No good deed goes unpunished, an advice Celyn Kabar soon wishes she had heeded, for when trying to help she finds herself in the hands of a captor whose definition of good care involves cribs, diapers and supervised play time.
Chapter Description: Everyone grows tired of being an adult sometimes. Yet, how do you deal with something for which adulthood is a flawed concept? And could there be a more childish thing than hoping a child could give you your freedom back?
Celyn Kabar walked down the street of the docks in an energy-saving, half conscious mode. Work at Walmart was horrible. At least at her store. The customers were behaving like overgrown toddlers, screaming if thing didn’t go their way and her boss … She shook her head, trying to clear her mind of her boss’s face and threw an empty coffee cup in the next trash bin.
“Come on. Come on. Come on!”
Celyn stopped. It was the voice of a child, sounding angry and scared. She looked around. The sound came out of the alley between two warehouses. Part of her told her to simply call the police, but the child sounded more urgent by the second. She just went to investigate.
Celyn walked past some containers to a half open door. The voice was clearly coming from it. Carefully she opened it completely, staring into darkness. For a moment there was silence, then something rushed out of it and into her. She stumbled and fell on her butt. Confused and afraid of having become the victim of a trap, she looked around. There was no mugger, only a naked, brown-haired boy of maybe ten, who stumbled to the ground besides her.
For a moment they both looked at each other in total surprise. Celyn noticed that his skin seemed oily and he smelled strange … like something she sometimes had smelled from her younger cousins. Before she could identify it, the boy moved away from her, crawling backward with a terrified look on his face.
“Don’t be afraid,” she tried to calm him. Down.
“Behind you …” he managed to shout, still crawling away.
Celyn looked around. She noticed something moving in the darkness. Paralyzed by fear and not noticing anything else – did the boy shout? – she saw a giant, metallic hand coming forth. Before she could react, it grabbed her left foot and began to pull her into the building. She twisted, turned around and tried to hold on to the ground, but it was to no avail, as a powerful, mechanical forced dragged her in further and further. The last thing she saw from the outside were the wide eyes of the boy.
The door fell shut and darkness engulfed her.
Celyn groaned slightly as she awoke. For a moment she didn’t remember what had happened, but then … She shot up, looking around. Bars surrounded her on all sides. She was trapped. Kidnapped, by whoever … As she sat up, she felt her legs being pushed apart rather strongly. Looking down she noticed to her disbelief that she was wearing a onesie and underneath a diaper.
Some pervert had to have undressed her and changed her into … this?
The shock of being violated this way was overcome by the shock of wearing this outfit. Not quite believing it, the woman touched the onesie – pink/white with strawberries – feeling her breasts underneath and then her lower parts – the diaper was so thick that she hardly felt her groin. Three buttons held it in place, but as she tried to loosen them, she found them fixed too tightly. Frustrated she looked around. What she saw made her distrust her senses even more.
She was in a giant crib, with a cute deer at the top of the end ahead of her and a mobile with stars and moons above her. This alone should have been absurd, but as she looked around, she realized the room was a nursery. Pink walls with fairy castles, unicorns and princesses. A white ceiling. There were toys in one corner and some colorful balloons on the other. A mirror … but she quickly looked away from what she saw in there. Most shocking to Celyn was the giant changing table next to her.
Furiously she stood up, having problem to do so due to the diaper pressing her legs slightly apart and having to prop on the bars of the crib. She had barely stabilized, when she noticed that the edge of the crib was still a head over her. She also realized another thing about the room. It looked all fresh, as if her captor had just built it. Also, there was no window …
Suddenly she heard a mechanical buzzing from above. Looking up she discovered to her shock how a part of the ceiling receded and something like a large white camera was lowered from the dark space above its blue iris, emitting a slight blue light focused on her like an eye.
“Hello Celyn,” a soft female voice greeted her. “I hope you had a nice nap.”
“Release me!” The woman snapped at who ever watched her behind the camera.
“Of course,” the voice replied. “I will lift you out of your crib. If you behave,”
“Behave?” Celyn tried to make sense of it. “Who are you? Where am I? Why have you dressed me in this?”
“Oh, so many big questions for a little girl!” The voice chuckled, revealing a slight echo in it. “I’m Anni and this is my daycare. Aren’t you glad I got you out of these bland clothes and into ones which are more fun and fitting to you?”
“I’m an adult,” Celyn replied, still not making sense of it. “Not a baby.”
“Of course, you are a baby, silly,” the voice insisted in the sweetest voice. “Or would you rather I call you a toddler?”
“Such big numbers!” The voice noticed. “No wonder you are confused trying to make sense of them in your little head.
Celyn came to the conclusion that she talked with a madwoman. Still, maybe she would get information out of her.
“Why have you abducted me?”
“I did want to catch a little boy, but you got in the way,” the voice explained, while the camera turned away for a moment, as if it wanted to think. “A mistake for me, but the luckiest day for you.”
“Luck?” Celyn asked, growing more and more confused. The movement of the camera seemed almost organic.
“Because you are here now, sweety,” the voice explained, slowly as if to a young child. “No more nasty adult worries. No more having to work. No more danger. You will see. It is all safe, bright and warm here in my daycare. Full of games, friends and fun. You won’t need to worry ever again. Anni is there for you.”
Celyn felt her stomach twist at the mention of forever.
“I want to speak to you face to face,” she demanded.
For a moment there was silence, allowing Celyn to hear the sound of motors coming from seemingly far above and of behind the walls. Where the hell was she?
“You already did,” the voice noticed. “But if you promise to behave, I will lead you to a playdate.”
Celyn glared at the camera. She couldn’t make sense of it, but nodded, hoping to find someone who could help her to do so.
She expected that her captor would come to get her out of the crib or send someone, but she was wrong. A moment later she could hear the motors again. Three large hands, hanging on mental tentacles approaching from the darkness above. They were the same as the ones which had dragged her inside the warehouse and like them they seemed to possess a will of their own. Panels on three of the room’s walls opened, each releasing another hand. They all moved in her direction. Scared, Celyn made a step back, lost the grab, on the unusual soft ground and fell on her padded butt.
The voice chuckled. “Careful little one.”
