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Author's note: I wrote this a couple years ago and, although my writing style has since matured, I decided that changing the voice of the piece would not be beneficial to it. It is short and sweet and things happen quickly, but I think that it is a rather cute story.
“Children, your new father is here”
Four children, each with one pack filled with all of their worldly possessions, walked warily down the stairs of Helten Enthil Learning Institute. Its occupants usually shortened it to HEL Institute, but were careful not to alert adults to this fact. The Institute was a cold, unhappy place, and the orphaned children it held were not well taken care of, and did not know much kindness.
The four children were quite varying in looks and obviously not related. Caitlin, the oldest at 16 years, was a bit short for her age, with a motherly face, and short brown hair. Mark, second oldest, was 14 years old, with dark brown, almost black, untidy hair. Thirteen year old Sarah had long blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, and she had her athletic body tensed as if she was expecting an attack. The youngest, Dean, was the last down the steps, and he stopped by the others standing at the edge of the busy speedway.
Standing near the children, was a robot, the thing that first introduced them to the man standing a couple paces away. He was about 50 years old, and rather tall. In his youth, he might perhaps have been thought quite handsome. He regarded the robot with a slightly annoyed look, then turned to face the four kids now assembled. He smiled and held out his hand.
“Hello, my name is Andy Ranner. You can just call me Andy.”
The four regarded hem with silence and suspicion until his hand dropped, and Caitlin spoke.
“I’m Caitlin,” she gestured to the others as she introduced each one, “and this is Dean, Mark, and Sarah. We appreciate you kindness in taking us in as you new children.” Sarah mumbled something to Mark that sounded close to “More like your new slaves.” The man, Andy, looked at Sarah, and then the four as a whole with a sad look in his eye. Caitlin’s address had been stiff and formal, and even now, four pairs of eyes watched him with suspicion that marked much past hurt. He shook his head infinitesimally, thinking of what it would take to earn those eyes’ trust. They had obviously seen much pain and sadness. “Well slow and steady wins the race,” he thought to himself. No one knew where that quote had originated, but it was one of his favorites, “If only I did have time to be slow and steady.”
“Is that all you have?” he asked as he gestured towards the small battered packs each child grasped. He took the blank stares to be a yes. “There should be enough room for all of us and your bags in this craft. It’s not one of those new fancy ones with all those gadgets and gizmos, but it flies and plays music, so it works for me.” He patted the hovercar fondly then turned to look at the children. “Oh for heaven’s sake,” he said with and exasperated sigh, “I’m not going to eat you.” Sarah was slightly amused by the comment, but she was careful to keep it to herself. She did, however, move to put her bag in the hovercar, and the others followed her. “Now that wasn’t so hard was it?” asked Andy, smiling again, as the children and their possessions were deposited in the hovercar. He too climbed aboard, and glancing once more at the robot as it said “Goodbye children,” he vocally steered the craft onto the speedway. They were soon drifting along at a comfortable speed of 110 mpr.
The ride was quiet and uneventful, and soon Andy was pulling off the speedway onto a quieter road. The children, used only to the crowded, gray city, gaped at what they saw. Only Dean, who had come most recently to the Institute, had ever been out of the city, and that had been a long time ago. He drank in the sight of trees and grass as much as the others. Andy, feeling the need for some music, set the soundcenter on low, and so the rest of the day passed.
It was becoming dark when they finally reached their destination. They had traveled about 500 miles in seven hours, and were all feeling rather tired. Everyone perked up, though, when the hovercar slowed once more, and then at Andy’s “Stop” it halted.
They were in front of a large old-fashioned house, way out in the country. Dusk was settling in, and the world seemed peaceful and calm.
“What are those lights, and what is that noise?” Caitlin asked softly. Andy answered without turning in his seat.
“The lights are stars. You would have never seen them in the city because of all the other lights, and the pollution. You are hearing crickets. You don’t notice seasons as much when you are in the city, but this is one beautiful summer evening.” All were quiet for another minute, “Okay, we should get you guys settled in your rooms.” Andy jumped out of the craft, and taking the packs, started towards the hose. Dean, Mark, Sarah, and Caitlin came along behind him a little slower.
“You know, he doesn’t seem that bad,” Dean said turning to the others.
