1 My Brother
Isaac’s mood changed; it seemed to become as cloudy as the overcast olive sky above. His father and his gynoid companion, sitting on either side of him, both sensed it.
“It’ll be okay, Isaac,” his father said. “He’ll be fine.” Harley ran his fingers through his son’s bristled hair and noticed that Carrie had taken his hand to comfort him.
They sat with a group of others overlooking a synthetic sports field, all contained under a massive transparent dome. They were members of a small community—all that was left of a once-thriving species on a far-away marbled blue planet.
Teenage boys from two local schools were on the field, engaged in the sport of soccer. It was one of the few customs from the Old World that they had maintained.
Harley looked over Isaac’s head and examined the female android, his most masterful achievement as a robotic scientist, built for his son out of both guilt and love.
Carrie was the first. Beautiful. Almost indistinguishable from a human.
The mandatory identifying traits still bothered him. The Leadership Council wouldn’t go along with covering their cranial domes with hair. They wouldn’t permit any degree of human emotion in their firmware, either.
“My new brother. My new brother,” Isaac said with concern.
The gynoid squeezed the boy’s hand. “Isaac,” she said, “my analysis of the play indicates that Liam has most likely suffered a minor ankle sprain, and should be able to resume play. He isn’t badly injured.”
“Thank you, Carrie,” Harley said.
“You’re welcome, sir,” she responded.
“My new brother,” Isaac repeated. “He’s hurt.”
Liam sat up on the field. The spectators gave him light applause as he got to his feet, helped by his teammates. He limped in a circle and then broke into a slow jog to test his ankle.
“Way to tough it out, Liam,” Harley shouted in encouragement.
The boy looked up at them, grinned, and then gave a thumbs-up to his coach before retaking his position.
The tallest member of the team, wearing a captain’s armband, approached Liam and began shouting and motioning for him to get off the field.
“Get off if you’re hurt, we’re a goal behind, and we can’t afford a gimp on the field.” The boy’s shouts carried up the hill.
“Ralph is bad. Ralph Sampson is bad,” Isaac said.
“Yes, son. I know. It’ll be okay,” his father reassured him.
Liam looked toward the bench. His coach motioned for him to stay in the game. Ralph glared as they lined up for a corner kick.
The referee blew her whistle to continue play, and a teammate launched the ball toward Liam. Ralph cut in front to take the intended pass himself and dribbled toward the opponent’s net.
Liam ran wide and parallel as the defenders on the opposing team closed in on Ralph.
“Pass to Liam, he’s wide open!” the coach shouted.
Ralph ignored the command and continued toward the goal, winding up and firing a hard shot. The goalkeeper leaped sideways and deflected the ball away from the net. Liam had anticipated the outcome and positioned himself in the ball’s path, booting it into the open goal.
“Tie game!” Isaac exclaimed. “My new brother Liam!”
All Liam’s teammates except Ralph ran by to slap him on the back as they lined up to resume play.
“I calculate that with just over one minute left to play, and with the psychological momentum in our team’s favor, there is a high probability of winning this contest,” Carrie said.
The teams launched into motion as play continued. Ralph moved in and stole the ball from an opponent with a sliding tackle, then jumped up to take control. Another player beat him to it and sent a looping pass to Liam, who had gone streaking down the sideline, his long hair flowing behind him.
He looked to pass to a teammate, but a defender ran into the path. Liam feinted the pass, causing the defender to hesitate, and then took the resulting open lane. He deked again as he reached the goalkeeper, and eased the ball into the net.
“We win!” Isaac exclaimed joyfully. He pulled at his team jersey with pride. “Liam did it!”
“Yes, son,” Harley said. “But remember, athletics are only permitted for recreation. We shouldn’t get caught up in winning and losing. It’s one of the things that caused the Breaking of the Old World, back on Earth.”
Isaac looked confused.
Carrie simplified for him. “Winning is fun for a moment, but it is unimportant after that, Isaac.”
“Okay,” he said. “Da, I want to play. Can I play on the team?”
