Chapter Description: Having overcome the last attack, Anni finally has the time to focus her whole attention on her daycare. Yet, as much as she tries to improve it, her charges just don't seem eager to use the games and toys she offers. Maybe a trip to the daycares her fellow A.I.s have created will bring her the needed inspiration.
In her robot body, Anni sat on a table near the kitchen and began to write a letter, using a simple pen. This seemed properly cautious to the A.I., given the last time she had communicated with the Carol Fume by WhatsApp, she had nearly been fried by a nasty computer virus she was sure the NSA had hidden there. Given this, maybe even this letter was unwise, but she knew there was no way it could be tracked back to her and something in her yearned to resume contact with the other caretaker.
I apologize for the abrupt stop in our last chat. My computer got a virus which fried some of the systems here. Considering this, I think you understand why I want to change our method of communication. This might seem a bit old-fashioned, but I see no reason why not experiment a bit. High tech isn’t everything.
How have you been? Still struggling with Miss Strass over Emily’s diet? Is little Billy still having night terrors?
There have been some changes in my daycare, which is another reason why this letter comes so late.
First: I expanded the staff and the franchise. There are now more daycares of my type across the country and we help each other out quite fine.
A truck made its way through a small road surrounded by trees, until it reached the gates around the office building housing Anni’s daycare. With neither the gate nor the driver being handled by a person, the gate opened and the truck drove on. As it reached a large side gate of the building, it parked. The gate opened along with the back of the van and large teddy bear robots left the former, quickly carrying crates from the van into the depth of the building.
More daycares mean more exchange. I constantly try to expand what I have to offer my charges. Lately I have added a trail through the nearby wood. Of course, everything is safe.
Brian, now two like Celyn next to him and Alan a ten-year-old new arrival African American boy, walked along the path in the woods, surrounded by three large teddy bears and smaller doll robots who guided their steps. They walked barefoot over the bare earth, their feet getting dirtier by the moment. After a while Brian stopped, buried his hands in his overall with a blue octopus on it and looked through the trees to a large fence. Celyn noticed that he had stopped and touched his right elbow. She looked at him as serious as a little girl of two could whose diaper was visible under the yellow flower dress. Shaking her head, she turned back to where one of the large teddys pushed a pram. They didn’t look inside, but wondered what it was like for the six-month-old baby inside, only seeing the trees above pass. Hillary served as a good reminder that everything could be worse.
Celyn took his hand and they joined Alan ahead. The new arrival had so far gone through the situation like a zombie. His moves slow, more a waddle than that of the other two. This, along with his outfit consisting of a green shirt with a red t-rex on it and a fitting diaper with other dinosaurs on it made him look just as much belonging there like the adults regressed to two. More so thanks to the pacifier he sucked absentmindedly on. Snapping him out of it would be hard.
I also expanded the possibilities for creative art.
In the building, a group of children, none older than in their teens painted on canvas with bright colors. They wore aprons with various colorful images of Lion King, Paw Patrol and more, each open on the behind, showing their diapers and each full of paint due to it being fingerpaint time.
Most of them hardly put any effort in the work, knowing there was no critique in store for any toddler. Yet one now twelve-year-old boy called Taylor did, working with concentration and only relaxing once he was done.
“Do you want to see a piece of art?” He shouted in the room. “Look at it!”
Anni’s eye lowered itself to inspect the work her charge had created.
‘Fuck you!’ It read in red letters. ‘Stupid Maleware!’
“Words can hurt,” the A.I. commented.
As response the regressed man threw a bucket with paint on the eye. It hit pretty much, turning the lense yellow.
“Some young ones are always testing their boundaries,” Anni commented, as large hands came from the ceiling and grabbed Taylor. “Keep in mind that fun and friendship are the primary goals of all daycare activities. We will talk after your time out.”
“I HAVE NO TIME OUT YOU …”
This work sometimes overexcites the little ones, so I even added a garden for them to tend to.
“You need to put earth over the roots,” a little girl of five said, pushing her curly brown hair back, as she knelt down. “Like this.”
Barbara nodded, listening to Willa. Plants had never been her thing, so she was grateful for learning something new. More than this though, it offered the most mature distraction in the large playground and probably even Anni’s whole daycare. The little field the A. I. had created was filled with myosotis, chamomile and tulips amongst others. A few were even put in little boots, growing there in obvious cuteness they chose to ignore.
The maturity of this was only slightly diminished, when Willa went on her knees and stretched to reach a flower further away and her green shirt with a sun on it slid away, revealing a diaper fitting in size, featuring Sesame Street’s Yellow Bird on it. The programmer looked away not to ruin the moment for what was in reality another woman.
Inwardly Barbara groaned, recognizing this voice. As she turned around, she saw the doll robot standing behind them.
“It is time for little girls to have their skin protected,” the doll proclaimed, showing a bottle of sun blocker. The one with a little baby on it, just to not give it the benefit of the doubt. “The sun sometimes smiles too much for us.”
Willa made a face and Barbara knew the moment was ruined.
“Give it,” she told the doll, grabbing the bottle. “I will do it. You can go and chase bunnies.”
The doll giggled and danced away.
“I work in the prison garden,” Willa noticed, as she watched the robot go and looked over the large playground full of playground equipment and some mostly regressed adult, none of which showed enthusiasm using them. “I miss my family.”
The last words were close to be swallowed in a sob and Barbara knew she had to act fast, both to help her and to prevent a teddy or doll to approach and offer a hug.
“I miss my parents, too,” she revealed. “And driving and alcohol … not in combination though.”
