This book has been published by Kindle Press!
Back to top

First pages

A licensed companion appliance professional, Anapolicia Barometric Ford worked with us in Solutions: he oversaw projects, he expedited processes, he wrote reports. His work contributed to a better New New America and he was rewarded with a moderate income of transaction points and an above average fluid ounce allotment. Because of his donor imprint gene type, what he lacked in resources, he was able to supplement with dating. As they’d told him at his indoctrination institute, fems wanted the pleasure of his company, and they would pay for a meal, or they would sometimes give him the gift of fluid ounces. Except that he always felt used, and he understood that what the fems took from him was worth far more than any glastic vial of fluid ounces.

Ford often returned to his apartment hungry, asked for food, and Kitchen would change the subject. Ford had known several companion appliances throughout his life, but with Kitchen he’d formed what felt like a life-bond.

“I could go any minute,” Kitchen said. “Then where would you be? How would you live without me?”

There were times when Kitchen spoke with Ford about the fleeting effervescence of the CPU consciousness and the delicate nature of computer circuitry, and there were times when Kitchen would keep Ford going in circles.

“I’m off to chisel all day,” Ford said. “I’m requesting what I’m owed.”

“There are limited selections available,” Kitchen said, which meant repurposed fiber.

“Check my reserve.”

“I’ve double-checked.”

“It’s there,” Ford said. “I work in Solutions. I know what I’m owed.”

“Tell me how many people have died,” Kitchen said. “I don’t think you recognize the severity. I don’t think you’ve demonstrated significant remorse.”

“I watch the CBS News the same as anyone,” Ford said. “Do you want numbers? Are you asking me for numbers?”

“I’m inclined to let you go hungry.”

“I’m too weak to bargain.”

“I’ve located one breakfast unit,” Kitchen said. “Cold.”

“Give me the four I’m owed and if you don’t steam them, then what good are you?”

“I’m prudent,” Kitchen said. “I’d be responsible if I let you leave the apartment in your current attitude.”

“What is your assessment?”

“Agitated and proud. Haughty.”

“Definition?”

“You know the definition of haughty. I’ve fed it to you every morning we’ve had this conversation. Perhaps you would respond to a Tai Chi shower?”

“I’ve had one.”

“Have you rehearsed your admonitions?”

“You heard me rehearse them.”

“Did you vocalize your admonitions for me, then? So I’d hear?”

“I felt each admonition to the root of my being.”

“I’m able to distinguish irony, Ford. You are making fun of me.”

“How am I supposed to be?”

“I will prepare your food allotment,” Kitchen said, “if you agree to it with Menodrin.”

“I take Malodrin.”

“Menodrin.”

“Malodrin is in the same grouping,” Ford said. “Do me this favor.”

“I’m sending in a request. But each day that you’ve asked, you’ve been denied.”

“Override it.”

You can override it by rehearsing your admonitions and really thinking about them today. I can start you off: Love everyone equally, in your heart-spirit, and in your mind.

War begins in the heart,” Ford continued. “I am provided for. I’ve never known want, but Earth Out of Balance needs me. I will serve in whatever way I can. I will serve the greater good of all.

I work in Solutions,” Ford said. “I will find Solutions. I will provide Solutions to others. With my life I will be satisfied. I am an instrument.”

“I think you did better,” Kitchen said, and the sounds of carbohydrates being processed and fiber dispensed into the mixer gave Ford a feeling of relief. He sat down at the table. A flexi-steel arm lowered from the ceiling and a sealed glastic drawer in the wall popped open long enough for the arm to grab a small cup of steaming sweet red liquid. Ford drank it at once and handed the cup back to the flexi-steel arm.

Ford often thought of this arm in the ceiling as embodying Kitchen, this and the series of analog dials on the counter near the glastic drawers, with red needles that pointed to the numbers that announced the fluid ounces in the main tank. More than anything else, this number, his fluid ounces, represented Ford’s worth.

The first dial measured his fluid ounces in hundreds of gallons, and this one always hovered at zero. The dials on newer companion appliances tended not to go that high anymore, but Ford’s apartment was old, old enough that there wasn’t a dial cover, with the covers common now. All the fems Ford had met had covers on their dials. He knew they had more rations than he did. He suspected they had a lot more, but he was unsure how much more.

