Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Dad said that the nannybots inside would stop the monsters from getting me. I liked that. The first night after the injection, I slept with the lights off. My nannybots would protect me. Even when mum died the next day, I knew that bad things couldn’t get me and only cried a little.

There’s a knock on the door. I know who it is before the voice comes.

“Chloe? It’s Pietro. Can I come in?”

“Of course.”

Pietro is bigger than dad ever was, and has a physique like my dad thought he had. But the main reason I like Pietro is because my nannybots like him. Having someone who can hold me without going into spasms or being turned to sludge is wonderful.

“How are things today?”

“Better. My arm has stopped itching.”

“Can I see?”

I emerge from under the sheet and hold my arm out, smiling as his eyes widen. My skin is like the softest silver-grey silk, with purple filigree patterns that change colour with my mood. Dad’s notes called them ‘nanotattoos’.

Pietro takes my arm so gently. His touch makes my skin tingle and the filigree flushes a sparkling violet. He smiles.

“You’re complete.”

I nod: “Do you think that now it’s over, we could get a pet?”

His expression drops into a frown and my filigree goes dark.

“It’ll be the same, Chloe. Your nannybots wouldn’t like it.”

I feel a tear slip down my cheek. Of all the things that my nannybots don’t like, cute furry animals are the thing we disagree about.

What dad did to me made him rich and famous. He spent a lot of that money hiding the fact that my nannybots had only one response to things they didn’t like: they killed them. Didn’t matter if it was a common cold bug or the lady hired to teach me to play piano.

On my fifteenth birthday, Pietro came into my life, cameraman for a sneaky reporter. He picked me up from the floor where I cried over the puddle that the reporter had become when he tried to stop me calling my dad. My nannybots hadn’t liked that. I waited for Pietro to scream and die, but he didn’t. His words were kind, but his touch was like what mum described as ‘cool water in the desert’. I never knew that I desperately needed to touch someone, until that moment.

Then dad rushed in shouting, before falling silent as he saw me cradled in Pietro’s arms.

“Young man, you should leave.”

I felt the arms around me turned steely: “Sir, I don’t think I’ll be doing that until this lady sends me away.”

He called me a lady. Dads face flushed red and he grabbed Pietro’s arm. I saw the purple flash that travelled from me, through Pietro, to dad. Then dad went all stiff. He looked at me, nodded, and fell backwards.

My dad’s last words were: “Time to pay the piper.”

Since then, we’ve been together. Pietro taught me to laugh, fight, love, hide and lie. He also taught me to meditate, and that let me engage with my nannybots. They wanted to make me better. After Pietro and I talked, I let them. Today, they finished.

Something makes a noise. I see Pietro has his other hand behind his back. I grin: “Show me.”

His arm comes forward. In his hand is an Alsatian puppy. I can see the smoky grey filigree patterns on its skin.

“Happy Rebirthday, beautiful. From me and your nannybots.”

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