Chapter Description: Life in Anni's Daycare settles into a routine for its inhabitants. As their caretaker does her best to make her little charges happy, Detective Fuller is seeking to free them and fix his mistake which led to Jess being recaptured. Will help from another agency be enough? Or is a human's struggle against an A.I. truly just that of a toddler against an adult?
Jess was surrounded by darkness, sitting on a stool which was oddly well padded. There were other people sitting in lines in front and behind him. Tension was in the air and he felt a rising anticipation, because … Why? For a moment he as confused where he was, but there appeared a spotlight somewhat ahead of him, revealing a stage a man in smoking stepped onto to speak in a microphone.
“The jury has decided!” He declared. “The price for the advancement in the creation of Artifical Intelligence goes to Jess Kaulkin! Come up here!”
A smile spread on his face. Of course, this was why he was here! Accompanied by the applause of the other people he stood up and walked up the stage. Shaking the man’s hand, he took the microphone and looked in the crowd. His smile suddenly froze, as he realized that he didn’t have a speech prepared. Feeling panic rise up in him, he looked around in the room, hoping to see a well-known face. There it was! Barbara looked at him and smiled encouragingly. He relaxed.
“I can’t take credit for it alone, for it was my partner Barbara Kyre who had the original idea. We managed it together.” Jess looked over the crowd. “We designed the daycare assistant program to keep our little ones safe and assist their caretakers. It is … is …”
Jess realized something was wrong with this. As his panic returned, he again looked at Barbara for support, only to have his panic turn to horror, as he realized something was terribly wrong, for his partner’s hair had suddenly been made into pigtails with pink ribbons and she sucked a large pacifier. Instead of an elegant dress she wore a yellow one with a pink heart on the chest, which ended short of her knees and revealed the diaper she wore underneath. His partner had become a toddler!
Jess looked down on the pedestal, trying desperately to find something to make sense of it, but there were only sheets of code he couldn’t identify. As he looked up again, things had become even worse. Every adult was dressed as a toddler. In colorful rompers and cute little dresses, some even wore onesies or just shirts with cute motifs, revealing diapers under them.
Over them a large camera came down, watching him with a large lens shining blue.
“I’m so proud of you!” Anni praised him.
Jess woke up with a jolt. A scream wanted to emerge from his mouth, but was stopped by something in it. Instinctively he bit on it, sucked it, feeling the soft plastic surface. Realizing what it was, he spit out the pacifier and groaned. Anni had for sure put this in his mouth while he had slept. If she thought this would make him relax or give him peaceful dreams, she was obviously wrong.
As much as he tried this seemed to be the only optimistic thought, he was capable of.
Slowly Jess opened his eyes and looked up. Far above him it seemed his mobile showed him stars and rockets and astronauts. Besides him was a stuff dragon, resting near the rails of what was his crib. Becoming more awake he noticed his legs being pushed slightly apart by the thick night time diaper. Unused of course, but this wouldn’t stop Anni.
With a slight groan, he turned, somehow managing to pull himself into a sitting position. The lights were on, he couldn’t be sure if it meant it was day outside, but at least it meant Anni would come to take him soon. Dimly he became aware of a pressure in his bladder and sighed.
Time for the morning-routine, he thought depressed.
Using the rails as help, he stood up, looking at the edge of the crib which was so very high above him. Not because it was an adult sized crib … not just. Knowing it was better to deal with it, Jess looked left to the foot end of the crib. Surrounded by cartoon versions of forest animals – two blue birds above, two bunnies and a deer by the side – was a plastic mirror. He didn’t like what he saw in it, but he knew dealing with it was the better than denying it.
After his forced return to Anni’s daycare, he had woken up in his crib only to discover he had been regressed down from a ten-year-old to a five-year-old. Smaller feet would carry him to less trouble, according to Anni. Now he again looked in his face which was subtly chubbier than what felt just a few days ago. No chance he would even make it down one block before an adult would stop him. Telling the police his story again … he could forget it.