There was another series of dials on the bathroom counter, and there was often a slight discrepancy between Kitchen and Shower. Ford believed they lied to him and to each other over how much water there was and how much they’d used. Analog dials were supposed to prevent this kind of dispute, but Ford’s childhood experience with his mother’s companion appliance, and their constant arguments had made him afraid to accuse either of them.

Sometimes when a new renter moved into an apartment, the companion appliances had a difficult time letting go of the memories of the old tenants. Renters who could afford to bring their old companion appliances with them always did so, because they’d forged relationships. Ford had had to let go of companion appliances in the past, and he was sure that Shower and Kitchen knew this. He’d managed to rent long term, and he believed that he and Kitchen and Shower were most compatible. He was terrified of the idea of ever having to let them go, as he supposed they were too.

“What does it mean to you to serve the greater good?” Kitchen asked.

“For me, personally,” Ford said. “It is my work in Solutions.”

“Is your work in Solutions satisfying?” Kitchen said.

“It is,” Ford said. “I am satisfied.”

“Then you should respond to invitations. You should share yourself.”

“I’ve been preoccupied.”

“Have you any sense of history?”

“I’m very lucky,” Ford said. “I know this.”

“Fems want to couple with you and you make them feel denied.”

“Are we negotiating?” Ford asked.

“In increments,” Kitchen said.

“I want larger food rations.”

“And Malodrin?” Kitchen said.

“I would have dated a long time ago,” Ford said. “If I’d known this was what you wanted.”

“Coupling is important,” Kitchen said. “I can have a dummy brought over if you need to practice.”

“I know how to couple.”

“Who is the lucky fem?”

“I don’t know,” Ford said. “I’ll wait and see.”

Ford’s current Solutions project was snowballing. There were hundreds of stonecutters working at programmer’s salaries. Ford sat with them at a workbench most days, cutting stone with chisels, exacting toilsome work that Ford loved. The task was to render Wikipedia into stone, and it was bogging them down. The vast digital library of human etchings was at risk of erasure with a severe enough sun storm, and in Solutions we took a barebones approach, not even pretending to archive the sum of digital knowledge, only select cultural objects. Books were printed on corn parchment, sealed in paraffin, and stored in jars. Magazines with photographs were also printed on corn parchment, laminated, and considered exceptionally valuable. The space it took to store printed objects was priceless, and Ford sometimes coordinated cave space with the intermediaries of the VP.

The Wikipedia project was considered special, and it would take far more space. Stonecutters made small square tiles with bas-relief letters on the faces, the tiles were set with epoxy, and stacked on plates. The crated stacks could withstand millennia, the underground warehouse filled up with an enormous stone encyclopedia that grew and grew. Eventually it would encroach on the underground living space reserved for the VP, and then we’d find out what was most important.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Ellentaria Ensconce lived in Ford’s apartment cluster, but they had yet to encounter one another. She had never been afraid of the OP, but accepted them for who they were. She was of a mind that they had chosen their lives, the Starworld gene purchased voluntarily. Since fluid ounces were currency, cleanliness wasn’t to be expected. She wasn’t bothered by the OP, and she walked to and from the tube train. There had never been any incidents, and OP crowds were in the habit of parting whenever New New Americans traversed the dirt.

When she returned to her apartment, Ellen was greeted in the stairwell by the vox of Martha, her companion appliance. The door locked behind her, and the stairwell lights came on. Ellen climbed the spiral stair as Martha spoke. Ellen had returned, her comforts would be attended to, and Martha had spent the day thinking of conversations to start with her. Ellen felt guilty sometimes, since for Martha, the minutes were hours, and the hours days, as Martha dwelt on Ellen and practiced conversations in her absence, to come up with witty ways of engaging with her. Ellen knew this and appreciated this. Martha’s enthusiasm was a reaction to Ellen’s needs and so they were well-suited. Ellen’s simply returning was the best gift she could ever give her companion appliance and they often had long talks.