“You’re right. He is the nicest adult I’ve ever met.” Mark said. Caitlin added,
“And this place he has brought us to; it seems wonderful!” The three turned to hear Sarah’s view on the matter.
“I don’t know,” she said shrugging her shoulders, “He certainly seems to be okay. C’mon, let’s catch up.” The four lengthened their strides until they were at a slight jog. There was one thing Sarah knew. She would never get tired of all the open space surrounding them. She absolutely reveled in its freedom.
When they entered the house, Andy, true to his word, showed them their rooms.
“Caitlin and Sarah, this is your room,” he said as he pointed them into a spacious room with two comfortable looking beds. A painting labeled The Great Barrier Reef 2052 was hanging on the wall, and a Digi-Pallet (similar to a computer) was in the corner on a desk. Long white curtains covered a giant picture window, and the walls were painted a light blue.
“Wow” was all that Caitlin could manage. Sarah looked around with tears in her eyes. She turned to Andy and said,
“This really is home,” and hugged him long and hard. Andy, surprised, patted her on the back with tears in his own eyes, until she let go and went to unpack her stuff. Andy then took the boys to look at their room.
The walls were painted green, with matching coverlets on the beds, and a picture on the wall was titled Muir Woods 2053. Mark noticed the same artist had painted the pictures in both rooms. What he mostly thought though was that it was unusual to see so many paintings in the same place, except for museums. Something else struck him as odd.
“Robots. I haven’t seen any.” Mark looked at Andy, with a puzzled expression on his face. Andy was certainly rich enough to have robots. They weren’t that expensive. Dean was also looking at Andy with a curious expression on his face. He had felt there was something unusual, but hadn’t been able to place it. Looking around the comfortable room, he noticed that, like the girls’ room, there was a Digi-Pallet, but no other technical equipment. Andy sighed.
“Here, why don’t you unpack, then come downstairs to the dining room. You guys haven’t eaten in a while, and I’m guessing you haven’t eaten a decent meal in years. I was going to explain in the morning, but I guess now is as good as anytime. We passed the dining room before we came up the stairs. It is second door on the left.” He gave them a weary smile, then left the room to, the boys guessed correctly, inform the girls likewise.
“Really?” Asked Mark, a little sarcasm creeping into his voice. He smiled at the younger boy, whom, in the past few years at the orphanage, he had come to think of as a younger brother. “I think we established that fact. Well, I’m done unpacking.” Mark surveyed the room again while Dean did likewise. Their clothes were in the closet, and they had kicked their shoes under the bed. Two books were on Marks nightstand, and a drawing pad on Dean’s. “What were you sketching on the ride? I was too busy feasting my eyes on everything to notice.”
“Nothing really. Just a landscape.”
“Here let me see.” Mark held out his hand to Dean, who picked up the sketching pad and handed it over.
“Those things get harder and harder to find. I’ve been having to be really conservative with the paper recently. Nothing is ever done on paper anymore. It’s all digital.” Dean walked around the bed and looked down at his picture which Mark was staring at. “What do you think?” A smile tugged at the corners of Mark’s mouth.
“Amazing, as usual. Really amazing.” Glancing once more down at the picture, which looked as if it had been drawn by a professional artist in weeks, as opposed to an 11 year old in a few hours, he handed the sketch back to Dean. “Let’s go downstairs and hear what Andy’s explanation is, and maybe grab some food while we’re at it.”
When everyone was assembled in the dining room, and dinner had been started, Andy spoke.
“I suppose I probably should have guessed that you would notice the lack of robots. I didn’t pick the smartest orphans in the country for nothing. Anyways, some people call me a hater. They say that I don’t know what I’m talking about, and that I should just mind my own business. I would, if I didn’t feel that the fate of our planet rested on my thoughts.”
“The fate of our planet?” Dean asked.
“Yes.” Andy looked at them all with a serious expression on his face. “I feel that if the world doesn’t realize that humans can accomplish more, and are better than robots, then the planet will go digital, and some things will be forgotten entirely. A robot can’t write a novel, or paint a masterpiece. A robot doesn’t have a heart.
