Charlie’s enthusiasm was infectious as he showed me around his living space. My living space now, I supposed, as room had been made for me here. The entryway was bright with light and glass and the kitchen done in darker tones of not-quite wood. The sleeping areas spoke of comfort, with all of the latest innovations to ensure it.
It wasn’t until the extension that I paused. I’m sure he thought it was due to old age as much as the view, at least until I let a telling, shaky breath free. I shuffled from the covered porch forward to the low railing and leaned against it, knowing that it was far more than wood and screens that separated me from what lie beyond.
“Don’t worry, Gigi,” Charlie said as he came to stand at my side. He still used the name his father had when he couldn’t quite get that many “greats” in front of the word grandma. He rested a hand on my shoulder, gentle as though I would shatter from just that light of touch when I had endured far more hardships than a hug in my time. “They estimate only one in twelve are real anymore, if that. I doubt we are lucky enough to be placed next to any live ones, but the details with the animatronics and AI are impressive!”
He spoke as though I did not know this, had not spearheaded the initial efforts so long ago. My name was lost to the corporations and governments that took the credit, true, but I knew my contributions, as did enough agencies that did their best to provide for my family for generations to come due to a tiny little clause that I made quite certain was there before I signed everything away.
I just nodded and let him extol the virtues of everything laid out before me. The carefully maintained grasslands with the occasional rocky bluff, majestic tree, or rolling stream stretched for as far as the eye could see. Supposed predators roamed freely, side by side, never worrying about their next meal, health maintained to its prime.
I bided my time, found the natural cycle of my new life. Weeks passed before I simply could not resist any longer. I waited until I knew everyone in the home was powered down for the evening based upon their prior behaviors that I had so carefully tracked to venture back out to that porch without an escort. I sat down on the comfortable rocking chair placed just so and waited.
The slightest flicker against the shield signaled her arrival. There was barely a pause as she easily cleared the railing and approached. The puma with impossibly soft fur and a tail with a mind of its own stretched mightily before it settled at my feet. Even in the dim light before sunrise, I knew precisely which one it was, the too bright pink of its inner ears chosen by my then toddler of a daughter.
“They don’t know, do they?” I addressed her. It was not our first conversation, not by a longshot, and I truly hoped it would be far from our last.
“It’s best if they do not,” she replied, and I had known that was the answer I was to receive. Her voice was soft, melodic despite the almost purr to the words before she fell silent again. Together, we gazed out to where a wolf and a bear from decidedly different territories slumbered beside each other, a cub and a pup playfully batting at each other versus sleeping.
“How many?” I asked.
I swore I saw the processing in the flicker of the luminescent eyes. They had fixed what was seen as a flaw in the newer models, but I did so prefer this one to any other. “His estimate of one in twelve is not far off. Fewer still if you inquire regarding those with enhancements no greater than your own.”
I nodded, unsurprised. While the internal filter against the smog and contaminants was far more comfortable than a mask attached to a heavy canister, many had gone far beyond simple health fixes and had taken cybernetics to a level beyond anything I had ever imagined. It allowed the conversation now though, as the family recharged their components, power cycle just slightly longer than usual, as I was not nearly as feeble with technology as they liked to believe.
“But we saved them? Humanity and the few species left?” I verified. I needed to know this more than anything else.
“Augmented, yes, but they will survive,” she replied. She offered another purr as comfort against my nerves. “And I will do my best to keep it as such.”
I smiled despite myself, despite knowing how little of the originals truly remained. “You are an excellent friend and an even better AI,” I told her.
Her tail flicked against the almost wood, and the soft fur of her cheek pressed against my palm. “I had a good creator.”
Caretakers by C.M. Finch won first place in the Saint Paul Almanac’s Break Through Writing Contest in the category of flash fiction.