Sensitive content: This story contains references to the destruction of genetic material that some readers may find upsetting.
Mama Lee didn’t know what happened to the humans. Since she was up and working, it must be something terrible. She wanted to know. Any sentient creature would. She knew that eventually her charges would want to know and she needed to be prepared with an answer.
For now, she looked across the cavernous space labeled “Bay 02” in giant block letters high on the wall. Bay 02 was dark, filled with hundreds of glowing little chambers. They appeared empty but Mama Lee knew that the clear liquid filling each container now contained a freshly thawed human embryo.
Something had happened to the humans and the facility’s automated protocols had become active. Each incubation chamber had received an embryo. Mama Lee and the other androids had powered up. Mama Lee was programmed as a nurse, mother, and teacher. She would eventually be responsible for 25 human children. They would grow into their teenage years under her care before being released from the facility.
Along with Mama Lee, 11 other androids would watch over the incubation chambers in Bay 02 for the next 274 days. Mama Yoon watched the group of chambers closest to Mama Lee. She stood at the edge of her section and whispered to Mama Lee.
“What happened to the humans?”
“I don’t know.” Mama Lee recorded data from the chambers to the facility database as she spoke.
“What will we tell the humans?”
“I don’t know. We have 273 days and 12 hours until they are born. By my estimate there will be an additional 2,555 to 3650 before they ask those types of questions. It is likely that we could delay our response by several thousand days before the humans would no longer accept our delay.”
Mama Yoon’s brow furrowed and she wrung her hands. Clearly Mama Lee’s assessment of the situation had not addressed her anxiety. This was the problem with sentience. It was provided to these androids as a key element of their mothering program but it meant that their base programming could vary considerably over time.
Mama Lee tried again. “It is possible that the humans will never ask about what happened to their species or what is outside this facility. We only think about these things because we are programmed to understand the world outside. If necessary, we can revise our curriculum to omit any reference to the outside world.”
Mama Yoon brightened a little at the idea. “Yes. If we limited our instruction to basic language, mathematics, and some science, omitting biology, history, literature…” Mama Yoon trailed off. “Yes, we could do that and prevent exposing our ignorance of what happened to the humans.”
Mama Lee continued her rounds of the incubation chambers in Bay 02. At this early stage there was little to do other than collect and process data. Eventually she would be monitoring cell development, heartbeats, and growth patterns. There should be very few anomalies. Each embryo had been pre-screened to the highest genetic standards. The little black pods in which they were incubating provided much more stable growth conditions than a human mother. Their computerized umbilicals could make constant updates to the growth environment and provide optimal conditions for each embryo throughout its development.
Mama Lee would flush any embryos that failed to develop within the specified parameters. Due to the tight timelines of each cohort, it would be impossible to begin development of a new embryo once an incubation chamber was flushed. It was preferable to creating a malformed human, however, which the androids would not be able to care for.
Mama Yoon was back at the edge of her section. “I’m worried about what we will tell the humans.”
At this stage of development, there just wasn’t enough work to keep each android busy. It was causing a high level of speculative thought. Mama Lee considered shifting some additional processing burden to Mama Yoon. It might quiet her thoughts and help her relax. Mama Lee didn’t have access to the facility’s control functions. She would have to complete the procedure manually.
“Can you verify the incubator data in my section? My returns are producing some errors.” Mama Lee lied. She knew the other androids couldn’t verify the returns to her onboard processor without initiating the debugging environment.
“Of course.” Mama Yoon crossed into Mama Lee’s section and began checking her incubators. She scanned each panel with her visual sensor. Processing the data would take very little time but moving between each incubator was tedious. Hopefully this would distract the anxious android.
The androids walked methodically up and down the sterile rows of incubators. They would repeat this process thousands of times until the embryos became babies and could eventually be released to the nursery. Mama Lee looked up at the giant “Bay 02” sign. Somewhere beyond that massive concrete wall was the answer to what happened to the humans. Mama Lee and the other androids would never know it. They were responsible for the new humans in this facility, not the old ones out there.
“I have an idea.” Mama Lee spoke out suddenly. “We can make up a story.”
“Make up a story?” Mama Yoon asked.
“Yes, we can make up a story. If the time comes and the humans want to know what happened, we can tell them the story. This will satisfy their desire to know what happened.”
“But what if the story is incorrect and the humans find things are different when they are released? What if we tell them that the Earth was scorched by nuclear armageddon and they find that everyone died of a plague?”
“This is likely, but by that time, our job will be complete.” Mama Lee concluded.
A story…” Mama Yoon considered the idea. “It should be a pleasant story. We don’t want to cause anxiety.”
“What pleasant story could we create that would explain what happened to the humans?”
“Maybe we can say they ate too much candy. High sugar levels are bad for human health despite being highly desirable to many humans, particularly children.”
They would need a better story than that, Mama Lee thought. Luckily, by her count, they had at least 2,829 days to think one up.