Light-years away, Programmers void of emotion design our present-day experiences to preserve the human race. But resources are limited, and when a little girl creates a connection transcending the protocols, something must be done to protect the system and the dark skies threatening to take over the world.
First seen in Future Visions Volume 3 edited by Brian J. Walton, “The Removal of Blue Sky” was B. A. Paul’s first short story sale and also received L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future honorable mention.
On my Promotion Day, I was thrilled to find I had been assigned a seven-year-old little girl, but I dared not show it. When they handed me her file, I simply nodded and followed along in the line of other flat-faced Promotion Day participants. She lived in Connecticut with her father, mother and two-year-old brother. Her previous Programmer was retired, and I was chosen to spend my days designing hers. And why the humans enjoyed the four-legged things, I’ll never understand.
A slender technology specialist opened the steel door and nodded toward the room. “Here is where you’ll review Samantha’s years so far, sir. Buzz me when you’ve finished and I’ll show you to the Machine Room.” The emotionless lady left me to the child’s file and video report.
My heart soared. I took a seat at the table and the orange holographic frame buzzed to life in front of me. I watched Samantha’s conception, birth, first year celebration and on and on. I watched her scrape her knees and wake up with nightmares. I didn’t like those parts, but her Programmer did right to allow them. She wouldn’t learn and grow properly without some conflict and pain.
We aren’t supposed to get attached to our assigned subjects. For the most part, we don’t have feelings, not in the human sense, as most of those bits of our DNA were burned out a millennium ago for the sake of galactic peace, but once in a while, a tidbit of code must sneak through. I’m not sure I can remain distant from this precious child. We don’t have children here.
We are grown, cultivated, and trained.
We are not born. We don’t even have names.
We are what we do.
The video continued to play on through her first day of school and the loss of her front teeth. Human anatomy was the hardest subject during training. Everything had to be just right or you could damage the program and, thus, damage the human. One could err in engineering, and the human finds another house. One could err with the weather, and it rains too much or not enough. But usually, human anatomy is what hangs us up.
After an hour, I had watched nearly every second of Samantha Strewing’s life in Connecticut. I committed every detail to memory to use in her mosaic later if needed.
But there, just at the end of the video, was a white Scottish Terrier, romping and frolicking with Sam in her backyard. There was no mention of a pet in her permanent records. Perhaps a neighbor’s dog, or a visiting relative’s program blended with hers for a moment.
I rang the buzzer and the same dull-eyed woman escorted me from the Viewing Room to the Machine Room.
“You’ll return to the Viewing Room as needed to check on your human’s progress.” I nodded in understanding.
“She has a dog now. I didn’t see any previous record of that.”
The assistant shrugged. “Must be some mistake in the typed profile, because what you see on the screen is her reality.”
She used the security disc embedded into her arm to open the steel door to the Machine Room. I gasped and she glared at me. Hundreds of millions of stations encircled the Machine. My classmates told me I was an error because I responded to everything with gasps or enthusiasm, but the sight was too much to behold. The holographs truly didn’t do it justice.
The assistant showed me to my station. On either side of me sat other Programmers, snapping tiles into trays and stacking them for the Loaders to fit into the Machine.
I spent the first two days learning how to load Sam’s trays with dreams to echo the day before; daily goings-on and unexpected twists that each twenty-four-hour cycle takes in a human’s life. Luckily, Samantha’s previous Programmer had several days already loaded in the Machine, so I had time to learn the rhythm of the system.
In eight Earth hours, we could load thirty days of a human’s existence. The gridded tray was simple in design. Each one contained three hundred spots for different colored tiles. Management sent down the mosaic pieces, brightly colored tiles in every color imaginable, through a large tubing system that started in the ceiling of the room’s dome and snaked out to white, velvet-lined boxes on each of our tables.
After the first shift, I was in love with the sound of the glass pieces whisking through the tubing and falling into the box on my table. But I kept that to myself as the other Programmers seemed not to even notice when the tubes would come to life all around us.
It was a Programmer’s job to assemble the pieces into the trays, load them into the Machine, then remove the trays once the day was spent. We dumped the tiles into the recycle bin to be cleaned and polished, and Management would send us a new batch.
By day four, Samantha was living in the world I created for her. She had free will, of course, but the systems in her life, her environment, and her body, those were controlled by us. By me. And the little dog was a permanent fixture now. I sent a note to Management so they could update her typed file.
On day five, I visited the Viewing Room to play back Sam’s days since I took over. Her smile made me smile, and I ducked my head so the video camera in the corner of the room wouldn’t catch me enjoying her life. She loved to play outside, so I made sure the first few days I gave her were filled with sun and blue sky so she and the Scotty could enjoy each other’s company.