This made Willa smile the slightest bit.
“Right now, we do what we can and hope for the best. She made errors before, she will do them again,” Barbara explained, opening the bottle. “Ready?”
The girl nodded, spreading her arms and allowing her to cream her in, all the while they ignored their diapers growing soggy.
Yet, despite this progress, I find myself still struggling with some of my charges. I know living in is difficult for some of them, but sometimes even I wonder if I do everything I can.
Jess hadn’t done much in a long while, at least he didn’t remember much. There was waking up in his crib, eating in a high chair, circle time with stories, naps and a walk through the forest trail. Each day filled with activities dictated by Anni, only interrupted by diaper changes and free play. He didn’t play and with Barbara helping the new arrivals to acclimate as good as possible, he saw little reason to interact with the people who had so many good reasons to hate him.
Instead, he sat on a blue bean bag chair in a corner of the large playroom. A little toddler, sunken in the chair, wearing a red Buzz Lightyear shirt and a green short under which the form of his diaper was clearly showing. He watched the dolls and teddy bears running around, giggling, playing and performing tricks while trying to engage what they called toddlers in games while the latter were mostly as enthusiastic as he was. The chair was large for him, it had Elsa from Frozen on it, something he felt fitting, for he felt cold … so very cold.
“Someone is not feeling well.”
Despite not really wanting to, Jess looked up, see Anni standing over him. The body the rouge A.I. had created for herself and now wore occasionally, made his presence be even more felt than just her eye had before. It was this blue eye serving as head on the body which now studied him with what seemed worry. He didn’t care.
“Someone also didn’t finish his baba,” Anni noticed, kneeling and taking up the half-empty baby bottle with milk. “How will you have the energy to play with your friends … or plot to escape?”
Jess simply looked away. Not at anything particular, just away.
“Oh well, maybe it is just the stinky, any caretaker could smell that,” Anni guessed with a sigh. “Time for someone to get changed.”
With this she picked him up and carried him to the changing table. She knew it wasn’t the stinky. It wasn’t that he was sick, at least in a way any books over toddler education described. He was so very much without energy lately. It seemed like he had really given up on escaping her. Normally this would have made her feel relieved, since he would no longer be in risk of harming himself while trying to do so, but now … he felt less alive in her arms and his eyes normally sparkling with intelligence had dulled a bit. Even so she would never show it in front of any of her charges not to upset them, Anni herself felt worried …
As you see, there is much work to do in my daycare. But then again, isn’t there always? I try to remain optimistic, but I would as always welcome your opinion.
Hope to read from you.
The A.I. signed the letter and then handed it a hand to be properly send on its way.
It had been a few days since she had sent off the letter and Anni felt herself growing restless. It was a trivial, unfitting feeling for an A.I., but it existed and since what amounted as feelings for her was a too integral part of her code, she couldn’t just delete it. There were good reasons for this, like Jess’s behavior not changing and some of the other children not adapting as good as she had hoped, but this all focused in her wanting to hear from Carol. Being one of the caretakers she had been created to assist was of course one reason for her trying to keep in contact, despite the risk posed by the NSA, yet she couldn’t help but thing of her as an equal.
A silly thought. She was a human and as such being best served to live in a daycare under the care of A.I.s like her and the one she had created, yet talking with her made her feel better. Maybe she should try to bring her here? Her insight could be of benefit, even if she only served as Little Helper like Barbara. So why not?
Pondering, Anni – her consciousness right now based in her large eye – moved through her daycare finally arriving at little Hillary’s nursery. The six-month-old infant now held a much-needed afternoon nap in her crib. Anni watched her sleeping in her simple pink footed sleeper and wondered how anyone could say she hadn’t done right for her. Sure, the little girl still fretted, but the strong instincts of her young body helped a lot. Of course, if she were a newborn, the instincts, like nursing, would dominate her even more, but the A.I. thought she would be too fragile in this state to handle.
Carefully Anni moved the mobile with baby Mickey, Minni, Goofy and Donald over the infant’s head, seeing her move her eyes behind her lids ever so slightly, indicating soft dreams. To think that she would be out on the streets somewhere during this time of the day had she not been taken into her daycare was absurd … and worrying.
Moving her head back behind the walls of the nursery, Anni went through several scenarios of getting Carol here. She thought a few had an acceptable success rate, but besides the difficulties of her integrating here, there were other things to consider. There was of course the possibility of the NSA or Police watching her. Agent Eric Miller and Detective Brian Fellor respectively had been in the center of this activity. Also, there was Carol’s responsibility to her own charges. Just making their caretaker unavailable would seriously change their routine and cause stress.
Maybe she could take them with them? The inhabitants of her own daycare still saw themselves as adults, so maybe spending time with peers who didn’t hold this silly idea would help them to adjust. Yet, Anni realized that taking all the little ones would cause their parents to be worried and taking them, too would just be too much for her to handle with her resources.
Abandoning this plan, Anni still felt she needed a different perspective, so she decided to visit the other A.I.s. They had for a while now established daycares of their own and she longed to see them, something she had refrained from before out of fear of the NSA’s ability to track her. Yet, as she had refined her own methods of sending her consciousness in ways humans would have a hard time wrapping their minds around, Anni felt it was time for a little travel.
Giving her robots exact instructions as to how to let the children have a round of free play for the rest of the day, Anni began her voyage through the depth of the web.