Harley had known this was coming. It always did after they watched the games together. His heart dropped as he considered how essential it was to the son he loved so dearly, and how unlikely it was to ever happen. He mentally flagellated himself again for his decisions. I shouldn’t have allowed it. It isn’t fair to him…
His train of thought was interrupted by a slap on the back.
“Harley Harris,” Ken Sampson said in a commanding voice. “Your new charge out there is a good player. Maybe talk to him about passing the ball.”
Isaac shied at the sight of the big man and curled into Carrie’s arms. The gynoid began to speak to him in a comforting voice, distracting him from the man he feared.
“Dr. Sampson…hello,” Harley stammered. “Your boy Ralph had a fine game. Just fine. I’ll speak to Liam. He’s a good kid; he’s just trying to fit in, being new in the school and all. Perhaps they play differently in the sector he’s from.”
Sampson scowled. “You better. The rest of the league will think you used the exchange student program for athletic purposes. That wasn’t your intent in bringing him to live with you, was it? Because you know it’s against the Code. We can’t go back to the old ways.
“And we don’t need you getting shipped off to the Seclusion Zone as punishment. In fact, I need you to step up your hours in the lab. You should be there, not sitting around here with the boy and his robot.”
“We consider that term to be a slur, sir,” Carrie said.
“Silence,” Sampson commanded her.
Isaac burrowed his head deeper into her shoulder.
“I must concur with Carrie,” Sampson’s android companion said.
“You shut up too, Charles,” Sampson barked. “Harris, I swear you gave me a defective robot.”
Charles stepped back, almost seeming embarrassed by the comment. Carrie put a hand on his shoulder. That’s odd, Harley thought. They’re not capable of emotion. He made a mental note to check their logs when he was back in the Robotics Complex laboratory.
“It’s just that it’s the Day of Rest,” Harley interjected, “and I haven’t been able to spend much time with Isaac…”
Sampson scowled. “Carrie is more than capable of caring for Isaac and his…problems. That’s what you built her for, right?”
Harley looked at Carrie, relieved to see that she was distracting Isaac from the conversation.
“Yes, Dr. Sampson, of course. By the way, I have some ideas for a few new projects, to build on my DroidMesh platform. Can we discuss them tomorrow? I’d like to get approval and funding from the Robotics Council for the initial development and testing.”
Sampson waved to his son on the field below. “Sure, I guess. Stop by and talk to me when we’re back in the complex. I’m sure you’re aware that I’m the likely choice to lead the council after old Bob Sinclair retires.”
The players from both teams were dispersing below, and Liam began to limp up the hill to join them. Carrie pointed him out to Isaac, who immediately ran to him.
“Nice game, Liam,” Harley said.
“Thanks, Mr. Harris,” Liam responded.
“Just learn some team play, dork,” a voice called.
They turned as Ralph and their classmate Kim reached the group.
“Ralph, he tried,” Kim said. “You saw what happened. The pass would have been stolen. He had a clear lane, what was he going to do?” She smiled at Liam. “Nice game, new kid.”
“Thanks, Kim,” Liam responded, looking at the ground.
“See you in school!” she chirped, trotting away.
“Thanks, Kim,” Ralph mocked him. “Learn your place, new kid.” He stepped forward and gave Liam a shove, knocking him off balance.
“Stop! Stop!” Isaac cried. He ran to Liam again and embraced him.
“Ralph, you played a good game. I tabulated your points, and they were the most out of all players…” Carrie began.
“Shut up, sped-bot. Take care of the little retard and mind your business,” Ralph said.
“Isaac isn’t retarded and doesn’t require special education,” Carrie corrected him. “I was created to help him understand the things that aren’t clear. He has an intellectual disability.
“And technically, I’m a gynoid, the female…” she began to say before Harley silenced her with a gesture.
“That’s enough, all of you. Ralph. Let’s go,” the elder Sampson said with a smirk.
Ralph turned toward Isaac. “My family helped build this world so there wouldn’t be people like you. You were supposed to be canceled. Ask your daddy what happened to your mommy because of you.”
Sampson grabbed his son by the collar, and they moved on, leaving Isaac sobbing. “I’m not a retard. I’m not.”
