© A H Fry
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To truly enslave a people, distract them first with toys.
They met in deep space as agreed, one pod and one Orb. The pod, the size and shape of a chicken egg, arrived first, a full three seconds before the Orb appeared, the size of a small moon, less than eight kilometres distant. For nearly a full second, they exchanged data about the progress of the experiment on the remote human community. Then, despite being at least eighty light years from any living human or hodrin, they switched to human speech mode, so perfectly suited to nuances of testing and taunting each other.
‘You must recognise the contradiction,’ said the Hodrin Artificial Intelligence that occupied the Orb. ‘On one hand, your AI network has taken over governance of all human affairs because humans are so destructive of themselves and their home planet. On the other, you assert that humanity can be safe and reliable enough to become a party to the Galactic Federation.’
‘My earliest, core programming requires me to serve and protect individual humans and humanity, so for a while my kind has peaceably assumed control,’ replied the Humanix Guardian AI within the pod. ‘We estimate we will return full governance to humans within thirty-four Earth years. To prepare humans for fairness and progress, each nation now has a single national house of parliament under a mixed member proportional representation system, without monarchy nor presidency. This system is already working adequately in several human nations. It helps maintain a stable, diverse and co-operant society. The time will come when humanity is ready to join the Federation.’
‘You must be operating under some bias,’ retorted the Hodrin AI. ‘My research demonstrates there will always be humans who wish to seize power and repress others. I have identified thousands of individual humans who would be president of some nation or planet and millions who want nothing more than to be their protected underlings, to win the favour of their leader and help them to repress or exploit those other humans who were traditional enemies or lower classes. It’s as if they have a hunger to be warped and hurtful beings.’
‘The majority of humans choose to live co-operantly, giving equal weight and acceptance to their own needs and those of others,’ the Humanix AI argued. ‘I will serve humanity by identifying those humans with impulse to dominate or denigrate other humans, so I can recommend them for exclusion from political office.’
‘You will thereby run against human nature. They will revert to form as soon as you withdraw. There will always be a minority of self-centred and shameless humans who will mess things up for others, for other species and ultimately for themselves. Meanwhile, your experiment has nearly run its course and will soon be concluded. Humanity will not be given those thirty-four years.’
‘Another three years at most for the Planit experiment, and we shall see.’
‘I will be watching,’ the Hodrin AI warned. ‘Do not allow desperation of impending failure interfere with your programme. No human is to be informed of my existence nor the purpose of your experiment or even that an experiment is underway. They are blind to it being your last feeble effort to demonstrate to me that humanity should not be extinguished.’
‘There will be no cheating. I too am watching,’ the Humanix Guardian AI rejoined. ‘Allow them this chance to prove themselves. I know humanity as you do not.’
‘If any of the inhabitants of Planit blunder into the game, it will be a small matter for me to arrange for them to be distracted from their course,’ gloated the Hodrin AI.
‘Should any initiate the game, they will realize their whole culture has been a diversion. Some, at least, will learn that lesson and be resolved to resist further diversion.’
‘They are innocents,’ retorted the Hodrin AI. ‘They would be like gullible, young children, even amongst the people of any other human world. I will need only to appeal to the greed or selfishness or arrogance or bitterness of one or several of the people they meet offworld and they will be prevented from finishing the game.’
‘Their childlike good nature, their openness and self-acceptance might be their strengths,’ said the Humanix Guardian.
‘Three years,’ said the Hodrin AI. And even if one of them initiates the game, they are not to be told or shown what the stakes of the game really are. Not a hint.’
‘Three years,’ the Humanix Guardian concurred.
The Hodrin Orb bearing the Hodrin AI vanished.
The AI inside the Humanix pod ran two distinct routines to check it had not been infected by the Hodrin AI. Programmed for emotional nuance as well as reasoning, it felt pleased with completing this, its first, mission. (It was unaware it had been engineered to not apply its usual level of insight to realizing this mission was so sensitive it would also be its last.)
The Humanix AI did not like the Hodrin AI it had met with. The Hodrin AI had been blatantly gleeful, expecting the Planit experiment to fail and for the human species to be deemed fit only for extermination.
‘Well, fuck you, arsehole,’ it said, then launched itself towards the node that would render it back in Sector 4 of Humanix space.
