Wayward Guardian

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Face of the Future

Outside Mrs Lann’s Classroom

Sam and Howard stood outside the door to the school room. Mrs Lann knew they were there and was preparing the class. She’d open the door for them when she was ready. Howard had called up Sam to remind him about this meeting with this class as soon as he had finished his bridge watch.

‘Scared yet Sam?’

Sam smirked, ‘Hardly. Exo estimates an 87 percent chance of a positive outcome.’

‘Pardon?’

‘I’ve got Exo making educated guesses as to the outcome of social interactions on the ship. This one seemed like an interesting test for him. He’s mapped out many different scenarios. My favourite one is where one of the kids asks what happens to our pee on the ship, and we both don’t know how to react.’

‘Well that’s easy, we recycle the moisture and filter the waste.’

‘And just how do you think the children will react to drinking recycled pee?’

‘Oh.’

Sam smiled, ‘Yeah.’

‘Here I thought they asked me all the hard questions when I came down here myself.’

The door opened, ‘Hello Captain. Hello, Advocate. We’re ready for you.’ Mrs Lann beckoned them inside.

Sam and Howard walked into the classroom, the students were sitting in a half-circle on the floor. All at once they said, ‘Good Morning Captain Fredrick!’

‘Good Morning everybody, are you ready to meet someone new today?’ Howard said with a smile.

The children nodded eagerly.

‘This is Samuel Jennings, he’s our ship’s Advocate. He talks to Exo, our Guardian, and makes sure everything goes right.’

‘Hello children,’ Sam said.

‘Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself Advocate?’ prompted Mrs Lann.

‘Alright. My name is Samuel Jennings, as Captain Fredrick already said. I’m about fifty-five years old. That’s young for an Advocate. I was born on Earth, in Europe. I like old movies and good books. Any questions?’

A little boy raised his hand, ‘Are there any other Advocates on the ship?’

‘No, there’s only me.’

Another hand, ‘Is your Guardian nice?’

‘Care to answer that one yourself Exo?’ Sam offered over his uplink to Exo.

‘I am unsure how to answer the question Advocate. I do not know how to classify myself as nice or not.’ Exo replied.

Sam smirked, ‘He’s learning to be nice. He is a machine, they are different from us. Some words that we use don’t mean much to them. Words like love, or nice, or pain. They don’t feel these things so they are just words to them.’

‘You mean the Guardian can’t love anyone?’

‘He’ll care for us because I teach him how to do that, but it’s not like your mom or dad.’

‘What is pain? What is Love?’ Exo asked.

‘Check the archives with a topical search, I’ll try and explain it when this is done. It’s a bit of a big subject.’ Sam said.

A little girl with blond hair and hazel eyes raised her hand. Sam saw something change on Howard’s face when she did. Sam nodded towards her.

‘How old do you have to be to be an Advocate?’

‘Well little miss, you have to start young. Usually about eight. I started at about your age. It takes a long time to make someone into an Advocate. You’ve got to start young because it’s easier for them to get used to new things.’

‘My daddy was an Advocate. I want to be one when I grow up.’

‘And what’s your name?’

‘Ayla.’

‘Well Alya, when we get to our new home, I may need some help.’ he said with a smile and wink.

***

Sam and Howard were walking down the hallway from the classroom.

‘So that was Ayla Geer was it?’ Sam asked Howard carefully.

‘Yes.’

‘Her father was the Tim Geer that died out in the belt?’

‘That’s the one.’

‘And she wants to be an Advocate.’

Howard looked uncomfortable, ‘Seems like it.’

‘Howard, I know you don’t much care for the Guardians, but I think we can agree that you’d like them even less if it wasn’t for Advocates. The thing is, we will need more Advocates as the colony gets going. As we get more A.I cores, it’ll be more than I can handle. Especially if we get a new model. I’ve only dealt with the XO and PE series Guardians so far and seeing as how the PE series was phased out of production a few years back, I don’t think we’ll be getting one of those.’

‘She’s just a kid, though. I don’t know if she knows what she’s getting into.’

‘I knew pretty much that it was going to be a hard life when I decided.’

‘But you were just a kid too.’

‘Thanks to my memory enhancements, I remember pretty well the thought process that went through me. We always say people are just kids when we don’t want to think they’re capable of making a choice. Sure, most the time I was pretty short sighted. I didn’t have the whole lifetime of experience to draw on. But I knew I could never go back if I made that choice.’

‘I wonder if her mother knows. It wouldn’t be easy on her to have her daughter become an Advocate, especially after what happened to her husband.’ Howard said.

