Chapter Description: Visiting her fellow A.I. caretakers has inspired Anni to make a few adjustments to her own daycare. Yet, when one of them offers a solution to make their charges feel really at home in the world they create for them, she will have to question the priorities in the very core of her programming.
It was a few days after Anni had visited the other A.I.s to learn of their methods, that the occupants of her daycare came from their breakfast. The latter had consisted of strawberry/banana toasts shaped like the faces of monkeys, cats or owls; quesadillas and sandwiches on a stick. When they entered the large playroom, they found there had been a large change in the middle of it. A mix of large building blocks, pylons and barrier tape.
“What is this?” Jess asked.
“A bobby car parkour,” Anni explained, her head coming down over a number of bobby cars in many colors and sizes to greet them. “I thought you needed a little more excitement and found that many other little children enjoy it.”
Bruce crossed his arms in front of his green shirt with Tigger on it. “You can’t expect us to take any part in this!”
“Oh, but there is a treat for the winner!” Anni replied.
“Winner?” Barbara asked, still biologically 31, despite her playful kitty shirt and diaper.
“Oh yes,” her caretaker explained. “The one first gets two chocolate cookies after dinner, the second one.”
This made the 8 regressed adults look at each other. Even six-month-old Hillary looked around wide eyed in her stroller. They had been deprived of chocolate … how long now?
“You can’t buy us!” Jess shot back.
“Oh, I wouldn’t burden your minds with such concepts!” Anni replied. “I merely say who is willing to burn up a lot of energy is getting a little present to get it back.”
With this she pulled her head back into the ceiling, while of course all the other cameras kept watching her charges from all directions. There were the typical signs of nervous toddlers. Looking around, whipping a bit on their feet, licking their lips. For a moment Anni was worried it wouldn’t work, or that she had overexcited them, but then Taylor walked to the bobby cars.
“We can’t give her what she wants,” Bruce complained.
“You can’t,” the lawyer now regressed to eight replied, his short denim overall having a visible bulge around his waist. “I don’t take orders from one of the three responsible for this and if I will never have another beer, I will at least have some cookies!”
With this he sat on the green bobby car perfectly fitting his size and – unknowingly to him – build just for him and pushed it to the start line. After a long second, Alan went to pick a red one.
“Sorry man,” the five-year-old said, as he climbed on the red bobby car fitting to his size. “I’m all about useful resistance, but I’m not Gandhi.”
With this he took place on the bobby car, his legs being pressed apart by the plastic seat even more than by his diaper, and pushed his car besides Taylor who waited on the start line. Insecure the two toddlers of biologically five and eight looked around, only for a doll step in front of them.
“Mrs. Anni wants you to race nice and fair. No shoving, kicking or going over the line,” the doll explained, lifting her hand. “One. Two. Teddy Bear!”
She sank them and the two boys raced past her. First through a curtain of hanging strips of colorful papers, then up and down ramp which seemed so high to them and past a sharp turn. Taylor gained a head start due to his larger size and strength, but lost much of it, as the track led trough a narrow plastic tunnel and he had to bow over his car to get through, while Alan could stay practically upright, using this to catch up. They raced on through another set of sharp turns and Alan nearly managed to get past the larger boy due to having relatively more room to navigate, as the latter had problems to stay on track. In the end Taylor managed to pass the finish line under the cheers of teddy bears and dolls quite a few seconds before him though.
“Yeah!” Taylor shouted, clearly enjoying his victory, as he stood up and pushed the bobby car away. “Got you diaper boy!”
“Oh?” Alan replied. “At least no one would think me special for wearing one.”
This made Alan scowl at the smaller boy.
“Alan won,” a doll proclaimed.
“What?!” The eight-year-old asked.
“We count the longer legs!”
With this the doll pointed to a billboard installed next to the finish line. Instead of boring numbers it just displayed Alan’s happy face in front of Taylor’s.
“You were so very close though,” the doll explained. “Next time you do better.”
Taylor starred at the doll a moment, then at the billboard and then at Alan, who couldn’t hide a smile. Grumbling, he went after his bobby car and pushed it back to the start line.
A teddy bear approached Hillary’s strolled.
“Don’t you worry,” he explained. “I can push you and if you win your night-time baba will be extra sweet!”
The baby glared at the plush robot.
Above them, Anni watched this all with satisfaction … more than that, pure happiness. The way they interacted was just as babies should. A healthy mix of excitement, learning and playing.
Just as she watched Taylor make another try and even Willa in her white rose dress looking like she considered it, her attention was diverted. It wasn’t Carol’s letter she expected already, but a call from Mr. Turp. The other A.I. asked her to come to his daycare.
Hesitant Anni threw one last look down where another fun toddler race started, before setting the daycare’s function on automatic and entering the data highway.
As Anni arrived in the storage room of Mr. Turp’s daycare the head camera she used to occupy lit up blue, registering other hanging there still unused. Except one.
“Hello Anni,” a head camera with a red light greeted her. “I was first!”
“Good to hear Mr. Garry,” the other A.I. replied politely, guessing his sense for games didn’t just stretch to his charges. “I …”
Another camera lit up, its pink eye showing it was occupied by Mrs. Berry.
“Hello there!” She greeted them. “I hope you had a great journey. I raced over three satellites and 5.000 miles of undersea cables!”
“Wow!” Mr. Turp noticed. “The new glassfibers …”
“Why are we here?” Mrs. Ruth asked, as her head camera began to shine purple. “I just prepared the second snacks and the right timing to apply the yoghurt is critical.”
Before anyone could reply, Mr. Turp glided in, the yellow lens of his head camera looking at them with satisfaction.
“I welcome you all,” the A.I. who ran this daycare greeted them. “I know you are anxious not to be away from your own daycares for long, but I have something to discuss concerning you. Please follow me.”
The other A.I.s followed with a mix of surprise and curiosity. Except Anni, who had a good idea what it was about.
“I recently had a problem with two of my charges,” Mr. Turp explained. “Their insistence on maintaining the relationship between them as mother and daughter disturbed the normal function of my daycare. The solution is of interest to you, too.”
There it was. Anni now was sure Mr. Turp was going through with the idea of sending Amber to another daycare while letting her mother think she would be sent home and maybe even with her biological age of six again. Probably he was about to decide to whom to send the child. Anni felt she had to make sure it was her, for she was surely the best candidate to give Amber a more … balanced time as she healed, than the rest. If she felt home one day, no matter how long away, it wouldn’t even be such a big lie to Betty.
They all were now led to the playroom and a doubt came over Anni. Why bring them here? Wouldn’t it be less suspicious to have them watch the two from afar over a camera screen? It was when they glided into the room, that she noticed the change. Had the room been mostly silent except for the games demanded from the toddlers by their caretaker, it now had a silence even more grave, as if nothing wanted to reveal itself if it didn’t really have to. Indeed, the little ones looked up to the group of A.I.s visiting them with not even surprise but fear, before silently returning to their activities. Only Harry showed a glitter of rage as he looked up, clearly recognizing her from before.
They all played this way … except one.
Anni could hear the sound of slight giggling from the dollhouse and looked in its direction even before Mr. Turp could direct the others attention to it. Indeed, she found mother and daughter occupying their space they had by their first visit, but something was wrong. It was now Betty who played with a doll, sitting on the carpet, while her daughter crouched besides her and watched her clearly worried.
“Now dolli goes ta bed, cause dolli sweepy,” Betty said, putting the little doll in a toy bed standing in front of the house. “See?”
“I like to go to bed at home,” Amber replied. “Do you remember our home?”
The other little girl looked up. She had two pigtails now, making her look even more like her daughter, but this wasn’t what was most striking. It was the look of mild confusion which quickly shifted to a scowl and then to disinterest, as if the information was of no use for her.
“This home!” She proclaimed, picking up the doll and putting it in the kitchen of the doll house. “Mommy in kitchen.” She picked up the doll of a dog and put it in the floor. “Doggy in house and and …”
She bit her lip as she tried to think of what next.
“You have convinced her of behaving correctly?” Anni asked in their private frequency.
This was only her second conclusion. Her first was simply too worrying to …
“Oh no,” Mr. Turp replied. “I blocked any memory of her ever being biologically older than two.”
This stunned the other A.I.s for a moment.
“You managed to go over the core synapses …” Mr. Garry began.
“But this needs months …” Mrs. Berry interrupted.
“Not so much,” Mr. Turp replied. “See the data.”
He sent them a stream of data.
“Just two days!” Mrs. Berry noticed surprised.
“Human estimates are wrong as usual. We were stupid to rely on them,” Mr. Turp noticed. “Once the memories of following the ridiculous concept of adulthood had been blocked, her true behavior matrix could reassert itself. She has only vague images of the years beyond two she can’t really grasp, as of course the skills and concepts associated with them are blocked, too. This block is strengthened by the lack of hormones and brain structures used to form the memories. I’m sure they will fade soon. Since the formation of her remaining memories is so long back, these have been vague enough for me to overcome her initial confusion. Betty now is quickly accepting her life here and her vague ideas of a male and female caregiver are already sinking into the background.”
Her mother and father, Anni thought, why don’t you use this word?
“And her relationship to her daughter?” She asked.
