Tech by VICE


In the future, you're going to need a backup baby.

by Rich Larson
May 26 2016, 2:00pm

Art by Jason Arias

They grow up so fast, don't they? But do they have to? Maybe not. Then again, depends on who you mean by "they." -the Ed.

"Oh, little baby, you will never remember life in binary," I say, lifting my niece up into the air towards the ornate and useless ceiling fan she apparently likes to stare at far more than she likes the little holotoys or the rippling nanoscuplture (Unnamed Piece #37) that I brought with me as presents. "You will never remember when all you could be was happy or unhappy, awake or asleep, wet or dry."

I give her a tentative sniff to make sure of the last bit. She stares up at the fan, transfixed.

"Life gets complicated, Bessandra," I whisper, bouncing her a bit. "Don't be like Uncle Cal. Don't be a huge fuck-up. Okay?" That's a little solemn, so I balance it by hiding my face in my sleeve, then popping out. "Bessandra. Peekaboo!"

Attention diverted from the fan, she breaks into a gurgly baby smile, with her eyes so bright and blue and perfect she's almost cartoons. I feel guilty it took me so long to finally visit, and that I'm partly just fleeing the firebombed remnants of my latest relationship back in Vancouver.

I'm still holding Bessandra in the air, hoping my hands under her armpits are more comfortable for an infant than they would be for a full-size adult, when my sister walks in, also holding Bessandra.

I look between the two identical babies and hope my meds aren't responsible. "Uh, you had twins?" I say, even though I'm pretty sure she did not have twins—the past four months have been a non-stop Stream of one baby, not two. Covering that up would be a lot of work for a prank.

"Surprise," Maggi says dryly. "No, you're holding our SP."

"Your what?"

"Save Point," Maggi beams.

I heft my Bessandra again, as if she might feel heavier or have loose parts clunking around inside her all of a sudden, now that I know she's a synthetic android. "Why would you need a robot copy of your baby, Mag?" I demand. "No, don't tell me. The Rexroat-Carrows got one."

"Well, they did, yeah," Maggi says, settling her Bessandra on her hip. "But it's recommended by all kinds of experts now. Can you tell the difference?"

I shake my head.

Maggi grins. "She's in storage most of the time. Just brought her out to mess with you."

"But what's the… the point?"

"Ha." Maggi's Bessandra starts to kick. "Kids grow up too fast," she says simply. "Bessy's already a lot squirmier than when we made the SP. Crankier, too, because of the whole four-month sleep regression thing." Maggi cradles her and kisses the top of her head. "And soon she'll be a toddler, and I won't be able to hold her the same way anymore," she explains. "So, whenever I get sad and start missing that, I can just turn on the SP for a little while. Then turn it back off and store it again."

"That's crazy," I say, instinctively holding my Bessandra closer. "You're crazy."

"It's not," Maggi says, scowling a bit. "It's exactly like looking at old Stream feed or whatever, only more realistic. That's how they learn how to act, anyways. From the Stream. They upload all that footage right to their cute little robobrains."

I rub my hand over my Bessandra's soft head, imagining the whirr of circuitry beneath the surface. She looks so real, though.

"We're going to get another one for her first birthday, I think," Maggi says. "Maybe skip over the terrible twos and get the last one around three. After that I guess the brain's too complex and they can't simulate it very well."

"If she's a perfect copy, what does maker her any different from a real baby?" I ask, feeling kind of tight in my throat. She even smells real.

"Real babies don't have an off switch." Maggi smiles from the side of her mouth. Then she looks at me and narrows her eyes. "Hey, don't be all weird about this, okay? Like mom always says. Just because you're an artist doesn't mean you have to be weird about stuff."

"Okay," I say. "Let's, uh, let's turn it off."

The rest of the visit goes about as well as expected. In the mornings we play cards and experiment with feeding Bessandra her first solid foods—she spews the Greek yogurt back out, but seems to really like sweet potato. We reminisce about school days and all that, and it seems so crazy that Maggi has an honest-to-God kid now, and I tell her I can't even imagine what that must be like. I explain to her how things went so wrong with Blake, because I wasn't responsible enough and never would be, and how when you sit alone in an apartment long enough you start to forget you're a person.

In the evening, Maggi's programmer husband is home, and he's one of those tall handsome assholes who was born with a tie on. He can barely say the words "art school" without smirking, even though I bet I did more coding for the nanosculpture shit than he's done in his life.

When he walks by me rummaging in the medicine cabinet he gives me the same kind of pitying look that Blake did near the end, even though I was only looking for a bandaid because I cut my thumb helping Maggi with supper. That night I go out with some old uni friends to avoid him and get more sloshed than anticipated, and maybe piss on the rug in the bathroom a little bit. Wouldn't you know it, I'm leaving the next morning.

My bag is a little lighter without Unnamed Piece #37—which will probably get relegated to the guest room, if Maggi's dude has anything to say about it—but I'm still extra careful as I carry it out the door.

"Come back any time," Maggi says, giving me a hug.

"For sure," I say. "It was good. Really good." And that's true. I feel more like a person than I have for ages. Something about babies who don't know you've fucked up, or sisters who love you anyways, will do that.

As soon as I'm in the autocab, I take the second Bessandra out of my bag and find the tiny switch behind her ear. The cab, which isn't smart enough to find it weird when a customer pulls a baby out of their duffel bag, sends a few heart emotes onto my touch screen.

"Oh, how adorable," it coos. "What's his/her name?"

I lift her up, seeing the light in her bright blue eyes. "I'm shit at this," I say. "Give me a minute."