All those shifts at the factory, watching robots build robots, making sure nothing goes wrong. Graham had saved for Sarah’s birthday for six months.
The second he had the money, he purchased a pearl white, clam shell shaped robot, no bigger than the size of a monkey. With a flick of the tiny switch on the side, a smiley face made of two hundred red lights appeared under the surface.
He agreed to meet Sarah in the park, near the swings. They must have spent five of her first nine birthdays there. The robot hovered a few feet off the ground beside him, bleeping and blooping with delight.
Graham decided that the robot should be loop de looping through the air when Sarah arrived. Show off the new model’s flying skill. The robot was just begging to gain altitude, when Graham spotted a familiar blonde haired girl trotting down the path.
‘Higher!’ He cried, and the robot shot out of sight.
Sarah locked her arms around her father’s neck, and Graham knew every penny saved was worth it.
He was about to introduce his daughter to her new friend, when a tinny voice cried out.
'Help me master.’
The robot sat lodged in the prison cell branches of a nearby willow, a minimum of thirty feet above their heads. It bounced up and down, left and right, all four engines groaning in an escape attempt that achieved millimetres of progress.
'Dad’s, what’s-’ Sarah said.
Graham pushed away his daughter’s hand, his tongue drying to ash.
'One second Sarah,’ her Dad said. 'Let me get a stepladder.’
The stepladder wasn’t tall enough.
The rest of Sarah’s birthday had been a mixed bag. She had other presents, and the cake tasted great, but her Dad kept looking at the window.
Early next morning, he waved a broom from the top rung, whacking a branch on repeat. The tree barely vibrated.
'Please master,’ the robot said, its once perfect shell chipped from knocking against bark so many times.
One week later, he threw a ball up at the tree until the rubber burst. The week after, he tried to shimmy up the trunk, but he slid down, his fingers slick with blood.
'Master, I can’t get out,’ the robot said.
'I know!’ Graham roared.
Winter arrived. Snow covered the park, and smothered the robot in a white coating.
'Please master, I’m cold,’ it said, electronic words muffled.
Graham kept his headphones in. Melted snow would lubricated Sarah’s present down any day now.
Sarah herself was looking forward to Christmas. There was a new series of robots released in a week, and she had her eye on a pink model that could climb mountains, and teach you to dance.
By New Year’s Eve, the snow was gone, and the robot had stopped talking back. Sarah’s Dad waited at the trunk. Christmas had been a cold, hungry affair.
Digital alarms declared a new year across the world, and fleets of robots patrolled the skies, shooting fireworks that turned the night into a rainbow.