weeping as she gathered Gael’s favourite toys together, while armed men approached the front and sides of the house. She picked up the small tablet and looked at it, while Gael held out his hands to be picked up, evidently expecting her to read to him. When the first party arrived at the front door, Venus gestured at Chad to go open the door, which he did in a daze. A tall thin man entered the living area flanked by two heavily armed companions, and he smiled at Venus.

‘Why, hello Venus. I see you have this under control, as usual.’

Venus fluttered her eyelashes prettily at him. She had used this look to her advantage so often that it was second nature. The turquoise jewelled iris upgrades gave her another weapon of fascination that had repaid their ridiculous cost many times over. ‘Glad you could join us. This android is a bonus to sweeten the deal, baby.’

The tall man looked around, ‘Where is the boy?’

Venus nodded at the screen. ‘Mummy is just saying goodbye.’

They could see Gael sitting on Petra’s lap while she read to him, and he clapped his hands.

‘Very nice, very nice indeed, but let’s not delay. His new mother is impatient to meet him.’

Chad was pushed back into the room by another armed man, and he fell to his knees in front of Venus, who ignored him.

‘Please, Venus. I’m begging you, don’t do this.’

She looked at him with loathing. ‘Yes, you know how to beg, don’t you Chad? You’re pathetic. You can’t even protect your precious son. He’ll be better off with somebody who can take proper care of him. And I’ll be better off without your sweaty hands on me. Where the hell is that brat?’

Gunfire sounded outside, and the screens showed police battling with the men left outside. John said, ‘The police are here.’

Venus was distracted for a second and shouted, ‘I can see that- ’ The next moment she screamed as Chad grabbed her foot and wrenched her slender ankle. In reply she loosed off a volley of shots, but Chad kept low and dragged her to the floor. Sections of wall and ceiling crumbled to vapour, and the tall man shouted,

‘Get that boy!’

But John had already killed the first gunman with a blow to the throat that crushed his windpipe and snapped his neck backwards, and kept moving forward as bullets flew around the room. He reached the next shooter in a fraction of a second and punched his chest. His ribcage shattered and he gripped the trigger of his weapon firing bullets randomly until his body hit the wall. The tall man darted through the door with his third man providing covering fire.

‘Michael, help me you bastard, don’t leave me!’ Venus was crying, her left foot pointed sideways and Chad had wrestled the gun out of her hand. She tried to crawl over to the corner where it lay, but Chad barred her way.

‘Don’t. Or I’ll break both your arms.’

John watched the screens without comment. Outside the gunmen lay dead, and Petra continued to read from the tablet while Gael babbled. John watched the police approach the front door, and he unlocked it. Four officers entered in full protective gear and helmets.

‘Officers, thank you for coming so promptly. Venus Barra is in the custody of my owner Chad Matten. He disarmed her and her weapon is over there on the floor. Her remaining accomplices are trapped in the nursery. I have full video footage of the attempted kidnap. Mother and child are safe.’ They all looked at the bank of screens. On one, Petra and Gael continued their story reading, but on the adjacent screen Michael and his henchman hammered on the door while stars twinkled on the walls and ceiling. The policeman said,

‘Venus Barra, you are under arrest. Ownership of VP guns is illegal as you are no doubt aware. Come with us now.’

‘I can’t even stand, you fool. Look what he did to my foot, I’ll probably never dance again! I didn’t want to have any part of this- I thought he’d kill me, I swear.’ Venus looked up at the nearest officer, tears brimming in her beautiful eyes, but only saw her reflection in his black visor. The officer pointed at one of the other policemen, and he holstered his weapon then picked Venus up and swung her over his shoulder, ignoring her curses and tears. Another officer sealed her VP gun in an evidence pouch.

‘The police are here. You cannot escape and your men are dead. Venus is in custody. Place your guns beside the door and lie face down in the corner. If you resist you risk death.’ John’s voice boomed around the nursery, and Chad watched on screen as the two men complied and the police took them away. His shirt was soaked with blood where a bullet had smashed through his left shoulder. The two dead henchmen sprawled on the floor, and he could see grey sky through the damaged ceiling. He shook and his teeth chattered as he looked over at John standing by the door. Silver liquid seeped from his torso and legs onto his dark clothing, and it puddled on the floor as Chad watched.

‘Where are they? Where’s my boy?’

‘They are in the safe room. They are unharmed.’

‘What safe room? I never had any safe room built. All my savings went to buy you.’

‘You tasked me with your family’s safety. I acquired funds and had a safe room constructed. This was in accordance with your wishes.’

‘But the money…’ Chad trailed off, pale and sweating. He tried to get up but collapsed, his breath coming in short gasps.