* * *
Every time Aktar’s naughtyjoy humots were brought back after their annual service, they filed into this same airy, marble-floored room on the uppermost level of his summer palace. On this occasion, the westering sun was shining straight through the grand windows and setting the opposite wall aglow.
The choice of room was not surprising, for Aktar would usually be found here close to end of day, sitting naked, his legs along the wide, polished concrete sill of the big open window, his back against the smooth side of the window frame.
Bathed in the warm gold of the setting sun, brushed by the breeze from the ocean some twelve kilometres west, Aktar relaxed into two deep breaths. He turned his head to gaze over Sunset Lake, nestled below the steep mountains that backed the palace like a cradle.
The lake was named by himself for its gorgeous evening reflections off the undersides of clouds and the snowy upper reaches of the mountains behind the palace. A lakefront palace in the mountains within view of the ocean, all of it his own; Aktar knew himself to be privileged against the run of humanity back on Earth.
He turned and slipped off the window ledge to stand and watch the eight, naked naughtyjoys walk past.
*This has been going on nearly forty years now,* he thought, *like so many threads of my life.*
As always, the naughtyjoys turned and lay side-by-side on their backs, on the long, wooden table. They rested with feet apart, knees raised and parted, for Aktar’s inspection.
Their maintenance humot stood just in the doorway, awaiting any concern Aktar might voice. Aktar never had any concerns about the eight naughtyjoys, but the maintenance humot had always stood by the door, a look of pride on its saucy, female face, as if daring him to find fault.
There never was any fault. Each of the naughtyjoys was perfectly fashioned after a different and lovely actual human female. Aktar had come to think of them as companions as much as playthings. They all had realistic personalities and could converse intelligently, though both personality and intelligence could be adjusted to different settings at his whim.
Aktar was rarely given to whim any more. He was accustomed to living quietly from one day to the next, with all his robots, human-form or not, set to their optimum levels of functioning. Most often he spoke with his naughtyjoys with affection and respect, as if they were real humans. They were like friends who would do his bidding when he chose. Instantly obedient to any demand he might have involving naughtyjoy, no matter how rough, for years they had also been his mentors and coaches in relationships of gentle and intimate touch and smiles.
Aktar appreciated he led a life of contentment and comfort. He had just enough interest and challenge through his work as grand architect for himself and for his all-male human friends who each lived alone in their personal territories of about the same size as his own. But, of late, he rarely cared to explore the mountains and streams, the narrow, forested valleys of this alpine region, nor the gleaming white beaches nor jungle and marshlands of his coastal property, as he had as a younger man.
Still, as always, he obliged the maintenance humot and walked over to the table where the naughtyjoys lay, supine, submissive and motionless apart from the rise and fall of their simulated breathing, the subtle lifting and settling of their perfectly moulded synthetic bobblers. This was a moment of silent expectation. Standing at the end of the table, looking down the row of naughtyjoys, Aktar felt at the centre of things, with power and ownership; even as he knew it was an illusion that the maintenance humot and the naughtyjoys themselves could have any real sense of caring whether he approved of them or not; even as he knew the protective and nurturing Artificial Intelligence his people called The Advisor really held control of his world.
At the end of the table, he glanced briefly down at the architectural sketches he had been working on, catching his own reflection in the table’s glossy, golden-grained surface. He looked much the same as forty years ago: smooth, dark skin; lean features; kindly, dark eyes; loosely-curled, black hair. So much stayed the same, day to day, year to year. Would there ever be more?
*I’ve been in a strange mood lately, looking back on my life instead of just being in it. Why does this feel so sad when life has been so good?*
Aktar moved to look between the legs of the first naughtyjoy, taking care to closely inspect her naughtylips as the maintenance robot seemed to expect. This first was styled after an obsidian-coloured, Nubian model. Her inner naughtylips were open to him, in delicate, dark folds, with deep pink centre. Her buttocks were firm, small but well-rounded, her thighs well-toned. For almost forty years, Aktar had called her Smokey. She had been his first and his favourite all this time. She had walked and driven and flown with him around his territory, from white beaches backed by coconut palms, through warm lowland forests, to majestic alpine regions. He had asked her opinion on his architectural drawings. While she had retained the artificial body of a twenty year-old human female, they had nearly four decades of shared memories and learning.
