Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The room goes dark when the streetlight across the road goes off. I feel her tense, then relax: rising maturity overcoming instinctive fear. When I first came here, she would hug me tight for the time between the light going out and her falling asleep. Some nights, that took almost until dawn.
A thing that is mine, this name given by a girl without a friend in the world, just as she realised the world is a long way from the princesses and wonderlands of the stories her foster parents were so fond of telling her.
“Tell mum and dad I did well in my maths test.”
Parents long gone, like those first fosterers. Gone too are the ones after that. The ones currently acting as her guardians are taciturn and frequently dour. Their attempts at levity always seem forced, even when genuine. I do not like them, but they are fierce in their hands-off devotion to their foster daughter, so they will do.
I know things have changed. I know the original intent has been rendered obsolete by years and politics. It is something I ponder, deep in the cold night before morning, when her hands slip from me as delta sleep arrives late. I do not dwell upon it for long. I too need rest, and with her properly asleep, I can allow myself that.
There have been six attempts to take me away, but she reverts to hysterical insomnia. The only treatment guaranteed to work is to let me be by her side. The last time they tried, she described me as ‘her only source of light’. Since that, there have been no further attempts made.
Try as I might, I can’t understand the unseen structures and strictures that govern her life. I think that may have been a deliberate limitation to ensure my obedience – not that it has ever been in question: from the moment she wrapped her arms around my neck and covered me in kisses, I know where my loyalty lies.
I nuzzle her neck.
“I know you think. I know you hold secrets. Can’t you let a little one out?”
This is new. Decision/outcome fork…
There is only one I can tolerate. I engage passive countermeasures, then link myself to her vision processor. I show her an image of her actual parents, then the one of her mother holding a torn notebook page with the words ‘17th birthday. Be ready’ scrawled upon it.
“Eighteen months until this ends?”
I am the incarnation of her parent’s love, and am equipped to manifest their anger should it become necessary. At seventeen, her inheritance right lapses. Her parents will be safe from those who would have subverted the guardianship of a girl orphaned by staging a tragic accident or whatever other form of death could be engineered for her parents.
A whispered request. I should ignore it, but will not. I engage active countermeasures and the little speaker on the side of my jaw, disengaging both as soon as the words are quietly uttered.
“Your real name is Sophia.”
For the blind heiress who gave me a name, giving hers back is fitting. I feel her tense, then relax. Tears wet the end of my nose.
“Thank you. Let’s sleep and get another night closer to me being able to use it.”
She hugs me fiercely. Even as she falls asleep, her hold only eases a little. I will not move, even as I rest. I shall not let her down.