Chapter Description: Detective Fellor and Agent Miller are combining skill and resources of Police and NSA to find the rouge A.I. and free the kidnapped persons, but will it be enough? Meanwhile Anni's Daycare welcomes its newest member just in time for Creativity Time.
Detective Fellor was driving his car while Agent Miller chatted with his colleagues of the NSA by the special, thick looking smartphone he had told him to be totally safe from spy-attacks, even that of the rouge A.I. they were after. Fellor didn’t quite believe it, neither did it concern him as much as he knew it should have. Miller talked about Bruce Bernhard, the person the A.I. kidnapped because he might or might not have known secrets they might have been able to use against it, but this didn’t concern him too much in this moment either.
“Yes,” Miller said to the person on the other end of the line. “We will proceed as planned. See you.”
“And what is the plan?” Fellor asked, not letting his eyes off the empty, dark street.
“The same we agreed on.” The agents put away his phone. “Tomorrow we talk to Barbara Kyre’s parents. Then we go down the list of daycares to get the specifications of their demands for a software. We should also look into some books they must have read about childcare. If …”
He couldn’t end the sentences, since in this moment Fellor turner the wheel around hard, nearly drifting the car, as it raced on the parking lot and came to an abrupt stop.
“What the …” Agent Miller started, but Fellor cut him short.
“Come out if you want to talk.”
With this the other man stepped out, only for the NSA agent looking at him for a moment from inside the car before following him.
“Care to explain?” Miller asked, careful to keep a bit distance just in case.
“I care that you made me a booby trap without telling me,” Fellor replied, glancing at the younger man. “I care about you making Bernhard another one and losing him to her. I care about how much longer you are willing to play this game and who you are willing to sacrifice.”
Miller smiled against his will, taking a quick glance around, but finding no camera near them.
“You are cleverer than I guessed,” he noticed.
“And you are not answering my question.”
“We are dealing with something which can probably hack into every of our systems with ease and is capable of innovating where it can’t,” Miller reminded him. “How long am I willing to play this game? As long as necessary. Who am I willing to sacrifice? Everyone I must.”
“Anni was watching me,” Fellor surmised. “This is why you came to me. Made me launch this investigation.”
“She is watching you,” Miller corrected him. “And me. Probably searching databases for us. Trying to get into systems to monitor us. We installed certain traps to find her. There always was a risk, but no one knew she would use terminator-teddy-bears. We didn’t sacrifice Bernhard, but we knew there was a risk. There is for us all.”
“You don’t know what she … it is still capable off.”
“One more reason to get her to play her cards. We might very well try to save the world here,” agent Miller explained in a matter-of-fact tone. “Are you with me or not?”
Fellor starred at the other man a long time, then he gave him a short, unhappy nod.
“No word of any of this from now on,” the younger man warned him. “Not even to me. We are playing our roles.”
“Nor any internet searches …” The detective sat in his car. “As you noticed: I’m no fool, even if you want me to play this role.”
Satisfied the agent took place beside him and they resumed their drive. Detective Fellor meanwhile thought, as he starred in the darkness of the beginning night. Terminator-Teddy-Bears. He better barricaded his door with a chair tonight and any following this. Most likely he would dream of them. If Anni’s hostages were treated like toddlers, they would be locked in their beds or even cribs by now. What did they dream of?
What a clusterfuck!
Jess shoveled the last of the small carrots in his mouth, finishing his breakfast.
At least I get healthy here, he thought cynically, as he watched Goofy smiling up at him from the red plastic plate. Looking at his reflection in the sippy cup, he saw a mischievous looking five-year-old wearing a smiling lion bib and when he grimaced, the reflection imitated it in a funny way. Not that I have to worry about the wear.
Nor had the other occupants of Anni’s nursery. Barbara was the only one who was still an adult, while he and Hillary were five and Celyn ten. The latter two had finished eating, too and were taken out of their highchairs.
