Several gasps rang out as the ball sailed up into the air. It was going high. It was flying off, far further than intended. Up and up it went and for a single dazzling moment the shiny white ball seemed to glisten and touch the sun before descending over the corrugated iron and barbed wire fence.
Nine faces crumpled in disappointment as the end of the game was marked by the loss of the ball.
“Might as well go home” one girl sighed,” they don’t return balls.”
At that most of the children nodded and turned heel towards home but one just looked at the fence deep in thought.
“Come on Addy it’s time to go home. You know the rules you can’t play football without a ball now can you?”
“But… but… it’s just over there!” Addy protested.
“There’s a wobbly fence panel here! We could squeeze through, get the ball and then get out again. No one would ever know! It’s not like we’d be doing any harm and we’d be giving them a hand removing our property from their yard” Addy argued with wildly gesticulating arms.
“But if they did find us…”
“If” Addy smiled as she approached the fence “it’ll be an adventure, a trip into enemy territory to retrieve a fallen soldier or in this case my football.”
The retreating group turned and looked at her nervously with their hands in their pockets and curiosity in their eyes. “Aren’t adventures a little bit risky?” One boy enquired.
“They aren’t called colouring with Mummy for a reason Jim!” Addy laughed as she fingered the wobbly fence panel “I’m going to go in; you can follow me if you like.”
As she started to yank at the fence Jim complained “I know it’s a new football but you will get in less trouble if you tell your parents than if you got caught.”
“Go home to your Mummy Jim!” Addy shouted derisively before slipping through the gap in the fence she created.
Once though she sought cover behind some dustbins which were clustered by the fence. Although she had made light of going after the ball her heart was facing and all the stories of what happened to trespassers on robot territory came flooding back to her.
Some said that trespassers were dissected, others told of them being eaten, the spotty babysitter that looked after her at the weekends claimed that they liked to imprison, torture and sell off their prisoners. Addy wasn’t sure if any or all of the stories she had heard were true. Even so she felt sick with fear. It was foolish to risk her life to get the football but she didn’t want to go back home either.
Nothing was better than running and jumping and kicking a ball about. The feeling of the wind in your hair as you raced for a goal was one of the best things she could think of. Then again she wasn’t doing a great deal of that at the moment as Jim had belted the ball far higher than any of them had ever dared… right into the neighbouring robots garden.
Technically going after the ball was trespassing. It violated all the robot human relational codes that had been set up thirty years ago after the big war but surely none of that mattered if she didn’t get caught… besides it wasn’t like she’d broken a window or anything. Her Mum had told her stories of breaking a window in the neighbour’s greenhouse years before but Addy struggled to understand as she’d never seen a greenhouse and when she asked her friends they shrugged and asked if it was the colour a house was programmed to look. Addy wondered that too but didn’t want to ask her Mum about it in case she looked silly and besides that probably wasn’t the point of the story in the first place.
With sweat starting to bead on her forehead Addy inched her way around the bins and further into the garden stopping every few seconds to look around for danger. The coast seemed to be clear but the ball wasn’t as easy to spot. She had imagined that it would be right there, ripe for the picking as it had sailed over so easily but that didn’t appear to be the case. There was a lot of long grass and some clumps of weeds up ahead so it had probably landed there and at least she could duck down into it for cover if someone or something came to get her.
Despite all the horror stories she had heard Addy found it hard to see robots as the bogey man, they packed bags in the supermarkets and helped assist the teachers in school. Some were even made to fill the empty spaces in the classrooms that had started to appear in recent years. It’s hard to think of people, well robots as bad when they’re very nearly your friends. But obviously they can’t be your friends because robots don’t play. They don’t get out of breath when you play tag or football and don’t see the point of hide and seek instead they… what do they do? Charge? Addy wasn’t sure. All she knew was that they didn’t study more as they already knew all the answers they were just there to keep the schools from shutting. Some days she resented that and would do anything from going but on others, well it was nice to be away from all the shouting at home.
As she made her way through the long grass she stumbled on branches and large stones until she caught sight of not one shiny white ball but two! She was in luck! In her haste to get to the ball she started to run but went flying on a large stick. Except when she started to pull herself up she realised that it wasn’t a stick at all but an arm. A human arm! Well the bones of a human arm to be more precise... She let out a short cry before jamming her hand in to her mouth to stop herself. If they have an arm just lying around here where is the rest of the body? Addy knew the answer before even finishing the question. She’d tripped and stumbled her way over the rest of the body on the way there.