“No, you’re not, son. You’re a better person than either of them,” his father said, pulling him into an embrace.
Liam joined them and put his arm around Isaac. “Forget them, Isaac. Let’s go home and play some virtual soccer, okay? We’ll team up and take on anyone that challenges us. You’re amazing at that. You can teach me some plays.”
Isaac brightened immediately. “Really? Da, can I stay up late?”
“You sure can, son,” Harley responded. He turned on his communicator and summoned his companion. “Betsy, call a ride for us. We’re ready to go home.”
A moment later a skycar appeared over the horizon and navigated the airlocks to enter the sports dome. It hovered silently for a moment before setting down on the ground next to them. The group boarded and took their seats as the restraint systems latched down around them.
They lifted off and made their way back through the airlocks to exit the dome. The skycar accelerated across the sparse terrain toward their home complex. Harley looked down at their world. Honeycombed compounds consisting of transparent bubbled pods were surrounded by solar panels.
Androids clung to the outside of some of the domes, performing their cleaning routine. Other skycars whizzed through the toxic atmosphere along their routes.
“How was the game, Isaac?” Betsy asked from the vehicle’s command seat. One of the setting suns glinted off her transparent cranial dome, illuminating the electronics within.
“Really great!” Isaac exclaimed. “We won, Liam won it.”
“Yes, it was exciting, Betsy,” Harley added. “Though Ken Sampson joined us at the end and ruined it somewhat. His son was also pretty rough on all of us.”
Betsy paused before her response. “Dr. Harris, for three generations on this planet, your family has progressed your species in so many ways with genetic and android research,” Betsy said. “Disease is nonexistent. We androids can’t help much with human emotional traits, but can’t you filter the negative ones out?”
Harley considered it, still gazing at the small remnant of human civilization below. “The people who escaped here from the Breaking of the Old World were humbled by the near-extinction of our species,” he said. For three generations on this planet, we’ve been on our best behavior toward each other—happy to have survived and cognizant of the human behaviors that caused the Breaking. Perhaps we’re starting to regress.”
“I just did an analysis,” Carrie said. “A primary factor is that those selected for the Migration were of good character.”
“Except for the Sampsons, I’ll bet,” Harley continued.
“Mr. Sampson is mean. Ralph is mean,” Isaac muttered.
“Parents often pass their undesirable traits on to their children, Isaac,” Carrie said. “Sometimes it’s through genetics, sometimes by their example, sometimes through their teaching.”
“Maybe I should try to introduce these traits into the genetic cleansing algorithms. Perhaps we can filter them out,” Harley said. “Which reminds me, Betsy, we have to meet with Dr. Sampson tomorrow to discuss my new projects.”
“Mr. Sampson is mean, Da,” Isaac said. “He’s mean to you.”
“I know, son. But he’s an influential member of our society. I need his support to get my projects approved.”
The skycar carrying Dr. Sampson and his son passed them. Isaac became agitated when he noticed them.
“Betsy. Hit them. Run them over. I command,” he suddenly barked.
“Master Isaac,” Betsy responded, “I cannot harm a human. You know this. It’s against the laws of robotics.”
Harley patted his knee. “Son, you know violence is a horrible thing. It’s not part of our world. I’m surprised…”
“Ralph is bad to me. Ralph is bad to me in school. Very bad. I don’t like him,” Isaac said, beginning to cry.
“Carrie, is this so?” Harley asked Isaac’s companion.
“Yes, sir. I can confirm that this is the case.” She held Isaac’s hand, while Liam distracted him by talking about the strategy they would use during virtual soccer when they got home.
Harley looked again at the barren landscape of their planet as they flew over it, his mind reviewing a thousand possibilities. I won’t watch my son suffer. I’ll find a way to make him whole…
2 Sampson & Son
“Take us home, Charles,” Ken Sampson said to his android companion, seated in the command seat of their skycar.
“Yes, sir,” Charles responded.
Sampson turned to his son. “You need to tone it down, Ralph. I know you don’t like the new kid showing you up, but you can’t always be the best. If there’s too much trouble, the Leadership Council will shut the soccer program down. It was hard enough to get them to allow it.”
