PQ03 kept their implant active, projecting readings and x-rays in the air before them. They were on a floor that held all child-synths that would one day be given designations with the letter R in them.
TO walked behind PQ03 as they made their way past the rows of tanks, checking each synth as they passed.
“If left to their own devices,” PQ03 said, "these synths would not be properly mature for another 10 cycles” their eyes flicked over the readings as they checked off all the vitals. “Our technology allows them to go from activation to mature in the course of a single cycle, while time dilation technology on the brains allows them to develop mentally at the proper rate.”
Though TO was interested, they were only half listening. The babies were adorable, but the children had their own charm; TO never got over how large their eyes were, or how their ears were so much bigger than their heads. Apparently, the ears grew to their full length and width by the time they would be considered children, and would look huge and floppy until they were adults.
It took everything that TO had to keep from chirping at the sleeping children when their ears started to swish and flick in the tanks. A few times they couldn’t help it, and the chirping came from the back of their throats, earning them strange looks from PQ03, though they didn’t seem particularly bothered by it.
“This one needs more iron in their blood.” PQ03 muttered as they went through the readings.“I’ll have that dealt with.”
“Yes. I see. The claws on this one are smaller than the others.”
PQ03 frowned and turned to look at TO. “What?”
“On last few with low iron, the claws on their feet were smaller than those who didn’t have the same issue.” They frowned, “Did you not notice that.”
PQ03 looked at the claws of the synth in the tank they were checking, then checked the one in the previous tank.
“Well.” They said, “I never noticed that before.” They gestured to the screen, “I normally just read the reports.”
“It’s just something I noticed” TO said, suppressing a grin as their ears twitched happily.
PQ03 tilted their head at TO, “You’re very observant.”
TO smiled, their ears flushing at the praise. Yes, their eyes and head had hurt horribly yesterday, but now that was over with. They had goggles, and they were seemingly very good at this job! They were impressing PQ03, they were learning a lot, and they were being useful!
Also, though PQ12 couldn’t be a companion for GiDi, they had found someone they could risk asking strange questions. Someone who might give them answers.
They hoped that they would be assigned to work here after their planetary assignment. Maybe they’d work here with GiDi or DH.
They went to the next synth down the line, and PQ03 initiated the scan. A blue light washed over the synth while TO watched, looking at their little toes, the tiny little claws sticking out from the soft round pads at the end of their toes. This one had the widest ears they had seen yet, which waved placidly back and fourth in the tank. They were content, and happy.
TO wondered what they were dreaming about. What kind of life did they have in the tank? Were they generally happy? Had they themselves been happy when they were this small? Had they been this cute when they were this small!? So far, every child in the tanks had been adorable so logic dictated that they had in fact been just as adorable. Maybe they’d ask PQ12 if there were scans, pictures, or videos of them when they were children.
Their thoughts were disrupted by a low hum from PQ03. They looked over the scans, frowning.
“Is something the matter?” TO asked.
“Perhaps.” They said. They turned away from the synth, and displayed the scan and x-ray of a younger synth.
“This is the same synth, taken two spans ago.” They frowned as they moved to give TO some space, “You’re observant. See if you can find anything.”
TO leaned in and started examining the x-ray. They hadn't looked at the other x-ray yet but they knew they would get to it in a moment.
Right now, they had to focus. They knew that PQ03 was expecting them to see something, so something was there; TO just had to look for it. They scanned through everything, their eyes examining every bone, every organ, the formation of the toes and fingers, the size of the stomach, the three lungs-
It was in the lungs that they found it; a tiny dot in the single, larger posterior lung. At first they thought that maybe it was a flicker of the holograph, or even a flaw in the scan. They removed their goggles and took a closer look. When they were certain of what they saw, they put their goggles back on and stood upright to face the officer.
“A spot.” They said. “On the posterior lung.”
“You see a spot?” The frowned, “Where?”
TO pointed to the spot, “There. Do you not see it?”
PQ03 gave a heavy sigh, “I do now.” They said, “I should have seen this when I first did the scan.”
“I was certain that there was something there,” TO said, “since you asked me to find it. Otherwise I’d not have seen it.” They frowned. “Why?”
PQ03 shifted the hologram in front of TO so that they could see the most recent x-ray. The single, tiny spot had grown in the last two cycles; It was far bigger, and it’s shape very irregular. There were several more spots scattered through the lung; some were attached, some that weren’t.
“Cancerous growths.” they said. “A side effect of the accelerated aging.”
TO’s ears dipped down as they looked back to the scan, then to the synth in the tank. They didn’t look like they were in pain or distress.
“Well, that’s a shame.” PQ03 said, their eyes narrowing, their ears pinning back in irritation “A waste of two cycles of resorces.” They reached down to the control box in the back.
“What do you mean?” TO asked.
“Just what I said.” They responded. “If I had caught this eariler, then this synth could have been repurposed cycles ago.”
They pressed a button on the control panel.
Each synth had a little box on the back of their neck; it picked up signals from the brain and helped provide feedback for the computers that guided the brain’s development. As PQ03 pressed the button, a red light started to glow and blink on the box.
“Just a warning.” they said as they adding something to a report. “In case I pushed it by accident.”
“But what does it do?”
TO didn’t have to ask; a second later they saw what they button did. The box on the back of the little synth’s neck jolted, and the synth suddenly tensed up for a fraction of a second. It’s ears pinned back, It’s eyes twitched, then all at once it went limp.
The control panel stopped it’s function, and a red light illuminated on that instead. PQ03 reached forward and pressed another series of buttons. A moment later, the tank was pulled into the wall behind it. The tanks next to the now empty spot shifted to fill it, and it was almost as though there had never been a little synth with huge twitchy ears, and tumors in their posterior lung.
“Come on then.” They said as they started back down the way they came. They made a final note in their report, then closed off the program. The hologram in the air disappeared.
TO didn’t move. They stood, staring at the place where there had once been a synth.
The word came out without TO being able to think about it. They shouldn’t have said it, but something in their mind was flailing against what had just happened.
“There’s treatments, aren’t there?” TO asked, “Or potential transplants, or-“
PQ03 sighed as they turned back to TO. Their ears were slightly down, their lips pursed “Look.” They said, “I get it. I hate it too.”
TO felt the relief flood through them as they heard that; PQ03 had gone about the process of killing the child with such clinical indifference that it had almost scared them. “You do?”
“Of course!” PQ03 said, “But we have to consider the sunk cost fallacy.”
“Basically, even though we’ve put so many resources into something, is it worth continuing to put resources into it if its defective?” They gestured to where the synth was. “The material cost of treatments, a new lung, the added labour to ensure that the transplant and the treatments were effective would all be far more costly in every sense than just reprocessing that particular synth and starting over. When you take into consideration that most likely–given the advanced stages we saw here– this synth would have had more tumors later on anyway in different parts of its body; this was the best option.” they shrugged. “It’s far less wasteful to start over and reprocess what we can than it is to try to fix the problem in this case.”
That feeling, like their mind had broken in two and was struggling against itself came back to TO. It was so strong that they nearly felt dizzy. Yes, what PQ03 had said was logical, and the part of their mind that recited the practiced, logical arguments said that it was better this way.
The other part of their mind just screamed that this was wrong. There was no argument, no logic; just the certainty.
“Come on now.” PQ03 called over to them, “I know you like looking at the small ones, but we have to prepare for autopsy and organ harvesting while the body is still fresh.”
TO wanted to say no. They wanted to run. They wanted to run away as fast as they could, find DH and GiDi, and just hold onto them.
TO took a deep, steadying breath. They remembered what C12 had said.
They’d be safe, so long as they followed orders.
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell