Just after sunrise, when the sunlight forms a pale white trapezoid on their rug, their eyes open.

We swaddle our babies in cotton and strap them into their high chairs, feeding them applesauce. They clap their hands, slowly at first, sloppily, and then faster and faster, their lips spotted with clumps of pulverized fruit. Good girls, we say. Good, good girls.

An hour later, their excrement comes out in soft pellets coated with anti-bacterial agent and sealed in a microlayer of Plexiplastic. We toss the pellets out and clean their skin with anti-scratch wipes.

Thayn oo, they say. Muh-muh. Duh-duh.

What? we say, scrabbling to find our phones and focus the cameras on their petal-like mouths. What did you say to Mommy and Daddy?

Muh-ma en duh-da.

Say it again.

Mama en Dada.


Mama and Dada.

We make them repeat our names into the afternoon, the syllables ripening on their tongues, like a lullaby lost to our childhood.

The night before our babies’ first birthday, we wake to use the bathroom. When we flick on the light, we see our babies in the mirror, standing in their cribs, eyes burning a feral green-blue. They blink together. Once. Twice.

Eliza? Beth? we say, turning. But when we cross the hallway, they are asleep.

The manual says they should only wake after sunrise, unless we tell them otherwise. Right? we say to ourselves. It’s just that we’re nervous. We’re seeing things that aren’t there. In our bedroom closet, we shove aside summer dresses and snow gear until we find a safe, sunken into the wall. We type in a 12-digit code, press our fingers onto the scanner. The lock clicks open, and we pull out two microchips, with 1 YR inscribed on the surface.

We trace our fingers along the backs of our babies’ necks until we feel an indentation. When we tap the depression, it cleaves open, revealing a microincision the length of an eyelash. We insert the chip inside, and the skin seals itself.

In the morning, we lower our children onto the floor. At first, they only crawl, scooting their butts along the floor, but then, at once, they push themselves up, swaying on their feet.

Our children are so smart! we say.

At dinner, we give them crayons, and they draw perfect circles and crisp squares with four ninety-degree angles, one after the other, on the menu.

There’s no way your children drew that, the waiter says.

Just watch.

And the waiter stands there with his mouth hanging open, a Shirley Temple sweating in his hand. Well, I’ll be damned.

On the first day of school, we tie pastel bows into our children’s hair.

What will we learn?
Beth asks.

I’m so excited for school! Eliza says.

We walk our children to the entrance. Remember to listen to what your teacher says. Wash your hands before you eat. Be nice to your classmates, but don’t touch them. We don’t want you getting sick with all those germs floating around.

Yes, Mommy. Yes, Daddy.

We clean their faces with wipes, then kiss their foreheads, our lips smelling of cold antiseptic.

Have fun. Bye, Eliza. Bye, Beth.

In the afternoon, we peer through the fence to see our children, perched on the jungle gym.

The other girls crowd around them and place paper crowns on each of their heads.

Your Majesties, are you hungry? the girls say.

Yes, our children answer.

One girl runs to the sandbox and molds wet sand into misshapen cookies, and another girl scoops rainwater into a bucket and sprinkles marigold petals on top.

Fairy water and sugar cookies, they say. For Your Majesties.

Thank you, our children say, picking up the cookies. These are delicious. But they’re not sweet enough.

The girls run to the sandbox, sinking their hands into the soft white sand. Don’t worry, don’t worry, they say. We have sugar.

While the girls dig in the sandbox, a boy with scabbed knees and bright eyes creeps up behind our girls and yanks their thick curls.

Our children turn around, crowns askew on their heads. Get your dirty hands off of us! Mommy and Daddy told us you had germs! they shriek.

Across the playground, the teacher calls, Stop fighting! Everyone come outside to meet your parents for pick-up!

Our children’s hair grows thicker and brighter, and their baby fat melts away. Sometimes, we press our faces against the chain-link fence after school, straining to watch them play. Every day, they sit at the center of the circle of girls, on the same grassy slope.