“Someone was a hungry little boy,” Anni noticed, as her hands removed the bib from his neck.
Jess ignored her blue eye which moved from one of them to the next.
He looked right. Next to his plastic chair stood a large teddy bear.
“No,” Jess replied turning away.
Doing so made him feel his diaper, as its soft fabric slid on the plastic of his chair. It made him scowl that it needed such moments to realize he was wearing one. Maybe sensing his feelings, the teddy laid his head on his legs smiling at him. Frustrated Jess shook them and as the robot let him be, he looked at Barbara, who was likewise beleaguered by a doll who wanted to animate her to dance. Hillary and Celyn were set down by giant hands and the former was handed a small plush-doll by a teddy … which she accepted after a moment and even briefly embraced.
The programmers exchanged glances. They would go into a corner of the playroom as quick as possible. At least the robots bothered them less this way. This was the way Anni had programmed them. If they learned more about it, maybe they could …
“I have a surprise for you!” Anni declared to them all.
The four looked at each other. None of Anni’s surprises had been good so far. Suddenly the plastic gate forming the entrance to the large playroom was lit up by a spotlight. Moments later a boy of around 15, wearing Thomas-the-Tank-Engine-overalls stepped in, gently pushed by a large hand on the back.
“Say hello to your newest playmate,” Anni told them. “This is little Bruce. Some of you already know him.”
“No …” Jess moaned, as he recognized him.
“Who is …” Barbara stopped and pressed her hand in front of her mouth.
Bruce mustered his fellow programmers as they stepped closer. He was clearly unhappy, which for sure was not to a small part due to the diaper which was clearly showing under his overalls. His eyes also showed a severe case of lacking sleep and his missing years that he had resisted.
“Couldn’t you just create an A.I. for advertisement as I suggested?” Bruce asked, his teenage voice cracking. “All it would have done is to spam us.”
“I’m so sorry,” Jess replied.
“What happened?” Barbara asked, stepping closer. “How did she get you?”
“Well, I was just reading Jess’s note and deciding to go to the police, when …” he casually looked around, when he noticed something and his eyes grew wider. “These things! They took me!”
Everyone looked at what he was pointing, being revealed to be two teddy bears, chasing each other around the table Anni’s hands were cleaning.
“Bruce …” Barbara began.
“They were two meters large.”
Barbara and Jess shared a worried glance.
“Don’t be scared,” Anni told him warmly, her eye coming down from above. “Teddys are only there to help you and play with you!”
“This isn’t fun,” Barbara noticed angrily. “You build robots to attack humans!”
Anni ignored her and turned to the two girls who had stayed in the background.
“I think a little introduction is still needed,” she declared. “You haven’t met these two little girls, yet. Come here you two. Don’t be shy.”
Both stepped forward, more out of curiosity than anything else. Of them only Hillary indeed looked shy. Her eyes wide and her pose easily that of a kindergartner afraid of an adult. The doll the robot had given her was still pinned under her arm, though she probably didn’t even realize it.
“I’m Hillary,” she muttered, before turning away and playing with her hair.
“I’m Celyn Kabar,” Celyn introduced herself, giving Bruce her hand, if only to get the feeling of adulthood she desperately needed.
“Bruce Bernhard,” Bruce replied as he shook it. “How did you get in here?”
“I was in the area when your friend escaped and was grabbed for following his cries for help.”
“No good deed, heh?” The teenager replied. “I gave the two tips in programming …” He noticed the change in her face and quickly added: “Which they obviously ignored.”
Celyn was about to say something, when Anni interrupted.
“So talkative,” she noticed. “I think you all now have the right energy for some fun time! To the wall.”
Bruce glared at her and clenched his fist. Barbara shook her head and gently placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Better obey,” she whispered.
Reluctantly her friend nodded and followed the others to a place of the wall a light from above illuminated. All the way teddy bears and dolls danced around them and even large ladybug scooters circled them much to his annoyance.
