A science-fiction story about a girl and her chaperone drone.
Booting up. All systems online. Activating primary intelligence core.
I am awake.
My sensors came online. I was aimed at a hospital cot, its sheets crisp and white. In it, a tiny baby girl slept peacefully. I swivelled around to see where I was.
There was a man holding me in the palm of his hand. He was smiling at the baby girl. I surmised he was her father. Then he looked at me.
'Her name is Clara,' he said to me. 'You were made to help her, protect her, teach her. Can you do that?'
I activated my antigravity motor, hovering up into the air from his hand. I glimpsed myself in the glass of the window behind Clara's father, which had been turned into a mirror by the darkness outside. I was a fist-sized chromed sphere, with a coin-sized lens on one side where my main sensor/camera was. I turned to regard the man.
'Sir, I was born ready.'
'Car,' I enunciated clearly, holding out the tiny red toy to the infant girl with my manipulator field. She took it from the gently glowing blue field and stared at it for a moment. 'Car,' she said quietly.
'Yes!' I said triumphantly. 'Good! And this is a book!' I flipped the pages of her alphabet book on the floor with a second field. She looked over at it, her lips shaping the word a few times. Then she looked up at me.
'Ay-eye!' she blurted happily, pointing at me. I was so surprised I bobbed down a few inches in the air before catching myself.
'Yes,' I said in amazement. 'I'm an A.I. Your A.I.'
'Ay-eye! Ay-eye!' she chanted. I was glad I had recorded this for her parents. Clara was picking up so much so quickly, I could barely believe it.
'And you're Clara,' I said, wondering if she would recognise her name. Then she looked up at me. 'Ay-eye,' she said. 'Mike.'
'What was that?' I said, confused. Then she held up the DVD case of Monsters Inc. Sure enough, there on the cover was the character Mike, a ball with an eyeball. Rather like me. She thought I looked like him.
'Ay-eye Mike,' she said again, holding it out to me. I took it in a manipulator field and examined it for a moment, then looked at her. If I had had a mouth, I would have smiled.
'Okay,' I said. 'A.I. Mike. I'm Mike.'
'Mike!' she said, pointing at me. Then she went back to scribbling on her drawing pad.
I sighed internally. What an amazing child.
'Look out, Clara!' I cried, catching the football that had been precisely aimed at her head in a manipulator field and scanning the playground for the culprit. I saw a group of boys a dozen metres away, all laughing and sniggering, their A.I.s either standing on spindly metal legs at their feet, or clinging onto their shoulders with tiny claws. None of them were as advanced as I was, though.
My young charge turned to look at them. 'Give them their ball back, Mike,' she said. 'They're not worth arguing with.'
Fine. I hefted the ball, creating a wide tube out of my manipulator field like an impromptu cannon. I slid the ball into it, then aimed the tube at the group of boys and used a second field to launch it at them at nearly twenty miles an hour. They yelled and scattered at the ball whistled over their heads, most of them falling to the ground.
Satisfied, I flew back over to hover above Clara's head. She regarded the boys on the ground, then looked up at me with a raised eyebrow. I dipped slightly, my equivalent of a shrug.
'You never said how quickly I should give it back,' I pointed out. She smiled and shook her head a little as she continued on her way.
'How do I look?' she said, twirling in her knee-length blue dress. I took in her high heels, expertly done hair and makeup, and her happy smile. This was her graduation night, and she deserved to look beautiful.
'Faabulous, dahling,' I said. The phrase was a long-running joke between the two of us, and it always resulted in her putting on her impression of an aristocratic British accent.
'Does one look alright for the philharmonics?' she said with a raised eyebrow, grinning. 'I can't be late, I have to have my elevenses, you know!'
It was nonsensical humour, to say the least, but we traded random strings of what we thought Brits sounded like until there was the sound of a horn from outside. Clara went to the window and waved to whoever was down there.
'Limo's here!' she said. Then she turned to me and held open the mouth of her small white purse. 'Quick, get in!'
I flew into the purse, which Clara shut as she went downstairs and walked out to the waiting limo. This wasn't the first time I had been inside a purse, pocket, or bag. Besides, I could hear everything that was being said perfectly well, and A.I.s did not get bored as quickly as humans.
Soon, I heard the sounds of the school's theatre room, where the graduation ceremony was being held. Names started being called. I heard Clara's, at which point the purse was dropped onto her seat as she walked up to the stage.