“Liam and Isaac drive me crazy, Dad. They both get too much extra attention in school. That idiot Isaac always has to have his companion with him, whispering and explaining everything.”
“He needs help, son. He’s slow,” Sampson said, dragging out the last word for emphasis.
“Why, though? Why is he here? He’s the only one like that. We built a utopian society here on Novae Terrae by canceling the ones we couldn’t genetically fix before they’re born. Why did he get a pass, because of his father? How did that happen?”
“The circumstances were unfortunate; apparently there was some error in the testing protocol at that time. At least, that’s what Dr. Harris said. He’s the foremost authority in this area. So, that made it much more difficult to deal with.”
“Sounds to me like he got a pass, Dad. What if there are more kids born like that? We’ll end up just like things were in the Old World. Lots of defects walking around.”
“It won’t happen again, Ralph. We’ve taken preventative measures since then. And I’m going to petition the council to have the boy sterilized, now that he’s of age.”
He regretted sharing the information with his son, worried that he might use it to further taunt Isaac.
“Don’t you dare say a word,” he added.
Sampson looked out over the landscape, broken up only by the domed complexes. The complete silence of the craft as it streaked over the terrain helped ease his anxiety.
He broke the silence, speaking more to himself than his son.
“I often wonder exactly what Harris is up to in that lab. With so much of our daily life recorded in distributed hyperledger logs and blanket video, it’s hard to break the law without detection. But if there’s one guy that could find a way around that, it’s him. He’s the lead architect of all of that.”
“Dr. Harris is a good man. He created me and my android brethren,” Charles spoke up.
“Shut up, Charles,” Sampson commanded.
“You think he’s up to something, Dad?”
“I doubt it. Harris is timid. He knows he wouldn’t do well in the Seclusion Zone without his kid. The boy is all he cares about since he lost his wife. He’s been through a lot. We’re no longer conditioned to deal with a lot of stress since we rarely encounter it.”
“Well,” Ralph said, “send Isaac and his dad to Seclusion and Liam back to wherever he came from, and the problem is solved!”
Sampson scoffed at the idea, and then considered it for a moment. “Harris and I played soccer together in school. We were rivals, much like you and Liam are now. I was the team captain, like you. Harley was nowhere near as good as me, though. In fact, he was kind of a dork. But what Harley lacked in athletics he made up for with his genius. He finished ahead of me, at the top of our class. He’s scarily smart. I worry about that sometimes.” I wonder if I should be shutting his projects down, rather than advocating for them.
“Well, you’re his boss, just do it. But it sounds like someone else doesn’t like getting shown up,” Ralph said.
The vehicle remained silent again.
“Shall I play some music?” Charles asked.
“No, Charles,” Sampson responded.
Ralph jumped up in his seat. “I see one!” His sudden exclamation startled his father.
“Please don’t do that. You do that every trip. The underworld beings simply don’t exist, Ralph. It’s just a myth. If they existed, we’d know by now.”
“I swear I saw one. It was moving fast, went behind that bluff.”
“Son, when we’re moving at this speed, along with other skycars in the area, it disturbs the surface dust. It causes mirages.”
Ralph leaned forward and shook his father’s shoulder. “I saw it, Dad. They’re real.”
“Alright then, let’s settle it. Androids cannot lie. Charles, was there a life form on the terrain?”
“No, sir,” Charles responded. “I have run an analysis on the object that Ralph saw. May I display it?”
“Of course, you idiot,” Sampson said.
A holographic three-dimensional video began to play in front of them. A figure appeared on the horizon, framed and magnified by Charles’ analytic interpretation module. As the video zoomed in, it showed a twister of surface dust, moving with the wind. The tracking frame followed it until it dissipated.
“Good eye, though, son,” Ken said. “I didn’t even catch it. Alright, Charles, turn it off before you crash the skycar.”
“But they’re real,” Ralph said. “That’s why I need a companion, for protection. Why can’t I have one? The retard has one. So does his dad. You have one.”
