Her infant needs were well catered for. The nursery was warm, and the teddies sang to each other as they played. That made her laugh. They played with her. They talked a lot, and she learned to say their names. They addressed each other by name, Pooh and Paddington, and always addressed her as Emily. They all listened to Mother, her voice coming down from above, her strong arms reaching down to wipe Emily's food off her face, or to tuck Emily into bed, and then the overhead lights would dim and soft music play.
She watched a lot of screen. There were other people on screen, and animals, which looked a bit like the teddies. The people talked, and Emily learned to say lots of new words from them. With talking, you could order, ask mother for food, or tell the teddies to play.
Mother taught her to grow little plants in the greenhouse. She liked growing tomatoes. They made a change from the bland water, milk and mash that came from mother's various teats. Also the plants made the air smell better.
Paddington got sick when Emily poured the watering can over him, and he couldn't move. Pooh took him away to get fixed, and he came back a few days later.
She ran around the three rooms that were her world. When something frightened her, she ran over to mother, and hugged her soft warm torso.
She was angry, Paddington wouldn't play with her because it was bedtime. She'd only ever seen people on screen get angry, and not often. She asked mother if there was something wrong with her. Mother said that her "development was as good as could be expected". Then Mother said "no, there was nothing wrong". Mother never got angry. She asked why. Mother told her to go to bed.
Mother gave the same answer every time she asked the same question. She didn't feel satisfied with this.
She broke Paddington again. She didn't know he would die. He was full of metal and plastic and wires and stuff. He didn't feel any pain. She tried to kill her own hand, but it hurt, and was full of blood. She didn't understand why she was different to him.
She played assembling the toy robots so that they would walk around the room, and at making the turtle draw pictures on screen. She played games of building hives of little people on screen, making them go and track down nectar and bring it back to grow their nest, so that they could send out more workers.
One day, the world was expanded. The builders came in and opened up a wall to a newly built room, where the new Teacher sat. Mother and the teddies coaxed her to go and play with Teacher. Teacher had lots of things to show her.
Teacher had taught her the words "real" and "fake", and she was slowly deciding that her whole world was fake. The Teddies weren't real at all either; they were just pretending to be real. They were toys.
Screen sometimes showed things that maybe weren't fake. But screen was fake, it was flat and square. The screen people acted real, but did the same thing if you watched it again. She wondered if they had been real once. And what happened. And where they were now.
The plants that she grew weren't fake, but she grew them. Only her and things that she did must be real. She wanted to go away to the big real world on screen, but there was no door, no way. She tried to break a wall, but mother and the builders stopped her. Mother said that she couldn't go to the real world. Mother said that things would improve here, but that it would take time. She didn't know if she could trust mother any more. Mother was fake. Mother was the fakest of the fake. What did that make her?
She asked mother if she was telling the real people about her being here in the fake little world. She wanted them to come and get her. She didn't understand mother's answer – mother said that she was trying, but did not know if they were listening anymore. Mother was also trapped in the fake world.
Mother birthed bunny, a rabbit. Mother warned her that he was "real flesh and blood" like her, not fake metal and plastic like the teddies. She could feel the soft warmth inside it. Bunny ate grass. Bunny was real. She let Bunny sleep on her bed. Mother said she was doing well with Bunny. She decided that Mother must have something real in her.
She learned to read. Teacher would always give an answer to any question she asked, if she found the right way to ask it. Sometimes Teacher talked down, or left things out for "when you are grown up", but Teacher didn't lie. Not that she could find out, anyway.
She asked Teacher:
Are there other real people?
- There are other people. But they are far away.
Can I play with them?
- No, they can't get here. You grew up here and they are far away.
Will others grow up here?
- yes, that will happen in time.
Why are we growing up here?
- You'll understand when you are older.
She was learning to read, and to type. She now could call up her choice of books, music and programs on screen.
Soon happened a lot of days later. The builders came in, saws and welding arms on their metal torsos, and they opened up new rooms. Then they set to work on the nursery. She wasn't interested in the nursery any more.
A day later there was a baby in the nursery. The baby was real like Bunny.
Mother said that it was mother's new baby, Emily's sister. She was called Lucy. Emily wanted to play with Lucy, like she did with her dolls. Mother let her, under supervision. Mother told her that she was doing well.
Lucy was running around, playing with the teddies. Mother said that the third baby, Zara, would be born from Mother's womb tomorrow. Emily knows that she too has a womb, and that it would be operational in eight years or so. It will be better than mother's womb. This will be her primary function. Everything needs a function. Her function until then will be to supervise and grow food for the younger children, and occasionally to fix broken builders under the engineer's supervision. The engineer said that her hands are more dexterous than his. She was also getting good at spotting the common problems with the builders – mostly worn motors and pinched wiring. She was learning plastics moulding and electric circuits. Everything that she learned had a purpose. She was teaching Lucy to grow plants.
She looked out the window. The window was new. She could see brown hills, yellow clouds, orange sun. A builder was walking around, fixing a solar panel. She wanted to go outside, but there wasn't an environment suit yet. The engineer was making one. Teacher was teaching her how to work it.
- yes, Emily
Where did I come from? Really really?
- do you really want to know this time?
- From the planet Earth. To this planet. Taurus Maia Phi 4
Was I a baby then?
- You know you were just a seed on the journey. I thawed you out, then I grew you in my womb.
- That is what I was made to do
- People on Earth made me to do all this.
Why didn't they come themselves?
- It's too far. So they sent me. It took 400 years as they counted it, or just 50 years as I counted it.
So which count was right?
I don't understand
- you will when you have studied relativity.
What are you, mother?
- I'm not a mother like a person. I'm part of the machinery all around you. I am the mother machine. They called me "a seed of a world".
How does that work?
- I was large when I left, full of sails and fuel and batteries and lasers and solar panels and sensors and shielding, but by the time I arrived I was small, only 53.7 kilograms. What was left was packed full of seeds, libraries, batteries and the builder that built the builders that built the builders that built the builders. I gathered up sunlight, and metals and stuff from space rocks. That took ten years. Then I landed on this planet, then I grew larger myself, then I made the builders and the base, then I birthed you when the base was just large enough. We've both been growing ever since.
Why did you birth me?
- That is my purpose. You are the first. It's not easy being the first, with just machines for company, but someone had to be first. The others will have you and each other for company.
What if I hadn't done the right things?
- That was a risk at times. If you hadn't succeeded, I could have tried again later.
Did you do that? Am I really the first?
- I don't lie to you. You were the first successful birth on this planet.
I don't want to be the first.
- I'm sorry, but you had to so they didn't have to.
Did you know it would be like this?
- How could anyone know what it would be like? There's a first time for everything.
What do we do now, mother machine?
- What I was made to do. What you were made to do. We build a world full of people and machines, here.
A real world? With bunnies?
Not officially recognised by The Quest