The first thing they did was sound proof the Observation Module. Even babies with astronomical IQs are still babies. Babies cry, a lot. Dr. Johnson, the childless child psychologist who identified the ‘Johnson Quotient’, designed the enclosure. It was all clean lines and glass, not quite monochromatic but close enough for discomfort. If it were not for the location, it would be unfit for human habitation. However it was located the northeast corner of the last nature preserve. The last 300 square miles of unspoiled terrain left on the planet. The need for isolation made the location ideal. The location made the dome idyllic. A small number of staff would live on site for the duration of the experiment. Their living quarters were in the Observation Module. While Dr.Johnson’s design was ascetically pleasing, it was acoustically a terrible choice for housing 50 babies.

The dome was based on old bio-domes from the mid-20th century. It had 64 identical cubicals radiating around the Observation Module topped by the Observation Deck. The whole thing was tucked under the canopy of the last old growth trees. The outside was not the issue. Dr. Johnson claimed the space will encourage cortex development or some such nonsense. Inside, it was a dull sterile place designed by adults for adults. As such, it was the first part of the experiment to fail and need to be redesigned. This, of course, was too expensive, so they sound proofed the Observation Module.

Dr. Johnson sipped coffee on the Observation Deck watching the data feed from CU42. He was displeased. Mainly with himself. The sound-proofing was an unexpected expense. He’d been distracted by acquiring the Subjects. This project was the future of humanity. These inessential delays were irritating. The problem with breeders is their need to be actively involved. Dr. Johnson knew this to be false. All the brain needs is a calm, distraction free space to develop. He only asked for five years. The breeders were all impressed with his state of the art compound. They were all insulted by facts. He’d spent most of the last three years in meetings with lawyers arguing the need for total separation of subject from its breeders. Years of research proved his system would work. They could save humanity in a single generation, if only their parents would let them. If the subject was incompatible, it would be returned and they could keep the money. Dr. Johnson lost three subjects to sentimentality, all the other breeders took the money and signed the adoption papers. Almost all.

It took fifteen board meetings, around 60 hours, to approve the funds to pay the breeders. In the end, they paid the lawyers more to argue the expense than they paid the breeders for their offspring. In truth, the breeders were taxed on their portion and most had to mortgage their homes to pay for their own representation. The lawyers and the accountants provided accurate cost-benefit analysis. They independently projected where the cost per subject could be fixed and how long it would take the breeders to accept before they were bankrupt. What were ethics when humanity’s very survival is at stake? Now, Dr. Johnson was technically the father of 47. Well, 46, because one breeder signed a parental consent waiver.

It was this one who asked to meet the CUs. The state of the art android “Care Unit” in charge of the subjects’ daily needs. The investors were against this request. The lawyers were against this request. The tech company who produced the CUs were against this request. In fact, it was the only thing they had all agreed on for the same reason. The Care Units were kinda terrifying. They spent a lot of money marketing the idea of a ‘nanny-bot’ reminiscent of Rosey the Robot from the Jetsons. Unfortunately, the reality was a six-limbed flexible metal frame that housed a solid-state internal hard drive surrounded by wires and an opaque silicon coating. (Dr. Johnson had a hand in their design) They fitted their docking stations perfectly. Their docking stations were not the problem.

The CU frame was an all-terrain unit originally developed as a tactical search and rescue bot for the military. It was virtually indestructible. It included a complete reconnaissance suite, on-board med station, and ‘survival mode’ that let the unit perpetually charge itself. It was also vaguely predatory, especially when in motion. The military cancelled their contract for the units after survivors of an earthquake reportedly died of fright at the approach of their would be rescuers. So much of the budget was allocated to image-control, that it pushed other things out of the budget, like the AI programming. Developing their programming was too expensive to do in-house. So the committee approved acquiring it in a way everyone agreed was for sure, probably, definitely technically less than legal. They would all be better off not knowing too many details. Including what the CUs actually looked like. There were no demonstrations. The CUs were limited to the facility grounds. If a CU was taken outside the perimeter, it would trigger a self destruct sequence.

Dr. Johnson had the tracking chip removed from CU42 and brought it to the breeder’s hospital room. The breeder did not appear healthy to Dr. Johnson. The breeder was not at all concerned with the appearance of the CU. She began asking it to demonstrate basic protocols. She asked Dr. Johnson to leave them alone. The Subject held the top score of this test group. Dr. Johnson would have agreed to so much more for this Subject. After three hours, the breeder of Subject #42 agreed to willingly participate as long as Dr. Johnson agreed Subject #42 would be returned at the end of the five year experiment and that CU42 be released with the Subject at that time. The breeder provided a contract which required Dr. Johnson set up a trust in Subject #42’s name in the maximum amount paid to the other breeders and a delivery address. Dr. Johnson enjoyed talking to this breeder, something he never thought possible. He signed the contract without legal review. CU42 took Subject #42 with them.

Subject #42 was the first subject installed in the facility. As such, it cried for the first 24 hours, identifying the inherent design flaw of the isolation dome. While the sound proofing was in process, CU42 and S42, walked in the meadow just outside the dome. More accurately, CU42 secured S42 to its torso, such as it was. It took the same route for the first three days. It walked to the eastern edge of the property, followed the path south to the boulders, then turned west, crossed the meadow then took the visible trail to the north edge of the property and returned to the access hatch. Full loop took CU42 three hours. Dr. Johnson watched as CU42 scaled a boulder. The data feed from the CU included a video feed but no audio. Three proximity warnings had triggered this morning. Dr. Johnson watched CU42 correct its course through the binoculars. He watched until CU42 dropped out of visual.

“Call it back.”

Dr. Johnson watched as the message was relayed. He watched the red dot labeled “CU42” trace an arc on the digital map. It was following the same path only outside visual observation range. Dr. Johnson watched through the binoculars as the CU came around the far side of the meadow. It stopped, held S42 in front of its video recorder, then waved at the dome.

The doctor received a text message:

Micro-manage much? Followed by the eye-roll emoji.

Dr. Johnson dropped his coffee. “Get Ned here. NOW.” He heard the terrified interns scramble to obey.

Ned was a necessary evil. He was not the brain behind the AI software but he was the brain behind stealing it. He worked with the development team for the ‘enhanced security’ functions when the CUs were marketed to the military. Ned was a disgruntled ex-Marine. He’d served three tours flying drone strikes from a windowless room three continents away. His lucrative consulting contract was terminated when those people died after the earthquake. He knew more about the CU features than anyone else, especially the security and personality features. “The problem is not the software. The program is running flawlessly. See? It’s recording everything, running and submitting threat assessment reports, and transmitting raw data. The baby seems happy.”

“How did it get my personal number?”

“It’s a top of the line AI attached to a top of the line computer designed to gather intel and extract targets. I’d be worried if it didn’t have your personal number.”

“Why is it sarcastic?”

“Developmentally, it’s around age 12. You’re the child psychologist, why are 12 year-olds prone to sarcasm?”

“Can we expect this of all the units?”

“How should I know? I told you we needed more time. They weren’t ready.”

“Run a complete diagnostic on CU42.”

“I already have!”

“Not a digital diagnostic. I want you to take it off-line and inspect it for damage.” Dr. Johnson stepped out of Ned’s cubical. “I want the name of the AI developer.”

“I don’t know it.”

“Find someone who does.”