Trying to fight his feeling of desperation, Jess looked down at himself. He wore a green, footed sleeper with pinguins and polar bears. Its zipper on the back prevented him from removing it, like he had done with the first ones she had put him in, back when he had still had been his real age. Before he learned to pick his battles. What worried him more than his clothing though was what he wore underneath. Even now he could see his diaper clearly outlined around his waist. A few more years off and no one would think it odd seeing him dressed this way. This wasn’t his greatest worry now though. What worried him now was the pressure building in his bladder.
Jess looked away from the mirror. There was just one way to solve it. Jess knew this, but he didn’t need to look at himself as he did it. Instead, he looked at the wall. It was decorated with a dinosaur tapestry full of colorful T-Rexes, Triceratops and Diplodocus. It was new of course. New and false, as behind its thin surface was the wall of the modified shipping container. Anni had built every of their nurseries from these and the rest from other cheap building material she had purchased online. Behind the wall he could hear the humming and mechanical sounds of her working … on what he had no idea of and that didn’t just worry him, but scared him.
This feeling only enhanced the pressure of Jess’s bladder though and he knew it was time. Looking at the changing table which seemed so very large, he tried to tell himself he was reasonable. Using his diaper now would mean Anni would change him instantly, instead of having him walk around in it for a time as she did if he would use it during playtime.
Jess let go, filling the front of his diaper with a warmth he had become slightly used to already.
“Anni!” The regressed man shouted. “I need a change.”
Detective Fellor was deep in a file, when it knocked at the door to his office. He looked up to see a man in black suit standing in the doorway.
“Detective Fellor?” The man asked.
Fellor nodded and placed the file on his overcrowded desk.
“Eric Miller, NSA.”
Both men shook hand while giving each other a closer look. Fellor noticed Miller’s youthful face and at the same time a natural authority in his posture, revealing he was sure of his position. He guessed he himself didn’t make the best impression. Looking slightly worn, as his face showed a severe case of missing sleep.
“May I see your badge?” Fellor asked.
The other man’s smile for a moment gave way to curiosity, but he followed the request.
Fellor studied the badge a moment. He had never seen one from the NSA, but this seemed legit. Even more important, while new, the leather around it already showed signs of use. Nor fake, as far as he could say. At least not a superficial one.
“What can I do for you Mr. Miller?” Fellor asked, offering a seat.
“First you could take your computer off power, disconnect your telephone and remove the battery from your smart phone.”
The detective looked at the other man a moment, then he did with the computer and telephone as ordered.
“I already did so with my smart phone and put it into a metal box.”
The NSA-agent gave Fellor a nod.
“Always having been such cautious?”
Fellor shrugged, not wanting to reveal his carts if it wasn’t necessary. “Since a few days.”
The detective starred at him.
Miller sighed. “Let us make an agreement. You tell me what happened and I won’t make this official right now and afterwards tell you … what I can safely reveal.”
Fellor kept his gaze, as did the other man. There was still the chance that this was an elaborate joke of his colleagues. God knew he had had his share of chuckles from them over the last days, yet … He told his tale.
“… I believed to have seen her driving in the direction of the docks, but can be wrong in this.” Detective Fellor concluded the case so far, with Agent Miller taking notes “So far so mysterious. Ready for the X-File-stuff?”
“I haven’t brought Mulder and Scully with me, but they are from the wrong agency anyways,” Miller replied with a slight smile.
“When I came back, Ellen told me couldn’t find the files about Anni Kaulkin anymore, nor about her son Jess Kaulkin. To make it worse, we didn’t have anything about Hillary O’Neil either. Quite a feat given the accounts of her career as prostitute and failed actress James gave us.”
“Perfect at the first look.” Fellor rubbed his chin. “Luckily we were spooked enough to dig deeper. We got files about her in social databases, hard files in James’s old precinct and some older references in other digital files. Whoever deleted her wasn’t perfect in it, or didn’t care.”
“And the boy’s story?”
