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Infant Unit
      Ponk Vonsydow
In the eighteen years between 2012 and 2030 AD, the global population rose an additional 1.5 billion to a total population of 8.5 billion. With that number, population pressure maxed out and there simply wasn’t enough of anything to go around. By then soil depletion from over-farming and extensive use of petrochemical fertilizers meant regular crop failures, so food crop production was cut almost by half. To make matters worse, 75% of the world’s fresh water supply was either totally polluted with toxic chemicals or irradiated, leaving just 25% to service the entire planet’s hydration needs. Watering the remaining thirsty crops required the expenditure of 75% of the remaining good water leaving only 25% of the potable 25% for the 8.5 billion humans to drink. 

Global governments understood it would be impossible to force already ruined soils to produce more food crops, and besides there wasn’t enough fresh water left to increase production. Billions of people were going hungry and were forced to drink contaminated water. For the remaining people who lived where there were some available supplies, these were outrageously expensive or being rationed or black marketed. Given that there was no way to solve the pressing problems on the supply side of the issue, the solution was obvious. The global population would have to be drastically reduced until there were sustainable numbers.

To this end the first measure the global governments took was to sterilize the entire male population via chemicals that caused male testes to fail to produce new spermatozoa. They put this chemical in all available foods and fresh water supplies. The result was noticeable within 9 months, the average gestation period for a human baby, because the global birth rate dropped to zero, allowing the global death rate to begin to decimate the global population. At the time there was any number of ways to die, but the largest numbers of deaths were due to starvation or from disease after drinking contaminated water, shaving off 2.5 billion human beings in just 2 years. Within 5 years, with zero birth rate and an unimpeded death rate, another 1.5 billion died leaving the global population at around 4.5 billion. At that number, the population was sustainable, but global governments desired a safety zone so no new human births were authorized for another 10 years allowing a billion more people to die, bringing the population down to a comfortable 3.5 billion. 

Now, the children who were born before zero birth laws and sterilizing measures were taken were fully mature adults. Those born in 2030 were 17 years old with more born prior to that date now in their 20’s or 30’s. Global governments repealed the Zero Birth Initiative of 2030 but created the Global Population Control Agency that issued baby licenses to married couples as well as the Single Parent License in the event a non-married person wished to adopt an orphaned ward of the state. In addition to needing a license to conceive or adopt a child, couples were required to attend 100 hours of parenting courses and be tested at the end of each course and they both had to score in the 80th percentile on all the tests in order to qualify. Prospective married couples and single persons were only allowed to go through the program once, and if they failed to meet the criteria, they were labeled as parental rejects and would never be permitted to have a child. But for those who passed the required tests there was yet another requirement to meet before a baby license was issued. A real time parenting skills test, involving the issuance of a Robotic Infant Unit, was required of the prospective couple or single person in order for them to prove they could care for a child. This test took six months. 

The Robotic Infant Unit was a baby simulator. It did not resemble a human baby as it had no limbs and was shaped like an egg with a flat bottom so it could be placed in a sitting position in a highchair or car seat. The Infant Unit was fitted with stereoscopic optical cameras allowing it to see, stereophonic microphones allowing it to hear, and a speaker so it could reproduce digital recordings of a baby crying and all the other sounds a baby might make in response to stimuli. The Infant Unit had an LED light that would illuminate when it was awake and change colors when it was asleep. The LED light also indicted that the Infant Unit was alive, for if the LED light went off completely, that meant the baby simulator was dead. If this occurred, the robot would emit a constant tone. The Infant Unit also had a cavity with a sensor in it that was accompanied by a special electronic spoon to use in the act of feeding the Infant Unit. The sensor calibrated the number of times the electronic spoon entered the cavity until the Infant Unit indicated it was full and no longer required to be fed, at which time the cavity door would slide shut. There was also an electronic baby bottle that would attach to the Infant Unit’s cavity magnetically. Finally, the Infant Unit was fitted with a diaper that contained electronic filaments to recognize if it was in contact with the Infant Unit or not and register when its parent removed it if the Infant Unit cried to indicate the diaper was electronically soiled. Once the electronically soiled diaper was removed, the parent passed the diaper under a device which electronically cleaned it so it could be placed back on the robot. 

The Infant Unit’s onboard computer recorded everything it experienced for the duration of its stay with whatever couple or single person it was assigned. It was also programmed to interact with caregivers and respond to stimuli, and it could learn and adjust its behavior according to how it was treated. 