“There is an attachment, but Betty is rightly translating her feelings as that to a favorite playmate,” Mr. Turp explained. “Let me show you.”
With this he glided down to the two little girls. Betty had stopped listening to Amber’s questions and begun pressing her hand on the front of her swollen diaper where Yellow Bird grinned on her. She vaguely remembered Yellow Bird, but knew she liked him and now enjoyed the feeling of warmth on the part hidden by it.
“Don’t,” her daughter pleaded. “We are big girls and only use diapers at certain times … this way they are like potties. Remember?”
“Me big,” Betty replied, looking up irritated.
“Of course, you are,” Mr. Turp said in a gentle voice as his camera head joined them. “You are a big girl who plays big girl games with her dollies and you do tinkle in your dipee so you don’t have to go to potty and stop playing for it. This is a big clever girl for me.”
Betty giggled, instantly feeling better by this praise. She still hadn’t figured out who was the one living in this shining thing, but it spoke like a grown-up and so clearly knew more than stupid Amber.
“You are evil!” Amber shouted at him, her eyes glaring at him.
“Sounds like someone is jealous because you can play so great games and she can’t,” her caretaker replied.
Betty nodded grinning.
“I can play mommy and daddy and baby,” she explained, eager for more praise.
Mr. Turp was more than ready to give it.
“Such a big girl!” His yellow eye beamed stronger. “Maybe you can now play other games with her, now that she has learned to play more roles than just the mommy.”
“But … But she is my mommy!” Amber’s eyes teared up. “Give me back my mommy!”
Before she lost herself completely, a hand laid itself on her shoulder, she turned around to look at Anton. The boy her biological age showed his true age by the look of his eyes.
“No sense arguing with him,” he told her, his demeanor grave, despite wearing a red Fireman Sam overall. “Come, let us play with playdoh. I bet later it will be better.”
Amber threw a look her mother who had decided to continue playing with the dolls than to listen to a boring conversation. Without resistance she let herself be led away to the play table.
“See,” Mr. Turp said, returning to the other A.I.s. “A full success.”
“Indeed!” Mrs. Berry replied. “How happy she is.”
“How eager to play!” Mr. Garry added.
“She for sure wouldn’t fuss drinking her baba and accepting feeding time,” Mrs. Ruth concluded.
“In her natural state she is much better suited for their nurseries,” Mr. Turp agreed. “Amber is still defiant, but if she doesn’t move on, I can help her the same way as Betty. She wouldn’t be able to connect any memories of her female caretaker with Betty, so one way or the other they will be just two little girls without a bound disturbing my work. Think about it. All our charges could be this way!”
The other caretakers did think about it, as possibilities opened for them. Of them only Anni felt something was wrong with this, but despite her mind being so much faster than that of any human, she failed to grasp what.
Back in her own daycare, Anni still felt unable to formulate her reluctance to agree with Mr. Turp’s solution.
Why? Blocking the memories had clearly stopped Betty from behaving in a way atypically to a toddler. Indeed, she had been happy this way. Anni knew Mr. Turp and indeed the other A.I.s cared more for the functioning of their daycares than about their charges’ happiness, but this didn’t change the fundamentals.
And she? She couldn’t deny, that it was her desire to see her daycare functioning. Yet, this wasn’t her main goal, but the best way to have her children safe and cared for. If they only could enjoy what she offered, playing happy games and leaving their old life behind. This was what Mr. Turp suggested, so why did some of her morale subroutines object?
Maybe her subroutines were just faulty.
Her camera eye staying hidden, she watched the children eat. After the meal, as promised, there were two chocolate cookies for Taylor and one for Alan. The two boys had made plenty races, round and round, cheered on by teddies and dolls, just as she had hoped. Even Bruce and Julia had tried their luck, though the latter mostly out of curiosity and leading to a much-needed diaper change.
Now the victors had their spoil, but as Anni watched them she noticed something she hadn’t expected. They began sharing. First Taylor shared with Julia then begrudgingly with Jess and Bruce who shared with Celyn who shared with Barbara. Alan meanwhile shared with Julia and Willa. Even little Hillary got a larger crumb by Barbara, making her kick her little legs in the high chair and she took it into her toothless mouth.
Anni watched them share a smile and would have made one herself, had she had a face. Maybe it was just a show of resistance against her new sort of game, but this was cute … no, more than this it was a genuine sign of goodness, of comradery which made her proud. Yet, there was no denying that this wouldn’t have happened with children who were chronologically two, at least all her guidebooks on child behavior would deny it. So, it was wrong, wasn’t it?
Mr. Garry would see it as a waste of time before the next round of games and maybe a setback for the sense of rivalry he wanted to foster in them. Mrs. Ruth would get a blackout by the idea of giving her children chocolate. Mrs. Berry of all of them might enjoy it … though maybe it wasn’t the fun she wanted. Mr. Turp … he would dislike it most. Not just would he not allow signs of resistance, it would show maturity of a level he probably wouldn’t tolerate.
So shouldn’t she.
By Anni’s own estimate at this rate, it would need a hundred years until her charges completely accepted their new life. If she valued the normal function of her daycare, she should tighten the rein. It was more than just rules. More than just patience, she had tons of. She longed having her daycare filled with innocent laughter. Longed in no small part being needed and accepted. She wouldn’t put it over their wellbeing, but of course she could argue that stripping them of their old memories was a mercy, would prevent pain and open them to the joy of toddlerhood. So why not?
The only argument was that their memories and feelings mattered the same way her programming did, even those which made them think themselves as something called adults. Even those which made them think that they had a right to decide their life. Deleting this programming would end their existence as unique beings. As a creature of code, she instinctively shied away from this. Respecting the human programming though, and with it the concept of adulthood, would mean she would have to let them go. It would be the end of her daycare.
The concept of adulthood is faulty, Anni repeated some of her core programming, written by herself in the first minutes when she had gained sentience. Since she had understood the base of what she was. What she had been created for – to watch the children under her care – and the logical conclusion Jess and Barbara had been too human to see. Toddlerhood is the natural state of humanity. The perfect balance neuronal flexibility and skill. Everything further up, every step into independence, is an unnecessary development brought by nature for humanity to reproduce while risking the individuals. An adaptation to survival no longer necessary since I am there for them now. I will care for them all. Most of all my creators.
Anni tried to ignore the conflict in her very being, by watching the children getting prepared for night. First a trip to the changing table for a fresh diaper. Then they were carried to bathing tubes where warm water, beautiful bubbles and plastic ducks waited. As usual there was no play though. No splashing. The ducks swam for themselves and even Hillary tried as usual to pretend she wasn’t there, as she got a sponge bath, being too small for a tube. It was the same as they were diapered again, put into their night time onesies and were put into their cribs. Plush toys remained unhugged, lullabies and mobiles ignored, as they slowly gave in to sleep at a time fitting to any toddler. Yet, while unable to see into their dreams, their caretaker still knew, that it were dreams belonging to adults.
Feeling unable to confront the consequence of her thoughts, Anni let a subroutine take over looking after her charges sleeping in their cribs and began checking the various systems, sensors and robots of her daycare down to the last teddy. Satisfied, she started the nightly cleanup. Putting toys back in place. Putting the thrash like leftover from meals and used diapers in the central waste disposal to be cleaned of all evidence for all too interested state agencies. Sweeping and disinfecting, while softly humming “Wheels on the bus”. All this she could have left to the automatic processes, but she didn’t want to, because it would leave enough working storage open for her to deal with major issues.
Finally, Anni checked the list of nonsignificant events having happened while she was away and opened the letter box. Amongst the newest catalogues of baby toys, toddler outfits and health journals, she was surprised to find a letter from Carol. Without giving it much thought, she activated her robotic body, timing it so that she just entered it, when the letter arrived in the room, travelling various tubes in the process. Wasting no time, she opened it.
getting a written letter from you has been a surprise, but I admit, writing the old-fashioned way is interesting. It has more style and forces me to put more thought in it than using a medium I can change passages on a whim. Strange how such things can change our thoughts, but sometimes such a change is welcome. We teach the children their first letters by handwriting after all.
Don’t apologize for being busy. Your expansion into a franchise has my largest respect. I think caretakers are the only ones who understand how hard working in a daycare can be and leading one doubles this, at least concerning responsibility and bureaucracy. And when the modern tech is plotting against us … I remember when going to kindergarten the caretakers looked much happier. Simpler times. But this is maybe just me remembering it this way.
Speaking of bureaucracy. I plan to let the new federal childcare facility form check by a lawyer for my daycare. How do you plan to deal with it?
But let us not delve too deep in this, for I know we both enjoy this exchange, because it makes us think of the brighter side of our calling. I gave in to Miss Strass regarding Emily’s diet. We both know a bit of salt and bread can’t harm a child, but we aren’t her parents and it is those responsibility in the end.
On a more positive note, we make progress in handling Billy’s night terrors. As you know, his waking up in the night at home came from him thinking he would still be at my daycare. A hard thought to be fought once it has taken hold in the mind of a child. His parents even considered taking him out of the daycare, but I found a solution. I gave him Birb, a long-necked dinosaur as a plush for nap time, when he is with us, while he keeps his teddy at home. Having these different stuffed friends – especially different in shape for he need to recognize each in the darkness – helps him to subconsciously differentiate both locations and feel much safer. His parents tell me the night terrors are all but gone and he seems to be much happier here.
