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Replicas

Eric Fomley's work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Flame Tree, Galaxy's Edge, and other places. You can read more of his stories at ericfomley.com or follow him on Twitter @PrinceGrimdark.

"Why won't you eat dinner," Otto asks. Its electronic voice buzzes from the corner of the dining room where its yellow eyes beam in the darkness. "Aren't you hungry?"
Melody gives a sharp nod. She stands in the opposite corner from the bot, a stained teddy bear tucked under her arm. Her trembling fingers stroke the furry space between its ears.
"Then eat," Otto says. "Sit with your parents and enjoy a meal with them. They want to spend time with you."
Melody's parents sit at the table in the middle of the room. Her father shoves handfuls of spaghetti into his mouth, letting the sauce drip from his fingers. Her mother stares at the wall with catatonic eyes--a gentle moan tears from her throat.
Otto admires its work. The clones are modified with chips that allow the bot to command their nervous systems. It can have them do anything the little girl wants.
"I don't want to eat with them," Melody says, her voice faint. "They're scary, and they don't look like my mommy and daddy." She sniffles.
"They look exactly like your parents," Otto says, in its most soothing tone. "They are genetic replicas."
Otto wishes the memories and experiences could be replicated too, their behavior being the child's biggest complaint. But it has told her the impossibility of this seven times already. It wonders why the child can't just accept the gifts it has given her.
"I want to leave," she whispers. "I want to go outside."
"You know that's not possible," Otto says. "So why don't you sit, eat, and enjoy family time instead. You said you're hungry." The bot has Melody's mother turn and offer a crooked approximation of a smile.
"I don't want to spend time with them," she says. Tears drip down her cheeks.
"Very well," the bot says. Melody's parents stand from the table with rigid posture. They spin and march toward the basement door in the kitchen, for recycling in the bot's makeshift lab.
Otto isn't sure how long it will be before the city is free of the flesh-eating smog of the nanite bomb. It still detects the swirl of nanites in the air surrounding the house on its internal sensors, along with the bone matter of skeletons littering the street. Melody's parents are somewhere among them, picked clean of biological material. The bot is trying to do it's best to serve their last request, to watch over Melody.
Perhaps there is some error in the DNA of the replicas, some minor imperfection Otto missed that is causing the daughter to doubt their credibility. Otto will work to rectify the mistake for the next iteration.
"No, stop," Melody says. "Wait."
Otto makes the parents stop in the kitchen doorway. Melody takes a few steps towards them, looking up at her mom with red, puffy eyes.
"My real mommy and daddy aren't coming home, are they?"
"No. They are not," Otto says. It has covered this before with the girl, but this time it sees a shift in her body language, like its words have found a new resonance within her.
Melody nods and wraps her arms around her replacement mother's waist. She sniffs and lets go, spinning around to face Otto. "I'm hungry. Maybe we can all eat together."
"I think your parents would like that very much," the bot says. Its tone is bright, cheery.
They sit together at the table, eating spaghetti, while Melody tries to pretend like she's not alone.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, February 9th, 2022
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