Every two months a social worker from the Global Population Control Agency came to download the Infant Units records. The social worker analyzed the couple’s performance and depending on what the social worker determined, only then would a baby license be issued to the parent wannabe’s. But the criteria was strict; many applicants failed the final test of real time care of an infant regardless of the infant being merely a robot. 
Marcus and Marla Kreigstien were married a little over two years and greatly desired to have their allotted single child. After talking it over, both decided they were ready to apply for a baby license. They went to their regional Global Population Control Agency and began the process by filling out volumes of digital paperwork on electronic pads given to them by a social worker who was assigned to their case. They passed the first round of qualifications. They were married longer than one year. The husband was gainfully employed while the wife worked from home, so they had the required financial portfolio to rear another human being. Their living quarters had the required extra room for the child to live in. Neither of them carried genetic defects or diseases that could be passed on to their offspring. And neither of them was a convicted felon. 

The social worker issued the Kreigstiens their course schedule so they could commence the required 100 hours of parenting courses. The classes were 4-hours long, twice a week for a total of 12.5 weeks. Tests were given at the end of each 4-hour session. By the end of the classes, Marcus and Marla had to have passed in the 80th percentile on every one of the bi-weekly exams which were purposefully difficult. However, Marcus and Marla were above average in intelligence and managed to pass all 24 tests scoring higher than 80% on all of them. The teacher presented them with a certificate verifying the couple attended all 100 hours and passed all required tests telling them: 

“Present this certificate to the requisitions agent in the Infant Unit Dispensary and your Infant Unit will be issued. The agent in the dispensary will activate your Infant Unit and you two will be responsible for caring for it starting as soon as it is activated while you are still in the dispensary. Remember, whatever you do, don’t drop the baby, because that’s an automatic void of your parental license application.” 

Marcus and Marla thanked the teacher, took their certificate, and walked over to the Infant Unit Dispensary and gave their certificate to the agent behind the counter in the delivery room: 

“Okay, Mister and Mrs. Kreigstien, everything seems to be in order, now for my favorite part of the job. I get to select the gender of the Infant Unit, which is a surprise for its parents just like with real babies. Let me go get yours so I’ll be back in just a few minutes.” 

Marcus took the time to comment to his wife: 

“Well, Marla this is the big day, the one we’ve been waiting for. All we have to do is take good care of this robot for six months and we’ll be qualified to get our own baby license and have fun making one!”
Marla squeezed Marcus’ hand and gave him a peck on the cheek just as the agent arrived with their Infant Unit: 

“It’s a girl, folks! Now all I have to do is open this little hatch in her back and put in her chip and then she’ll come to life. And we do mean your Infant Unit is alive because you have to think of her like that and behave as though this little girl is every bit as real as a human baby. Don’t forget, she’s recording everything that happens starting from the moment I snap in her chip and hand her to her mother.”
The man snapped in the chip and instantly the Infant Unit’s LED light indicating she was activated and awake illuminated in a green glow. She started making baby sounds. The agent handed the Infant Unit to Marla who was wise enough to remember to bring a baby blanket to wrap the Infant Unit in for the trip back to their apartment. Marla wrapped the blanket around the egg-shaped robot leaving only the top portion, where the optical cameras were located, visible outside the blanket. The agent continued: 

“You’re going to need these. It’s her electronic spoon and magnetic electronic baby bottle you’re going to feed her with. Keep them in their charger modules and when you feed the Infant Unit with them, they charge her battery cells. Go ahead and attach the bottle to her cavity. The magnet will activate so long as she wants the bottle, and when she’s full, the magnet will disengage and the bottle will drop off and her cavity door will slide shut.”
Marla took the electronic bottle and placed it in the Infant Unit’s cavity and it attached just as the man said it would. The Infant Unit made suckling sounds as a LED indicator on the side of the bottle showed how much of the electronic bottle contents were left for her to consume. The agent had more to say:
“This here gizmo is what cleans the electronic diapers. You just run the diaper’s sensor past the gizmo’s emitter and it electronically cleans the soiled diaper. You’ll be able to tell if her diaper is soiled because the little light stitched into the material will glow red.”
Marla and Marcus accepted the gizmo, thanked the man, and left taking their new baby and her accessories with them. When they arrived at their apartment, the Infant Unit was crying. Marla tried to offer her the electronic bottle again but the cavity door slid shut as soon as the bottle contacted its sensor. Marcus spoke:

 “Maybe her diaper’s soiled.”
Marla turned the Infant Unit around to look at the LED indicator on the electronic diaper. Sure enough the little light was red. So, Marla removed the diaper and ran it past the gizmos emitter causing the LED light to turn green indicating the diaper was clean. She made short work of putting the electronic diaper back on the Infant Unit. Marla placed the Infant Unit in her playpen, which was filled with bright colorful objects that moved or dangled to amuse any baby. Now Marla spoke:
“Well, we better give her a name now that we know we have a girl. I have our list of female robot names right here.” 

