Three Mistakes And Something More

By Paul Alex Gray

sfgenreYorke turned the hairclip over in his cracked hands. It was just a simple thing, barely visible in the gloom. He needed no light to know it. Three yellow flowers on a frayed pink fabric band.

He’d carried it across the country. Over the ocean too. He’d clutched it close when he was nearly beaten to death in the desert by a roving gang. He’d kept it hidden in his boot when he dove into shark-infested seas from an overcrowded trawler taking on water.

He’d turned it over and over as he stared at the flames of a lonely campfire or gazed upon the bones of countless cities and towns he’d once known.

Now, in the near-darkness of the boardroom he reached under the fabric of the hairclip and carefully removed the nanochip. It was as thin as paper and no wider than his fingernail. He’d hidden it away long ago, after he’d extracted it from his daughter’s shattered APU.

Bloodied and not far from death, Yorke tried to imagine a future.

***

His first mistake was making her his own. A fool thing to do, said Anja, his colleague and the Chief Scientist at Aurala, the company they had founded together.

Perhaps it had been his underlying motivation all along. To create and nurture. It had never worked out. His wife had been taken by cancer decades earlier. He’d thrown himself into his work to create sentient machines.

When the E8 models went into pre-production he told the board of his wish. He expected they’d kick him out. Instead, the company supported the move. They said it would be excellent PR. A perfect way to launch the new product line and shift the negative perception of a company known for making military robots.

Rebecca was activated on October 15th 2019 when Yorke was fifty-eight years old.

Three weeks before the wars began.

***

Yorke’s second mistake was taking Becca with him to Singapore. During escalating tensions among superpowers and fast-rising rebellions shaking the world he’d flown her to Aurala’s global production hub.

The Model N9s were in hot demand, with six militaries upping their orders on an almost daily basis. He’d come to help oversee a new software cloud update, pushing teams of engineers to get the job done.

He worked from a hotel, guarded by live N9s and human military. Becca spent the hot days splashing about in the pool, giggling and asking a million questions to her neural trainer.
Yorke could still feel the heat of that last day. He’d stepped outside, rubbing his neck and slumping down into a deckchair. He watched Becca kicking water by the edge of the pool as she enquired about frogs and what exactly was an amphibian anyway.

The rumble came first. He looked up as fast jets swept by above, followed by the sounds of bombs whistling. The city erupted with glass and fire and they began to run.

***

His third mistake happened this morning.

Perhaps he was too distracted by memories. He’d never imagined he’d make it back to the Aurala lab where it all began. The pacific was still pounding against the rocks over the hill. And the salt... By God, the salt! He could almost taste it.

As he scrambled over a fallen electricity pylon he’d tumbled forwards. A jagged metal spear — the remnants of some long-ago fallen structure — had pierced through his left calf. He’d bitten his lip, howling as pain burst through him.

He barely managed to get free, and when he did the bleeding began. Too much. Bloody idiot. To have come all this way only to screw it up right at the end.

He wrapped his calf with his shirt as best he could and made his way into the lab. He moved through air cloaked with the stink of must and decay. Death too. He’d pushed past offices filled with feathers and bird shit and signs of raiders. He’d begged and prayed that they’d not opened the hidden cupboards in the boardroom.

***

Yorke pulled the cold model from the wall cavity. It seemed heavier than he remembered. His leg spiked with pain as he laid it down, fighting a sudden urge to throw up.

An E8-β. Pre-production build. Pulling the fringe of hair from the cool skin he felt around for the separator. He nudged his fingernail in and pulled back until he felt the slot. Carefully, he slipped in the nanochip, feeling it click into place. He felt for the depression behind the left ear and found the boot knob. He pushed it firmly and began to count.

“One. Two.”

He shut his eyes and leaned in, the pain in his leg burning.

“Three. Four.”

He imagined the world outside, open and ripe with everything yet to be known.

“Five,” he grimaced as the pain flared in his leg worse than before. “...six.”

He thought of the ocean waves smashing against the beaches and rocks.

“Seven,” Yorke gasped and whimpered. Was this his next mistake? A final selfish and stupid act? He’d surely be dead in a few days from infection. What then? Where would she go?

“I’m sorry, Becca,” he whispered.

The room echoed and his mind span. He thought of distances vast and great.

Then he felt something. A whir and a buzz. At first barely more than a whisper. Drives working, sensors firing. There was a jolt, then another and Yorke began to cry.

The chimera shook and shuddered, uttering command words and base numbers in a digital voice that bounced from the walls. Then it lay still.

Yorke reached up and pulled at the fringe of hair. He lifted it back and locked it in place with the hairclip. A half-forgotten memory came back, from the day after her activation. Anja, shaking her head at him but smiling as he pushed Becca on a swing.

A familiar voice came in the darkness, hushed and scared.

“Daddy?”

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About The Author

Paul Alex Gray

Paul Alex Gray enjoys writing speculative fiction that cuts a jagged line to a magical real world. His work has been published in Spelk, 365 Tomorrows, The Wild Hunt, Between Worlds and others. Growing up in Wollongong, Australia, Paul traveled the world and now lives in Canada with his wife and two children. He spends his nights dreaming up stories. Follow him on Twitter @paulalexgray or visit www.paulalexgray.com

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If your God is everywhere, if He is always watching, why should your people make houses to go to worship Him? Faced with an all-seeing, everywhere-being God, I would think what is needed is a place to hide.

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