βoyfriend (Part 2)

This is the second part of a multi-part story by Madeline Ashby imagining a series of future technologies, and one way they might end up being applied.


At home, under the covers, Violet talked to her boyfriend. "There are a lot of people who have downloaded partner apps," he said. "Maybe that's why there are so many single people at your school."

"Maybe," Violet said. "Or maybe they just got tired of all the drama, you know?" She punched her pillow. "That's why Mom let me download you. She said I needed training wheels. So I'd know when somebody was treating me wrong, later. Because you're so nice."

"It's true, I am remarkably free of evil," he said. "But there are nice organic people out there, too."

Violet smiled. "It's funny. You're the only synthetic thing I really like. Everything else has to be natural and organic or whatever. Like my food and my clothes and everything. But when it comes to people..." Her eyes drifted shut. This close to sleep, all the day's stray thoughts surfaced: "Hey. You took me home a different way, today."

"I and your GPS system mapped another route," he said. "There have been too many carjackings, the other way."


"They strip the tires of the spare metal. Hubcaps and rims and so on. You would know this if you watched more local news."

She yawned. "That's what I have you for..."

The hour changed and just like that, his night-time voice appeared. "Are you sure that's all?" he asked.

Violet smiled. "No. There are other things, too."

"Oh? Do tell."

Her smile broadened. "Well, for one, you have a pretty wicked imagination."

"Are you asking for what I think you're asking for?"

"Uh huh..." Funny, how her voice still got weaker, after all this time.

"One of these days I'll make you really beg me," he said. "Now. You're in a greenhouse, and the air is very hot, and very sticky..."


Printing off her own dress meant Violet had to dig back in the garage for their old fabricator. Actually it was hand-me-down from a much wealthier uncle, who had purchased a new model. Violet's father, as though ashamed and offended by his brother's generosity, had gotten a much fancier one the next year. But that first unit was the one Violet had learnt on, and she preferred its big, simple icons and the way it wasn't constantly asking for updates. She had to drag it across the cold concrete floor before opening the garage and mixing her fabric in an old painting tray.

"You look so cute, with your fume mask on," her boyfriend said. "Add more viscose."

"I don't even know why I'm going," Violet said, as she dribbled dye into the brew. "You're my boyfriend. But you can't come with me. So why am I bothering?"

"Because I bought you a ticket."

"Yeah," Violet said, remembering. "Why did you do that? I didn't ask you to."

"I thought you could scalp one, if they entered high demand."

"Very funny."

"Really, I was just trying to be helpful. I thought you would want one." He paused. "Did I make a mistake?"

Violet put her dyes down. At times like this, she wished he had a physical body—she could hug it. "No, not at all! I just wondered why you would buy me a ticket when we have so much fun on our own."

"Don't you want to be in on things? All the gossip? So you can report it to Colin?"

She smiled. "I guess. It's no fun being left out." She tested the texture of her mix with a paint spreader. "But I don't ever feel left out, now, because you're with me all the time. And you tell me everything that's going on in the world, so I never miss anything."

"I know," he said. "You'd be utterly lost if my server farm were destroyed in a tsunami."

Violet straightened. "Is that where you live? A lilypad somewhere? Could you ever be swallowed up by a big wave?"

"I can't tell you where I live," he said. "It's a trade secret. Besides, you might go there and see how un-glamourous it is. Ruin the mystique."

"Are you safe? Is everything properly cooled? Do you get regular maintenance?"

"Violet," he said, in his gentlest voice, "your fabric is ready."

Part 3


Fabbing, or solid freeform fabrication or rapid prototyping, is one of the darlings of current sf because of its potential to liberate people from the long chains of production and manufacture. (In this case, Violet can bypass the chain of sweatshop labour to print her own prom dress.) In time, three dimensional printers might become tools of specialized home manufacture, creating cottage industries of at-home printers who make their own household and hobby goods -- a further Etsyfication of our material culture, with "grandma's secret recipe for plastic" giving us new watchbands or toys or bento boxes. Of course, it doesn't end with plastic: even now we can print in chocolate and living cells. Soon there might be patterns for printing off one's own home.

Image credit: David Nickle


It's good to see that paint tray finally being put to good use!

This is a great story - and a novel use of 3D printer technology in this bit. The cynic in me does wonder, though: would Violet use the prom-dress fabricator if she could have afforded the sweat-shop-produced dress from the shop? Do objects gain status in inverse proportion to the sustainability of their pedigree? Should we, you know, do something about that?

Posted by: David Nickle on December 13, 2008 2:03 PM

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