Marla read down the list: 


Marcus thought the names over and said:
“Okay, Marla, I am leaning towards Dot and Matrix. How about we go with both and call her Dot Matrix?”

Marla liked the name. After settling on a name for the baby, both parents stood just outside of the playpen observing Dot Matrix, listening to the sounds she made, and wondering what she was thinking or felt like. Marla was curious:
“Do you think she can actually think and have feelings? I mean how sophisticated are Infant Units anyway?”
Marcus was ready with a reply: 

“I read the specifications and as far as baby simulators go, our model is state-of-the-art and is designed to replicate a human infant’s essential needs. Supposedly she will learn and respond to stimuli. In other words, she will learn to recognize us as her caregivers and she will understand that we feed her and take care of her dirty diapers and that we wash her according to what they told us in class. She will know when we interact with her and play with her, all of which she is going to record, so we have to pay attention and treat her exactly like a real baby.”
Marla understood what Marcus said and told herself to try and forget the Infant Unit was a robot and remember to think of her as a real baby, meaning she would have to figure out how to develop feelings for her, love her even. 
The first night with the Infant Unit was rough for the Kreigstiens and every night after that was equally rough because the baby simulator cried loudly and regularly throughout the night requiring one or both of her parents to get out of bed to attend to her. Sometimes no matter what Marla or Marcus tried, the Infant Unit refused to stop crying and continued crying for hours on end, meaning on some nights like that neither of them got any sleep. Marcus dragged ass the next day at work and so did Marla who tried to work from home in between all the constant interruptions due to the Infant Unit crying all over again. 

After two months of this, a bedraggled Marcus decided he just wasn’t cut out to be a parent and confronted Marla: 

“Marla, I can’t take it anymore! I changed my mind about having a child and I want to take the Infant Unit back to where she came from and call this whole thing off!” 

Marla refused: 

I’m keeping Dot Matrix, Marcus! You will just have to figure out some way to deal with the situation.”

Marcus already had ideas about what to do if his wife refused him:
“Fine, keep the baby, but I am washing my hands of the entire deal. I’m packing my stuff and bailing out of here to go live with my brother who got sick of dealing with their crying Infant Unit, too. He told his own wife to forget about having a child but she agreed with him. And they will agree with me even if you won’t.” 
Marla cradled Dot Matrix in her arms while feeling at a loss of what to do as she watched Marcus going through the house collecting everything he intended to take with him. Then he was gone. Just a few hours after Marcus left, a social worker from the Global Population Control Agency arrived on Marla’s doorstep wanting to come inside her apartment to do her routine check on the new parents and the Infant Unit. It was required as policy every two months for a total of three visits during the six month trial period. Marla had a confession to make to the social worker: 

“Unfortunately, my husband, Marcus, couldn’t deal with the Infant Unit we named Dot Matrix, and he demanded we take her back but I refused. So, he moved out to go live with his brother. I guess he will eventually ask me for a divorce if I still want a child. So, I wish to change my application from a Married Couple Baby License to a Single Parent Baby Adoption License. Can you make the correction with your pad?”
The social worker replied:
“I am sorry to learn your marital status is going to change but you can continue to care for the Infant Unit and I will call in the change of status right now.”
The social worker typed the changes on her pad which was wirelessly hooked up to the mega-net and electronically mailed the change of Marla’s marital status which updated instantly. After that the social worker inserted a jack into the back of Dot Matrix and downloaded everything that occurred in regard to the care of the Infant Unit over the past two months. She read over and analyzed the information, then went over the report with Marla offering practical parenting advice but finally giving Marla a rating of excellent. Then the social worker departed after giving Marla a card to remind her that the next visit from the agency was in two months.
Marla managed to care for Dot Matrix well enough the next month and a half but she was running ragged, hardly getting any sleep, and was growing irritable. Then something terrible happened she never expected. The Infant Unit appeared to be sick. She refused to eat or nurse her electronic bottle and she was soiling her electronic diaper every 10 to 15 minutes while crying continuously. Nothing Marla could think of to do made any difference. After three days of listening to the Infant Unit scream 24 hours-a-day as loudly as its speaker could handle, Marla had a nervous breakdown due to stress coming directly from the crying baby simulator, lack of sleep, and the emotional problems stemming from the break-up of her marriage to Marcus.
Marla went into Dot Matrix’s room, scooped her up out of the cradle, and wrapped her tightly inside a thick blanket. Then Marla took Dot into the living room. Marla stood in the room for a moment staring at the door of the coat closet and unceremoniously opened the door and pushed the Infant Unit as far back inside the closet as she could. Afterwards, Marla covered the Infant Unit with three winter coats, six bath towels, and piled four blankets on top burying the Infant Unit until its cries were muffled to the extent that once Marla shut the closet door she could barely hear any crying at all. What she could hear was easy enough to ignore. 

