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Brass fingers scratched the sheet metal surface of the ducts running throughout the human habitation complex. One would not be faulted for assuming the hollow sounds were produced by some rodent, or maybe one of the prehistoric animals who escaped their terrarium. It, however, was an automaton on a mission of exploration and discovery. Moving from vent to vent, it would take a brief moment to observe the humans and interpret their actions. But their behavior was so alien to its own that its mechanical mind failed to draw any satisfactory conclusions. It just flooded its processors with more equations that were pending to be resolved as the variables remained undefined. And yet, it felt compelled to continue and discover more inquiries.
Up ahead, bars of light fell in through a vent from the adjacent chamber. These rooms made no sense to the machine’s mind. They lacked unity, purpose, and few means of producing anything. And yet, there was a consistent value that it failed to quantify or fit inside the ever-expanding equation. The automaton peered through the slits into the quarter. But the moment it saw the human inhabiting this space, the automaton was intrigued. The ginger-haired female, small for a human of her lifespan, had two different colored eyes. The automaton used its own cameras to hone in on her face. After enhancing the image, it concluded that the bright blue eye was augmented in ways more advanced than any technology it ever analyzed before. It caught glimpses of other implants that required further investigation. But more intriguing than her physical makeup was her conversation with an inanimate object located on top of a piece of furniture. It never witnessed this behavior in humans before. More puzzling was that the object in question was all fabric, shaped to resemble a human in rudimentary ways, and its proportions were all wrong. The automaton concluded the object was completely inert, devoid of any functional components or ability to respond. And yet, the female communicated with it as though they were conversing. This behavior required further inquiry.
“Non, Anwin!” Igraine shoved the doll away with her foot to refrain it from pulling at her dress. “I’m eating.” Frustrated, she took another bite from her toast with butter and jam while Anwin kept begging for attention. “Anwin! If you keep doing that, I’ll put you back in the drawer.”
There was a knock on the door.
After placing Anwin on the bed, Igraine answered.
It was Mr. Butler with furniture parts clenched under his arms. “I found the playpen, miss.”
Igraine clasped her hands together. “Oh, thank you, Mr. Butler.”
“No problem, miss. Where do you want it?”
“I only have room by the dressing table.”
“No problem,” he said, handing her an extension cord. “Here is the other thing you asked for.”
“Oh! You’re wonderful.”
“Just doing my job, miss,” Mr. Butler responded, humbly.
From on top of the bed, Anwin observed with curiosity how the playpen was being assembled.
Igraine sighed and grabbed Anwin’s flat cap. “Let’s go outside and practice your walking, shall we?” she said while dressing the doll and picking her up. But the moment she placed Anwin on the floor, she had to curb the doll’s enthusiasm as it ran out the door. “Wait, Anwin!”
The doll stood at attention waiting for Igraine to leave the room and then dashed across the 6th floor’s boardwalk. Igraine was following Anwin who was satiating her curiosity. She would walk up to the planters and look up at the leaves. She ran around the support columns and stared at the ceiling fans. It was like watching an eager toddler of whom Igraine couldn’t help but feel motherly pride.
So enamored with Anwin’s antics, she failed to notice the silver-haired children, who she met earlier that morning, coming up the nearby stairs unattended. As they entered the walkway, the girl put down a toy horse on wheels which was dragged along by a string.
When Anwin noticed the toy, she rushed after it with childish glee.
“No, Anwin!” Igraine exclaimed, but it was already too late.
The moment the twins noticed the bashful doll coming after their horse they ran away in fright.
Igraine had trouble catching up in her dress as Anwin was chasing the children dragging the horse in their wake.
Finally, the girl let go of the string, stopping the horse dead in its tracks.
Anwin too came to a standstill and looked at the toy as if she didn’t understand what happened.
Igraine grasped her off the floor. “Bad. Bad doll!”
“What’s going on!” Miss Taylor cried marching up the steps. “What are you two doing up here?”
The girl ran up to her nanny. “The doll was trying to catch us.”
“Associate 244,” Miss Taylor berated Igraine. “You should know better by now to have this- this Construct running around. I strongly suggest you keep her on a leash.”
“I’m so sorry about this, Miss Taylor. She has never done this before.”
“Who knows what else she hasn’t done before. This automaton is a trouble maker. Speaking of which.” She berated the twins in something akin to Greek, but no dialect Igraine recognized. Then she took them both by the hands and led them back to the stairs.
The moment the girls started dragging the horse along, Anwin pointed at it.
“Oui, it’s moving again,” Igraine commented, pondering if Miss Taylor was right that she should get a leash.
When Igraine entered her room again, Mr. Butler just rose to his feet. “Ah, Associate,” he said, wiping his hands. “Just done.”
Igraine looked at the old playpen of dark oak. “Thank you, Mr. Butler,” she said. But she didn’t like the idea of putting Anwin behind those bars.