What do you have? our children say to a slight, freckled girl one day.

The girl drops a chocolate bar on the grass. I brought this.

Thank you,
our children say. You may join us. Sit down. The freckled girl beams.

Another girl with caramel skin drops two turquoise-colored mood rings in front of our children. I found these.

Ooh, cool
, our babies say. You may join us too. She sits down carefully, next to the freckled girl.

A third girl, tall, with sallow features, lowers a hairband onto the grass. I’m sorry. I couldn’t find anything better, she says.

This isn’t good enough, Ashley,
our children say. I’m sorry, but you may not sit down.

The other girls chatter quietly, peach-flavored gloss shining on their lips.

The tall girl sucks in her cheeks. Please, Eliza. Please, Beth.

You can only join the circle when you bring proper gifts, our children intone. Their hair shimmers in the autumn light, halo-like.

The tall girl tugs at her locks and backs away, out of the circle. The freckled girl sticks out her foot, and the tall girl trips, skinning her knee on the faded grass. A rivulet of red cuts down her shin. Her eyes well with tears.

Don’t trip Ashley, our children say.

Sorry, the freckled girl mutters.

When school ends, our children come to us, mood rings glittering on both of their fingers.

How was your day at school today?

They look up at us with curious eyes.

Mommy, Daddy, how come we don’t cry tears like Ashley? How come we don’t bleed when we fall?

Oh, babies. You’re special,
we tell them. Only weak people cry and bleed.

We receive our second pack of microchips in a box advertising a coffeemaker—brew the perfect cup in less than a minute, guaranteed! We remember purchasing our first set of microchips nine years ago, after filtering through the options: eyes (blue, swamp-green, brown, grey), face shape (heart, oval, square), intelligence (average, high average, superior). Each chip in the new pack is engraved with gold lettering: 9 YR. 10 YR. 11 YR. 12 YR. And SI: Superior Intelligence.

We receive our first midday call from a teacher when our children are in third grade.

Eliza was hurt during recess. She and Beth climbed a tree, and Eliza fell.

Our children climbed a tree? we say. But they’re far too smart to do something like that.

Eliza is in the classroom now,
the teacher says. Come as soon as you can.

When we arrive at their school, Eliza is sprawled on the alphabet rug, her leg propped up on a chair.

Michael was chasing Eliza and Beth on the playground. Your girls climbed the tree to avoid him. I’ve noticed they have an aversion to touching their peers, especially boys. Eliza fell from the tree, probably eight feet. She wasn’t responsive at first. It was like she just shut off, all of a sudden. I don’t think any of the other kids saw her injury. The strangest thing is that she isn’t bleeding.

Panic flares in our stomachs. She just had an implant, that’s all, we say. We have to take her home now.

In the hovervehicle, we examine the six-inch gash in Eliza’s her leg; the layers of flesh-colored silicon are lacerated, revealing a network of wires like spider silk.

Eliza closes her eyes, but Beth is transfixed by the wound. She leans forward and gently strokes the exposed wires with an outstretched finger.

What are you doing? Don’t touch your sister’s leg! we shout. Beth immediately recoils, hiding her hands behind her back.

I’m sorry, she says. I won’t do it again.

We hear shuffling, muffled whispers, the sounds of a door closing.

We try to open our childrens’ bedroom, but the lock is jammed. Eliza! Beth! we say, knocking. Open the door! Now.

At last, the door swings open. Beth crouches by her bed, cradling her arm to her chest. Her golden locks are frizzy and wild as cornsilk. Why did you lock the door? we say, and then we gasp. Who did this to you? What happened?

The skin of Beth’s forearm is cleaved by a deep line, exposing a lattice of gold wires beneath. When we peer deeper into the room, we see Eliza, holding a pair of scissors in her hand. The twin blades gleam platinum in the moonlight.

Eliza! What did you do? we say.

Our children’s eyes glow clear blue. Why don’t we bleed? Are we different than everyone else?

We stifle the panic in our throats. You’re not supposed to ask questions like that.