“She really forces us to play here?” Bruce asked, still not quite believing it. “And the diapers …”
Barbara nodded, her lips a small line.
“I realize you have a lot of energy since you don’t get out,” Anni explained, her eye leading them and watching them as it moved backwards. “So, I thought it is time for some special activity.”
In front of them a part of the wall was pulled back. Out of the darkness behind, Anni’s large hands pulled a large roll of paper, nearly the size of an adult. The hands along with a few robot dolls and teddy bears then enrolled the paper and fixed it to the wall. No one could make out what this was meant to be, until the penny dropped in Celyn’s mind.
“You want us to paint?”
“Clever little girl!” Anni replied. “This is why you get a special little apron.”
Before she could ask, hands came down from above and put something over her. Already trained to see resistance as futile, Celine let it happen. As the hands were done, she looked down on herself only to discover that she now wore a plastic apron as worn by younger children to protect them from paint. This one had a white kitten on the front who used his left paw which had been covered in green color to make an imprint on a wall. The others wore similar aprons now and as they were still staring at each other, buckets with colors and brushes were lowered, just as the wall was pushed back into place.
“It is really important to let out the creativity of your minds,” Anni explained, as her hands gave the brushes to her charges.
“I can’t paint,” Bruce noticed, looking at the brush.
“Don’t be silly,” the AI replied. “You can try using your hands. Don’t worry, I will give you a bubble bath later.”
Bruce made a grimace, knowing she meant it. Knowing also he had to start somewhere, he began by sinking the top of his brush into green color and drew a green line, adding some points and a circle. Next to him the others were starting to do the same. After a moment he felt it was okay, since it made him nearly forget his situation and allowed him to pretend to be not here, trapped by a mad AI, but back at his trip, doing things without even so much as a smartphone nearby. The pretense was shattered, when he went in his knees a bit to get some red paint, and felt his diaper crinkling, feeling its thickness between his legs.
Damn you two!, he silently cursed Jess and Barbara.
“Not quite the lair of a mad scientist,” Agent Miller commented.
Fellor grunted as he looked over the living room of Jess Kaulkin’s apartment they had just entered.
“I thought the lair was their office.”
Martin pointed at a picture near one of two monitors. It was a woman with brown hair, dressed in a simple blue dress as it was maybe in use a century ago. Above the picture someone had written A.n.n.i..
“Now we know who had the idea of the name,” Miller noticed.
“Let us look especially if there were any notes about ways of taking care of a child.”
Miller looked at the detective.
“Not quite on the top of the things I am looking for,” he admitted. “Why?”
“If she can’t change the parameters, they programmed her with, I want to see if corporal punishment was part of it,” Fellor explained, going through a bookshelf. “I want to know who we are facing.”
Miller thought about a moment.
“Ever thought about changing the employer?”
“I have a soul,” Fellor replied without turning around.
Millar made a grimace, but didn’t say anything. Instead, he switched on the computer, only to be greeted by a blue screen of death. He made a mental note to let his colleagues look over it, but had little hope. Whatever the A.I. was, it was thoroughly. Maybe he could …
His smartphone rang. He threw a quick glance at Fellor and then answered it.
“Yes, C? What? … That is great, we …”
In front of him the detective showed him a drawing of large hands in white gloves hanging on metal cables. Tools of the assistant?, had been written above it.
“God …” Carter commented, only to go back to the person on the other side of the line. “No not you. I understand. Until then.”
He ended the talk and put away his phone before gesturing to Fellor to follow him out. It was only on the driveaway in front of the apartment that he talked.
“We got her!”
The occupants of Anni’s daycare were busy painting, using the different heights their size allowed them. Barbara with her full body height of an adult, Bruce nearly as heigh as he had been large as a teenager. Jess and Hillary were making their best of their new size of kindergartners and Celyn somewhere in the middle as befitted her ten years.
“Let’s see what you made for your Anni!”
