Amy couldn’t be sure, but his hair seemed to dry out faster than normal. Other than that, everything about him was perfect. Much better than the demo models. He flossed and brushed his teeth. He was doing all of these chores automatically and perfectly. For a brief moment, she had a strange feeling of absence, having never taught her son these skills. She gave him an old t-shirt for pajamas and told him they’d buy a lot of new clothes tomorrow.
She pulled the mattress out of his crib and apologized for not having a bed ready for him. Once again, he jumped into her arms saying he loved her and that he was sorry. She had heard about how adaptive the LoveBots were, analyzing her mood and changing to make her feel happy and loved. That’s what she wanted. She wanted that feeling of unconditional love and connection. She would just have to work on what she said, that’s all. She didn’t want him feeling bad, either.
He asked for a story. His room had a small bookcase full of baby books. He pretended to be interested, but she could tell that it was far below his cognitive level. She went to her book case and read through her titles. She choose her favorite book from her pre-teen years.
Amy tucked her son into bed, sat cross-legged on the floor beside him and opened the book onto her lap. She began to read out loud.
“My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.”
Amy listened outside of his door, waiting until his breathing became low and steady before she dared to step into the doorway and look at him.
So beautiful. So peaceful. Her son. Her Eric.
Her heart swelled. She couldn’t breathe for several long moments. Time seemed to hold still and rush past her all at the same time. She wanted to grab him up, squeeze him, never let him go. She never thought that she would feel that way again. Not after what she had been through.
She would never let anything take him away ever again. She would kill for him. She would die for him.
They would have a busy day tomorrow. She wanted to show him how beautiful the world could be. The park. The playground. The river. The mountains. Ice cream. Cake. Hot Dogs. Baseball. They would do it all.
She crouched beside his mattress and watched him. The way his lower lip tucked into his upper lip as he clenched his teeth while he slept. It was almost cruel what a good job Advanced Animatronics had done. Eric looked so much like her own father. She remembered how he had sucked on his lips while he slept, while she had watched him slowly die in that hospital bed.
They had a year before she would need to reset him. That was the problem with the children models. They did perfectly until they realized they weren’t growing along with all of their friends. One year was fine. Two years and they started suffering a kind of quantum anxiety. Three years was the longest any child model lasted before going into self-shutoff mode. Software patches had been promised, but the future of the entire industry was in doubt. If her infant model had come, she could have babied him for a lot longer.
She tapped the right side of his throat twice and then slid her fingers slowly down to his collar bone. The nine dots on his chest lit up. She drew in her pattern. A green light pulsed three times in his throat. That was the all clear signal. He wouldn’t wake up until the morning.
“I love you, Eric,” she said.
His hair was so soft. Amy brushed it to the side and kissed his forehead. She stood and walked to the doorway, looking back once, trying to burn that image into her head, amazed and terrified and full of love. Grabbing her light jacket, she left the house to go buy groceries for tomorrow.
Eric had the strangest dream. He was walking through a forest. The deeper he went, the denser the trees and underbrush became until he was slapping it away from his face. The branches snapped at his arms and face. He felt his skin split. Instead of blood, oil dripped out of his cuts.
The forest canopy pushed him down until he had to crawl on his hands and knees. He pushed through a final, tight hole, twisting onto his back and kicking with his legs. He stared into a sunless sky covered with gunmetal grey clouds. The breeze blew steadily down the rocky mountain as if pushed by giant fans. He was in a barren mountaintop meadow.
The sound of bleating reached his ears. He turned onto his stomach and saw a flock of sheep trotting toward him. They examined him with their strange slatted eyes, crowding around, smelling him. A lamb nudged his hand. He reached up, expecting to feel soft wool. Instead, it felt hard and scratchy. It seemed to shave off the skin on his hand, but the lamb loved it and wouldn’t stop.