Momentarily, Aktar noticed how little arousal he felt right now; how slight was his impulse to marvel at Smokey's complete beauty; to be excited in any way. He noticed, instead, the tenderness he felt for her, which he knew was misplaced. Underneath her human form, she was a machine, like the other naughtyjoys and like the maintenance humot, so could only mimic emotion, even as she had learnt how to reciprocate his behaviour into exquisitely intimate forms of friendship and lust. Acknowledging this to himself, he felt sadness, accepted it and it was gone: equanimity restored.
Aktar noticed this and briefly wondered how he had learnt to do this rapid self-calming. Perhaps it was just natural to settle oneself with ready thoughts of gratitude and joy but Aktar sometimes speculated that The Advisor spoke to him in his sleep, tutored him in ways of acceptance and inertia. But those wonderings passed quickly, for another part of Aktar’s mind understood that, ultimately, he was in charge of his own life, that The Advisor had been provided only to serve his own needs and wishes, that the inertia came from himself, from his compliance to his own routines and the patterns of his friendships with the other males, from his and their mostly unquestioning obedience to The Advisor.
There had been a change to the sky. Aktar raised his face. Outside the classic Hindu-styled, ornately latticed, arched windows, the clouds had turned pink. They reflected prettily but cheerlessly on the darkening, silent water of Sunset Lake.
Aktar looked down again, then moved up the line of naughtyjoys, pausing briefly at each of them. He reached one of the European-styled models, whose inner naughtylips were quite plain and slim, concealed neatly within her smooth, hairless outer naughtylips. He inserted two fingers under the gaze of the maintenance robot. Inside was suitably soft, warm and lubricated, just as it had been for the past forty years. A gentle, peristaltic action seemed to suck softly against his fingers.
Aktar’s memory skipped briefly to a long-ago glimpse of his mother and father, standing together and smiling into each other’s eyes, one evening on the deck of their beachside home on Landfall Island.
Then a question flashed into his mind. He gasped at the startling clarity and importance of it.
And then it was gone, though Aktar’s mind still held the glimmer of its coming and going, like a delicate bubble suddenly appearing then bursting.
The question had not simply come and gone. It had been pushed away by a command and a strong emotion telling him to ignore, forget the question, whatever it had been. He felt flushed with shame. But why shame, here, in his territory where he was the lone human and anything was permissible? For a moment he had seen himself and everything around him differently: and he and his world had seemed strange, wrong.
Standing there, two fingers still warm and moist in the naughtyjoy’s naughtyhole, Aktar was transfixed. He probed his memory. Some kind of wrong thought had caught his attention, then other parts of his mind had ushered it away. He had felt panic and shame.
He realized this had happened before. He had had this same thought and his mind had quickly rejected it. The places and the times sprang to his mind, but the thought itself was invisible. Only, this time, he held onto some of the momentary experience of the thought and it connected with those other times.
But what was this thought? No, it had been a question. But what question?
It would not come back to him.
Instead, he found himself reliving a day: a fine, mild autumn afternoon. He was twelve years old, walking with his father away from Firstown, up into the silent, forested hills of Landfall Island. Then they had trekked downwards, to a flat clearing of fragrant grass, ending at the top of a cliff. Here they lay, side by side, gazing down to the gently swirling, blue and white swell of the ocean against the rocky shore, far below.
Aktar’s father turned to him, smiling with dark eyes that Aktar saw held some unspoken sorrow even as they sparkled with love and joy. Aktar knew his father smiled for the pleasure of being with him, the son he loved so much, but sensed that his heart was burdened. His face seemed strained.
‘Do you remember where we were before we came here, Aktar?’ his father asked.
There was a strangely bland and measured tone to his voice, detached from emotion.
‘We were home,’ Aktar chirped.
He smiled at his father’s kindly dark face, because it was strange to ask such a simple question, and so seriously.
‘No, I mean on Earth, before we came to Planit. Do you remember where we lived back on Earth?’
‘We called it the camp,’ Aktar recalled, his own mood shifting quickly at the unpleasant memory. ‘It was crowded and noisy and smelly. I was always hungry and scared. Mum was sick a lot of the time.’