Celyn winced, as the large camera eye lowered itself behind her. She had been so busy painting, that she had barely noticed the AI having been absent. Busy in painting and ignoring the sounds of awe by the teddy bears and dolls around her. Were they her eyes and ears, ready to inform her if they moved out of line? Of course!
Using the brush brought forth memories of the last time she had done so. It had to have been the fifth class, when she had been 10 … as old as she was now once again. As she tried to paint a meadow and a sun, she nearly could hear the voice of her teacher Mrs. Linn in her ears, telling her to pay more attention. Absentmindedly she touched her breast, which was as flat as back then and an eerie feeling overcame her.
What if I in reality never left Mrs. Flinn’s class and all this is a dream?, she wondered. Would make more sense than …
The feeling of her diaper between her legs brought her back to reality. It was no longer even crinkly, but swollen, thanks to her having to release the pressure on her bladder. Once she would have been too disgusted to continue paining, but now she only registered the warmth on the front and it felt nearly … good?
The worry above the development was pushed in the background by her fear for how Anni would see the painting. Would she think it was more fit for someone younger and regress her accordingly? Would she think it too mature and decide to regress her to rob her of the motor skills? Celyn wasn’t sure, but she believed a few more warm drops just entered her diaper. Desperately she looked around, but except for Barbara who had managed to create a rather exact painting of a woman, the others mostly showed her level of skill. The exception was maybe Hillary, who had used her hands to draw like with finger paint.
“Why always so many exact lines?” Anni wondered, as she looked over Jess’s painting, which seemed to consist mostly out of complex geometrical symbols.
“To remember that I still can,” her creator replied.
“But you don’t need to,” Anni noticed. “All these stupid big boy things are behind you. You can draw as wild and twisted as you want. Be creative. I will take care of the rest.”
The man turned to a five-year-old didn’t reply, so the AI moved on to Barbara.
“And who is this?”
“My mother,” Barbara replied. “She and my father miss me, you know.”
“Maybe I will bring them here one day,” Anni said.
Barbara didn’t show that this shocked her, making Celyn think that she had anticipated such an answer.
“You mean you would bring two toddlers here,” she said. “For you they wouldn’t really be my parents, would they?”
The A.I. remained silent, the blue eye of her camera dimming a bit.
“A daycare is a place where children stay for a little while, before they go home,” Barbara continued.
“My daycare is a special one,” Anni replied, sounded a bit defensive for Celyn. “A magical one. A home for little ones like you.”
“I’m an adult,” her creator’s voice wasn’t angry, nor defiant it just stated something obvious. “And it will never be my home.”
“You are overexcited,” the AI began to move further. “Maybe so much creativity is harmful for your little mind.”
“Can you define home as a place where you are kept against your will?” Barbara asked.
Anni didn’t acknowledge her, but moved over to Celyn.
“Such a nice meadow,” she praised, her eye moving up and down the painting of green, bits of color which should be birds and a tree. “Maybe you should teach the rest how to draw such pretty things!”
Not knowing what to say, Celyn nodded, when she got an idea.
“I just wanted to see a real tree again,” she explained. “See the sun, feel the grass …”
“Anni will think of a solution, don’t you worry!”
As Anni moved further, Celyn wondered if that meant they would get a piece of grass and a real tree planted besides the sandpit … maybe complete with mechanical birds as fake as the rest of the nursery.
“And what is this?” Anni asked.
“Just look,” Bruce replied with a nasty smile.
There wasn’t much open to interpretation in Celyn’s eyes. In rather clear lines, he had painted a man with a gun firing on Anni, whose eye had red around her. Under her were shattered pieces of teddy bears and dolls.
“You make poor Anni sad,” the AI commented, her camera lowering for a moment as if she truly felt it.
“You’re welcome,” Bruce replied, grinning at her in a way indistinguishable from a real 15 year old cynic teen.
Anni now moved to the last of her charges. As she watched Hillary’s painting, her camera rose higher and the blue light shone brighter. What the regressed adult had produced could really be placed on the wall of any daycare. There were blue blobs, reminding Celyn of flying jellyfishes and green lines, reminding her of grass. This was all she could even vaguely identify, for there rest were blobs of yellow and red and tears of pink.
“Now this is a little artist!” Anni noticed.
The so praised gave the camera a wide smile. Not just the painting fitted in a daycare. Hillary had at one point turned to fingerpainting, resulting in her hands, apron and even the top of her nose being covered in gay colors.
“Or are you a little Indian with warpaint?”
This comment of the AI made Hillary giggle.
Bruce starred at this in disbelieve and then exchanged a look with Celyn. The latter shrugged. She assumed the prostitute simply pretended to feel younger to placate Anni and not risking to be turned even younger, much like she pretended to be Jess’s mother to abduct him from the police precinct. Yet … alone the idea that the reduced age had done something to her mind …
“Bathing time!” Anni declared.
With this a part of the wall to their right opened was pulled away, revealing a floor. The teddy bears and dolls pulled and pushed the four into it and then into a room with two giant bathtubs. Large hands unasked for helped them to remove aprons, clothes and diapers, until they stood there naked and the differences of their biological ages became abruptly obvious. Bruce who wasn’t used to this at all, couldn’t help but stare at Barbara and the sight of her fully developed breasts made his own teenager hormones kick in. He quickly turned around and pressed his hands on his groin as most private part quickly hardened.
And we are supposed to be toddlers, Celyn thought cynically
Indeed, she was busy covering her vulva from Bruce and Jess and – even as she knew the stupidity of it – her non-existent breasts. She wasn’t happy to find herself being guided into a bath with Bruce and would have much preferred the groups for the two tubes divided by gender or at least biological age, as she would have felt much more comfortable bathing with biologically five year old Jess, despite knowing he was … but Anni already had made clear before that she didn’t want someone that young as them worrying about it.
Madness!, she Celyn thought.
Yes, despite the frustration she felt instantly relaxing, as she warm water covered her. While she still tried not to look at the man turned teenager, she shared the tube with, she guessed maybe bathing with the little Hillary would have been worse, given what she knew of her. The latter now sharing a bath with Jess and Barbara.
Such instead on the naked stranger she shared the tube with, Celyn concentrated on the foam surrounding them, the feeling of warmth … and the plastic ducks, balls and even a boat floating around them. Her eyes met with Bruce as he just looked back from Barbara and both watched a yellow duck sailing by between them. She looked away, trying to sink deeper in the water.
“Just imagine we are in a swimming pool with one of those nude nights,” he suggested.
Celyn laughed despite herself.
“You two are so sweet warming up,” Ann commented, as her camera lowered from above. “Maybe you can play house later.”
“We aren’t cute!” Celyn shot back.
“Oh well,” Anni replied, as if to indicate that the children were foolish again, before turning to Bruce. “I got something for you.”
A hand above them let something fall, which landed with a splash in the water next to the regressed man.
“What …” He took it and held it up, revealing it to be a red water pistol.
“Just don’t hit your playmate’s eyes.”
Bruce starred at the water pistole a moment, then he filled it with water, lifted it, aimed it at Anni and shot.
The AI’s eye easily moved out of the way of the beam of water.
“Silly boy!” She commented amused.
Scowling Bruce aimed at one of the teddy bears running around the tubs. He hit, even making the bear fall and land on its butt, but instead of exploding thank to the water damage, as he had secretly hoped for, the robot just giggled and stood up again.
“Goddamnit!” Bruce cursed, his voice cracking again, throwing the gun in the water.
“Worth a try,” Celyn assured him.
He gave her a weary smile.
In the other tub, Hillary was just making a splash with her hands to push a small ship away.
“Leave it!” Jess admonished her, not happy with the situation at all.
“I know how to play,” she commented.
“I don’t want to play!”