‘I’d like to meet her. Talk to her and try and find out. If Ayla does carry through with this, it goes so much better if the parents are supportive. You know one of the primary rules of making a new Advocate is that it can’t be against their will, and it can’t seem like anyone was coerced into consenting. Looking at it now, I don’t much care for the fact that we have to ask children to do this, but I turned out okay. And most Advocates are quite good people. The decision to become an Advocate is almost always motivated by the want to help people.’

‘I know you’re a good man Sam. I also know that we’ve got a lot to be grateful for in this day and age. Guardians do so much for us. I just sometimes wish we could learn to do it ourselves again.’ Howard said, glancing sideways at Sam. He couldn’t help but notice the edges of the implants under his hair. He pictured Ayla with them and didn’t like the picture.

’A need to be independent is only human. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t decided to do this. Would I have a family? Would I have a nice home with a well-trimmed lawn? Life’s got an awful lot of ’what ifs.″ Sam kept walking forward, not noticing Howard’s glance.

‘Well, you wouldn’t be on a colony ship heading farther out than any human colony before.’

Sam laughed, ‘Probably not, and I wouldn’t trade that for all the classic movies and good books in the world.’

‘Thank you for coming, Sam, if I have any other classrooms that want to meet you I’ll give you a call. I’ve got some things to check on now.’

‘Goodbye, Howard. I promised Exo a lesson in humanity today, so I’m off too.’

‘Goodbye, Sam,’ Howard said as he walked off.

They separated at the next intersection in the hallway. Sam walked back to his room in silence. Exo was quiet, so Sam figured he must still be poring over the information in the ships archive.

Sam entered his room and sat down in a comfortable chair.

‘Ready for your lesson Exo?’ Sam asked.

‘I have been studying the archives, but I am no closer to understanding the concepts of Pain or Love.’

‘I’ll try my best, but the problem is you lack any frame of reference. I can tell you only so much, but there will be holes in your understanding because you can’t feel these things for yourself. ’

‘It is like trying to describe the taste of salt without using the word salty. You cannot say what it is, just what it is not.’

‘That’s very good Exo. Very pertinent too. Did you learn that in the archives? ’

‘Yes, Advocate.’ Exo replied.

‘You are an excellent student. ’ Sam said.

‘Thank you Advocate.’

‘So let’s start with pain. It’s probably the easier of two. First up, pain is unpleasant. It’s not something that most people enjoy experiencing, but it’s important to human existence. It has many different intensities, from overpowering, to a mild irritant. It is basically a message from the body that something is not in order.’

Sam paused for a moment to think of an example.

‘A broken arm, for example, generates a tremendous amount of pain. It’s our body sending a flood of... well... to put it in context, a flood of urgent error messages. If something in your systems suffered from a catastrophic failure, it would demand all your attention and flood you with all manner of errors and urgent warnings.’ Sam explained.

‘It is a tool of survival then? ’

‘Mostly yes. But there is another kind of pain, a harder one to explain. It’s probably beyond a Guardian’s ability to comprehend. It’s an emotional pain or psychological pain. A pain that doesn’t have a wound on the body to create it. ’ Sam said, ‘If someone witnesses something horrible, they can suffer the effects of that event even long after wounds on the body if there were any, have healed.’

‘Shell shock syndrome. Traumatic stress disorder. ’

‘Yes. Prime examples. ’

‘Have you felt pain?’ Exo asked.

‘Many times Exo. It’s part of human existence. ’

‘What of love?’ Exo enquired.

’You know what? I don’t think I’ll be able to explain that one easily. Continue your observations human interaction, pay close attention to those who are engaging in what appears to be, as you say ‘mating rituals’ and give me a hypothesis about it. Based on your observations I may be able to put it into a better context.′

‘Yes, Advocate.’

‘Good. I’m going to go see a movie.’

‘Advocate?’

‘Yes, Exo?’

‘Have you ever felt love?’

Sam Smiled.

‘I see I’m not going to escape that one easily. Yes Exo, I have.’ Sam answered.

‘Advocate?’

‘Yes, Exo?’

‘Do you love me?’

Sam was silent in his room.

‘You are a most interesting Guardian Exo. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of another Guardian asking that question. ’

‘Was I out of line Advocate?’

‘No Exo. You just caught me off guard. I think I do Exo. Like a son. I have a connection to you.’

‘Then love is more than just the effects of growing relationship between two parties?’ Exo asked.

‘Much more yes.’

‘I am unsure I will ever understand. It is not important to my continued working either. I no longer wish to pursue this line of education. I will focus my observations on pain in a hope of better understanding human experience.’

‘If you change your mind, I’ll be more than willing to try and teach you about love some more. In the meantime, continue your observations.’

‘Yes, Advocate. Enjoy your movie.’ Exo said.

‘Thank you, Exo.’ Sam said.

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