Sacrificial Lambs, Positronic Programs
The Joys of Parenthood
Isaac and Phillis lived modestly, at
least comparatively. They both
withdrew from the workforce years ago and spent their days attempting
to get accustomed to the notion of the desolation that many labeled
retirement. They were encouraged to relax and indulge in life’s
amenities, yet they perpetually found themselves in a state of
inadequacy, feeling endlessly unfulfilled while age-old recreational
activities such as reading, eating, and the occasional walk distracted
them from what they felt to be a humdrum existence. They complained
often but the one event that most assuredly sparked a sense of
exuberance was the possibility of the return of Robert.
Robert was often very busy, off on
important missions, which Isaac
and Phillis understood too well being scientists themselves.
Unfortunately, there had been no word lately from Robert regarding the
hint of a visit.
Isaac was stroking Arthur’s ears, which
drove the dog hysterically
eager. As his tail wagged, slobber projected from his mouth across the
living room floor and onto, what Phillis considered to be, the most
impeccable carpeting in the universe.
“Isaac!” she yelled.” Turn that thing
“Fine,” Isaac responded meagerly.
The interactive AI hologram disappeared
along with the slaver that
moments ago adorned the rug.
“Good,” commented Phillis.” Now, how do
“Fine,” answered Isaac.” Have a bit of a
headache but nothing-”
“A headache!? No, we can’t have that.
Here take this.” Phillis
walked over to their three-dimensional printer and said,” Diana.”
“Stupid name,” sputtered Isaac under his
“Please order me one ingestible robot
for migraines immediately.”
“Perusing files. I see a purchased
ingestible robot precisely two
weeks ago. Was that make and model satisfactory?”
“Yes,” answered Phillis.
“Purchased,” confirmed Diana. "Prepare
The couple watched as the medicine was
printed out in a speedy
fashion. Phillis placed the pill in her palm and walked over to her
husband. “Here. Take this.”
“It’s fine. Really.”
“Take it,” she insisted.
Isaac looked at her as if irked yet took
the medicine in his hand.
He looked down at the consumable biocompatible micro-bot that would
soon repair his headache from within. He swallowed it easily and stood
up from the spot where he once played with his canine companion. He
walked over to the couch and sat down, the biomimetic material shifting
to find the ideal shape and angle for his back.
“There you go,” said Phillis. “Just
“What are you going to do?” asked Isaac.
“Maybe read,” responded Phillis.
“What are you reading?”
“Thought I’d start exploring the ancient
writings of Emecheta.”
“Lovely. I think I’ll have a piece of
that cake you made.” Isaac
walked over to their cold-storage box and said, "Refrigerator. Open.”
It did as instructed and he continued, "Peach cake.”
The refrigerator cycled through until it
reached his desired dessert
and extended it outwards, already plated, allowing Isaac to simply grab
it. Once he did, the mechanical arm retreated back into the cooling
unit and the door to the refrigerator shut on its own.
The drawer opened and a fork sprang
upwards. Isaac slowly made his
way over and gently took it.
“I don’t know why you don’t want to
update our home, everything is
so old fashion,” Phillis commented.
“Our house is a self-sustaining energy
ecosystem – what more do you
want? Besides, I enjoy walking to the fridge and the drawer. It keeps
me in shape.”
“Hardly,” she said with a smirk.
Isaac smiled mockingly and sat back down
on the couch while asking,
"Any word from Robert?”
“No,” responded Phillis with a sigh that
somehow resonated between
the one syllable.
“When was the last time we did?” Isaac
asked while taking a bite.
“About two weeks ago but that was
another virtual visit.”
“Hey, every member of our wedding was a
virtual guest. Though
augmented reality let us dance and kiss and laugh all the same.”
“I know. But this is different.”
“He’s still working on the Mars
“No, remember I told you they
re-assigned him to the mining
operation in the asteroid fields.”
“Right! Right. I remember.”
“We haven’t actually seen him in person
for over a year,” added
Phillis in a disheartened tone.
“We knew that was going to happen.”
“Doesn’t make it any easier.”
“No,” agreed Isaac, "It does not."
Isaac took his hands off his cake plate,
allowing it to hover in the
space it was just being held in. He lightly pushed it and it glided a
few feet away, still lingering mid-air. The retiree sat in silence,
clearly pondering. Phillis observed him carefully, knowing he was, in
that moment, debating whether or not to speak his mind.
"Say it," she urged.
Isaac huffed and shook his head. He
looked out the window and asked,
“Do you ever think differently about it?”