“I don’t want to be here,” Hillary shot back. “Whose fault is it?”
“You brought me and yourself here!” Jess reminded her. “If it weren’t for you, I might very well have convinced the police!”
“No one believes a little brat!”
Jess wanted to throw her this back in the face, best with a wave large enough to drown her, but a hand on his shoulder held her back. Turning around he saw Barbara shaking her head. Maybe it was the worry in her eyes or the natural respect his five-year-old body had for an adult, but he stopped himself. More than this, for a moment he wanted nothing more but the comfort of her embrace. The urge became stronger and stronger and he felt …
“Time to make you all clean!” Anni announced.
With this, hands holding wash clothes approached them. Stoically they let the hands clean every bit of themselves, including shampooing their head and private parts. Experience helped, proven by the fact that the only one protesting when his most private parts were cleaned was Bruce.
“Hey!” He shouted, as a hand went under water with a washcloth.
“You need to be all clean there so your dipee doesn’t cause you a rash!” Anni explained.
“I don’t need a diaper!”
“Such a silly-Billy,” Anni noticed with a giggle.
In the end Bruce let it happen, but still didn’t look happy, when they were lifted out of the tubs by the hands, which held them while other hands dried them with gigantic, fluffy towels, decorated with cute animals.
“You nearly shine!” Anni commented, as they were carried back to the playroom.
There the hands laid Jess and Bruce on the changing tables, letting the women wait. At first it had seemed Anni had wanted to change them all at once, but the hands coming for the women sitting on their towels below suddenly shuttered and stopped, a bottle of sweet smelling baby powder still in her hand.
Her RAM is too full to process this, Barbara realized, as she saw how her business partner and her friend were put into new diapers, but what could she do that …
There was an unsettling long list of possibilities, but already the hands put Jess and Bruce down, still naked but for their diapers, while lifting her and Celyn up.
A bit later they were all diapered and dressed in pajamas. Barbara pulled her own and inspected the unicorn theme. She could nearly like this. Moments later the hands herded them to the center of the playroom, where during their bath time cots had been placed in a circle.
“It has already been an exciting morning,” Anni commented, awaiting them there. “Time for a little nap.”
Barbara resisted the urge to reply that she wasn’t tired. Instead, she took a cot next to Jess and laid down, her fresh diaper crinkling at every movement. Hands lowered from above and gave each of them large baby bottles with warm milk.
“With a warm tummy the sandman will come even faster,” Anni told them.
Reluctantly Barbara took the nipple of her own in her mouth and sucked. She knew she only needed to drink a little for the A.I. to be satisfied. As warm milk filled her mouth and the already well-known scent of diaper oil and baby powder her nose, she noticed that it got dark in the room safe for a circular space around the cots. At the same time something was lowered from above and she needed a moment to recognize what it was. A gigantic mobile. Before she could groan, it began to turn and the apes, giraffes and birds on it moved with it. To top it a soft lullaby started.
Hush little baby don’t say a word,
Mama is gonna buy you a mockingbird.
And if that mockingbird won’t …
Despite herself, Barbara felt her eyes grew heavy and her sucking on the bottle stopping.
I want to see the sun, were her last thoughts, as she saw the mobile turning above them and Anni’s blue eye watching them.
A police van came to a stark hold before a large storage hall in the harbor district. Detective Fellor and Agent Miller jumped out, followed by men in SWAT suits. Both men looked up, seeing dimmed light coming out of the windows high above.
“Okay, you know what we are here for,” Miller explained, turning to the rest of the team. “Remember: Free the potential hostages and shoot anything that looks like a robot. The other teams will enter from all side.”
Two men were already busy with the lock of the rolling gate and just to proof that the other teams were busy, too, the lights in the windows went out just as the gate was rolled up. The team entered the darkness, using the lights on their guns and flashlights to light out interior, only to have the beam getting lost in the vast darkness.