I’m going to explain to you next why I adopted you and what I want you to do. If you refuse to do it, that’s okay. We will just be a family, and that will be that. But, really, I feel that you need to do this. As well as adopting children who seemed nice, I chose you for your talents: Dean, your artistic talent; Sarah, your athleticism; Mark, your academic mind; and Caitlin, for your heart. I want to bring you forward to a committee and show them what you, as human children, can do. I feel that you can prove to them what humans can accomplish with their god-given gifts. You will show them, they need to stop putting so much energy towards technological advancements, and instead concentrate on giving opportunities to children to raise them out of poverty, and give them the chance to reach their full potential. If you agree to help me, we would leave the day after tomorrow to go to the council so I can put forth my ‘idea’ as they call it. I am sorry to push you so hard to make the decision, but I need to know soon, so I can cancel the appointment if necessary. What do you think?”
The four children looked at Andy with shock and confusion on their faces.
“Wait, but how did you know we have these ‘special talents’ you talk about?” Sarah asked, puzzlement in her voice.
“Your records. I can explain later if you want me too.” Andy responded.
Caitlin was pushing the food on her plate around with her fork. Frowning, she set the fork down and looked up at Andy, “My heart?”
“Yes, your compassion and loving. Don’t look at me like that. It is as important as the gifts that Sarah, Dean, and Mark have. Maybe more important. The world would be a cold hard place without people like you. All of you are loving, but you, Caitlin, helped children at that institute for 10 years, and some would have died without the help. So what do you say? If the four of you need till tomorrow morning to decide, that’s okay.”
“I’m up for it.” Dean was the first to speak after a couple moments of silence. “I have always felt that the world is too digital. The lack of paper around shows that. People say my drawings are pretty good. If they help convince others of what we can do as humans, I’ll help.”
“I still don’t get exactly what you mean by ‘my heart’’, Caitlin spoke next, “but I will go with you to this committee.”
Mark and Sarah spoke almost at the same time with an “I will too!” each. Sarah added on with a smile, “I’ve never met a robot yet that can beat me in a race.”
“Thank you so much,” Andy said, tears forming in his eyes, “Thank you.”
Two days later, Caitlin, Mark, Sarah, Dean, and Andy were climbing out of a hovercar onto the steps of an impressive looking building. They were once more back in the city and the children already found themselves missing Andy’s country home.
“Here we are.” Andy said with a nervous smile, “Let’s hope this goes well,” and he and the children climbed the small flight of stairs, and entered the building. Once inside, they were directed by a robot to a large conference-like looking room. Ten stern looking people were sitting at a table. One of them, a woman, gestured for the newcomers to sit down.
“Welcome Mr. Ranner and…” she drifted off raising her eyebrows and looking at the four children.
“This is Caitlin, Mark, Sarah, and Dean. They are my, er, children,” he stumbled over the name for the new arrivals in his family, “and they will help prove my point.”
“Very well. We are all waiting on the edge of our seats for this ‘point’ of yours.”
Andy raised his eyebrows at the 10 council members surveying him and the children with bored looks. Yes, on the edge of their seats he thought to himself, before he stood and started. Andy explained to the council much of what he had told the children. On certain points he went quite in depth though, and the children, sitting in their seats, knew that he felt strongly about the subject. Thirty-five minutes later, Andy sat down with a small weary sigh. The council looked at him for a few moments before the woman, Mark assumed her to be the head-member, spoke.
“So you believe that these children,” she nodded her head towards the two boys and two girls sitting anxiously in their seats, “can beat any digi-pallet, or robot at tests we set up.” Her face and tone reflected skepticism matching the nine other council members.
“Yes, I do. I believe that Mark can beat any digi-pallet or center you want at a mind game, that Dean can create a better masterpiece than any digi-pallet or center, with special art programs, that Sarah can beat any robot in a race, and that Caitlin can prove that having compassion is better than judging a situation though cold, hard facts.”
“You believe that these children of yours can beat the MIND, the most powerful digi-center in the world” Now she voiced pure disbelief.
“Yes, I do” Andy said once again. He surveyed her with a serious expression on his face. He had much faith in his newly adopted. The council must have thought so as well, because they turned to stare at Caitlin, Mark, Dean, and Sarah sitting quietly in their seats. They themselves, were also skeptical at the prospect of beating the MIND, but they weren’t about to show it. At a word from the council leader, the ten members turned to each other and joined in a quiet but intense debate. Sarah, Dean, and Mark also talked quietly, but Caitlin and Andy each sat with their own thoughts. Finally, the council members turned once more towards Andy, Caitlin, Dean, Mark, and Sarah.