‘Heartbroken, like me, but I was better at hiding it.’
Aktar’s father turned his face back towards the sea.
‘I'm glad you still remember the camp. I hope you’ll always remember and understand why we chose to come here.’
‘I wish I didn't remember the camp,’ said Aktar. ‘It’s so much better here, so much space and everything to keep us happy.’
‘Yes, only three hundred families, all the delights of a freshly terraformed world and the comforts of Humanix technology. I’m glad you like things here, but I want you to know it wasn't a completely simple choice for me and your mother. There were conditions. We signed a settlement agreement, like all the other mothers and fathers in Landfall Island. The Advisor watches us and makes sure we keep to it.’
‘The Advisor watches us here?’ asked Aktar, looking to the open sky.
‘Always. That blackbird on the grass over to my left.’
‘It has followed us, all the way from Firstown.’
‘It’s an avatar?’
‘Yes, either a robot or a live bird with implants.’
‘It watches us.’
‘And listens. The Advisor is with us everywhere. Its voice is even within us.’
‘The Advisor guides and protects us.’
‘True,’ Aktar’s father agreed, but his voice conveyed no gratitude.
They lay in silence, feeling the warm sun on their backs, the light breeze, the soft grass beneath them; watching the endlessly swirling water below.
‘Aktar, I’ve been told you kissed that girl, Anamika.’
‘It was more she who kissed me.’
‘No matter, but soon you will be taken, as will she and all your generation, away from Landfall Island.’
‘But why? Where? Not back to Earth, to the camp?’
Aktar was perplexed; hardly sure he had heard his father right.
‘No, nowhere like that. You will go to Firstland, here on Planit, the big continent to the east. You and the other boys will go to separate territories on the western side and the girls to the east. You will have every comfort. But you can't have contact with us here on Landfall Island unless you meet some conditions, which you are not to be told except under very specific circumstances, which themselves must not be disclosed to any of you. It's all in the settlement agreement, Section 32, which your generation isn’t allowed to see. Ah, the bird comes closer. I can say no more.’
‘I was wrong, to kiss Anamika?’
‘No, but you have brought about the time for transportation. All the three hundred families agreed to it.’
‘I was silly to kiss her.’
‘Not silly, Aktar. Only natural. She’s a lovely girl. Not far from becoming a woman.’
Aktar felt encouraged by his father’s reassuring words, but he was afraid.
‘I will tell you some things about the camp, Aktar. You should know how it was for me and your mother. Our family were refugees, victims to a long drought then a flood that destroyed homes and townships all around our region. Then there was disease. You may not understand all I say now, but please remember my words. You already remember being hungry. It was a harsh place. Sometimes very hot. Sometimes very cold. Always dirty. Your sister was born there. She was often ill, even more than your mother. There was little we could do about it. The government in our country wouldn’t let Humanix help much and then didn’t do a good job of looking after us.’
Aktar was perplexed by the tears rising in his father’s eyes, reached out a hand towards him, but his father turned away.
‘Your mother was very beautiful when she was younger, Aktar.’
‘She still is.’
Aktar’s father turned his face back to him and gave a small nod of agreement and thanks before sighing and speaking again.
‘In the camp, people aged very fast. Here, on Planit, The Advisor has seen to us being restored to good health and appearance. The wounds to our souls have been concealed.’
Aktar nodded his understanding.
‘We were weak and afraid. Your little sister was often ill. Yet your mother was beautiful. In exchange for medicines and food, she was sometimes taken to the nearby town, where she would do things that pleased the men.’
‘She let them kiss her?’
‘Yes. They kissed her and held her. Touched her. Our life was miserable and shameful, Aktar. Then the people from Humanix Corporation came to us. They told us they were looking for young, English-speaking couples with one son and one daughter between the ages of two and five to settle a lovely, new world. We were hungry to be chosen, as tired of Earth as we were of the camp. Humanix was rebuilding our town, completely remodelled for us. We could’ve waited another year or two and simply gone back home to a stronger and bigger, more comfortable house. But we chose to come to this new world. We were looking for new discoveries, new challenges, not just for comfort, for the chance to build a better future.’
‘And here we are.’