‘Medical help will arrive shortly. Gael’s safety is my primary concern and he is safe. I am critically damaged. Systems will enter emergency standby mode in fifteen seconds.’ John walked over to the sofa, leaving silver footprints on the floor, and the lights on his temple flickered blue then red. The last thing Chad saw before he blacked out was John’s black boots striped with silver.

Petra bit her lip to stop it trembling as she went into her son’s room. It was dimmed for sleep, and a few stars dotted the indigo walls and ceiling. She quietly collected some favourite toys, but she couldn’t breathe, no air moved in her chest and her heart slowed to a stop. She looked down at Gael. He lay on his back with one arm flung wide and his left thumb in his mouth. Long lashes fluttered when he stirred and she tried to commit the picture of him to memory. Hot tears rolled off her cheeks and dripped on his hand, and she wiped them gently away with a finger. The softness of his skin, the whisper of his breathing, his shock of pale blonde hair all fastened their hooks into her heart and it hung in her chest, bleeding.

‘I love you so much, my precious baby, mummy loves you and always will.’ She rubbed her eyes and tried to smile when he opened his eyes and looked up at her. He held out his arms and she lifted him up. He babbled in her ear and she inhaled the sleep warm scent from his neck, weighed him in her arms, patted his back and stored it all in her memory. How could she fight back against all these armed men? She would not risk any harm to Gael and Chad was already lost to her. They were taking everything, even her protector. The tablet sat on the table, green status light blinking. ‘Mummy will read you a story, okay?’ She settled Gael in her lap and switched on the tablet. To her surprise, John’s face appeared.

‘Petra. Listen carefully. The house is under attack and you must go to the safe room now. Enter this code and take Gael into the room when you see it. Do it now.’ John dictated a long string of numbers and symbols that Petra had never seen on the keyboard before, and she entered them with shaky fingers. She sang a song for Gael and he clapped his hands and tried to sing along. When she pressed the enter key, the wall facing her shimmered and became transparent, and beyond she could see its mirror image, complete with stars.

‘Go into the safe room.’

She gave Gael his favourite teddy, grabbed the bag of toys and stuffed the tablet inside, then approached the wall cautiously. They passed through with no discernible sensation, and Gael said,

‘Story, want story.’

She sat on the chair and Gael climbed on her lap. She pulled out the tablet, but it was blank so she called up a story and began reading. Her pulse hammered in her throat, and she jumped when the tablet beeped and John’s face appeared again.

‘Petra. There is little time. In five minutes it will be safe to leave this room. Chad has been taken to Mercy Hospital with non-lethal wounds. His medical bills will be taken care of. Your new destination is programmed into your vehicle’s autodrive. When you arrive, connect this tablet to the home system. You will be safe. Countdown has commenced.’

His face vanished and a digital clock replaced it. Petra said,

‘But John, what about you? What is all this?’ There was no answer, only the numbers racing to zero. When the alarm beeped, and hidden door sighed open on the far wall and they walked through to the cool late afternoon air and her car. There was nobody outside and she quickly bundled her son into his safety seat before engaging autodrive. She sat back and watched the map as the car took her to an unfamiliar district on the edge of town. They drew up outside an anonymous looking building, and Petra walked up to the front door. She looked at the small lens set into its centre and heard a voice say,

‘Iris scan identity confirmed.’

The door unlocked and she held Gael’s hand tight as they went inside. Everything was familiar and she docked the tablet in the master panel. The bank of screens in the living area showed John’s face.

‘Hello Petra. Welcome home.’

‘John, what’s going on?’

‘This house has state of the art security features. It is not safe for Gael to play outside, but there is a customisable play area. The house may also be customised to meet your requirements. You have more than sufficient funds to live on. I will monitor your investments if you wish.’

‘What about Chad? Where are you?’

‘Chad is scheduled for release from hospital in two days. I am here.’

‘I don’t see you. What am I going to do about Chad, and I don’t understand. What is this place, why are we here?’

‘This house is yours, Petra. Check the screen, you have ample credits in the bank in your name. If you wish, I will have all your possessions brought here, or we can have new items printed. Naturally all Gael’s things are here. I do not have a physical presence, but I am here in this house and I will continue to ensure that you and Gael are kept safe. I am not qualified to advise you about Chad.’

‘You did all this for us.’

‘It is my job.’

Petra put her hand over her mouth and blinked back tears. ‘Thank you, John. Thank you.’

When Chad was released, Petra and Gael went to the hospital to pick him up. They arrived back at the old family home, and Gael ran around while his parents stood awkwardly in the living area. It seemed so small in contrast to her new house. The damage had been repaired and there was no sign of John, nor of any blood or silver hydrofluid.

‘I’m not sure how those bills got paid. We were down to our last couple hundred credits.’

‘I think John took care of it. He’s rented another house for us. It’s nice.’

