Chapter 4 - Children Of Tomorrow
The service day was ending. David was glad for that fact. After twenty-three areas of non-stop servicing; replacing droid parts, cleaning micro-filtered air processors and washing out five oversized enzyme storage tanks - David was ready to head home and forget the events that happened. Angela informed him of one more job to attend and he agreed with understandable reluctance. It was at the Child Training Centre, an area he’d never done in his life - ever. The service was uncomplicated to do; replace the door sensor mechanism for a functioning one. Any HSA could do it… why did it have to be him, specifically?
“Shut up. Who cares.” Thought David. “I should really stop questioning and just do it. I will not end up like those others.”
He headed for the nearest transport terminal and prepared for the journey. Just as he was about to join the other group of human attendants, he saw the blonde woman again standing among them. Their eyes met and there was an awkwardness that never happened before in all the time he saw her. As much as he didn’t want to talk to her, the urge to do so stirred inside him again. He felt awful the way she left and for not correcting his mistake by apologizing for nearly getting her ended. He took a few bold steps forward, but then halted as a pair of TMDs came up to the group.
“Jeff 07402, your expiry date has arrived. Your service is no longer required.”
David watched the poor man get dragged away and shouted for the others to help him. Every time it happened, someone would shout for help or beg the machines for an extension. It would never come. The lack of sympathy is not to be apathetic or a sheer disregard for life, but rather just the way thing were in the here and now. Once the man went out of sight, David looked up and saw that the blonde had disappeared. She had already stepped on board and took a seat at the back. He wanted to get onto the transport, but that meant taking a risk running over there and stepping in before the doors shut completely. The bitterness from their previous encounter was enough to make him think twice about such a bold action, he figured it wasn’t worth the possibility of being rejected by her and what could he possibly say to make things right?
The transit started its way past him and he gazed longingly at the woman seated at the back. There was no return glance to him. Not even the usual smile or wave they shared whenever they passed by one another. Whatever he thought they had was now over.
“Your service is required.” Angela’s voice spoke from behind.
David turned about and glanced up to the towering robot that stood there. It was one of the TMD’s and it was focusing its gaze right at him. It was the first time he’d ever been so close to shitting in his own pants, but something made him pause before bringing that kind of bowel release to fruition. It was Angela’s voice, not Malcolm, that came from the terrifying death drone. Something about that made it less of a worry… and he didn’t know why.
“Yes, I’m sorry for the deviation. I will proceed.” He replied. Though he had said it with a rather shaken and frightened tone.
“You are a good worker, David 00472. I suggest you proceed rapidly to avoid any… misunderstanding of your duties.”
He said nothing back to it. A mere nod and quickly stepping over to the transport arriving at the terminal. Once on board he checked his pants for anything that might have squirted out and then breathed deeply as he counted his blessings for not being removed from service - permanently.
Arriving at the Child Training Centre, David saw the selected group of young children being instructed though the large pane windows. He watched the robots teaching and pointing to the various holographic charts of words, numbers and images of parts to repair. Education was paramount to the AI’s and refused to simplify it based on the age of the child to sift through the ones that wouldn’t be of use to them. It brought back some of his childhood memories of sitting at those exact desks and raising a hand to answer them all. He was a great student and a fast learner. One had to be if you wanted to survive. Many children where escorted out of the class by Malcolm’s drones and never seen again. Angela made the childrenaware of the consequences, she encouraged the students to do well, stay focused on the servicing curriculum and diverted the thoughts away from the missing classmates. Yes, she was especially good at that. She had a way of making it easy to learn and giving the children lots of motivation to improve. Was it something she had learned from all of our vast databases on academic, psychological and sociological studies? He wondered about that fact too.
He had so many thoughts and mixed feelings about why the AI’s were so intent on education and giving them skill sets for such mundane tasks. What was their goal for doing this? Why teach us about history, math and various other topics that would make us learn? They were hiding something; they had to be; it was the only explanation. Malcolm would rather see us all erased from existence, yet something is keeping him from doing so. Was it Angela? Was she our ‘shepherd’? Or was there some ‘need’ Malcolm just couldn’t replicate that only we provided?
“Hello there. My name is Rahul 00333. What is your designation?” A small boy said to him with a grin.
David was so lost in thought, he hadn’t notice the child while walking ahead and wasn’t sure how to react when the boy greeted him. The brown-skinned youth with a crop of short jet-black hair continued to smile at him. David chuckled from the sight of the boy’s ears that stuck out like open doors and gave an innocent smile back to him.
“Hey,” David finally said and stooped down to face him. “Well, I’m David 00472… thank you for asking. Did you get lost from a class or something? You know that we shouldn’t be talking… right? Angela might not approve. Malcolm eitherfor that matter.”
