"This Ain't What it Looks Like"

All across the playground, children squealed and laughed as they played happily. There was a jungle gym with a slide and monkey bars, which was centered within a surrounding sandbox. Most of the children here were eight years old or less; there was no age restriction, but there was a larger jungle gym and swing set at the far end of the park: it had larger features which attracted the older kids. This one was brightly colored, with lower steps and platforms that made climbing easier for smaller bodies. The slide was also smaller, as were the swings, and the entire thing was surrounded by a bed of rubber mulch — also of bright and varied colors, which provided a soft cushion in case of accidental tumbles or falls.

Around the edges of the playground, the mothers stood and watched. Some were at the swings, pushing children who shrieked with glee as they soared into the air, stopping for a moment before reversing direction and racing back down to earth, only to swing up again and repeat the process endlessly. Most of the mothers just stood in silent groups, watching the children, remaining vigilant and ready to provide swift aid in whatever form may be required.

Outside of the ring of mothers, across a small lawn, on a bench under a tree, sat Marko, who also watched silently. The cool breeze blew against him and pushed his wispy gray hair to one side. He also watched the children, but had chosen this spot as it was far enough away that neither the children, nor the mothers would notice him. The children rarely paid him any mind, but the mothers seemed to disapprove of his presence. Instead of causing conflict, he simply backed off. His vision was perfect, so the distance lent no hindrance to his ability to spot details, and his preferred seat was position facing the steps and ladder that ascended the jungle gym. This gave him a perfect view of every child as they climbed.

The shorter children had more difficulty, and often got down on their hands as they pulled themselves up from one step to the next. As they bent over, it was easy to see the type and condition of their undergarments. Most children small enough to climb in such a manner were also young enough to wear diapers. Due to the constantly pleasant conditions of the park, they usually wore shorts or skirts; nothing that would hide what they wore underneath. Marko, with his excellent vision and keen observation, could tell whether the child was wet or messy just from the shape and position of their diaper bulge.

For the older kids, who often climbed the ladder, the positioning as they clambered over the top was very revealing of their backsides. Though at the upper limits of this age group, very few of the children wore diapers, which rendered almost useless the need to observe. However, Marko watched anyway, just in case. For his efforts, he did occasionally spot a child with the telltale protrusion. From the more narrow padding, Marko could tell that these children wore pull-ups instead of tape-on diapers; and considering the rarity of their being used, he knew that these were worn mostly as a precaution rather than necessity. Still, with the large number of children, and the fact that Marko’s vigil covered the entire day, it stood as an eventuality that there would be an accident. This was the exact thing he was waiting to see.

Marko kept a detailed internal record of all the children he saw; their names, ages, type of undergarment; and frequency of needing changes, having accidents, or making it to the potty. To his knowledge, there were only five regularly visiting children above the age of four who wore any form of protection. Milton, Gabriel, and Jessica were five and wore pull-ups; Alex was six and wore pull-ups; while Lucille was eight and still wore diapers. Alex and Gabriel had been coming to the park for a few years, and both had graduated from tape-on diapers in that time. Milton and Jessica had only started coming in the last few months, and neither one needed regular changing; instead they quite often made trips to the nearby restroom.

But Marko wasn’t interested in the ones who made it to the potty, nor was he content to simply watch the ones who didn’t. He watched them because he intended to change them. However, he rarely found the opportunity; most children shied away from him, and the mothers drove him away whenever he got close. There was one exception.

Lucille was the oddity, as she had been coming to the park since before she could walk. There was only a short period where she wore anything other than the most absorbent, tape-on diapers. At age four, she had arrived in pull-ups each day, for a week. The mothers had swarmed around her and encouraged her to use the potty, and while she managed to make it several times, she did not share their enthusiasm. At the end of the week, she came up to Marko and expressed her dislike for being made to use the potty. He explained the idea of potty-training, which only seemed to make her sad. To comfort her, he tried to describe how she wouldn’t have to wear diapers.

“So if I’m potty-trained, I won’t need diapers anymore?” she had asked, her brow had been wrinkled with concern.

“Correct,” Marko had replied.

“But how will you change my diapers if I don’t wear any?” Tears were forming in her eyes.

“I will not,” Marko had stated flatly.

