Chapter 4 - Children Of Tomorrow
The service day was ending and 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 needed was uncomplicated; replace the door sensor mechanism for a functioning one. Any HSA could do it… why did it have to be him, specifically?
“Questions, questions… enough.” Thought David. “Just do it. I won’t 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 this time, the compulsion to do so was hard to ignore. He felt awful for not correcting his mistake and apologizing for nearly getting her terminated. 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 wasn’t to be apathetic or a sheer disregard for life, but rather just the way thing where in this controlled world. 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 at sizeable robot drone peering down at him. It was one of the TMD’s and it focused a 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.
“Continue to be a good worker, David 00472. I suggest you proceed rapidly to avoid any further 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 similar 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 children aware 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. There was no other logical explanation. Malcolm would rather see us all erased from existence, yet something is keeping him from doing so. Was it Angela? Was she our saving grace or Shepard… of a sort? 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 either for 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 it turned out 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… well… disappointing to him.
“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. The phrasing wasn’t exactly correct, but it didn’t matter, the child seemed to understand the concept well enough. The fact that he had no emotion about his classmates being removed was interesting. Most kids had some sort of hidden fear behind their eyes about it, Rahul did not, there wasn’t shred of emotion in his. David on the other hand, did his best to hide his own 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 friendly wave and quickly returned to the building. David remained half crouched and left stunned by the child’s words. Once again Angela had been concerned about his state of mind. He looked around like a frightened animal, desperately searching for any camera or flying drone pointed in his direction. He continued to stay vigilant as he rose back up and darted the gaze as best he could without looking suspicious. 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. David walked over to the area he needed to service and presented himself to the robot guarding the entrance.
“David 00472. My service is required.”
The robot paused while confirming his identity and service schedule. David waited patiently for verification. But from the corner of his right eye, he caught glimpse of someone in the distance. 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 processing when David stepped aside to get a better view of the grinning man. But once he tried to focus his sight on him, Aaron was no where to be seen. He must have been daydreaming - 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 verification.” Angela’s voice stated. “Please do not move until I have completed it.”
“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 to verify and scan. 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 they wouldn’t see such a thing, 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… continued to wave 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 hand held silver sonic drill, he thought about what else he might get away with. Nothing happened when he looked at the infant; 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, moving methodically, his eyes looking all around for cameras or drones. There was nothing. Soon he walked casually down the hall, making his way for a quick tour. Luckily, the tool droid had long since vanished in the opposite direction. He was free to continue at his leisure.
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 surprised 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.
“This is crazy…” He quietly muttered to himself. “What are you doing David? Shit… I’m so going to get caught.”
He constantly looked over his shoulder and at any shadow that looked like something hidden. The excitement now pounding in his chest and vibrating to his ears, rhythmic breathing was now stretching into short moments of panicked releases. The light remained dimmed in a crimson hue. Some minor flashes of warning lights and panel switches along the wall of equipment darted about his perhapial line of sight.
The room sounds were eerie to him; rushes of vacuumed air pumping through a vent, bubbling liquid of some type and low-audible beeps of varying pitches echoed in the forbidding domain. What the fuck was he doing? This was no place to be. The curiosity compelled him further despite all his instincts to flee the area and return to his duties.
No, something was happening here. He needed to know what it was. Why was this place so secretive? What were the AI duo hiding from them all?
As he turned a corner, or what he believed to be one, David pressed on and committed to the endeavour. It was far too late to turn back now.