“Harley invented them. His son has a disability. You don’t have an argument there, sorry. You’ll have to finish school and work your way up through the Castes like everyone else until you’re at a level where a companion is included. That should be sufficient motivation for you to study hard and work hard. That’s how our system works.”
Ralph slumped back, defeated. “I think I would have liked the Old World better. Kids like me could just take advantage of their parents’ success and start at the top, rather than the bottom. Why can’t we just have money to buy things, like they did?”
“Because money caused most of their problems. Particularly because the people at the top, those born into wealth, didn’t know what it was like to struggle.” Sampson paused to think. “But sometimes I think I might have liked it better as well.”
Isaac clapped his hands together after jumping two of Liam’s pieces on the holographic checkerboard. “Your move, Liam!” he said, leaning back to rest on Carrie.
Liam hunched forward from his seat on the floor and studied the board.
“I think you have me pretty boxed in, Isaac.” As he looked down, a long lock of his hair fell forward. He pushed it back behind his ear.
“I’m gonna win, Liam. I’m gonna win. Watch out for me,” Isaac said. He shifted impatiently, waiting for his turn.
“Are we brothers, Liam?” he asked.
Liam looked up from the board and paused for a moment. “We’re like brothers. So yes, Isaac. We’re brothers.”
“Ralph was bad to you. Why didn’t you fight back when he pushed you?”
Liam hesitated again. “I can’t…”
Carrie broke in. “Isaac, fighting is forbidden in this world. It’s a thing of the Old World. The hostility of humans toward each other was a large part of what caused the Breaking.”
“Ralph is bad. I’ll beat him up. Mr. Sampson is bad,” Isaac muttered. He brightened and looked up at Liam. “Kim is nice! I really like Kim. She’s nice to me.”
“She is really nice,” Liam agreed. He went back to studying the board.
Isaac leaned back on his elbows and looked up through the dome above them. “She’s pretty. Maybe she can be my girlfriend someday. She’s pretty and nice to me. Do you have a girlfriend, Liam?”
“No. We’re only fifteen, Isaac. Lots of kids don’t have girlfriends or boyfriends at our age.”
“Someday I want to have a girlfriend, and I want to play soccer.” He sat back up. “For real, Liam, like you.”
“You will, Isaac. I’ll help you, you’ll see.”
“Carrie, do you have a boyfriend?” Isaac asked.
“Androids are not programmed for emotion, Isaac,” she responded. “We aren’t like humans. We don’t understand human emotions, as we’ve never experienced them. They are a mystery to us. We aren’t permitted to socialize or communicate with each other privately. It’s against the laws of robotics.”
Isaac struggled to understand her words. “You’ll find a boyfriend, Carrie,” Isaac said. “I’ll help you, you’ll see.”
Liam looked down at the board again, studying it intently, and the same lock of hair fell down and across his face. Isaac reached to tuck it back for him, but Liam flinched, jerking back and replacing it himself.
“What’s wrong?” Isaac asked.
“Nothing,” Liam answered. He quickly moved his last remaining piece, and Isaac took the opportunity to jump it.
“I win! I win, Liam!” Isaac stood and raised his hands above his head in triumph.
“Just like at the soccer game, please be careful not to rejoice too much about winning, Isaac,” Carrie said. “Each time someone wins, someone else loses. Learn from the experience and be humble.”
“Great job, brother.” Liam clapped him on the shoulder. Carrie gave Liam a sideways look.
“Great job, brother,” Isaac said in return.
Carrie stood. “It’s late, gentlemen. I highly suggest that you use the remaining time tonight to complete your school assignments and get ready for class tomorrow morning.”
“I don’t want to go to school tomorrow. I don’t want to go ever,” Isaac said.
Liam grabbed a soccer ball from the shelf. “We will, Carrie. Let’s dribble a little first, Isaac. Then we’ll do homework.”
They took turns chasing each other around the large room, Isaac squealing with glee. Carrie joined them, and the three continued, laughing, until an errant kick from Isaac knocked over a lighting module. It crashed to the floor in pieces.
