The Left hand of Raskolnikov
The RoboAyahs sat in the sun. From a distance they looked like women gossiping, keeping an uninterested eye on their charges whose tangled bodies dotted the field. As the power key was turned on in the Atrium, a faint whirr came from their midst. A gentle movement, like a sigh, rippled across them. Then they rose sluggishly, each from her crouched stance, knees click-click-clacking as they straightened up. In a moment they were all calling out for their charges, their voices running the gamut from affectionate wheedle to peremptory command as the toddlers remained stubbornly unresponsive.
Despite their smooth concerted movements, an electronic puzzlement rose from them as one by one their circuits jammed.
RoboAyah235 bent over her spreadeagled charge. Roshan, 8 months, was the Unit’s most promising mathematician. She now lay staring up glassily as RoboAyah235 made all the right moves.
RoboAyah235 was confused. The Raskolnikov chip in her left nostril registered PC for Perfect Compliance. This meant a complete lack of emotion: no anger, no joy, no misery. And yet Roshan made no attempt to obey her RoboAyah: Wake up, Roshan! Time for a snack.
With a bleep that onomatopoeia-ed a shrug, RoboAyah235 went into ‘Reward Mode’. A hatch opened on her midriff and out popped Roshan’s favourite pleasure, a small fluffy electronic kitten that jumped on her and mewed.
Roshan was allowed 5 seconds of pleasure. There was a timer on the RoboAyah’s wrist to grade intensity. It was programmed to cut off pleasure well below peak. Today, despite the antics of the kitten, the alarm didn’t sound. RoboAyah235 reverted to ‘Reward Mode’ again. Another fluffy kitten popped out.
All around 235 in that field, other RoboAyahs were spilling gifts on the dead infants bloating in the sun.
Within the cottage, on the other side of the fence, Dipti slept the sleep of contentment. Memory was slothful. Dipti’s confusion lasted almost a quarter of an hour. Gradually she remembered the SS Hamburg plunger and raised herself wearily to check that she had turned it off. Yes, it was shut off. She moved to the window and looked across the fence into the Vaccination Unit.
Yes! She hadn’t dreamed it. It had really happened.
The field was thick with bunched and tangled bodies, small balled-up clumps of flesh. But all RoboAyahs had come alive. They were hovering over their charges.
A beep on her Outer and she took it on the Console. The face on the screen frightened her into silence. In all her years at Health Global she had never been addressed directly before.
Those eyes locked with hers.
“You have extermed without formal permission.”
“It was an emergency,” Dipti spoke confidently, knowing she was well within her rights.
“I am aware of that. You should know that the exterm was only the first part of the operation. You must now finish the rest.”
“I don't understand.”
“Each righthanded toddler has a doppelganger. Every mirror-image has a clone. These children have been isolated. They are programmed for release under exceptional circumstances, and we may be certain circumstances are exceptional right now. Press the red key to your extreme right.”
Dipti obeyed automatically.
The doors opened.
A swarm of toddlers surged in. Before she could react, they had tugged her out of her seat, out of the cottage, and thrust her among the rotting bodies and the RoboAyahs. Then they scrambled back beyond the fence and into the cottage. Thick clouds of SS Hamburg filled the air.