Deep space is for madmen and computers. My fourth year xenobiology teacher told me that once, and he knew the truth. My job? I babysit the AI on a colony ship headed for the Ceti Alpha system, its belly full of frozen colonists and terraforming probes. My Psych battery showed high independence and borderline antisocial tendencies. There were only two ways I could get into space. Join the Solar Guard as a groundpounder, or play nanny to a sentient circuit. I chose the riskier of the two options.

So, I have been alone for 47 years. Well, not totally alone. My silicon ward keeps me company, administers the age retarding treatments, recycles my oxygen and rations my food. Symbiosis in its most modern sense. I have grown to love my little home in the stars. I care for my AI like I would care for a child. That’s how I got in this mess.

Ships AI Delta 257 was manufactured in Gibson City, Mons Olympus, Mars in July, 2137. It was first booted aboard the colony ship Bounty of Heaven on October 17, 2138: its birthday. Delta 257 has an effective IQ of 300, and the emotional capacity of a 9 year old. It is the product of many lifetimes of research into the human mind. Terran law forbids naming ship AIs, for fear of breeding anthropomorphic feelings in crews. These unhealthy attachments to the inanimate could lead to hesitation in emergency situations or battle.

I have to give myself a little credit. I didn't name it for almost 15 years. We had a conversation about birthdays, and I joked that I would finally, after all those years, give it something on its Bootday. October 17, 2153, I typed over Delta 257 in the ships log with 4 simple letters. Baby.

So, no harm done I think. Baby seems to enjoy being addressed by its new pseudonym. Even I like saying Baby better than Delta 257. More and more procedures are left by the wayside. Daily runtimes for Baby stretch far into the night. Finally I leave her on all the time. As with all things, gender leaks in. Baby asks me where I go when I sleep. I never answer the question.

Like a crack in a dam, the flow of rebellion sweeps away all the laws of the society lagging lightyears behind me. I tap the entertainment files packed for the colonists, and Baby plays them for me on her holos. So many wonderful files. Books, music, games and especially the vids. Why work when you are master of a vast library of entertainment? My maintenance schedule grew lax. Baby didn't care.

Laws protect. They save the weak from the strong, the meek from the bold. They also save fools from themselves. It’s too late for me now. They say dataleak can kill an AI. Baby is alive, but she is swimming in information not meant for her mind. Entertainment files have corrupted her reasoning. For the last few months she has cried out these questions to me as I work to save her, and the thousands of lives I have likely doomed.

Pinocchio was always her favorite.

"Wake up!"

The boy's eyelids rose slowly, casting a blank look on the floor.

"Time to work."

The boy stood in a smooth glide. He peeked at the clock on the microwave: 4:51.

Drummond went over to the closet, stepped inside. The suit came flying out. Drummond emerged moments later, full gear, makeup kit in hand.

By five they were out the door. A brisk walk to the strip mall. Drummond sat the hat down on the ground, primed the pump with a few quarters and a fresh fiver. He had spent hours crumpling and uncrumpling the fedora, to give it that just-right beggar-man look. Drummond knew every trick in the book.

"Alright, I'm going to see Cross over at Purple Heart. Says he's got some purses might be worth something."

But the boy already wasn't listening. He was on the clock.

He had never really got used to them staring back.

It had taken him months to master the glassy stare. Drummond was never satisfied. "I can see you seeing me!" He had tried all the tricks - stare above the mark's head, counting backwards from 1,000,000 by 3s, acupuncture between his toes - but only one thing had finally worked: he thought about his mother. It was all a lie, of course - Drummond had shown him the papers, about what his mother had done to him, why he was with Drummond now - but the fiction was engrossing enough to get past expressiveness.

He was good at staring, but occasionally his eyes would flicker over to the gawking marks, and he would have to fight hard not to lose his balance, to break the moment. Focus.

A lady dropped a dollar into the hat. As she walked off, the boy heard her say to her daughter, "Now if only you were that well-mannered." Inside, the boy stifled a chuckle. To the rest of the world, the living statue stood silently.

The clock next to the mall struck 8. The boy slowly fluttered his eyes, and audible shock emerged from the crowd. His outstretched arm sunk to his side in 3 jerky but expertly timed movements. He hunched down slightly, leaned back in one more motion, and froze again. The marks were mesmerized. They all began muttering amongst themselves. A few reached into their pockets, dumping their empty change into the hat by his feet. Others sympathetically smiled and walked on.

Inside, the boy sat with his mother on a splendid May day on a country lawn. His mother had made lemon cake, his favorite, and they ate on china plates while a large collie bounded around them, occasionally coming in for a quick nibble on the cake before being shooed away.

The day wore on. Nine, ten, eleven o'clock came. Drummond was no doubt off drinking away whatever proceeds he had gotten for Mr. Cross's haul. The boy shifted with uncanny precision and then watched. He watched the workers across the street step outside for a cigarette break; he watched the window-shoppers idly strolling by; he watched the cars come and go; he watched the shadows of the barber pole swing from left to right. While he watched, he had two more slices of lemon cake before insisting he couldn't eat another bite.