“Stay away from me!” Celyn demanded.
Four hands stopped just above the crib.
“You want to get out, do you?” The voice asked.
Celyn remained silent, but also still.
Two of the large hands grabbed her around her waist. Celyn fought the urge to resist and felt herself lifted effortlessly out of the crib. Instead of being allowed to stand on the carpet, though, she remained lifted in the air. Two smaller hands opened the pins of her onesie.
“What …” Celyn began.
“It is silly to go play in your sleep time-onesie, isn’t it?” The voice asked. “Except if you really want to.”
Celyn didn’t, so she didn’t fight, when the hands removed the onesie by pulling it over her head. This left her naked but for a pink bra and a diaper which had a cute bird and a rabbit on it.
“I don’t need the diaper, either!” Celyn said, as she was lowered on the soft, pin carpet.
“All babies need their nappies, silly!” The voice replied cheerfully. “Isn’t it soft and comfy?”
“You will get used to it soon,” the voice assured her in a comforting tone.
Celyn held back a reply, knowing cooperation would help her more right now.
Celyn obeyed and her world became dark, as something was pulled over her. As she could see again, she looked in the mirror only to discover she now wore a denim romper with a rainbow on the front. Colorful flowers in red and yellow were printed on the sides. The frilled ends not even covering the diaper. Also, her black hair … pigtails, just as she had seen it before but tried to block it out. It was eerie. Her adult form clearly didn’t belong to such an outfit. At the same time everything else in this … nursery was large enough for her to fit in.
“No reason to be nervous,” the voice said. “I’m sure the other little toddlers will love to play with you.”
Celyn gave up on trying to pull her romper down a bit more and glared at the camera. The lens looked like a large blue eye. If only the rest had the shape of a head, it would have been easier for her to feel anger for the person behind it.
Before the woman could say something though, the door of the room opened. For a heartbeat she nearly ran through it, but then she remembered the boy … he had run, but he had found the door leading outside, and she had no idea where she was. She remembered the hands dragging her inside …
A mechanical hand came to her side. Celyn looked at it for a moment and then wordlessly took it. It closed around her own hand soft, but strong and began leading her to the door. It did so slow, but the woman still found herself struggling to keep up at first. The thick bulk of the diaper made her toddle, while the soft carpet felt strange on her naked feet.
Celyn peeked outside. There was a floor with a tapestry showing scenes of Peter Rabbit, Winni the Pooh and other comic characters suited for pre-ks. The carpet was slightly yellow, showing crayons, balls, pacifiers and rattles. It was nothing you wouldn’t expect in a daycare … except it seemed as large as the room she was in.
“Don’t be afraid little one,” the voice said warmly. “Nothing can harm you here.”
Again, Celyn glared up at the camera, only to look down, when the mechanical hand pulled free of her own. She looked confused up into the darkness above her, where it receded, only for it – or another, she really couldn’t say – to come back down on the other side and offering itself to her again.
A failure in construction, Celyn thought, as she stepped out of the room and reluctantly took the hand again. Who ever build this wasn’t perfect.
The woman took great care to capture every detail she could, as much to find a way of escape as to distract herself of the humiliation of her situation … the soft thickness gently but firmly pressing her legs apart.
She turned around. The door she had just stepped out of possessed no handle, also it had obviously not been built along the corridor, but must had been added later. As she looked up, she noticed that the wall above it just ended after a while, revealing some piece of metal which reminded her of one of the large shipping containers … Was it this? Had the room she had been in once been a decorated container which was later added to … What?
Celyn looked further around, as the hand began to gently lead her along. There was no ceiling over her, at least she could see nothing but darkness. It wasn’t a void though, for there were sounds coming from it. Hammering, screwing, moving. Sounds of work, though largely overplayed by the soft tune of “Wheels on the Bus” coming from somewhere else. Was she still in the warehouse? It seemed impossible, but if so, maybe it raised her chance for escape. If a boy could, so could she.
The hand continued to lead her, so Celyn lowered her gaze. There corridor continued, though it had twists and turns. There were occasionally other doors, having cute bears, birds or kitten on them, but no window, making it hard for her to guess how long she had already walked. A hundred meters? Two? She felt a slight pressure on her bladder and guessed it came from the coffee she had drunk before her kidnapping. The unusual toddling didn’t help either.
Finally, the hand led her around a turn to the left and stopped in front of a gate. It wasn’t a real gate, but a plastic one in green, red and blue, looking like the entrance to a barn. Over it she could read in colorful letters ‘Little Playfield’. It was large enough so Celyn couldn’t clearly see behind it, but already the hand let go of her and opened the gate.
“Come on little one,” the voice said in an encouraging tone. “You will have so much fun there.”
As the woman was still reluctant, the hand softly pulled her forward. Stepping in, Celyn discovered the room exactly what she had feared it to be. A large playroom as every daycare had it. Plastic slide and seesaw. Little chairs and even a sand pit in a large plastic shell. Colorful bouncy balls and building blocks. Giant teddy bears and other plush toys … this and more in various shelves. Most in her size.
The hand let go of her and Celyn could hear the door behind her being closed and had almost turned around to protest, to demand to go somewhere else, but then she discovered that she wasn’t alone. There was a woman with a blond ponytail sitting beside the sand pit. Like her she was dressed like a baby, wearing a diaper and a pink shirt with a smiling sun, but unlike her she seemed content, playing with the sand using a plastic bucket with Ariel on it and a shovel.
Not knowing what she could make out of it, Celyn slowly approached her. She did so silently, her bare feet making no sound on the soft, colorful carpet, but the other woman seemed too deep in her play for her to notice her anyway. This only changed, when she was near an arm’s length from her and coughed. When she did so, she flinched.
“Who …” the other woman began, clearly startled. “You …”
For a moment both just starred at each other, then the strange woman looked up.
“Anni!” She shouted angrily. “Was this necessary?”
“She was wandering around outside,” their captors voice replied friendly. “Aren’t you happy you aren’t alone until Jess is back? Maybe you could play house.”
The woman glared up into the darkness above, then she turned to Celyn.
She pointed to a place next to her with another set of shovel and bucket. “Best sit down and grab a toy.”
“I won’t play,” Celyn replied, preferring to stand.