The tiles that created weather combinations were the most glorious of them all. Bright azure, cobalt and indigo swirled with the tiniest bits of white for wispy clouds and gentle breezes. Citrine and amber streaked with crimson and rose for glorious sunrises, and bright yellow for midday. I had to be careful in the Machine Room, too, or my counterparts would surely spot the enjoyment I had sorting through the colors in the white box.
On day twenty-eight, the tubes sparked to life, and the whisk of the tiles sliding in a million directions filled the room. I sat up a little straighter in anticipation. The new batch slid into the velvet with soft clinks and I dumped some of the tiles onto my table. I thumbed through them, looking for the blues and yellows, but only found yellows and grays. I dumped the rest of them, as well, but I did not see the first blue tile. Not even a shade remotely close to blue. I only had three more trays to fill for the shift, and I was forced to give Samantha a rainy weekend, but she wouldn’t experience it for over a month.
I glanced toward the other Programmers’ stations and didn’t see any blue on their tables, either. But none of them seemed concerned. Their hands blurred as they snapped tile after tile into place for their assigned humans.
At the end of the shift, I found an Assistant outside the doors of the Viewing Room. “Would you like me to set up a video file for you, sir?” she asked.
“No. Not today. I have another question, though.”
“Where are all the blue tiles? Not one blue tile was sent to my box today.”
She stared at me with her blank face. “Management is cutting back on blue tiles.”
“Why?” I tried to keep mine blank as well.
“The raw materials are running low, and it’s cost prohibitive to find another source at this time.”
Her answer sounded rehearsed, though there wasn’t a line of Programmers asking about the missing blue tiles.
“I thought we recycled everything. I thought there would be enough for forever.”
“The blues degrade more quickly than the others, and since they’re chosen more often than any other color, we’ve run very low.”
“So no human will have blue skies?”
“We’re working on a solution.”
“Do you understand what this means to them?”
Her blank face broke into a glare. I’d gone too far. She raised her arm to her mouth and called Management.
“I have a Programmer who’s showing raw emotion. Please advise.” She tilted her head, and I heard a muffled reply through her earpiece.
“You are to wait here with me until Management comes.”
I turn to leave, but Management was already on the Viewing Room floor. Two members escorted me to the end of the hallway and through double granite doors into a waiting area. They glared down at me. My heart beat its way into my feet and sweat started across my forehead. That doesn’t happen very often, either. The sweats are a dead giveaway that one is overly emotional.
A second set of doors opened and a gray-haired lady motioned for me to join her. I walked into her office and sat across from her.
“The Assistant told me what happened. Why did you react so strongly?”
I choked back the lump in my throat. “I think removing blue sky from Earth is a mistake.”
“We are working on a solution. We have thirty Earth days to solve the problem. That’s lots of time for us.” The lady’s face was blank, but her eyes were kind. And they were the same color of blue as Samantha’s favorite sky.
“Don’t we have any blue tiles left? Any at all?” Without permission, and certainly without intention, a single tear escaped my right eye and ran down my cheek.
The elder watched with an expressionless face as I reached up to dry it away.
“I think it’s time we retire you, Programmer.” There was no malice in her voice. I felt a wave of peace and mercy wash over the room. “I assure you, we’ll find a solution. But this show of emotion is dangerous to our existence.”
“What will I do? I’m a Programmer. I only just started.”
“I think you and your predecessor will work well together for the rest of your days.” She pressed a button on the edge of her desk and the Management men escorted me out of the elder’s office.
Confusion and grief marked the first several days in my new position. The barred and barren environment, and the form I had taken, was so disorienting that I cried out loud most of the time.
Then I saw her. Right in front of me stood the little girl that stole my heart and made me smile real smiles. My whole body trembled in anticipation. I couldn’t stop shaking.
She picked me up and wrapped her small arms around me.
“This one. I want this one, Daddy. Scout will love him!” Samantha kissed my head and slung me over her shoulder.
We stepped outside and everything was gray. And white. And black. There was no color to anything.
Then I remembered my training. Canines only saw in shades of gray.
Sam took me to her home. To her back yard. And to the Scotty that I watched her play with and love for hours on end in the Viewing Room. And the Scotty was like me. We knew each other, even though communication was strange and difficult. He was my predecessor.
I sat in the grass and watched her play with Scout, not sure what to do. Samantha motioned for me to join them.
She called me Sunny.
She gave me a name.
Above, the heavy grays and dark smokiness began to brighten. A white glowing globe lit up the yard and warmed my back.
“Mommy! Mommy! Look! It’s blue again! I can see the blue sky again!”
I barked. Scout barked back. We played and chased all afternoon.
I couldn’t see the colors anymore, but I knew she could.
And that’s all that matters.
Thank you for hanging out for a bit. Check back on the first Monday of every month for a free fictional short, and be sure to visit my Amazon page.
Copyright © 2019 by B.A. Paul
This work is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed herein are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This work, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.