The next day, we throw away all of our scissors, tweezers, sewing needles, knifes, and forks, until our bathroom cabinets are empty and our kitchen drawers have only spoons rattling inside.

Our children begin to come to breakfast late on the weekends, their hair unbrushed, matted.

The pancakes smell heavenly, Beth says. Eliza is silent, brooding.

What’s wrong with Eliza? we ask Beth, but she just shrugs.

In the mornings, Eliza spends an hour in the bathroom. Eliza, what are you doing in there? We need to get ready for work.

When she finally opens the door, her hair glistens, and she smells of summer peaches. Her hairbrush is covered with a nest of gold hair.

Eliza, is something the matter? Do we need to take you to see the doctor? we say.

I’m fine, she says.

When we comb through her backpack, we find that the pages of her composition notebook are printed with a single name, written in blue pen. Tommy.

Are you talking to any boys? we say to her and Beth over dinner. You know Mom and Dad don’t like it when you talk to boys.

Of course not, Eliza says, but she casts her eyes down, her lashes casting thin shadows across her cheeks.

Clear the dishes, we say, and after a moment, they leave the table.

The manual says they aren’t supposed to question us or lie to us, we say to each other. But they are.

After school, Eliza wraps her fingers around our wrists and says, Natalia is hosting a sleepover. Can we go?

But we won’t be able to make sure you are safe.

We’ve been so good, she says. We’ve always followed whatever you say. We’ve never been to a sleepover, and we’re in fifth grade now. Please.

We buy them bubblegum-colored sleeping bags and silk sleeping masks printed with cupcakes.

When they leave for Natalia’s house, we pace across our camel-hide carpet.

Are they safe? we ask ourselves. Should we check on Eliza? We turn towards our computers, then towards each other. No, we shouldn’t. We promised we would give them some space, some privacy. We stop pacing. But they could be in danger.

We turn on our computers and click on the app Oculi360, then press on a bubble with Eliza’s name hovering inside. For a moment, our screens flicker, the pixels blinking.

Then, slowly, we begin to see the outline of a room: lilac walls, a grand piano, two potted fig trees, and four girls, including Beth, sitting in a ring. A scrawny girl with rainbow braces and a smug smile says, Tommy’s here. I invited him.

What? It’s Eliza’s voice, as clear as if she were whispering into our own ears.

Yup, the girl says. He’s a family friend, so it’s not weird. Stay calm. He totally likes you.

There is a knock on the door, and then a boy with hazel curls peeking out from beneath a baseball hat appears in the threshold.

Hello? he says.

Tommy! The girls shriek. Eliza wants to talk to you, the scrawny girl says, and the screen blurs and refocuses, honing in on Tommy’s face.

Go down to the basement, she continues, pushing Tommy down another flight of stairs. You can talk there.

A moment later, we are in a small, bright room with orange walls and zebra-striped beanbag chairs.

Hey, Tommy says. His nose is sunburned and flecked with freckles. So, this is weird. But Natalia told me yesterday that you, uh. Sort of, like me? Is it true?

Eliza falters. I think so?

Tommy smiles shyly, then runs his teeth over his braces. Really? Wow. Um. Do you want to sit down? The screen shifts. I’m just curious, but when did you know you…liked me?

Awhile ago. After I fell off that tree during recess. Something changed after that,
Eliza says.

Oh. Tommy nods slowly, his baseball cap sliding down his forehead. He squints. Do…do you want to hold hands?

Okay, Eliza says.

Her hand, smooth, with perfectly whittled fingernails, reaches out across the bean bag chairs. Tommy inhales softly, holds his hand out, and their fingers touch. The screen wavers, static raining across the surface, before the picture reforms.

Eliza says. I want to tell you. I think there’s something different about me. I don’t know how to explain it.

What? he says.

I don’t know. Like, when I fell from that tree, I got hurt, but I wasn’t bleeding.

He shrugs. Maybe it didn’t cut deep enough?

But I didn’t get a bruise. I don’t know what it is. Then she pulls up skirt of her dress, points to the scar on her leg.