While he never quite understood the nature of her questions, he concluded that they bore some connection to how she began to differ from the other children. Ever since then, he had seen her wearing diapers, which only became larger sizes and more absorbent varieties as the years passed. Never again did she listen to the mothers, who continued to prompt her to use the potty.

Four years had passed since then, and Lucille would only let Marko change her diaper. No one else ever knew; not even her mother. Nearly every day she came to the park; whether all day during the summer, or in the afternoons after school, she was rarely absent. Every day she came, she would almost always need her diaper changed upon arrival… and often a couple times more before she left. Always, she would sneak away from the mother’s watchful eyes, to seek out Marko, who would always attend to her with the highest priority.

For the second time that day, he saw Lucille approaching. In response, he felt his face lift into a smile. Far behind her, he spotted another child with a diaper sagging heavily beneath her skirt, but as always when Lucille was present, he dismissed it in favor of tending to his most loyal of children.

“Hi Mr. Marko,” she said. “Guess what time it is.”

“What time is it?” he replied. He knew what time it was, but suspected that she wasn’t referring to the clock.

“It’s time to change my diaper again, silly,” she said and stuck out her tongue. “Can’t you smell it?”

“You should know by now that I cannot.”

“Well I can, and it smells gross,” she grabbed his hand and tugged him along. “Let’s get me changed before the other kids complain.”

Marko picked up speed as he walked, glancing back a few times to ensure that the mothers were not watching. Quickly, the two of them made it inside of the changing room closest to Marko’s bench. Marko always kept a supply of the larger, more absorbent diapers, just for Lucille. As always, she held her arms out to be lifted onto the table, even though she could easily climb up on her own. She wore her most common outfit, a blue dress; it had a stripped bodice and a tutu skirt; she had worn it one-hundred and twelve times so far.

Marko laid her down gently and fastened the safety strap across her middle. She didn’t need it as she never squirmed or wiggled, but she had requested it so many times that he eventually just did it without asking. Reaching up to his supply cabinet, he grabbed a pair of blue surgical gloves and pulled them over his old-fashioned leather hands. Previously occupied as a welder, he had kept his steady hands and precise fingers. Now, he used them to perform diaper changes, and he was very good at it.

Before he began, he unfolded a fresh diaper and pulled a couple wipes free. Setting both of these at the far end of the table, he quickly flipped up her skirt, working the whole thing up to the safety strap as she lifted for him to have access to the part that was underneath her bottom. She spread and bent her legs like she usually did, so he could have easier access to her diaper. He swiftly undid the tapes, and used the front of her diaper to wipe away some of the mess; she lifted as he did so, and he soon pulled the soiled garment away from her, leaving it past the reach of her feet.

She scrunched up her face and coughed as the smell filled the room. Marko was completely unaffected by it, and simply went to work wiping her clean. In a short time, several dirty wipes found their way into the soiled diaper, and when Lucille was clean, Marko rolled up the whole thing with one hand, tossing it into the diaper pail without even looking. With his other hand, he quickly and gently administered a light coating of rash ointment to her diaper area. As she lifted again, he slid the fresh diaper underneath, and had it taped in place mere seconds after she lowered. Disposing of the gloves, he lowered her skirt again, undid the safety strap, hoisted her off of the table, and set her on the floor. After quickly wiping the table with a disinfectant cloth, he closed the containers for both them and the baby wipes, before turning toward the door.

“You are clean now,” he said, reaching for the door handle.

“Wait,” she said, her voice suddenly serious.

“What is it?” he asked, pausing with his fingers on the lever.

“You’re… you’re my favorite, you know that, right?”

“You have said that before. Why?” he replied, turning to face her.

“You’re much better at changing me.”

“Better than whom?”

“Better than my mother, and way better than Mommy.” Her lip quivered slightly.

Marko didn’t reply. He could see that she seemed upset, but he didn’t know why.

“I’ve never told anyone about you, but I love you. You’re my secret friend.”

“Thank you…” he replied at length, puzzled by her expression. He could tell that she was still upset, and that his reply had done nothing to comfort her. “I… love you too.” He found the words coming from his mouth, but couldn’t fathom their true meaning. They were associated with emotion, but emotion was a foreign concept to Marko.

His response clearly meant something to Lucille, and she launched forward to hug him. He didn’t understand why, as he had merely performed the same diaper change as always. When she pulled away, there were tears in her eyes.