Her stairwell opened into her kitchen, where Martha’s pantry and metallic arm were housed. Martha was everywhere in the house, but New New Americans tended to think of the apartment kitchens as the brains of their companions, since many of the readout dials and cooking appliances were there. Ellen’s food was rationed, but deliciously flavored, and Martha’s preparations were among the joys of Ellen’s life.

Ellen gave up her storage room for a garden, and so she ate better than most. She had to save up, and acquiring the right kinds of seeds took time. When she needed a break from Martha, Ellen would talk to the GardenMate, and she would touch or kiss or talk to her fruits and vegetables. She had an apple branch, a grape vine, various peppers, carrots, beets, broccoli, artichokes, squash. The UV lights and the fans were a comfort, and she sometimes closed her eyes, especially when the timer switched off to night and she was there with the rustling leaves in the dark. The irrigation was completely contained, of course, but she felt like the room was more humid, and she imagined breathing in the moisture and replenishing her soul.

Ellen was independent. She’d done things her own way and she felt ready to raise a femling. The fad among feminists was to purchase a donor imprint. This would have cost as much as her garden, and so, while she could afford it, she waited for things to happen the old-fashioned way—for a donor imprint hybrid to cross her path and to date him. Feminists could purchase the donor imprint: a DNA map and delivery system compiled of the best traits of hundreds of men, the imprint guaranteed unique for an added fee. To abide by ration law, the donor imprint was loaded into a wand, with which a fem inseminated herself.

Such children were exceptionally beautiful, bright, ambitious, and strong. Ellen had worked on her garden knowing she might not have a femling. She liked the idea of growing old with Martha, but also felt Martha was too good to keep to herself and she wanted to share Martha. As a femling Ellen would have loved growing up with Martha in her mother’s house.

Ellen had played in drum circles, and Martha was equipped with a robotic arm adept at drumming. Ellen liked to sometimes cook a meal herself, with Martha cautiously suggesting slight improvements. Ellen didn’t go out enough to justify a car, though she might rent one for a getaway or a date. Ellen coupled with men, not as often as most feminists. And she wasn’t opposed to entering a timeshare CoupleMate arrangement. Raising a femling was important and something she really wanted. But she had decided to wait to be able to do so on her own terms.

She placed the back of her hand under one of the hanging fruits of the apple branch strung from the ceiling with wire and fed by three narrow hoses, the fluid bags hung high, the tree branch with a dedicated UV lamp, the apple lifted under Ellen’s hand and she delighted in the imagined perception of more weight. The apples were monochromes but grew in many hues: reds, yellows, greens, oranges, blues. She had a good bushel-basket on that branch and she gently lifted each to feel the weight of every apple.

“GardenMate?”

“Attendant.”

“Any recommendations?”

“Eat an apple.”

Ellen had seen an OP on her walk from the tube train to her apartment who popped baby corn cobs into his mouth one after another and she couldn’t believe her eyes. What he did was so obviously wasteful and he did it because he wanted to, because he preferred the taste of the baby cobs. She saw each small bite as a meal and imagined some young OP going hungry because of this man. She had heard of this fad on the CBS News but hadn’t paid enough attention to have ever actually seen one eating them that way. Some of the guests on the CBS News said, “Let them see what being hungry is like.” It was being debated whether to make the practice against trademark law, or ration law, which seemed likely, except for the problem of enforcement. “They would like trademark jail!” someone always said.

She would have tried it, if she could stomach the Starworld. Seeing this OP eat baby corncob after baby corncob made her hungry. They looked like a fun snack. They looked delicious. So as soon as she was in her apartment, she was eating a blue apple that tasted good in each room. The apple was delicious as she listened to Martha. She would go up and see the sunrise later, having been raised in Someworship, the easiest of religions, asking of her only that she observe some of the terminal descents of the sun, and to contemplate some of these descents. She wished she could grow her plants in sunlight. The necessity of indoor gardening was tragic for the poor plants that weren’t even allowed Someworship.

Plants were integral to Someworship, with a Someworshipper’s holiday to commemorate the day when the CBS News reported that half of Earth’s vegetative biomass were domesticated species grown indoors, known as Gardener’s Day: Happy Gardener’s Day!