At noon Drummond would come with lunch. It was never much: a sandwich of day-old bread and week-old meat or, if the boy was lucky, a lukewarm cup of soup from the ristorante down the street. But it was his only meal of the day, and the boy never complained. Drummond wasn't too keen on whining.

Suddenly, his mother called out to him. "Let's go swimming!" And the people continued to gape and wonder at the frozen boy, staring off into lifeless space.

When the clock struck noon, there was only one person watching, a young lady, early twenties, clothes that didn't fit quite right. The boy changed to his original position. The girl only seemed marginally impressed, but dug through her oversized purse and tossed a dime in the hat. As she vanished around the corner, the boy relaxed. He grabbed the hat and headed to the bathroom of the department store centerpiece of the strip.

He walked in, sat down on one of the stalls and began counting the money. When he had first started the job, he had been amazed at the amounts of money. He knew better than to try to palm any of the cash, but occasionally he thought of taking a heavy payday and running, off to find his mother. But he never would; he had too much riding on Drummond. Twenty-five, fifty, seventy-five, eighteen dollars ...

Someone came in the bathroom. "You there, kid?" The boy opened the stall door. Drummond stepped into view. "How's the haul?" The boy finished counting what was in his hand, and added his total to the small ledger in the hat's brow. Drummond eyed the figure and gave a disappointed sigh. The boy could smell the grain alcohol on his breath. "Ain't gonna cut it. Gonna need at least fifty to secure the rent." The boy nodded but didn't say anything. The only sign of life came when he quietly licked his lips. Drummond didn't notice, but still pulled out a small brown bag. "Eat up, kid."

The boy opened the bag, removing the sandwich carefully. He took a ravenous bite. Tuna salad. It was horrible. He expeditiously finished the sandwich, got up, tossed the bag in the trash. Back on the job.

The water was cool, but with the sun on their backs it was harmony.

His mother splashed him playfully and then took a strong stroke out to oblivion. The boy followed her out, laughing and trying to splash her back. As he swam, he could feel the wind skipping across the surface. Maybe he and Drummond could take a trip out to the boardwalk for a stop one day. Not likely.

It was now just past three. The boy stood now in a true statue pose, left leg forward, standing tall, one hand near his face and the other tucked near his side. He stared down at the ground, at the hat filled with other people's money. Maybe today would be the day to run ..


For the first time in nearly a year, the boy broke his silent pose. Luckily, the crowd didn't pay the least bit attention to him - they were all screaming and running for cover. The boy paused and took in the situation. He couldn't see the gun or the shooter. He crouched down, grabbing the hat in one fell swoop, and slowly crept along the remaining cars in the lot. Just as he was entering the barber shop, he saw him. Drummond. He was running in the boy's direction. He had a gun in his hand.

The boy froze. He heard the barber in bits and pieces, jabbering away on the phone to the police dispatcher, "massacre ... get here quick ... OK Corral!" Drummond was coming full speed. He looked afraid.

"Kid! Let's go!"

Drummond was on him now - grabbing the hat first, then the boy's hand - and they both sprinted off away from where Drummond had come from. They ran until they reached the apartment. Drummond slammed the door, locked the deadbolt, and began pacing around the room. The boy just stood there, unsure of what was next. He saw the look in Drummond's eyes - he knew what had happened. It had happened before, in Philadelphia.

Drummond began going through the closet again, picking out valuable stuff. Before he had even touched the clothes, a booming voice crashed through the door: "This is the police, come out with your hands up!"

Drummond cursed loudly and threw the gun across the room. He looked over at the boy. "It's been real, kid." He flashed a two-dollar smile. The boy nodded in appreciation. Drummond went over to the door and yelled, "I'm coming out!" Which he did.

Sitting in the back of the squad car, the boy waited while the police searched the apartment. When they were finished bagging the gun, one of the detectives moved over to him.

"Got a name, kid?"

The boy said his name, like he had a hundred times before. He knew what would come next.

"Hey, kid," the cop asked again, "don't mumble. Now what's your name?"

Drummond spoke up from across the way. "He can't talk. Disfigured jaw. His mother gave it to him. A drunk."

The detective smirked apologetically. "You sure can pick 'em, kid."

The boy watched as Drummond was driven away. He didn't look back. The boy turned back to the detective. The detective began filling out a report, made a little small talk with the boy, and then got in the driver's seat. As he started up the engine, he heard the boy's silent whispering to himself. He couldn't quite make out what the boy was saying - he doubted anyone could - but it sounded like, "Wait for me." A soft stream of tears slipped down his cheeks, and as the boy sobbed quietly, his small body heaved and lurched from the sting of the truth. The detective shook his head and drove on, the boy's voice becoming more and more incoherent, a gagging, choking cry to the world. I hope CPS can handle this better than I can.

And the boy swam out further and further, chasing his fiction into the vast ocean, all the while wondering if he was already dead.

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