“I know. But, she said I could because I completed my assignments efficiently. She said I could use the extra time for whatever I wanted. So… I saw you and came to say ‘hello’, that’s all.” The boy smiled again.
“I see.” David said with concern.
So he wasn’t the only one getting privileges. He was rather disappointed about that. He was getting used to being treated ‘nicely’ by Angela, it almost seemed too good sometimes, but it made him feel special. After hearing of another getting the same, it felt…. less special.
“There’s only five of us now.” The child continued. “There used to be ten. But… yesterday they took five out. They said, ‘you are no longer in service’ and they went away.”
The cold admittance of that fact sent a chill down David’s spine. He did his best to hide it from the boy and just gave an awkward smirk.
“When I asked if I could use my time to talk with you, Angela said I could. I think she even agreed it was a good idea.”
“She did?” David questioned.
“Yes,” He smiled innocently. “I don’t get to talk to anyone, not even my classmates. Not like this anyway. I don’t why they don’t let us… do you?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Oh well,” The boy shrugged. “I have to back to class now.”
The child gave the man a big hug and quickly returned to the building. David was still half crouched and left utterly stunned. Once again Angela got concerned about his state of being. He looked around like a frightened animal and noticed there wasn’t a camera or flying drone pointing in his direction. Rising slowly he continued to stay vigilant and tried not to draw attention. His mind became utterly shattered about what was happening. This was becoming odd to him and wondered if she was doing it to provoke Malcolm in a fashion.
He tried not to think anymore about it. Walking straight over to the door he needed to service, he approached one robot now seeing him and presented himself.
“David 00472. My service is required.”
While the robot confirmed his identity with the right eye, his other glimpsed a figure standing in the distance and watching with disapproving head shake. It was Aaron again. He looked right at David and mouthed the words ‘You need someone’ and then smiled. The robot hadn’t even finished the scan when David stepped aside to get a better view of the black man. But then Aaron was no longer visible. He wasn’t even really there - or was he? David wasn’t sure and gawked about the area frantically. The robot grabbed David by the arm and turned him around.
“I have not completed your scan.” Angela’s voice stated. “Please do not move until I have completed the scan.”
“Did you see him?” David gasped. “Did you see that guy? The other man… the attendant did you see him?”
“I do not know to whom you are referring too.” The robot replied after glancing over to where he pointed. “There is no Attendant there.”
David was about to say the man’s name, but shut down that thought. Instead, he apologized and returned standing in position while she scanned him. Every human felt this was unnecessary, but to the computers (and especially the AIs) they always needed this. The identification and documentation of every work order to be fulfilled. Cataloguing and processing is the function to know who did what and where they were at the precise time. Everything needs to be structured, logical and in the order they understand. If he told her he saw a former attendant smiling and waving at him, knowing full well he’s not around anymore, the AI would have instantly removed him from service… permanently. Better to just let it go, do his job and then call it a day. Sleep is all he needs to feel better. He hoped it would all he needed to feel better.
“I hate you Aaron.” He cursed under his breath. “I hate you so fucking much.”
The child centre was just as he remembered it as he glanced about while working on the door sensor. The stark, cold environment was just as bleak and dull from his childhood. Nothing ever changed. One had to be quiet, attentive and sharing no social interaction with others at all. Perhaps a small greeting or maybe even the occasional compliment from getting an answer right on an oral test, but there was no laughter, no playing and no joy to be had at all.
But this was all perfectly normal to humanity now. Kids were never seen beyond this environment, not even babies or toddlers, that area was for a robot or drones only. Which suited David fine, he had no interested in knowing too much about any of that. Not until one happened to pass him by at that moment as he finished his job.
A drone came hovering by with a newborn baby cradled in its arms. David watched with interest as it let out a soft gurgle and cooed at him. He couldn’t help wave and smile at it, something he couldn’t believe he was doing himself and instantly stopped the moment he realized it. He waited to look back up, hoping no camera or robot noticed him, but once he was sure it was safe again…. he waved slightly at the baby as it disappeared into the depths of the building.
It seemed rather unbelievable that a drone would willingly glide by that moment he was servicing a door. They were always so careful and allowed no other human interaction to be possible. Yet it happened. As he tapped his upper lip with the sonic drill, he thought about what else he might get away with. Nothing happened when he looked at a baby. No TMD’s marching down or hovering drones speeding to block the view. So, what other minor occurrences could he get away with?
He finished cleaning up his tools and handed them back to the small floor droid waiting to take them away. The door was operational again, and he tested it out by walking in and out. He stopped on the opposite side and realized he had never seen the interior of the building. He quickly looked about for any eyes again, then slowly walked backwards into the hallway. First, he thought - “No, this will get me killed.” But then a sense of excitement and curiosity sparked inside him. If glancing at a forbidden baby could be overlooked, why not an innocent little stroll?
