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Beauty and the Bot

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The appointment was at ten. She checked her watch. It was five to ten. Any moment now, her name would be called.

The baby wasn’t due for another six months, but she could already see how he – she was sure it was a he- would look like. The square face, set jaw, hooked nose; exactly like his father. Alex. It had been nearly three years now since he was declared missing in action, and she still couldn’t shake off the feeling that he would be waiting at home when she returned, holding a cup of tea for her and with an impish grin on his face.

The nursebot’s voice brought her back from memory lane. It was standing at the end of the corridor, its faultless white steel matching that of the surrounding tiled walls. On the large screen positioned on its chest was a photo of hers and her name. It called out once again, in that mechanical female voice, “Sarah”.

Sarah got up. “Good morning, Madam” said the bot, “Please, follow me”. It turned 180 degrees on its wheels and rolled off. Sarah followed it and entered a short corridor, leading to the doctor’s room.

“What are you?” Sarah couldn’t resist asking. It was a little hobby of hers to ask that to every robot she had an opportunity to speak to.

“I’m Jenny”, it said not breaking stride-roll- “Issue number ISR1800928, Nursebot, manufactured by Robotronics United, Pune branch. Programmed with basic navigation, speech recognition and necessary cognitive abilities.”  Sarah felt satisfied.

They had reached the end of the corridor. The nursebot opened the door and led her in.

Dr. Della was seated behind her desk, going through the giant monitor placed to her left. She was dark skinned woman, wearing a starch white lab coat, a stethoscope hanging around her neck. (Sarah couldn’t help thinking that the stethoscope was possibly the only instrument to have survived the brunt of time.) She had known Dr. Della ever since she had approached her seven months ago for the Intra Uterine Artificial Embryo Implantation procedure using Alex’s stem cells. Approached her for the baby. For Alex.

“Good morning Sarah” Della smiled brightly as she shook hands with her, and turning to the nursebot said, “Jenny, send me Sarah’s results.” The nursebot turned to leave.

“So,” she asked, “how’s the baby coming along?” Sarah smiled indulgently.

“I think he is going to be a naughty boy” she said, Della chuckled. An awkward moment of silence followed, neither knowing what to say. Sarah looked out of the window to her right. The charred remains of her city after the Great War greeted her. It no longer scared her.

It was Sarah who finally broke the silence.“I’m actually tensed doctor. What if the EFST results…” she trailed off.

“Don’t worry Della. I’ve already told you about this. The media is just exaggerating the entire thing. Only about one in a thousand live births are disallowed on basis of the test. You needn’t worry.”

“But Della, you know, forcing an abortion on basis of a test…” she was cut off by a sharp beep from the monitor.

“Lets know firsthand”, said Della smiling broadly as she clicked open the email which had Sarah’s test result. Sarah felt a shiver running up her spine.

Della kept on smiling as she scrolled through the results, giving a running commentary, “All organs are fully formed, no external deformities, heart, liver, kidney check; blood count normal, IQ ratio 7, he’s intelligent, it’s a he by the way”, Sarah felt a small smile creeping to her lips as Della continued, “Genetic quotient. Basic amino structure normal, pyridines and pyrimidines check. Nucleotide analysis. Melanin formation 68%, cancer risk 13%, asthma 12.44%, all within range and heart node dysfunction…” Della was suddenly quiet, her face became grave, and in a small voice she added, “83.55%.”

Sarah felt like someone had run an iron rod through her. Over the past few weeks she had agonized over all these values, and knew the acceptable values by heart. It was 45% for HND. Her baby had failed the EFST.

“I am sorry Sarah.” Della said in a quiet voice, not making eye contact with her, “We have to abandon the baby.”

Sarah felt the adrenaline rushing through her. Panic. Fear. Desperation.

“Della, please. I’m sure we can work this out. He… he has a twenty percent chance of making it.” Della was slowly shaking her head, Sarah was pleading, “Please Della, there is a way. I’ll rush him to the hospital if he so much as sneezes. Please Della. Please.”
“I’m sorry Sarah,” Della repeated, “You know the rules. The society doesn’t have enough resources to take such a risk. The War drained us to an extent we didn’t anticipate and we are running out of fuel and food way too fast. You know all this; you know that is why the Embryo Fitness Screening Test was introduced in the first place. Try to understand.”

Sarah was standing now, one hand protectively placed over her womb. There were tears in her eyes. “Please Della. We’ve known each other for so long. You know me. You know, he’s all I have, all I’m living for.”

“I’m sorry Sarah.” said Della once again as the door flew open and two Securitybots came rushing in. Their stainless steel muscles easily secured Sarah, lifted her and strapped her onto a nearby bed. She was kicking and screaming all the while.

“Don’t worry Sarah” said Della as she filled a syringe with a yellowish liquid from a bottle, “we shall erase all your memories of the baby, remove all the unnecessary hormones from your body. You wouldn’t even remember there was such a child.”

“Please Della, please” Sarah was shouting, struggling pointlessly against the straps which held her, the straps which had held countless others before her. Tears were flowing freely down her face.

“Please Della, don’t you have heart?”

“No Sarah, I don’t. I follow the rules.” Della pushed the syringe to let the air out.

“WHAT ARE YOU?” Sarah screamed at her as Della came closer, the syringe poised and ready.

“I am Della” she replied, “Issue number ISR10089842, Doctorobot, manufactured by Robotronics United, Pune branch.” She-it- looked Della in the eye before continuing, “Programmed with advanced motor skills, communications, AI, and emotional response. Programmed to follow logic. Not the heart.”

Sarah felt the sting of the needle.

 

 

 

 

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