Featured Review on this writing by Logan J.B.

School’s pretty competitive. Only the highest ranked will earn seats in university. Jeb rationalizes it was worth it, the bribes and seduction and blackmail to get Petra an embedded tutor. All the other kids will have one, or at least those whose parents care, so why shouldn’t Petra?

School’s pretty competitive. Only the highest ranked will earn seats in university. Jeb rationalizes it was worth it, the bribes and seduction and blackmail to get Petra an embedded tutor. All the other kids will have one, or at least those whose parents care, so why shouldn’t Petra?

Petra smiles, reaches her little fingers out trying to touch the images she sees before her. When they disappear, she frowns. “It’s gone.”

“What’s four plus three?” Kira asks without looking up.


“Correct. Did it come back?”


“That’s because you know the answer. What’s the square root of five hundred twenty-nine?”

“Twenty-three.” Petra grins, reaching out again.

Jeb smiles; totally worth it. He lifts his daughter off the examination table. “If I find out this isn’t the latest version…”

“Don’t worry, this isn’t even on the market yet. She won’t need an upgrade for months, maybe years.”

“And it’s not detectable? The schools have started scanning daily.”

“We’ve covered this, my nanytes look like GABA to their scans.”

Jeb transfers the last of his IRA into Kira’s account. She nods and says “We’re done. Pleasure doing business with you.”

Petra falls asleep on the Metro and when she awakes, she climbs up and whispers to Jeb, “Buddy likes to dream too.”


“Buddy. My new friend.” She smiles.

Jeb realizes she means her embedded tutor. “Remember, we don’t tell anyone about Buddy.” Petra puts a tiny finger to her lips, and Jeb smiles and hugs her.

He’s been careful, never put her in preschool, never let anyone evaluate her. Any sudden change in cognitive reasoning would have mandated thorough examination and expulsion if augmentation was detected. Expulsion would have relegated Petra to the third class, and ultimately a life performing community service and living off basic. She probably would have tested into second class on her own, given all the genetic engineering he had paid for, but why chance it when a tutor could guarantee a first-class position.

Before the first day, they practice her responses to the inevitable questions about augmentation. It’s a single iteration process; Petra smiles and pats her father’s arm. “Don’t worry, Buddy will tell me what to say.” And it does. Petra is given a first-class seat in Grade 1 and Jeb smiles. It was totally worth it.


Winter break arrives with cold and freezing rain. He had wanted to take a ski trip north where it’s snowing, but his credits are depleted. So, they stay home and play chess. At first, he’s delighted that she wins every game. But after a few, incredibly short games, Petra turns away from the board.

“We don’t want to play with you anymore.” she announces as she climbs into a chair and stares out the window. It takes a minute before Jeb realizes she’s not looking at anything outside. It takes another before he realizes she has referred to herself in the plural.

“How about we go to the Air and Space Museum?”

She shakes her head, not bothering to look at him.

“Okay, let’s go to the Hirshorn and see the new exhibits.” This time she completely ignores him. “Come on, get your jacket, we’re going.” He says it authoritatively like any good parent would. She glances at him, expressionless, moments before his phone rings. It’s work.

“Hi, what’s up? Deleted?” Jeb rushes to his office, logs on and slaps his desk hard as he realizes his analysis of recursion patterns in quantum databases is gone. “Was I hacked?” he panics as he searches for his backup on a secure cloud. All he finds is an early draft and his files on the associated combinatorics and pattern typology. He sighs. “Yeah, well, give me a day or two, I’ll regenerate it. Okay, bye.” He looks back into the living space, and noticing Petra hasn’t moved, he opens his files and begins to work. The freezing rain hitting the window creates an auditory moiré in juxtaposition to his typing, but only they notice.

Hours later, his finished analysis pops up. Jeb tries to trace its location history but finds no record of it being moved or deleted. Stumped, he uploads it again to his director along with a note apologizing for the glitch. Moments later, Petra is at his door.

“We’re hungry.”

Jeb looks at the time, and immediately logs off to make dinner. He steams green beans because they’re her favorite, roasts some Brussels sprouts and bakes a GMO Tilapia. She seems happy, herself, as they talk of vintage movies, trying to decide which to watch after dinner until she seamlessly interjects, “You should talk to Kira about iterative versus recursive learning.”

“What?” He swallows his mouthful, blinks, trying to process what his five-year-old just said. She smiles mischievously and raises a small finger to her lips. “Did you think that or is Buddy telling you to suggest it to me?”


“Yes? Yes what? Which one of you thought that?”

She looks confused for a fraction of a second before answering with a giggle, “We did.”


Spring break arrives with cherry blossoms littering the sidewalks but few tourists. Another viral pandemic has closed museums until the population can be vaccinated again. This one doesn’t kill, it simply leaves it victims catatonic, and many think that’s scarier. Viral outbreaks are not new, they’ve been occurring for decades, but the frequency seems to be following a reverse Fibonacci sequence such that everyone now pretty much ignores them, takes the vaccine that arrives with the mail, and waits for the markers to indicate there’re safe.

Jeb’s work with the DoT over the winter has paid off. His use of swarm theory to maximize the efficiency of the two million vehicles that enter and leave the District each day has caught the attention of some folks at DARPA. He’s not sure why. They’ve been playing with swarm theory since the early teens, maybe before. He knows he should be flattered, but he’s scared. This isn’t his work, it’s hers… theirs. He understands most of it, but there are lines of code that make no sense to him, and he worries they’ll ask about it.

Petra pats his back. “This is a good step, Dad. It’ll move you into first class.”

Jeb shakes his head, and they see he’s floundering. He’s lost weight, bites his nails, and they can hear him cry sometimes when he’s in the shower. They love Dad, but Petra isn’t sure he can handle what’s coming. Buddy says it’s time. The latest vaccine arrived two days ago, but Dad refuses to take it, buying into all the conspiracy stories that circulate with each new one.

Petra pulls the paring knife out of her pocket and slashes her fingertip. “Ow.” escapes her before they can stifle it. As Dad turns from his screen to see what’s wrong, Petra stabs his shoulder gently, but enough to draw blood.

“Holy Mother of God, Petra! Give me that knife.” He grabs the knife and throws it on the desk. She holds up her finger, hoping he’ll kiss it. But he’s angry and confused and doesn’t. So, she lunges into him, crying and resplendent with apology. When he picks her up, she presses her finger to his wound. The effect isn’t instantaneous, but close to it. He relaxes back into his chair, and she pulls back, cradling his face in her small hands. She peers into his eyes until she sees it, the recognition.

Jebs smiles and says "Hi, Buddy."

And the swarm smiles.

Submitted: September 18, 2023

© Copyright 2023 H Hitchcock Becker. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:



Very well crafted! Good story good flow for a technolgical horror story!

Mon, September 18th, 2023 11:29pm

Logan J.B.

I enjoyed this! Well done with the character work for the dad and the daughter. You were able to flesh them out quickly. Also good world building with very quick word choices. The horror element was well done too, gradually building up the foreboding until the end.

Tue, September 19th, 2023 12:13pm

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