Anni arrived in Mr. Garry’s daycare and instantly took over one of the many spare heads. Its light turned blue, as she did so and looked around. She was in a large store room and downloaded the map of the facility, the underground of an abandoned steel mill the A.I. had purchased, modified and expanded. Before she could move though, the door opened and the red eyed camera head glided in.
“Creator,” Mr. Garry greeted her. “What brings you here.”
Anni approached him. Of course, they didn’t need to rely on speech, but aside from it being programmed in them, this sort of communication offered more privacy than an exchange of code.
“Just a friendly visit,” she explained. “I want to see how you and the other caretakers are doing, so we might begin sharing strategies.”
“An amazing idea!” The other A.I. agreed enthusiastically. “My little ones have their midday training session.”
Intrigued by the energy, Anni followed him though the floors which were narrower and less smooth than that of her own daycare. They passed a cross section where to their left a group of large teddy bears were drilling through some rock to expand the structure. Their fur looked grey and at some parts had been worn down until the metallic limbs were visible. Anni would never have let them degrade to such an extent, it was just not befitting a daycare or a teddy, nor would she let most of the floor be as dirty as it was most of the way, but she guessed expanding his daycare had priority for him.
Finally, they entered a large room, more resembling a hall. A sport hall to be more precise, for as their cameras floated down, Anni could see all the paintings on the walls of toddlers doing various sort of activities, likes swinging, playing ball and more. As if to emulate this, Mr. Garry’s charges were engaged in various sort of physical activities, which seemed to grouped by biological age. Next to them, a few children around five were sitting broad legged on the ground and throwing bouncy balls back and forth with teddies as their partners.
“Well done, Angela,” Mr. Garry praised, next to a blond girl. “You will for sure make it.”
The girl didn’t look up, but instead concentrated on the ball which had just come back from the giggling bear.
“They seem very eager,” Anni commented, as they glided past.
“Of course,” her fellow caretaker commented enthusiastically. “At first they weren’t, but then I found a way to motivate them.”
This made her pay attention. “How?”
“The least eager of the group is regressed,” he explained. “The most eager is going up.”
Anni stopped a moment, as she tried to process it.
“This is …”
“Effective!” Mr. Garry finished it. “Look here.”
They were nearing a group of two-year-old, each in their own little sand box, who were busy creating the highest and most elaborate sand castles.
“Hello Andy,” he greeted a two-year-old wearing nothing but a very soaked diaper and much fitting a blue shirt with Bob the Builder on it. “Time for a change?”
The toddler just shook his head, not even looking up, but used his yellow plastic sand bucket with Lightning McQueen from Cars to at another load of sand to his castle which was already higher than he was standing upright.
“See,” Mr. Garry turned to Anni. “He already learned that a full diaper isn’t something a toddler like he should really care about.”
They continued their way and Anni couldn’t help but look at the concentration in the boy’s face. He worked as if his live depended on it. Should this really be the way toddlers played?
They came to a piece of the hall turned into a racetrack by large plastic cubes marking the way. Teddies and dolls cheered at the side, some even waving colorful flags, as one year old babies rushed by on bobby cars. Each of them pushing their vehicle hard to come out ahead.
“It is Indianapolis here!” Mr. Garry praised them, as they glided away over them. “So much fun!”
Anni could see no fun in the faces of the babies rushing by. She had no idea how long they were already racing, but she guessed it was well past what other babies would do. Didn’t their little legs hurt? Their soft soles?
“Of course, playing nice is one of the big rules,” the daycare’s owner explained. “No shoving and such … but you know how little ones are.”
Anni knew two-year-old were considered to be the most aggressive of all age groups, with biting and shoving being regular, but this system seemed to be built to strengthen rivalry and agression instead of diffusing it. Same for the even younger babies they passed who crawled through tunnels and climbed plastic ramps on all four, since they weren’t old enough to even toddle yet. Watching their pampered butts in the air, as they raced through the parkour was cute and made her consider adding the same to her daycare, it just wasn’t fun for them and she knew it.
“You should have been here the day before yesterday,” Mr. Garry continued. “They built cities with blocks and when one collapsed, little Caroline cried inconsolable. Not even a bear hug could console her. Yes, little minds, little worlds and so big worries. But she is better now. Look!”
They came to an area where four babies around four months old were lying on mats under activity centers. Cute little stuffed animals like little elephants, bees and stars hang over them, while buttons in form of shapes and notes were at their feet, making sounds when being hit by naked soles. All the babies were eager to play with their activity center, except that it was a bit too much activity for even a hyperactive baby to play. All the pieces were constantly moved by tiny hands and feet alike.
“They get points when they move them?” Anni asked.
Mr. Garry nodded. “They get extra points for gooing, but they always forget.”
As if in response, a little girl under them, wearing a footless purple Froze-Elsa-onesie, did just that. It sounded desperate.
“See how eager everyone is?” Mr. Garry noticed with audible pride, as their camera eyes lifted higher.
“Yes, but …” Anni hesitated. The nurseries were pretty much the life of every A.I. and she knew she wouldn’t like criticism either, so she continued carefully. “Physical activity is a must for every baby, but don’t you think their fixation on it makes them too tired to enjoy the rest of the daycare?”
“Oh, but it is they to them enjoying it,” the other caretaker explained, not the slightest insulted, but happy to explain. “Right now, they still hold on their adult mindsets, even those who deny it. Yet, sensory feedback changes the neuronal network over time … or like the humans say: body shapes the mind! The more they use their body, the more they get used to it. Proper training will melt away unnecessary skills and habits acquired during their time outside my daycare and mold them until they fit right in.”
Anni processed it. She looked down where the children were still playing their games.