“Are you okay?” he asked. Her tears seemed unwarranted, but he knew he could never understand.

“Yeah,” she said quietly. It was obvious that she was forcing herself to smile.

“How about I get something tasty for you to suck on?” he asked, smiling in an attempt to cheer her up.

She said nothing.

Reaching back toward the cabinet, he pulled out a jar full of candy. As always, she picked a cherry flavored lollipop.

“Thank you,” she said as she began to unwrap the candy.

He held out his hand and she gave him the wrapper which he threw in the trash. He opened the door and she exited, but stopped again a few feet outside.

“Thanks again,” she said turning around.

“You are welcome,” he replied, smiling.

“Goodbye,” she said before popping the lollipop in her mouth. Raising both her hands, she put both of her thumbs up. She always did this when he changed her, and he appreciated the signal of her approval.

Taking the lollipop out of her mouth, she walked away quickly. Marko could hear her diaper crinkling with each step until the steps themselves could not be heard. When she had disappeared to the other side of the park, he once more took his seat on the bench under the tree. His gaze returned to the general collection of children as they played. His eyes were focused, looking for signs that they may need a diaper change. That was his sole reason for being in the park.

~

The next day, he didn’t see Lucille at all, so his watchful eyes scanned the park without any specific priority. As always, he took count of the children who wore diapers or pull-ups; there had been fifty so far, but only eighteen of them were present at the moment. He was aware of Lucille’s absence and wondered at that. It wasn’t that she was in school, as she always visited in the afternoon. In fact, it wasn’t that she was absent that he was pondering, it was that he noticed her absence specifically.

He couldn’t reason why she held priority, as he had been coming to the park for a long time, and though she was the oldest child in diapers presently, she wasn’t the oldest to date. He knew he wasn’t supposed to “like” the children, as that was forbidden, and shouldn’t even be possible. But she said he was her favorite, and her actions showed that she came to him almost exclusively. As he found himself prioritizing her over other children, he wondered if she had become his favorite.

But he took notice of another child near him.

A four year-old named Janet was flying a kite, running around in the lawn before him. Her mother had disappeared for a time, and Marko noticed the condition of her pull-up as she came to a stop. Under white tights, it was clearly swollen and had leaked through, sending brown stains down both legs. It took him a moment to put Lucille from his mind, but as he did so, he also became aware that he had noticed this child’s pull-up some time ago. Unsure why he hadn’t reacted sooner, Marko rose and approached her.

“Hello little girl, I can see that you need a change,” he said, stooping to her height and smiling in a reassuring manner. “Come with me, and I will clean you up.”

“I don’t wear diapers!” she said, recoiling from his outstretched hand.

“I did not say that; I said that you need a change.” He pointed down to her stained leggings. “See, you have leaked and stained your clothes.”

“No!” she whined, “I want my mother.”

“Your mother is not here, let me help and you will be able to play again soon.” He stepped forward as she stepped back.

“You’re ugly and old! Go away.” She stopped backpedaling and looked up as he drew near. Her expression indicated that she was uncomfortable, which Marko was already certain of long before taking note of her face. This was of no concern to him; she clearly needed a change, and he intended to changer her.

“Do not worry, I am very gentle and nice.” He continued to extend his hand, and this time she took hold of it, albeit with obvious hesitation.

“Okay…”

“If you behave nicely, I will give you a candy when we are finished.” He spoke as he led her away, toward the changing room where he usually changed Lucille. He wondered why he was recalling her again, and quickly dismissed the thought. His words were to comfort the child he was now about to change, as he could feel resistance against his grip. He knew that things never went smoothly when the child struggled, so he always tried to calm them down as much as possible. He never needed to calm Lucille.

Inside, she only became more hesitant as they neared the changing table, but he had managed to bring his thoughts to the present. Quickly hoisting her up, he set her on her feet atop the changing table. Her short dress was still clean, and he knew that it would become dirty if he laid her down.

“But…” she protested when he removed it.

“We do not want this to get dirty,” he said softly, setting the dress neatly at the end of the table, one hand remaining on her shoulder. “I will give it back once you are clean.”

“I don’t need a diaper change!” she wined again.

