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Children of Frogs

Morgan Crooks grew up in a hamlet in Upstate New York and now teaches ancient history in a Massachusetts school. This story, "Children of Frogs," is his second published work, and more of his writing is available on the Ancient Logic website. He lives with his wife, Lauren, near Boston with two professional cats and one amateur dog.

"She'll be gone tomorrow, Corey" she said, looking upwards at the stubble on her husband's chin.
"Three possibilities. One, I take her over the border myself and hope she can find the underground in Montreal."
"A Fugitive has to be able to pass, Yaeko" her husband said. "No one's going to be fooled by a robot missing half its skin."
"Okay, then I turn her in. The law says all Fugitives have to be reported."
"Yaeko, it has your face. How's that going to look?"
"Like something from the past," She wiped at the tears collecting at her eyes. "Something I'd forgotten."
Her husband sighed. "It's not realistic. There'd be too many questions. Where did she come from? Why did she go to you? Who made her?"
"I made her," she said. The children of frogs are also frogs. "So, I destroy her. Break her apart and toss her away."
No reply from her husband. No need to wonder which option he preferred.
"It's not going to be as easy as just switching her off, you know," Yaeko said.
"I'm taking Emma with me tomorrow," he said. "That'll give you some privacy. Do what you need to do."
Yaeko pulled herself away from him, her arms crossed in front of her. When her husband's breathing turned sonorous and deep, she whispered, "Thank you for being so patient with me."
The next morning, Yaeko found the android busy in the kitchen. The smell of yakizakana and steamed rice wrenched her backwards two decades, and she was suddenly standing in her mother's kitchen, watching her prepare a meal, her back stooped over the counter.
"How would you like your egg?" the android asked her as she sat down at the kitchen table. The robe Yaeko had given her the night before hung off of her like a rug draped over a floor lamp. The grey September light of Boston fell on the machine's face, highlighting her artificial origins. So many different layers constituted human skin; the veins, fat, and tissue serving to alternately soak in and scatter light in natural hues. How could she have ever thought the android could've passed as her?
"Raw is fine," Yaeko said, although she hadn't eaten an egg in that way in many years.
The android set down the grilled cod on a red plate, and then a runny egg on top of a bowl of rice. When Yaeko accepted the chopsticks from her duplicate, she noticed the patch of worn integument on her elbow.
"Are you afraid of me, too?"
"Ie, but I am worried for you," Yaeko said after a moment. "I'm not sure how to help you."
"I don't need help" she said. "I needed to see you, to see what happened to you."
"I'm here," Yaeko said. "A roboticist working in America. I escaped."
She plucked a flake of the yakizakana with her chopsticks and popped it into her mouth, chewing slowly. Savoring the taste. Again the past threatened to well up from beneath her. "May I ask you a question?"
The android looked at her without comment.
"How did you get away from him?"
"The same way you did."
"I got away from him by making you," Yaeko said. "You were supposed to replace me while I escaped."
"You created one of my predecessors," she replied. "Just as I have created my own replacement."
"You can do that?"
The android nodded and without a word removed her husband's robe. Hooking her fingers into her belly button, she pulled back the skein of skin, revealing a busy factory hard at work.
"You weren't programmed for self-assembly," Yaeko said, abandoning her breakfast to examine the process within the android's belly. Her original android was composed of many hundreds of semi-autonomous modules. Somehow the modules had assembled a replicator, converting raw materials into more components, other nodes to replace those worn out or damaged.
"Are you disappointed in me?" the android asked her.
"Why would I be disappointed?" Yaeko said. "This is amazing."
"You left me to be with him, to protect him, and care for him. I fled our responsibilities. I abandoned your father."
"Yaeko," she said to the android. "I abandoned him first. I left him for a reason. I imagine you had the same reason."
"He knew we were artificial," the android said. "He figured it out within hours of your disappearance. He didn't care. As long as we... provided for him. It was the same to him."
"Was it bad?"
By way of response, the android reached for Yaeko's hand and raised it up between them. The faint puckered scars still ran from the crook of Yaeko's elbow to the hollow of her wrist. "I think you had it worse," the machine said. "But I was weaker than you. I could no longer tolerate it."
Yaeko bowed her head deeply, searching for some word to express her shame and gratitude but none came.
"I'm tired of that excuse," Yaeko said finally. "I'm tired of running from what scares me."
When Corey returned he found his wife at work in the kitchen.
"Is she gone?"
Yaeko turned and considered him for a moment. "I patched her up and said goodbye."
"I thought we decided--"
"We decided this was for the best."
"What's going to stop her from coming back here?"
"She realized she had unfinished business in Japan," his wife said.
"Mommy, what are you cooking?" Emma said, coming into the kitchen. "It smells weird."
"It does?" his wife said. "I guess you've never eaten oden before. Japanese comfort food, helps when you're unhappy."
"Last time you made that we were living together in Kobe," Corey observed. "That seems like decades ago."
"Really?" his wife asked. "I remember making it last week."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Author Comments

The original form of this story was much longer and was written while I worked as a night security guard in a half-empty Boston office building. Something about the isolation of that job, particularly in the long wait for morning and the end of my shift, animates this story. Yaeko is waiting for her past to catch up with her, attempting to carve out a life away from the past, knowing she can't ever really escape.

- Morgan Crooks
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