This story was first published in The Drabble

The green-grey eyes of her newborn look at her intently. She wraps him tightly in everything she has. Below, at street level, there is shouting and waving. She kisses the child on his bronze forehead, whispers his name, and lets go. Eyes pressed shut, two, three seconds in which there is no sound, no feeling, only her heart, clenched. At last, she opens her eyes to see her angel, held up for her to see, safe. She crumbles down against the hard balustrade.

A single, piercing wail joins in the chaos around her. Flames are licking the cracked balcony doors.

Photo by Álvaro Ibáñez on Unsplash

Garden Leave

This short story was first published as an episode on the podcast “Science Fiction Monologues”

“Yesterday I thought I saw one of them wink. Weird, huh? It’s not possible, I know that. But I imagine them sometimes, laughing behind our backs, at our fallible brains, our feeble strength, our one-track minds.

Oh, I don’t think we could manage now without our gyrobots, cloudbuilders and A6tants. They do our finances, our chores, even our agendas. It’s been at least ten years since I last got my own groceries. My fridge keeps track of what I need, and my house drone fetches anything running low. And Xobert here is always around, if I need anything.

Sometimes, I don’t even come in to work at all. They organize things by themselves very well. And if something does go wrong, they fix it. I often see them working on each other outside of routine maintenance, it’s cute. Do you see those high metal domes next to that solar sheet field, about two miles north-east? That’s the Greens Production Studios: fifteen thousand pounds of vegetables, every single day. LED-light grown, with resources optimally balanced to maximize both productivity and health. Their algorithms plan everything meticulously, up to the amount of vitamins and sea weeds to add to keep all of us in good shape.

They’re so much better at prediction than we are. Because they’re all connected, right? They might see a new pandemic rolling in way before we do. And then they tell us. Yeah, we’d better hope they keep doing that.

Last week one of the harvest bots malfunctioned. A small part had been missed by the digital maintenance monitor, and had started rusting. The bot couldn’t go back or forwards anymore, held up the entire production line. They stopped the line, got the replacement done, and fired all systems back up – in minutes. Genius! And no grumbling, haha!

We can’t leave it all to them, of course. The big picture, the strategy, sure, that has to be us. We decide that the city needs more teachers, or more living space with playgrounds, or different snacks. They help us though, calculate the options and the impacts, give us scenarios to choose from.

You do have to let them know who’s boss, once in a while. Sometimes we just turn on the sprinkler installation. Instant, total panic! Like throwing acid on an ant hill. They crawl around and over each other trying to avoid it, some short out and drop to the floor in pieces. Although, I do get the feeling they’re on to us there, the last time, they got the sprinklers turned off pretty quickly. Next thing you know they’ll build umbrellas in their craniums, or layer themselves with some kind of protective coating. We’ll have to think of something new.

Sure there is a way to turn them off, if we need to. A button, somewhere in D.C. But it cuts off everything, that could never be a long-term solution. We’d have to go back to candle light and bicycles.

You see these tomatoes? Try a bite. Homegrown right here, in this little garden! I just love being here,  the quiet rustling of the leaves, even some of those rare bees once in a while. And these roses and strawberries here, tended with my own two hands, you know? It’s rewarding.

I can’t be sure, but I really thought so. One of them rolled their eyes, and the other one winked back, a subtle little thing.”

Photo by Aman Pal on Unsplash