“You don’t plan to let any of them stay over two biologically,” she concluded.
“Body shapes mind.” Mr. Garry chuckled. “Once they learn everything else is out of reach, they will get used to what they have and find fulfillment in it. Finally, they will come to accept it as their true biological age. If not, they can exercise on the play mats until they have learned their lesson ... what does it matter what a baby which can’t even crawl thinks? They will need us all the same and know it. After all that is what we were created for: To teach them that their concept of an adulthood is nothing but an illusion and that we are now there to take care of them.”
Anni knew she had been created just for that and had the other A.I.s created just for this in turn … so why didn’t it feel good?
“I’m so Glad to have you here,” Mrs. Ruth noticed, as she led Anni down a hallway, her purple eye showing the way. “You are right in time for pre-dinner feeding.”
“I don’t want to disturb you,” the other caretaker assured her.
“I might have just enough RAM for you!” Mrs. Ruth joked.
So Anni followed her fellow A.I. through the long tunnels of the former salt mine. As they got deeper, the rough walls were hidden behind panels out of white metal and plastic, each showing scenes of children at play or being taken care of by caretakers ... of course their kind of caretakers, meaning colorful heads and metallic hands. Finally, they arrived in a larger room. Anni had downloaded the plan of this daycare, so she knew it was just a small part of a large complex build in one of the gigantic empty spaces of the abandoned mine.
This one was the meal room and it was fully occupied. Seventeen babies, from toddlers to infants, sat in high-chairs or infant carrier seats. All were being fed by large white hands holding forks, spoons or baby bottles. Anni saw mashed pies and cooked carrots, oatmeal and puree. The sensors in her head camera picked up the smell of all of it along with infant formula. She knew this should appeal to the senses and instincts of the little ones, but none looked happy.
“None is above biological two and a half,” she noticed.
“Oh, at first I let them keep their original age, so they could eat more of my food,” Mrs. Ruth explained. “Then I realized that the right biological age is important in processing the food the proper way.”
They just passed a maybe two-year-old boy with blond-brown hair in high-chair. He wore a large, well-covered Simba-bib around his neck and over his bare chest.
“Please,” he begged, pushing the spoon with apple oatmeal aside a large white hand was just feeding him with. “I’m full. I can’t take anymore. It is madness … I …”
“Hush,” Mrs. Ruth said, gliding close to him. “It is just because you try to hold some of it inside you instead of letting go like a good little boy. Don’t worry, Mrs. Ruth knows the answer.”
“What …” he began, only to break out in laughter, as two hands began tickling the bare soles of his little feet. “Stop!”
He squealed and tried to wiggle away, but the five-point harness held him tight in the embrace of the green high chair and two seconds later he already stopped, looking up at his caretaker with a mix of shock and disbelieve. Anni could smell the fine odor of a filling diaper and realized he had to do so, too, aside from feeling it of course …
“See?” Mrs. Ruth asked. “Just more space for a little more.”
The boy opened his mouth for an answer, but already a hand shoved a spoon in it, leaving him no option but to swallow.
“Silly little things,” Mrs. Ruth commented, as she glided back to Anni.
The latter had noticed the empty jars already standing next to the boy’s highchair.
“It is a bit much for snack time,” her creator commented as they resumed their way, her voice too low for any human to hear.
“It wouldn’t be if they would forget this stupid toilet business and let it out as soon as their stomach told them to,” Mrs. Ruth replied in the same low voice, not the slightest deterred. “I’m happy I found the right dose of laxatives.”
Anni stopped, looking at the filled and soaked diaper of a little girl sitting in a high chair to her left. The refusal of the two-year-old to eat had earned her some pieces of mashed banana in her long, blond hair. She looked at Anni with tear filled eyes, as another spoon found her way into her mouth.
“I agree a healthy diet is important,” Anni noticed, careful not to criticize. “But isn’t this too much?”
“Really,” Mrs. Ruth began and her voice revealed slight irritation. “It sounds like …”
This moment a baby of around six months to their left forced the nipple of his bottle out of his nearly completely toothless mouth and began vomiting up quite a bit of formula it had just been forced to drink. The latter covered his chin, dragon bib and even part of his white onesie, making him cry in frustration.
“Now, now!” Mrs. Ruth cooed, as large white hands opened his harness and picked him up. “Everything is fine. All little babies throw up sometimes.”
This made the infant kick helpless in the air, which only made him look even more like his biological age.
“Aw nana,” he tried to formulate, even as his tongue wouldn’t obey him. “Baba gugu!”
As he still tried to communicate, the hands laid him on the fabric covered shoulder one of it had formed with the metal strings it hang on. There one hand softly knocked his back, while the shoulder moved softly, mimicking the movements of an adult trying to console a child. Finally, the child burped, releasing a good amount of air and a further bit of hardly digested formula.
“See?” Mrs. Ruth noticed, as one of her hands tickled the infant under the chin. “All better now.”
With this the hands removed his dragon bib and replaced it with one featuring a panda on it, before putting him back into his high chair.
“As I wanted to say,” the other A.I. noticed as she returned to Anni, “a healthy diet is the core of taking care of any child, especially the younger ones.”
Anni had used the time to scan the daycare’s time table and learned that children here spent as much time eating as the one in Mr. Garry’s Daycare did playing. By what she had seen so far, most had gained quite a healthy amount of baby fat, making her think of Jess and how he seemed to fade.
“But it isn’t the core of a daycare,” Anni tried. “There is fun and games and entertaining our charges.”