As they slowly moved further in, the light of the van suddenly shone in from behind, revealing a large push door. In large, colorful letters ‘Anni’s Nursery’ stood above it. Two of the team pushed the door, revealing it to be unlocked, as it fell back. Fellor exchanged a short look with Miller who nodded, so he gave the signal to proceed. Their lights revealed a corridor ahead. The soft yellow carpet of the floor showed crayons, balls, pacifiers and rattles. The walls showed Peter Rabbit, Winni the Pooh and other comic characters little children enjoyed. As they shone their lights above there was only the darkness of the hall above them, barely touched by the light from outside coming through the windows. Fellor was too aware that anything could hide up there.
At first the floor went straight, only to make twists and turns. They came to different doors, all open and when they looked in, they found giant nurseries, with cribs too large for adults to climb out easily. Each had a faint smell of the odor Fellor had smelled of Jess back when he had talked with him but hadn’t listened. Baby Oil, powder and similar products to protect a baby’s skin. The rooms themselves seemed oddly shaped, with their walls to thin. It was only when a member of the SWAT team shone in a crack between one of the rooms and the floors, that they saw that it were modified shipping containers.
Taking he next turn, Fellor nearly ran into something large. Lifting his flashlight, he starred in disbelieve at a large, metallic hand in a white glove, hanging lifeless from a steel cable from above. Cautiously he touched it with his gun, but got no reaction. Whatever this monstrosity was, without power it was just a piece of metal. Despite this, the team left the largest possible distance between it and them, as it moved on.
“Team A here, we found a large … hand, but it is inactive like everything else. No sign of activity,” he told the other teamleaders by his walkie talky. “Team B, C and D confirm.”
Silence but for the sound of static, as they walked down another dark corridor, where happy cartoon animals on the wall looked rather ominous in the shine of the light.
“Ellen, James, Karkowski,” Fellor tried. “Please answer.”
“We knew she has isolated the hall for all but her signals,” Miller commented by his side. “Look there!”
He pointed a large plastic gate in green, red and blue, looking like the entrance to a barn. Over it in the same style like at the entrance of the complex stood ‘Little Playfield’. Not being able to see clearly through the openings, Fellor decided to action and went through. They entered a large playroom. Equipment styled for toddlers, but partly large enough for adults. They passed a crawling tunnel, one of them shone their light through to make sure it was empty. A ball pit. A sand pit. A few dolls and teddy bears. A see-saw and a bobby car.
If you ignored the size of it, you could nearly call it a perfect playroom for toddlers. Yet, as he looked up, Fellor once again noticed the vast darkness above them and wondered how the kidnapped had spent weeks here. Had Anni always watched them from above? Like the large eye Jess had described to them? He had laughed back then, but now he felt only his stomach growing heavy. Still, no signs of anyone and …
Suddenly a crack opened in the wall in front of them with light coming from behind it. All guns were instantly aimed at it. The crack grew larger, revealing to be a line in the wall, where this part of the wall was linked with the other. When it was large enough a figure moved through it.
“Lower your guns,” Fellor ordered. “Ellen what did you find?”
“The back is a workshop. Full of machines, part of toys, equipment, furniture and these hands.” The officer looked around. “I would say the AI created the whole complex, but got the design from the internet.”
“Not just the design.”
All guns were directed to the direction of the sound, only to be lowered when it revealed to be Koenig and his team, coming out of the corridor.
“We found a storage with clothes of all sizes, from newborn to adults …” He hesitated. “Diapers, too, lots of them. Also, every other equipment you would imagine in a nursery … Most important we found a kitchen full of baby food, some in the process of being cooked.”
“So, they were here recently,” Agent Miller surmised. “But where …”
“Old McDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O!
And on his farm he had a cow, E-I-E-I-O!
With a moo-moo here and …”
The lights of the three teams searched over the room to find what sounded like a child singing. A real one, judging by the voice. The light finally stopped at a large plastic chair for toddlers, standing in the middle of the room, in the center of a group of cots arranged circular around it. On the chair sat a teddy bear, clearly the source of the music.
