Photo Source: PxHere
My robot son’s teeth are lifelike, small but sharp, which is a problem because he just sank them into my forearm. I’m sitting on the stairs in our house and he’s on my lap as I put on his shoes for the playground. Instead of thanking me he’s biting me. I shout in surprise, then anger, but he only clamps down harder.
His muffled laughter suggests he thinks I’m howling in jest. He’s two years-old and doesn’t understand. Then again he knows more than your average toddler, at least in some ways. He stares up at me with perceptive, bright green eyes—his mother’s eyes—while tasting my flesh.
Desi isn’t full robot. Before he was born, his six-month sonogram revealed Sara’s placenta strangling him, choking off essential nutrients. The fetus wouldn’t be viable, the obstetrician explained, unless we pursued an experimental treatment option, using nanotech injections to supplement his undernourished systems with subcutaneous chips and pumps, new plastics, and strategically placed bits and threads of carbon fiber.
What choice did Sara and I have? We’d already painted his room blue, assembled the crib and crammed a dresser with hand-me-downs. The day he was born, through tears I admired his appearance—beautiful, healthy, completely human—while trying to forget he was about 60 percent machine inside. Processing the fear and grief, as we watched each other for the first time, father holding son in the recovery room near an empty patient bed.
I shake free of Desi’s jaws. He giggles as I clutch my arm and rub the teeth-marks.
“Funny dada,” he says quietly, looking away.
I reject it as silly, the thought there’s something besides mischief in his laugh, something sinister—60 percent sinister. No. At least in this instance, my son’s behavior is playful, normal.
We head for the playground. As I push Desi in his stroller, stripes of afternoon sunlight flit through openings in the early summer foliage, then through the slats of a picket fence.
“Zebra,” says Desi, his voice high and soft, almost distant. “Tiger.” Through the back of the stroller, all I can see is a section of his curly black hair—that comes from Sara, too. Other things with stripes, things I didn’t teach him: “Flag. America flag. Re-free.”
Referee. His neural algorithm is scientifically game-changing, programmed to mature at the same rate as the neurons of fully human children with 135 IQs. The wildcard is how his artificial components will interact with the biological portion of his neocortex, delaying or accelerating his mental development from the expected track. When it comes to associating concepts, he’s left his peer group in the dust, but I worry about his emotional skills, his empathy.
I worry about his teddy bear I recently found ripped to shreds.
We arrive at the playground atop a hill. Other fathers push their children on swings and down slides glinting in the sun. I want to relate, but their anxieties can’t compare to mine—a case of chronic pink eye here, some enuresis there. They take their kids’ humanity for granted. They’ve no idea how lucky they are.
The more parents at the playground, the more loneliness creeps in.
Liberated from his straps, Desi sprints to a pink giraffe. “Up! Up!” I lift him onto the giraffe. “Africa!” he says. “Plains.”
I stare at him. “Who told you about African plains?”
He smiles. “Eat giraffe!”
“No, people don’t eat giraffe.”
He scrutinizes me. “People giraffe meat. Eat.”
Does he know something I don’t? Perhaps many things. Maybe people somewhere do consume giraffe, but the idea strikes me as repugnant, immoral. I pause to consider if my reaction is learned or inborn. “People don’t eat pink giraffes.”
Desi nods. “Smart dada.” He concentrates on riding the giraffe.
My chest swells. Sometimes I believe things will be fine, but I’m not optimistic like before. Why should I be? With the nanotech treatments, the risk of maternal mortality was supposed to increase just two percent.
I spot this guy Carl following his son Perry’s zig-zagging trajectory across the playground like a peasant trailing a mad dwarf-king. They join us at the toy giraffe. “Up!” cries the boy.
I greet Carl. We run into him and Perry here on occasion. Desi looks down, measuring Perry with wide eyes and a curious half-grin.
Perry points at the giraffe: “Up.” But there’s only one saddle on the giraffe.
A woman approaches behind Carl, and my worldview collapses onto her pretty blue eyes. She loops her arm around Carl’s waist.
I hear Carl say, “Careful, buddy.”
When I look back at Desi, he’s standing on the wobbly giraffe, studying Carl’s wife, his expression blank. Cold, even. I’m stunned still at his nonchalance, the ease with which he steadies himself. His gaze darkens as he lowers it to Perry. I reach out a split-second late as Desi launches his body from the giraffe to his target a couple feet away, weaponizing the footwear I attached to him with a jump-kick to Perry’s sternum. They fall to the ground, screeching a duet of shock and pain.
Perry screams louder. Embarrassed, I shout Desi’s name, but my anger passes quickly. I hold him, console him.
Then I notice three green wires poking out of the gash in Perry’s leg. They’re like the tiny fingers of a creature inside, probing an escape route. Carl stares at me. I wait for him to curse my negligence, wait for him and his wife to say hurtful things about Desi being a psychopath as they cover Perry’s leg, hiding it from prying eyes. I’ll offer apologies, paid doctor’s bills.
“Jesus,” says Carl. He picks up his son and rubs his back. Perry buries his face in his father’s chest and quiets down.
“I’m so sorry,” I say, glancing from the severed strands of paraffin and metal to Carl.
Carl squints at me, suggesting an aspect of my face eludes him. His expression softens. “Has Desi ever said anything to you about eating giraffes?”
Matt Fuchs' publications include a novella, Rise of Hypnodrome, with CCLaP in 2015. More recently his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Compelling Science Fiction, Centropic Oracle, Allegory, Every Day Fiction, and the anthology, The Internet is Where the Robots Live Now. You can find him at fuchswriter.com.