Author: Katlina Sommerberg

Empty walkways and closed souvenir shops surrounded Lady Stone on all sides. Today’s overcast summer day, the warmest of the century, should’ve coaxed tourists to visit the park. Their absence indicated humanity hadn’t yet recovered.

Her programming dictated she return to the Stone‌ Hedge section of the park. To meet her, guests had waited fifty-five minutes on average, but no more than three hours and sixteen minutes maximum. She’d entertained an endless line of babies until the park closed, depending on the night to recover.

Until one morning, when no staff opened the park. Then came the next morning, the next month, until years flew by. The other androids in the park broke down. Her granite body proved more robust than any of her colleagues, and she spent her golden years blissfully alone.

Today, movement blurred in the distance, one black dot inching closer. Lady Stone ran a quick system diagnostic, unable to believe her sensors.‌ A little boy entered the park.

“Welcome to Stone Hedge, gateway to all ancient wonders!” Lady Stone’s voice warbled an octave too high.

The child squinted, looking up at the tower of polished granite. Lady Stone stood still as she could, but her motors warbled. One of her glassy eyes fell off last month, exposing pulsing sensors beneath her painted face.

“You’re Lady Stone, Portal Guardian!” He spoke louder than a fire alarm, his wide smile revealing the gaps in his baby teeth. “You bring the hero to the gateway.”

“You’re different in the cartoon,” he said, glancing behind him. He frowned when he saw no one.

“This Lady Stone is here to take you to your own hero’s journey.” She fought to hold back the programmed response.

After her body began to decay, she could occasionally violate her programming.

Once during her training period, she saw a creature so strange. Four legs and fluff, it nipped at the heels of living clouds. It drove a swarm over a valley, guiding them to water. It supervised them day and night. The same little animal watched its human slaughter a dozen without interference.

Lady Stone never understood such odd loyalties. How the living prioritized utilitarian happiness over the deaths of other life forms.

Until now. She stared in fascination as the boy babbled.

In the absence of his guardians or human staff, her programming dictated she supervise it. But she tripped a programming bug, and changed the dictation from supervise to entertain.

She walked closer to the Stone Hedge roller coaster, and he trailed after. He howled his wonder, playing on the tracks, as she grimaced at his unholy screeches. The grand old machine woke with a cough. The boy danced to her theme song. The coaster’s cars screamed as they dropped down, but he failed to hear them over his own.

Lady Stone killed him with a smile on his face. It was the least she could do, for a child her programming required she entertain.