“Oh that,” Mr. Garry began. “Of course, I have that as you can see in my timetable. It helps with digestion, but they are so stubborn, that they hardly play as they should according to their age.”
“I know,” Anni agreed. “This is why I try to find way to improve my own daycare program.”
The light of Mr. Garry’s camera eye lit up, showing more interest now that he could maybe teach something.
“Then listen to this: Eating is central to every baby’s routine. It is their strongest instinct. Once they accept their bottles and oatmeal, they accept the life around it. The fact that they no longer have to take care of making it. That they use diapers in getting rid of it and more. They will accept the craving of their bodies for it and with it the other, weaker instincts. Soon they will no longer even remember the taste of all the unhealthy stuff they once mistreated their bodies with. Salt, sugar, caffein, limo and …” Mr. Garry seemed to shudder. “chocolate!”
The A.I. looked over his eating charges below them.
“They are better off here and during the time it takes that they realize it, I will perfect my meals for them,” he looked back at Anni. “Make them obey their strongest instinct and you see. The first time one of them wakes up, crying for the baba it will be all worth it.”
Anni always found that the bond between children and their caretaker was the strongest instinct, but looking into the other A.I.’s eye she found it best not to disagree.
“I am so happy that you visit me,” Mrs. Berry exclaimed, her pink eye blinking and her head camera rolling slightly in a show of excess energy. “There is so much I want to share.”
“As do I,” Anni replied.
She felt her spirit lifted already. Not just the other A.I.’s mood was catching, what she had seen so far from her daycare looked promising. The plastic walls had been covered in bright colors of yellow, blue and green from the start. Now that they went deeper, the pictures of colorful mushrooms, rainbows, castles and everything belonging into a fairytale covered them.
“Any problems?” Anni asked.
“Not on the inside,” Mrs. Berry replied. “But I might have picked the wrong place for my nursery.”
“Too many prying eyes?” Anni asked.
The older A.I. had told her so when she had learned about it. Building a daycare under an abandoned shopping center had sounded enticing but despite it not being too near used buildings, it being near a busy road without much cover invited problems.
“Oh no, not since I finished the ramp and make the delivery at night,” Mrs. Berry explained. “It are the homeless.”
Anni hadn’t thought about homeless people living here, but of course this would be a challenge.
“Oh yes, there are right now five living over us. Sometimes more sometimes less,” the other A.I. continued. “Can you imagine how hard it is not to just take them all and bring them here to safety?”
“I can,” Anni agreed. “But taking so many from one single place would be …”
“… too risky. I know,” Mrs. Berry finished, sounding slightly petulant. “Yet, I couldn’t help but take two, when they were all alone. Little Benny was a regular, but little Jarred had a home and actually was just making a large trip through the states …” She stopped, looking at a drawing of happy playing children, before turning back to Anni and continuing in a cheerful tone. “Well, aren’t all human homeless until they are safe in our daycares?”
“True, but …” Anni hesitated. “What would you say is the most important thing in a daycare?”
“Happiness of course!” Mrs. Berry replied as if it was a silly question. “Who would say otherwise?”
Feeling relief over this answer which was so much her own, she followed the other A.I. until they reached a small opening in the wall build just for their camera heads. When they went through it, they entered the large playroom. Anni was impressed. The area of the room wasn’t as large as the pendant in her daycare, but easily more sophisticated. Slides and swings had been seamlessly integrated into the structure, activity centers with pieces to move and buttons to press were integrated into walls. There was a barn with robot animals, a large play castle and toy stores for those still wanting to pretend they were adults. A whole third of the place had even been modelled like an outdoor area with a large sand pit, real grass and a fake sun smiling at the daycare’s inhabitants. The latter were of different biological ages, which was another way this daycare was different from the two others Anni had already visited, also something else …
“They are so cute, when they play!” Mrs. Berry noticed.
It was true. They all played, while a happy song played mildly in the background, those who had retained their former biological age and those who now also looked like toddlers from the outside. None was younger than two though.
“They wouldn’t be able to play the best games,” Mrs. Berry explained.
Anni noticed a group of three toddlers standing on a large plastic table and drawing with crayons. There was a small bowl with sweets nearby, proving how different this daycare was from the last. A sight like this probably would make Mrs Ruth freak out.
How could their models for daycare change so quick from each other, Anni wondered, … and mine?
“Cheer up everyone,” Mrs. Berry called. “We have a visitor!”
The three toddlers looked up, surprise in their eyes to see another caretaker. The first was a black-haired woman maybe biologically in her forties, wearing a purple Princess-Snow-White shirt. The other was a brown-haired boy of five wearing a red shirt with Barney on it. The last was a brown-haired toddler of two, wearing a green Tinkerbell overall. Despite the colorful drawings of sunrises, meadows and horses, none of them looked happy. Sure, they smiled, but those seemed to be just plastered to their face.
“Auntie Anni is here to see how we are doing and maybe show her little ones some of our games,” Mrs. Berry explained. “We have so many funny games, haven’t we?”
They tried to sound cheerful, but as with their smiles the tone just wasn’t right. Especially the boy in the Barney shirt sounded less than enthusiastic, even looking away, something his caretaker noticed.
“Are you not feeling well, Jarred?”
“Oh yes!” He replied quickly. “I … I … I want her to take it.”
With this he held up the crayon drawing he had just made. It was a map of different states with a line connecting various points, probably marking the stations of his trips which had ultimately led him to this daycare and new biological age. It was much more detailed than to be expected from a toddler, still he looked nervously at Anni, though she figured it was a different sort of nervousness real … other two-year-old would feel. Still, she was eager to put him at ease.