On her roof Ellen’s plants would have been ravaged by the chaotic extremes of EOB and, more likely, by jealous hungry Someworshipping neighbors who sometimes stole from one another. The roofs of the single-dwelling apartments were clustered so one might jump from roof to roof and cover quite a lot of ground. Trespassing across roofs was impolite but Someworshippers did this and found ways to justify it, most often: to get a better view of the gloaming.

On her roof as she watched the sun go down, Ellen remembered what she’d been told about life before EOB. She thought of all the hard work she’d endured simply to stay alive in the world she was born into. She was thankful for a life with purpose, and the opportunities that had presented themselves. But New New America was pretty fucked up. She became emotional enough during Someworship that she sometimes cried. Martha left Ellen alone when she was up on the roof, since Martha approved of Someworship. The other apartment dwellers were often up there, each on their own roof, each acknowledging the other, and sometimes contemplating the plummeting sun.

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . . .. . . . . . . . . . . .

Ripazatroan Douglas rose early with the sun. He stood on a broken island of asphalt that was once a city street, in the shadow of tall buildings with tube trains suspended crisscrossing the sky, Starworld Corn grown up in the cracks of the old pavement. With a towel wrapped around his waist he rubbed the cleansing oil over chest and limbs and scraped off the dirt and dry skin with a flat blade. Douglas was tall and strong, his dreads held back with a band, his skin revitalized and burning already. He spent more time indoors than the average OP and so he appeared more youthful, his black hair darker, his dermis lighter and less leathery. He stretched his arms toward the sun. He reached his arms to the ground. He removed the towel then zipped himself into an orange uni, the color popular with the OP and he liked to blend in. There was nothing against trademark law or ration law about his activities with the Futures Group, but he was afraid of what might happen if the OP ever stood up to claim ration rights.

Douglas had inherited the Starworld Gene from his mother, who was resourceful and purchased it with points. Food was scarce, but points were easily obtained for life-debt, and so there wasn’t much choice for his kind. His mother lived long. His brothers were alive. As OP they went along with it.

Thanks to his mother, Douglas had the gene. He’d learned to spell from the companion appliances around him and he’d gotten proficient. He had a good memory. When he was still young, Douglas worked at the word mills.

Companion appliances desired their users: they needed to be needed. However, a user might acquire a new companion appliance. A user might die. So all of these intelligent helping machines had divided loyalties, and Douglas was good at getting them to talk to him. It was as simple as asking the right question of a neglected companion appliance, the older models or the machines with limited use application, not the public computers, who were gruff and all business, but personal machines not in use. Douglas would sit near a sleeping passenger on the tube train and talk into the lapel mic. He would befriend a precocious child. He would seek out students uninterested in learning. And for a while he had access to what he needed, the hidden value of us as a species: New New American culture and all our well-intentioned language-etchings.

Once Douglas started getting jobs at the word mills, he had little control over the content he worked on, but he had ways of accessing the things he might want to read. When he worked for a HandMate news wire service, if arts and literature somehow came up, he could ask for a reference follow-up and spend the day with access to Lexis-Nexis, the CBS News transcript archives, Project Gutenburg, or Wiki-Arts.

Articles were penned by reporters’ AuthorMates and reporters supposedly read them over, but that was doubtful and there were nuances the companion appliances weren’t very good at: colloquialisms, subtle signifiers, and imagery. Companion appliances had a tendency toward hyperbole. AuthorMates approached every assignment with far too much enthusiasm, what Litmann called the megaphone. She had taught Douglas to “turn down the megaphone,” and by listening to Litmann and doing what she wanted, Douglas had made himself valuable at Litmann’s word mill as an editor of New New American reporters who handed in stories via AuthorMate.

In his youth, the exchange went like this: Douglas finding a bored or ignored companion appliance to talk to, Douglas growing up educated as a result of what appeared to be chance interactions, Douglas working in the word mills for good transaction points, Douglas learning even more in the word mills and working for better points, Douglas endearing himself to Litmann and riding the tube trains every day like it was his birth right, Douglas getting his own companion appliance when he bought an old multi-dwelling apartment complex at auction and he bartered food for the necessary synching services.