“Same issue. Nothing about App-Environment-Utility-Resources in the internet, nor the tax register, but the local trade register had all the data I needed. I also got in contact with Carol Fume from Little Explorers’ Daycare. She confirmed having given the company run by Jess Kaulkin and Barbara Kyre the contract for an artificial assistant program for daycares. She also told me that she hadn’t been able to reach them since a few days, as their telephone and smartphone numbers are blocked and their e-mail-address is said to be wrong.”
Miller looked up from his note pad.
“Told me … us to forget it.” Detective Fellor shrugged. “Can’t blame him. Either it is a big prank. Or we gave over a minor to a prostitute. Or it is way above our paycheck. Guess he is right with the latter part, isn’t he?”
“Way over mine, too, I fear.” The NSA agent closed the pad. “You did great by the way. Especially given the limited time and circumstances.”
“Great enough to be noticed?” The detective relaxed a bit in his chair. “Or is the rumor true and you monitor all our calls?”
Miller gave him a humorless grin.
“Wrong department. I’m from the department of advanced cyber criminality and artificial intelligence.” He let the last words hang in a moment. “We monitor the internet since years for attacks by bots and programs. So far, we got small fishes. Single hackers. Company espionage and hacks are larger of course. Big fishes like attacks from other countries is nothing I will discuss here, but what we got from this area since a while …”
“Moby Dick,” Miller agreed. “Activities in the net which precision and speed break the metrics. Signatures so far unknown and nearly impossible to track … but make little sense at the same time. The break in into your servers was what brough us to you.”
For a moment there was silence between the two.
“How much of the boy’s story do you believe?” Detective Fellor finally asked.
“Without the background? Nothing. Too outlandish, though I would like to see a youth drug coming out or handed to me by the illuminati.” Again, a slight smile. Detective Fellor couldn’t decide if it was true humor or nervousness. “With this though … some of the strange activity could be linked to sites selling baby-products, daycare-equipment and even adult-baby stuff.”
“Did you get a delivery address?” Fellor asked, though he guessed he knew the answer.
“The addresses were always largely empty parking lots, where the boxes were delivered into vans.” Miller explained. “Searching for the license plates turned out to be fruitless. The windows were darkened, but one of the persons making the transfer I spoke with got a look inside and swore that there was no one in the driver seat.”
“Clever,” Fellor admitted. “Any chance of still finding the source of the cars? Or the orders?”
“No luck so far, but maybe soon. The program … the A.I. … Anni. It still isn’t perfect. Maybe can’t if the boy was right.”
“She still can only work one nursery. Her use of RAM is limited,” the detective cited Jess. “I wished I had listened better.”
“No one blames you,” Agent Miller quickly assured him. “It is hard to believe and frankly few even believe we have a real A.I. here back at home. Meaning I don’t have the full support of the base until I have more.”
“So, what do we do?”
The younger man smiled. “Detective work.”
Celyn missed work. She wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told her this before, but she even missed her boss. When he gave her orders, he at least did so from one adult to the other. Her current situation meanwhile …
Anni’s large camera with the blue lenses which served as an eye seemed joyful, while moving into the next room. It was connected to the ceiling somewhere in the darkness above and Celyn shuddered slightly, as looked up. Who knew what was hiding there?
The room they entered was a bathroom with a large sink on the wall ahead and a large mirror on the wall above it. The sight was surreal. Instead of her 35-year-old self, she saw a 10-year-old. Anni had done this to her after she had flipped out – thrown a tantrum according to the A.I. – for having to piss in her diaper. After she had had shed her last tear over this, she had been calmer, though she didn’t think it was because of the lack of hormones as Anni said, but rather the sight of what she had to expect if she continued to resist.