He stepped back again, slowly and cautiously, his eyes looking all around for cameras or drones. There was nothing. Soon he walked casually down the hall, the tool droid long vanished in the opposite direction, and he had a quick tour.
The walls were a gleaming hospital white with faint blue neon lights built into the long, narrow corridor. He strolled down a tad further, wondering how much he could do without being discovered. His heart was pounding with the thrill of it and sweat beaded off his brow from intense nervousness. This was the craziest thing he had ever done, other than talking to Aaron and with the woman of his infatuation - no this was far more dangerous and out of character for him. And he was enjoying it.
He could hear the cries of the newborns echoing down the empty neon lit hall, their song of muffled voices filled the air as he continued to step slowly down the path. There wasn’t any door he could see, nor any window to peer into. The corridor was flush with the lights and white wall, nothing was visible to the naked eye, not a seam of a doorway or even a handle to open.
The cries simmered down as he approached the end. There was no other way to go and the hall just seemed to stop where he was. It confused him. As he turned around to walk back, the wall behind slowly opened. A red light glowed eerily from the concealed room that was now visible. It scared David to look back, but mustered the nerve and spun around to whatever he would find.
He had expected to be face to face with a TMD, but seemed suprised to see nothing waited for him. The door must have activated by his presence of standing there. As the wall finished opening fully, David peered his head inside and tried not to walk past the threshold. The red light flooded the room and made it hard to see anything. He took a chance and slowly shuffled with a fear in his eyes.
Discovery of his intrusion would no doubt happen. If he wanted to have a look, then now would be the time to get in and get out. Moving faster through the brilliantly lit room, he tried to see what was in this place. Once his eyes adjusted, he noticed the long cylinders he was in proximity too. They were clear and full of liquid. He could see the bubbles of air floating inside them. But once he saw the dark object at the centre, he almost felt ill.
“What, what is this?” He gawked in horror. “No… that looks like… like…”
In the many vast number of glass cylinders lining the room like an array of test tubes, were floating parts of organs, limbs and… heads, of what he dared not think of. Nausea overwhelmed his stomach, and he left the room more rapidly than he did entering it. Once outside he launched himself down the corridor and beyond the glass door partition, he had fixed the sensor on. It was after he stepped through that, an alarm ensued. Two large TMD’s made their presence known as they stomped down the corridor and headed straight for David as he ran their way.
“Intruder, identify yourself.” The dual robots demanded.
“David!” He shouted with hands raised. “David 00472! I was testing the door.”
“Explain.” Malcolm’s voice spoke through them.
“I was brought here me for service.” David said nervously and pointed in the direction. “I finished and tested the sensor, it must have triggered the alarm. I apologize for the intrusion. I’m sure the Tool Droid that was just here could vouch for me and you’ll see I was just finishing the task.”
The TMDs remained motionless as Malcolm confirmed his claim. The pause was longer than David would have liked and worried his explanation would not be enough. Wiping the sweat off his forehead, he closed his eyes and waited for the verdict.
“Confirmed. Tool Droid 25539-2 log entry of completion verified. System activation was necessary, the sensor is now operational.”
David wanted to let out a large sigh of relief, but contained it to a simple release of breath and opened his eyes. The two TMDs moved aside and motioned to the hallway exiting the building.
“Task is complete. You will now sign out and return to your complex for the shutdown period.”
That was Malcolm’s way of saying, “You can go home and sleep now.” Which is what he would have preferred the heartless robot would say instead. But at least he had let him live, so it was probably best on his part not to provoke the situation any further. David said nothing back and hurried down the hall, but not too fast, otherwise Malcolm would be rather suspicious of his actions.
It was surprising to him that the AI gave him the chance to explain at all. Usually there would be no time to give such a bold reaction to a TMD, most would just drag you off on the spot and that would be the end. Rarely would anyone speak to an AI like that at all. David truly had to be grateful for thinking so quick on his toes.
As he exited the building, he noted the sun setting in the distance. The orange light cascaded over the horizon of perfectly aligned building in the distance and the clouds bore an outline of faint pink around the edges. It had been a long and rather full day of interesting events. He still couldn’t shake the imagery of what he found in that room. He tried desperately to shake it out of his mind for the time being; he needed to get to the nearest transport and go home.
He looked at his hands, still trembling from the fear of almost getting caught and from witnessing the nightmare in the red-lit room. He clenched his fist and tried to quell the shaking. As he took one last look back, he saw young Rahul looking out the window of the training centre and waving slightly. The Angela teaching robot came up behind the child and corralled him back to the rest of the class sitting at their desk.
“What the hell are they doing to us?” Thought David. “Maybe Aaron is right… perhaps we should be breaking the rules. Cause something is definitely wrong with all of this.”