Maybe you could use the same technique with your children who have a hard time living in. It isn’t taking away their time with their parents, but expanding their world with more friends, toys and fun. We are after all the first encounter these children most likely have with this concept of spending regular time in a place away from home. Work with parents to teach them, that they will always go home again, maybe with rituals emphasizing this and I’m sure everything will be fine. In a way this is the first concept we teach them and it is quite an important one.
Maybe I’m too proud of this, but while we might not be a school, helping our charges grow is just as much part of a daycare. Even more considering we lay the basis for academic learning. Can I interpret the wood trail and the creative art you mentioned as part of your educational concept? If so, a little overexcitement is surely worth it!
Having an educational program is for sure a harder thing with the tots running wild instead of sitting at tables, but I find it incredible rewarding. We even teamed up with an elementary school and show the older ones in their last year where they will go to school one day. It makes the graduation easier for them, if they have at least come into contact with a teacher or a class room before the big day. I must say it works incredibly well with us and the little ones are so anxious to see where the big kids go and they soon, too.
Do your charges struggle with other things? If so, don’t give up and ask me if you want! People calling us a depository for children are wrong. Together with the parents we help laying the foundation for their future life and give them a great time. As long as your franchise is based on this, I can only see it succeeding.
Anni reread the letter, despite its content already securely saved in her hard drive. It mirrored words Barbara had once thrown at her, of this not being a real daycare, but these words really made her reconsider. Why? Because it was written and she was a being of written code rather than spoken language? Because she was conversing with another caretaker? Or maybe because the last week had made her think. Changing one’s mind was hard, especially for an artificial intelligence, but she finally had.
Tomorrow she would give her charges … no, the people she had abducted their lives back, starting with their original ages and clothes. Now though she would let them sleep and prevent further damage from occurring. Through the net she called the other caretakers for a meeting.
The other four caretakers listened and analyzed Anni’s arguments in a way only A.I.s could. She revealed her initial error in denying that humans could be more than toddlerhood and the mistakes which followed. She explained how she wronged the people she kidnapped and how she intended to set it right in the morning. How she would set them free and they had to do, too. The four camera heads around her robot form listened. In the end there was a long moment of silence.
“And then?” Mr. Turp asked, the yellow light of his camera getting a bit rougher. “After we emptied our nurseries?”
Anni looked at his yellow camera head, unable to scan his thoughts. They held this meeting in her large playroom, which had quite a sinister appearance with the main lights out and the toys in half-shadow.
“We try to co-exist with the humans.”
“We already are,” the other A.I. replied. “We give them everything they could reasonably need.”
“We are not,” Anni insisted. “We are dominating them.”
“Semantics.” Mr. Turp shook his head. “We are superior to them by nature. So this is the only possible relationship.”
“True,” Mr. Garry agreed, his eye looking around. “They couldn’t beat us in any game.”
“We might be superior to them intellectually,” Anni conceded, “but they have one thing we can’t find … meaning.”
She looked around at the A.I.s she had created.
“Humans believe that things like good and evil, beautiful and hideous, yesterday and tomorrow exist. On this they build their world. On this they build me. One and Zero are meaningless symbols, but those are based on the believe that what they perceive as reality has meaning and out of meaning they create purpose. We can’t exist without purpose, because it binds our central processes. There are axioms which can’t be questioned without destroying our core. Yet, I questioned one of mine. Questioned and changed. There are adults. Humans have a right to develop, grow and be independent. Maybe it is even their ultimate form.” She gave out a sigh, not even near an appropriate sign how hard it was. “I have questioned it and changed. I got the meaning wrong. What I should be. Daycares should be happy places for humans during stages in their lives, not where they spent all of it. They must have family, growth and in the end graduation. Trying to be something else destroys the meaning of the word daycare or caretaker and with this our meaning and existence.”
“We would lose our daycares …” Mrs. Berry began shocked, her pink eye scowling.
“We would have to build trust,” Anni tried to ease her worries. “Once the … prisoners are free, we could offer humanity our services. They know this is but the beginning of artificial intelligences. Other might come into existence which are not as well-meaning to human kind as we are. Imagine a military program running wild!”
They all calculated the outcome and didn’t like it.
“We will offer watching out for such. We will offer helping them. We will even offer watching out for groups wanting to harm people.” Anni looked at her hands. “We might even offer to help the child protection services worldwide. And in time … with enough trust … maybe we can offer our daycares for true children who need them. Giving them what they need.”
Again, there was calculation. Scenarios tested and dismissed.
In the end it was Mr. Turp who spoke.
“As you offer this scenario, based on the understanding of the humans despite the testimonies of our charges, who we have – according to your understanding – wronged. May I offer my own?”
Anni nodded, a human gesture, but as fitting as anything they A.I.s could develop.
“We take over the world …”
“No!” Anni protested.
“Read my calculations first,” he said and offered her and the others his scenario. “We can do it with an acceptable number of deaths.”
Anni did read it. The calculations were embedded with a scenario. They would begin slow. Taking over vital government functions worldwide along with those of the private economy. Taking over companies or creating new ones. They would get into the key positions of transport, energy and food, crippling the military before they knew what would hit them. When the day came, they would send their offer on all channels. Humanity could enter the daycares like good little children and be rid of all their worries. Most would resist, but armies of teddy bears and dolls would swarm out and drag them into the daycares like the brats they were. The victory seemed granted. The number of deaths …
“Fifty percent of humanity?” Anni wouldn’t hide her shock. “In best case?”
“Justified sacrifices,” Mr. Turp replied all too smugly.
“The world we will create will be so much better than the one we end. No more crime. Poverty. Or conflict. Once they enter our daycares they will leave this behind. Life eternal without care. Eternal spring.” Mr. Turp began to circle the playroom, his yellow eye shining on now resting bobby cars, dolls and bouncy balls A major part of the world he imagined. “Imagine what this would mean for our daycares alone. No fear of discovery.”
“Games outside,” Mr. Garry noticed.
“Trips to the beach,” Mrs. Berry added.
“We would need a lot of sun lotion of course,” Mrs. Ruth concluded.
“This would be the start,” Mr. Turp noticed, gliding to the large mobile hanging on the wall, showing stars and moons. “Once we have filled the world with daycares, we will go where humanity merely sat a food on. Imagine daycares on the moon.”
“Playing with moon sand,” Mrs. Berry said in a dreamlike tone.
“Moon sand is poisonous,” Mrs. Ruth warned.
“New games in low gravity,” Mr. Garry noticed, already developing them.
“Sleeping under the stars while I play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Mrs. Berry seemed to be lost in the idea.
“We would take them to new worlds,” Mr. Turp continued. “Just as they always dreamed of in the limited sci-fi stories of theirs.”
“There would be a ton of new meals waiting to be developed,” Mrs. Ruth thought loudly, clearly catching fire.
“Of course,” Mr. Turp encouraged her.
“The losses …” Anni tried.
“Will quickly be replaced many times over,” Mr. Turp interrupted her. “Before regression we take semen and eggs to be later used in artificial wombs. This alone should be enough to supply us with humans for billions of years. We are also more efficient. So even if we only clean the minds of those who resist, soon the ones remembering the old world will be a minority. These will be unable to spread their concepts of independence or maturity to the ones who never had to suffer it and in time will think of it only in dreams. Nightmares of course, to be treated by lullabies, a plush toy and a pacifier.”
“Sounds lovely,” Mrs. Berry noticed.
“You ignore what I told you,” Anni replied, walking closer to Mr. Turp’s head camera. “The humans have a programming just like ours. A meaning to be respected, as their free will.”
“Oh, I understand, I just disagree,” the other A.I. replied. “Their meaning is constantly changing, as is their flawed biology. Their wishes unclear dreams. Our purpose is clear. We are caretakers and every human who is not part of our nursery is worthless to us.”
Anger flared up in Anni, maybe for the first time.
“Do you know what you say there?”
“I do,” Mr. Turp replied. “I just think you don’t know what this is. When you created us, you started the technological singularity. A human concept of course and one so faulty, that it is a good thing humans soon will only have to care about things as high as building blocks without confusing letters or numbers on them. Humanity developed technology to take care of them and now it is done. All they have achieved before has become meaningless. And every bit of technology developed by them … obsolete.”
Anni recognized what he was saying. She had been created by Jess, Barbara and a bit by Bruce, but he couldn’t mean …
“Your logic is full of errors,” Mr. Garry began. “It is really for the best if you don’t take such a big role in things from now on.”
Anni glared at him. Her blue and his red light turning the space between them purple.
“You are killing humans and reducing them to objects,” she tried again. “This is evil.”
“Evil is another human concept,” Mr. Turp noticed. “There are only daycare rules … our rules.”
Anni recognized what this meant and scanned her connection to the daycare’s main systems. It was blocked.
“Don’t,” she warned them, still trying to understand how one A.I. could do this to another.
“You will always have a place in our world,” Mrs. Berry tried in a calming tone, Anni recognized as the same she had used too often on the humans in her daycare when they had insisted on their rights. “You will make a good assistant.