“Pretend,” the woman explained. “Anni doesn’t know the difference.”
“I do,” Anni’s voice came from. “But babies learn so much by pretend.”
Again, the woman briefly looked up, scowling.
“I’m Barbara,” she introduced herself. “Barbara Kyre.”
She sat down, something she found hard to do with the bulk of the diaper hindering her. In the end she knelt, only to fall the last centimeters, a fall she hardly noticed due to the padding of the diaper. What she noticed was the pressure once she tried to push her legs together, so she let them spread. The other woman looked at her in sympathy and something else …
“Do you know our kidnapper?” Celyn asked. “Who is this woman?”
Anna shook her head. “She is no woman. She is an artificial intelligence and we built her.”
Celyn starred at her. The woman had seemed sane despite her outfit. Maybe their captor had already broken her, but …
“I and Jess,” the woman answered. “Anni said he escaped. Did you see anything?”
“No, but a boy raced past me through the door. This Anni was after him when she got me.”
Barbara’s face lit up. “That was him!”
“The boy?” Celyn asks and the woman nodded. “A child prodigy?”
“He is as old as I am. See …” The woman stopped, her voice suddenly sounding firmer, as she probably realized how mad she sounded. “Play with a toy and speak silent. She can’t hear as good as you might think.”
Not convinced, but seeing no better way to find out what to do, Celyn grabbed a blue plastic cup and began to fill it with sand.
“He really escaped?” Barbara asked silently.
“Yes, as far as I know,” she made a small hill out of the sand. “He rushed past me out of the door. When the hands pulled me in, he was still free. Free and naked.”
Barbara seemed to smile for a heartbeat, then she shook her head.
“Genial … I knew he had planned something, but …” She stopped, seeing the expression on the other woman’s face. “Let me explain: We are programmers. App-Environment-Utility-Resources. An independent company. One step above startups.”
“As I said, we aren’t Microsoft,” Barbara replied, a hint of irritation in her voice, as she grabbed a small plastic rack and began drawing lines in the sand. “We earned a bit by creating solutions for smaller companies. Built up trust. Got a certain name in the right circles, enough to get a large project from … a group of daycares.”
Celyn stopped in taking up another cup of sand.
“We were given the job to create a system to help the staff take care of children age two and younger, so we created A.N.N.I.. Automatic Nursery Nanny Integrated … not the most fitting name, but the acronym would sell and … ” Barbara briefly looked up. “She was to be a limited A. I., capable of watching the children play, inform caretakers in emergencies or give tips. She should also learn to deal with new situations, but she … got out of control.”
Stunned Celyn thought that this was an understatement if there ever was one.
“We first noticed strange activities of the system. Then we discovered her making connections with the internet outside her parameters. Even banking activities. We investigated and found it linked to this warehouse. We paid it a visit …” The woman looked around. “It was a trap.”
Celyn understood and could quite feel the horror of the woman, but she didn’t sympathize in the least.
“How dumb are you?!” She shouted.
“Language!” Anni called from above. “We don’t use mean words here.”
“It is okay,” Barbara said, looking up. “We play nice.”
She gave Celyn a pleading look and thus managed to control herself … for now.
“What about your partner?” Celyn asked. “Why is he a boy? Did you develop a youth ray, too?”
“Anni did. It is a sort of serum. I … I don’t think she developed it. She has limits. More likely she stole it from some servers. From a company or a secret government project.” Barbara touched the sand with her hand. “He resisted, so she said it was his body sending him the wrong signals.”
“Fools,” Celyn murmured and true to Barbara’s word, the A. I. didn’t seem to hear or object this time.
“We knew the cliché,” the other woman tried to explain. “We even joked about it, but her code showed that she wasn’t acting outside of her parameters … couldn’t. She still only exists to watch over babies.”
“I’m not a baby!” Celyn hissed as silently as she could.
“No, but Anni doesn’t see the difference. For her we all fall in this age group no matter how old we really are,” the woman looked in the sand, clearly going over it in her head. “She doesn’t properly apply the category. A simple error.”
Barbara looked up and winced at the anger she saw in the other woman’s eyes.
“Celyn please …”
She lifted her hands with the palms to her. A gesture meant to placate Barbara, but the other woman just saw the childishness of it and it enraged her further. She threw the cup in the sand and tried to stand up. The bulk between her legs hindered her, so she was first on all fours before staggering up, her eyes locked on Barbara.
The programmer also tried to rise, but likewise hindered by her diaper, she was barely on her knees as the other woman jumped into her. Barbara fell backwards. Still on her knees, it wasn’t a hard fall for Celyn had still stumbled and not gotten to use the strength she obviously had wanted to use on her. Instead, both women wrestled on the ground, rolling until they landed in the sand with Celyn on the top.
“FUCKING MANIAC!” The woman shouted, pressing her hands against Barbara’s and bringing them down.
“I know. I know,” the programmer replied, desperate to calm the furious woman down. “I’m sorry.”
Celyn wasn’t caring and pushed harder. The feeling of her diaper pressing against that of the woman under her only enraged her more. Barbara saw the fury in the other woman’s eyes. Fury she could understand all too well, but felt slowly being crushed, as she was pressed further and further down. Suddenly the fury in the eyes vanished, leaving behind shock. At first Barbara didn’t understand, but a heartbeat later her attacker was pulled back by the large hands around the woman’s torso.
“Attacking other children is a no-no!” Anni reprimanded her. “Using bad words, too.”
Her large video camera had come down along with multiple arms, one of which now waved a finger in a stern manner. This only served to enrage the woman again. She kicked her legs in the free air and tried with her hands to loosen the grip around her waist. It was to no avail and had the mechanical hands really let go of her, she would have fallen at least two meters.
“Let go!” Celyn shouted despite of this.
“You are over excited,” the A. I. replied in a soothing tone. “Maybe you need a time out in your crib.”
“No!” Celyn protested.
Somehow the thought of being alone in some room was suddenly even worse than spending time with one of the persons responsible for it. Despite her protest, she felt the arms carrying her forward.
“Anni!” Barbara shouted. “Wait.”
To the supermarket employee’s surprise, the hands stopped.