Jess was little more than a Kindergartner, well below even her height, as was Hillary. She couldn’t feel sorry for any of them. The boy was one of the two programming the A.I. holding them hostage and the girl had unknowingly worked for the same A.I., willingly pretending to be Jess’s mother to get him back before he could organize help. Her reward had been a new start according to Anni. Barbara, Anni’s other creator, had so far been the only one to retain her real age, but like they all she had been dressed according to the age Anni thought they had, meaning she now stood here in a pink nightgown decorated with an unicorn in front of a moon. Jess wore a green footed sleeper, Hillary a white nightgown with an angel in front of it – Celyn found this an hilarious display of innocence given her previous occupation – and she herself … a yellow footed sleeper with cute little kitten … She hated it and was sorry she couldn’t do so more, but it felt so warm and fuzzy at the same time.
“Let us make your little teeth clean and sparkly,” Anni said.
With this, holes in the walls left and right from them opened and four white gloved mechanical hands appeared. Each held one toothbrush with a Disney character on its handle(Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Minni) and toothpaste already on the heads. The four hostages took the toothbrushes, by now used to the procedure, and began brushing their teeth, with Jess and Hillary having to stand on step stools to do so.
“Brush, brush, brush your teeth,” Anni hummed a supporting song. “This is how we brush our teeth …”
The A.I. sang the song to them every time they had to brush their teeth, something Celyn hated nearly as much as having to do so on her orders.. By her side, Anni was seemingly unsatisfied with the way Hillary brushed her teeth and grabbed her toothbrush, doing it herself. The former prostitute was too clever to resist, but in the process still got stains on her nightgown.
I slowly get used to it, Celyn realized with a mix of shock and disgust.
She tried to find something to maintain her hope that this was only temporary. That every moment the police would come and free them. She also tried to find signs, that Anni wasn’t all powerful. There was the way she sometimes didn’t react at once when dealing with all of them at the same time, which might be one of the reasons it were just the four of them. Then there were smaller signs, like the slight leak of the water hose in front of them, a tribute to the rapid construction of the nursery in one of the dock’s many storage halls. This was promising.
“Who is excited for another day of fun and games?” Anni asked, after all of her charges had finished cleaning their teeth.
Celyn missed work so much.
“So, this is their workplace?” Agent Miller asked.
Detective Fellor shrugged, as he opened the unexpecting door with the key the security guard of the office building had given them.
“They probably went straight to online marketing, as most do,” he noticed. “Pity the internet has been wiped clean of them.”
They entered and took a look around.
“Not just the internet seems to have been wiped clean,” Miller commented.
Indeed, the experienced men at once realized that someone had removed important parts from the room. As they walked around, they passed the empty tables where the computers would have stood, the large empty place where a server had to have been placed and the file cabinets, being as open as empty, void of any files which could have helped them.
“It must have hired some thugs, like your prostitute,” Miller concluded, kneeling in front of a desk to look under it. “Must have been professionals though, given the lock looks undamaged.”
“Who says they had to break in?” Detective Fellor replied dryly, staring into the empty file cabinets. “I bet the two programmers had their keys with them when they were caught.”
Miller was about to agree begrudgingly, when they were interrupted.
Both men turned around to see a blond woman with large glasses starring at them.
“I’m Julia Anderson and work next door,” she introduced herself, tugging her blue shirt down her jeans. “Security told me you are looking for something involving Jess and Barbara? Are you from the police?”
Fellor looked for a moment in the freckled face and then nodded, showing his badge. He and Miller had agreed to keep the NSA’s involvement a secret as best as they could.
“We are investigating their seemingly disappearance and the circumstances …” The detective explained, doing his best to block the view. “You know them?”
“Sure, we hang out during breaks,” the woman’s voice sounded a bit too nervous, her eyes widening as she looked around and noticed the missing pieces. “Oh god.”
“Let us speak outside,” Agent Miller suggested with a quick look to the telephones in the room.
Fellor gave him the hint of a nod.
Inside Anni’s Daycare, the A.I.’s four charges were led into the Little Playfield, the daycare’s main play room. Since she had been led here the first time, Celyn had learned to like it … or at least not hate it as much as the rest of this damned place. As Barbara had told her the back then, Anni left them alone if they pretended to play, so it meant they had a bit of freedom here … though not right now.
“Your little bellies must be growling,” Anni noticed in the cutest of voices, as her eye lead them forward. “Don’t worry, breakfast is ready.”