“I have to return to my regular duties,” said Mr. Butler. “Enjoy your day, miss.”
“Oui. Thank you so much.” After letting the groundskeeper out, she sat down behind her desk and sighed. While she was petting Anwin, who lay on her lap like a cat, she turned on the wavecaster.
*Good morning Dover, I am Frank Dimbleby of Dover Public Broadcast. This news bulletin is provided by the Kent News Network...*
The moment she heard the announcer, Anwin looked up at the wavecaster and then climbed up the desk to investigate.
As Anwin was peering behind the wavecaster, Igraine considered that receiver was her window to the surface. Strangely enough, the news described a very different world than the one she knew. But in fairness, she didn’t go out very often.
While Anwin was distracted by the voices from an invisible source, Igraine opened her notebook and started drafting her report. While making notes, she recalled some of the recent events. Mostly those of Anwin being a troublemaker, and that mothering the doll had taken up most of her time. And yet, watching Anwin trying to find Mr. Dimbleby was bringing a smile to her face.
As she continued writing, Anwin came to see what Igraine was doing. Just like the wavecaster, the quill baffled the doll who then tried to grab hold of it.
“Anwin, don’t,” said Igraine with an angry glare. “This is mine. You understand?”
Anwin nodded and wandered off. As Igraine kept on writing, the doll grabbed another pencil and returned to the notebook. While holding the quill with both hands, she scribbled on the other page.
Igraine put down her writing utensil. “Alright.” She picked Anwin up and lowered her inside the playpen. “There. We’ll play later.” She sighed, however, when Anwin ran up the bars trying to squeeze through. But her big head wouldn’t let her. Igraine bit her lips in pity. “Sorry, Anwin. But you are going to get used to it.” She looked for something for Anwin to play with. After searching the drawers, all she found was a leather tennis ball. Igraine shrugged her shoulders and dropped the ball inside the pen.
Anwin dodged as it bounced toward her. But once the ball lost enough momentum, she ran to catch it as if she were compelled to. After pushing the ball, she tried to stop it from moving again, making the ball roll even faster. To solve the problem, the doll jumped on top of the ball.
Igraine held her breath as the doll toppled over with such speed she fell on her back so the ball rolled over her. “Are you alright?” Igraine asked the bewildered doll.
Instead, Anwin got up, ran to the ball, and jumped on top of it again.
Igraine rubbed her eyes as Anwin toppled so the ball would roll over her again, rinse and repeat, like an overexcited puppy.
Igraine went back to work on her report, trying not to get distracted by the doll’s tomfoolery. But when trying to summarize her conclusions, all she could think of was Anwin’s fascination with moving objects and her selfish behavior.
She looked over her shoulder when the pen went quiet. To her surprise, Anwin had bared the plugs on her hand, which she held up to get Igraine’s attention.
“Already? How much power do you need?” she asked, but Anwin just waved her arm in response. Igraine plugged in one end of the extension cord and handed Anwin the other.
After plugging herself in, Anwin sat down on the ground. For the first time that day, she actually looked like an ordinary toy.
“Just as well,” said Igraine. “It's almost time for lunch. While you are charging, I’ll get myself something to eat. Behave, will you?”
Anwin nodded in that sheepish way of hers.
Igraine lowered her shoulders. “Just stay in your pen, alright?” And with that, she left the room, hoping she wasn’t making a mistake. After taking the elevator down to Sanctuary’s ground floor, she saw Dr. Vermouth sitting at the reading table inside the common area.
“Ah, Associate,” said Dr. Vermouth. “Where is your ward?”
Igraine walked up to her. “She’s in her playpen, recharging.”
“Oui, doctor. To… Play by herself. She’s very active, you see?”
“A playing automaton? You make her sound like a pet.”
“Well… Her behavior is similar to a toddler. She is still learning a lot of things. Walking. Interacting with objects.”
“Speaking?” asked Vermouth with a hopeful glare.
“Non. But, if there is any change, I’ll make a note of it in my report.”
“Of course,” she responded curtly.
“You sound disappointed. Is there something I need to be aware of?”
Vermouth shoved her fingers together. “Your mission is to discover its purpose, Associate. Not to… Raise it like a pet.”
Igraine crossed herself. “I’m not- It behaves this way out of its own volition. Her only skill is to plug herself in to recharge. Apart from that, she is learning basic things as a child would. She is curious and seeks attention. Just like a toddler.”
“Then give her something more challenging.”
“Like what?” Igraine protested. “She can’t even fathom the concept of a toy horse, let alone a wavecaster.”
“But she does understand electricity?”
Igraine blinked. “I- I don’t know.”
Hope you enjoying these odd slice-of-life stories. The feedback on these tales has been great so far. Few people could imagine Igraine with her fluffy friend. And I agree. But can it last? Maybe this is just the start of Anwin's transformation. But how did it happen? Continue reading in part 4!
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