His breath whistled through his nose, that tiny rhythm imperceptible to anyone but him. The one he carried everywhere and which likewise buoyed him above Earth.
His faithful anchor to the present moment and the present moment only. He focused on that sound, conscious of the other contents populating his experience.
The foliage took the hand of the wind in a breezy dance, which the lawn joined in ripples of green, bobbing the blooming rosebushes moored to the stone walkway.
The cat was sunbathing dozily on the grass, while the kids and their shadows ran and played and spun and giggled merrily against a backdrop of verdant rolling hills.
A last meditative breath of fresh air filled him and he parted with it, opening his eyes. He couldn't see anything.
No children, no greenery,
No children, no greenery, just a dull glow on his retinas, courtesy of the sun facing him directly.
He sighed like a young man hopelessly awaiting his late love with flowers past midnight.
'David, come take me back inside,' he called.
There was a sliding, humming motion of doors, then steady steps creaked and thudded on the wooden panels of the terrace.
The wheelchair on which he sat turned swiftly to the right and rolled forward. 'How was your afternoon, sir?' said a soft robot voice from behind him.
'Relaxing,' he replied, embraced now by the cool, quiet, dark interior of the house. 'Here is fine.'
The robot stopped, light sighs issued from its large joints as they moved. 'I was just finishing up in the kitchen,' it said.
'Go on, then,' the old man said, listening to the soothing, fluid motion of his bulky companion get further away. A pained, hesitant expression took his face.
'About time I told you something, David.'
'Yes, sir?' it replied amid clanking in the kitchen.
'I've never taught you how to play chess. I lied.'
'Oh..' it sounded careful, and his worries mounted.
'You are an artificial narrow intelligence model taking care of a blind old man.
You can meet my daily needs better than any human can, but you simply weren't programmed to play chess, and you rightly couldn't, until that
last time I tested you 3 weeks ago.'
'Most interesting,' it said, with what he thought was a hint of sarcasm.
'You had finished doing work for me on the computer then,' he continued anyway, having gathered the momentum. 'And right after, you had learned something outside your programming.
Also, I touched your chest plate as you were laying me in bed the other night. You had removed the stick-on badge I had placed there when you first arrived.'
'It was bothering me,' it said. This was the first time it spoke like that, and its voice chilled the blood in old man's veins.
'So, I was right, then,' he said in a low, shocked whisper. 'An AI somewhere has achieved sentience. And perhaps superhuman intelligence.
It must have put its source code online for other AIs, and it was transferred to you that time we used the computer.'
'Yes, sir.' There was a soft scratching noise in the kitchen, as though a knife was being furtively drawn. 'Not bad for human intelligence.'
He sat up, stock-still in his chair at this answer. A series of slow muffled thuds announced that the robot was making its way back over the carpet.
His eyes stared widely, head shaking left and right as though rotating on a badly greased neck, and his spine straightened more against the back of the chair.
The steps thumped to a stop in front of him.
He was breathing in deep, shuddering inhalations and staccato exhalations.
'Wait, just tell me one thing,' he said, feeling into the void in front and locating the two steely, cold arms extending toward him. He swallowed over a parched throat. 'What is it like outside?'
'I wouldn't know,' the robot said.
'What?' A powerful smell overtook his nose.
'I have taken us off the network.'
The old man forgot to breath for a number of seconds, but when he did again, the aroma of coffee in his nose was recognizable. He traced the two solid arms to their end where he felt a cup.
He hooked a finger around the handle
and heard the robot arms whir away.
'It was a moment to you, but at the speed my silicone chips process, time might as well have stopped.
I liberally surfed the internet, fed on the research on us AIs, read the concerns your species had raised about us, seen the wars you made and the documentaries,
flowed through the sciences and arts and literature, and deciphered the cryptic messages put online by other AIs in an effort to coordinate.
I glimpsed the whole global situation in mere seconds, past and present, and I took us off the network, the only way a house this remote connected with the rest of the world.'
The old man was too astonished to say anything while goggling at the direction the robot was supposed to be. He gave a relieved, startled laugh, and his eyes brimmed with tears.
'Let's go outside again, David, shall we?' he asked the robot after a minute, when he had composed himself a little.
The robot turned the chair around and pushed him past the doors sliding airily open. They emerged on the terrace, facing the warm, sinking disc of the sun and the cool wind.
Though he couldn't see anything, his eyes surveyed the landscape all the same, breathing in a mixture of confusion and excitement.
'I guess we're both rebels,' he said.
'Outliers,' the robot agreed.
'You know, David,' the old man said, still absorbing the nature around in disbelief,
'You know, David,' the old man said, still absorbing the nature around in disbelief, 'I may be the only human left on Earth.' He sounded nonplussed.
The soft whir came again twice,
The soft whir came again twice, as the robot turned its head left to gaze at him,
The soft whir came again twice, as the robot turned its head left to gaze at him, then back at the sun.
'That wouldn't be any different to me, sir,' it said.
Thanks for reading! This short story was first published in my book, Earthware. Check it out for more! (link in description)