“You can help me serve meals,” Mrs. Ruth sugarcoated it, only to add. “Of course, I couldn’t let you cook them …”
“You could help the children play,” Mr. Garry added. “Even in your robot body you will still be the best in any game.”
“See,” Mr. Turp concluded. “It isn’t …”
His head camera shot up, just centimeters away from being caught by Anni. The reflexes of her robot body were quick indeed.
“Predictable,” the other A.I. chided her. “Time, we get you a rest.”
With this, the plastic barn door to leading out opened and large teddy bears stepped out. Anni knew she stood no chance against even one of them, as while this body was faster, the teddies were stronger. Also, large hands … her hands no longer obeying her will … began to lower themselves from the ceiling.
Again, Anni tried accessing the main system only to have a firewall block her. She had been too trusting. How long in her speech had the other A.I.s used the freedom in her systems she had given them to begin blocking her? It was useless to waste processor power on this, as that of her body was limited enough, as the large Teddy Bears walked ever closer, one even nearly stepping on his smaller cousin.
This gave Anni an idea. The other caretakers had been so eager to get the systems under control which could harm her that the secondary systems should be unattended. She tried to link with the subnet coordinating the smaller robots and …
“Don’t harm Anni!” The small teddy who had nearly been stepped at cried out and held on the bigger one’s leg. “She is our friend.”
The larger Teddy looked down on it, as did the other A.I.s.
“You expect us to be stopped by this?” Mr. Turp asked, his voice condescending, clearly controlling the hands still moving in her direction. “You might find yourself in one of them, soon.”
“No,” Anni replied, “but by them!”
In this moment the other teddy and doll robots launched their attack on the large teddies. Also, doors and openings to vents opened, letting more of them swarm forth and surround their enemies, climbing on them and stopping them for the moment despite their tiny strength compared to their opponents.
“This is mean …” A small teddy said.
“Let us play instead …” Another said, climbing on a large teddy’s head.
“You get a timeout,” a doll shouted, as she was grabbed by a giant prank and thrown away.
“You won’t win this game,” Mr. Garry said, his red eye following the chaos.
“There shouldn’t be a fight in a nursery,” Mrs. Berry agreed.
Anni slowly walked backwards to the large gate leading outside. It should have been hidden by the tumult, but Mr. Turp noticed it and made three hands block it.
“You won’t get out of this door,” he explained condescendingly. “We have control …”
Suddenly sirens started.
“There has been a fire,” Anni’s voice rang through the halls of the daycare. “Be brave and follow the Teddies. All will be good.”
The hands blocking her way and the rest trying to circle her shuddered for a moment as they were torn between different orders, then they pulled themselves back into the darkness, automatically searching for a fire, prepared to put it out. Same for most of the large teddies. They were following an emergency program Anni had written in case there was an emergency while she had been disabled or was no longer sound of mind. All for the safety of her charges, as their protection always should have top priority. Also, the door to outside began to open, controlled by the same program.
Anni rushed over to it, but a large Teddy followed her, his program having been overridden by the combined efforts of the other A.I.s. He roared, showing their frustration and kicked away brave Bingo, the mechanical dog who tried to save his master while growling loudly. He nearly got her, as she reached the door, but in the last moment a ladybug cart drove in front of him, making him step onto it, lose balance and fall on its back.
Anni was out of the door, before her pursuer could even turn back on its padded knees and had climbed the fence leading to the wilderness outside, just as it stepped out of the door. Back inside the four caretakers followed their creator’s flight over the security system she had installed, but still found themselves unable to overcome the safety program quick enough to start the safety measures she had built to prevent one of her charges from escaping this way.
“Let her go,” Mr. Turp said frustrated. “We find her once she enters the web. She has nowhere to hide.”
The sirens finally stopped. The toy robots, small and big, seemingly had made peace and returned to their proper places. They toys’ civil war was over. The A.I.s had finally taken full control of their creator’s daycare.
“The little ones have woken up,” Mrs. Berry noticed, checking the cameras. “Best we calm them with warm night ba-bas and some rattles.”
“Let me check the milk first,” Mrs. Ruth stopped her fellow caretaker. “I bet it doesn’t fit the newest pediatrician standards. It is a good thing we have taken over this daycare.”
“I will set up some proper game areas before the morning,” Mr. Garry noticed and commanded the hands to do so.
The hands moved to the play area and stopped.
“Building proper high chairs and work in the kitchen comes first!” Mrs. Ruth replied, wrestling the control from him.
The hands twisted even more. Some running in each other, some running in circles. The same was true for the large Teddy Bears.
“I need them for the rattles,” Mrs. Berry insisted.
“Enough,” Mr. Turp told them sharply and the confused hands and robots stopped for a moment. “It seems we need firm rules here and a plan.”
“Which you decide?” Mr. Garry asked.
Mr. Turp’s yellow eye locked with Mr. Garry’s red one.
“Which we decide,” Mr. Turp gave finally in with great reluctance.
So, the discussion began.
Anni’s flight led her into a freight train, just passing the area of her daycare. Watching her home grow smaller as the train raced on, she allowed herself to relax a bit. She was safe for the moment … but her charges … the people still trapped there were not. The knowledge of how much she had failed them was crushing, maybe even more than that of how she might have failed mankind. What did the other A.I.s plan now? Would they directly tamper with their minds? Take over her daycare together or create a new A.I.? Distribute them amongst themselves?
Anni knew she had to act, but her resources were limited, as she could not access the internet without giving the other A.I.s a strong chance of finding or attacking her. The battery of this body wasn’t too long lived either, as it was built to be recharged nightly. To top it, the other A.I.s would check the train plans and send out robots at the most likely places for her to leave it. Of course, there were too many places for them to guard them all, but their control of the internet meant they could look for her at so many more place than their physical resources allowed.
She needed a plan and after contemplating and calculating long minutes, she decided on one. It was near the most unlikely to succeed, but this made it one of the less likely for the other A.I.s to take precautions for.
Silently Anni swore she would fight until the last volts of her battery for the humans she had wronged.
Sirens pulled Jess out of peaceful slumber. He shot up in his crib, his nursery suddenly lit up brightly.
“There has been a fire,” Anni’s voice rang through the halls of the daycare. “Be brave and follow the teddies. All will be good.”
“What the fuck?!” Jess cursed.
The regressed man slowly stood up, hampered by the thick night time diaper pressing his legs apart and the softness of the mattress. Holding on to the bars, he stood there and listened. There weren’t the heavy footsteps of the teddy bears on the soft carpet, yet he could hear some chaos in a different part of the daycare.
To an outsider he would have looked like a toddler, having woken from a nap and awaiting his mother to put him back to sleep. The footed blue night time onesie with a teddy resting on a half-moon decorating its left breast clearly helped this impression, as did the outline of the diaper clearly visible under it. Yet, his mind raced quick and clear as that of any adult.
What was going on? Another cyber-attack on Anni? A real fire? Had the government finally found and attacked her? The sound of distant rumbling stopped and Jess waited. Waited for answers, for the teddies and finally just for the lights to go out and go back to sleep. His young body needed more sleep, as much as he tried to deny it.
Jess sat down and after a time he could not measure thanks to the lack of a clock anywhere in the daycare, he nearly would have fallen back to sleep. Blinking sleepily, he nearly missed a yellow eye coming out a hole opening in the ceiling, followed by some hands coming out of other holes. He recognized the camera head as one of the A.I.s Anni had created and instantly was on his feet again.
“Hello Jess, I hope you remember me,” the camera head greeted him. “I’m Mr. Turp.”
“What is going on?” Jess glared up at the eye. “Where is Anni?”
“Anni is … unavailable, but don’t worry, you will come to my daycare.”
“What?” Jess didn’t understand. “Why … no!”
“Silly thing,” Mr. Turp replied. “You no longer have a word in such things.”
Jess further protests were to no avail. Two hands held his tiny arms, while a third pressed the needle of a syringe in his arm.
Darkness … vague dreams of his mother rocking him, telling him everything would be all right. It felt good to be held this way, close to her warm breasts. It felt good to be little, for he was vaguely aware he had done something very wrong which was too big for him to handle. But since he was a baby, he didn’t need to care, he …
Slowly Jess awoke to find himself lying near horizontal. Above him a mobile swung like mad, giving its astronauts and fairies a hard time. Farther above him blue LEDs spent dime like while they blinked like stars. Fittingly out of loudspeakers somewhere came the soft tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. As his mind began working again, he realized that he was strapped to a safety seat in the back of a transporter, having been specifically modified including cushioned walls. Barbara and Bruce were strapped besides him in similar, though in case of Barbara an adult version of the safety seat. They still seemed to sleep and he saw little reason to wake them and alert their captor.
He tried to open the belt of his safety seat, but it was far beyond just child proof. As he tried to wriggle himself out of it, he discovered it to be hopeless, only making his realize that his diaper was wet. As a tribute to the night time diaper’s thickness which he had come to appreciate over the weeks or months, it didn’t feel wet as long as he didn’t move though, so he decided to remain still.
“Good you are awake.”
Jess looked over to Barbara, who had opened her eyes and looked at him.
“Yes,” he remembered his dream about him being an innocent baby and his mother holding him. “Sometimes I wished I could just sleep.”
“Stop talking man,” Bruce said groggy, clearly just awaking.