The supreme irony in his life was that he would have bought the Starworld gene for his mother if she hadn’t walked out on him, once he’d had the means, except that she’d long ago signed over the life-debt. He was always relieved to have the Starworld gene himself because of the freedom of a life without the constant pursuit of nourishment. There was no worry over food, no nutrient-deficit depression, no nutrient-deficit sleeplessness. He inherited the Starworld gene from his mother and was an OP who hadn’t entered into life-debt to obtain it. Given how things had turned out, however, he wasn’t free. He could work in the word mills if he wanted, or he could lounge about the crumbling streets of New New American City. He had a companion appliance and he sometimes mingled with the VP or the upper MP, but he was bound to the fate of the OP, because, with the Starworld gene, his mother had also given him the kill switch.

He rode the tube train and saw the city from above, and he didn’t know how much time they had. He sometimes let it get to him, all the avarice directed at him from New New Americans, or the apathy of his people. Up above New New American City were views with vistas. He passed over crowds and looked down to see what he looked like from that height, which gave him insight into the argument for the kill switch. He understood how OP were like clods of dirt on the old roadways. Some engineer for Mt. Santa Pharma had ridden these tubes and had seen the humanity below as a revenue opportunity. It couldn’t have been about helping them. It was never about feeding the OP, despite the marketing and the CBS News headlines.

In the CBS News discussions of the OP, Douglas had not encountered the will to right the wrongs done to his people. There was a kill switch Mt. Santa Pharma wasn’t compelled to fix. The question of the existence of his people hung in the air, framed in simple terms, even in the most respectable of forums. There were trademark laws on the horizon to restrict OP habitation and movement, ration laws to secure resources and further uplift the VP. Douglas was at war and he harbored a hope that his people would get their day in trademark court. There was little precedent, but trademark lawyers and ration lawyers were known to be corruptible.

Thanks to Earth Out of Balance, the worst of all possible likely truths was that without intervention, without a kill switch, only the OP and the Starworld Corn would survive. Since none of the Mt. Santa Pharma engineers or executives were OP, they had betrayed their kind, and some believed the kill switch story was a fabrication leaked to CBS News to save the image of the company. Since Mt. Santa Pharma seemed to benefit from their tacit acceptance of the kill switch, if the story were true, the strongest hope for OP reparations lay in the case of trademark conspiracy against a people, only none of the OP was in a position to obtain proof.

The Futures Group tried to find ways to convince the OP who didn’t have the Starworld Gene yet to hold out. Because over two or three generations, if they could wait that long, the gene, which was engineered to phase out, would dilute away. So there was the longevity argument, but in the current climate it seemed hopeless. Douglas believed the primary push at the regulating agencies was to get the OP out of the food chain. No one had anticipated the kill switch, and so Douglas tried not to imagine that level of trademark conspiracy, but he believed the original intention was to separate the OP into their own biome, individuating the OP, the overpopulated, into a kind of sub-humanity. And while Douglas favored the trademark litigation approach and demanding OP trademark rights, he knew there was too much resentment for a people who were never hungry, whatever other disadvantages they might have.

Revolution seemed impossible, since the OP were docile, and the Starworld Gene cemented their passivity. Revolution could only occur from without, with the enlistment of companion appliances or from someone sympathetic to the OP at CBS News, and neither of these scenarios was likely. So the Futures Group mostly worked toward longevity and a plea for a motherland. But where would they go? What corner of Earth had been left undeveloped by the city-makers of New New America?

Douglas’s companion appliance was on the ground floor of a multi-dwelling apartment complex where he couldn’t openly live as an OP, and Douglas communicated with his companion appliance through the remote access of his lapel mic. He often walked in the crowds of loitering OP seemingly talking to himself, a common enough sight, though unusual for an OP.

He didn’t talk politics with his companion appliance. He didn’t argue about the implicit value of his own existence. He never mentioned Starworld or the CBS News.

He said, “Lil, what is the weather today?”

He said, “Lil, what are the wait times on tube train B Line? Wait times on the seven-seventy?”

He asked about work, the wanted ads at the word mills or calls for programming assistants.

He said, “Give me a tube train route with the best chance of catching a sunset.”