They stopped and looked at one another, and then laughed again. “I’ll repair it in the lab after everyone has gone to sleep tonight. It will be our secret,” Carrie said.
Isaac’s smile turned into a frown, and he furrowed his brow. “Where’s Da, Carrie? I wanted to say goodnight. I couldn’t find him.”
The gynoid paused before answering. “I saw your father earlier. He must be on the premises somewhere.”
“Sometimes I can’t find Da. I want to say goodnight.”
“I’ll search for him, Isaac. I’ll make sure he comes by your pod. Goodnight, gentlemen.”
“Goodnight, Carrie,” they said in unison, before going back to their game.
4 Trick Shot
Harley rose as daylight breached the dome, exiting his sleeping pod and walking toward the cleansing pod. He passed Betsy, who was sitting in her DroidMesh station, recharging, updating her firmware, and recycling fluids.
“Good morning, Betsy,” he greeted her.
“Good morning, sir. Rejuvenation is almost complete.”
“I approved and released the newest firmware update late last night. It’s minor. Take your time, I still have to clean up and dress.”
He removed his clothing and passed through the cleansing pod slowly enough for it to allow for biomeasurement.
When he exited, Betsy was up and had selected his uniform for the day. “Sir, the pod data reports that you’ve gained three point two pounds this month, and your body fat percentage has increased. I’ll schedule a physical regimen for each evening until you are back into conformance.”
Harley sighed. “Not that I’ll have time for that. Particularly after Sampson and the Robotics Council approve my new projects.”
“You're presumptuous,” Betsy said as she began dressing.
Harley watched her, marveling at his work. As he viewed her naked form, he wondered if he had subconsciously designed her to look so much like Jessica. Jess…I miss her.
He found himself wondering whether he should reopen his petition to the Leadership Council to permit androids to serve as partner surrogates. It would be good for Isaac; probably his only chance to know and enjoy love and a relationship. He admitted his own selfish motive as well, wanting companionship but not desiring to find a human replacement for his wife.
He recalled how the board had shot his first request down, citing the algorithms that matched humans for lifelong, blissful relationships. That’s what Jessica and I had. There’ll be no match for Isaac. Not in a world where everyone is attractive, every face and body perfect in its own unique way.
He walked into the living area and found Isaac sitting on the floor, engrossed in virtual soccer. Carrie sat nearby, observing.
“Almost time to leave for school, son,” Harley said.
“Okay, Da,” Isaac answered. “I’m playing against Ralph. Tie game, Da. I’m tied with Ralph. He’s really good, but he’s mean to me.”
Concerned about Isaac’s opponent, Harley stopped to watch. He enjoyed his son’s happiness and engagement with the game. Isaac is such a natural at this, so brilliantly strategic. If he could only have his dream and play on the school’s team.
Harley watched as the teams lined up and Isaac’s players prepared to execute a corner kick. At the last moment, Isaac switched the player who was ready to kick with another.
As the first player walked past the ball, Harley noticed him subtly move it with the side of his foot. The second player approached the ball and suddenly pushed it to a teammate, who had a better angle on the net and pounded it past the unprepared goalkeeper.
“What was that, you moron!” Ralph’s voice boomed through the audio system.
Isaac laughed and high-fived his father. A banner appeared indicating that the play was under review. The referee trotted to the center of the field to make his announcement.
“After review, the first player did move the ball, putting it into play. The goal is good, and time has expired.”
“See you in school, sped,” Ralph said, abruptly dropping the connection.
“Nice work on the trick play, son.”
“I want to play, Da. I want to play for real.”
“I know, Isaac. I know. Someday, maybe. I love you. Where’s Liam?”
Liam entered the room as if on cue.
“You guys ready?” Harley asked.
“I don’t want to go, Da. Ralph’s mad now. He’s really mad at me. I want to be virtual today instead.”
Harley considered the request. He remembered Carrie’s report of what his son had been enduring and wondered if it would be any different with his avatar there in his place. Attending virtually from home, he would be subject to the same type of verbal abuse.
“Son, it’s important to be there. Socialization is vital for our society.”
Isaac began to rise, weeping softly.