True to her word there had been a table placed near the plastic gate which was the entrance to the room. Near it stood a chair and two plastic chairs, one blue with a lion cup on it, one pink with a bluebird on it. The other chairs …
“Guess who gets to sit in the special ones today!” Anni said.
Celyn didn’t have to guess. Already hands came down from above and grabbed her gently but firmly, lifting her up in the air and carrying her over to one of the adult-sized highchairs which had happy veggies as decoration on them. She didn’t resist, neither as they let her down and put the safety-belt on her, pinning her on the soft seat. Resisting had cost her enough years already, as evident by the lack of any padding in form of breasts around her chest. She felt the rising pressure of her bowels she knew she had soon to deal with, as much as she hated the thought. The feeling of the diaper between her legs became stronger, so she sought distraction.
As a bib with a zebra on it was placed around her neck, Celyn looked around. At first, she looked at the other high chair, now occupied by Hillary. The other woman turned girl was now younger than her, something the supermarket employee took a bit of relief in.
I’m a big girl, Celyn thought spontaneously.
Disgusted by her own thoughts, she looked down – the high chair was, true to its name, so very high – and saw Barbara and Jess getting plates with their breakfast. A sudden rush of anger made her scowl. That the programmers responsible for Anni were allowed to sit freely was unfair, especially since they showed no signs of having a plan to get them out of here.
“Someone needs to show her happy face!”
Celyn looked up, seeing Anni’s eye hovering in front of her. For a moment it reminded her of what her boss often said to her and her co-workers.
“I don’t have to like it!” She insisted.
Just as Celyn said it, the tablet with the food was placed on the high-chair’s tray. Pancakes, sliced apples, oatmeal, blueberries and milk in a sippy cup. She did like it, but it was an amount which would be a healthy breakfast for her if she still had the body of an adult. As a child it would fill her stomach up and make her having to go to the bathroom more often, only that she wore her bathroom and there was already a certain pressure in her back…
“Here comes the plane!”
With this Anni grabbed a blue plastic spoon, took a bit of oatmeal and approached Celyn’s face. Part of the regressed woman wanted to resist and insist on her dignity, but of course resisting to eat had made Anni put her up here in the first place. If she did so further, she might find herself regressed to an age where she needed a bottle … and her diapers.
Celyn opened her mouth and swallowed the oatmeal the AI gave her along with her pride. The first tasted sweet, the second bitter. Her hope, that Anni would leave it with this turned out to be wrong though, as there was a second spoon and a third and … The fourth spoon stopped in front of her face so drastically, that it dropped parts of the content on her bib.
“Hey!” Celyn complained.
In the other high chair Hillary giggled and swung her legs which hang from the high chair. This, along with sitting in a high chair made for adults made her look even younger. Celyn shot her a glance, but instantly looked back to Anni. The AI hadn’t meant to do it. Indeed, she recognized the way the hand hung loosely and the eye’s blue shine was dimmed as a sign that their captor’s attention was far away, by whatever she did. Maybe … Celyn looked down, imagining how she could maybe free herself from the belt, climb down and … Jess met her eyes and slightly shook his head. She hated him for it, but already Anni’s eye came back to life.
“I’m sorry dear, but poor Anni has so much going on,” the AI excused herself. “Do you want to try to feed yourself like a big girl?”
Not saying no to this, Celyn took the spoon the hand offered her and watched AI’s eye rise a bit. Yes, part of Anni’s mind was somewhere else, but there was little hope they could use it. Still, maybe it meant they were a bit less supervised during playtime. With the spoon in her mouth, Celyn looked over the play area which was filled with stuffed teddy bears, dolls, balls, blocks, large soft ladybugs, a playcastle and other structures to encourage children to be active. Along with all the toys a toddler could wish for. Even a sand pit had been somehow been built up there by Anni. Was she really beginning to associate this with freedom?
We need to get out of here quick!, Celyn thought and like a good little girl took another spoonful of oatmeal.