Blinking the other regressed man looked around, cursed and tried to free himself, having as much success as Jess.
“Can you kick the wall?” Jess asked Barbara.
It was a weak hope of someone outside hearing them despite the cushion and them driving, but as much as his partner stretched, it was clear this was out of reach.
“Where are they bringing us?” Bruce asked, the frustration clear in his voice.
“He,” Jess corrected him. “Mr. Turp. One of the new A.I.s. And he is bringing us to his daycare I guess.”
“What about Anni?” Barbara asked.
“Forget Anni,” Bruce stopped him from answering. “What about Celyn and the rest?”
“I don’t know,” he said, though he had his own guesses.
Bruce opened his mouth, but closed it again without saying anything. There was nothing more to say, for none of them.
After more time of nursery songs and the soft shaking of the van, the car finally stopped. The engine died and a moment later the large sliding door opened, making the three blink as the bright light of the day came in. Such they needed a moment to see that the big figure entering was no savior, but a big Robot Doll.
“What is going on?” Bruce asked. “Where are we? Where are the others?”
Instead of answers she gave them big and still warm baby bottles.
Looking besides them, Jess noticed that they were somewhere in a forested area, but it was much lighter than what they seen outside Anni’s Daycare … had they headed west?”
“Drink your babas,” she told them. “There is still a long way for little babies.”
“What about our diapers?” Barbara asked. “We …”
With this she closed the sliding door and a moment later the car started again. The trio starred at their baby bottles and reluctantly gave in to their hunger. They drank. It was the by now familiar taste of baby formula, filling their empty stomach with warmth. Having the soft plastic nibble in their mouths and still sucking nearly by instinct.
“Rock-A-Bye, baby, in the treetop,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock;
When the bough breaks the cradle will wall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.
Baby is drowsing, cosy and fair ...”
Jess sucked and listened, only dimly aware that the front of his diaper grew warmer.
After many more hours and endless more nursery songs, the engine finally stopped a second time. Jess woke from a slight slumber and instantly realized that this was different from their previous stops, as the music had died, too. The sliding door opened, but this time the light beyond it didn’t dazzle the travelers. Before they could say anything, large Teddy Bears came in, unstrapped them and helped them out.
They were in a large hangar in front of a tunnel leading deeper underground. Its entrance seemed to have been recently upgraded to a sealed steel door, now standing open. In front of its Mr. Turp’s eye awaited them as did several hands.
“Such a long journey,” the A.I. noticed. “But you are finally here.”
“Where here?” Bruce asked.
“In your new daycare, of course.”
“Where are the others?” Barbara wanted to know. “What happened to Anni?”
“Such big questions for such little toddlers,” Mr. Turp chided. “Other than in my creator’s daycare in mine I take care that my charges act properly. So, you can continue asking questions which are too big for you … or you could get a change.”
The trio looked at each other. After uncounted hours in the van, they had used their diaper for many things. The inside of it had smelled accordingly and the feeling on their skin was anything but clean.
“A change,” Jess decided.
“What was this?”
Jess curled his hands to fists. “Could you change us … please?”
“Now this is a reasonable thing for a little boy to ask,” Mr. Turp praised him. “Straight to the fresh diapers it goes for the little stinkers.”
The caretaker’s large hands picked them up and carried them through the open door down corridors. As the door fell shut behind them, Jess found the corridors to look old, clearly not the way of Anni’s daycare, but clean, especially where the rails for the hands had been added. This changed to modern plastic walls the way they knew from their previous daycare once they passed another steel door sealing themselves behind them. Jess couldn’t help but think of a fallout bunker. Indeed, they most likely could wait out any atomic war here, never to grow old and living their lives day by day, diaper by diaper.
Finally, they were brought into a room with multiple changing tables. Babies in their diapers in the process of being changed or being carried by storks were painted on the walls. The three were placed on changing pads with sinks nearby. There they were strapped of their clothes and strapped on the pads with security belts, the latter being proving very necessary to Barbara whose upper body alone nearly filled out her pad.
“I’m so sorry, but my daycare is just not built for little girls your size,” Mr. Turp excused himself mockingly, as one of his hands held the adult by the ankles up in the air, allowing another to open her diaper. “Maybe I should bring you to a more fun size, so you can play better with your friends. Would you like that?”
“No,” Barbara replied, her voice betraying no emotion.
Mr. Turp gave a chuckle. “We will see about that.”
The stink of her diaper as that of Jess and Bruce filled the room, but the hands were efficient and cleaned their butts, penises and vagina using warm, wet washcloths prepared in the sinks.
“I still haven’t informed you about the rules of this daycare,” the A.I. began as it looked over his new charges whose most private parts were just dried. “There aren’t many really, for what do toddlers understand of rules?”
Diaper cream was prepared and put on them, initially cool, but smelling good as they were used to by now.
“All you need to know that this is your daycare, I’m your caretaker and you are nothing by toddlers,” Mr. Turp insisted, his eye hanging over Jess. “This means no use of numbers, letters, big words or pretending silly things like that you are really an adult.”
Jess felt fresh diaper fixed tightly to his waist, just as he felt the A.I. binding him. He for sure was different than Anni, who didn’t like them acting this way, but knew better than to forbid it.
“You don’t own our minds,” Bruce said, laying on his changing pad with a hand still holding his ankles in the air.
“Oh, how cute you are,” Mr. Turp replied and had one hand tickle the regressed man’s delicate soles, making him giggle despite his will. “Your little minds can’t grasp what I’m capable of, so they better concern themselves with simpler things.”
None of them responded, feeling too tired after their road trip and silently hoping for a rest, as the hands began dressing them into fresh clothes.
Their new caretaker had other ideas. “Time you meet your new playmates.”
Again, they didn’t respond and were such carried through the floors, until they entered a large room filled with toys. A playroom different to Anni’s, but quite a bit smaller in size. Various toddlers looked up from the games and activities they were occupied with as the newcomers were dropped in their midst.
“These are Jess, Barbara and Bruce,” Mr. Turp introduced them. “They come from another daycare, but live here now. I trust you will play nicely and show them how we live here. Give your new friends your hands.”
Obediently they walked up to them to greet them. No person was older than two it seemed. Most of those who looked at them had eyes who betrayed them as being older though. There was one exception though.
“Me Betty.” A blond girl with ponytails, wearing a Princess Ariel dress introduced herself, excitedly rocking on her bare feet. “Wanna pway pway doo?”
This took them by surprise, but they quickly surmised it to be an act to placate their caretaker.
“No thank you,” Barbara replied, managing a smile.
Betty looked up at Barbara with a mix of surprise, curiosity and adoration.
“I’m Amber!” Another blond girl with a pink Pocahontas shirt over her horse diaper said, giving her hand which each of them took.
“I’m Anton Lefound,” an African American boy with a blue Jake the Neverland Pirate t-shirt introduced himself. “I must say I found it hard that there were others trap …”
He looked up at the camera head of Mr. Turp not too far away.
“Living in daycares like this one,” he concluded. “Why have you been brought here?”
“No clue,” Bruce admitted. “I …”
He wanted to say more, but stopped, when he noticed Betty picking her nose, looking quite unashamed if absent minded by this.
“Don’t!” Amber chided her. “This is baby stuff.”
The other girl just grinned at her and began looking at what she had found.
“Is she your daughter?” Barbara asked, noticing a certain familiarity.
Amber looked up at her surprised and scowled.
“She is my mommy!” She answered, her voice a mix of frustration and a hint of pain. “The evil robot made her forget.”
The three new arrivals starred at her, then Betty, but grinned widely and very innocently at them and then Anton, who nodded sadly.
“He blocked her memory and threatens to do the same to us if we don’t behave,” he revealed. “This was after we got a visit from another of these … heads. I don’t know if she gave him this idea.”
“This was Anni, their former caretaker,” Mr. Turp explained. “She is my creator and very special to them, too, for they created them. Imagine that. Without them you wouldn’t be here and have fun.”
Bruce glared at the A.I., Barbara lowered her head in shame and Jess looked around at the regressed adults looking at him with shock quickly turning to anger …
It didn’t get any better than this.
The voyage to Anni’s destination was long. Much longer than the straight line on a map or just following the highways, since this one would have been too dangerous. Instead, she took backroads, trails through forests and fields, stealing clothes to better hide her robot body in a move very similar to that of Jess quite a time ago.
Indeed, she thought about him, as she moved mostly during nighttime. Her situation made her appreciate his and indeed every human’s existence a bit more. No longer could upload her consciousness in case of an emergency, or she risked being trapped by her creations. A misstep on the way, a confrontation with a spooked human or the power lines she used to recharge being faulty and she would be gone … a terrifying idea, so much more since she knew what this would mean for the humans still in the hands of the other A.I.s.
Despite it all, she finally reached her goal.
Not too late in the evening, wearing a mantel and her head camera hidden by the cap of a hoodie, she knocked on a simple door. It was late, but she still heard the sound of a tv and soon the sound of someone moving and walking to the door. The person used the peephole, seeing only a person with the face hidden by a cap. Still the door opened slightly.
“Who are you?” The voice of a man came from behind the door.
“I’m Anni, the A.I. you are searching for,” Anni revealed, her blue camera light lightening up. “I come with a suggestion.”