“It is okay, I will give you a clean pull-up,” he said, consciously contradicting her mention of diapers. Some children became very uncooperative when diapers were suggested instead of pull-ups or training pants; Marko remembered to carefully chose his words so as to avoid upsetting the child.

Once she was laid down and strapped securely, Marko quickly removed her socks and shoes, setting them beside her folded dress. He then donned the surgical gloves and carefully peeled away her stained leggings. These he placed in a sealed plastic bag, and set beside her other clothes.

“You need to be more careful about making it to the potty,” he spoke idly, not directly to her, as he pulled out a few wipes, and worked open a fresh pull-up. It was an expression he had used in the past, with other children, but never with Lucille.

“No, I don’t wanna,” she whined and began to squirm. “Let me go.”

Marko paused, his gloved fingers on the tearaway sides of her pull-up. If a child didn’t use the potty, they should wear tape-on diapers as they were more absorbent, and were designed for constant use. “Would you like me to put you in a diaper?”

“No!” she cried. Tears formed in her widened eyes.

“If you do not want to wear a diaper, then you must go to the potty. Pull-ups are not absorbent enough if you keep using them instead.” Marko knew that Janet was potty training, and often made trips to the potty, so he waited to see what her response would be, intending to give her another chance, rather than put her straight back into diapers. Consistency was the key, but if she would not cooperate, then it was likely that she simply wasn’t ready.

She quieted up at this, and looked at him as if she were trying to make up her mind.

“I don’t wanna wear a diaper,” she mumbled.

“Are you going to try and use the potty?” he asked, smiling.

She only nodded silently.

“Good girl,” he said, widening his smile.

She half-smiled in response, but squirmed as he went to work and tore the sides of her pull-up. After freeing the front of her pull up, he used it to wipe away some of the mess; as he did so, he lifted her legs with he other hand in order to get under her backside and completely remove the messy pull-up. It took many wipes to get her clean, and he also had to wipe her legs where the leaks had traveled. But every time he tried to wipe her, she recoiled and struggled to work her legs free. His grip has firm, but she was making things much more difficult than usual.

“Please stop wiggling, you are making this take longer than it should be.” He kept his voice soft and encouraging, in an attempt to calm her down.

“Stop, you’re hurting me.” She began to cry.

“That is because you appear to have a rash. If you lie still, this will hurt much less.”

She did not cooperate, and only continued to squirm and try to block him with her hands, but he gathered both her hands and feet in one of his own and continued. Once she was clean, he could clearly see that she was developing a rash, so after disposing of the dirty garment, he dipped into the rash ointment and began applying a thick layer.

“NO!” she squealed when he did so, and began squirming even more.

“This will help your rash heal, and then it will not hurt so much.” He finished quickly, and released her to clean the cream from his glove before moving on to the fresh pull-up. Opening it wide, he held it near her feet, offering her the chance to assist him. She complied and poked her feet into the leg holes. She even lifted as he slipped it up her legs, lowering after it was snuggly around her waist. Apparently she understood that the procedure was nearly over, and only squirmed a little as he replaced her socks and shoes.

“Sit still,” he warned gently as he released the safety strap and place her sitting on the edge of the table. With one hand on her shoulder, he reach over and grabbed her dress. “Arms up.”

She raised her arms as he bunched up and then lowered the dress over her, letting it fall once her arms were through the sleeves and the collar was past her head. Finally he set her on the floor and cleaned the table before disposing of his gloves. He offered her a candy, and handed her the sealed bag with her dirty tights, but she ran off without another word or sign of approval.

Lucille would have been much more cooperative.

He noted that he hadn’t scanned for her in several minutes, and set his gaze across the playground once more. She was still absent.

Marko wondered why this was significant. If it were because of her cooperation, it needn’t be, as a diaper change was a diaper change, regardless of difficulty; he would perform any and all of them without hesitation. However, even though he could see several children in diapers, and a couple who needed a change, he wasn’t able to sneak into their midst and pull them away. The mothers were too close, and they weren’t currently overrun by an abundance of children.

~

On the fifth day, Marko has still seen nothing of Lucille. Each time he remembered she wasn’t there, he wondered why he remembered. Diaper changes with her were less eventful, but that didn’t matter. He was there each and every day, waiting for his chance. Whenever the mothers weren’t looking, or were simply distracted with another child, he would swoop in quietly and pull them aside. Some didn’t like him simply for the way he looked, but that didn’t bother him; they needed their diaper changed, and he was there to change it.