“Quite scary,” Detective Fellor noticed.
“How so?” Agent Martin asked.
The detective looked ahead and activated the blinker before turning left. He drove as had been suggested by the other man.
“You would expect for an AI to be developed in a lab of a great cooperation or the government, with the newest technology.” He stopped in front of a traffic light. “Or at least in the lab of a mad scientist. They seem to be quite sane.”
“I know what you mean,” Miller looked at the surveillance camera at the nearest bank. “There had been a bet running in our division where such a thing would be created first … I won.”
Fellor gave him a look. “Congratulations.”
“Any chances we get more resources?”
“We have nothing to convince my superiors that anything of a major scale is going on,” Martin explained. “You?”
“The missing person report for Mrs. Kyre their parents made is running, but since Mr. Kaulkin’s parents are dead I still have to get in contact with his sister to do so. I could get green light to search their apartments any day now, but after today …” Fellor sighed. “What do you think about Mr. Bernhard?”
“As programmers they will most like have exchanged tips and maybe more,” Martin reasoned. “You were right, he is our best shot. Pity we can’t do database research about him with attracting attention.”
“He left his smartphone at home and wasn’t to be reached in any way.” Fellor remembered him, as if to assure himself he had done enough. “The message I left him in the letterbox tells him to go to the precinct immediately without calling. This along with whatever Kaulkin wrote him should be enough.”
Agent Martin nodded and looked outside. Less encouraging, he saw another surveillance camera near a parking lot. Its eye seemed to follow them.
Anni’s eye shone brightly again, as if pleased that her charges had ended their breakfast.
“Full of energy and ready for the day,” she declared, as her hands took away the now empty plates. “Let us get you into something cute, so you can play.”
True to her word, hands began to approach the four. Jess and Barbara were quickly freed of their nightwear, only to get a blue sailor suit for him and a pink tutu for her. Celyn and Hillary were meanwhile freed of their safety belts and lifted out of the highchairs. Strong hands opened the buttons of Celyn’s yellow sleeper by opening press studs she herself had been unable to open despite using all her strength, while others pulled Hillary’s white nightgown over her head. Finally, they were left hanging in the air wearing only their diapers with covers of Baby Minni Mouse and Baby Daisy Duck.
“I know two little girls who don’t have used their dipees today,” Anni sang.
“Not your business,” Celyn replied angrily, as she was held above the ground by two hands holding her chest like a baby.
“Oh, but constipation is a nasty business,” the AI replied. “Using laxative even more.”
The regressed woman’s stomach clenched on the notion of laxatives. Such distracted she didn’t notice the two hands approaching her from below, until they grabbed her bare feet and began lifting them up.
“Hey!” Celyn protested. “What …”
Anni knew exactly what she was doing, for as her hands pressed the girl’s knees to her stomach, she weakened the muscle in her back just enough. No longer held back and under more pressure by the knees on her stomach, the content of Celyn’s bowels freely filled her diaper. The regressed woman had by now too often been forced to do so, to die of shame, yet she clenched her fists and looked away from Anni’s eye, as she even farted.
A giggle made her look back though. It was Hillary, grinning at her, obviously happy with Celyn’s situation and looking through it even more like a kindergartner. As her butt grew warmer and a certain odor reached her nose, Celyn would have liked nothing more than to use her greater strength and size to teach her fellow prisoner a lesson, but already Anni turned her eye around.
“Look who is very giggly today!” She noticed. “Let me help.”
With this, two hands approached the young girl’s sides and began to tickle her.
“No!” Hillary pleaded giggling, her legs kicking freely in the air. “Pleaaaase …”
Mercilessly the two hands continued, until at last a stunned look appeared on the girl’s face.
“Little Hilly made a tinkle!” Anni noticed satisfied.
To her satisfaction, Celyn could see the front of the woman’s diaper expand and even turn a bit yellow, as her cheeks turned pink.
In Kindergarten the other girls would turn on you, she thought.