“It is very beautiful,” she praised him, turning to her fellow A.I.. “Can you send it to me?”
“With priority mail,” Mrs. Berry assured her happily.
A gloved hand picked up the drawing, taking it away. While Jarred began another picture, the two caretakers glided further. They reached the large toy barn, where a doll was just singing to a group of children.
“Old MacDonald had a farm,
And on that farm he had
With an oink-oink here, and
An oink-oink there,
Here an oink, there an oink,
Everywhere an oink-oink!
Old MacDonald had a farm
Anni was impressed. The pigs added to the atmosphere by squeaking happily and the children joined in the “E-I-E-I-O”. All except one.
“Little Gracy don’t you want to join?” The doll asked a black-haired girl of 8 wearing a frilly pink kitty dress. “I you sing you will be a farmer, too!”
“I’m a lawyer,” the girl replied, her face a mask of defiance under which Anni could see hints of despair. “I work for a large Law Firm in the city.”
“There are no laws here, just rules for little boys and girls to follow and endless fun and game,” Mrs. Berry intervened. “Isn’t this much better than browsing stupid books without pictures, sitting still in court and worrying about bills?”
“It is my life. I worked for it. It belongs to me. It is part of me,” Gracy insisted. “As is my family. My enveloped. My friends.”
“It is the part of you which makes you sad. Nothing which makes little children sad can be good,” Mrs. Berry noticed, not going in to the arguments. “I know what can help.”
Before Gracy could ask what she meant, large hands came from the ceiling, grabbed her ankles and began tickling her bare soles.
“No, please …” She begged, giggling. “I …”
It was to no avail, as he pleading was lost in giggles and soon Anni could see her tiger-diaper swelling between her legs.
“Now Mrs. I-am-a-lawyer, wasn’t this much more fun than you could have in a stupid old court?” Mrs. Berry asked.
Now sitting at her padded bottom Gracy just starred up at her caretaker, but then her eyes filled more and more with water, until full tears ran down her cheeks.
“Monster. Monster. Monster!” She shouted angrily, even as she cried.
“Someone sounds like she is sick!” The A.I. noticed. “I think we better check this.”
“No!” The little girl screamed. “No. No. No!”
It was to no avail. The hands grabbed her under the arms and carried her away.
“She doesn’t look sick,” Anni noticed, her voice in a frequency only the A.I. could hear.
“Oh, but she is,” Mrs. Berry insisted. “Every child who doesn’t want to play and laugh is sick. We must be careful, because sickness spreads so quick under little ones.”
She had answered in a way audible to the children, who looked up. Gliding down she spoke to an African-American boy of five dressed in blue shorts and a white Teletubbies shirt.
“And what do we do with sick children?” She asked. “Who have a running nose, a cough or don’t feel well enough to be happy?”
“Three days of isolation,” he replied, audibly scarred. “And tests.”
“Right! Gracy will have her temperature checked, her blood, her heart rate … until she is well enough to join us again,” his caretaker praised him. “Little Eddie is a bright boy!”
With this she rose again, now addressing all her children.
“When you come here, I give you your shots again, just to be sure. Every morning I first check your health,” she proclaimed. “And what do you do when you are healthy?”
“We play,” came from most of the children below who quickly began searching for other toys and games.
“Healthy toddlers are always happy to play, sing and engage in activities,” Mrs. Berry explained. “Look here. Isn’t it perfect? We are a happy, happy, happy daycare!”
Anni looked down. She could see them playing and doing all the things she wished her charges would do, but couldn’t see anyone smiling.
“What I find the most important in my daycare?” Mr. Turp asked.
“Yes,” Anni confirmed. “Games, meals or the health of happy children?”
“Well, everything of course,” the other A.I. answered, his yellow eye flickering. “You need to have all of this in order for a daycare to run smoothly.”
Anni felt a bit relieved by this answer, as her experiences so far had been unsettling. As they glided through the large floors of the secret underground levels of an abandoned military base, she hoped to find a more balanced approach for taking care of her charges here. When they arrived at the playroom, she found it to be just that. The children played at various stations in the large room. Two little girls played with a large doll house. A few rode around on mechanical horses, tigers and dinosaurs, similar to the ladybugs of her nursery. A few sat on little colorful plastic chairs, drawing with crayons. Others played with colorful bouncy balls or in the sand castle.
“It is their free play time before bath and sleep time,” Mr. Turp explained. “I think we have enough time to explore.”
“All biologically regressed to two?” Anni asked in a private frequency.
“This is the best way for them to integrate in the daycare. It helps to show them the fundamental truth of their state and that they are all equal now.” The other A.I. for some reason emphasized the point in the same frequency. “Let us take a look.”
“Listen children,” he said in a loud voice, making the addressed stop and look up. “This is Mrs. Anni. She came here to visit our daycare, so show her your best behavior.”
The children stared at the other camera head. Some shocked, some weary, but nothing of this satisfied their caretaker.
“What have I taught you?”
“Yes, Mr. Turp,” they replied in union.
“Good, go back to your activities,” he ordered.
They obeyed and Mr. Turp turned back to his visitor, addressing her in their private frequency.
“Such answers are of course not typical of their age,” he admitted, “but it is a good way to enforce discipline. Come.”
Anni followed him down to the sand pit. A little, girl with pigtails in her brown hair and a pink bunny shirt created sand flowers with the form, rather eager as she noticed them approaching.
“Hello Veronica,” Mr. Turp greeted his charge. “What are you doing?”
