“Bios-Fear” by Charity VanDeberg

Miz Devastation, by Romeo Esparrago
Illustration: “Miz Devastation” © 2006 by Romeo Esparrago.

“We ordered a puppy today!” Sheri announced excitedly to her mother. The woman’s pudgy face on the screen wrinkled into a frown, lower lip nearly disappearing into the first of her many chins. Sheri knew telling her mother would be a bad idea.

“Well, I hope that goes well for you.” Years of oxygen therapy had turned the older woman’s voice to a high-pitched wail. But if you asked Sheri, her mother had always sounded that way when she was about to tell her daughter in exactly which way she had lost her mind this time. “Not to try to dissuade you, dear, but I heard on the news that those things are just crawling with disease and absolutely impossible to train. And what about the baby? I’m not saying that it’s dangerous to have that thing crawling around on the floor with her, but I would think about it, if I were you. What if it tore off her arm? Here, I’ll send you some things I’ve found.” The eyes looked down at the touchpad and squinted to find just the right evidence to send to her wayward daughter. Her fingers made some selections and she bit at her lip with perfect teeth.

Sheri attempted to hide her irritation with her mother. She held her features in a perfect imitation of interest and affection, learning long ago that it was the best way to deal with the woman. She fidgeted in her red faux-leather executive chair, adjusted the seams of her mini-skirt, and attempted to pull the rest of her long, brown hair into a ponytail. “Mom, I have a client coming in. Can I call you later?”

“Fine, but read what I sent you.” Just then, a small envelope icon appeared at the bottom corner of the screen, announcing that her mother’s bomb had just arrived.

“I will, Mom. I love you. I’ll tell Mike you called.” The screen went black and was quickly replaced with the company logo, a spinning dolphin balancing a globe on its nose. “Economology In Action!” scrolled along beneath it.

Sheri took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. She could use a sunbath after that. Maybe she would convince Mike to go with her to the club for a couple of hours. It would be nice to spend some time just lying under the lamps, absorbing the therapeutic neo-rays. But until then, she had work to think about. And she wasn’t lying about the client.

Sheri looked at the panel above her office door. The display read: 2:22:34 April 21, 2065. It rolled to show a second line, announcing that the current temperature was 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Chance of sun: 45%. Her appointment was at 3:00. She didn’t have enough time to visit the cafeteria. She opened the email from her mother.

The message included links to various stories about problems with Bios. “According to Dr. Livingstone,” one read, “biological beasts are the No. 1 cause of emotional and physical damage to youngsters. ‘Disease, defects, and untimely deaths are nearly impossible for our little ones’ psyches to handle. Not to mention the risk of Bio instability that could cause that adorable little friend to go suddenly berserk and attack, causing expensive and potentially irreparable damage to manufactured and biological children alike. Why put our loved ones through these things when it is so unnecessary?’” Another claimed that “not only is one putting oneself at risk by having these creatures in the home environment, but the Bio is being taken out of its natural surroundings, thereby inflicting psychological damage upon it, as well.” All of the others seemed to be along the same vein. She closed the message and peeked back up at the time panel just as a couple entered the room.

They were an attractive pair. The female was an early Susie model based on some 1950s television mother character. The male was human: short, plump, and balding, his dark hair brushed carefully over his forehead. He wore an iridescent navy-blue jumpsuit that brought out the color in his wife’s gingham dress and apron.

“You must be the Gutierrezes. Come in and sit down.” They took the seats across from Sheri and held each other’s hands, the man looking nervously at the metal desk. Sheri smiled warmly and reviewed the file that slid to the front of her terminal. “So, I see that your Susie is ready for Upgrade.” The man nodded and looked earnestly at the beautifully crafted face of his wife. “And you have requested to go with her.” Sheri peered curiously at the man. She had heard of cases like these, but hadn’t had one herself before now. “How old are you, sir?”

“I’m 38 in September. I have my birthday on Revolution Day.” His big eyes blinked slowly and he squeezed his wife’s hand tighter. Her expression didn’t change. Then again, it really couldn’t, could it.

Sheri folded her hands on the desk before her. “Mr. Gutierrez, you have a good 20 years or more left. I could get you another Susie, a newer one. Or maybe even the same model. Wouldn’t that be better than Upgrade?” The man’s eyes grew even wider and he shook his head from side to side. “No, I go with Susie,” he said simply. He looked away only when tears began pouring over his pudgy cheeks. Sheri knew it would be useless to appeal to the logical part of his brain. It was apparent that the emotional had already taken over.

Turning back to her screen, Sheri tapped a few keys, slid her finger across the touch screen and gave her retinal pattern to approve the transaction. “Your paperwork is being printed in the reception area. Good luck with Upgrade and thank you for choosing Economolists Limited.” Sheri stood, smiled, and shook the man’s hand. With his other, he led his silent wife through the door to the awaiting secretary.

Sheri settled back into her seat and stared at the windowless walls. On one hung a large, old-fashioned family portrait framed in created oak. Mike’s brown hair was brushed to the side, his blue eyes sparkled joyfully. In his athletic arms, he held the baby who wore some sort of Christening gown the costume department had provided. She was smiling. The baby always smiled, unless she was sleeping. Behind her husband and child, Sheri stood. Her hair was red then, and short. Her round face shone as the lights reflected off her oily skin. Her large right hand rested on Mike’s left shoulder. A roll of her belly fell over the elastic belt tied around the short red dress. Her thighs pressed together, showing hills and valleys of cellulite. Did people ever really look like that Susie model?

Turning back to the computer, she pulled up the photos of the puppy she had ordered. He was so cute! Black and white and tan, some sort of hound she had never heard of. “Certified Bio,” the headline read. “We call him Charlie. This two-month-old male is of pure Bio stock. Not one clone in the family. Guaranteed housetrained, great with children (Bio and Manu)! We know you’ll love him.” Sheri did too. She needed something warm and alive in her life, even if it did bring with it the risk of disease, emotional trauma, and physical pain. Ten years ago, when she had first started feeling disconnected and helpless, her mother had said a husband would help. But other than the mechanical sex, predictable rotation of meals, and sterile apartment, she felt that nothing had changed. Her mother then suggested a baby. When the baby was delivered, Sheri looked into that little face, felt her finger wrapped in that tiny hand, and thought maybe it would work. But after five years, she was still cute and cheerful and still a baby.

Charlie, though…. He would need her and miss her when she was gone. He would cry when she got home late and lay his head on her lap when she sat at her home terminal. He would also get old and die. But so would she. Sheri would much rather go to the afterlife with Charlie than to Upgrade with Mike. *

About the Author: Charity VanDeberg is a generally unknown writer who has spent the last few years writing freelance music reviews and interviews for various magazines and websites. She believes that reading a book a day will keep the psychiatrist away and always drinks a liter of Diet Pepsi by noon. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two children, two cats, and a dog.
(c) 2006 Charity VanDeBerg charity@wargorl.com
Web site: www.wargorl.com 

About the Artist: Romeo Esparrago was the first artist-on-a-chip produced by Intel. This one-of-a-kind prototype continues to function perfectly till this day and has never been turned off.
(c) 2006 Romeo Esparrago

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