September Story (9/21)

"ATAS-AGAAL" by Jeremiah Torrevillas (JTorrevillas)

So continues my September Stories project! If you missed any of them, you can find the full list here.

RE:Pro Duction By Danielle Davis

"I am excited," A17 told her husband. "I am made anxious by the wait we are experiencing. I feel butterflies in my stomach."

"Those are called nerves," DAR:IUS responded in a soothing tone. His default settings automatically interpreted the fluxuations in her speech that indicated stress and pitched his response accordingly. It was what he was build for. "They're--"

"I feel nerves in my stomach," A17 corrected, and DAR:IUS sighed. A17 cocked her head at the recorded sound. "My sensors detect your body language is indicating irritation. Why?"

"I'm not irritated," DAR:IUS lied. It was within his programming to do so for minor deviations from the truth, if he calculated that doing so would diffuse another's stress. "I'm merely updating your syntax learning module regarding colloquialisms. It's perfectly natural to feel nervous. We're about to become parents."

"What if our progeny does not like us?"

DAR:IUS placed his hands on his wife's shoulders. "I'm sure it will--"

"Or what if we are not good parents? What if we raise our child incorrectly? What if its CPU is damaged or...?"

A17 pulled away from him and began to pace the carpet in front of the sliding glass door that faced the balcony of their high-rise. The view outside was the same as most in their economic field: an identical high-rise building set at the regulated twenty-feet away, with an identical apartment directly across from them. The buildings were the EconoSet Apartments, a style designed in the early 3000's to provide housing for the overpopulated urban areas. It more than quadrupled the number of people that could live in an area.

From their balcony door, DAR:IUS could see through the next five apartments across from them. A couple in the apartment three buildings over saw him looking and waved at him. He gave them a half-hearted wave in return.

"Your hormone canisters are running low," he soothed. "You haven't been able to get your upgrade, since you're expecting, and we knew you might experience some mood swings. The doctor warned us about this, remember?"

A17 gave him a worried frown, but didn't stop pacing. He could hear the quick whirring of the engine that served as her heart as she moved. "I feel fine," she snapped. DAR:IUS rolled his eyes. "Besides I think my fears are well-founded given our family history."

"Our family history of what?" DAR:IUS exclaimed. He could hear the strident note in his own voice and issued a command to his mental terminal to increase his serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid levels to calm himself. "Our manufacturing doesn't allow for family histories. Besides, my programming alone is enough to combat any negative psychological issue our child might experience."

It was true. DAR:IUS was made—literally—to combat the common mental afflictions that plagued what remained of the human race. As a DARPA Artificial Response: Interactive Understanding Sciborg, the DAR:IUS model had overtaken the psychology profession. The suicide rate that reached such an extreme during the last terrestrial event (known in history books as Apocalypse II) had initiated a massive response from the commercial synthetic person industry.

So really, DAR:IUS figured, what challenge could a single robot child pose?

But A17, a common judicial recording model, lacked much of his interpersonal programming modules. Though they both had the physical appearance of true humans, even down to the biosynth skin that moved and aged nearly as fast as humans' flesh, A17's functionality geared more towards data recall and retention.

It was one of the things DAR:IUS loved about her. He was certain her knowledge of basic child-rearing practices would be more than adequate to properly raise a socially suitable child. In fact, his certainly average had risen to 87.4 % after seeing her frequent download history; most of her data input consisted of parenting books.

"I remain unconvinced," A17 whined. The poly-synthetic strands of her vocal chords gave a few warning twinges. If she wasn't careful, A17 was going to pop one, which DAR:IUS knew would stress her further. The last time, her voice had remained a whole octave lower for two weeks until they received and installed the replacement chord.

"Is there any data I can provide that would help alleviate your worries about this subject?" DAR:IUS found that if he mimicked her lower-graded speech model rather than his human-grade one, she responded more favorably.

"You think I am behaving irrationally, do you?" A17 demanded, with one hand aggressively planted on one hip.

"No! I just--"

"Then why did we apply for this?" A17 cried, flinging both hands into the air. "Maybe we should just tap in and cancel our--"

There was a knock at the door.

Both of them turned to regard it with frozen expressions of surprise on their faces. As one, they exchanged questioning glances, then shrugged in unison.

A17 moved to the door and placed her hand on the wall next to the door frame. A rectangular glow lit the area around her hand, triggering the top half of the door to become translucent.

"Who is it?"

A thin metal rod shot upward from behind the panel of the door that remained solid. On the end was a small clip with a receipt attached. A17 reached through the clear part of the door, plucked the receipt from the clip, and read it.

She turned wondering eyes to her husband. "It is our RE:Pro Duction kit." Her voice sounded small, like a child's.

DAR:IUS frowned and consulted his iMail via the wireless uplink router implanted in his mental hard drive. "It can't be. Our order wasn't supposed to arrive for another two months."

In response, A17 held out the clear plastic strip of their receipt. Her eyes were wide, like an owl's.

DAR:IUS strode forward and snatched the strip from A17's hand with more force than he intended. He didn't notice the way she cringed back from the movement. A quick scan showed she was right: it really was their RE:Pro D kit.

A17 pulled her hand away and gave the glowing panel a double-tap with her fingers. The lower half of the door faded away and the delivery robot pushed a large green box over the threshold.

The small metal arm retreated back inside its body and the delivery robot gave a happy chirp goodbye.

For a long time they both stared at the box in shared shock and excitement.

"This is it," A17 murmured. "It has finally arrived."