Seemingly having dealt with her problems, Marla went directly to bed and stayed in bed in a depression for the next two weeks, forgetting about the Infant Unit entirely and barely taking any nourishment or water for herself. Then one morning, the doorbell rang. Marla dragged herself, bedraggled and weak, out of bed. She managed to put on her housecoat and slippers and went to answer the door. It was the social worker who Marla forgot was due to come on that date. Marla allowed her to come in and soon the social worker realized Marla’s Infant Unit was nowhere to be seen or heard: 

“Mrs. Kreigstien, I demand an explanation! Where is your Infant Unit? Did your husband return and take it elsewhere?” 

Marla retrieved a container full of orange juice from the refrigerator and drank greedily from it directly out of the bottle, then wiped her mouth off on her sleeve:
“Marcus never came back. The Infant Unit isn’t with him.” 

The social worker was incensed: 

“Then where is your Infant Unit, Mrs. Kreigstien?” 

Marla pointed at the living room closet door, but otherwise did not react or say anything further. The social worker went directly to the closet and opened it but all she found was a pile of blankets, towels, and coats. Then she thought she heard something and realized the Infant Unit was buried under all of that and quickly dug through the pile to find the robot. The social worker examined the infant unit and was able to determine that although it was still alive, it was near death. The social worker was in a state of shock and confronted Marla:
“For God’s sakes, Mrs. Kreigstien, you buried your baby alive in a closet and have neglected it to the degree that it’s about to die! Don’t you realize what you have done is morally reprehensible and if this were a real baby your actions would be criminal? The Infant Unit is a baby simulator and possessing one comes with all the same responsibilities as having a real baby and you can’t just throw it in the back of a closet and bury it and then forget all about it! Your baby is about to die, Mrs. Kreigstien! Now just exactly what do you intend to do about it?”

Marla was unfazed: 

“I’m not going to do anything about it.” 

The social worker was about to say something further when the Infant Unit’s green LED light went out completely and the robot emitted a constant tone indicating it was dead. The social worker was horrified:

“Mrs. Kreigstien! You killed your own baby! Do you understand me? You killed your own baby! You’re a despicable person! I’ll have you know, this is going into my report and you’re going to be certified as a reject, I assure you!”
Marla snatched the dead Infant Unit from the social worker, then raised it over her head and brought the 12-pound, metal egg down hard on the top of the social worker’s skull, knocking her unconscious. The social worker dropped in a heap at Marla’s feet. Marla raised the Infant Unit over her head again and struck the prone social worker repeatedly in the head until the woman’s skull was pulverized and she was most certainly dead. After that Marla took the dead robot to the kitchen sink and washed all the blood off its surfaces. Then she went into the living room and got in her usual seat on the couch, cradling the Infant Unit in her arms and began singing a lullaby.
A few hours later Marla’s husband, Marcus, returned to their apartment because he had time to think things over and had a change of heart. He couldn’t wait to tell Marla he changed his mind and that he was moving back in and everything was going to work out. He found Marla and the Infant Unit sitting on the living room couch but as he entered he discovered the dead social worker lying in a pool of blood with a crushed face and skull. Then he noticed the Infant Unit was emitting a constant tone indicating it too was dead:

 “Jesus, Marla! Did you kill our social worker? And that sound means our baby is dead, too! What on earth happened here?”
Marla began to rock the dead Dot Matrix back and forth while stroking its crown with her hand:

“See, she doesn’t cry anymore! She’s a good little baby! Mommy loves you, yes she does. That’s a good baby. You lie there and sleep in mommie’s arms.”