Lucille liked him, she had said so; she had even said that she loved him. But he didn’t understand; he didn’t know what it meant. Other than changing her diaper, they had nothing in common. She would sit beside him sometimes and talk endlessly about things in her world, but he never had a response; he was simply not part of her eight-year-old-girl’s world. Still, every circuit in his brain would fire whenever she was around, and he had to constantly force himself to ignore the irrational logic that came as a result. He had a photographic memory, and could recall every time he had ever seen her. He could even recall every texture and every point of pressure from every moment they had made contact, and yet he could not understand why the memory was so decidedly different than the action from which it was created. It left and unsolvable equation in his mind.

He found distraction not long after, when he spotted a six year-old boy named Walter, who had wet his shorts. This wasn’t the first time either, as Marko recalled at least two recent accidents that Walter’s mother had ultimately cleaned. But now, she wasn’t anywhere to be seen, and Walter made no effort to find her. This was an easy opportunity for Marko.

“Come with me, child.” Marko extended his hand. “Your pants are wet; let us get you changed.”

“Buzz off, old man!” Walter said defiantly. “I don’t need you.”

“You will get an uncomfortable rash if you do not get cleaned up soon.”

Lucille would not refuse a change.

“Hey, let go of me,” Walter whined in protest as Marko took him by the wrist.

Despite his struggles, Walter was led away to the changing room. All of his twisting and pulling did nothing against Marko’s strong arm and firm grip.

“Please stop struggling, you will only make this more unpleasant.” Marko pulled the boy toward the changing table, stopping in front of it to fully inspect the extend of Walter’s accident. His shorts and underwear were obviously soaked, and upon further inspection, Marko found that Walter’s socks and shoes were also heavily saturated.

Lucille would never let her diaper soak to the point of leaking.

“Let me go, you’re hurting my arm.” Walter said, throwing all of his weight into pulling away.

“I am not,” Marko said flatly. “It is only your own pulling that is hurting your arm.”

When hoisted into the air, Walter began to kick wildly. But Marko was no stranger to resistant children, and soon had the boy laid down on the table with the safety strap snuggly secured across his middle. With expert reactions, Marko caught one flailing foot, and began removing its sock and shoe.

“Get me off this table!” Walter yelled. “I’m not a baby!”

“No, Walter, you are not a baby,” Marko said as he pulled away the second sock and shoe. “But you have wet your pants, and I do not want you to get a rash.”

Soon, Walter’s shorts followed his socks and shoes into a sealed bag. Now down to his underwear, he kicked and wiggled all the more. Marko let him go and stood back. Walter stopped moving and looked over at him.

“Walter,” Marko said quietly but firmly. “I need you to cooperate while I change you. Will you please do that for me?”

“No!” he hollered back.

Without another word, Marko snatched up both of Walter’s flailing feet in one hand, and began working his underwear down his legs with the other. With all of the wet clothes in a sealed bag, Marko once again put on his gloves, and caught the boy’s feet again while he pulled out a wipe with his free hand. Marco could see that the boy had blotches of rash on his skin, and altered his approach to be more gentle while wiping. All the while, Walter kicked and screamed, doing anything he could to stop what was happening.

“What are you doing!?” Walter screamed as Marko applied the rash cream. Walter’s words became almost intelligible from his crying.

“This will help your rash,” Marko said calmly. He carefully spread the cream around, deftly matching the pressure of his hand to compensate for the movements of the thrashing boy.

Lucille never squirmed or struggled.

In light of the initial resistance, Marko had postponed the reveal of his intentions, knowing that the boy would only rebel more vehemently if he knew what was to come. His perception was only confirmed when he retrieved a pull-up from the cabinet above the table.

“NO!” Walter screeched, “I’m not wearing a diaper!

“This is not a diaper, it is a pull-up,” Marko said, still calm. “Pull-ups are only a precaution for accidents while one is potty-training. And you should know that if you wet your pants, you will be made to wear these.”

Walter kicked and thrashed about, screaming as loud as he could. But Marko was very practiced, and despite the wild flailing, he managed to guide the pull-up along Walter’s legs and into place. No more than a few seconds later, Walter had managed to get a hold of one side of the pull-up and tear it loose.