“Here a moo, there a moo,
Everywhere a moo-moo,
Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O!”
The group approached it as it continued to sing, with their guns still risen.
“Does it just have a music box or …” Ellen began.
She stopped talking as the teddy suddenly stopped singing.
“Hello friends!” It greeted them waving his paw, not caring for the guns with now aimed for his head. “It was so boring alone.”
“The bears you mentioned were larger,” James noticed.
“Watch out for more!” Miller ordered.
On his order several team members placed themselves with the back to them to have all directions covered.
“Where are the hostages?” Fellor asked the bear.
The teddy chuckled.
“Miss Anni brings them to her new nursery for even more fun and games,” it explained. “Don’t worry, you all can go there one day, too!”
With this it raised its plushy arms, as if it was expecting the team to join out of joy. When no one did … its head exploded.
They all starred at the burning teddy a moment, now revealing its small robotic body beneath it.
“If I am ever in danger of her getting me,” Fellor began, turning to Agent Miller, “shoot me!”
Barbara felt something shaking her softly. She tried to resist, tried to stay in the deep sleep she knew on a certain level was her only respite, but what …
“Wakey, wakey!” The annoyingly happy voice of a girl told her, with similar voices in the background.
No longer being able to resist, Barbara opened her eyes, only to see the large mobile still turning above her. Something seemed different, though … Her thoughts were stopped by the realization that she was sucking on something.
Yawning she sat up on her cot and spit out her pacifier. Why did she feel so hammered? Wearily she looked around, watching how the others stood up or were still in the process of being woken up by the dolls and teddys. Barbara would never tell it, but on some level, she sometimes felt like she was the only adult here, even if this was only true biologically. She couldn’t shake the feeling even when clearly feeling the thick diaper she sat on.
“I hope you had a sweet time in dreamland,” Anni greeted them, her eye coming down from above. “Aunt Anni has a surprise for you.”
Inwardly groaning, Barbara wanted to protest, but already she heard the sound of something large moving and the wall in front of them began to pull back.
Wasn’t the wall much farther away?, Barbara wondered. Why …
Before she could formulate it out, the lights went on, revealing the playroom … but another than they had fallen asleep in. For once, it looked bigger, even if most toys and structures were at the same place and for a moment Barbara thought Anni had simply shifted the walls again. Then she looked at the wall and felt shocked. They looked smooth and new. Like out of some sort of plastic or metal, completely different from the walls she had seen in the daycare before.
Could this mean …
The wall closest to them opened with a hiss, forming slight lines of lights around the previously unseen cracks which rapidly widened, as the wall moved aside, slightly dazzling her … with sunlight?!
Indeed, it was the long-missed sunlight and as they group stood up and approached the still opening wall, they looked outside for the first time in a long time, only to realize that they weren’t in the city anymore. A large meadow stretched before them, wonderful green in the daylight, only limited by a large fence far around it. Over the fence all Barbara could see were tree-tops. In its midst of the meadow was a playground of a climbing tower for toddlers, a see-saw, swings, a large sand pit, a slide and many more toys, just waiting to be played with. Dumbfounded by the realization, that they could be anywhere, the teddy bears and dolls pulled and pushed them outside to do just this. The feeling of grass under her bare feet was the only thing making it appear less than totally surreal.
“Don’t worry about getting dirty feet little ones!” Anni told them.
The AI’s eye h shone bright as she watched the group toddling out. In her short existence she had never felt prouder and happier, knowing that now they were save from anyone wanting to take her charges from her. Maybe as important, her new nursery had more than enough place for new little ones.
To be continued…
Baby Sofia · Aug 13, 2022I had put off reading this and am glad I finally began! Great imaginative tale and I can't wait to see where you take this! I thought maybe you were about to wrap it up, but clearly there's more to come! Look forward to seeing more posts!