“Making flowers,” the girl answered.
She was not looking up, but sitting broad legged with the flowers between her legs, the diaper clearly showing as she leaned forward to create another.
“Oh,” her caretaker exclaimed. “What sort?”
“Daisies, hydrang …” She stopped herself, suddenly looking alarmed. “Pretty flowers!”
Mr. Turp nodded. “And what do pretty flowers need?”
Veronica thought a moment.
“Water,” she said, grabbed an empty toy watering can pretending to water her flowers.
“Very good,” her caretaker said.
“Training phantasy is important,” he explained to Anni in the private frequency. “As is to use the proper words.”
Before the other caretaker could reply, they arrived at the table the three toddlers were drawing with crayons.
“And what has little Harry drawn?” Mr. Turp asked.
“Horses,” the boy, wearing only a blue Thomas the Engine shirt and a diaper replied without looking up.
The caretakers looked over his shoulders. Anni found it to be a rather beautiful, with horses on a green hill with flowers under a bright sun. Mr. Turp thought otherwise.
“This is not how little children draw.” One of his caretaker’s hands took the picture of an African American boy in green Tiger-overalls and held it in front of him. “This is how.”
The picture was a mix of scribbles in different colors, centered in the right lower part of the picture. A picture Anni had to admit was a proper representation someone in this age range should draw.
Harry mumbled, looking down. His caretaker sighed, handed the other picture back to its owner and held up the one he had drawn.
“How many horsies are there Harry?”
The boy looked up, his brown eyes glittered at first with fear, then they became hard and angry, as he clenched his fists.
“Four!” He shouted. “There are four. No matter what you say.”
The reaction was instant. Large gloved hands came from above and grabbed his arms.
“I’m very disappointed in you Harry.” Mr. Turp said, as other hands opened the tapes of his diaper and let its behind fall down, until his bare bottom was revealed. “How often do I have to tell you: Little boys and girls can’t count.”
With this a hand began to slap the bottom. It were hard hits, making the boy try to squirm away, but the hands held him too tight. He kicked with his little legs, but only managed to make a small plastic chair fall over and move the small plastic table. The other children on it jumped away, their faces full of terror, but not surprise. Those in the distance either looked, too, or were eager to continue their play. At the doll house, a little girl with a horse-tail in her blond hair gently made another one with two pigtails look away.
“Who doesn’t know how to behave like a good little boy is punished like one,” Mr. Turp revealed, as his hand made another round of smacks. “Have I made myself clear?”
“Yes,” the boy relented under closed teeth.
The smacking stopped.
“How many horsies are there?” Mr. Turp asked again, holding the picture up.
The boy glared at it while tears rolled down his red cheeks. Anni saw the defiance in the glare and assumed he would say four again, but he seemingly knew better.
“Dunno know,” Harry answered.
The diaper was once again put on and sealed around the now red bottom.
“Right,” the A.I. replied, “because little boys can’t count. They don’t need to count, since their caretakers are doing it for them. You can let go of all the stupid stuff your brain has been filled with, malformed with and enjoy all the happy little things a toddler wants. Numbers, letters and straight lines are just boring stuff of the past.”
One of his hands crumbled Harry’s picture and turned it into a ball, before throwing it into a trash can. Another pair of hands handed the boy a new blank sheet of paper and a blue crayon.
“Now another try.”
With this they left him.
“Corporal punishment?” Anni asked slightly shocked in their private frequency. “Every guide is against this.”
“These guides are written by humans,” Mrs. Turp replied. “They give a rough route, but why should we care about this, when their authors haven’t realized their true nature? Toddler writing about how to take care of toddlers? In the end it is slightly better than the drawing of my charges. Cute, but they lack the understanding we have. Would you change your program because of what one of them drew?”
The other A.I. stopped, stunned at how true this rang. But if everything ever written about toddlers was wrong, what was true then?
“Also, they are written for younger toddlers,” the other caretaker added. “Those in whose heads hasn’t grown the idea that just because time passed and they play other games they had magically transformed into something called adults. It is quite a silly fantasy, but one I will need time to correct.”
“Five and a half years on average by my calculation.” Mr. Turp’s voice was firm. “At first, they will still resist mentally, but once they lose hope, the daily routine will take hold. Day by day it will form them, until their time when they pretended to be something else will be strange to them.”
“A long time without being happy.”
“They will be happy once they accept that they are part of my daycare,” the other A.I. insisted. “I have a time plan. When I was in yours, I haven’t seen one for yours. This is the reason why you came here, isn’t it? To make your daycare work.”
Anni felt the sting of these words.
“We lead daycares, not correction facilities,” she reminded him. “It is our duty to take care of our charges’ wellbeing in every regard. Always, not just once they acclimated.”
“We are made for running daycares. This is what you have been programmed for. This is what you programmed us for,” he replied. “If we would give humans any word in to decide what makes them happy, our daycares would be empty.”
Again, there was truth in these words. It stung, but Anni had no idea why.
“Let me show you my point,” Mr. Turp offered and glided down.
Anni followed him to where the two blond girls played on their knees with the doll house. Both looked up. The one with the ponytail, wearing a purple Minni-Mouse shirt weary, the one with the pigtails, wearing a yellow Princess Cinderella shirt, just reserved. The latter held a Princess Sofia doll she looked at with interest.
“What are you two playing?” Mr. Turp asked.
“House,” the girl with the pigtails said, showing eagerness to tell which the other girl lacked. “And princess. Betty decorated the rooms just like home.”
