The Parent Test – Chapter Seven: The illusion of feelings

By Teresa Dovalpage
Posted 7/18/18

Blinded by rage, Tandra grabbed Eddy's hand and forced him to let go of the book.

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The Parent Test – Chapter Seven: The illusion of feelings

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Blinded by rage, Tandra grabbed Eddy's hand and forced him to let go of the book. The alarm bell rang immediately but she didn't care. She knelt down and began to collect the loose pages.

"Why did you do that? Why?" she repeated, trying not to cry.

She had been nice to him. Yes, she understood that he was supposed to push her buttons, but wasn't this excessive? The books had been in her family for three generations. She treasured them. What had gotten into this kid, who had never seen printed books before, to purposely destroy them?

"Did someone tell you to do this, Eddy?" she asked. "Look at me."

He didn't look at her. He kicked her, and laughed. She stood up and slapped him, though not too hard. The alarm bell rang again.

"You suck," he said.

"Shut up!"

"I don't want to."

Eddy picked up another book and sent it flying toward a corner of the room. This time she slapped him with such force that his head hit the wall. The bell rang with the urgency of a fire alarm. Tandra tried to hold him but it was too late. Eddy fell to the floor with a metal crash.

"Oh, dear! I'm sorry!"

The ringing of the bell stopped. Eddy's skull opened up. A small board, no bigger than Tandra's hand, came out. It was full of tiny pins, buttons and circuits.

A recording repeated "I don't want to" and "you suck" several times until a loud scratching sound brought it to an end. A deadly silence enveloped the apartment.

Tandra gasped and put a hand over her mouth. After looking for the last time at the mess on the floor, she retrieved what was left of her books and ran away.

The helicar hovered briefly over the Institute for Parental Certification and then flew away. As she had done only a few days before, Tandra looked at the square, ominously gray buildings and her heart sank.

"I'll never get a license now," she said.

"You won't need it," Uki answered. "You will have your child and raise him or her the way you choose. This nightmare is over."

Uki had come to pick her up. Tandra had felt too confused and scared to even try to get out by herself. She had called her friend, who hurried to rescue her.

"I killed him," Tandra whispered. "I'd better go back and turn myself in."

She hid her face between her hands and began to sob.

"You didn't kill anybody!" Uki protested. "Don't you understand that it was a machine? A robot that had been programmed to destroy things and insult you just like my Cecilia is programmed to say: 'I love you, mom' and be sweet to me."

"But he -- it looked like a real kid."

"I know, they are incredible," Uki sighed and pointed to Cecilia, who slept to a dream of electronic pixels on the backseat. "That's why I can't part with her. I've grown too attached to her, as if she were my daughter. But, of course, I realize it is only an androll."

"How do we know they don't have feelings?" Tandra asked. "Or--a soul?"

"Please. You saw the circuits and everything else that's inside them. They only create the illusion of feelings."

Tandra nodded.

"I remember that Sonya, the parental coach, told me 'This is not real.' I guess she was trying to warn me, but I didn't realize it then. Silly me!" her lips trembled in an insecure smile and she added. "I wonder why they use robots instead of real people for this -- job."

"Androlls are cheaper in the long run," Uki answered. "They can be replaced when 'accidents' like yours happened. Above all, they are easier to control. I imagine that real kids weren't always as mean as they wanted them to be and sometimes even liked their test parents."

"Did you ever suspect anything when you were going through your own test?

"No, it didn't occur to me. But when you told me what had happened, it suddenly made sense. The coldness. The unexplainable hate. The fact that my girl hardly talked. They have probably been doing that for a long time. As long as androlls have been available, at least."

By then they were so far from the borough that they couldn't see the tallest buildings anymore. Uki relaxed and let the helicar go on autopilot while she turned to Tandra and squeezed her hand.

"We are almost out of here," she said. "We'll arrive before night falls."

"Where?"

"You know where so don't play dumb. We are starting a new life in El Yermo."

Tandra hugged her belly and looked straight ahead. The borough's lights became dimmer and smaller until they vanished in a grayish fog.

The Spanish version of this short story is on Page C4.

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