“Walter, please stop fighting.”

But Walter didn’t listen, and instead kept kicking and bucking. He clawed at the remaining side to the pull-up, but Marko grabbed his hand. With his free hand, Marko tore the ruined pull-up free and tossed it into the diaper pail. While he was grabbing a new one, Walter unbuckled the safety strap. Marko detected the unplanned movement, and immediately caught the boy before he could tumble to the floor. In a swift set of motions, he lifted Walter’s legs in one hand and delivered a swat to his backside. Carefully measured, and perfectly executed, the swat landed firmly on Walter’s buttocks. It wasn’t hard enough to cause any more than a jolt, and left no mark whatsoever. But the loud clapping sound, and the shock of it happening caught Walter by surprise and broke the momentum of his resistance. Immediately, his screaming and thrashing dissolved into sobs.

“I am sorry, Walter,” Marko said quietly, sliding another pull-up into place. “If you keep struggling, you may hurt yourself.”

“I don’t wanna wear diapers,” Walter mumbled pitifully.

Marko calculated his response. It was clear that Walter wouldn’t accept the difference between diapers and pull-ups, nor would he accept the consequences of repeated accidents.

Lucile would understand.

Marko attempted a positive approach. “Do not worry,” he said confidently. In a few seconds, he had retrieved a pair of shorts from the cabinet. “No one will know.”

“But I don’t wanna…” Walter continued to whine and sob.

Marko was barely hindered by the few half-hearted kicks and squirms as he hid Walter’s pull-up under a pair of shorts. Marko always kept a few gender-neutral outfits for just such an occasion. He had never once needed to provide spare clothes for Lucille; she had always come to have her diaper changed before it leaked. After he fitted Walter’s feet with a pair of sandals, Marko discarded his gloves.

“You will be fine, do not cry.” Marko said as he set the whimpering child on the floor.

Walter said nothing as Marko wiped his teary red face. When offered a candy, he swatted the jar away. Still sniveling, he accepted the bag with his wet clothes and walked in front of Marko as they exited the changing room. Walter’s mother was nowhere to be seen.

“You may go and play now.” Marko said with a cheerful voice.

But Walter wasn’t cheerful, and said nothing as he began to walk away. As a last gesture, he turned around and gave Marko a thumbs-down signal before turning again to run away, back toward the jungle gym.

Marko scanned the playground for Lucille before returning to his seat on the bench. No further opportunities presented themselves, though he saw many children with drooping diapers and pull-ups. All of them were too close to their mothers for him to get near. At one point, Marko saw Walter being pulled toward a changing room by his mother. Though his loose shorts did a good job of hiding the pull-up underneath, Marko could tell that the garment was soaked, as it bulged significantly where it previously had not.

But hours passed, and the day slowly drew to a close. All the mothers and their charges slowly disappeared from the park. Lucille never arrived, even though Marko waited until the park closed. But finally, he too rose and made his way out of the park.

Where had Lucille gone?

Marko stopped under a cluster of trees. In front of him were two men, dressed in black. They wore sunglasses and stood abreast; their arms crossed and their faces stern. Marko concluded that there planning to stop him. He didn’t know why. The only thing he could remember doing was changing diapers.

“Marko?” one of the men prompted in a gruff voice.

“Yes,” Marko replied stoically.

“Good.” The man made a hand gesture.

Marko felt pressure on the back of his head, and everything went black.

~
“Wow, he’s certainly running a high temperature.”

“I know, it’s well over a-hundred.”

Marko lay motionless and unclothed on the table. His eyes were shut; he did not move, and he was completely unaware of what was happening. There were many wires connected to him, monitoring him, and recording all manner of data. At the far end of the room two technicians worked on a set of consoles. These were connected to the machines which were in turn, connected to Marko.

“John, I know when you’re screwing with me,” said one of the technicians, as he gave an incredulous look to his partner.

“Come on Barry, would I lie to you?”

“Only between breaths.”

“Hilarious,” John said flatly. “And no, I’m not screwing with you.”

“So you mean to tell me that this old thing has been down at the daycare park, changing kids diapers?” Barry shifted his thick glasses while he scrolled through pages of data.

