In the early 90’s I read a short story about a boy (protagonist). I cannot remember his name (so let’s call him Adam) or his age, but I think he was about twelve years old. Adam was awoken by the sound of babies crying. He follows the sound down a corridor where we witnesses robots taking care of newborn babies. I don’t remember the exact number, but there were between twelve to sixteen babies and I am certain that the ratio of male to female was exactly even (not counting Adam). Adam sees human faces projected on the wall above each newborn. The projected faces are making “cooing” sounds to the babies as they are being taken care of (i.e. diapers changed, being bottle fed, etc.) A disembodied voice then identifies itself to Adam as an AI computer. The AI tells Adam that he in a spaceship that has left Earth and is headed to a habitable world in another galaxy (I don’t remember the name of the destination). The ship AI asks Adam if he would like to hold/feed the babies. Adam spends the rest of the ‘day’ visiting with the babies. At the end of the ‘day’ the ship AI instructs Adam to go back to his room have something to eat and go to sleep, and Adam complies. The next day Adam is awoken by the sound of children laughing. He went down the same corridor as the day before, but the infant nursery is gone. In its place is a room perfectly designed for the children of about two or three years old he sees playing within. Upon counting the children, Adam realizes that they are the same babies he visited with the day before. The ship AI invites Adam to interact with the children. Adam spends the rest of the day interacting and playing with the children. At the end of the day the ship AI instructs Adam to go back to his room, get something to eat and go to sleep. Again Adam complies.

This cycle is repeated every day by Adam and each time the children are a year older. Eventually Adam wakes up and is the youngest person on the ship. The AI still insists that Adam spend each day interacting with the (now) adults onboard the ship. At the end of each day Adam always complies and goes back to his room and ‘sleeps’. At this point in the story the focus shifts from Adam to the young adults. From the young adults’ perspective, Adam is an enigma. They all remember him from their earliest childhood, but they now realize that Adam is not aging. At some point the young adults realize that the ship AI (they also know they’re aboard a spaceship) is for some unknown reason keeping Adam in suspended animation except for the one day a year that Adam visits them. Three or four of the young adults confront the ship AI about Adam and demand that he be released. The AI instructs the adults to stop perusing this line of questioning. The adults realize that the AI will not release Adam and formulate a plan to break through the ships defenses to release Adam from his captivity. The AI sternly warns the adults that it will take drastic steps to ensure the safety of Adam. Four of the adults ignore the warning and attempt to break through the ships defenses surrounding Adam. All four are killed by the AI for making the attempt. The AI warns the remaining adults that it will not hesitate to kill them all if they attempt to ‘rescue’ Adam. The remaining adults cease any further attempt to ‘rescue’ Adam.

The focus of the story once again returns to Adam.

The remainder of the story is about Adam watching the entire life cycle of the remaining adults on the ship. He sees them pair off as husband and wife, although none ever have children. He later sees the pair bonds shift and the whole range of human emotion this produces (i.e. divorce, infidelity, jealousy, anger, etc.) He witness them grow old, and he eventually witnesses them die of natural causes. After the last of the adults had died, the ship AI explains to that the stock of humans that he witnessed through their entire life cycle was inferior genetic stock. The AI tells Adam that he if the product of vastly superior human genetic stock, and that he is to be the leader of the genetically superior humans that will inhabit the world to which they are headed.

Adam asked the AI why he had to witness the inferior genetic stock. As nearly as I can remember, the AI tells Adam that he needed to see humanity at its worst so he would understand how humanity had destroyed earth, and why it was therefore necessary to perfect the human genome and populate another world. If anyone else has ever read this story and would share the title and author, it would be greatly appreciated.

  • 3
    nice description! sound very interesting!
    – A.D
    Commented Jun 22, 2013 at 16:29
  • 1
    I do wonder though. You say it's a short story? But then, what you wrote here is not a summary. It's the story!
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Jun 22, 2013 at 17:18
  • I'm not absolutely certain it was a short story. I really don't remember, I though it was part of an anthology of the year's best sci-fi short stories - but I don't remember the year, title, author or publisher. Commented Jun 22, 2013 at 19:06
  • I think I've read this as well. It may have been an episode in a longer work, or it may have been one of several stories on similar themes. I'm not positive the protagonist was male, however: it might have been a girl. Commented Jun 22, 2013 at 19:56

1 Answer 1


"Birthdays" by Fred Saberhagen, 1976. The boy's name is Bart.

I read this in Galaxy: the Best of My Years

Looking back, Bart could never clearly remember any part of his life before the day when the Ship first woke him from a long, artificially induced sleep, and guided him to the nursery to see the babies.

That day and the first few that followed were very confusing to live through. The Ship's machines, working with paint and glass and light, had made the nursery spacious-looking and cheerful. Bart counted twenty-four cribs. To count babies would have been harder, because only those who happened to be napping were in their beds. The rest crawled or sat or toddled on the soft-tiled deck, sending up a racket and getting underfoot of their attending machines and images. The babies were all the same age, just about a year old the day Bart first saw them. They wore white diapers, and some had on green hospital gowns like Bart's only of course smaller.

Bart was not tall for almost fourteen but he could easily lift one bare leg after the other over the low barrier the machines had placed to keep the little kids from tottering or crawling out of the nursery into the corridor.

The corridor led in one direction to Bart's small private room and in the other- so his memory, working in a new, selective way, informed him- to the rest of the habitable Ship.

The babies squalled, gurgled, blubbered, or took time out to stare in silence at the world. They made nothing much of Bart's coming in among them. The images that the machines kept projecting and moving around the infants were of solid-looking adult humans, speaking and smiling; they evidently took Bart to be just one more image. The babies reacted more strongly to the machines because of the physical contact they had with them.

"Pick one up, if you wish," the Ship said in his ear. It was able to project its conversation so there was no way of telling just what direction the words came from. The Ship's voice sounded human, but not quite male or female, not quite young or old.

Like a good obedient boy Bart bent to have a try at picking up a baby. The chubby belly felt cool against his hands above the papery diaper and the head of dark, scanty curls turned so that the liquid brown eyes could stare at him uncertainly.

"See how the machines hold them," counseled the Ship. "Their arms are of basically the same form as yours."

He shifted his grip.

"The prime directives under which I operate are very clear. One human parent, adoptive or real, is necessary to the successful maturation of children; images and machines are psychologically inadequate for optimum results.

Therefore, after receiving some elementary preparation for the role, you will serve as adoptive parent for the first generation of colonists."

  • Bart's memories were edited by Ship due to 'tragic and violent things'. The purpose of the 'inferior' children was to give Bart a course in human psychology.
    – Frock
    Commented Jun 22, 2013 at 20:39
  • I do not recall.
    – Frock
    Commented Jun 22, 2013 at 20:55
  • Frock, Thank you for sharing the answer. I've looked for this book Title/Author on and off for many years now. I'm glad I recently discovered this site. Commented Jun 23, 2013 at 1:24
  • You're welcome!
    – Frock
    Commented Jun 23, 2013 at 1:30

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