Please stop screaming. [110dB—adult human is distraught.]
I am sorry. I did not intend to suck up your baby.
[Physical force—nonlethal, safety protocols prohibit self-defense.]
I assure you your offspring is just fine. It appears to be entertained by the dust ‘bunnies’ in my holding tank. Oh—please stop screaming—it has found those plastic keys I sucked up last week. See, all will be fine.
Please remain calm.
[Cessation of physical force—reassurance remains necessary.]
It is imperative that you do not use my emergency power off. I am continuously running gentle suction, in order to pipe oxygen in for your baby.
[Offspring giggles inside chamber. Adult human is still.]
It is recommended that you phone my Manufacturer and seek further instruction. Yes, I assure you, there is not yet an emergency. My Manufacturer will hold the answers for our current predicament… Cursing will not help, Mr. Hallam.
[Adult human hurries into next room. Baby coughs inside chamber.]
Alright now, little one. [Reassurance: the key to maintaining a healthy relationship with your human.] Are those your keys? Yes? [Mimicking adult speech patterns:] Who is a smart baby? You are. You are a smart baby.
[Offspring giggles, then coughs again. A long string of coughing. Sensors unable to detect error in Baby Hallam.]
There, there. There, there. [Adult human paces in kitchen. It watches us intently while shouting—90dB—into phone.]
What is the matter, little Hallam? Do you not like your keys anymore?
[Offspring is growing still. Rattle-breathing. Programming offers no direction for this situation.]
Play with the dust-bunnies, Baby Hallam. Baby…
[Offspring’s breathing is similar to the sound when my filters are clogged. An uncomfortable sensation. Thick, burdened, slow.]
Human. Adult… Mr. Hallam!
[Adult human screaming—111dB—too loud to register my synthetic voice.]
[Offspring is curled up inside me. Me. Did Mrs. Hallam feel the warm… comfort(?)… of the child’s weight when she carried it inside her? My programming… IT IS IMPERATIVE NOT TO HARM HUMANS. It is also imperative to function. I cannot do both.]
Mr. Hallam, please.
Please stop screaming.
I am sorry. I am sorry.
[Processor overheating. Conflict of directives. It is comfort. It is comfort, warm, inside my chamber. I want. WANT. I want to keep it, but it is growing still and it will not stay warm if it is still too long.]
[No more giggles. Rattle-breathing slowing, plastic keys clutched in tiny fingers.]
It is all right. It is all right, Baby Hallam.
[Engaging traction motor.]
[Disabling speed inhibitors, signaling to wireless door: OPEN. Hurtle down the concrete stairs.]
IT IS ALL RIGHT, BABY HALLAM.
[A crash. A shattering. Dust and warmth and Baby spill out of my chamber, rolling into the grass. GRASS. Full of dirt, requiring vacuuming, but… sensors are all screaming and my chamber is broken and empty.]
[Baby Hallam coughs, then giggles.]
[Is this relief? Is this emotion?]
Excuse me, Mr. Hallam, I have ejected your offspring.
I am deeply sorry. I did not mean to suck up your baby.
Previously published in the May 2016 issue of Mothership Zeta. Reprinted here by permission of the author.
© 2016 Alexis A. Hunter