DAR:IUS made a wordless sound that was neither agreement or dissent. His motherboard was whirring away over the ramifications of A17 installing a RE:Pro D kit two months early. Once it was installed to her body, it would only be a matter of hours before their child was released into the world. But the doctor told them that, once approved, all sciborg models capable of reproductive functionality must run the fertility program for the full nine months to ensure the RE:Pro D kit installed correctly. That had meant A17 hadn't been allowed to get her monthly system upgrades and had to utilize specialty hormone canisters designed to encourage her motherboard to accept the progency's immature programming post-installation. To install the kit before the nine months was complete had a high risk probability he didn’t like.

"It has finally arrived," A17 repeated. DAR:IUS detected several minute relaxation points along her body as she let out a long breath.

"It's...bigger than I thought it would be," he muttered.

"It's gigantic." Her voice was breathy and faint.

"Where do you want me to put it?"

A17 glanced toward her feet, considering. After a moment she said, "I estimate the stomach port is the most feasible access point. It will be easier to carry around if it is somewhere toward the middle of my torso."

DAR:IUS frowned. "Your stomach port?" He gave her a blank look.

"For optimal weight distribution," she said in a tone that suggested he should already know that.

With a quick shake of his head, DAR:IUS said, "No, no, I meant where in the apartment did you want to put it. You can't possibly think it's a good idea to begin installation now!" The incredulous tones of his voice set off minor internal alarms that signaled he should practice more careful voice modulation. It was part of his design to be self-aware enough to realize when his behavior might increase the social conflict of a situation.

With a quizzical scowl, A17 shrugged. "Why not? It has arrived. I am ready--"

"But you're not! You're only seven months along in your bio preparation!" The internal alarms increased to the next severity level warning against further emotional escalation. He ignored them.

A17 waved his idea away with a theatrical swipe of her hands. Her voice shifted to a lighthearted, cajoling tone. "It will be fine. The Z13S down the hall installed hers three months early without issue."

"No, absolutely not." DAR:IUS set his hands on his hips and lifted his chin in the air. "I will not risk your programming and that of our child if installation fails. I haven't had time to perform a proper risk mitigation plan in the instance of failure."

"But there will be no failure!" A17 moved forward to grasp his hands in hers. Her eyes were bright with excitement. "The doctor said the likelihood of improper installation was less than 16.4153 %. I think we should proceed. Our wait has been lengthy and difficult to bear."

"You can't possibly think this is a good idea!" DAR:IUS tried to pull his hands from hers, refusing to be mollified, but A17 wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her body against his.

"Honey," she murmured near his ear. She gave him a coy glance from underneath her lashes. A smile played along the edges of her lips.

"No, don't do that," he snapped, trying without success to untangle himself from her arms. "This is the time for discussion, not--"

"Sweetie." She bit lightly on his earlobe. The sensation of it triggered a pleasant shiver down the neuro-nodes of his spine. He suddenly forgot how he had intended to finish his sentence.

"Stop, dear, please," he gasped. He tried to push her hips away but she hooked one leg around the back of one of his and pressed her hips to his. "I'm serious--"

"So am I." Her voice had dropped to a frequency she knew resonated with his sympathetic nervous system program. In response, the biosynth skin along his arms broke out into eager goosebumps. "I want you to install it in me. Now." She growled the word into the cup of his ear and he moaned. His instinctive programming made him wrap his arms around her waist without being aware of doing it.

"I just want to run a proper risk evaluation before..." Her hand crept up to the back of his head and clenched a small fist of his hair. "Oh...oh my..." His arms tightened around her back.

A17 drew back enough to look into his eyes. He marveled at the minute galaxy of copper- and maroon-colored wirework that comprised the technology of her pupils. They were lovely. Her nose brushed his so lightly he wasn't sure if his touch receptors imagined the contact or not.

"Forget the risk evaluation," she whispered. She was close enough that each word was like a small kiss on his own lips. "I just want you. Disconnected. Unplugged. Just you and me and our basic hardware."

He stared into her eyes and wondered what the science behind love was. He knew humans believed it was chemistry, that they were all just biological creatures responding to a certain flavor of pheromone. But that didn't seem logical to him. Not when he analyzed the moments like this, where he could almost feel himself falling more in love with her. Pheromone chemistry didn't make any sense for manufactured equipment like them. They had sensors, yes, but nothing designed to respond to pheromones or play chemical matchmaker.

On a biological level, robots—even complex sciborgs like them—should not have been able to succumb to emotional manipulations, like love or rage. Yet somehow machinery like them had learned to fall in love. And as many times as he'd tried, he could not analyze his way into understanding the connection he had with A17. They just...worked.

"Okay," he breathed against her lips, then he lifted her into his arms and disengaged his mental drive from the uplink connection.

Later, after installation, she caressed the large incubation chamber attached to her mid-section and gave him an indolent smile. The small glass window on the front showed the tiny gears already at work, piecing together small pieces of the bionic body structure and internal wiring.

"What do you think we should name it?" she murmured.

They'd both been speaking in hushed voices for the last hour, as if it were possible to disturb the manufacturing process with environmental noise.

"Well, I've been thinking about one name, but I'm not sure if you'd like it." He looked up from the RE:Pro D window with a shy smile. "I kinda want to name it after me."

She grinned back. "Know what? I was thinking the same thing, actually. What do you think of '2.0'?"

DAR:IUS gave her a delighted smile. "You'd be ok with us calling it 2.0?"

A17 nodded. He loved the way her eyes crinkled at the corners when she smiled like that.

He looked back at the window that showed their child's progress. He imagined the small lasers he saw were working on their child's motherboard. He placed his palm gently against the glass. "Little 2.0, I can't wait to meet you," he whispered.

A17 placed her hand over his against the window. "Well, Daddy, in about five more hours, you will."

Total Writing Time: 2 hr., 23 min.

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