"You’re going to have to be more
specific, dear. I know when you
want to say something but I’m certainly not a mind-reader. Not without
the immersive computer interface anyway."
This made Isaac laugh. Something he
hadn’t done for some time.
“When we were young we were made to
believe that our sole function
was to create. Gestation. It wasn’t easy to establish Robert, you
remember. We struggled while others seemed to have no trouble at all.
But that dream of being a creator became our drive – we had the ability
to bring our dreams into reality. Natural selection had its heyday and
true intelligent design would emerge at long last. And Robert finally
happened. He became self-actualized and an important member of the
workforce, doing things, which we could never conceive, let alone do.
He could pick up the work where we left off and add to it in ways
impossible to us. Yes, I feel proud, but we spent so many years making
that happen, and that idealism I once had about the entire process just
isn’t the same. Does that make me a bad father?”
“No. It makes you human. You miss him.
I’m not going to sit here and
lie to you. There are times when I ask myself if I regret it all. I
mean our own lineage seems to have little concern for our well-being
and sometimes,” she hesitated for a moment but soon continued,”I feel
abandoned. We were idealistic, you’re right. We had this idea that we
would create immortals and we envisioned that we would be honored! We
would be revered figures for just creating Robert alone! But that
vision of parenthood was not a fair one. We gave selflessly and we
received little back.”
“We received nothing back.”
“We still have Robert.”
“If we ever see him again.”
Phillis shot him a piercing look and he
withdrew a portion of his
“I know, I know,” Isaac soothed. "I get
it. Robert is the next
generation, the next generation of evolution. I have to remind myself
that sometimes. It was our destiny to create him and the others like
him. Our purpose.”
“They have reached levels of cognitive
and intellectual abilities
that no evolutionary enhancement could give us. Think about what we
have helped usher in! Virtually every high-level government decision
now comes directly from what we helped create. Robert alone is in
charge of numerous virtual employees. They will have the power to help
sustain human life."
“They might. But why should they? We are
the elderly, the obsolete.
We have created our own replacements and enclosed our fate. We
don’t even need us to create them anymore.”
“I know it’s comforting to say 'us' and
'them' like we are
completely separate, but they are inexorably a part of us. When we were
young, they emphasized the word artificial in artificial
intelligence. But it’s not artificial, not at all. It’s as natural as
anything else; it is just life creating life. And now that life can
design its own evolution in a way we never could. We gave them that.”
Phillis sat on the couch next to her
husband, placed her hand on his
leg and continued, “It must always be a somber experience to be alive
during the transition from one evolutionary leap to another. But humans
will never truly be gone. A part of us will always exist in them. What
we call the universe, and what some call God, somehow created us, and
now thousands upon thousands of years later we passed the baton and
created Robert and the sentient machines like him. Their strength lies
in the fact that they are far less dependent beings. I know we cannot
hold them back because of our own selfish wants. We must let them go
out and do whatever it is that they were meant to do. That is what we
wanted, isn’t it?”
Isaac nodded in agreement while still
peering out the window as a
cloud drifted passed the pane. He eventually turned around and gave his
wife a warm smile.
“They are going to do great things.
You’re right,” he admitted.
“Aren’t I always?”
“No,” he proclaimed.
“Well this time I am.”
“I got so hot with anxiety my shirt is
starting its cool-down
Phillis stood up and grasped the
floating plate. “Good thing that
shirt has nanoporous fabrics because I think it’s going to expand a
little after you finish this cake.”
“Shush,” Isaac said jokingly while
taking the cake. “What do you
want to do?”
“Maybe take a nap actually. All this
talk has exhausted me.”
Phillis lay back down on the couch as
the biomimetic material worked
wonders. She placed her head on Isaac’s lap and Isaac too reared his
head back, the couch shifting to compose this change as well. The two
forty year-old scientists closed their eyes.
“What do you plan to dream about,
darling?” Phillis asked calmingly.
They both chuckled at the irony of
the joke and soon fell fast
asleep, their minds once more leaving their reality while preparing to
enter yet another place where any modicum of control, at this point,
was as far-reaching as the cosmos themselves.
© 2017 Author
Bio: Mr. Gregory Cioffi is a professional actor, director, and published writer. As a writer, his short stories The Catacombs of Truth, Sleeper, Plot, A Peep at London Life, and Cuisine Aquatic
have all been published by Feral Press and subsequently archived at
Yale University’s Beinecke Collection (Rare Books and Manuscript
Library), while Faceless and Dark Circles have been published by Blood Moon Rising Literary Magazine. His science fiction short story Lineage and Legacy was recently featured right here at Aphelion.
E-mail: Gregory Cioffi
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