So she sat in the tall grass not far from the ball she had come for but also not at all far from what she presumed was the last person to come for their ball. The sweat that had been beading on her forehead was now starting to pore down her face and into her eyes. She started to cry at being so foolish. It was not as if it was terrible being at home alone but she had really looked forward to playing with her friends and being the star player for her team.
It was time to admit defeat and limp home without the ball and serious maiming. Depite knowing this Addy stubbornly took a deep breath, rubbed away the tears on her cheek with the back of her arm then told herself that the skeletal arm probably just belonged to a Halloween prop. With that she started to crawl once more towards the balls, the big clumps of weeds she passed were obviously overgrown plants and not landmines. They buried landmines didn’t they? Her granddad used to tell her stories of the war all about landmines and heat seeking technology but she never paid him much attention. Why should she when she could be running around outside or playing with her toy cars? Besides he always said to her parents that she wasn’t a proper girl, whatever that was supposed to be… it sounded boring to her!
After much uncomfortable crawling she finally got to the two balls, stopped and sat in front of them to examine them. The one on the right was obviously hers it was white and shiny except for the small black scuff that Jim’s boot had made. And yet the other ball was silver and shiny so she waivered as she went to pick up her ball and it was at that point that the silver ball unfurled into a small robot infant. “Hello!” It exclaimed looking at her with two small blue eyes.
Addy fell backwards in shock.
“Hello!” The small robot said to her again leaning forwards slightly to make eye contact.
“But… but… you’re a robot!”
“Yeeesss” the infant robot replied “but I was pretending to be a sphere.”
“You wanted me to think you were a ball?”
“No!” The robot stated in frustration “no, I wanted to try being a sphere.”
“So you weren’t trying to trick me?” Addy started to hope that maybe this robot toddler didn’t know about the rules and codes that she was breaking.
“Who are you?”
“I’m just a neighbour and my friend kicked my ball into your yard so I’ve come to get it back” Addy confessed hoping that honesty was the best policy.
“My sphere-ball now!” The little robot told her as it moved over to the white ball and extended a mechanical arm to the top of it.
Were this another child at the playground or a sibling in the garden then Addy would have snatched the ball away and pushed them into the dirt. Instead she gritted her teeth and nodded, technically the robot was right the ball had become its property and if she wanted to leave without any trouble then she needed to respect that. The ball was new and shiny though…
“Do you want to play with me?” Addy asked the little robot.
“Yes play” Addy repeated whilst trying to remember what the robots at school refer to play as “the act of erm doing that you aren’t programmed to do like pretending and running.”
“So I have been playing at being a ball?”
“I guess..” Addy had to admit that she didn’t know anyone who would pretend to be a ball but why would you? Maybe robot play was different to human play…
“Would you like to pretend to be a ball too?”
“Nooo... no thank you… you see balls are actually designed to be played with. You throw or kick them then chase after them” Addy explained as best she could.
“I see… but why?”
“I don’t know. Because it’s fun I guess…” Addy hazarded as playing was just something she did, school, food and sleep just got in the way of it.
“Fun. F u n… fun…” the robot repeated to itself.
“Is it a new word to you?”
“Not exactly but I am not sure I can experience it as you do, when you run you use your cardiovascular system and…”
“I know we’re different but have you ever tried just kicking a ball and running after it?”
“Nooo…” the robot replied looking more closely at the ball, then turned and stood up with a whirr looked at Addy before winking and kicking the ball just past her. Robots can’t wink Addy thought as the little robot started tottering towards the ball, its lights must have blinked or twinkled… but by the time she pondered this she had been overtaken.
She jumped up as the robot kicked the ball once more and ran away with it so she started to chase after them and could feel the long grass whipping against her legs as she went. In front of her she could have sworn that she had heard a toddlers laughter coming from the little robot, could she have taught it about fun?
Addy wasn’t sure about that but in spite of getting out of breath she knew that she was gaining and it would only take a few more steps. Just as she got within tackling distance she trod on a lump of weeds that made a big clicking sound and sunk a little under her foot.
The robot stopped, grabbed the ball and backed away “uh oh!”
Suddenly Addy remembered her granddad’s tales of landmines and jerked her foot up only to be catapulted into the air with an enormous blast before falling maimed and bloodied to the ground. The little robot had disappeared and the eyes of the children staring over the fence had widened at the sight and they had run away screaming just as quickly.
Addy screamed and wailed for help where most of her lay as a red wetness started to cloud her vision. Maybe, just maybe adventures weren’t always for the best after all…