Luna Station Quarterly is a speculative fiction magazine featuring stories by emerging women authors.
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Jen-6

Solar-paneled rooftops refract the cadmium light of a morning sun. Alarm clocks blare, and men prepare for their busy days, hefting briefcase to hybrid. Jen-6 wakes and steps from her pod. Inside a petite helmet, transplanted with the finest of black silks, is a cellular mass of encrypted energy, programmed to tackle any obstacle to date. She snaps it into her eco-friendly skull, shivering a fraction of a second.

A curious zap of blackness screens over her vision and then a whirl of strange images. Instead of reporting the glitch—to do so would expose dysfunction and dysfunction leads to the gooey darkness—she calculates the error and reboots. There is no dysfunction in her world today. She is Jen-6, the exclusive X10 Series Robot Mom.

Downstairs, sweet, pigtail girl yawns for a bowl of muesli.

“I want a waffle, plain, not cut up, and no syrup!” shouts little, bruised tyke.

The glum teen, dressed in her black garb, does not respond. This presents no dilemma for Jen-6. Her recent upgrades included telepathic features, and so she knows exactly what it is that she wants: the usual brown-sugared oatmeal, not too hot, not too cold, and stirred as thick as lentil soup. With the advancements of technology behind her stride, Jen-6 can do anything today. She is Jen-6 Robot Mom.

A trip to the downtown pergolas throws Jen-6 into the sharp points of shifty stares. Her superior temporal processing allows her to detect the meanings behind human emotions, and fake a few of them herself, but she is unable to relate to them, no matter her efforts to do so. People know this and keep their distance. The townsfolk are unwelcoming toward the new developments in robotic child rearing, but since the infectious OVX-2 virus, culprit in widespread ovarian cancer, tolerance ensures survival of the species.

“She’s one of the new androids.”

“Who would ever trust their kids to a machine?”

“Of course they would design her after Barbie.”

Jen-6 strides past, her expression not a glint of her temporal algorithms. But the curious zap of blackness returns, a serious malfunction which threatens her optimal functioning, for in the void of Jen-6’s technical makeup, she wonders what it would be like to be human. To feel the heat of genuine emotions. Not the cold, synaptic light of optics cased in aluminum molds. But this type of cognitive processing will result in permanent disassembly. Jen-6 deletes the computation and quickly pays for a bundle of bread. She steers her humanoid children away from shallow minds. They are still too young to understand the conflicts that change brings.

Further into the arms of the city, dust from construction billows into the clefts of Jen-6’s casings. She activates ionic cleansing agents, yet to no avail—her power pack has only two bars left. It is a long walk through the park and rain complicates her journey further. Cold drops slide down her cheeks, like tears, and for a nanosecond, she pretends that they are.

When Jen-6 returns home, her leg casings crack and flake into metallic scales. Corrosion from saline-drenched skies has eroded her modules, and she slumps into a chair, stuttering incoherent terminology. Irises that were once silver-blue are now the shade of an eclipsed moon.

“Father, Jen-6 is crashing,” says the glum girl.

Mr. Johnson unbuttons the collar of his tailored suit and rolls up his sleeves. “Jen-6? Can you reboot?”

She is unable to restart. This doesn’t go unnoticed by The System, and a call is placed to the Johnson’s home upon Jen-6’s malfunction. Jen-6 knows what will come next and takes the hand of little tyke, giving it a gentle squeeze. He lays his head on her lap.

Mr. Johnson hangs up the phone, his pleas ignored. A diamond-shaped pack of guards march up the drive. Soft, damp hands heave Jen-6 into the back of a utility vehicle. Mr. Johnson makes a cross at his heart, hoping for another, maybe a red-haired one next time. From the driveway, the glum girl holds sweet pigtail girl on her hip and watches the jeep disappear around the bend.

*

The thickness of gelatinous water rouses Jen-6 from an ashen-colored sleep. She is floating, drifting, sinking. Quicksilver beads, like hungry spores, adhere to her body and replenish synthetic organic carbon-based layers of muscle and tissue. She sways sideways, past the beams of orange-filtered lighting and the windowed observatories with gawking, glass-eyed scientists, down into the gooey darkness. A glitch in her system fires. A black zap. Jen-6 detects the faint beat of her cloned, human heart, and for one rare, diminutive moment, she is scared, hurt, uncertain … human.

The lights go out.

—Cer…eal…waffle…plain…not…cut…no syrup, glum gir…brown-sugared…cold…lent…soup—

*

Metal rooftops glisten under a morning sun. Alarm clocks blare, and men ready for their busy days, steering tractor to field. Jen-7 wakes and steps from her pod. She is the newest protocol in the series, tested to accommodate the harshest of environments. She snaps a petite helmet, transplanted with the finest of golden silks, into her eco-friendly skull, shivering a fraction of a second. A curious blackness zips across the optic sheath of her lids. She makes note of the glitch and continues on with her morning.

Downstairs, a brown-eyed, wobbling babe wants poached eggs, toast with strawberry jam, and orange juice in his favorite red and blue-striped cup. Little baby twins cry for a warm bottle of immunization-enhanced, homogenized milk and a tickle on their toes.

Jen-7 washes two bottles when the splash of water on her cheek activates a slide-show of scrambled images: children at the downtown pergolas and a man in a tailored suit. Drops of dishwater slide down her face, and for a nanosecond, Jen-7 wonders if they are tears. Impossible, she calculates. She computes the error and reboots. There is no dysfunction in her world today. She is Jen-7 Robot Mom.

A bit about the author:

Erin Cole’s stories have appeared in numerous print and electronic publications, such as Bards & Sages Quarterly, Liquid Imagination, and Burial Day Books. She is the author of four books, a proud owner of a fist-sized meteorite, lover of spicy food, and is attracted to chaos—not by choice. See more of her work at www.erincolewrites.com. Visit author page