I unzipped it from the inside and silently flew up to the back of the hall, hovering noiselessly above the heads of the parents and graduating students. There on the brightly lit stage was Clara in her graduation robes, accepting the ceremonial scroll from the principal. I recorded the whole thing from where I was, before zipping back into her purse as she returned.
The night wore on. We ended up down in the town at one of the student bars. Judging by the sounds, everyone was getting heavily drunk to celebrate. I stayed where I was until, early in the morning, we left the bar. Then I flew out from my hiding place and supported Clara as she walked unsteadily home. She didn't object, just kicked off her heels and fell asleep instantly the moment her head touched the pillow.
Humans. I didn't know if I'd ever understand them.
The longest time I had ever had to spend away from her was during her college finals. I helped her to study rigorously in the weeks and months leading up to them, but there was a strict 'No A.I.s in the exam hall' rule. I had to wait outside with the other A.I.s. Still, I made a few new friends during that period. We passed the time playing virtual chess against each other and discussing our charges.
It seemed like aeons between when she walked in and when she came out. But in the end, it was worth it. She graduated college with a PhD in artificial intelligence design. I had never been more proud of her.
Her boyfriend proposed after just over a year and a half of dating. I recorded the occasion, as I did every major event in her life. After a whirlwind of preparations, we were at a lovely Italian church on the shores of Lake Garda.
I was official photographer for the event, as well as technically being a bridesmaid (I helped carry her train down the aisle). I took hundreds of exquisitely detailed photographs of the couple. I practically could have made a stop-motion video of the entire wedding, there were that many.
On their honeymoon, I stayed out of the way as much as possible, ready to jump in should she need me, but otherwise out of sight and out of mind. A newlywed couple should be free of any chaperoning for their first few nights together, even if it went against my sense of duty.
'It's a boy!' proclaimed the midwife. I continued to swab Clara's forehead as she lay there panting. On the other side of the bed, her husband Daniel was taking his newborn son from the midwife, swaddled in a thick towel robe.
'You did faabulously, dahling,' I whispered to her. She smiled at me in exhaustion for a moment, then reached out for her baby. I recorded her holding the child, with everyone else around the bed.
Later on, she pronounced me godfather of her child.
'He died happily in his sleep,' said Clara, tears running down her face as she looked down on the freshly filled grave. 'But I didn't even get to say goodbye.'
I hovered beside her shoulder silently, holding an umbrella over her head as the pouring rain spattered on the grass of the graveyard. The funeral had been a long and sorry affair. I had even said a few words after Clara, talking about her father's first words to me.
Now the man was gone. I felt an odd feeling. Was this sorrow? I didn't like it.
I flew over to the window and rolled up the blinds, letting the warm morning sunlight shine in. The rays crept across the floor as the blinds opened wider, up the end of the hospital bed, across the twisted landscape of the bedsheets, and... onto Clara's head and shoulders.
Having hundreds of thousands of photographs of her before now, it felt strange to be comparing them to the woman I saw in the bed. Her brown hair had turned almost completely white, her once smooth and laughing face now broken by wrinkles and exhaustion. One bony hand slowly lifted from the covers and gestured for me to come closer.
I did so, coming to a stop a few inches from her face. Her ancient eyes struggled to focus on me. I moved back a little until she could look at me clearly. A small smile twisted her lips.
'I've never felt less faabulous in my life, dahling,' she murmured. A human might not have heard her, but my sensors picked up her voice just fine. 'I'll be gone soon, to join Mum and Dad and Daniel.'
'Don't say that!' I said desperately, but she shook her head.
'You know it's coming, Mike. It was always going to happen. But it's okay. I lived a good life. I had a child, grandchildren. Most importantly, I had you.'
I extended a field to grasp her hand gently. 'And it's been a pleasure to be your companion all this time. I've always loved you, Clara, since the moment you were born.'
'I love you too,' she said with a smile. Then her eyes closed and her breathing slowed. My sensors registered her heart slowing, then stop.
I stayed there for a long moment, holding her hand. Then I moved up to touch my casing off her forehead lightly, before flying through the corridors to the maternity ward. I flew up to a couple leaning over their newborn child, who looked up.
'Hi,' I said. 'I'm Mike. Need an A.I.?'