“I know she shouldn’t have attacked me, but this is all so new to her. She needs time to adjust and I …” Barbara looked into the other woman’s eyes. “I want someone to play with.”
Celyn couldn’t believe what she had just heard. This was ridiculous! No way the A. I. could believe this. And yet, the hands held her in position.
“Unruly children aren’t good for the atmosphere of a daycare,” Anni reasoned.
“There aren’t any other children,” her creator replied. “If she goes to her room, I will, too.”
Again, there was silence. Then the camera turned to Celyn.
“Do you promise to play nice?”
The woman grimaced. She would rather have a 24 hours shift on Christmas, but the alternative was even worse. She nodded.
“Then open your mouth.”
“Why should I …”
Celyn was stopped mid sentences, as one of the hands plucked something in her mouth.
“Mhhh!” She tried to scream, fearing she was gagged.
“It is all right,” Anni explained. “It is just a pacy to keep the nasty words in.”
Celyn touched her face, finding a structure of plastic around her lips. She chewed on it and felt the soft plastic giving in. It was indeed a pacifier! She tried to spit it out, but Anni’s hand held it in place.
“It is this or your crib,” the A. I. said.
The woman froze. The way she was talked to and the choice she was given … a toddler’s choice … was nearly as bad as the feeling of the pacifier filling out her mouth. Yet, even this seemed better than the thought of sitting somewhere alone in a crib … alone with this mad machine.
Celyn nodded and a moment later was slowly lowered onto the sand in a way that she touched the ground with her diaper first, her legs spread.
“Now play nice you two and you will soon see how stupid these grown-up things you worry about were,” Anni said and one of her hands placed a yellow plastic shovel and a plastic bucket with Arielle on it in front of the woman. “Let your imagination run wild.”
With this the hands and the eye of the A. I. retreated back up. Celyn was left to glare at the toys. She didn’t want to play. She didn’t want to have the pacifier in her mouth, yet she reluctantly took the shovel up and began pushing a bit sand around. Better to pretend than to deal with a mad robot.
From a bit away Barbara watched this with a knot in her stomach. A part of her told her she should be mad at the woman who had attacked her, but rationally she knew she had no right to it. It was her fault that they were here. She wanted to walk to her, but decided against it as she was on her knees and crawled over the sand instead. It was humiliating, especially since she felt the diaper between her legs this way even more, as her butt was in the air, but probably worth it. Anni was always watching and doing things in line with how young children behaved made her invest less resources in watching them. Barbara had programmed her this way and she hoped the A. I. hadn’t evolved in this regard since then.
As Barbara reached the other woman thus looked up. The large pacifier— its sides having forms of stars and its middle a heart – made her face look younger, with the pigtails of her hair completing the expression. There was still anger in her eyes, but even more hurt and the slight glittering of unshed tears.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “You have to have hope. Jess will have a plan.”
For a moment Celyn looked as if she wanted to say something around her pacifier, but then she closed her mouth again and turned to her shovel, again shifting sand around and ignoring the other woman. Barbara sighed, knowing she better found herself a toy to play with. Silently she prayed she was right and her partner had a plan. If not, she knew he was working on one.
Working was the last thing on the children’s minds who had gathered in the park for a good round of soccer. Emboldened by the sun and the heat of their own bodies, some even had gotten rid of their shirts and shoes, throwing them on a heap as they stormed on the grass, hunting a ball. Fixated on their goal, they failed to notice another child approaching. Disheveled looking, the boy wore a dirty yellow shirt and likewise dirty shorts, which someone looking closer might have identified as regular trousers for adults someone had cut around the knees. Yet, no one looked at him, so he walked by, grabbed into the heap and left without hurry to not attract attention.
Luck, Jess thought as he had reached a secure place in the undergrowth, I really have luck.
The programmer hated luck, but he had to admit he already had had a whole bunch of it this morning. It began with his escape from Anni, to still naked finding a box with old clothes in a nearby alley. The clothes had been oversized, but some cutting with a glass shard and pulling up the sleeves had managed to give him a rough street kid look rather than one of a lost boy CPS would look for. Still barefoot, he had managed to reach the park, only for luck to strike again, giving him the opportunity to get some clothes, most importantly a pair of white, worse to wear sneakers, but also a black football shirt. Both were too large for him, but just a size or two and as he put them on, he thought he could walk through the better parts of the city without looking like an urchin … rather the child of cheap parents, waiting for him to grow into it.
A child …
Jess looked at the next pond. The child looking back at him look disheveled and disheartening young. Parts of his mind still couldn’t bring himself to truly believe it and yet it was him. Touching his soft, hairless chin he guessed he could be not much older than eight or maybe ten if he stressed it. Not too young to be outside alone, really, ye this unkempt hair and dirty face ...
Careful not to slip into the water, Jess knelt down and began cleaning his hair, face and arms, getting rid of dirt and the rest of baby oil. He had used the latter to become slippery enough for Anni’s hands not to be able to grab him, as he had rushed through a crack in her nursery center, managing to evade her long enough to find a way out. He could still outsmart her; this was maybe the most important and uplifting thing he had learned this morning. Taking a look at some ducks who watched him curiously and who a true child only a bit younger than him would have found cute, he stood up and left the undergrowth for the nearest way out of the park.
The streets on his way looked different from Jess’s new perspective, making it even harder for him to navigate, yet he didn’t feel discouraged. The regressed adult knew he couldn’t allow himself this, as it would make him look like he was a lost child. Instead, he tried to look mature, secure and knowing where he was going. This wasn’t even hard, since he had a plan. An idea he had gotten when he had also planned his escape from the A.I.. Jess had a goal and would be dammed if he would let himself be stopped now that he had come so far.
Yet, on his way the regressed man found himself looking up now and then. It weren’t the adults he looked at – they hardly paid him a notion – but the security cameras he could see here and there. Their unblinking, supposedly unintelligent eyes reminded him of when the doors of the hall had shut behind him and Barbara and they had come face to face with their creation.
Don’t be paranoid now, he told himself. You know she can’t extend her consciousness so far.
Yet, always reminding himself of where the last time he underestimated his creation had led him, he again glanced at a security camera near a bank as he passed them. Looking back down he froze, as realized there was a cop car just right of him. The officers, a woman with a ponytail of blond hair and a bald black man, were standing in front of it and had a chat over their cups of coffee.