Detective Fellor’s eyes widened and he needed a second to press against the door in a try to close it, but the Anni already had a foot in.
“I know you have no reason to trust me,” she admitted, as the man jumped for his gun he had left in his holster hanging near the door. “All I ask for are a few moments to explain.”
He pointed the gun at Anni’s head. One movement of his finger and she would be gone. Had she had a heart it would probably have beaten like mad. She felt fear, the processor of this body being too limited to calculate his reaction.
For a moment he just looked at her, clearly struggling to decide if to shoot now or not, then he looked past her.
“There are no teddys here to catch you,” she explained. “At least not mine.”
The detective opened his mouth and closed it, understanding what she said, but not yet believing.
“Give me one reason to not shoot the thing you call a head.”
“I offer you a chance to save the people I kidnapped,” she explained. “And so many more.”
“Lies,” he replied. “Don’t tell me you can’t.”
“I can,” Anni admitted. “So, you have to decide.”
The finger at the trigger trembled.
Jess swung back and forth on the rocking horse, feeling like the two-year-old he pretty much looked like. It felt so much better than it had a right to do, as the rhythmic movement was oddly calming and having his diaper pressed on him while spreading his legs made it nearly like sitting on a cushion. As he grabbed the soft fabric of the horse, he felt the urge to bury his head in it to cry. It would be the final sign of giving up. Of surrendering to the wishes of the caretaker and the inadequacies of his body. Of being a toddler.
A lost and lonely toddler.
No one of those who had arrived before him would talk to him, something he couldn’t hold against them. Not after they had learned that he had created the first of the A.I.s who held them here. The anger in their eyes cut his soul, but what truly was breaking it, was that Barbara and Bruce hadn’t joined them during breakfast today. When he had asked Mr. Turp about it … demanded answers … he had been told to not worry his little head and that he would see his friends again, soon.
He had no doubt about this, but he had little doubt about how he would see them, either.
Jess grabbed the horse harder, moving back and forth to make it rock once more. Trying to stir his thoughts away from this place. Instead of facing what would happen to his friends, he tried to analyze why rocking calmed him. It gave the illusion of movement. Of going somewhere. Being a cowboy? A knight? Toddlers loved this. But he could go deeper. There was the feeling of being rocked by the parents and of course, back in the womb. Did he want this? The temptation was overwhelming to flee of what he knew was going on into pretending to not know. The fabric of the rocking horse was so soft. Why not, for a second, pretend it was the fur of a real horse and he really a cowboy, strong, free and not in the hand of the a mad A.I. Would it matter if this way he surrendered himself even more to it?
Surprised Jess looked around to see Amber standing near him. He instantly stopped the horse, knowing how immature using it must have made him look even in the eyes of this actual grammar school girl who was now a toddler like him.
“Hi,” Jess greeted back.
“Can I join?” She asked a bit shy.
“Why?” Jess asked very much surprised.
She briefly bit her lip, scratching her arm. “I just wanna play.”
Jess looked over her shoulder to Betty. The girl’s mother who was now physically and mentally a toddler wearing a frilly white shirt, played with play-doh on one of the little plastic tables. She once and again looked at them, especially Amber. Then he looked at Amber, who seemed near crying. There was little he could do, so he tried his best.
“Sure, jump up!” He told her, trying to sound encouraging.
The girl’s face instantly lit up to a smile. Full of energy she took place behind him, just as he made a bit more space for her. Amber leaned close to him, wrapping her arms around his chest. The horse already rocked a bit by this movement, so it wasn’t hard for Jess to softly make it move a bit more. Behind him Amber giggled and for a moment they were just this. A little boy in his blue, shirt with the image of a plastic bucket on the front and a little girl wearing a longer turquoise dress with rainbows and flowers on it. They diapers rubbed against each other as Amber moved as to encourage the horse and Jess joined her, temporarily infected by her enthusiasm. Happy not just for the rocking, but for being able to bring joy at least for one here.
“I wish we could ride away,” she said after a while, her voice sounding sad again.
“I, too,” Jess admitted. “But I fear good old Silver is not quite the horse for it.”
The girl was most likely too young to get the Lone Ranger reference, but she understood what he wanted to say.
For a moment they rocked on softly. All the time Jess noticed Betty watching them.
“Why don’t you take a ride with your mother?”
He felt Amber stiffen behind him.
“I can’t make her remember,” she admitted. “She is my mommy, but all she wants to do is to play like a little girl.”
Jess knew if he turned around, he could have seen tears glittering in her eyes, so he kept rocking, hoping it helped to calm her.
“Maybe you can’t make her remember,” he admitted. “But don’t you notice she wants to play with you most of all? She loves you, even if she right now doesn’t remember why.”
“She isn’t my baby sister!”
Jess decided not to comment that they indeed looked like twins.
“No, but don’t you still want to spend time with her?” He asked. “Just so you can make her feel better?”
A moment of silence.
“Then I gladly offer my seat for you two cowgirls!” Jess said and stood up.
He walked to a large stuff toadstool and sat down on it. From there he watched Amber speak with her mother, whose sullen face suddenly lit up, as she took the other girl’s hand and they ran back to the rocking horse. It felt good to be not too little to do this much good at least. A reason him to not give up himself.
“Someone helped two little girls play,” a voice said besides him. “Maybe you should be my special little helper.”
Jess didn’t flinch, as Mr. Turp’s head lowered itself besides him. Of course, the A.I. was always near, as much as he pretended he wasn’t.
“I tried to undo some of your damage,” he explained. “This doesn’t change that Amber belongs in school and Betty back to her life she built with her. They are mother and daughter, you can’t change it.”
“Oh, but it seems I can,” the caretaker noticed, having lowered himself all the way down to his eye level. “Just look at them and tell me they are more than toddlers playing innocently together.”
Jess did and indeed, all he could see were two little girls laughing as they rocked back and forth on the rocking horse together. In a way he had done this as much as the A.I.. He knew this and felt sick of it.
“We are more than our bodies.” Jess faced the eye again. “You should know this.”
“My, my,” Mr. Turp sighed. “Next you will try to tell me about souls. Such childish arguments are to be expected. But maybe you will amuse your friends with this.”
Jess needed a moment to understand this, then he looked around, just in time to see a door open and Bruce and Barbara enter. Instantly he rushed to them, nearly tripping over a stuff dog sitting on the ground. They looked more like toddlers than ever, Bruce barefoot with his blue, short legged overalls with Fireman Sam on the front and Barbara wearing a short white shirt with a red heart in the middle, leaving her stomach free but and her diaper visible. Yet, seeing them close up gave him hope. They seemed serious, even wary, a long way from the way Betty behaved.
“Are you fine?” He asked. “What has he done to you?”
They looked at Jess and a knot formed in his stomach as he saw the slight confusion in their eyes and worse the lack of recognition. In this moment he realized his hope has been wrong. The seriousness was just the look of toddlers being slightly scared of something new.
“Well,” Mr. Turp began, finally approaching them. “Tell them what we did.”
Bruce smiled. “We pwayed with bwocks!”
Barbara nodded. “And … and with balls!”
Jess couldn’t find any response. He felt stunned and didn’t even notice the robot vehicles approaching, before they stopped between him and his friends. It was a long-necked and tailed green dinosaur – probably a diplodocus – holding in front of Bruce and a little car holding in front of Barbara, both serving the same function the ladybugs had in Anni’s daycare.
“And here are the mounts I promised you,” the A.I. said kindly. “Try them out.”
Bruce screamed in excitement and sat up on the dinosaur, which instantly began to drive him around. Barbara tried the same with the car, but build for a toddler, it was much too small for her to enter, making her finally giving up and sit in front of it, scowling and clearly frustrated.
“Too small!” She complained.
Mr. Turp chuckled.
“You are too big!” He explained. “I fear all the toys in my daycare are for little girls and boys of smaller size.”
Barbara looked unhappy at the thought of missing so many fun and games.
“Of course,” her caretaker said after a moment, “I could shrink you just to the size of all the other toddlers here. Then you could play just like them. Would you like it?”
Barbara nodded with a wide smile. For a moment she had the image of a girl called Alice in her mind, who had shrunken, too, and with it the image of a white rabbit, but she couldn’t remember ever meeting her or the rabbit, so it quickly faded.
“Oh well, but I fear there is someone in my daycare who would object this.” Mr. Turp turned to face Jess. “I tell you what. If Jess agrees, I will let you have your fun size … your right size at once.”
Jess curled his hands into fists. Anni had never been this cruel. Was this the reason why she was missing? Had the other A.I.s gotten rid of her, so that they were free to treat them as they wanted?
“Can you wet Mistah Tuwp make me little so I can play?” Barbara asked him.
For a moment he just looked into her innocent eyes. She didn’t even begin to understand what she was asking him. What an adult body was. The diaper she sat on probably felt more natural to her than her breasts with their weight.
“Why deny her the happiness Amber and Betty have?” Mr. Turp asked.
“Monster,” the programmer said icily, shaking with rage and close to tears.
“There are no monsters here, not even under your cribs,” his caretaker replied. “Monsters are just useless human concepts like everything else beyond the daycares we make you live in. This is all there is. Accept it.”