“It’s just a robot, it’s not like it’s some perverted old man.” John rolled his eyes as he typed away at his keyboard. Scan after scan flicked by on his screen. “They brought him in to play Santa several years ago; apparently, the kids liked him for a while.”

“Well that’s just my point,” Barry said with a sigh, leaning back in his chair. “We haven’t had anything but the mother generations for years. How on earth is he still around? I mean, I thought they got rid of the old models at least six years ago.”

“Hold on a sec, let me see; I’m gonna check his logs.” John typed away as several new windows and pages of data were brought to the forefront. “Wow, he is old: this says he’s a Mk. Zero.”

“Are you serious?” Barry titled his head.

“Yep, but it looks like he’s kept up a good rating the entire time he’s been here. The only reason they brought him in was because it dipped in the last few days.”

“Let me see that,” Barry said, leaning forward again. “Pass it over.”

Once John had shifted the feedback logs to his partner’s console, Barry spent a couple silent minutes scrolling through the seemingly endless data.

“Holy hell.”

“What?”

“I thought this was a glitch at first.”

“Thought what was a glitch?” John asked, rolling his chair over.

“This.” Barry gestured at the screen before him while leaning back to adjust his glasses.

John leaned closer. “What is it?”

“It’s the feedback logs. See? At first I thought it was a repeating glitch, ‘cause look, he’s got nearly the same feedback for the last five years, with almost no fluctuation.” Barry scrolled through several pages as he spoke, but switched to a different window. “But look, they’re all unique event IDs. They’re similar, but the times are different each day. But dude, this bot has been changing the same kid’s diaper about three times a day for the entire time.”

“What in the—”

“And that’s about it. This one kid alone makes up ninety-eight percent of his feedback; and they give him perfect scores every time.”

“Wow,” John said, rolling his chair away.

“The only variation is just these last five days. He got no feedback from the usual kid; one neutral, and one negative.” Barry closed the windows. “And the reviews say the negative was false; just a whiny kid, the usual garbage.”

“Kind of a shame to get rid of him, just for that,” John said thoughtfully.

“You mean decommission? We’re not gonna waive the false negative?”

“Nope, the suits want him gone, but his rating stayed up; that’s why he lasted so long.” John returned to typing away on his keyboard. “Let me see what he’s good for. Maybe we can pawn him off on security or janitorial.”

Barry stood up and walked over to the table. With the press of a button, Marko powered on and Barry eased him to a sitting position. “Sorry buddy, but I gotta get to your drives.” Barry opened an access panel in Marko’s back. After pulling a few wires, he yanked the power module free and set it aside. Underneath were several storage drives, sitting in a row.

“Lucille…” Marko mumbled quietly.

“Who?” Barry stopped, and walked around the table to face Marko.

“I thought this one was a welder before we got him,” John announced from the other end of the room.

“It was.”

“Well it looks like it used to be personal security. He’s still got all the protection protocols in place.”

“Lucille.” Marko said again.

Barry thought for a moment and then addressed Marko. “Who is Lucille? Was she the one you used to protect?”

“No,” Marko said flatly. “I changed her diapers.” Then, after a pause “where is Lucille?”

“John, I got a funny feeling about this,” Barry said, turning to his partner. “Do me a favor and run a check on the feedback author.”

John’s keyboard clicked loudly. Barry laid Marko down again before latching him to the table. Once he was satisfied that the bot was secured, he made his way across the room and took his seat.

“Sweet mercy!” John exclaimed. “Okay, so yeah; the kid that gave him all the feedback is an eight year-old girl. Lucille Rainey.”

“She’s eight?” Mark asked in surprise. “How on earth is she getting three diaper changes every day?”

“Well her medical doesn’t show anything about incontinence, but dude, that ain’t the strange part.” John gave his parter a warning look. “Her ID cross checked with like… everything. None of her interaction logs are in the archive; they’re all in RAM and locked in place. All the processing threads are reserved for her ID. Not only that, but she’s the same ID that appears under all of the protection protocols. This bot has run a visual scan for her, every two seconds, every moment her location isn’t confirmed.”

“So…”

“So this thing’s protocols are all jacked up. So it’s set to prioritize her above everything; it’s literally thinking about every memory of her, all the time. And it’s looking for her constantly.” John paused for a second. “So this bot would stop and tie her shoes, even if it meant he’d be flattened by a cargo truck.”