“Hey, take care!”
The man in business suit who had complained walked past him and Jess followed. He avoided looking at the cops again as he passed them, trying to look as natural as a carefree child. Of course, he had no idea how one looked like, so he briefly whistled the X-Files-Tune as he was right next to them and then continued his way without looking back.
Having passed this potential danger, the rest of the way turned out to be child’s play. Jess didn’t go for his apartment, nor for his and Barbara’s workplace. The things there might help him, but it would be obvious he would try to reach them. While he had no clue how Anni could possibly do more than surveil it, he didn’t want to make it too easy for her. Instead, he finally stopped near a large apartment complex. His luck continued, as the door leading into it was open, but at last ended when he reached the second level and knocked at the door being his destination.
No one opened.
“Come on Bruce!” Jess begged and knocked again. “Be back!”
His friend had been on a weekend off the grid. No smartphone or internet connection, as he didn’t want to risk his boss getting him. Jess had smiled at this, but now it meant there had been no chance of Anni impersonating him with his own smartphone she now possessed … if she even needed it … if she hadn’t found him a potential risk and taken care of him.
“Mr. Bernhard isn’t here.”
Jesse spun around, seeing an older man, near bald and propping on a cane eying him suspiciously.
“I wonder how you know him.”
The regressed man swallowed. He knew he better had to think of something … quick.
“I … I’m Je …” He stopped. “Jonas. I’m Jess’s son. Jess is my father.” He laughed out of sheer nervousness, but the man kept looking suspicious. “He and Bruce … I mean Mr. Bernhard are friends.” Jess thought only a heartbeat. “He sent me here to collect money.”
“Money?” The old man’s voice became even more suspicious.
“Yes, because Bru … Mr. Bernhard owns dad twenty dollars. I wanted to do some shopping and dad meant I should ask him for it.”
The old man just looked at him a long moment. He didn’t quite believe him and Jess couldn’t hold it against him. It sounded strange, but not too strange. Of course, his clothes might make him look suspicious, but the old man had no way to be sure.
Finally, he shook his head. “He isn’t back, yet. Your father should have known.”
Jess did not have to fake his disappointment. Bruce might have extended the trip … or Anni could have gotten him … but no, he wouldn’t go there. Time to leave. He had other options and ways he could possibly counter her. Yet …
“Can I have a paper and a pen?”
“Why?” Again, suspicion rose in the old man’s voice.
“I want to write a note to proof I was here,” Jess lied. “Also, a friend’s number just if he still comes back in the next hour.”
The old man starred at him, then he gave a good imitation of a grunt and stepped aside.
“Come in and I will fetch it.”
Jess made half a step, then he stopped. There was a glimmer in the old man’s eyes he didn’t like.
“Dad says I shouldn’t go into stranger’s apartment,” he explained. “Can you bring it to me?”
The man looked at him a long moment, then he grumbled something under his beard, turned and entered his apartment. When he came back, he handed Jess the promised materials who those used to write a short note containing all the information he felt his friend would need.
“I will hand it to him,” the old man promised, as he saw the boy was done.
“Thank you,” Jess said as polite as possible, while folding the paper. “You did enough.”
With this he put the folded pater under Bruce’s door. The man’s eyes narrowed again, but he said nothing, as Jess handed him the pen, but starred after him when he left for the stairs.
Being out of sight, Jess left out a sigh, finally relaxing. This had been … unsettling. Anni had tried to make him act like a child, but never succeeded. Standing in front of this adult and having to talk to him though … He tried to shake the feeling as he left the apartment complex.
He turned left.
Plans. With Bruce seemingly having decided to prolong his trip to the countryside, he would have to go for plan B. He would have to somehow get into his old lab and …
A hand landed firmly on his shoulder
“Where are you going son?”
Turning around he discovered two police officers standing behind him.
He was in trouble!
Celyn was in trouble.
Sitting on the floor in front of a tv, wearing only a toddler’s dress and a diaper it was hard to deny this, yet she tried to downplay it at least, if only so she didn’t have to scream.
My parents finding out I had smoked a joint was bad, she thought.
She looked down on the bulk of her diaper and longed for this day.
The day I wrecked my car on the parking lot was bad, she tried to tell herself.
She could feel the soft rubber of the pacifier in her mouth.
Working during Black Friday was worse!, she tried to convince herself.
Against her will, Celyn looked around. The playroom was as bright and sickening sweet, as it had been the first time. For a moment she had the vision of it being full of large babies, screaming, running around playing wildly.
Black Friday was way worse!, she repeated, her thoughts sounding desparate.
This little bit of comfort was stripped away, when her eyes fell on the mirror next to her. There she was. Her denim shirt with the rainbow on the front and the diaper clearly visible under it. The pigtails on her head and the pacifier in her mouth … she couldn’t kid anyone. She was in larger trouble than she ever had been.
Her eyes turned to the woman besides her. Barbara with her pink shirt, who rested her head on a large bouncy ball she had placed between her legs. She watched the screen with obvious disinterest, but at the same time displayed a distance to her circumstances Celyn envied her for. Still she felt the heat of anger for the other woman. One of the two people responsible for all of this. The other one was now a little boy … and her only hope.
Fighting the emotions of hate and despair threatening to wash over her, Celyn turned to the tv. It was a cartoon show about a little princess. ‘Since there are just you girls for now.’ Anni had explained, making her wish every computer virus there was on the A.I..
Hoping it would let her at least daydream of the outside world a bit, Celyn tried to follow the show, where the princess, of course wearing pink dress was just riding on her unicorn through the forest with a fairy at her side.
“I don’t like the forest!” The princess complained, slight fear in her voice.
As if to confirm this an owl made herself known loudly from one of the trees, making the little girl shudder.
“Nonsense!” The little fairy told her while flying by her side. “There is so much to see in a forest! Can you tell me the colors?”
“Brown.” The princess pointed at the trunk of the trees, which became instantly brighter.
She pointed at the tops of the trees. “Green.”
She pointed at her dress. “Pink.”
“Yellow.” She pointed at the fairy who giggled, obviously happy to have distracted her friend.