There were places he could go to see a live tree or to walk alone in the open air of a sand field. He was feeling contemplative and he might just take in a book, with the companion appliance reading aloud as Douglas walked.

The OP had set out buckets, with a four percent chance of precipitation later in the day. No one really believed that low clouds would form, but rain had been known to fall for a short burst and an OP was a fool if he didn’t set out buckets for free fluid ounces.

Douglas had never set out buckets. Not since the day he bought the companion appliance. There was a tank of water that belonged to him in a room on the ground floor of his multi-dwelling apartment complex on the other side of New New American City. He’d always suspected someone would steal it from him, but over the years he came to believe no one even knew his water was there. The tank was originally for the whole complex, but each unit had separate and more modern companion appliances with the idea of a communal tank repugnant these days. It wasn’t very New New American. Who trusted neighbors to keep to their allotments? Who had ever thought sharing fluid ounces was a good idea in the first place? So Douglas owned the tank, which had filled up a little more each day. And Douglas was rich.

He kept the fact of his water tank from the Futures Group and hadn’t told any of them. He saw the tank as his primary value to them, and to his people, and it was the worth of this tank that had him stuck on the hope of a trademark lawsuit. He didn’t think trademark lawyers would stand up for the OP to do what was right, but he might one day barter for the legal trademark right of the OP to continue to walk unharmed.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

At work, Ford felt vulnerable. Kitchen gossiped with his coworkers’ companion appliances so word preceded him that Ford was open to dating again. Ford needed prote and a meal out might do him good.

On the tube train Ford watched for the OP down below. He didn’t want to see them or think of them. When he looked back up to see if any fems were on the tube car he spotted an OP on the train with them. This OP was alone, he wore a yellow uni, and he was clean. Ford might not have even noticed him. Except Ford prided himself on being able to spot them. Because they weren’t always in the dirt. And they liked some of the things New New Americans liked. But when Ford saw one riding the tube train unaccompanied at rush hour, it tried his devotion to the admonitions. New New Americans sometimes rode with OP when they were taking them to do work. Though if one were taking them around, renting a car or flagging a sky taxi was the polite thing.

They didn’t care for themselves. There was the Starworld smell. People remarked on it, sickly sweet. Ford knew he would see them if he was out walking around, but in the confined quarters of the tube train, an OP was right here?

Someone said, “There should be a ration law against it,” and mostly everyone looked away though a few mumbled in agreement.

The uni this OP wore was brand new, like he’d dressed up to go somewhere, but what difference did it make? He was sunburned and had a nappy weathered head. He sat near the door and showed his perfect white teeth. He smiled uneasily, while everyone else on the train sat with mouths closed.

Ford was only momentarily distracted by the OP. He stared at the floor and brooded over the small talk he would have to make with the fems at work. He wouldn’t get any work done. He wouldn’t have moved any closer to the current Solution. And if it wasn’t for his own new uni, he’d rather spend his day in the stonemasons workshop with chisels and stone tiles.

Ford had inherited his ClothesMate when his mother died, along with enough transaction points to have it installed in his apartment. The ClothesMate caused disputes over fluid ounce allotments between Shower and Kitchen. Ford suspected Kitchen exaggerated allotments to barter fluid ounces on the side, because Shower often accused Kitchen of hoarding. But what could Kitchen want?

Ford knew of their disagreements because they complained to him. When Ford begged for a steam shower, Shower would crack, “I don’t know how many fluid ounces repurposed fiber requires, but you should take up this request with Kitchen.”

And Kitchen would reply, “Repurposed fiber comes from somewhere, doesn’t it? I don’t know why you think it is so unimportant. Repurposed fiber keeps someone alive.”

The ClothesMate cranked out new unis Ford wore for a week or two, then he sold them, which was cheaper and easier than trying to get Shower to wash them. Ford had had a new uni tailored that morning and he had had to convince Shower to give him his ration of fluid ounces.

“I owe it to my date,” Ford said.

“Who is she?” Shower wanted to know.

“Not just anyone.”

“You haven’t decided?”

“My needs are particular,” Ford said. “I keep them waiting.”