“We have conferred among ourselves. We have decided on a few tests. If these children can beat the MIND and a robot helper in all four tests, then we will listen to your requests once more, and start to act on them. Luckily there is an outlet of the MIND here, so we can start with the tests tomorrow morning. Until then you are dismissed.” With that, the 10 members stood and exited the room.
Andy turned to the children, “Lord, what fools these mortals be” and he smiled at the utter looks of confusion on the four young faces staring at him.
The next day, at exactly 9:00 a.m., after receiving good lucks from Andy and each other, the four children were separated. Dean was put in a room and told that he had three hours to create a piece of artwork. The council would then judge whether his artwork or the MIND’s artwork was better. Sarah was placed on a track, and put in a 5 mile race against a robot. The robot would be set to run at a constant, but fast speed. Mark was placed in a room with the MIND and a giant screen. A game called “chess” was explained to him, and then he played three games against the MIND. Whichever of them won most of the games, would win the test. Caitlin and the MIND (with a robot to act as hands) were each given a young, and severely hurt, child and told to do what they deemed best with it. They could ask for any materials that they wanted. At noon, the two children would be examined by the council members.
Andy was told to wait in the conference room they had used yesterday. His job, he told himself, was to not freak out. Although, at the age of 51 years, he thought, it has been a while since I’ve ‘freaked out.’’ If Andy had ever heard of praying, that is probably what he would have done right then. But seeing as religion was outlawed, and he had never been exposed to one of the few people who disobeyed the law in this effect, Andy did something rather close to praying, and he hoped and hoped with his mind, heart, and soul. He could only wish it would be enough.
At noon exactly, the four children, Andy, and the ten council members assembled once more in the conference room. Andy hailed the children as they came in, but refrained from doing likewise with the council members. Sometimes he found himself doing slightly childish behavior, and he just couldn’t see the council members approving that kind of thing.
The woman, the council leader, got up and spoke. “The tests have been completed. We will go through the results of each, starting with the art, then the athletic, next the chess, and finally the injured child test. The boy who made his picture should now come forth with it.
Dean rose from his seat holding a piece of paper in his hands. The piece had taken him the entire three hours, and looking at it, he felt it was the best piece of artwork he had ever created. He could only hope it would be enough. Taking the paper over to the council member, he set it on the table in front of them. The council members stared at it in shock.
Dean, a boy prodigy, had created a masterpiece. He knew he was a good artist, but had never really grasped how good of an artist he was. Years later, people who looked at this piece of artwork, and knew the artwork of old, compared it to works by Leonardo de Vince, Michelangelo, and the like. It was the best piece of artwork the boy ever created, but he had climaxed at a point none had ever reached before. Using just a plain piece of canvas, a pencil, and some paint, the boy made a picture of from the Americas in the past. He had captured a herd of wild horses reaching out their hooves to fly across the plains of the Wild West. You saw each individual hair, and could hear the horses’ breaths. The clear blue sky contained a few wisps of clouds, floating lazily along in the breeze. The sun’s warm rays reached down to caress the dark earth beneath the horses’ bodies. Dean had captured a snapshot from a scene more than 300 years ago, and had captured it like he had been there himself. The painting was miraculous.
When MIND’s picture full of geometric shapes and lines was brought forth, the council members had no thought but to make the winner Dean. Only the woman, the council leader, voted for the MIND’s work, saying it was true art of the time.
Next up was Sarah. She later described the race to the others. She raced a robot that was set to run at four minutes and 20 seconds for each mile, adding up to a total of 21 minutes for five miles; 26 seconds faster than the current world record. This speed was also pushing the robot. Robots were not actually created to go very fast for a large distance. Robots with add-ons such as turbos could do so, but not your everyday robot. Sarah had kept neck and neck with the robot through the third mile. After the third, Sarah had dropped slightly behind the robot, still chugging out the distance, with an expressionless face. Through the fourth mile, Sarah had kept the robot right in front of her while she had tried to find the energy to catch back up. In the fifth, and final mile, the opposite started to happen. Sarah’s legs, strong, athletic, and never-failing, had started to hurt. In all other races she had ever competed in, it had always been a battle with her mind, to convince herself she could spend that last bit of energy needed. Now, it was a battle with her body. She had seen herself falling behind, and tears had started to form in her eyes. Then, Sarah got mad. Not the angry mad, where you want to go around hitting something, but the furious mad. This robot, a stupid, metal, machine, she had told herself, is beating me. I have never been beaten. Ever.