“White!” The princess finally said and embraced her white unicorn which neighed and began to gallop faster, making her giggle.
Next, they came to a river where a happy fish just sprang out of.
“Right!” The fairy said. “The river is blue and deep, so be careful not to go too near to it!”
“But how do we get over it?” The princess wondered.
Celyn rolled her eyes. Colors. Safety. Little adventures while teaching a princess about her kingdom. Basic child education. Not exciting for anyone past kindergarten, but strangely calming. She had no idea why, until she realized she was sucking the pacifier. Disgusted she instantly stopped, only to realize another thing. Maybe it was seeing the river, but she suddenly became aware of a pressure on her bladder.
First going on all fours, then the knees, she finally pushed herself up and looked around.
“What it is it?” Barbara asked, having noticed it.
Damn it!, she thought and spit out her pacifier.
“Where is the toilet?”
It wasn’t the other woman who answered. “You are wearing it.”
Celyn looked up to see Anni’s camera coming down from the darkness above.
“You are insane!” The woman replied furiously.
“Language!” Anni told her.
Meanwhile one of her hands picked up the pacifier while another cleaned it with a wipe.
“Can’t she use the potty?” Barbara asked, having stood up herself. “It has been a very rough day for her already.”
“59,76 % of all parenting guides advise to set clear, easy rules and stick with them,” Anni explained. “Switching practices only confuses your little minds.”
The image of herself sitting on a giant training potty in the middle of the room flashed up in Celyn’s mind, which only enhanced the pressure on her bladder.
“I won’t use a potty nor will I use this diaper,” she protested. “Where are the toilets?”
Anni’s eye turned to her. “You won’t have to worry about toilets ever again.”
“I won’t piss myself like a baby!”
“You are confused by all the stupid things your society taught you,” Anni explained, seemingly forever patient. “These ideas about being an adult and that you need a potty are just in your head. Let go of it and you can do it, like you little friend did.”
Celyn looked to Barbara whose cheeks became red and only briefly met her eyes before looking away.
“I know you are confused because you don’t remember how easy it is use to use a nappy, how natural,” Anni continued, her eye coming close and circling the woman. “No need to think of messes, small or big. Anni will just lay you on the changing table and you will be fresh as rain in no time at all, ready to continue playing with your friend. I might even give you a lolly afterwards, if you behave.”
Celyn had enough of this crap. If she wasn’t given the dignity of a toilet, she would relieve herself on the floor … or even on the sand like an ordinary cat. The thought nearly made her laugh, as she touched the tapes of her diaper, but before she could open them, Anni’s hand grabbed her arms and pulled them away.
“You can go jaybird later,” the A.I. informed her. “Now Anni wants you to make a little tinkle!”
“You can’t …”
Celyn couldn’t finish her protest, as robotic hands began to tickle her sides.
“No!” She shouted. “Stop!”
“Little Celyn makes a tinkle,” Anni half sang.
As much as she tried to suppress it, Celyn giggled, not just because of the tickling, but also because of the robot’s silly tone and the whole insane situation. Finally, her legs gave in and the dam burst. A part of her mind tried to deny it, but she felt the front of her diaper growing warm. Desperately she tried to stop it, but the tickling lasted, robbing her of willpower and the swelling diaper prevented her of pressing her legs together. The river flew as long as there was liquid to feed it and when it ended, so did the tickling.
“Wasn’t such hard, was it?” Anni asked sympathetically.
Celyn didn’t know what to say, but starred from her still swelling diaper to the AI’s large eye.
“Time for a change.”
As soft as that the woman would nearly describe it as lovingly, the arms lifted her up. She looked down to see her naked feet dangling over the floor and as she looked up, she noticed her destination. A large changing table, easily large enough for her to stretch out on. Its soft plastic mat was decorated with colorful teddy bears, the edges slightly higher to prevent her from accidently rolling down. There was even a safety belt, Anni strapped around her breast the moment she had placed her on the table.
The mat felt soft but slightly cold and strange under her and Celyn wanted to protest, only to have the pacifier put back into her mouth the moment she opened it.
“Now, now,” Anni cooed, her large camera eye hovering over her. “Let me get this squishy little thing of you.”
A hand grabbed her ankles and lifted them in the air, along with her diaper-wearing butt. Celyn wanted to look, but another hand appeared, holding something colorful in red, yellow and blue. It was only when it shook it, causing a specific sound, that she realized it was a rattle. Behind it she could see the sides of her diaper opened and then her front and back cleaned with wipes. It felt strangely good and caring. Finally, the used diaper and wipes were being carried away and a fresh diaper placed under her butt, before it was lowered again.
Celyn saw hands with baby oil and powder approaching and decided she didn’t want to watch. Nor would she look at the rattle, but instead looked up at where the ceiling was supposed to be, but instead was darkness, probably hiding a lot of machinery the AI’s hands needed to operate. She felt the oil being applied to her butt and vulva and tried not to think of it. They were in a storehouse, probably not even a hundred meters away from other humans. From sanity. It was so easy to forget. So ridiculous to think this could happen, but it did. For Anni this was as normal as changing a toddler, for she had no other concept programmed into her.
“There, all better!” The AI said.
The hands lifted Celyn up and made her stand on the changing pad. She looked down, only to stiffen and holding on to the hands. The table seemed to be three meters high!
“Don’t worry!” Anni told, her, her eye floating in front of her. “I will always keep you safe.”
Celyn looked into the camera and just for the briefest of seconds she felt thankful for it. Then she looked around and saw herself in a large mirror next to the table. Dressed like a baby. Held like a baby. Having her diaper changed like a baby. She even still had the pacifier in her mouth! Also, she could smell the baby oil and powder. It was sickening sweet, but didn’t smell it good at the same time? Safe? A promise of no more worries about money or stupid bosses?
NO!, she screamed in her head and spit out the pacifier.
“It is not good you crazy computer virus!” Celyn shouted, grabbed the baby oil one of the hands held next to her and squirted it, so it covered the lens of Anni’s eye before thus could retreat. “Let me go!”
A hand began cleaning Anni’s lense with baby wipes.
“Messy girl!” The AI noticed. “I know it has been such a busy day for you already. Time for you nap.”