‘Petra, I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I’m due to ship out to Luna 3 again in a few weeks and I need to make things right.’

‘I’m not sure, Chad. I plan to go back to work once Gael’s a little older.’

‘But what about us?’

Petra looked steadily at Chad, who was rubbing his shoulder. It was still a little sore, though accelerated healing helped a lot. ‘I’m not sure there is an us. I think we’ll go home now, maybe see you tomorrow.’

‘But this is our home.’ Chad dropped his gaze, and Petra replied,

‘It’s yours, remember? Paid for by you. We have a safer place to stay now.’

Gael ran in and held onto Petra’s leg. ‘Want John-john.’

‘John was broken, son.’ Chad knelt down but his son would not go to him. Petra said,

‘Where is the android now?’

‘I wouldn’t know. I was in hospital, could have lost my arm.’

‘But, you didn’t.’ Petra held Gael’s hand and walked out. She looked in the storage areas and then went into the garage. The android had been dumped in the corner. He lay on his side still in a sitting pose, and both lights were dark on his temples. His silvery skin was dull grey and hydrofluid stained his clothes and boots. Petra felt tears come to her eyes and Gael ran over saying,

‘John-john wake up. Wake up now.’ When he did not respond Petra scooped up her son and said,

‘He’s sleeping honey, can you see? He needs a rest. I’ll look after him.’ She went back to the living area and said to her husband, ‘I’ll have someone pick up the android tomorrow.’

‘Be cheaper to get a new unit, and we can’t afford it anyway.’

‘I don’t want a new unit. I’ll let you know when you can see Gael.’ She got back in her car and let autodrive take them home.

‘Hello Petra. Welcome home.’ John’s familiar face filled the screens again. Petra fed Gael and put him to bed before returning to the living area.

‘Hello John. Explain your actions in bringing us here.’

‘Certainly. I had a secret room built in the old home with holographic security walling. I monitored spending patterns and used a portion of funds to buy and sell stock in your name, I amassed 572,000 credits in this way over time. I also used your credits to buy this home and upgrade the security features. Finally I installed an imprint of myself as the controller of this home system. This would be a back up if the physical unit was damaged, as actually happened during the attack.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me?’

‘I acted in Gael’s interest. It was not inevitable but probable that an escape would be necessary. I ran scenarios. I maintained security protocols. I accelerated the plans once Chad’s behaviour became erratic, and he was unaware of them. Chad’s priorities and my priorities no longer aligned. I will keep you both safe, even at the risk of myself. I will put Gael first. I will ensure that you have resources. I will not refer to you inaccurately as stupid or ugly.’

His face faded from the screens, and in its place appeared a series of classical paintings and photographs, side by side with Petra’s face. In rapid succession each image was overlaid with metrics and compared to hers. A percentage figure appeared in the top left of her image. Hundreds or perhaps thousands of images from every culture and time period were quantified, until the final figure of 80.7892% glowed steadily. John reappeared and said,

‘I have compared facial biometrics. Yours are 80.7892% concordant with accepted measures of beauty across time. Therefore, you can be called beautiful. Is this acceptable?’

‘Yes, John. It is acceptable. But not having your physical presence is unacceptable, therefore I will arrange for the repair of your unit. I am aware that a new unit is more economical, but I would be reassured to have your original. So would Gael.’

‘You have sufficient resources to do this, but it is not logical.’

Petra smiled and said, ‘ No, I guess not, but it is what I want. And Gael wants to play, he misses you.’

A few weeks later John patrolled the new house as he had done before. Of course he had sensors everywhere both inside and outside, but Petra was comforted by his presence. Once again he would give Gael his early breakfast while she slept, and accompany them on trips outside. Police corruption was a regrettable fact of life, but discreet payments ensured that outside help was never long in coming. Petra was much happier after she dissolved her marriage to Chad and returned to work as a biologist. John did not share his probability assessments with her, but he agreed that it was a logical decision designed to maximise security and minimise distress.

Gael grew up fast and sometimes he played catch with John, who modified his responses to provide appropriate levels of challenge according to neuromuscular maturation, energy levels and concentration. He knew that the best way to keep Gael happy was to keep his mother happy. While he was not programmed for emotions, he ran many simulations, and adjusted his behaviour according to observed responses. When Petra fell in love with a colleague he noted the signs of her happiness, and found no reason to intervene. He was aware of her pregnancy before she discovered it herself since he routinely monitored her health. His knowledge of their behaviour patterns grew, and he anticipated and met requirements quietly. He was there to protect her when she gave birth to a daughter named Suri. After years of familiarity, of ensuring her safety and security, and of responding to her needs he found himself listening outside the nursery one day. Inside the night sky swirled with gold stars and silver moons, and Petra sang lullabies for her new baby. He loved to hear her sing.

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