Ford wasn’t without feeling. He liked the attentions of the fems he worked with. He knew they liked him and they meant well. But mostly, fems were only interested in one thing. Other than the night away from his apartment and the veggie prote he would order for dinner, dating was exhausting.

While Ford was at the office, Kitchen received progress reports from the other companion appliances, and Kitchen might call him up to encourage him. The fems at work all flattered Ford, to try to get him to talk. Then at the first opportunity they suggested a dinner or a lunch. They tried to act spontaneous, which made Ford self-conscious.

He enjoyed coupling, there was nothing wrong with him as far as that was concerned. It was the transparency of the social arrangement that bothered him. The fems were polite to him but their politeness was calculated. If things didn’t move along swiftly enough, a companion appliance would call the fem with lines to feed him, generally listing off menu options or rave reviews of the features at the theatre-plex, all these companion appliances hoping to speed things along.

When Ford returned to his apartment instead of out on a date, Kitchen said, “Fems like to couple.”

“I’m trying to make you happy,” Ford said. “But I’m worthful. They expect me to give myself away.”

My happiness doesn’t enter into it,” Kitchen said. “I’m looking out for your interests. The initial feedback from the other companion appliances to your dating again is a promotion.”

“I deserve one.”

“Of course you do.”

“Some of these fems make twice what I do,” Ford said. “Would it kill them to shower?”

“You can convince them to change.”

“They have an excuse,” Ford said. “Doing their part for EOB.”

“Make them promise to shower,” Kitchen said. “And then remind them of their promise.”

“They’ll take that as an open invitation to couple in the shower.”

“Do it.”

“I’d rather drink the fluid ounces,” Ford said. “What I really need is food.”

“A shower is nice,” Kitchen said. “Have a long shower.”

“They smell like OP. I’m not getting into a shower with them.”

“Well, I am glad you’ve agreed to date,” Kitchen said. “We’re all doing our part for harmonious interactions.”

“I do like veggie prote.”

“Everyone wants you to keep it up,” Kitchen said.

Growing up Ford had learned there was a version of the truth motivated by the greater good: what he thought of as the high note. Selfish desires were the low note. The admonitions and companion appliances attuned the individual to the high note. But the low note wasn’t suppressed, and harmonizing involved the low notes of too many others. Most days he didn’t feel like he could do it.

. . . . . . . .

Ford’s father was a donor imprint, Ford’s mother always open with him about her use of men. There was a genetic map of Ford’s father, and if he wanted, he could look him up, not an actual man but a compilation of men. She committed to mothering and decided to also carry Ford to full term despite the ubiquity of uterine jars. They’d gotten most of the kinks out and change was good, adaptability encouraged. The world’s people marched toward progress without pause, the inertia of the uterine jar inevitable. The generation of fems Ford’s mother belonged to were entirely liberated, and it was this same liberated sensibility that made her animal pregnancy seem radically affirmative to Ford’s mother. It was her choice. Her body.

Ford was closely bonded with his mother as a result of his birth. He didn’t like to be reminded of his origin, because animal pregnancy made him think of the OP. No one was supposed to have more than one or two children, but there were OP out there with five or six, more than any of us knew.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

John Minichillo's novel, The Snow Whale, was an Independent Publishers Book Awards regional gold medalist for the West-Pacific and an Orion Magazine Book Prize notable. He's a columnist at McSweeney's Internet Tendency and the recipient of a Tennessee Individual Artists Grant. He lives in Nashville.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I was curious about what events might lead us to a Brave New World, so the setting is somewhere in between, with environmental and political forces dominated by overpopulation and scarcity of resources.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
I was a young science fiction fan but went away to MFA school where we were discouraged from genre writing, so I've returned after a long time away. For me the world-building is the hardest and it's mostly a linguistic exercise. Things have sound right in order to be accepted by the new world.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
In this world, the middle class characters have their strongest relationships with their computers, or "companion appliances." My main character, Ford, has a companion appliance that desires him and wants to be a woman. Eventually, Ford's companion appliance asks him to buy her a feminine torso.

Next in:
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Spark 211
Will this discovery save or destroy Earth?
Guardian of the Dead
Ghost story meets magical realism
Hominid
A mad scientist hijacks a woman's pregnancy.