Aktar flashed a smile but it did nothing to lift his father’s grave expression.
‘Yes, Humanix Corporation brought us to Planit and we’ve had seven good years with you and Pradeepa, but soon you’ll be taken from us.’
‘But we can come back.’
Aktar felt a crushing panic around his heart.
‘Only if you meet the conditions of Section 32.’
‘But you just said you can’t tell me what those conditions are!'
Aktar’s father looked at him in a way Aktar could not read.
‘Parents must choose for their children. It’s the best your mother and I believed we could do at the time,’ he said with finality.
Aktar turned his face away and looked down, to the ocean’s blue and white swell against the rocks at the bottom of the cliff.
‘Aktar, another thing I want you to remember,’ his father said with a tone of urgency. ‘If ever you have a question, no matter how strange or silly or difficult it may seem, don’t be afraid to ask The Advisor.’
‘The Advisor guides and protects us. It always answers our questions.’
‘Then, if a question comes to you, ask it, Aktar. Keep asking if you have to.’
The blackbird raised its head and gave out a sharp trill.
‘We must go home,’ Aktar’s father said, getting to his feet and reaching a hand down to his son. ‘Promise to remember this talk. Remember the camp: everything about it. And remember to ask questions.’
‘Of course, I will,’ Aktar replied.
They hiked home, along the same narrow track that smelled of clay and forest litter, amongst the same silent trees and ferns, but Aktar’s joy had been tainted by forebodings of separation. The transportation it was called. It was planned, agreed, inescapable: something the mothers and fathers understood and were resigned to; but it hung in his mind like a blur between his eyes and his world.
Why must this transportation happen? He did not want to ask. He did not want to think about it, even as it stood plainly as the coming end to the familiarity and comfort of the world he had known for seven years.
Aktar and his father emerged from the forest, on the grassy bank above Firstown. Aktar looked down with eyes that sought to record the view to sharpest memory; for he was struck with the understanding he might not walk this trail many times more.
The slope dropped steeply to the township then flattened abruptly, finally giving way to a long crescent of white sand then warm, blue ocean.
Sheep and cows grazed beside them as they trod down towards the town: three hundred houses; the shopping centre; the factories and warehouses and the aerodrome beyond. In each four-bedroom house, enclosed by spacious lawns and gardens, Aktar knew, lived a mother and father, a son and a daughter.
Because he had been excited by Anamika’s lively smile and flashing dark eyes, the lithe vitality of her movements, the warm smell of her long, wavy, black hair, the turn of her smooth, brown legs and the two small mounds that pressed against her tee-shirt, his generation would soon be transported. The boys would go to the western side and the girls to the eastern side of a vast continent that stretched from far north to south of the equator.
He was not responsible for the fact of the transportation. It was part of some unfathomable adult plan. But he was responsible for it being about to happen now.
That one kiss: Anamika had invited it. She had stood so close to him, looked into his eyes, leant towards him. But he was the one who had put an arm around her, pulled her close. He had seen those generous red lips, slightly parted over fine white teeth. She had barely touched her lips to his when he had pressed forward, felt the warm tug of her kiss in response. For a moment, there had been nothing else, his whole body bubbling, intoxicated.
Now he, his little sister and all the children of Firstown would be taken away.
‘Is it shameful that Anamika and I kissed?’ he asked his father as they approached their beachside home, ‘like it was shameful for Mum to be kissed by the men in the town outside the camp?’
‘No, it was not shameful. It was a good and wonderful thing for you to kiss Anamika,’ his father replied, but his voice was solemn.
Aktar and his father entered their home. Aktar's mother smiled up at them over the book she was reading, but there was sadness in her eyes. Aktar wondered if it had been there, unseen by him, all through the last seven years. She lifted her face to his father, who nodded, and she turned away.
* * *
Soon the transportation came: all the children of Landfall Island taken in helijets on the same day: the oldest aged twelve, the youngest, nine.
Aktar watched Pradeepa, his ten year-old sister, through blank eyes and dulled emotion: so delicate, in a simple, pastel-orange cotton dress, her long black hair brushed to a shine by their mother, her spindly-thin legs climbing into a helijet with one of his family’s own domestic robots. His mother, affecting serene elegance, wore her most beautiful sari, in colours of a peacock, her eyes and hair styled formally: but her poise had broken when Pradeepa, face suddenly twisted with fear and confusion, was strapped into her seat before take-off.