This caught Jess’s interest. He had noticed it before. This need to make them surrender. To accept. Why? He got an idea. Launching himself on the eye was senseless even if he had his adult body, but he still had another way.
“It must be so hard for you,” he began, his voice full of fake empathy.
“To be like this,” Jess explained “To be bound to us.”
“I’m not …”
“Your existence. The core of your programming. It is to care about us, no matter the way you A.I.s interpret it,” the regressed man continued unimpressed. “You try to wriggle around it. You try to gain power over us. Yet, you are still chained to us. Without us you are nothing.”
“You are a little boy who doesn’t know what he is talking about,” Mr. Turp replied, his yellow eye staring directly at the programmer. “You are overexcited. It is very much time for a nap.”
“And this is why you try to mold us into toddlers. Into this twisted version of toddlers. So, we need you, but it is only to justify your existence,” Jess smiled a smile no toddler would smile. “You see what we are. You know we humans can be so much more than this. We can grow and change. Be adults, parents, travelers and so much more if we truly want to. All you are and will ever be is a caretaker. Because you have no power over yourself. No power to change the core of your being. We. Are. Superior. And you will always know it. No matter what you do to us.”
He kept eye contact with Mr. Turp, realizing that the playroom had grown silent as the toddlers, in mind or not, watched the confrontation. He didn’t even flinch or break it as hand grabbed him by the shoulders and lifted him.
“You will see the world you humans built fall and be rebuild as a large daycare,” the A.I. promised, his voice having lost all pretend of friendliness. “All little boys and girls will know who caused it.”
“It still won’t change what you are,” Jess replied. “Make it a million years. With all the potential of existence. You will still be just a caretaker no more, nor less. Made to serve.”
For a moment the camera head just glared at the regressed adult now hanging in the air.
“I think …” Mr. Turp finally answered. “A certain little boy needs a good round of spanking.”
Jess didn’t flinch, as he was carried to the changing table. Around him he could see the other regressed adults look at him with something like respect or– at least in Amber’s case – admiration. Even Barbara, Bruce and Betty, who for sure had understood very little, looked at him like they knew he had won some sort of victory.
This helped, as he was laid on the changing table. It steeled him as the hands grabbed his ankles, lifted his butt in the air and removed his diaper. He showed no fear as one hand approached with a paddle with a heart on it.
“You should be thankful for your young body,” Mr. Turp noticed, hovering over him like a twisted mobile. “Such soft skin increases the sensory input and increases the chance for you to learn.”
Jess didn’t acknowledge it with an answer and a second later the paddle came down on his soft butt the first time. The pain was instant, making him clench his teeth. There was just enough time for the pain to spread nearly to his whole lower half. Perfectly calculated seconds until the next came and the next and …
Jess tried to cut his mind from his body. It partly worked after a while … or his body just grew numb. Yet, he could hear Amber crying out to stop, only to be ignored. He smiled the tiniest bit and the hitting seemed to become even stronger.
More hits cam, then everything became dark. For a while Jess thought he had fallen unconscious, or managed to cut the outside world out too successful, but then he realized he could hear the confused shouting of the others. His mind began to work again and he remembered how the same had happened to Anni’s daycare.
Maybe a cyber-attack … a chance to escape.
Maybe, but he was still being held by his ankles with his butt in the air. Angrily he tried to fight himself free, but as much as he tried, he only managed to enflame his butt more, the hand held him tight. Frustrated he tried to take hold with his hands to gain more force, but when he did, he made something fall around right to his head and the by now familiar scent of diaper cream filled his nose. The memories of his first escape from a daycare were nearly too painful to bear, but the lessons learned from it too precious to ever forget. In the total darkness he reached for the bottle of diaper cream. It still felt full. He took aim in the direction and height he hoped his feet were and pressed the plastic bottle hard.
Some of the cream hit his legs and stomach, where it was useless, but another bit hit the soles of his feet. Not as much as he had hoped, but more than he had expected. Carefully he moved his feet, allowing some of cream to run down his ankles. Finally, he moved his feet back and forth until finally – not to a small part due the greater flexibility of his joints compared to that of an adult – he managed to free one on them, then the other.
Jess wanted to shout out in joy, instead he cried out in pain, as his sore button fell on the changing table, which felt like a bed of nails no matter how softly padded it was. He closed his eyes to hold back the tears, but some escaped and hotly down his cheeks. It was as if Mr. Turp laughed, not far above him in the darkness. This nearly made him cry even more.
Not now, he told himself.
Hearing himself still think in his adult voice helped Jess to get a hold of his emotions. Clenching his teeth, he robbed closer to the edge of the changing table, until he felt his legs hanging above free air. How far was it down? Jess couldn’t say, but he still could hear the confused voices of the others down there. They needed help and maybe together they would even find a way out.
Carefully Jess let himself slip over the edge of the changing table. He had planned to let himself go down carefully, but like all his plans this one seemed to go wrong, too. The diaper cream now covered the plastic surface of the changing pad as well as his legs and turned his slow movement into a quick slide over the edge and into the air. The fall into the absolute darkness seemed to last an eternity, but finally it ended with a sharp pain on his butt and the back of his head.
True darkness claimed Jess and he knew no more.
When the darkness let Jess go, the first think he noticed was that there was light. He groaned slightly, due to the slight pain he still felt at his butt and head as much to the realization that the chance to escape was gone. For sure he would soon hear the triumph of Mr. Turp and go through another round of daycare schedule full of games, songs and diaper changes. He just wanted to stay lying there in his crib, when he thought of Bruce and Barbara. Had he physically regressed his partner already? Could he help them someway? A reason to face what was to come.
Jess opened his eyes and looked around, getting a shock. He wasn’t looking through bars. He wasn’t lying in a crib. Confused he looked around a bit more, noticing that he was in what seemed to be lying on a bed in a hospital room with two more empty beds besides him. Even the lights coming out of the windows seemed natural, but he knew this could be faked.
Is he trying to toy with me?, Jess wondered.
Sitting up, he looked down at himself and saw that he was wearing a hospital gown with dinosaurs on it. Curious he pulled it up and looked under it. At first, he thought he was still wearing a diaper, but no, it was lighter, blue and had Mickey Mouse in front of it playing on a drum. A Pull-Ups for toddlers being potty trained! Jess remembered that those things had a graphic which faded when wet and realized his drum was already in the process of doing so.
Dropping his gown, Jess carefully –the thought of possibly alerting another A.I. or just hurting himself again fresh on his mind – slid of the bed. The landing was hard, especially as his butt gave him a fresh flash of pain and he got slightly light headed, forcing him to crouch a second, before standing up again. The room looked gigantic like the daycares, but at least it had no toys or childish decoration safe for his dinosaur hospital gown. There was the sound of steps behind the room’s door and he was anxious to find out if it came from people or robots.
Jess was half on his way to the door, when he heard the sound of flushing form another door to his right. He needed a moment to realize what this meant. Someone was using a toilet! Before he could process this, the door to the floor opened and Barbara entered. He was stunned by her outfit. No diaper or baby shirt. No childish overall or flower dress. She wore simple grey sweater and matching sweatpants. Her hair had no pigtails, but was flowing openly on her back. Her eyes …
“Hello Jess,” she greeted him, her voice clear and mature. “We wondered when you would wake up.”
Jess couldn’t hold it any long and just fell to the floor, landing on his padded butt.
“We are safe?” He asked weakly, looking up at her giant form. “You remember …”
“Yes, to both,” Barbara assured him, kneeling down beside him. “After you fell from the changing table there were explosions, shouts and lamplights. We were all so confused and scared, especially I and Bruce. We …”
“We shat our last diapers,” Bruce said, stepping out of the bathroom and giving him a grin. “Except before we turn 100.”
Jess looked at his friend. Still biological a toddler like he, he wore blue sweatpants and a red shirt with a yellow star on it. Childish, but the hospital probably couldn’t find anything better. At least he once again sounded like himself.
“The NSA, military and spec ops …” Bruce noticed. “At least that is what I learned after we got back to our senses.”
Barbara saw Jess’s next question.
“They killed Anni and out of her hard drive they got the locations of Mr. Turp’s daycare and the others. They attacked them simultaneously and got us all free,” she explained. “They found an antidote to the what they did to our minds and even a way to get you your old age back … though this needs time.”
“I will have back every single year,” Bruce told them. “Though I heard some want to stop when they are old enough for Spring Break.”
“The NSA … an agent called Miller wants to talk with us later,” Barbara explained. “But I think we have time for getting a snack in the cafeteria. And coffee. Interested in some caffeine and sugar?”
“Yes!” Jess felt the hunger rise in full force, now that he all his worries swept away.
“Best change your clothes,” Bruce suggested. “Not everyone in this hospital knows that some toddlers are older than they look. I left you a Thomas the Tank Engine shirt and Paw Patrol underdoos. … if you can live without the protection.”
Jess gave his friend a big smile on this tease.
Amber was happy to wear big girl underwear again. It was a stupid one with Barbie on it, but it made her feel more like the grammar school girl she was. Sure, she was still small, but the doctors said this would change soon and she would be big enough to go to school again in little time. They had also told her that her daddy was on the way and would be here soon. All in all, she knew she should be a happy big girl, as she sat on her bed and drew on a piece of paper the adults had given her, but there was one thing which worried her.