The regressed woman didn’t have any time to revel in this though, as she and her opponent were carried over to two large changing tables and placed on them. As the safety belt was fastened around her belly, Celyn realized that like with so many things here she was beginning to get used to it. The plastic on her back, the sound of the large hands unfastening her diaper, all this had become something she expected and which didn’t horrify her as it did in the beginning …
I won’t accept this, she angrily swore herself, I won’t …
“Scowly face!” Anni noticed.
Celyn opened her mouth to protest, but a hand swiftly put a pacifier in her mouth and despite it not being fixed, she let it stay there. Still scowling she watched her legs being lifted and her groin and butt being cleaned with wipes. Trying to ignore the stench, Celyn looked left to see Hillary smiling against her will at a doll being moved in front of her face by another hand as she went through her own diaper change.
We have been reduced to this, she realized with horror.
A bit later the girls wore fresh diapers. Still on the changing table they were also dressed in new clothes. A yellow romper with bees for Celyn and a pink top with playing children on the front and pink pants for Hillary. Such clothed they were let down and carried into the middle of the play area, where Jess and Barbara had obviously been told to wait. Together they looked at Anni’s eye.
“I’ve realized that while you like the playroom, you really don’t play many games,” the AI noticed. “This is poor Anni’s fault for being too scatterbrained to animate you and play with you, because she is doing so many things in the big, big world outside little children really don’t need to care about.”
The four kidnapped adults exchanged worried glances. What was she up to now?
“So, I got me a few little helpers to aid me with that!” Anni revealed. “Playtime!”
With this there was a drum roll, during which the four moved closer together. When it ended, at first nothing happened and Celyn already thought Anni had played a sick joke, when suddenly there was a movement. A large stuff doll broke free of a pile of other plush toys and giggling stood up, another, having before leaned on a toy kitchen came to live next and another ran to them from a corner. There were three teddy bears, too, which suddenly seem to have been possessed began stumbling to them and if this wasn’t enough, three stuff-ladybugs, each large enough for even Barbara to sit on, began circling around on the ground.
“Are you a ballerina?” One of the dolls asked Celyn in a strange childlike voice. It was even creepier by the fact that it had just her height. “I bet you can dance wonderfully. Let us dance!”
“Shall we ride the ladybug express?” A teddy bear asked Jess, towering slightly over him. “They are as fast as Santa Clause on his sledge.”
“We could build in the sand castle,” a doll suggested to Barbara. “Let makes us a castle and be princesses!”
“Can you make me a meal?” A teddy asked Hillary, who tried to hide behind Barbara. “I’m so hungry.”
“Let us play in the castle …”
“Let us use the swing …”
“Play in the …”
With this the robots in the skin of dolls began dancing and singing around the group to a music Anni provided.
how are you
(how are you)
it is so nice to have you here with us today.
how are you
how do you do,
With this the dolls ran in the corners of the playroom giggling loudly. Behind they left the baffled four inhabitants of the nursery. Anni only then realized, that she still had the pacifier in her mouth and was sucking heavily on it. Worse, it hadn’t helped her relax, as she also felt the front of her diaper growing warm.
Bruce Bernhard yawned, as he climbed up the stairs. His trip had been very relaxing, free of modern technology, but it felt good to be finally home, especially as it was already turning dark outside. He opened the door to his apartment and stepped into an even stronger darkness. In doing so, he felt something strange under his foot. As he switched on the light, he saw it was a piece of paper and a letter someone had put through under the door.
Placing his backpack next to the door he closed behind him, Bruce glanced on the note and scowled.
Bruce, it is me, Jess.
ANNI has gained sentience. She has kidnapped me and Barbara and turned me into a child.
I KNOW HOW MAD THIS SOUNDS!
Remember the 5G solution we discussed the last time? It is me. It is not a joke.
Don’t trust any electronic device. You know what an A.I. is capable of.
Go to the police. DON’T CALL! Report me missing and tell them everything you know.
Remember the counter measures we discussed? Try them, but not alone.
Be careful. For Barbara’s sake!