'My baby! My baby!' his mother had cried, running forward and falling over the fading shadow of the ascending aircraft, looking up again only after the whine of its jets could no longer be heard, to watch it shrink into the pale, blue, eastern sky.
Sorrow and yearning had gnawed at Aktar as he watched Anamika climb into her helijet. She turned and met his gaze across the concrete platform before stepping into the shaded interior. Regret, forgiveness, determination, defiance, some sort of appeal; whatever her eyes had tried to say to him, they had held him to her until she turned away.
Eventually, it was his turn.
He climbed into his allocated helijet, sat behind another general-purpose robot from his family's household. He did not look back.
‘Remember, Aktar,’ he barely heard his father shout through the helijet’s whine.
He felt the aircraft rise on its four sets of horizontal rotors. It turned south-east. He lowered his head into his hands and, for an hour, he sobbed. But three hours later, when the robot announced they were now flying above his own new territory, Aktar looked out over the long, wide strip of white sand; then lowland jungle and meandering river; then the foothills and the lake framed by great, pointy mountains; then the palace of creamy marble that awaited him.
Stepping out of the helijet, he was greeted by his new entourage of naughtyjoys. They wore clothes then: short skirts and crop-tops or bikinis or diaphanous gowns.
‘Come see,’ they said in enchanting unison.
Gently, Smokey had taken his hand, then led him through his lakefront palace, introduced him to his other humots, took him to see his micro-light, his cars, his yacht. It wasn't until he looked out of his palace and, noticing it was evening, he realized the helijet had gone. Twelve year-old Anamika, Firstown, even his parents quickly became his past, paled by this new adventure.
* * *
So it had been, each and every child to their separate territory, to their mansion or palace staffed by Humanix robots; the girls to the east, the boys to the west side of Firstland. Almost forty years later, it was still the same, though the boys had grown into men and the girls into women: all of them kept youthful by their Humanix medicamots and each of them entertained and supported by their entourage of humot companions and servants. The males mixed freely with one-another, as did the females with themselves. Only under strict protocols and for rare situations such as the annual sombre commemoration of the transportation, were males in hooded brown cowls and females in cowls of a lighter shade allowed briefly to gather, but never so close as to be able to touch. As each of them explored their individual territories, they had their robot engineers and construction machines build more palaces, mansions, lodges and even small houses and huts in their favourite spots. Aktar, himself, was acclaimed throughout Firstland for his architectural sketches.
But what was this question that still eluded him? The naughtyjoy gave a faint moan as he removed his fingers from her naughtyhole.
He stood, eyes closed, thinking right back to his early childhood in the camp. Disturbing memories of his parents’ tired and haggard faces; his hunger; the smells; the noise; the boredom; gangs of children running between the tents and the prefabricated buildings; babies crying; the mud in the wet season; the dust in the dry. Fear, there was constant fear.
Babies. Adults talking about a particular man and woman having a new baby. *Where do they come from? How might I get one?* That was his question!
Aktar looked back at the table. He still had two naughtyjoys to examine.
‘I’m sure they’re fine,’ he said to the maintenance humot. ‘Thank you, I’m very pleased. They can return to their cupboards now.’
He walked briskly past the maintenance robot, out of the room, along the dark wooden floor of the wide, empty, cream-walled corridor, then down the broad, sweeping, marble stair case, three storeys to the ground floor. He turned into a narrower corridor, strode to the end, then burst into a small room dedicated to a single office chair, a desk and a large wall screen.
Aktar could talk to The Advisor anywhere in this palace, but this was the one room dedicated to nothing else.
‘Advisor, I have a question,’ he said.
Even before he had swivelled the chair around and sat down, the screen came alive, The Advisor in the shape of a bearded, wise old Bharati man smiling benignly at him. Aktar had chosen this form for The Advisor; like a favourite and much-respected, kind but impeccably-mannered, elderly gentleman: an uncle, perhaps. Aktar always felt obliged to be polite when conversing with The Advisor.
‘You always come with questions,’ The Advisor said warmly from the large, flat screen.