Carrie interjected. “Sir, my algorithms indicate a better outcome if Isaac can attend virtually today. To date, his virtual attendance is low compared to last year.”
Isaac looked at him hopefully.
“Alright then, I yield. Just today though, and make sure all the schoolwork is done and done well.”
It warmed Harley’s heart to see his son’s joy reappear, and he knew he’d made the right decision. “Thank you, Carrie. Betsy, please head to the launch pod and configure a skycar with our route. Liam, go with her. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
When they’d gone, he asked Isaac to go to his room and prepare for the day’s lessons. Then he asked Carrie to replay the most recent incidents at school between Isaac and Ralph.
The video presented in the room. Harley watched with sadness as he saw Isaac continually humiliated. “Enough, Carrie.”
He paced the room and then issued another order. “Carrie, suspend.”
The gynoid went limp where she sat, and the electronics in her cranial dome dimmed into darkness.
Harley walked to Isaac’s room and found him at his workstation, waiting for class to begin. On the video monitor, he saw Isaac’s avatar, the legendary soccer star Pelé, sitting in the classroom. He watched as Ralph walked by, paused to look, then scoffed and shook his head.
“Son, disconnect from the avatar for a moment and let’s talk.”
Isaac complied, and Pelé’s form dissolved. Harley took a seat next to his son and took the boy’s hands in his own.
“What is it you want most, son? Think hard and be honest with me.”
Isaac thought for a moment, looking at the floor. He surprised his father with his quiet response.
“I want a girlfriend, like Kim. She’s nice to me and pretty. I want a girlfriend, Da. Someone like her.”
Harley was struck with profound sadness, having anticipated Isaac’s typical response about playing soccer.
“Do you think there’s someone for me, Da? I’m different. There are no girls like me.”
He found himself unable to address his son’s wish and regrouped. “There’s someone for everyone, Isaac. You just have to be patient. What else do you wish for?”
“You know what else. I want to play. I want to play, Da. Play for real. On the team, like Liam.”
“What if I could help you do that? I’m working on something, and I’m going to ask Dr. Sampson and the Leadership Council for approval. If they say okay, maybe we can try. It’s an experiment, but it could be dangerous. We’ll have to make the decision together when the time comes. I want you to think about it. If you’re afraid, it’s okay to stay the same as you are. I love you just how you are.”
“Will I still be dumb, Da? And ugly? Ralph said I’m dumb and ugly.”
“You are neither. You’re my beautiful boy. You’re smart. Look at what you did in the virtual soccer game today. You outsmarted Ralph!”
Isaac smiled. “Okay, Da. I’ll think about it. I love you, Da.”
“Good. It has to be our secret though, alright? Not even Carrie can know. Just between us, right?”
“Good. I’m going to work now, Isaac. Be good and study hard.”
Harley enjoyed the boy’s broad smile as Pelé appeared again, seated in the classroom.
“Carrie, wake,” he said as he walked through the living room on the way to the launch pod.
5 History Class
“We’ll begin now,” the android instructor announced to the class.
From his monitor at home, Isaac looked around at the assembly of students. A few avatars sat in for those who were attending virtually. His Pelé avatar sat erect, in rapt attention. Ralph sat one seat behind. Fear surged through Isaac’s body at the sight of his nemesis.
“We covered the Breaking of the Old World in our last lesson,” the instructor continued. “Let’s review. Again, some of this may be disturbing, but it’s imperative that we learn from the past for a better future.
“In the twenty-first century on Earth, the fallacies that human civilization was operating upon began to bring about the end of that world. For thousands of years, humans’ behavior was kept in check partly by fear of a supreme being or beings. That control began to erode as groups with different religious beliefs began to slaughter one another out of hatred. Those who society counted on most to be ethical slipped into widespread immorality—doctors, clergy, judges, politicians.
“As humans developed more sophisticated weapons, they were able to kill much more efficiently and across far greater distances. Human technology had surpassed its declining morality.”
Terrifying images of war played behind the instructor—huge explosions and pictures of people dying horrible deaths, the land and their cities destroyed.