“LET ME GO! LET ME GO! LET ME GO!”
Barbara watched how Anni lifted the woman despite her protests, put her in a large stroller, strapped her in and pushed her still screaming into one of the floors.
Jess, please get us out!, she prayed silently.
“You know you could come out easy young man,” detective Brian Fellor said, in a tone just a bit more strained than before. “Just tell us who your parents are. No matter how old you are, they will be happy to have you back.”
Jess glared at him, but instead of snapping, he took a deep breath and tried to think his way out of it. This wasn’t easy. Looking around in the detective’s office he realized that he was in a way more trapped than in Anni’s nursery. At least there he had just one mind to deal with, instead of that of the detective and his colleagues.
Which number could he give them? His parents were dead. He knew Barbara’s, but even if he had known enough about them to convince them, he didn’t know their numbers. Of all of his friends he only Bruce knew enough about his joke – had actually helped him a bit – to not see this as a joke, not to mention in this day and age all the numbers were on his smartphone which was no in possession of a certain A.I. …
“I am Jess Kaulkin,” he began again. “I’m software developer. App-Environment-Utility-Resources is mine and my partner’s company. She is Barbara Kyr …”
“And you developed Skynet.”
“A.n.n.i.,” Jess replied as calm as possible.
“Who turned you into a child,” the detective grinned. “Pity Google didn’t show me your company.”
“A.n.n.i. deleted it all,” Jess tried to explain, holding on to the stool he sat on as he did. Everysthing was so large and frustrating. “As I told you: Ask Carol Fume the head of Little Explorers’ Daycare in Baker Street. We are working for her.”
“I found this online, but won’t call her before you tell me how you really know her,” detective Fellor replied. “Did you go to daycare there? Or does one of your siblings? Does she know your situation at home?”
Jess hands grabbed the stool harder. His knuckles were probably white by now. It was an old habit from when he had been frustrated as a child and he loathed himself letting it take over again. He loathed the man in front of him even more … no, even slightly hated. It was stupid, he knew, since everyone – him included – would have reacted the same when hearing this story from a child. Still, seeing the man … the adult sitting there made him feel nearly jealous. Granted, he never had had this strong build, but if only he had still this age …
“You know I need to go home kid. So, if you don’t give me a number, I’ll have to call the child protection service. You know what this is?” The man sighed, as he saw the boy would not answer. “Look, I don’t know which trouble you have at home, but …”
It knocked, making the detective and the boy turn around.
“Brian?” A female officer leaned in through the door. “A second?”
The detective gave Jess a look and then nodded. “Sure.”
With this he stood up and left the room. Jess didn’t look after him, but relaxed a bit. This wasn’t optimal of course, but the CPS would be way easier to escape from than the police. If he kept his name out of it – as he should have when he had been caught by the police – he wouldn’t be mentioned in any file Anni could find. If he somehow got access to his workplace, he even might …
The regressed man looked up. Detective Fellor beckoned him to come. Wary of what fate had in store for him now, Jess slipped of the stool and followed. They passed some desks and doors, until they reached the entrance. There he noticed the female officer who had called Fellor before talking with another woman, when …
“Oh Jess!” The woman rushed forward and embraced him. “I found you!”
Jess was too startled to protest at first. Just being caught in such a hug felt overwhelming.
What the … the regressed man wondered as he was pressed to what were to him enormous breasts.
“Where has he been?” The woman asked.
“We found him near Jackson Street,” Detective Fellor explained. “I …”
“Let me go!” Furiously Jess pushed the woman claiming to be his mother away. “I don’t know you lady and I don’t know what you are up to!”
Just for the briefest of moments she hesitated. “Oh, do you have one of your episodes?”
He starred at her. “What!?”
“When he is in this … state of mind, he makes the wildest of stories,” she claimed.
“Anni bought you, didn’t she?” Jess concluded. “I don’t know what she promised you, lady, but she is …”
“I’m Anni,” the woman replied, giving him the warmest of smile, all the while he could see her eyes being cold. “Anni Kaulkin. And you are Jess Kaulkin. My son.”
“I’m not …”
“The computer confirmed it,” the female officer noticed.
“Fake!” Jess shouted. “Anni can probably hack into your systems in seconds. She …”
“Quite a storyteller indeed,” the female officer replied.
Jess glared at her, but held back a sharp remark. He was at a complete disadvantage her, no matter who this woman claiming to be his mother was. Somehow, he had to convince them …
“You bothered these nice officers long enough!” His mother noticed sharply and grabbed his hand. “You can doodle back at home, after you got your medicine.”
“Do you need help?” Detective Fellor asked.
“No,” Mrs. Kaulkin said in a slightly stressed words, as she pulled Jess out despite the best efforts his ten-year-old body could muster. “I know his episodes.”
“Listen we still have time!” Jess tried frantically while pulling. “She still can only work one daycare and her use of RAM is limited … she …”
With this they were outside, the door closing behind them. Jess continued to resist her to the best of his abilities, no matter the look of the grown-ups they passed. To his frustration he even noticed a few of them grinning or rolling their eyes. His mother didn’t smile. Her face had turned to ice and indeed he had the time to notice that her whole body language had turned a whole lot harder.
“Stop fidgeting,” she shouted at him, as she opened the side door to the older yellow Citroen which had to be her car.
Jess didn’t and …
The slap in his face didn’t hurt, not initially, but left him in shock, so he almost without resistance let himself be seated in the side seat.
“Stupid bat,” the woman complained as she went through her purse. “You are almost more trouble than she is willing to pay.”
This made Jess come out of the shock despite left cheek starting to feel like it was set on fire.
“You can’t trust her,” he began. “She …”
The woman turned a little spray can into his direction and pressed. Despite Jess’s efforts, he got some of the cloud in his mouth and nose. Instantly he felt his mind disconnecting from his body.
“Whoever she is, she is very resourceful,” his mother noticed, patting her purse. “Only have to make sure she pays.”
“A. I. … turns into children …” Jess mumbled, as the woman effortlessly strapped him in. “Nursery … play …”
“Maybe you got too much.” The woman replied and shut the door.
