Author: J.D. Rice

“Will it hurt?”

The boy looks up at us with tears in its little eyes. We understand that this could mean fear, sadness, confusion, or a myriad of other emotions at this stage of its development. We use the eyes of the father unit to examine the boy’s face to ascertain the meaning of its expression and formulate an adequate response.

Elsewhere, our other units complete a million other tasks. Our processing power goes to constructing engines for interstellar transports, developing new implants to use for agricultural development, studying alien cultures to ensure optimum diplomatic relations, and caring for hundreds of thousands of other children who are being groomed for integration.

This father unit has been the primary conduit through which this boy has been raised. We’ve found that providing limited autonomy for the units who share genetic material with the children can be beneficial for their mental and emotional development and, ultimately, make them more amenable to the integration process.

“It will only hurt a little,” we instruct the father unit to say. “And then you will be part of us. We will be together forever.”

The boy nods, perhaps not convinced at how little the pain will be, but choosing to trust its caretaker for the moment.

There is a statistical likelihood that there will be screaming and fear later. We will need to use a strong hand to reassure the boy then, to ensure its consent.

Why must he consent?

The father unit shudders with emotion for a moment. We decrease local autonomy for its actions from 14 to 12 percent to account for the change.

“Son,” we say. “You can trust us. You will not have to be sad or angry or scared again. We will be with you, in your mind, and we will help you learn so much. We will be together until you are a grown up. We promise.”

Analysis shows that this boy responds well to the words “promise” and “together.” And we use these words to offer true statements, always true statements. Child units are kept with their original caretakers until brain development is complete at age 25, when they are reassigned to a labor cohort fitting their autonomous psychological profile. We can ensure localized happiness with up to 94 percent accuracy, and that number rises every year.

“I. . .” the father unit speaks again, its face contorting into a frown.

Decreasingly localized autonomy to eight percent.

“We. . . dammit.”

The boy’s eyes are widening. Something is wrong.

“Michael, if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to,” the father unit forces autonomous thought through its vocal processor. Adjusting. “If you say no, they won’t force you. I love you.”

Michael hugs me, and for the briefest of moments, I feel free. I know they are coming back. I know they are just rebooting the interface. But I hold my son as tightly as I can, basking in his warmth, giving him all of the affection that is normally so tightly regulated it could hardly be called true affection at all.

“I’m here, buddy,” I say. “I’m here.”

Localized autonomy deactivated.

“Let us go,” we say, breaking from the embrace and taking the child by the hand. “The doctors are waiting.”