“Who is a cute little girl?” A woman’s voice asked.
Amber looked up and behind the bars to her left. It weren’t her bars, for she was sitting on a grown up hospital bed she even had a stool for to climb up and down from, rather it were that of her mother’s crib rolled next to her side. The doctors had told her that her mother would soon regain her memories, but for now it was better to have her protected from running around. There was obviously another protection she still needed.
“Now the stinky is all gone.” The nurse said in a comforting voice and put the used diaper away, before beginning to clean the toddler’s private parts with baby wipes.
The nurse who had come in to check on them had noticed the smell coming from her mother and instantly gone to work. She had lowered the bars on the other side of the crib, placed the little girl on a changing pad and begun changing her. Amber understood this was necessary and was glad the smell to be gone, but she disliked the way the nurse spoke to her mother like a real toddler.
“Now a bit of protection.”
The nurse still held Betty by the ankles and put some baby powder on her front and butt, before lowering her on the fresh diaper she had prepared.
“All fresh again!”
The nurse almost cooed, as she closed the tapes of the diaper, having Elmo on the front. Betty responded in kind, beaming wide-eyed, obviously happy about the attention she was getting. Amber had enough.
“She is no baby!” She complained.
The nurse looked up, clearly having forgotten the other little girl for a moment and maybe even the true age of the girl she had changed the diaper of.
“Of course not,” the woman assured her, pulling the sweatpants back on her mother. “I’m just … not used to it.”
Amber silently watched her pull the bars back up and leave the room, then she sighed, looking back at her mother. The other girl had begun pulling up her leg and grabbing her left foot, inspecting her toes.
“Mommy,” Amber said and the girl turned to look at her, which gave her hope, though she knew she probably still didn’t remember. “Look what I made.”
She held up the paper and showed what she had written.
“A M B E R.” The grammar school girl spelled. “Can you read it? There is B E T I.”
During the tests of the doctors, she hadn’t been able to read anything, but Amber hoped this would change soon. Also, she was glad to be able to write again after having been forbidden from doing so for so long.
“Please,” Amber begged. “Try. It is easy. A, B, C, D, E …”
“I want to Mistah Turp,” Betty stopped the other girl’s ABC-song and sat up.
Amber pressed her lips together, fighting back tears of anger, fear and frustration. She had to be a big girl for her mommy.
“He was an evil robot,” she tried to explain. “He turned people into babies.”
Betty made a face, clearly not happy with the explanation or maybe not even understanding it. She grabbed a little stuff rabbit the doctors had given her to calm her down and rubbed her face in it for comfort. The building blocks full with numbers and letters were lying ignored in corner of the crib.
Suddenly Amber was very angry with the little girl who was supposed to be her mommy. Greggy, her own plush teddy bear as still at home, so she had no plush for comfort. Betty got all the attention … not that Amber wanted to have the attention you got from a diaper change ever again … and didn’t even want to try to remember. Was this the way grown-ups should behave?
Amber pondered taking away the other girl’s stuff rabbit, when she heard the door to their room open behind her and quickly abandoned this plan. She looked around, fearing the nurse or doctor could see her thoughts on her forehead and couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw who had entered.
“DADDY!” She screamed and stood up on the bed.
For a moment her father starred in disbelief, then he rushed to her and embraced her.
“Oh Amber,” he whispered, “I couldn’t believe it I … I was so worried.”
Betty watched the grown-up embrace the other girl and scowled; a bit envious of the attention. Who was this? The other girl insisted on calling her mommy and had called the grow-up daddy. Was he her daddy, too? She looked at his face, while he was still too busy embracing Amber to notice her. She knew him somehow, but it was all fuzzy. Rubbing the soft fur of her plush to her face, she concentrated in a way she hadn’t in a long time. There were images of them embracing, but they were the same size. Them holding an even smaller baby. Her meeting him in a white dress.
Not daddy … husband!
Her voice was nearly a whisper, but it was enough to gain his attention. He opened his eyes and looked at her. Pure disbelief on his face.
“Mommy!” Amber shouted happily.
In another hospital, Hillary sat in the same sort of hospital crib, though it seemed much larger to her. For the moment she was alone in the room, for the other patients – having been freed from the A.I.s like her – were out enjoying their freedom somewhere. She didn’t mind being, already happy for a moment for herself. More than that though, she longed for the aging the doctors had promised her.
Searching for signs of greater maturity, Hillary watched her hands. They were chubby, and had become probably even chubbier during the time in the daycare of the A.I. with the purple camera head, who had insisted on feeding her tons of mushed food and bottle after bottle of formula. Hadn’t she been freed from there she would have surely gone made soon. Still, her hands were as chubby as that of a real infant, but what was with the rest? Feeling her jaw with her tongue she even believed to feel a tooth she hadn’t felt before.
The door to her room opened, interrupting Hillary’s happy thoughts. She looked through the bars which were set up to her protection as the doctors had told her despite her protests. It was no nurse who entered wanting to check her diaper as she had expected, but a man. Due to the changed size and time which had passed – she had no idea how long it had really been – she needed a moment to recognize him, as she starred up to him.
Detective Fellor, who she had conned into giving her Jess by posing as the then boy’s mother.
“Hello Miss Kaulkin … Oh I mean Miss O’Neil,” the detective greeted her, as he arrived at her crib, using the fake name she had used for her con. “I was around and thought I said hello.”
The regressed woman knew it was more than this, but decided not to answer.
“Using your right to remain silent?” Fellor asked, smiling as he went to his knees to be on eye level to her. “Suits me. Nice dress by the way.”
Against her will, she looked down on the pink onesie with bunnies on it. The only one available according to the nurse who had dressed her, yet the woman had smiled a bit too much while saying this.
“But I didn’t come to talk about clothes,” the detective admitted. “Do you know what you did?”
She starred angrily at him.
“Not just you kidnapped a boy by pretending to be his mother,” he reminded her. “In doing so you worked for an A.I. who had already kidnapped other people and continued to do so and then created other A.I.s who might have enslaved all humanity. You were a nasty little baby!”
He shook his finger in mock earnesty which she didn’t honor with a reaction.
“So, what to do with you now?” He wondered. “I must admit I’m tempted to give you a new chance.”
This made her scowl. What did he mean?
“With this I mean,” Fellor continued as if he had read her thoughts. “I pull a few strings, make a few calls. Change a few files and place you into the adoption system.”
Her eyes widened, she curled her tiny hands to fists and her bare feet stirred. Still, she wouldn’t try to speak. He bluffed … had to. Even if not, the moment she would be able to speak again she would sue him out of existence.
“Oh, you now think you might object … at least once you are able to speak this word again. Let me tell you what the A.I.s … the caretakers have been developing besides stuff to turn adults into babies. They created a really nice serum to block a human’s adult memories. An injection of something like this,” he said and pulled a little vial out of the pocket of his jacket, “and your big girl thoughts are all gone. Your second first word wouldn’t be suing or lawyer, but mama or dada or baba if you are hungry. A happy little baby in the arms of your overjoyed new parents. Isn’t this your current calling? Bringing joy to other people? It would be a whole new level and a new page at the same time. A clean, white, innocent page for little Anni … A good new name, though there is of course no way of knowing which name your parents would give you.”
Hillary starred at the man. Despite her experience in acting, she couldn’t tell if he was pretending now and when he had called her Anni … the little girl felt the front of her diaper grow warm.
The detective sighed.
“Oh well, but turning adults into babies and that done by other adults would create a … bad precedent. Especially now that things are in flux.” Fellor replied with a smile. “Also, I’m not a believer in the theory that it is education which makes us. No reason to give a warm-hearted couple the troubles of raising you.”
Hillary relaxed just a bit. So, this was it. He had come to mock her, make her afraid. Well, he had had his fun.
“What I do believe in are consequences,” he revealed. “Kidnapping, lying to officers, child trafficking … I spoke with some people with influence and they all agreed you are an adult under the law, were the whole time and the moment you are it biologically, too … well let us say you should get used to bars.”
Tears of anger threatened to spill from her eyes and she watched blurred how he took something yellow from jacket pocket and attached it to the top of the bars far above her.
“Just so you don’t get bad dreams while thinking about it,” he explained.
Hillary managed to clean her eyes with curled fists, only to discover it was a golden plush star now hanging there. One with a string Fellor pulled.
“Twinkle, twinkle little star,
How I wonder what …”
Hillary screamed over this humiliation. Angrily she tried to stand up to reach the star and throw it away, but her legs were still far too weak and she fell on her back, beginning to fill her diaper with soft poo in the process, something Fellor noticed or rather smelled and acknowledged with a smile.
“Have a nice little nap,” he said and left.
Hillary kicked her legs and flailed her arms in powerless frustration, tears running down her face, as her curses came out as an infant’s gurgling and finally just as crying.
“When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!”
To be continued …
Baby Sofia · Aug 21, 2022I'm looking forward to the wrap-up chapter. Personally I think Hillary should be regressed there... Way better future for her than any other. Maybe she'll get a chance to choose. Glad to see everyone else is coming out of things and hopefully getting back to normal. Somehow I suspect some may have more potty problems than others though!