SILICON BEACH

njoi’d, via Motherboard

There was no way I was going to waste the first 80-plus degree day in April being bored off my ass while jacked into the system at work. I didn’t care that my boss could check my vitals to see if I was lying when I called out sick—that’s supposed to be illegal but everyone knows the big companies still do it. It was April, the sun was strong, and it was time to oil up my muscles and get this ochre-tinged skin of mine closer to the chocolatey tone the women wouldn’t be able to resist.

A dopey grin spreading across my face, I marched across the sand towards the sparkling ocean. I found the perfect spot to plant my beach lounger—hot woman to my left, almost-as-hot woman (points taken off for the two brats she had hanging all over her) to my right. Everybody’s skin glistened with a thick helping of the sun block that was mandatory for entrance to the beach. I remember when I was a little kid and my grandmother showed me this old, plastic bottle of what they used for sun block back in her day. It said things on it like “WATER AND SWEAT RESISTANT,” and included instructions about reapplying every 30 minutes. It’s amazing that products like that were acceptable just half a century ago, considering how strong the sun was even then. Now you just globbed the sun block on and it adhered to your skin so that nothing except the special remover that it came with could take it off. I didn’t mind slathering myself in the stuff since I figured it would serve to accentuate all my hours in the gym. You never know who you’ll meet when you’re shirtless and shiny, right?

I jacked into my portable, lay back, and relaxed while tapping my toe to whoever the latest sweet-voiced but ultimately bland singer was. Hell, she probably wasn’t even a real person, since there had been so many computer-generated sweet thangs topping the charts lately. People complained but the hits kept on coming. My attitude was to not give a shit and just enjoy the mindless beat. I adjusted my shades and had started to doze when something at the edge of my vision caught my eye. Nah, it couldn’t be…goddamn it, it was!

I sat up in disbelief and openly stared at them. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not like I’d never seen one before, and of course I have nothing against them. But what the hell were they doing here? I mean, if they want to go to a beach so bad, why not have their own beaches so that everyone, including them, could be comfortable? Now people feel awkward; do you look at them or pretend not to notice them at all? I saw the hot woman with the kids bringing them even closer to her. The fear and suspicion in her eyes was unmistakable before she plastered an “everything is fine” look on her face for her kids’ benefit. Man, she should not have to do that, I thought. I made sure to catch her eye, shooting her an understanding look and a little head shake. Yeah, I know—this is not cool, we silently said to each other.

I actually felt like I knew a little more about them than most people at the time. Everyone is always saying how they can’t swim, can’t even get wet. That would seem like an obvious truth, but it’s not. I’ve seen one get soaked in a rain storm with no problem, and I saw a whole group of them at a pool once. I did NOT stop to check that situation out, though. I may have nothing against them, but I’m not stupid.

This little group setting up towels and loungers mere feet away from me was obviously a family. They had a few more replicas than seemed smart in this day and age, but that’s another thing I knew about them: They liked to have big “families.” I knew how they replicated in a general sense—it took a small pile of raw materials and an energy surge from at least two fully-powered, advanced ones, and they had to supply all the little one’s energy at regular intervals for a while before the replica could power itself—but I didn’t know the details. Like…do they enjoy the replicating? What does it look like? Does one stick something into the other one, or what? I’d heard you could watch downloads of replications, but I had yet to find one on the free system; curiosity would have to kick my ass before I paid to see something like that. Anyway, I used to not really get why they bothered to live as families, but since they are supposed to be similar to us, I guess they have the same reasons we have to stay together—for company, for help with stuff. It hit me that they might do things like hang out at the beach as just another way to imitate us.

All of a sudden, the mother seemed to realize that I had been staring at her for all of this time. She stared right back and even took a step towards me, raising her arm in a jerky and stiff manner. I didn’t know how to react at first, since I’d never actually interacted with any of them except for in a professional capacity. All the overpriced clothing stores used them, but I was only able to scan high enough to enter those places at the end of the year, when my compensation package was downloaded. It took me a few seconds too long to realize that this one was just waving at me. She had started to turn back to her family by the time I returned the wave, and I don’t think she saw. I didn’t want to look like a jerk (I’m nothing if not polite to the ladies) but I was also a little apprehensive about…well, I can’t exactly put my finger on what I was so apprehensive about. What the hell, I thought. I got out of my chair and walked over.

“Hey…hey. Beautiful today, huh?” I smiled and gestured towards the ocean.

She turned to me and said “Yes. Beautiful.” The rest of her family, except for the smallest children, stopped what they were doing and turned towards me as if expecting something.

“Um…you guys ever been to this beach before? It’s good…good for kids, I mean. The water, I mean. It’s pretty gentle.” My face was starting to hurt from my stupid smile.

The father spoke this time. “Ah. Yes, that is what we’ve been told.” And then we all stood there in stupid, awkward silence, which I broke by saying “Alright. Well…have fun.”

As I turned to walk back to my lounger, I noticed something missing from all the beach gear they had. They hadn’t brought a portable of any kind with them. I didn’t even see a personal one hanging off of the one that looked teenagerish. I happened to have a jackout in my bag…
I turned back to the father.

“Hey, I noticed you…folks don’t have a portable with you. I have a jackout if you guys want to share my portable. You’re welcome to it if you feel like some music to go with your sun.”

The father, mother, and teenagerish one all looked rather sharply at me for a second before looking at each other and making high-pitched sounds while their bodies shook slightly. I froze in place and had no fucking idea what was going on for at least a full minute, until I realized they were laughing. They were laughing at me!

“Um…I’m-I’m sorry…I didn’t…”

The father held out his hand in a “stop” gesture. “Please forgive our laughter. We do not mean to offend.” Then he shook and made the sound again. The mother pointed to her head and said

“We don’t need portables. We…are our own portables. We can play music internally or externally, if we like.”

I had to make a conscious effort to close my mouth. “Oh. I didn’t know that.”

The teenager cocked his head to the side and said “You can jack into one of us if you need to.”

They all laughed again.

I chuckled woodenly along with them for a bit, exchanged a few more words, and went back to my lounger. I spent the rest of the day stealing glances at how the sun bounced off of the mother’s chest and pondering whether or not I could think of her as topless.