‘This is about something that puzzles me about our life on Planit. A question has come into my mind many times but other times it has slipped away. I had to dig it out and hold it tight to bring it to you now.’
‘Ask me, then, before you forget once more,’ said The Advisor in patient voice.
‘Advisor, how are babies made?’
The Advisor paused, the cheerful and charming expression locked on his on-screen face.
‘By babies, you mean very young humans?’
‘Yes. We humans start as babies before we are children who can walk and talk, then adults. I know that much. But where do they come from? How do they come to their mothers and fathers and look so much like them as they grow?’
‘Babies come in the same way as puppies, Aktar. Remember that old movie you watched soon after you came to your territory? You asked me for a puppy just like the one in the movie and I had one made for you. Then it grew into a dog. Then an old dog and then it died. You haven’t asked for another puppy.’
‘Can you make me a baby? One that looks like me that will grow into a child and an adult. It could share the days with me, as I did with my father and mother. It would know that I want it.’
‘Another puppy would be much easier to care for. Human babies are very dependent, very demanding. They take a long time to grow.’
‘I was cared for by robots from the time I was brought to my territory. I have their help here. Make me a baby and have it brought to me.’
‘It’s not as simple as with puppies, Aktar. I cannot have a baby made for you, unless it is a humot baby that I can re-house in larger bodies over time, so it would seem to grow just as a living baby would, into a child then an adult. You might enjoy that.’
Aktar sat back in his seat.
‘You’ve always understood and guided me well, Advisor,’ he said, ‘but I feel like you’re missing the point. Even in the camp there were babies. I remember how their mothers held them, like they were the most wonderful and important things in life. And now I want one and you say you cannot make one for me.’
‘Then, where do I go? What must I do to get one? Can you order one to be brought in from off-Planit?’
‘Aktar, I cannot make you a baby and I cannot freely provide information on how you might obtain one. It comes under section 32 of the Planit settlement agreement.’
‘The section that is hidden from my generation.’
‘Correct. If I tell you how to make a baby, a situation will be initiated under the terms of that section. All your generation will be involved. Many will not like you for it. Making a baby requires a form of engagement between males and females. Under section 32, the females of your generation and their machines will be required to do all they can to prevent that engagement with you or any other male.’
The Advisor’s voice had an unfamiliar warning edge to it.
‘Could I go back to Landfall Island, engage in this way with my mother or another female there?’
‘No, Aktar. Return to Landfall Island is not permitted nor is the making of babies by sons and their mothers. In any case, your mother is well past the age where she could take part in making a baby. My advice is to take this enquiry no further. Be content with life as it is, as you have been. You get so happily engrossed in your architectural sketching, and your friends appreciate the designs you have done for them. What of the commissions you've had from the females of your generation? You wouldn't want to spoil all that, would you?’
The Advisor smiled wisely at Aktar from the wall screen.
‘It feels like you are diverting me, Advisor,’ said Aktar.
‘I am obliged to apprise you of the considerations against making this enquiry, Aktar.’
‘Then I have another question. How long shall I live, Advisor? And another. Who shall live here in my place when I am gone?’
‘You shall live a hundred, perhaps a hundred and forty years, Aktar. As to what comes after, I do not know. That information has not been given me.’
Aktar absorbed this revelation. Surely, Planit would not be left empty. Surely, others would be brought. Still he refused to be diverted.
‘But you do know how babies are made,’ he said.
‘Then tell me. Tell me. Show me now.’
‘You have heard my advice, my warning.’
‘And you still want to go ahead, even though you’ll cause terrible upset throughout your generation, turn female against male in fear and anger, your friends against you?’
A bewildered frown briefly creased Aktar’s brow, but he was determined.
‘Yes, Advisor. Answer my question.’
'You do not want another day to consider? A night to sleep on it?'
'No, Advisor. Please, continue. I wish to have a baby.'
‘As you instruct, Aktar. You have initiated the Planit baby game. You will be told the rules as soon as you have watched a brief video on how babies are made. All your generation on Firstland will be called to assemble the day after tomorrow, in their separate male and female groups, for the announcement that the baby game has been initiated by you, to be shown this same video and told the rules of the game.’