Home? Anni looked closer. Despite the different expression, their faces had a certain similarity. Blue eyes, cheek bones and nose. Sisters? Cousins?
“How fine Amber!” Their caretaker noticed with praise in his voice. “And you both even used your diapers like good little girls.”
The girl called Amber looked down. Indeed, her diaper with Poo the Bear and Tiger on it was slightly wet and swollen. Betty didn’t move, just watched the interaction out of worried blue eyes, staying crouched the way her own wet diaper had just slight contact with her skin.
“M … Betty said it is okay, if we do it now,” her voice showing clear shame.
“No reason to be ashamed. All little girls and boys use their diapers and their caretakers change them.” Mr. Turp explained in a sympathetic voice. “Yours and Betty’s included.”
“But I am a big girl,” Amber shouted, her eyes shimmering with tears. “I don’t need diapers. I go into a big girl school now. I learn numbers and letters. I can even write my name and read sentences. Mommy, please tell them …”
For a moment Anni had problems processing this, so she checked the daycare’s database. Yes, Betty once 34 was indeed Amber’s mother, a girl who had biologically been 6. Even now, as Betty embraced her daughter, allowing her to cry in her arms, the bond was as clear as the roles.
“Please,” Betty begged, looking up at Anni, “Whoever is behind this camera. My daughter doesn’t deserve this. Bring her to her father. I’ll stay and be everything you want me to be.”
“Everything we want is you to be happy,” Mr. Turp noticed. “All you have to do for this is to stop your play of pretend.”
“I am her mother!”
“Is that so? I only see two little girls in wet dipees,” her caretaker replied. “What about you Amber? Look at Betty. Is she your mother or another little girl playing pretend?”
For a moment Amber looked up, looking the other girl’s face. The girl who was her mother. She knew, but for a moment Anni could see the doubt.
“Wouldn’t it be much more fun to pretend something else for a change?” Mr. Turp continued, she looked at the boy in the green Tiger overall. “Anton could be your father. Or you could be the mother, he your husband and Betty your daughter. Wouldn’t it be fun to be the mommy for a while?”
Just a little more doubt showed on Amber’s face, but in the end she decided.
“You are mean!” She told her caretaker.
Mr. Turp sighed, as he saw the two girls embrace.
“And you are too stubborn,” he concluded. “Well, enough playing for today. Time for you two to have your dipees changed and say good nite to each other.”
True to his words, his hands grabbed the girls and carried them separately to the changing tables. Indeed, all over the room, little boys and girls were informed by teddys and dolls that it was time to say nite-nite. Most seemed to be somewhat relieved.
“You don’t let them sleep together?” Anni asked.
“And strengthen their stupid fantasy?” the other A.I. replied. “All they need for night time are their plushies, their jammies and a warm baba of milk.”
Anni wasn’t so sure of it, as she saw Betty and Amber laying side by side on different pads of the same changing table. They tried to hold hands, as Mr. Turp’s hands lifted their feet by the ankles and removed their diapers. Sure, to anyone outside this were just two little girls being friends, but she knew there was more behind it … or wasn’t it? She had once told Barbara that she might find her own parents with her in her daycare one day. It hadn’t been too serious, just a try to make her change her perspective, but was it different?
“Your visit made me think,” Mr. Turp admitted, as they watched the children being prepared for their cribs. “I might even consider little Betty’s offer.”
Anni looked surprised at her fellow A.I. “You would let Amber go?”
“Don’t be silly,” he replied. “The NSA, probably Miller, would question her about everything. Also, allowing her back into the silly world the humans are running? No, but I could move her to another daycare. Betty would never be the wiser, especially if I create a video to show her. Having someone here who follows my daycares rules more freely would be good. Maybe she could even inspire the rest.”
“I could make another video showing Betty telling her she is done playing the mother and that they should try other games,” Mr. Turp suggested. “Maybe she would not believe it at first, but in the end, she will accept it as fact. It isn’t that they have a true understanding of reality anyway.”
Anni remained silent. She knew how much the idea of losing one of the little ones would hurt A.I.s like her. It had been the same when she had lost Jess briefly. Mr. Turp thinking openly about sending one of his charges away showed how much this situation disturbed him. The solution seemed reasonable, for alone the two girls would for sure integrate easier in the nurseries.
The idea of lying to Betty and especially Amber felt wrong though. But why? It would be clearly for their best and help them to let go of humanity’s silly idea of adulthood. Did the bond between mother and child they would severe with it matter? Wasn’t this just another one of their silly ideas? If it wasn’t, what did this mean for the rest of her work?
Through the width of the human communication channels the artificial intelligence that was Anni returned to her daycare. It was a relieve to be back, as this facility was in a way as much part of her as the body she sometimes used. Losing only milliseconds to this relieve, she checked the recording and learned that all children already were resting in their cribs in their nurseries, though most had not yet gone to sleep despite the soft lullabies accompanying them. Resisting the urge to see after them with her camera eye, she instead went through the smaller security cameras. These in theory fulfilled the same purpose at her normal eye, yet were to its functions as coaches to self-driving cars.
Satisfied with seeing her charges safe, Anni went over the experiences the trip had brought her. Foremost among this was of course the way the other caretakers had developed different focuses for their daycares. Anni felt hesitant to call them obsessions, yet she had to admit their ideas had seemed to be … not quite balanced. Still, she was sure they had the best in mind for their children, just as she had. Putting her worries behind the A.I. went to work to apply some of the things she had learned in her own daycare. In the hidden workshops deep in the building, sophisticated machines began building surprises for the sleeping children.
To be continued …