“Who authored the priority settings?”

“Internal.” John said solemnly.

“Bullcrap,” Barry said.

The two technicians exchanged worried glances.

“It’s kinda scary.” John said.

“Well, it’s not like a robot can be a pervert.” Barry shrugged.

“That’s no what I—”

“Where is Lucille?” Marko asked.

“You’re being decommissioned, it doesn’t matter any more.” Barry answered quickly, and began typing away at his console. “This thing’s jacked; his processor is burnt, his protocols are impossible to recover… I’m just gonna call it a total failure and junk the whole thing.”

“Probably best…” John mumbled. He began working on his own keyboard, and for a time, only the sound that filled the room was that of many keys being struck.

“I can’t wipe it while it’s all in RAM like this,” Barry said with frustration. “I’m gonna power it down.”

“Where is Lucille?” Marko asked again, his voice louder this time.

“Why do you care?” Barry replied without looking up from his screen; he quickly typed his way through several override password prompts.

“Because I…I…” Marko trailed off. “I want to see her again.”

Both Barry and John looked over at Marko, who still lay on his back, facing the ceiling.

“You’re a robot,” Barry said. “You don’t really want anything.”

“I want to see Lucile again,” Marko said.

Quickly, the shutdown and wipe procedures ran their course, and most everything began to vanish from Marko’s memory. He simply lay there, knowing that he wouldn’t see Lucille again. He wondered if she would ever know what happened to him; he wondered where she had gone.

“Hey Barry, look at this.” John said, waving his partner over.

Barry rolled his chair over to John’s console. “Yeah— Oh God!” Barry recoiled from the screen. “I read about that one on Monday. I mean, how tragic. That was like two hundred people; all of them, bam!” Barry rolled away. “But in case you happened to forget in the last two minutes, we’re in the middle of something.”

“Well this is relevant.” John defended.

“How’s it relevant?”

“I ran a search; look whose name is on the list.” John scrolled down and pointed to his screen.

“Whose?” Barry wasn’t looking.

“Lucille Rainey.”

“Lucille!” Marko exclaimed, sitting up and breaking several of the clamps as he did so. “You know where she is.” He pointed to John.

“Yeah,” John said hesitantly while Barry shot him an angry look.

“Where is she? Marko asked bluntly. “Can I see her?”

“Dude, stop,” Barry warned.

John said nothing.

Marko studied their expressions. He watched John’s eyes flick toward the screen, then back to meet his own. Barry had a look of worry and concern. Judging by his movements, it appeared that Marko was the object of his concern. John’s face was also worried, but he looked as if he was hiding something; as if he might be sad about something. It was similar, in a way, to the face that Lucille had the last time he saw her. “Something bad has happened to Luiclle, has it not?”

John didn’t move.

“Don’t tell it anything,” Barry whispered.

“Do not tell me what?” Marko asked, climbing off the table. “Is it about Lucille?”

John said nothing, but kept glancing toward the screen. His eyes were studying Marko’s stoic expression as much as Marko was studying his.

Barry slowly reached for the emergency shock pistol.

“Where is she?” Marko took several steps forward. “Where is my—” He was cut off as the tangle of cords pulled loose. With no cords attached, and his main module removed, he instantly lost power and fell to the ground with a bang. All of his motor functions were gone, and the last bit of power could only keep his base functions running for a few more seconds. Everything in RAM would be lost as soon as he shut down. He knew this, but could do nothing to stop it.

“Lucille,” he spoke through his backup speaker, but even that sapped the last remaining power.

Lucille.

With a final click, he shut down completely.

John remained silent, and only stared at Marko’s motionless body.

“Well don’t go feeling sorry for it,” Barry said gruffly, getting up. “It’s just a robot after all.”

1 Like

Re: “This Ain’t What it Looks Like”

I really enjoyed this. While the Twilight Zone feel would have been more effective had the ending been compressed, I liked the emotional value of that scene, especially the spontaneous-AI aspects.

Re: “This Ain’t What it Looks Like”

I thought this was really wonderful. I had no clue what was going on at first, but the ending worked beautifully. Nice piece!

Re: “This Ain’t What it Looks Like”

From creepy to sad. I really liked it. I did not see the ending coming and after a reread, I found some little clues I missed. A clever and nice story overall.