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On a window ledge above the dark fathomless world, there was a tiny bird, a dazzling blue bird with a crimson sheen on its under belly. It would come every day and sit and chirp outside Shellie's window, in the hope of food. It would wait, patiently, while cars floated by in the many fly lines while a purple sun rose high, making the methane in the sky shimmer in streaks of pinks and blue. The colours illuminated a sea of high rises, steel platforms, and substantial buoyant rocks
Commuters to the glass city of Larisst would pull into the fifth story pit stop station, to grab an on-the-go coffee and Hubz breakfast and the after-wind of the traffic made it hard for the bird to cling on to the ledge.
The bird would sit next to a flickering neon sign, Hubz Pit Stop, until Shellie would open her window and sprinkle out a few meager toast crumbs but only when her mum wasn't looking because there had been several falling-into-the-abyss and oxygen sickness accidents, lately. Shellie would often be singing and combing out her bright-blue pigtails but keeping an eye on her bedroom door in case her mum should come in.
The bird was her only friend outside of school which was virtual, so it didn't really count. The world where they existed, above the shriveled old world, had become too dangerous to go out after sunset, even with an oxihelmet on.
Her apartment was five stories up from the hovering platform, yet the building was 300 feet off where the ground was once predicted to be. No one had stood on the dusty ground for over 70 years.
The old world glowed as orange as the old sun once did. Shellie would often draw it and daydream of times that humans on the actual Earth had trodden on fertile land and felt grass as soft as feathers between their toes. At the age of 8, in the lands below on that old world, she would be playing at parks with swings and other children and the thought was dreamy. She imagined a golden sun and playing in clean air and swimming in Crystal waters.
But here, on Saturn, where robitosists and cyborgs had created a neon world of indoors, where everything was controlled with touch screens and virtual friends were your only contact, there was little time for play. At least not with other human beings.
The most you could hope for was a window lock, a face on a screen, and a synthetic voice because other kids were protected by data securities, so weren't allowed to be visible.
The little bird was at least a living, breathing thing that she could hold and touch and talk to even if she did risk falling to her death when the harsh Saturn wind turned wild.
A leading robotics company had recently designed a new robot for children, an interactive playmate and much more, for millions of lonely kids who were confined to their homes, especially after sunset each day. The creator was said to have lost a daughter and made a small robot, something that had her personality traits and her intelligence.
The robot was called Kuri, after her, and Shellie wanted one more than anything else in the world but they costed a bomb, and there were only a limited amount of prototypes available to buy. There was, however, a writing competition and four lucky winners would be able to have one to keep.
Shellie was a talented wordsmith and had been penning a story about her bird, who she named Dartz, because he flew like an arrow. She fed it every day to ensure it would stay as her muse and inspire her to write of her loneliness, a little colourful morsel of life in a chaotic metropolis of drifting buildings and pulsating signs, that gave her hope.
Her Dad was a manager at a floating cafe called Red Night, that was fashioned from an old sailing ship, and had gigantic sails of steel that shimmered gold and red and reflected on them the entire city. A docking station for fly drivers to pull into was always busy with people looking to get out of the sky.
The robotosist who invented Kuri was one of her dad's long-time customers and a judge on the panel of the forthcoming contest. Her Dad had promised to put the story into his hands as soon as she had finished it.
The day had arrived when Shellie was about to write her final chapter, and it was also the day the cafe closed for the holidays, so the day was of paramount importance. She cautiously opened her window to feed Dartz but found only a crimson feather fluttering in a sickly breeze and felt a sudden feeling of desperation and sadness.
Her Dad heard her cries from the kitchen and found her sobbing into her duvet.
“What is it Shellie. What's happened?”
“Dartz is dead. I found this on the window ledge.” She held up the feather and her dad’s face crumpled because he knew how much the bird had encouraged her to work hard and smile more and reduce her loneliness.
"It’s okay. The bird's life has come to a natural end. At least he left you a feather to remember him by.”
This didn't seem to help and she flopped onto the bed and cried hard. He disappeared and returned minutes later holding a hot chocolate topped with marshmallows.
“How about you come into work with me today and finish your last chapter there?”
“I don't have to go to school?"
“Not today. Anyway, I need a pot washer.” Shellie's smile spread across her elfin face and she picked up her notepad with a sketch of the pretty bird on the cover.
They boarded the hover car at the front of their apartment and waved to Shellie's mother, who was washing dishes at the sink as they slipped into a fly stream and sped into the morning.
The floating ship shone so brightly it almost blinded them as they docked.
The Red Nightz cafe was bustling, crowded, and the screens were busy taking orders and the cyborgs were busy waiting tables. There were only two human employees, Shellie's Dad and his assistant Walsse, who just cleaned up what the cyborgs missed and filled the coffee machines with pods. There was an empty table looking over the west part of the city which was always bluer that the rest of the new world because the swirl of Saturn's outer ring dipped just there, and turned the methane- tainted air dark.
Shellie noticed a very expensive-looking hover car pull into the station and a long man whose oxihelmet was gold and cool got out and strode toward the entrance. Once inside the safe zone, he removed his helmet and she saw it was the robotosist whose name had been splashed across all the news screens, Kertz. The one who invented Kuri.
Her heart sank because she knew she would never finish the story in time to give to him and today was the last day to enter.
He sat at a corner table opposite her and she tried not to look but couldn't help stare because he was very tall and very thin and had a pointy nose that crept to just short of his chin. Anyone would have to look, and many did.
He kept his gaze firmly to the window and the shadowy view of the city below which swirled in purples and blues and was tranquil and beautiful.
We drifted along not anchored by anything but directed by the silent wind. A bird flew across the man's window, making him blink and he turned directly toward Shellie, who was looking straight back at him.
She picked up her note book and started to doodle, uncomfortable with him looking over at her but she sensed he was still staring.
He got up and walked across to her until his shadow towered over her like the BFG story she’d heard from her mum.
“Nice picture. Is it a particular bird or just any bird?” Kertz asked.
“It was my friend,” Shellie answered, and tears sprung in her eyes.
“I can see it was a special friend?" she nodded, unable to speak.
“Sometimes, creatures have a greater understanding of us humans than we do ourselves.”
She smiled then, and he noticed she had the same smile as the manager.
“Is that a story you are writing?" he asked.
A blush rose up and blossomed in her cheeks and he laughed aloud.
“Can I see it?"
She pushed the notebook under his nose as he sat down to read. He moved his head from side to side until he reached the end of the last page.
“It's very beautiful and very clever," he said.
“Yes, leaving the ending open like that, so no one knows what happens, genius.”
He reached into his bag and pulled out a gleaming white Kuri robot with endearing eyes.
Shellie's eyes grew as big as the old world's pennies.
“It seems to me like you need a new friend, to cheer you up.”
With that the man got up and walked to the screen and signed out of his account with his eyes. He flashed his paycard across it and then his eyes caught Shellie's dad's and they exchanged smiles. The man winked at Shellie’s dad and tipped his head as he left. Shellie understood immediately what had just happened. She clutched the little robot under her arm and ran with her heart thumping to her dad, and hugged him with all her might. She had a friend at last and the best dad in all the world.