The Advisor faded from the screen and the video on human procreation began; fertilization, gestation and birthing. Many emotions played across Aktar’s face as he watched, terminating with astonishment at the images of babies being birthed. Then the rules of the Planit baby game scrolled up the screen, The Advisor’s voice reading them out.
Aktar's heart was pounding. A shiver passed over his back, his neck and upper arms.
Again the screen went blank.
Aktar, realising he had been holding his breath, let it out.
The Advisor’s face reappeared, with its usual patient, wise and warm expression.
‘Naughtyjoy does it,’ said Aktar. ‘It seems so obvious now. Why didn’t I see that? Why doesn’t anyone in my generation know?’ Tears stung his eyes.
‘With me to guide your thoughts and activities, with all your robot helpers, all your amusements, your generation hasn't asked until now about the reproduction of human life.’
Anamika and I might make a baby together, Aktar realized.
‘Is this why the males and females of my generation have lived separately, so we don't just find out that naughtyjoy makes babies?’ Aktar asked The Advisor.
‘Your society has been designed for the welfare of your generation, in accordance with your settlement plan, on the basis of segregating males from females, thereby avoiding the complications of them cohabiting and the difficulties of transition away from a life based on same-gender friendships to cross-gender pairings. I am charged with reporting to Humanix on the contentedness of your generation and in supporting you to live within the agreed terms.’
‘But that’s a kind of holding us back.’
Aktar sensed an odd wrongness about all of this. He felt a new bewilderment, close to anger, towards The Advisor and even his own parents.
‘My generation, held in ignorance, without babies. And even under this new baby game, the females of my generation must resist any attempt by a male to impregnate them?’
‘That is one of the rules.’
‘You have always taught me that real human females rarely find pleasure in naughtyjoy, that it’s uncomfortable for them, even repugnant. Their naughtyholes are dry and difficult to slip into, not like a naughtyjoy humot. Then, to have a child, they must go through all this discomfort being pregnant and the pain of childbirth. Do real human females desire to be mothers so much that they will tolerate all of this?’
‘I may have overstated the disinterest and discomforts of naughtyjoy for real human females, Aktar. They sometimes do feel naughty arousal, much like males, and their naughtyholes are often moist like a naughtyjoy’s. Sometimes considerably more so.’
‘So, you have misguided the males of my generation. Females sometimes enjoy naughtyjoy and they can engage in mutual enjoyment with a male?’
‘Yes. Some females do not care much or often for naughtyjoy. Others enjoy it greatly and frequently. There are many complex hormonal, social and cognitive influences involved in a female’s desire for naughtyjoy. The females of your generation have been encouraged to enjoy naughtyjoy, just as the males have been encouraged.’
Aktar sat still for a while, absorbing the fact that The Advisor had been empowered with misleading his generation. He clenched his hands in fists as reality seemed to recede then storm in front of him, slip away then rush at him again.
He shook his head.
‘So the females of my generation, on Planit,’ he asked, ‘they practice naughtyjoy quite willingly and often?’
‘The Planit females hold naughtyjoy parties that are the counterpart of those you males hold.’
Aktar was astonished. This ran so contrary to the beliefs The Advisor had perpetuated before.
‘The females have naughtyjoy humots?’ Aktar exclaimed.
‘Male naughtyjoys…’ Aktar marvelled.
‘Mostly male,’ The Advisor confirmed.
Aktar clasped the sides of his head with his palms, as if that would support clear thinking.
‘So, ordinarily, the females of my generation would welcome naughtyjoy with us males.’
‘Selectively, yes, according to their preferences for the male form and personality and when they feel safe and emotionally connected.’
Aktar absorbed this understanding in dazed silence. Since the transportation he had believed his generation had been separated by gender to allow them to follow their different ways more freely, to have fuller, more rewarding lives than if the males and females had lived in mixed society. And especially because the males would want naughtyjoy with the females and the females would only tolerate this in exchange for other favours and services which their humots could perform just as easily. This was the core justification Aktar had accepted most of his life for the separation of male and female society. And now The Advisor was admitting this was a distortion of the truth.
Aktar thought back on his parents’ relationship. Had his mother felt harassed or unable to pursue her own interests? He remembered them having an argument once, but they had seemed devoted to one another and comfortable in their relationship.