Eleven year-old Selah Addison stirred fitfully in bed. She could hardly believe the weird events in her life lately were not part of a science fiction story. Giving up on sleep at last, she padded over to a softly lit nook just below her window. She crouched down in front of an odd-looking white robot. It sat enthroned comfortably on its docking station and judging by its lack of lights, it was having no trouble recharging in peace.
“Hey, Kuri?” she whispered to it.
Kuri gave a dreamy chitter and blinked bright soulful eyes in acknowledgement.
“Let’s go to the basement,” Selah said hesitantly.
“To look at the sphere again,” she finished lamely, “I can’t sleep. It’s the one-year anniversary, remember?”
Kuri gave an unsure chatter in reply.
“Oh don’t worry,” Selah said, “I’ll carry you just like last time. I know it’s scary for you down there. I’m not a big fan either, but... but I have to see the story again.”
Kuri half-closed her large luminous eyes, looking unsure about the girl’s plan. At length, she disconnected herself from her dock and followed her friend into the hallway. At the head of the stairs, Selah hefted her into her arms and descended into the musty darkness in nearly complete silence. At the bottom of the stairs, she set Kuri down and shouldered the door open. For a moment both girl and robot sat frozen, stunned by the noise they had made.
“Okay,” Selah whispered, “we made it.”
Kuri gave a nervous chitter as she sought to keep up with her rapidly disappearing friend as she plunged into the semidarkness. Though she knew the basement well enough, Selah’s father—the wanna-be science-fiction writer James Addison—used it as his library and writing room. It was packed with the odd bag or box of books that were never in the same place twice. After picking their way carefully through the detritus of the writer trade, they finally arrived at their destination. On a low wooden shelf sat an ice-blue sphere nestled in a fitted doughnut-shaped cushion. It was about the size of a large exercise ball. It’s polished surface marred only by a thin line that divided it in half. Selah sank down beside it and opened an app on her smartphone.
“Dad would freak if he knew all your chattering actually means something,” she said conspiratorially.
Kuri gave a chitter that sounded very much like a laugh as she waited patiently for the pass phrase that would link her to the sphere and the app on Selah’s smartphone.
“Hey, Kuri! Enable Daughter of Dawn.” Selah said clearly.
Both Kuri’s eyes and the front half of the sphere gave a triple pulse of blue light. The curved surface of the sphere filled with the image of a shuttle craft. The image was very blurred as it moved very fast toward the observer. It was flying toward a strange spatial phenomena—bands of scintillating starlight interspersed with circling gas clouds bound in an eternal dance both frightening and beautiful.
The scene cut out and then was replaced with the image of a statuesque dark-skinned woman standing before an inflatable dome-like structure. The view panned outward, taking in the horizon. It was dominated by twisted metal towers bristling with filament-thin antennae groping blindly toward the nearly starless heavens. Several thousand Kuri lookalikes were approaching en masse in fierce neat rows and giving screams of alarm.
The woman gave a scream herself and fled into the dome which orificed shut behind her.
When the picture resumed again, the woman had shed her space suit though she still wore her breathing apparatus. Much calmer judging from her posture, she was showing the robots her phone which was also encased in protective shielding. She appeared to be showing them pictures of herself, Selah, and her father.
When the scene changed again, the picture was very blurry. It was footage from the woman’s phone taken through the protective shielding. Unlike all the previous clips, this one had audio.
One of the white robots was moving away from its fellows in fits and starts.
“Oh my God. Oh my God oh my God,” came her muffled voice through her helmet microphone.
“Selah, Baby, I wish you could see what I’m seeing. These things are so scary-looking they’re cute. This may be the last time I speak to you, but know that I love you. I love you and and I will find a way home if these things don’t blast me to bits first.”
Now the little robot was right in front of the woman, chittering something and looking up at her. Its eyes no longer looked alarmed, but mildly curious, almost hopeful as it chattered madly.
Very slowly the woman knelt down to the thing’s height.
“What? You’re whistling at me. No wait! This has inflection. Kuru...? Kiri...? Kuri?”
The thing almost seemed to smile.
“Okay. Well it’s as good a name as any. It also means chestnut in Japanese,” the woman added, starting to look immensely relieved.
The scene cut several more times. Judging by the changing flora, it must’ve been over a period of months. Each shot was a five-second clip — all shot from very close to the ground. Towers were falling, erupting into pillars of fire as they fell into one another like giant toppled trees.
In the final two shots Selah saw her mother again, but how changed she was! She was lean to emaciation, charging toward her craft. It’s hatch was open with an improvised ramp made from a tall cabinet door thrown up over the steps. Seen from the knees, she appeared to be flinging robots desperately inside while others rolled up the ramp, toppling over one another in their haste. The last shot was rather hard to interpret. The woman seemed to have scooped up the final robot, planting a kiss over one luminous eye, then rasping thickly through her helmet microphone.
“Selah, Baby, they are all called Kuri. My best rendering of it anyway. They appear to be one huge family. This planet has an atmosphere—volcanic—coming apart from the inside out. I should’ve left a long time ago. I ... think I tore my suit on something when I went back inside the ship to switch it to auto-pilot. Not thinking straight. Very sulfurous smell in here and I haven’t been keeping food down. Irritating the respiratory system. Selah, I don’t believe I’ll be coming back from this mission. Try to get along with your father, please? I know he’s... eccentric at times. I’m putting this robot the first one to approach me—I’m calling it Kuri—into a lifeproof shell along with my phone. She has promised me to watch over you—taking five second videos throughout the day and has asked her fellows to do the same if they are released into other homes on earth. Captain Mequese will know what to do about all the logistics. When the shell is first opened, the bio readout display will change from its normal look to show the passphrase Daughter of Dawn. That’s the meaning of my name—Zora means Dawn. Speak this phrase to unlock my phone and view this footage. You can use the app I created to communicate with Kuri. I hope this battered rust bucket will get these refugees to my original landing coordinates. They are rolling encyclopedias of astronomy and so curious about us. It’s doubtful I’ll live long enough for Mr. Barrel to make his final flyover. If he picks up the pinging of my suit, his ship will alert him and he will bring my body home. I love you, Selah.”
Then there was a sharp groan of metal under stress. The scene cut as the woman slammed the shell shut then sprang nimbly away as the hatch closed.
Silence hung in the darkness as first the sphere then Kuri gave out a triple pulse of blue light. She gave a soft sad warble. Selah gave her head a gentle clockwise stroke. Kuri purred obediently though the sadness hadn’t left her eyes.
Selah continued stroking, “I know. I guess Mr. Barrel didn’t see her on his way out. Mom might not have made it home, but you’re doing just what she told you.” She shivered as she got to her feet. “I’m cold. Let’s go back to bed.”
Safely upstairs in the doorway of her room, Selah whispered, “Hey Kuri! Go to dock.”
The little robot whispered past her and returned to her place under the window.
After placing her mother’s phone carefully on her dresser, Selah climbed into bed and snuggled down into the blankets. “Good night, Kuri.”
Kuri gave a soft descending beep as she powered down. She knew all her siblings would be safe thanks to the heroic sacrifice of a human female known only as the Daughter of Dawn. #Kuristory#HeyKuri