Bruce scowled and then smiled. This was a software developer’s joke if there ever had been one. Especially in combination with his trip to be free of electronics. Shaking his head he went to the kitchen table, where he had left his smartphone more than a week ago. He started it and checked his E-Mails, SMSs and WhatsApp messages. Jess had left him messages on all of them. Strange, but maybe there had been problems with the software or a breakthrough. If he and Barbara …
The smartphone rang in his hand. It was Jess according to the identification. Probably he had seen him come online. Weary to be back in the action so soon, Bruce pondered a moment before accepting the call.
“Hello,” he greeted. “Jess? I have just arrived.”
“Hello Bruce,” his friend replied. “I hope you had a nice trip.”
“Too many mosquitos,” Bruce noticed. “The bears were way easier to deal with. I bribed them with picknick baskets.”
For a moment there was silence on the other end of the line. Then came a slight laughter which sounded slightly strange to him.
“Yeah, your note was a better joke.”
Again, there was a silence which lasted just half a second too long.
“Just ignore it,” Jess finally replied.
“There is an issue in the program. Could you come?”
Bruce looked at the clock.
“I just came back,” he noticed. “Doesn’t it have time until tomorrow?”
“Sure,” Jess replied after a moment. “Take a rest. We will talk tomorrow.”
“Yeah, good night.”
The call was ended and Bruce starred at the screen for a moment. This had been odd, though he couldn’t quite lay his finger on why. Jess had clearly sounded different. Was there more trouble with the project than he had wanted to discuss this way?
Shaking his head, Bruce opened the envelope. It was a note from a Detective Fellor from the police, telling him to go straight to his precinct once he read this, no matter the time and no call.
Again, Bruce scowled. Was this part of Jess’s joke? This seemed to go a bit far. Even the sigil looked legit. Could there be trouble? His voice had sounded a bit stiff, lifeless. Could there be … He felt tired, but something was off. Maybe he would kick himself in the ass later, but now his gut told him he better followed the instructions. Grabbing his smartphone, Bruce went to the door, when it knocked.
“Bruce?” A voice called him. “It is me, Jess.”
Bruce relaxed and pressed the handle down. How could he even for a moment have thought that … his hand froze still on the handle. The voice. It still had this strangely mechanic sound.
Before he could react, before he could even pull his hand back, the door was pushed in and two large shapes entered.
Bruce was too shocked to even scream.
It was late, when Detective Fellor and Agent Miller entered Bernhards apartment. Two other officers were already there, amongst them James Koenig. The man who had recognized Hillary O’Neil silently handed Fellor Jess’s note which had already been packed in plastic. The detective and the agent read it, before wordlessly handing it back to the officer. Words weren’t needed.
They silently discussed the lack of evidence, before Fellor and Martin walked to the apartment next door. Mr. Pillar, the older man living there was talking with Officer Ellen Maren, who gave Fellor a worried glance when they entered.
“Would you please repeat for my colleague what you just told me,” she asked the older man.
The man didn’t look happy, but then he repeated his story.
“I just watched the news, when I heard the sound outside. It sounded like a struggle, so I looked through the peephole,” he glanced at Maren. “As I told you I immediately called you.”
“There has been nothing about the call in the system,” she explained. “Nor does any operator remember it.”
“I did call!” Pillar replied angrily. “The woman answering said I should wait and that help was under way. I waited one hour and when no one came I called again.”
Maren, Fellor and Martin exchanged a worried look.
“We believe you,” Fellor assured the older man earnestly. “Please, is there anything else you remember?”
Pillar looked in his eyes and seemed to recognized that the detective spoke the truth.
“The two who kidnapped him …” He hesitated. “I saw them through the peephole and for a moment I saw them clearly how they carried him away. One did. Had him over his shoulder and Mr. Bernhard isn’t a lightweight. They looked like …”
The older man again looked from one man to the other.
“Bears,” he noticed. “They looked like two-meter large teddy bears.”
Officer Maren’s jaw dropped, while Detective Fellor and Agent Martin looked at each other in shock.
To be continued …