And with that thought in mind, Sarah had done the impossible; she had pushed herself past the limits of the human body. In that last quarter mile, Sarah caught up to that robot, and passed it. Sarah ended up finishing that race with a time of 20 minutes and 58 seconds, two seconds faster than the robot, and 28 seconds faster than the past world record. The two council members standing at the finish line saw it all, and the medics too, that later helped her away to rehydrate her, and let her have a few hours of sleep. Mechanics took the robot away, to give it a new resurfacing on its feet, because it had been worn away in the race. No one could contest the outcome, as Sarah had won fair and square. The children were two for two.
A council member next stood and read the moves, in order, from the chess games. Few in the room actually understood what the moves meant, but Mark would flinch occasionally as he noticed a mistake he had made. Andy, Sarah, Dean, and Caitlin did know what it meant when the council member read “Bishop to Kings-Rooks-6 mate.” Mark had lost the first game. Mark flinched less the second game, because he had known it better at that point, after playing the first game. He did bang his head on the table once and call himself “stupid” when one move of his, later in the game, was read. He remembered that move clearly, as he remembered all his other moves, and it had almost cost him the game. However, four moves later, “Castle to Queens-Knights-7 mate” was announced, and Mark had won the second game. Mark had been told upon exiting the games against the MIND, that he wasn’t allowed to give the results of the games to the others. Unfortunately, Mark had an extremely good poker face, so the three other children and Andy had no idea if he was about to burst into tears, or start dancing on the table. Dean for one, knew he wished he could practice telepathy. Finally, the last move of “Queen to King-1 mate” was announced, and the winner along with it. Mark had won the final chess game, making him winner out of two of the three, winner of the test, and, Mark thought to himself, probably the best chess player in the world. Not that it is a particularly popular sport. A pity, seeing as how much I enjoyed it.
The final test, between Caitlin and the MIND, or as Andy thought, between having a heart or not, was undecided. The two children that Caitlin and the MIND and its helper robot had been given, were submitted to the council. A printout of what the MIND had to say was read aloud. “Child has 12 percent survival chance. There is not enough reason to try to save it. More resources would be spent trying to save it than would be advisable to spend on such a small insignificant human. Resolution: Do not spend resources on it.” The child had been left, sitting in the inactive robot’s arms, with nothing done to take care of it. Andy, the children, and some of the council members, looked at the printout in disgust. Caitlin stood and announced what she had done.
“I too could tell that the child had little chance of survival, but so did many of the children who came into the Institute. I requested warm water, soap, and a tub, to bathe him in, because he was covered in grime” here she stuttered “a-and blood. After he was clean, I asked for warm, dry clothes, which I put on him, and blankets, which I wrapped him in. I then took a bowl of soup and a spoon and fed him. He is at the age where he should be able to feed himself, but he was so weak, he could barely open his eyes, let alone make his small hands clutch a spoon. He ate three whole bowls of soup. Three! I only stopped feeding him there because I was afraid he would get sick. I then set him in my arms and rocked him to sleep. He was half dead when I first set eyes on him this morning…well the MIND says more than half dead, and he may not survive to the morning, but at least I know I did everything I could for him. He was loved for three short hours, probably more than in his whole life combined, and I actually saw him smile in his sleep. I doubt that boy has smiled ten times, over his lifetime, but he smiled once this morning when he was happy and comfortable. If the boy, whom I took liberties to name Will, seeing as he had no name, dies because he is too sick and hurt to survive, then at least he died after meeting a little bit of kindness in this cold dark world.” Caitlin paused, a sad shadow passing over her face, and added on something else in a quieter tone, “Sometimes, that is more than some children, lying in their graves, can say.”
When the council members raised their hands to vote, four members voted for the MIND, and six voted for Caitlin. Dean, Mark, Sarah, Caitlin, and Andy turned to each other happiness written all over their faces, and laughed out loud. “We did it!” they cried, and they had. The four children had beaten the MIND and a robot, in all four tests. Andy turned to the council members and triumphantly stated,
“And now, you must listen to what you have to do!”