Aphelion Issue 220, Volume 21
August 2017
 
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Sacrificial Lambs, Positronic Programs
or
The Joys of Parenthood

Gregory Cioffi




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 off!”

“Fine,” Isaac responded meagerly. "Arthur! Off.”

The interactive AI hologram disappeared along with the slaver that moments ago adorned the rug.

“Good,” commented Phillis.” Now, how do you feel?”

“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 breath.

“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 to receive.”

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 relax.”

“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.

“Drawer. Fork.”

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 settlement?”

“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 hostility.

“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 process.”

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.

“Electric sheep.”

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.


THE END


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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