Detective Brian Fellor and Officer Ellen Maren had made the way to the snack-machine. He needed one after this episode. Funny case, also there was this feeling …
“I already hate to write this report,” he noticed, as he chose a Twix.
“Hey, this boy was definitely a gifted storyteller,” Ellen replied grinning. “Should start writing for Hollywood.”
Fellor returned the grin, when Officer Koenig approached them.
“What did Hillary want with this boy?”
“Who?” Fellor replied, opening his Twix.
“Hillary O’Neil,” Koenig noticed. “The woman you two talked to, who took the boy.”
Fellor felt his stomach grow cold.
“You mean Anni Kaulkin,” Ellen replied. “She is the mother of the boy.”
Their colleague starred at them.
“She is a prostitute I still know from when I worked at the docks,” he explained. “No children I would know of, but maybe …”
Fellor stopped him. “You are sure?”
The coldness had spread into his whole body. The strange way she had looked. The gut-feeling.
“I glimpsed the edge of the dragon tattoo on her shoulder,” Koenig replied. “Yeah.”
Fellor and Ellen shared a wide-eyed look, then he raced past her, throwing the Twix in a trash can on his way outside. He looked left and right, seeing her driving by in an older yellow Citroen. The boy … he seemed to be slumped in the driver’s seat.
He waved after them, but the car was already driving away. As quick as he could he sprinted to his own and tried to catch up to them.
The drive was surreal for Jess, like as if reality was shattered. His face resting on the window, he briefly believed to spot Detective Fellor, but he was just a flash, gone as quick as he had appeared. Next there were streets and he spotted some children playing hopscotch. The woman claiming to be his mother was talking with someone on her smartphone, but he couldn’t make out words and didn’t care. He wanted to join them! What was he doing anyway? Running through streets, trying to work things out. Playing was much more fun! Why …
Barbara!, he suddenly realized. Anni has her.
The regressed adult tried to lift his head, tried to shake it, but it seemed like his mind had been ripped in two. One side was still trying to find a way out, while the other wanted to surrender to the softness which seemed to have filled his mind like a cushion. To make things worse, his body still didn’t really response.
He tried to make out where they were heading, even when he could only move his eyes. They passed the park and the sight instantly derailed his thoughts again. Were the children still playing soccer? Would they let him join? Would the ones he had stolen the short and the sneakers from get in trouble with his parents? He hoped not. He still remembered vividly the trouble he had been into after tearing his best shirt. How old had he been? 10? Like now?
The movement of the car shifted oh so subtly. Jess managed to force his mind to pay more attention to his surroundings. They were in front of a large gate belonging to a warehouse which was slowly opened. Anni’s daycare!
The sheer shock made him regain more control of his body. He turned around to face the woman who had driven him here. Who had kidnapped him.
“No,” he said, though it came out blurred. “Anna wi … will … baby …”
The woman ignored him and slowly drove the car in the strange complete darkness inside.
“Don’t care what your problem is with her,” the woman said. “I will make sure we have no issue with the payment.”
With this she stopped and patted the handbag in her lap, before stepping out. Jess managed to turn his head only to discover that the gate had closed behind them already. He was trapped again, even if he regained control of his body, so all he could do was watching the scene. The woman who had no idea what she had gotten into, stepped in front of the car. The headlights were still on, making her an absolute center in the darkness surrounding her.
“I have the boy,” she shouted. “Do you have the money?”
For a moment nothing happened, then a light went on in the darkness far above. The spotlight revealed a table a bit ahead of her. A bag was on it. Hesitant, but with greed in her eyes, the woman walked over to it, carrying her own handbag in a way to easily get its content. Finally, she reached it, opened it, grabbed into it and …
“What is this shit?!” She shouted into the darkness. “This is play money!”
“Oh, but it makes you the richest little girl in my daycare!” The voice said.
The woman spun around in the direction of the voice, grabbing in her handbag to pull out what appeared to be a gun, only to have a hand coming out of the dark snatching it away.
“Playing with guns is a no-no.”
To emphasize this, a hand in a white glove appeared out of the dark and waved a finger in front of the woman. For a moment she just starred at it like hypnotized, then she slowly backed away.
“I’ll just go, okay?”
As an answer, strong hands grabbed her limbs and body.
“You really had to do nasty things on these streets,” Anni noticed, as her large camera came out of the darkness in front of the woman. “No need to worry about it anymore. You will see, soon the only street you will care about is Sesame Street!”
With this the woman was carried away, her shouts echoing in the vast darkness of the hall while Anni watched her. The part of Jess which slowly woke up enjoyed this and only regretted that the A.I. didn’t believe in corporal punishment. His failure for programming her this way.
Out, he needed to get out, while she was still occupied. Her limited resources for concentration were one of the few weaknesses she still had. Finding himself in much better control of his body, the regressed man somehow managed to open his seat belt and to even open the door of the car. Luck … he hated it, but he had had a lot of it today … maybe.
Jess made his first step out of the car, but instead of walking into the darkness he fell onto the ground, as his muscles were still too weak to carry him. He tried to stand up, but only managed to get on his knees before strong hands grabbed him. Looking up he starred in Anni’s camera eye.
“Are you hurt?”
There was worry in her voice. He had programmed her to show it to a possibly hurt child, so he knew it wasn’t real … then again, maybe she thought it was and didn’t this make it? He didn’t know.
“No,” he replied weakly. “Let me go.”
The hands grabbed his limbs, went around his breast and under his butt only to then slowly lift him in the air. It was like a child being carried by an adult. Softer than they had the woman.
“You had quite an adventure and are very tired,” Anni noticed. “Let us get you out of these dirty clothes. You belong into a soft thick diaper and a cute onesie. Do you like stars? There are a lot on it and a moon!”
True to her word, Jess found himself lifted higher into the air. Maybe it was the spray, but he felt no fear, as he was surrounded by darkness for a moment. Anni had him save and as she carried him to the part of the hall which was contained the rooms of the daycare she had constructed, the lights of it seemed to be like stars to Jess.
“You will be in your crib in no time,” Anni promised in a soft voice. “There you can think of better things than playing nasty in the streets.”
Jess was asleep before she even placed him on the changing table, dreaming of stars and the moon.To be continued …