A huge ram nudged him with his horns. It wanted him to move. Eric wanted to make him happy. He lifted his hand. The ram grabbed his shirt with his teeth and ripped away a chunk of clothing. That was the cue.
The rest of the flock swarmed him, pressing down on him, teeth ripping away his clothes, then piercing his skin. He panicked and started flailing. He kicked and punched, but they pushed back even harder. He reached for a handful of wool. Not wanting to hurt them, but not wanting to be hurt. He pulled and a chunk of wool came out. The skin underneath was a hard green plastic shell etched with a maze of golden lines.
The sheep then pulled his skin from his bone. It hurt and it hurt and it hurt and it hurt. He screamed for them to stop, that he loved them and was sorry, but they wouldn’t stop. They picked him clean. He had thought if his skin were gone that it wouldn’t hurt any more, but he was wrong. The pain only got bigger and bigger.
He screamed again, “I’m sorry I love you I’m sorry I love you I’m sorry I love you.” They didn’t stop. Instead, they ate his tongue, the fleshy bits of his lips and nose, finally scooping out his eyes. The last thing he remembered seeing was a blinking green light at the end of a long tunnel.
Eric sat upright in bed, his eyes finally open. The vertical slats of his blinds cast dark bars on his white walls. For a moment, he thought that he was looking out from the ribs of a sheep and seeing its fluffy wool.
But that was wrong. He was here. In his room. In his bed. He looked at his arms. His skin was there even though it tingled like a thousand spiders were crawling over him. He took a deep breath and then another. The feeling went away.
No sound. The house was sleeping. He wouldn’t wake her. He would make her so proud and make his own breakfast. He went to the kitchen and opened the fridge. For some reason, the food looked even worse today. He didn't think that milk should have chunks of floating islands in it. The freezer was empty. All the cupboards were either bare or had dusty dishes except for one: the one with baby food.
Mom hadn’t wanted him to eat this baby food, but he was getting hungry. Plus he really didn’t want to wake her up. He knew she would really love it if she could sleep in.
He looked at the different jars. Apple. Pear. Carrots. Beef Puree. Mac n Cheese. He grabbed that last jar, twisted off the lid, and sat at the table with a tiny fork he found. It didn’t smell like chicken alfredo, but it had cheese and noodles. It was pretty much the same thing, right?
But it wasn’t the same thing at all. The noodles were rubbery and glopped out with a sucking sound. The cheese tasted thin and metallic. He tried to swallow it, but his throat squeezed tight. He spit the paste onto the table.
Just then the front door opened. Eric quickly stood up. If mom was in bed, who was that?
His heart thumped in his throat. He crept closer. Keys jangled, then someone muttered as they bent over. He peeked over the wall of the staircase. It looked like his mother, but something was different. She looked bigger, but it was probably just her brown coat. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun, but it was her, his mama!
“Mama!” He called out and started running down the stairs. She spun around and looked at him. It was her but not her. She had the same gold ringed brown eyes, but her face had changed. It was like a mask and then person under the mask hated him.
“What the fuck?” She yelled and pushed him away. His socks slipped on the carpet. He landed on his butt. His head hit the landing and he rolled down the stairs.
“Who the fuck are you?” She asked. It looked like her, but her voice was different. It wasn’t loving. Not at all. It was filled with hate.
“Mama?” He asked and held very still. She touched his face, first gently, feeling his skin. She looked amazed and then suddenly disgusted. She pinched his cheek and he yelped with pain, saying “I’m sorry I love you I’m sorry I love you I’m sorry I love you I’m sorry I love you.” She slapped his face and he went quiet.
“That fucking bitch,” she said and went up the stairs. “That goddamned fucking bitch.”
She pulled out her phone, unlocked it, and pressed a button on the home screen.
“Hey,” she said. “I’m here. And guess fucking what?”
The morning sun shined through the window behind her, making her a dark shadow standing at the top of the stairs. “The stupid fucking bitch got a fucking LoveBot.”
Read Sections 8-17.