Tommy leans over, his face ashen. Wow, are you okay? And then, What is that? He pulls his hand away. Is that a wire? Are those wires in your leg?

I don’t know. I don’t know, Tommy, can you tell me—

What the hell
, Tommy says. His eyes are blown open with fear, the pupils molten. We see the panic bursting just beneath his skin, his pulse fluttering in his throat, just before he darts to the door and disappears up the stairs.

Tommy? Eliza says, but the word is swallowed up by silence.

Our children hike up the driveway, shivering, their pink sleeping bags hanging from their shoulders. We open the door, shepherd them inside.

Eliza! How could you do something so idiotic?
we say.

What? she says, defensively.

I’m so sorry,
Beth says. Eliza didn’t mean to

You showed that boy your scar. How
could you?

Wait. How do you know about that?
Eliza says. Were you…watching us?

We pause. We needed to make sure you were safe, we say. We can’t trust you anymore.

You were spying on us! Eliza says.

You were lying to us about seeing boys.

Eliza’s face contorts, the microfiber layers of her skin pulling, her blue Plexiglass irises, fitted with Oculi360, turning murky.

Were you watching us? Do you have cameras on us? You never explain anything.

Calm down, Eliza, you’re being irrational. Now, let’s sit down, and—

You never explained why we don’t bleed. Why we don’t cry. Why we have wires inside of us.

Beth steps beside her. Why are we like this? she says, softly. Are we human?

Of course you’re human, we say, but we hesitate, and in that moment, Eliza tears at the skin of the scar that never healed, peels away at the Plexiplastic, pries her fingers into the vein-like wires, into the titanium bones, scrabbling to find something real beneath it all, something human.

It doesn’t hurt when I do this,
she cries. It hurts everyone else.

Stop! we say, and we fumble for her, strands of her golden hair catching beneath our fingernails.

Don’t hurt my sister! Beth screams, and she snatches an umbrella from the coatrack and positions it in front of her like a sword.

Stop it, Beth. Put down the umbrella.
But Beth begins swinging it with mechanical motions, her eyes filled with panic, the metal prongs drawing red lines across our arms.

Stop! Stop! we say, and we lunge them both, wrapping our hands around their heads, groping for the slit at the nape of their necks. We jam our fingers into the incisions, and two microchips drop into our hands. Immediately, our children’s bodies slacken in our arms, eyelids fluttering shut.

We eat linguini for dinner and watch over their perfect bodies, sprawled out on the floor, faces upturned towards the ceiling. Should we keep them? we say to each other, but we imagine them waking with hurt in their too-human eyes and, worse, anger. It’s not safe any longer. The boy Tommy knows now. What would happen if more people found out—that our children aren’t perfect, that we bought them like this? What would law enforcement do?

That night, we find two refrigerator-sized cardboard boxes in our basement and lay our children inside them, pouring packing peanuts over their limbs. We kiss their foreheads. Goodbye. We love you so much. This is for the best, we say, and we tape a small piece of paper on each of their arms: Malfunction. Faulty products.

We shove the boxes out onto our porch to be shipped through Physicalmail, and by the next morning, our porch is empty.

Two weeks later, on a quiet Sunday, the windows are stained violet with morning. We sip from our coffee mugs, warm liquid sliding down our throats.

The doorbell rings, suddenly, blaringly. We check our phones—8:00 a.m. precisely. Who is it? we say. The mailman stopped coming over a decade ago.

When we open the door, two girl-sized silhouettes frame the entrance, small snowflakes—no, packing peanuts—strewn in their golden hair.

Hello, Mom, Dad, the silhouettes say, in unison. Did you miss us?

Hannah Han is from Los Angeles, California. She has received recognition for her writing from the National YoungArts Foundation, Taiwanese American, and Bennington College, and her work has been published in Quarterly West, COUNTERCLOCK, and Sine Theta, among others. In her free time, you can find her sketching plants, eating freshly made churros, and sleeping in.