Last week, I gave my first reading of vN for the fine people of the Chiaroscuro Reading Series, (AKA the ChiSeries to those in Toronto). I was really proud to be asked, because it’s one of my favourite regular events in the city. I was also happy that we went with a Valentine’s Day theme for the evening, because then all the pieces I selected could be about human/vN relationships.
Here is another snippet, from the novel’s prologue, that is about the same thing.
Jack had lived through this same moment before, with human women.
Before meeting his wife (he insisted on referring to her that way, despite their lack of legal standing) at a tech show in Las Vegas, he had spent most of his dating life in what he called the Relationship Academy of the Dramatic Arts. Through a combination of patience, politeness, punctuality, and other qualities curiously absent from most of his competitors, he managed to attract the most volatile women in his available pool. They were the kind who called you in tears at three am, two years after the breakup, when their latest “performative bio-political modification” art project got infected. He offered these women the opportunity to calm down and sort things out. Things their moms had said. Things their dads had never said.
Charlotte was different. Charlotte was vN. She had no hormones to influence her decision-making, no feast-or-famine cycle driving dopamine or serotonin. She didn’t get cramps or headaches or nightmares or hangovers. She didn’t need retail therapy or any other kind. Her “childhood” was difficult – her mother abandoned her in a junkyard – but her spirit was as strong as the titanium sheathing her graphene coral bones, her personal integrity as impermeable as the silicone coating the polymer-doped memristors in her skin, her wit as quick as the aerogel currents wafting through the musculature of her body.
Charlotte was a self-replicating humanoid. Charlotte didn’t do drama. Until now.
That morning he’d found Charlotte in the same place he’d found her all week, curled up beside Amy in the hammock their daughter used for defragging. Their faces echoed each other: heart-shaped, with narrow little elfin chins and high cheekbones, delicate ears, couture eyebrows just as fair as the hair on their scalps. Depending on how much and how often they fed her, Amy would eventually grow to her clade’s default size and shape. At that point, she and Charlotte would be indistinguishable. Jack worried about that, sometimes. What if one day, years from now, he kissed the wrong one as she walked through the door?
For the past month, Jack had gone to bed alone. He only felt Charlotte slip in beside him in the dimmest hours of the morning. He always rolled over to hold her for the last few seconds before her body went completely still, untroubled by snores or twitches. That perfect stillness took some getting used to. At first, it felt like holding a corpse. Now he suspected he’d find human women too warm, too loud, too mobile.
When he’d asked last week, Amy said her mother spent most of her time looking up potential clademates online and mapping their locations. She had shared access to the map with Amy, but not Jack. The clusters glowed throughout the American southwest. The Border Patrol sometimes found them helping migrants across the desert. It was the failsafe, Amy said. They had to help, even when helping was illegal. With a flick of her wrist, she and the projector had put him down inside the canyons where the sightings took place, walking him down the blazing paths his wife had traversed only hours earlier. Amy had snagged the images from drones the Border Patrol shared with the public, but confessed to having already played them in an epic weekend game of Capture the Frag.
“You’re not supposed to play violent games,” he’d said. “They could trigger you.”
Amy ignored him and changed the subject. “Mom’s been away from her mom and her sisters so long, she doesn’t know how big the clade is. They don’t even know she’s replicated.”
“Iterated,” Jack corrected her.
Amy shrugged her mother’s shrug. Then she asked: “Dad, what’s an r-selector?”